Good evening! It is my great pleasure to present my good buddy Pat Dale. For your listening pleasure, Pat has a ghostly tale followed by a sample of Crossed Lines. Take it away, Pat!
Here’s a little story of a boy’s excursion into the woods. It may not seem like much of a spooky tale, but wait until you read the end before coming to that conclusion.
Strange Day in the Woods
Louie swung the shiny gallon bucket merrily around, grasping the wire handle firmly in his grip. Another wonderful warm fall day ushered his way up the side of Shepherd Mountain
As gaily colored leaves whipped and whirled in the late September breeze, he followed the path he’d taken so many times in the past.
On his way to the lush berry patches high above his Missouri Ozark village, little Louie hadn’t a care in the world. Usually, on a week day this time of year, he’d have found himself deep into his sixth grade studies at school. But not today. Because a local hero had died, the town had declared this a holiday, a grave one, so all could take part in memorial services.
Louie’s mom and dad were there. His little brother and sister were there. But he’d begged off, because he had a morbid fear of death and being buried under a pile of dirt. They’d agreed to let him go up the mountain to pick berries.
His prime goal was to reach the gooseberry vines a quarter of a mile up the steep, heavily wooded slope. Along the way, he’d pass lots of blackberry vines, loaded down with the deep wine colored berries that tasted sweet right off the vine. He’d eat those to give him energy, but his favorite pie in all the world was the concoction his grandmother made when he supplied her with enough gooseberries to fill the crust.
Halloween was approaching, which meant it was time for gooseberries. “Yay!” he hollered, enjoying the slight echo from the rocky outcroppings of granite half-way up the hill. Now high enough to look back at his town, he gazed at the roof-tops and off to the east edge of town. He could see the funeral procession making its black-vehicled way onto cemetery grounds.
Shuddering at the thought of putting a hero into a hole in the ground and covering him up, Louie shook his head. “We’re not like berry vines. We don’t grow new bodies and come back from the grave. Do we?”
As if expecting a reply, he stopped and held his free hand up to his ear. Hearing only the chirping of the birds, he said, “I didn’t think so.” Resuming his journey, he quickened his pace, unaware of the clouds that were gathering at the peak of the mountain.
By the time he’d got to the first blackberries, the sun had been blotted out by a heavy cloud bank. The wind had picked up, silencing the birds and squirrels that normally inhabited the branches of the trees. The leaves kept blowing, swirling around his legs as he continued to climb, their bright colors not nearly as cheering asthey’d been at the edge of town.
Then he saw them; bright green little marbles sprouting all over the vines on either side of the narrow path. Gooseberry Heaven, he liked to call it. He wasted no time beginning to fill his pail, taking care to avoid getting his fingers stuck by the little spines on the stems.
Wishing he’d worn a sweater or a light jacket, he picked faster and faster, until his fingers began to ache. His bucket was nearly full when a sudden blast of wind ripped it right out of his hand. He watched helplessly as the pail emptied flying over the vines and into the edge of the huge oak and walnut forest on the upside of the hill.
“Oh, no. There goes my gooseberry pie!” Not one to admit defeat easily, he tore through the thick vines, chasing after the pail he’d lost sight of. “I’ll get that pail and fill it again. No way I’m going down the hill empty-handed.”
This time the echo seemed to mock him. He was so intent on finding the pail, he didn’t notice when it started to rain. Just a sprinkle at first, he was well into the forest by the time he realized he was wet. Looking up into what had become a steady rain, he growled in protest. But he kept going.
Once, he was sure he saw a reflection from the tin pail when a bolt of lightning split a huge walnut tree not a quarter mile away. His ears rang from the frighteningboom, and his skin crawled as he felt the frizzons of electricity in the air. Low fog-like clouds had made the forest dark as midnight, though the trees gave scant
shelter from the downpour.
Realizing he was lost in the heavy underbrush, and blinded by the combination of forest scenery, obscured and then punctuated by thunder as bolt after bolt of electricity pounded the area. Flashes of light, then blackness before his eyes adjusted to theviolent rapid change of illumination.
Louie sagged against the trunk of a large elm tree, like him an outsider in this grove of oak, pine, and walnut. He’d joined the scouts a few months before but had received no training yet in survival techniques. He was bright enough to realize he was in a world of hurt. No shelter, no food, insufficient clothing; he had only his intelligence to rely on now.
“Why didn’t I go to that doggone funeral? Being there couldn’t possibly be worse than being here.”
Like the wind blowing in his ear, a voice said, “Oh, really?”
Where had that come from? Totally spooked, he stared at the darkness surrounding him. After three more rapid flashes of lightning, he could see nobody. Assuming it to be his imagination, acknowledged by his teachers as extremely active, he relaxed.
Assuming an air of bravado, he yelled, “Yeah, really!” There was total silence for long seconds. Just when he’d taken a deep breath and relaxed, he heard the voice again.
“You’re wrong about that.”
