Ridgewood Story, 11

Hellhounds, a Spooky Story

Vree Erickson, the pretty girl who lived atop Myers Ridge, became my favorite fictional person to write about during the 1971-1972 school year. It was also when my stories took a turn for the unexplained.

After our first meeting at Parker’s place, I saw her again one early November Saturday night in 1971 when I sat at my typewriter after supper and went to visit Dave. We all wore sweatshirts and jackets behind the barn at his dad’s place on Myers Ridge, and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful. My heart pattered while I stared at her long dirty-blonde hair looking golden in the firelight. She and Amy sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, whispering and giggling. When Amy saw me, she patted her sleeping bag and told me to sit next to her. I did, sandwiching myself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over our shoulders. I quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said to me from across the fire, seeming to awaken from a trance after Amy gave me her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Take a look at the Myers place and tell me what you see.”

I had to turn around since the old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion languished inside a thicket of property below the side yard behind me. The place was barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above us, so I squinted at the dark and spooky shapes of the remaining bits of house destroyed by fire and abandoned long ago.

“What am I supposed to see?” I asked. I knew that a famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers had built the once prominent house ninety years ago before he and his wife disappeared.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. “Always with the ghosts.”

“Apparitions of some dogs, actually,” he said. “Three of them as plain as day.” He held up three fingers for us to see. He said to me, “They vanished when I told the girls. But I saw them again right before you came.”

“What kind of dogs?” I asked, trying to hold back my excitement. But I could not help from grinning. Every visit was a discovery that got added to my notes.

“Myers bred hunting dogs,” Dave said between large bites taken from a roasted hotdog. “Then one hot summer day he and his dogs froze to death inside the house.”

Amy groaned. “I can’t believe you think that silly legend really happened.”

“What legend?” I asked.

“A dumb story that says the county sheriff found Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house. I checked the town’s newspaper archives when I did an English paper about Ben Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house at the time he and his wife Cathleen disappeared. I even found their obituaries at the library. The police concluded they died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”

“Yeah, but the authorities never knew for certain what happened because Myers and his wife always flew using pseudonyms,” Dave said. “And no bodies were ever found at sea after the plane crash, so it could’ve been anybody on that plane. Which means there’s no proof that old man Myers and his dogs didn’t freeze to death.”

Amy groaned again. “It makes more sense than believing they did, or that his wife jumped to her death from Widow’s Cliff.”

I glanced at where an empty streambed separated the two properties. A half-mile away the streambed ended at a steep-sided cliff. After I inquired, Amy told me about the local legend of Cathleen Myers committing suicide by leaping into Alice Lake and drowning after she found her husband frozen to death.

“Listen to this,” Dave said. “Some people have heard her ghost screaming as it jumps into the lake at midnight every Halloween.”

“For the record,” Amy said to me, “none of us have ever heard anyone screaming from Widow’s Ravine.” She looked at Dave. “Because it isn’t true.” She popped a peppermint Life Saver candy into her mouth and offered Vree and me some. I politely declined. I enjoyed smelling it but disliked eating anything peppermint. “Nor have we ever seen any ghosts,” she added, addressing Dave again, “except you.”

Dave swallowed the last of his hotdog and said, “Our cousin Ricky says Alan Baker was driving up here one night during the summer when he saw a pack of wild looking dogs on the Myers property. When he aimed a flashlight at them, they vanished. Then, as he was driving away, he felt the weight of invisible animals jumping on the hood of his truck. He hurried home and discovered something had scratched the truck’s paint and dented the hood.”

Amy shook her head and said, “I wouldn’t believe anything Alan Baker says.”

“I’m just saying what Ricky told me, is all,” Dave grumbled.

“Whatever.” Amy twisted sideways, pulled an acoustic guitar from her tent, and began softly playing and singing a song I had never heard. I cooked my hotdog and ate it without a bun or any dressing, just the way I liked them, and snuck glances at quiet Vree stargazing. A stick snapped behind Amy’s tent and caused me turn partway to the left. That’s when the dark shape of a human figure stepped around the tent and into our midst.

“Excuse me,” Dave said, almost shouting, which drew Vree’s and Amy’s attention. “This is private property.”

Fiery hues of the campfire revealed a stunning woman. Flame glinted from her long black hair, her bronze face, and her long, sweeping black dress tied off at the waist. A white lace collar hung around her neck, and pearl buttons sparkled in a row between her ample breasts. Tall and curvy, she looked at us with mesmerizing and penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress or the rubies set in the gold rings she wore on eight fingers and two thumbs.

“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Evans,” the woman said as she strolled to stand next to the fire between Dave and the rest of us.

“She’s our grandmother,” Dave said.

“Yes,” she said, drawing the word out like a hiss. She turned and looked at me with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze from those mysterious charcoal eyes.

I held her gaze until Dave asked, “How can we help you?”

Her attention turned back to him. “May I sit for a few minutes before I go? The journey this far has tired me.”

“I suppose so,” Dave said, though he frowned at Amy and looked dubious while the woman seemed to float gracefully to the grass. She tucked her legs delicately beside herself and covered her bare feet beneath her dress. Then her gaze shifted back at me.

“I don’t know you,” she said.

“My name’s Steve,” I said. “I’m Dave’s friend.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

Her hard gaze shifted to Vree, then back to me before it softened for a moment. I saw a flicker of sadness in her eyes before she addressed Dave. “And why do you mistake me for a gypsy witch?”

