Many years ago I wrote a story for a high school English class. My teacher helped me to understand story structure the best she could, but it was enough to create an aha moment that aroused my interest in writing more stories.
The more stories I wrote, the more my interest in the craft grew. I devoured many books on the subject and learned all I could about it. And during all that, I wrote every chance I got, which quickly added up to both finished and unfinished stories on my shelves.
Among my many finished stories is the one I wrote in high school: “Ghost Dogs.” It became the catalyst of a 2013 venture into self-publishing my books at Amazon and other online stores. (You can read more about my venture and books at my blogpost: New Year, New Ideas, New Goals.)
So, for today’s post, I’d like to feature an edited version of “Ghost Dogs” for your reading pleasure. It isn’t long—just over 1,980 words. It still amazes me that a teenage version of me actually wrote a story of such caliber.
* * *
It was a Halloween night and well past trick-or-treating when fifteen-year-old Vree Erickson visited her friends and neighbors, Dave and Amy Evans at a sputtering campfire in the backyard. They all wore jeans and hooded sweatshirts, and Dave wore a yellow windbreaker jacket over his shirt to ward off the night’s chill. Vree sat cross-legged in one of lawn chairs next to Amy and sniffed at the aromas of hotdogs, wood smoke, and Amy’s perfume that smelled like oranges. Amy gave her a whittled stick and a hotdog to roast.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said to her from across the fire, seeming to awaken from a trance. “Take a look at the Myers place and tell me what you see.”
Vree turned. The old mansion languished behind her, inside a thicket of property below the side yard, and barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above them, so she squinted at the dark and spooky shapes of the long-ago abandoned house.
“What am I supposed to see?” she asked.
“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. “Always with the ghosts.”
“Actually, apparitions of some dogs.” Dave held up three fingers. “Three of them as plain as day. But they vanished right before you came.”
“I didn’t know dogs could be ghosts,” Vree said, turning back to face him.
“Why not? Don’t you think animals have spirits?”
Vree shrugged. “What’d these ghost dogs look like?”
“Labs. Old man Myers bred them as hunting dogs.” Dave took a large bite from his hotdog. “Then they froze to death inside the house one hot summer day,” he added while he chewed.
Vree shivered, and not from the cold. She knew the legend of Joseph Myers and his wife disappearing one day ninety years ago and the sheriff finding the frozen dogs inside.
Amy groaned. “From what I’ve read, the dogs were dead, not frozen, unless you consider rigor mortis as being frozen. They probably starved to death because Joseph and Emma Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to somewhere and never came home.”
Dave took another bite. “That’s never been proven.”
“Joseph was a pilot and owned his own airplane. He was always flying to places. That’s why his airplane vanished too.”
“Grandma says a witch killed them and hid their bodies somewhere.”
“Well, Grandma’s superstitious, just like you are.”
Dave ate in silence. Vree pulled her undercooked hotdog from the fire and ate it without a bun or any dressing. A stick snapped behind her and caused her to turn. The fiery hues of the campfire brightened, revealing 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.
“Who are you?” Vree asked.
The woman stepped up to the fire and rubbed her hands together. Neither Dave nor Amy seemed to notice her. Dave looked asleep with his head hung forward; Amy gazed intently at the fire, looking mesmerized.
The woman seemed to float to the grass as she sat. She tucked her legs beside herself and covered her bare feet beneath her dress. “Pardon me,” she said. “I don’t mean to trespass on your gathering, but you beckoned me.”
“Who beckoned you?” Vree asked.
The woman looked at her with penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress. “You did, young lady. I could not deny your invitation or resist warming at your fire.” She smiled for a moment, stretching bright red lips over the whitest teeth Vree had ever seen.
“I didn’t beckon anyone,” she said.
“Yes, you did. You’re the one I seek.” The woman smiled again. Then, “May I rest a moment?” she asked. “The air is almost breathtaking tonight.”
“Who are you?” Vree asked again.
“Why do you think I’m—” she leaned closer to Vree, “a gypsy? No … a witch.”
Vree sat back. “Are you? A witch?”
“Yes,” the woman said, drawing the word out like a hiss. “I am a witch. So was my mother. She came here from Brazil, and I was born on the lake during a full moon. This land was my home for many years until an accident and anger destroyed my life.” Her words and dark gaze held Vree’s attention. “Now I’m but a spirit conjured from Yalendora.”
“It’s where creations go to die. Where chaos runs wild, hither thither, helter skelter. A place generated by an adolescent god with untamed cleverness.” She smiled. “But you would survive there. You are the kind of good that squashes evil. The light that obliterates darkness. The yin to everyone else’s yang.” She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat. “You are the future that this place needs. The people here will come to know you better. I will know you better … and you will know me.”
The fire crackled as if it had awakened. Then Dave seemed to awaken too. He lifted his head and said, “What were we talking about?”
“Ghosts.” Amy shook her head for a moment. “Always ghosts.”
“Look.” Dave pointed at the Myers property. “Another ghost. It has to be Joseph Myers!”
The glowing apparition of a human figure walked in front of the bare trees trying to hide the old mansion. Then the ghostly image wavered and disappeared.
“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said.
“Saw what?” Amy asked.