This was too much. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d rather you kept your opinionto yourself. Just shut up, will you?”
“Okay. But you’re going to be sorry. I can get you out of here.”
“Like I need help going back down the mountain?”
“You will. Believe me, you will.”
He began to shake when he realized it could be his own inner voice he was arguing with. “Have I gone crazy?”
“No. Not yet. That comes after you wander around up here until nightfall and can’t find your way home. Then you’ll panic. You’ll cry. And then you will go stark raving crazy.”
“For a guy who doesn’t exist, you take a lot for granted.”
“Who says I don’t exist? You wouldn’t come to the cemetery today because you’re afraid of dying. And that is exactly what will happen to you before your folks find you. They’ll come up the hill, searching without success for days. By the time they find your body, you’ll be long dead. Then you’ll get your own funeral, your own little hole in the ground, and you’ll find yourself right where they planted me today.”
“You today? Who are you?”
“I’m the so-called hero they buried. You were right, you know. Once in the grave,we never come back.”
If it was his imagination, he’d just gone over the top. He lost the shakes, instead finding himself angry that this ‘whatever it was’ could scare him. “Look, whoever or whatever you are, I’m not afraid of you.”
“You should be. Now that I no longer have a body, I’m as close as the wind on your face. Want a sample of what I can do?”
“Not really. Why don’t you go spook somebody else and leave me alone? I can find my own way out of here.”
There was a sudden rush of wind and Louie felt a distinct slap on his right cheek. Not a love tap. His face stung from whatever had hit him. He reached up and rubbed it. “Hey!”
“I told you.”
“You didn’t have to make it hurt.”
“Would you rather I give you a kiss?”
“Yuck! I’d rather you just got the heck out of here.”
“Hey, kid. Lighten up. I’m here because your spirit called out to me. You see, we’re related to each other. Why do you think your folks came to the funeral today?”
“Everybody was going.”
“I hate funerals.”
“So does your dad. He hates them worse than you. But he was my nephew and felt he should go pay his final respects.”
Louie thought about that for a moment. “Do you feel respected now?”
“Yes. In a way. Oh, there were a few hypocrites there, but generally I got the impression folks were really sorry I’m not with them now.”
“What will it take for me to make you understand I won’t be sorry if you’re not with me now?”
“Ha-ha. Very funny. You know, Louie, I bet you’re going to be a famous writer someday. If you survive the next few hours, that is.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I don’t help you, you’ll be with me in the spirit world for eternity.”
“You say that a lot. Want to get rid of me? Let me tell you what you have to do to get out of the mess you got yourself into.
“Okay, mister bright spirit. What do I have to do?”
“Now you’re talking. First, you have to let go of that poor tree. You’ve been squeezing it so hard, I half expected it to come down on your head.”
“Okay.” He let go of the tree just as a blast of wind whipped through the forest, lifting him off his feet and throwing him bodily into a bramble bush.
He yelled at the sudden pain flashing through his arms from the cuts the branches had wielded on them. So dark he couldn’t see, he felt for them and brought back fingers he knew were covered in blood.
“Yeah. That was smart. What’s your name? If I’m going to keep talking to you, I’d like to know your name at least.”
“My last name is the same as yours. Olsen. Just call me Olsen.”
“Olsen, huh? I thought I knew all of my family.”
“All but me. I was in the Marines, ran away from home to fight the war.”
“You were the guy they were talking about? The one that took out a dozen bad guys while saving your patrol?”
“That was me. They made it, I didn’t, but no hard feelings. Just the luck of the draw.”
“Doesn’t sound like the kind of luck I want. Maybe I should ignore you.”
“Not a good idea. Look, kid, I walked these hills when I was your age. You didn’t think Maw-maw waited for you to make those luscious pies, did you?”
“No buts, little man. Now listen to me and I’ll get you home safe and sound. But no more arguing. We’re almost out of time. There’s a huge storm brewing and if you don’t get down now, you’ll die under a fallen tree and nothing I can do about that.”
“How come you know all this?”
“I said, no arguing. Now, pick yourself up and move straight out from the direction you’re standing. Ten paces and stop.”
Louie was confused. He was angry. He was scared, but he wasn’t stupid. He marched ten steps and stopped.
“Okay, what now?”
“Turn to your right, take one step, and feel for two small trees on your left side. Go between them and keep going four paces. Then stop again.”
He did as told, finding the two saplings and squeezing between them. When he’d gone the appointed distance, he stopped.
“Okay. Now this is the hard part. You have to be very careful here. You’re just a couple of paces from a rocky ledge that is so slick, you’ll go over the side of the bluff if you misstep. You ready?”
“Yes. I wish it wasn’t so black, though. I’d like to see where I am.”
He heard a strange laugh of derision. “I don’t think so. If you saw it, you’d die of fright. Just keep steady and feel your way with your feet. One pace at a time,then wait for me to guide you.”
Louie took one pace. When he stopped and stuck his other foot out, it found nothing under it. “Hey, where are you leading me?”
