Chapter 2: Rewrites, Rewrites, Rewrites
Sometime while I was in high school, I decided to rewrite “Ghost Dogs.”
Night of the Hellhounds, 2.0
It’s basically the same story: some teenagers are on Myers Ridge and they meet malevolent ghost dogs that put someone’s life in danger. During the first rewrite, I took myself out as the point-of-view character and wrote from the perspective of a girl. I’m sure it was the result of a classroom assignment.
Text of the following short story is copyright © 1974 when I finished scribbling it down in a notebook, and 1985 when I typed it into a word processor at college. The language became stronger than what I wrote in high school because of the age of the readers reading my work. I even wrote an alternate ending at a friend’s request. That text was renewed in 2002 when I published it at my old (and no-longer-available) website.
This is the PDF version offered above at my Library section. For a quick download click here.
The story is a bit long but I think if you stay with it you’ll find it fun to read. Comments are welcome, so please consider dropping me a line or two below.
My name is Nancy Louise Johnson. I’ll never forget the night I almost died. Ghostly hellhounds were snapping at my heels when I slipped on some gravel and fell over the steepest side of Myers Ridge.
The day began like most August days in Ridgewood, Pennsylvania: hot and humid. Every hour, the weatherman at our local radio station promised more of the same, and every hour since seven o’clock that morning my twelve-year-old sister Krissy groaned from her spot in Dad’s huge recliner. It was Friday and as usual, I was babysitting. Dad was at work and Mom and my big brother Ted were shopping in nearby New Cambridge for a new air conditioner.
I pulled the legs of my blue jean shorts away from my sweaty skin as I shifted from a sitting position to a reclining one on Mom’s plushy sofa. After finding a cool spot on the middle cushion, I leafed through another romance paperback from the bag of books Ted’s fiancée Jeanette had given me. Buxom women and muscular men seduced and cheated on each other in graphic description. I threw the book back into the bag and looked over at Krissy.
She lay semi-naked in pink bikini, sprawled out like a Hollywood corpse, her summer tan looking dark in the dim light of the living room. An oscillating fan blew on her every fifteen seconds and tried to lift her flaccid blonde hair away from her forehead and from around her sweaty cheeks. The arid breeze merely flicked the ruffles on her beachwear and rustled the pages of her beauty magazine. I dropped the bag of books next to her. She looked up with blue eyes opened in wonderment.
“What’s up, Nanny Lou?”
“Knock yourself out,” I said before I made my way to the kitchen.
My family calls me Nanny Lou—short for Nancy Louise, but I prefer to be called Nance. Nanny Lou’s more of a girl’s name and I’ve not been comfortable being a girl ever since I developed breasts and discovered boys stop looking at girls face to face when that happens.
The doorbell rang and took me away from peering into the refrigerator.
“I’ll get it,” I said and headed for the front door. Krissy sprang up at my heels and followed me to the sun porch where my once long-time friend Dave Evans stood at the front door and peered in at me through the screen. I stopped and frowned when I recognized his face through the screen’s murky grayness. I crossed my arms over my chest if he should want to look there.
“Can we talk?” Dave asked.
I almost said no, but Krissy interrupted me to tell him the door was unlocked. I turned to her and replaced her flirty smile with a pout when I ordered her to return to the living room. She stomped away and when I turned back, Dave stood inside. Unlike me whose red hair and freckles seem to emit beacons of light and attract unwanted attention everywhere I go, Dave stood there looking average: medium height and weight, auburn hair, blue eyes and all—the kind of guy who blends into a crowd.
I started to ask him what he wanted, and then stopped. He wore a long-sleeved pullover shirt and heavy blue jeans and wasn’t even sweating! So okay, that part about him would certainly keep him from blending completely into a crowd.
“What’s up?” I asked, a little too icily.
“Can we talk?” This time his question sounded urgent instead of inquisitive.
“It’s been a while,” I reminded him.
“A long while.”
I pondered this before I nodded and led him inside. I pointed to the ceiling. “You don’t mind, do you?”
He managed a squeaky no and gave away his unease.
“Going to my room,” I hollered to Krissy.
“Turning on TV,” she hollered back.
Upstairs and at the back of the house, my tiny bedroom was a hotbox during summer afternoons. A small breeze coming through my window screen actually made the moment bearable. Dave sacked out in my beanbag chair—the one he bought me last year for my sixteenth birthday.
My dresser and nightstand were littered with swimming and softball trophies. He studied the softball batting trophy I had won two months earlier, the only Junior in our school’s history to ever beat out the entire Senior squad. Preparing to brag about my feat, he interrupted me when he cleared his throat loudly.
“I have something I need to get off my chest,” he said, and with that said he added, “I’m sorry.”
The apology seemed dry and forced, and I surprised myself when I accepted it. I cursed myself silently.
Dave sorely smiled at me and I launched into all the reasons I should have said no. After all, he had taken advantage of me during my time of need. I didn’t want him to think I’d completely forgiven him just yet. I wanted him to remember that our reckless time together last winter had tarnished our friendship. When I had needed him most, he had let me down. I still hated him for that!
He waved at me, caught my attention, and told me the date.
“August twenty-third,” he said. It’s tomorrow.”
I sat next to my orange tabby cat Ginger asleep on my bed and listened to his plan to go camping that night on haunted Myers Ridge. Dave and I had gone there since we were kids. First with my brother Ted and his friends, and then by ourselves. And even though we’d never seen any ghosts there, the legend of Ben Myers drew us there every year. In fact, Dave and I and a boy named Jerry Hopper ever camped there anymore, waiting for a glimpse of the hill’s namesake.
But I was no longer that girl—the flat-chested tomboy who used to fit in easily with the guys until my DNA had decided in January to show everyone otherwise. And Dave was not really as medium looking as I pictured him. He had grown a few inches since our high school graduation and had filled out some in the shoulders and chest. Camping at night with an attractive boy seemed like an unwise thing to do, especially when that boy had told me he loved me and then tried to make out with me.
Before I could turn down his invitation, heavy footsteps and breathing drew close to my door. The footsteps stopped and meaty knuckles rapped against the doorframe. Then Jerry Hopper’s short, two-hundred pound frame entered my room and dropped to the floor between Dave and me. His red AC/DC T-shirt clung to him like soggy plastic wrap, and the waist of his blue jeans had fallen several inches below the tops of his bright white underpants. He gasped for air and tried to speak. After several attempts, he said to me, “Krissy said … you were up here.” He turned to Dave and asked, “Did you ask her? Is it okay?”