Beginnings, Chapter 2

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Last week I mentioned that Vree’s last name in the early publications from my high school years was Erikson. The spelling changed to Erickson when I began writing about her again later in life. Other changes were Ravenwood to Ridgewood, Myers Ridge to Russell Ridge (I moved Myers Ridge farther west), and the twins Dave and Amy Evans to Lenny and Gaylene Avery.

Dave was one of the first characters I created. His best friend was Lenny Stevens. Their personalities were so similar that I combined them into one character: Lenny Avery. Dave and Amy are now the first names of Vree’s paternal grandparents.

Although he’s Lenny now, he’s still the Dave character I created when I was an eighth grader. I wrote many baseball stories about him before I wrote his first encounter with ghosts. I had a lot of fun writing it, which “chain reactioned” into more spooky stories. That story stayed with me and appeared at my 1990s writing website as “Keeping Love Alive,” its original title. I later changed the names of my characters and the title to “Bottom of the Seventh” for a book of short stories in 2013. It’s also at my Wattpad site [].

Before I get bogged down pointing out all the changes I’ve made to Vree and company over the years, I’d like to direct your attention to a rural fantasy story I penned in 1971 and edited in 2016. “The Magic Typewriter” is about a boy named Nick Corwin who travels to another place whenever he sits at his typewriter and writes stories. That place is Ridgewood and the people he interacts with include Vree.

Let me show you instead of trying to explain it.

The boy sat at his magic typewriter and began typing.

I took my fishing gear but went looking for more than fish in town.

His desk and chair and bedroom vanished. Dizziness swam through his head, but not as strong as the other times. Soon, he was back in Ridgewood and standing at the grassy bank of Myers Creek—a wide, lazy creek that he’d swam in during his last visit. It was his fifth visit and he wanted to interact with the people this time. But he was cautious about approaching adults—especially police officers—who would wonder why an unsupervised kid was wandering their streets.

Since time was the same here and at home, it was a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in July, and sixty degrees by his estimation. The blue sky was mottled in places with clouds that looked like white cotton candy shreds. It was perfect weather for fishing, so he was glad he had brought along a fishing pole and tackle.

Church was over for most people in Ridgewood when he bobbed his fishing line in Myers Creek beneath Cherry Street’s cement bridge. He’d take to the streets once the traffic died down.

A blonde-haired girl in a blue T-shirt and jeans gave him the once over after she slid down the embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. He stood far enough away so he didn’t intrude on her favorite fishing spot … if she had one.

“Hey,” she said to him, a friendliness in her voice but edged with a note of suspicion.

He said it back, then left her alone until her hook and bait were submerged in the deep middle of the creek and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.

“Fish here often?” he asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.

“Yeah.” She played her line. “Never seen you around before.”

He considered how to answer her question. “Just visiting for the summer,” he said.

She seemed okay with that, so he told her his name.

“Hi, Nick Corwin,” she said. “I’m Vree … Vree Erickson.”

Nick Corwin drawings
Nick Corwin, graphite drawings. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at – All rights reserved.

“Your name’s Bree? How unusual. That’s the name of a village from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.”

“No. It’s Vree, with a V … v-r-e-e.”

“Oh. Still unusual.”

“I know,” she said in a breath that sounded like an irritated sigh.

Nick’s thoughts of Tolkien’s Bree and a world of Hobbits disappeared, and he and Vree didn’t speak again for several minutes. Then, “Any bites?” he asked. He reeled in his hook from the dark creek bed. “I seem to have found a place that’s either occupied by sleeping fish or unoccupied by any fish at all.”

“You have to know where the sweet spots are to catch any fish here.” And to prove her point, Vree reeled in her first catfish. She expertly removed it from her hook and wrapped it some newspaper from one of her back pockets.

She caught two more catfish in less than three minutes. She wrapped them and handed him one. “Take it. No sense you leaving emptyhanded.”