“The ghost that was there. A human ghost. It glowed just like the dogs I saw earlier.”
Dogs barked savagely from the Myers property, as if cued by Dave’s words.
“They sound angry … vicious … mean,” he said. “Spirits of dogs can come back as hellhounds to guard properties from trespassers. Did you know that?”
“Another stupid tall tale,” Amy said.
Vree stood and peered at the trees. She gasped when three Labrador retrievers afire with yellow fames charged from the thicket and lined up in front of it. They growled low and guttural, and their eyes glowed fiery red from angry looking faces.
“Let’s get to the house.” Dave stumbled from his chair and almost knocked it over.
“Yes.” Vree reached out and pulled on one of Amy’s shoulders. “We should go right away.”
Amy turned and looked up at her. “What’s going on?” she asked. Her face bore a confused expression. “Why are you pulling at me?”
Vree pointed at the dogs. “Don’t you see them?”
Amy groaned. Then, “Okay, okay, I’ll play along,” she said. “But only because we’re friends.”
The growls rose in both pitch and volume moments before the dogs charged up the hill in unison, coming at them.
“Run,” Dave yelled.
Vree pulled harder. “Come on.” She got Amy to stand. “Trust me and run.” She turned and hoped they could reach the house before the hellhounds caught up to them.
Dave approached the backdoor and was almost at the doorstep when the burning hellhounds appeared at the door, put there by some twisted black magic.
They snarled and blocked entry into the house, which was lit up inside and looked safe and inviting.
Dave dodged left and Vree and Amy followed him into the field behind the barn.
“I’m not playing along with this if we’re heading toward the cliffs,” Amy called out.
“Just keep going,” Dave said. “There’s a patch of hobblebush there. They can’t follow us into it. It’s like poison to them.”
“What’s hobblebush?” Vree asked.
“Some people call it Devil’s Shoestring. The roots are poisonous to hellhounds and other demons.”
Then, in a puff of red smoke, a hellhound appeared on the path in front of them, blocking the way.
Dave stopped and stared wildly at the creature. Vree left the path and ran toward the cliff. She plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed her, scratched her hands, and scarred her clothes. Her drumming heart climbed into her throat when she realized she could not outrun the dogs chasing her. Her inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans.
She stumbled when she entered a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge. There was nowhere else to go.
The hellhound behind her entered the clearing and stopped. It lowered its head and raised its rear end in the air like a wolf that had just pinned its prey.
“I’m not your enemy,” Vree yelled as she backed to the edge of the cliff.
The dog charged. Vree flinched and lost her balance, stumbling backward over the steep precipice.
She plummeted on her back through icy air and into the icier waters of Alice Lake. Her aching throat released a yelp of surprise as the water enveloped her like a brutal winter blast.
When she came to her senses, she kicked her legs and swam toward the black surface above.
Her lungs ached to release the little breath she held. She fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe.
How many times had she dived into the lake and swum these waters with ease?
But never with barely any air in her lungs or when the lake was this cold.
Her movements slowed with every thrust of her arms and kick of her legs.
The surface was still out of reach. She could hold her breath no longer. She was going to inhale and drown.
A shimmering outstretched hand broke through the water’s surface and came for her. Its fingers felt like hot steel as they wrapped around her left wrist and yanked her upwards. Water roared past her ears.
The pain in her chest was severe. She needed to open her mouth and fill her lungs.
But not now. Not yet.
She broke the surface. Icy air stung her skin. She sucked in a huge breath of air, gasping, choking, and wheezing for more.
The hand released her and dropped her to all fours on a large flat boulder. Her body shook from the cold that burned at her bones, and she retched lake water onto the stone.
Strands of her hair clutched her face, and other strands dripped water onto the rock. More water fell from her sweatshirt, which clung to her back and weighed against her shoulders.
She stopped sucking in air at the bare feet of the witch who was as dry as when she had sat at the campfire earlier. “Who are you?” she asked, forcing the words through a mouth that trembled from the cold burning inside her.
“Your friends are safe; the hellhounds are gone,” the witch said. “I saw them chase you, but I was too late to keep you from falling.” She studied Vree with a troubled scowl. Then, “I am someone you summoned,” she said. “Your call is strong … one I cannot ignore.”
Dave cried out Vree’s name from atop the cliff. The witch placed the palms of her hands atop Vree’s head for a moment, then helped her to stand. Ice water fell from Vree’s clothes.
“Answer him,” the witch said; “you are safe now.”
Warmth filled Vree. She turned from the witch, called out Dave’s name, and told him that she was okay.
“I owe you my life,” she said, turning back. But the witch had vanished. “Thank you, whoever you are,” she said to the emptiness, then left the boulder and headed to the footpath that would lead her away from the cliffs.
When she reached the blacktopped road home, the way lay in darkness. But she had traveled Myers Road many times. And though she knew the way, this time was different. This time, she knew it led her to something important in her life. Something life changing and likely dangerous.
She swallowed, took a deep breath, and started up the hill.
# # #
Thanks for joining me for a look at the story that started my long journey on a road to become a published storyteller.
Peace and love to all of you.
This post “Fantasy Short Story 007-2023-0320” copyright © 2023 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.