I am sorry for the late Open Pen post (I had a research paper due today at noon), but here is an except from Bethia Lark’s novel, Myra Jaynes. The backstory of this excerpt is that the four boys have been guarding a pile of high quality wood outside an old house in the wood. One of the boys, David, and his family have been trying to renovate the old house– the old haunted house– and his three friends have joined him for the night patrol.
Bethia would love to hear critiques on how her dialogue flows and what we think about each of the four boys. If you can take the time out of your busy day to comment on this piece, I know she would appreciate it! Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to address all of her questions.
Open Pen is a critique opportunity on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.
Myra Jaynes (Chapter 5) by Bethia Lark
“Hey, David,” Charlie asked as he whittled a stick into a point, “why do you really want this old lumber anyways? I mean, it seems to be giving you a lot of trouble.”
“I just want to keep the history of the place, that’s all.”
“Well, the history here is a scary, haunted history, so I would want to clear out the old place, if you know what I mean.” Said Thomas as he looked back at the old house.
The boys were in the back yard of the house and facing the woods. There was an open clearing right in front of them, with a lone oak tree in the middle of it. An old swing hung from one of the branches and was swaying in the breeze, the ropes creaking, which only added to the boys’ nervous energy. There was no thought of sleeping just then.
“I don’t think the thief wants the lumber exactly,” Gerald said thoughtfully. “I think they would have taken any lumber piled up in front of the place. Nobody here really wants you to renovate the place. They think it is too dangerous. Nobody wants to see you get hurt.”
“I know, Gerald, but we don’t have much choice. These townsfolk don’t understand my dad. McKinleys don’t just give up because of ghost stories.”
“Then your dad is mighty foolish.” Said Thomas.
“That’s only if the ghost stories are true. I mean, whose ghost is supposed to be haunting this place anyways.”
The three boys looked at each other. They had no idea. No one had actually seen the ghost up close; they were too busy running. Charlie shrugged.
David sighed. “Well, until you guys know, then you are not going to even come close to convincing either my dad or me. My dad hasn’t seen any sign of the ghost. If you don’t give him proof, he is not going to listen. Trust me. I know.”
Charlie suddenly piped up and said, “David, do you have any nicknames I can call you? Maybe like Dave?”
“No. I really do not like the name Dave. It brings back too many bad memories.”
“Like what?” asked Thomas.
“Well, on my first day at school, I was attacked by bullies. They were so big and fierce I couldn’t fight back, so I just gave in to them. That’s when they started calling me Dave the Slave. When I grew up, I started to love history and knew almost everything I could learn about it. I corrected some of my fellow history students one day about the use of the word knave in literature, so they started calling me Dave the Knave. I tried several times to shake those names off, but they have stayed with me almost all my life. My family sometimes calls me Giant Killer, but I’d rather that not be used by everybody.”
“Why Giant Killer?” Thomas asked looking quite confused.
Gerald just looked at his brother. “Does David and Goliath ring any bells?”
Thomas looked sheepish. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Sorry, silly question.”
David faced his companions, his face grim and fierce. “If any of you tell another soul about my nicknames, I…” He stopped, confusion sweeping over his face. He didn’t really know what he would do.
Gerald laid a hand on his shoulder and said with an honest face, “We won’t tell anyone. We promise, and we don’t break promises to friends, do we boys?” The others shook their heads.
David smiled. “Thanks, guys. I’ve never had friends like you before.”
“Here, let me introduce you to a handy word called y’all. It means multiple yous. Southern people say it.” Charlie grinned.
David gave a half smile and repeated obediently, “I’ve never had friends like y’all before.” The word felt weird on his tongue, almost like it was wrong.
Charlie clapped him on the back and laughed. “There, you got it.” He stretched out on the wood and gave a contented sigh. “We’ll have to teach you real English. You ain’t been exposed to it before now, I reckon.” His grin stretched from ear-to-ear as David grimaced. Then he let out a huge yawn.
By this time, the night had completely fallen, and the woods were pitch black. The clearing, however, was dappled with moonlight. The boys decided it was probably best if they tried to get some sleep. They then decided they should set a watch. None of the local boys wanted to be watching at midnight, which was a couple hours away, so David took first watch. The boys settled down in their sleeping bags and tried to sleep. About thirty minutes later, David heard three distinct snores.