“Thanks, but I’m good. My mom hates the smell. Says it stinks up the kitchen.” He started to hand back the fish, then stopped. He spotted an interesting news headline on the page: PARENTS OF KIDNAPPED GIRL RECEIVE RANSOM NOTE.

The article said that the parents of 16-year-old Laurie Burnett had received a ransom note demanding $500,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return. She had been missing since Wednesday afternoon when she was last seen leaving home on East Hickory Street to go to a friend’s house three blocks away on Frederick Street. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett, became concerned when she did not return home at suppertime.

“How old is this newspaper?” he asked.

“Friday’s, I think. Why?”

He whistled. “Wow. Half a million dollars. That’s a lot of money.”

“Oh, yeah, the kidnapping. My folks almost didn’t let me come to town today.”

“I’m sure a lot of parents are overprotective now.” He shivered at the idea of Ridgewood being a violent place. Would the kidnappers kill the girl if her parents couldn’t raise the money?

Vree picked up her pole and tackle box, then dismissed Nick by saying, “See you around. I need to get this fish home.”

He grabbed his fishing equipment. “Do you live nearby?” he asked as he followed her up the bank.

“No. On Russell Ridge.” She went to a white ten-speed Schwinn racing bike parked on the bridge. “How about you? Where are you staying?”

“On the other side of town,” he lied. Then, “Care if I walk with you a little way?” he asked. “It gets boring being by myself.”

“You have no brothers or sisters?”


“Me either.” Vree shrugged. “Oh well, you can come with me to my place if you want. But it’s a long haul.”

Nick grinned. “Thanks.”

She took his pole and tackle and fastened them with her pole, tackle, and fish to the back of her bike with some clothesline. As she released the kickstand, she asked, “Have you ever seen real gold?”

“ Yeah. My grandfather has a gold pocket watch that he got when he retired from the railroad. He let me hold it once.”

“ No, I mean the ore … the kind that’s still in the ground.”

“Do you mean the goldmine kind, or the panning-a-river kind?”

“Both. I’m supposed to meet a friend and go looking. Would you like to come? If you don’t have to be home or wherever in the next three hours.”

Nick studied her face and wondered if she was being honest. “Do you really know where there’s gold ore?”

She met his gaze and frowned. “You don’t have to come if you don’t believe me.”

Despite her serious look, the twinkling in her eyes made him laugh.

“Lead the way,” he said.

Their westward journey took them to the town limits where the sidewalks ended and the shady treelined street they were on became a blacktop two-lane highway to the top of a steep hill and beyond.

“Russell Ridge,” Vree answered when Nick asked where they were at.

The hillside was woodsy on both sides of the highway, with a few dairy farms and cow and horse pastures interrupting the woods. The next mile took them past a few more farms and lots of secondary woods and brushy new-growth meadows. Vree’s place was a white farmhouse with a huge front yard. She led Nick up some massive concrete steps to a large front porch with three teak wood swings. He sat on the nearest swing while she took the fish and her pole and equipment inside. He kept his pole and tackle with him until Vree came out and insisted that he let her take them inside.

When she came out a few minutes later, she carried a coil of rope slung over her left shoulder. She led him to a blue ten-speed mountain bike propped against the side of a two-car garage behind the house and told him to get on. Then she went back to the porch and returned on her bike.

“Come on,” she said.

They pedaled to the highway and rode west for a quarter mile. Nick’s bike had a rusty chain, a crooked front wheel, and the rubber parts were missing from the left pedal, but he managed to keep up. Vree slowed and stopped in front of a long blacktop driveway that led to a blue two-story farmhouse with white shutters. A lanky boy their age pedaled a red racing bike up the drive and stopped in front of them. Vree introduced him as Lenny Avery, and he and Nick exchanged pleasantries.

Lenny Avery drawings
Lenny Avery, graphite drawings. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at – All rights reserved.

He grinned and brushed back thick brown locks from his forehead with long fingers, then wiped his palm across the chest of his yellow T-shirt and said, “Let’s go find some gold.”