“Don’t worry about it. The worst that can happen is you’ll end up with me. Now move your right foot to the side a good step and put your weight on it.”
“Okay. Now what?”
“Pivot to your right ninety degrees and take three paces, then stop and don’t move.”
Louie took the three paces, but he felt a soft spot with his right foot just as he stopped. “What the heck am I standing on?”
“You don’t want to know, trust me. Now turn left and gingerly take five paces, putting each foot down and testing it to be solid before shifting your weight. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“You’d better know so, son. This is the last critical part. Now, step, test, step, test, five times and no more. Ready?”
“I’m ready.” He began the torturous task of checking each step. The third one felt kind of shifty, so he hesitated.
“It doesn’t feel solid.”
After a hesitation, the voice continued, “It’s okay. The last steps are going to be like that, but you have to take them. No way back now. Just do not stop until the fifth step.”
“Okay.” He went on, his body swaying like he was on a swing or something equally unstable. But he found solid rock under him after the fifth step. “I did what you said. What now?”
The voice chuckled.
“Take a deep breath and relax. You’re back on the bluff now.”
“What do you mean, I’m back on the bluff. What bluff?”
“Have you ever seen it up here in daylight?”
“Sure. Lots of times.”
“Remember the bluff overlooking the granite cutout that is filled with eighty feet of water?”
“Yeah.” It hit him then. If this apparition or whatever the heck it was had not told him, he’d have fallen into the pond in the dark of a fierce lightning storm. He’d have drowned for sure.
“Holy-moly! Am I where I think I am?”
“You sure are. Maybe I’d better get you a few feet further away in case another blast of wind comes your way.”
“Yeah, maybe you’d better.”
The voice guided him through the thick bramble and overgrowth for fifteen minutes before telling him he could rest. His arms were a mass of cuts and bruises from pushing through all those sharp branches, but he’d found the path. As the rain let up and the clouds drifted higher, the light of early dusk illuminated his pathway home.
Just before going onto the paved stretch that led to the town street, he stopped.
“Thanks for the help. When I get to Heaven, I’ll look you up.” All he heard in exchange was a sudden rush of wind, then stillness. His dad, Raymond, had been watching the path and came hurrying out onto the street.
“Who you talking to, Louie?”
“I, uh…nobody, Dad.”
“Did you get your berries?”
“I did, but the wind whipped the bucket out of my hand, and a rainstorm came up, and it got really dark, and…”
His dad shook his head. “No gooseberry pie then. Too bad.” At that moment he saw the scratches and bruises. “You sure that’s all that happened on the mountain. You look like a refugee from a knockdown, drag-out fight.”
Louie began to tell his dad what had happened, including the voice he’d heard. “Dad, the hero that was buried today, was he your uncle?”
Yes, he would have been, but I wasn’t alive back then. The black sheep of the family, who ran away to fight in the war. Why do you ask?”
“The voice I heard up there said he was Olsen. Just Olsen. Dad, if it hadn’t been for him, I’d have fallen into the big pond under the granite bluff. He got me out of there.”
Raymond shook his head. “That’s impossible. We buried Olsen’s body today after his being missing for over sixty years. He died on a South Pacific island in the Second World War. They finally discovered his body and brought him home for burial. They’d known his story of heroism, but thought he’d been blown to smithereens back then. Olsen died sixty-seven years ago.
“I heard him today, Dad, clear as day, and he’s no black sheep. He’s my hero. I know I heard him. He told me, step for step, how to get myself back from where I’d been blown by a strong gust of wind. As I was following his orders, it felt like I was walking on branches instead of rock. I’d be dead if he hadn’t come to rescue me.”
As he said it, he felt that same brush of wind slap his cheek, this time a love tap, as he’d felt on the mountain. He smiled. It was Olsen, his hero, saying goodbye.
Excerpt: CROSSED LINES
After she went up to change, Bill strolled into the den and found the tall stack of manuscript on her desk. Her newest book. As he lifted the pile and thumbed through to the back pages, she descended the stairs and came to his side.
He said, “Tell me, Jane Delta, does your protagonist always get what she wants?” He turned to her, eyebrows raised at her sensuous appearance.
She’d changed into a translucent flamingo pink negligee, one that left absolutely no doubt about either her body or her intentions. She gave him a naughty grin. “Exactly, Mr. Bill. My girl always gets what she wants. Everything.”
She brushed…against his arm and took the manuscript, laying it face down on the desk.
Now behind her, he pulled the shoulder straps of the negligee up and off, letting the garment fall to the floor. As his arms went around her, his large hands covering her eager breasts and his lips trailing down the back of her silky smooth neck, she picked up the last page and held it up for him. He read the final enigmatic passage aloud.
“I pray thee, fair reader, think not ill of me. Ponder, rather, on what was but is no more; better still, on what was not but now will be.”
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
go to authors, click on Pat Dale
Writing as Pat Dale
Author of mystery, suspense, and romance