Charlie snorted, then wheezed as he inhaled. Thomas had an almost constant whine, and would occasionally mumble in his sleep. Gerald’s was the quietest snore, and was more like heavy breathing. David watched as his companions slept, and smiled at each snort. Their snores kind of told about their personalities.
At midnight, David saw a white form coming from the direction of the woods. He shook his companions awake, putting his hands over their mouths so that they would be quiet. Thomas still let out a squeak. David looked quickly at the form, but it had stopped. The boys stared anxiously at the form, but it still did not advance, as though it were listening for something. It had stopped by the swing, which was a good 75 yards away, and seemed to glow in the moonlight. Each stared at each other, waiting for the other to move or act, for several minutes. Finally, the form began to advance, though more slowly than before.
Charlie was the first to speak, but he did so in a very low whisper, his eyes glued to the white form. “Guys, I think we should get out of here.”
“I can’t.” David whispered back. “I promised my dad that I would guard the pile. I have my shot gun.” He said as he slowly lifted the weapon from where it lay.
“Like that will stop a ghost.”
The form stopped again at the sight of the gun, and even seemed to retreat, but then it stopped again and began to advance once more at an agonizingly slow pace when it saw that David was not preparing to fire.
After it had advanced another few yards, Thomas couldn’t take it any longer and leaped off the pile and into the woods, his flashlight jumping wildly as he tore through the trees down the driveway.
Gerald watched him go, but did not follow his brother.
The boys turned their attention back to the ghost, for by now the two local boys were convinced it was the ghost.
Charlie spoke again, this time with a very noticeable tremor in his voice. “I really think we ought to get out of here, guys. I know I am.” And he leaped off the pile and ran after Thomas, yelling and gesticulating at the older boys still on the pile as he did so, “Come on! You have to run!” His voice could be heard fading into the darkness, and then all was silent.
David looked at his remaining companion. Gerald didn’t look too confident either, but he had a resolution in his face that said he was not going to run, at least not right then.
Gerald saw David staring at him and said in a shaky whisper, “I promised I would watch by you here tonight. True friends don’t break their promises, and they definitely don’t leave their friends in a dangerous situation all by themselves.” David smiled and whispered a thank you, but Gerald wasn’t finished. “True friends also don’t do foolish things and expect their friends to follow them into danger either. Come with me.”
Now David understood. Gerald really did not want to stay, but he also wasn’t going to just leave David alone with the ‘ghost’ when he had made a promise to stay with his friend. “You can go Gerald. I understand.”
“No. I am not leaving you.” But his voice showed signs of weakening. He was struggling within himself, his fear trying to get sway over his loyalty and integrity.
“Well, I am not leaving. I promised my dad I would guard the pile, and I will. I’ll admit, I am starting to get really scared, but I am sticking to my post. I am not leaving. You can go if you want to. I really do understand and am very glad you have stuck with me this far, but I cannot go with you. I am staying.”
“David, I can’t just leave you.”
“Go or stay. It’s your choice.”
Gerald’s fear began to take over. David was giving him a way out of his promise. What could Gerald do to help his friend. Nothing. Or was there something he could do? He suddenly leaped up and told his friend hurriedly, “I’ll be back, David. I just got to get reinforcements.” And away he sped down the driveway after the others.
David wasn’t sure if he would come back, but it made him feel better knowing that Gerald was at least trying to think of him. He turned his attention back to the ghost, but it had disappeared. He called out into the darkness, “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” Each question got quieter and quieter, his voice sounding strange and loud in the still night. Not even the crickets chirped.
A couple of hours later, he started awake from his doze to find Gerald calling his name, and his dad flashing a light into his eyes. He blocked the bright light with his arm, trying to remember what had happened as they pelted him with questions. The last thing he recalled was not receiving an answer from the ghost. After a little bit, the normal noises of the night had returned, but he had dared not yell out loud again, and eventually fell into a doze, from which he was awakened by Gerald’s concerned voice asking if he was hurt. He looked down, and on the lumber pile was an old Bible.