A mile later, they ditched their bikes in a field of tall grass and followed a well-traveled deer path to a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Russell Ridge. Lenny, their leader, put up his right hand for them to stop.

“This is where I spotted gold the other day,” he said. “Come on.”

Vree and Nick followed until the three stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below them, water trickled from the hillside, fell, splattered on rock farther down, and fell again to a lake.

“This is Alice Lake,” Vree said. “Some people dive from up here, but I like swimming on the other side at the beach where it’s less dangerous.”

Cliffs at Russell Ridge overlooking Alice Lake.

Nick peered over the edge, then averted his eyes and scanned the other side of the lake where a length of sandy beach and several painted cottages and shacks sat between more woods.

“You should visit the arcade when you can,” Vree said before turning to Lenny. “Let’s find that gold you think you spotted.”

Lenny laughed. “Trust me, I know what I saw.”

Vree left Nick’s side and busied herself helping Lenny with the rope she had brought. She tied her end to a young hornbeam tree, then harnessed the other end to Lenny. She called for Nick to stand behind her and hold the rope while she lowered Lenny to where water exited the side of Russell Ridge.

He dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, he waved at them and told them to pull him up.

Vree and Nick hoisted a grinning Lenny back to the top where he scrambled upright and proudly displayed a three-inch chunk rock with bright yellow gold mixed with it.

Nick marveled how cold and heavy it was when he held it. When he handed it back to Lenny, he asked, “How’d you notice gold in the side of that cliff?”

Lenny chuckled. “I saw sunlight glinting off it.”

Nick peered over the edge. “But how?”

“He jumped into the lake from here,” Vree said.

Nick whistled. “Holy cow.”

“He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck.” Vree went to the hornbeam tree and untied her rope.

Lenny and Nick followed, and Lenny helped her coil the rope around her left shoulder. The he led the way back toward the road, letting her carry his rock.

They had just exited the woods when a flash of light caught their attention. It was sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan in a field to their left. They stopped.

“That’s the abandoned road to one of the mines,” Lenny said.

A field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed hid the old road, but the car’s tires had flattened a path through the grass.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Vree said. Nick chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when the car backed up and turned around.

“Hit the deck,” Lenny shouted. The three dived for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. Nick pressed himself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of his borrowed bike next to the highway would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The green sedan reached Ridge Road and stopped. Had the driver seen the bikes? Nick kept still, even when a horsefly bit one of his sweaty arms and sucked blood for what seemed like several minutes before the car turned onto the road and drove away.

He unclenched his jaw and let out a groan before he slapped at the murderous fly. Meanwhile, Vree ran to the old road. Nick and Lenny followed and caught up to her at the mouth of the old mine, which someone had boarded up with old barn wood planks. She pulled a board away and the boys helped her remove the rest. They entered a musty smelling cavern.

“Snakes,” Lenny said behind Nick.

Nick froze. “Where?”

“I’m just saying there could be rattlers. Watch your step.”

The mine’s air changed quickly to cool dampness and the light faded the farther they went. They passed an old rail cart covered with empty burlap sacks.

Something thumped from inside the cart. The three stepped slowly to it. Another thump. Something was definitely inside.

Vree pulled away the sacks.

A redhaired girl was bound and gagged inside.

Laurie Burnett was overjoyed and thankful to be free. She wept when she entered the outdoors, then cursed her captors and the ordeal they had put her through. Lenny let her ride his bike as Vree led her to his house. Nick did his best to keep up while Lenny sat behind him and told him to pedal faster.

When they reached the house, Nick stayed outside while Lenny and Vree took Laurie inside to call the police. The time on his wristwatch told him it was suppertime.

The house and Russell Ridge vanished as Nick stopped typing on his magic typewriter.

* * *

Steve, 5/23/2022

This post “Beginnings, Chapter 2” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at – All rights reserved.

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