Dave’s back stiffened and he stuttered a reply. “I-I … never said I did.”

She put a finger to her lips. Dave hushed and she continued.

“I suppose I do look like a gypsy. My mother was Brazilian, my father Greek. But I am no witch by any means.” She paused and looked thoughtful. Then she glanced to her right, down at the remains of the old mansion that had burned down ages ago, and said rather sadly, “I must go now.” She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat. “Good night,” she said, turning and heading back into the darkness toward the Myers property.

We were silent until the night made her invisible.

“Look,” Dave said with a voice that was barely audible. He pointed down at the Myers property. “I see him. It’s Ben Myers’s ghost!”

The glowing apparition of a figure walked across the burnt remains. Then the ghostly image wavered and disappeared.

“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said.

“Saw what?” Amy asked.

“It was there. Ben Myers’s ghost. Just like the dogs I saw earlier.”

As if cued by Dave’s words, dogs barkrd from the ruined house. “Hellhounds,” he said. “When Myers’s dogs died, their spirits came back as hellhounds to guard the house from trespassers.”

“Another stupid tall tale,” Amy said.

“I hear them,” I said.

“Really?” It was Vree who spoke. She flung away her end of the blanket, stood, and peered down the hillside. She gasped when a pack of nine dogs charged from the ruins and lined up at the bottom of the hill, looking at us with angry faces, each growling low and guttural. There were white hounds with black and brown patches, some rough-coated terriers, and a shorthaired pointer that stood in the middle and was taller than the rest. They stood out as if they were beneath a noon sun. And their eyes glowed fiery red, which caused me to stand and take a step back.

“Let’s get to the house,” Dave whispered. He moved away slowly, but Vree remained peering down the hill. Amy stood and joined her.

“We should go,” I said, reaching out and pulling on one of Vree’s shoulders.

Amy turned and looked at me. “What’s going on?” she asked. Her face bore a pained expression.

I didn’t know.

The growls rose in both pitch and volume moments before the dogs charged up the hill in unison, coming at us. Vree screamed.

“Run,” Dave yelled.

Vree and I were on his heels when three glowing hounds appeared at the backdoor, placed there by some twisted magic. They snarled at us and blocked entry into the house, which was lit up inside and looked safe and inviting.

Dave dodged left and Vree and I followed him into the field behind the barn.

“You know we’re heading for the cliffs,” Vree said.

“Just run,” I said, hoping for a miracle. Brambles and thorny weeds poked and grabbed me, scarring my sweatshirt and jeans. My drumming heart climbed into my throat when I heard how close those ghost dogs were behind us. My inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and my pleas to find safety passed my lips like moans.

A bit of moonlight broke through the clouds as we burst through the confining brambles and into a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge. Dave doubled over and sucked at air. I turned and confronted the speeding assault of dogs coming at us.

The lead dog—the shorthaired pointer—practically skidded to a stop. So did the others, forming bookends on either side of the pointer. They glared with evil eyes and growled and slobbered at us. Dave stood then and faced them.

As I looked at the dogs, I wondered if they would attack us. “Be gone,” I said, hoping to see them vanish.

Instead, they glared at me. Then the lead dog growled and leaped at me. Its forepaws struck my chest and sent me stumbling backwards, my arms flailing as I fell over the cliff’s precipice.

I plummeted one hundred feet to Alice Lake.

My aching throat released a yelp of surprise when I entered its black, icy water. I sank quickly into the water’s deep darkness.

That’s when I remembered I didn’t know how to swim very well.

I struggled toward the moonlight rippling on the water’s surface above me. My lungs ached to release the little breath inside me. I fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe deeply.

I was too far from the surface. I wasn’t going to make it.

Just then, shimmering outstretched hands broke through the water’s surface and came for me. The nearest hand bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. That hand grabbed the front of my sweatshirt and pulled me from the depths of Myers Creek.

My lungs sucked in air and bits of water, and I coughed and sputtered fitfully while my savior managed to get me to shore. There, I vomited creek water and bits of hotdog on the bank of Myers Creek until I caught my breath.

“Your friend is safe,” the woman from earlier said. “I stopped the dogs from attacking. But I was too late to keep the big one from pushing you.”

I looked at her, puzzled. She was as dry as when she had sat at the fire earlier.

“Who are you?” I asked. “You told Dave that you weren’t a witch.” Then I knew. “You’re Cathleen Myers,” I said as I knelt wet and cold at her bare feet. “Is it true your husband and his dogs froze to death?”

She was quiet while she studied me with darkened eyes below a troubled scowl.

Finally, “Yes, I am she,” she said, “who suffered an ancient, evil power from Myers Ridge, a power that froze to death my husband and cruelly cast me to my grave.”

The frantic calls from Dave and Vree above us caught her attention. “Answer them,” she said.

I did and hollered out that I was okay. They told me to stay put and they would send a rescue boat for me.

Cathleen’s ghost looked down at me, studying me. Moonlight broke the cloud cover and painted a silver aura around her silhouette.

I closed my eyes and thought about returning to my bedroom and ending the story.

“Beware the crystal’s power,” she said.

“What crystal?”  I opened my eyes, but the ghost was gone. I was warm and no longer wet. I sat waiting for the rescue boat and wondered about the crystal and the evil Cathleen had called from Myers Ridge.

What had it been?

There was much about Ridgewood I didn’t know.