Magnolia (Widow) Woebe
The librarian at Sunken Bridge Middle School can't get enough of the books she loves. Here she is, at the Ashboro Public Library, where she has pages from The Lure of Burnt Swamp open and ready for you to read.
preface as it sets the tone for the whole Gavin adventure.
Now, settle back and enjoy your read.
Forces of evil or natural disaster?
Fire remains mystery after ten years
By Di Cook, Senior Staff Reporter, email@example.com
ASHBORO - The ultimate fireworks display, triggered by a freak fire that assaulted Burnt Swamp nearly ten years ago, continues to baffle state environmentalists. No Fourth of July man-made fireworks can compare to the mysterious Halloween blaze that still smolders and flares in a swamp east of the town limits of this Eastern Shore community.
The four-alarmer struck just before midnight on October 31, 1997, bringing volunteer firefighters from the neighboring communities of Trevorton, Natsville, Kade's Cove, and Saigebury to fight the inferno. Twelve men were injured, one critically, as they struggled to bring the flames under control.
"This is the most unusual fire we've encountered in my lifetime," says Wesley Wyatt, assistant state fire marshal. "Even now, it shows no sign of burning itself out. The state has invested more time and money than we can justify, so we're putting it on the back burner - no pun intended."
Though there is no evidence of arson, Wyatt says he believes mischief makers started the blaze, but local residents don't agree. Some attribute it to a freak storm they say appeared out of nowhere and hovered over the cypress swamp. Officials from the National Weather Service at Mount Holly, NJ, say that no storm appeared on their radar that night.
Warnard Elijah Stokes, 84, who lives in the swamp, says the fires are evil. "Them fools at the weather service don't know what they're talkin' about. I saw them lightnin' bolts myself, and they weren't from no trick-or-treaters. They came straight from the talons of them fallen angels that were cast out of heaven. You can scoff about ghosts and goblins if ya want, but I know evil when I see it. And that was pure evil, clean through."
When asked to confirm a rumor that he inherited a diary that holds the key to extinguishing the current blaze where modern technology has failed, Stokes refused to comment.
According to Ashboro mayor Bruce Goodfellow, "Stokes is an eccentric with no clear grasp of reality." Right or wrong, the good people of Ashboro still clean Burnt Swamp's debris off their porches and sidewalks every day, endure the slight "rotten egg" odor, and have grown accustomed to a perpetual cloudy haze that blocks the afternoon sun.
"We can live with a little inconvenience," Goodfellow says. "After all, no place on earth is perfect."
this nuisence of a fire we're been living with for the
past ten years. Let's read on, then. Are you ready to
Prequel (Read it here . . . something you won't find in the book!)
A tendril of gray smoke followed Gavin and his cousin, Molly, into Fennemore’s Dollar Store. There wasn’t a single place in Ashboro free from soot and grime. Burnt Swamp’s underground fire had been burning for ten of Gavin’s twelve years, and firefighters had long since given up trying to put it out.
“There’s Eric.” Gavin pointed to the soda fountain.
“Why didn’t you wait?” Molly rushed past the counter, over to the souvenir wall, and grabbed her brother’s arm. “We were supposed to come together.”
“I was hungry,” Eric licked his chocolate mustache.
“You’re always hungry,” Molly said. “Want some Dragon Scales sherbet, Gavin?”
“You go ahead,” Gavin mumbled.
“Hey, Gav, what’s with the hound dog face?” Eric asked.
“Nothing.” Gavin stared at his sneakers.
“I know that look.” Molly stepped closer. “Bad report card.”
And summer school, to boot, but Gavin wasn’t about to tell her about that. “So what if it is?”
“I was just trying to help.” Molly swung around so fast that her braid smacked Gavin like a cow’s tail swatting a fly.
“Hey, you braided me.” Gavin rubbed his shoulder.
Molly snickered. “I ‘braided’ you?”
“Yeah. You bapped me with your braid.”
“Braided? Bapped?” Eric smirked. “Clever words for a freckle-faced dummy.”
“He’s not a freckle-faced dummy. He’s dyslexic,” Molly said.
Gavin growled under his breath. “I’ve about had it with you, Eric.”
Eric balled his hands into fists.
“Truce!” Molly jumped between them. “Lighten up, Eric. And you . . .” She turned to Gavin. “Get a grip.”
“Hey, what’s the ruckus?” The shop owner wielded a broom over the warped floor, scuffed and worn into grooves from customers coming and going for fifty years.
“Sorry, Mr. Jackson—just a friendly family feud,” Molly said.
Eric studied the items on Gavin’s favorite wall—floor-to-ceiling shelves and racks of souvenirs, magazines, comic books, magic tricks, video games, and dragon lore.
“Oh, look,” he waved something in Gavin’s direction. “They’ve got new rubber dragon-do.”
“It’s not new.” Gavin turned to Mr. Jackson who was sweeping his way to the back of the shop. “It’s been on the top shelf for two years.”
At Mr. Jackson’s smile and nod, Gavin meandered down the game aisle, pausing beside the checkers table. But instead of checkers, there was a new game—or old, if the faded board was any indication.
“Eric, what’s this?” The masonite board caught Gavin’s attention.
Eric loped toward him, dragon-do in hand. “Cool! It’s a Ouija board.”
Gavin leaned in closer.
“What are you guys looking at?” Molly elbowed her way between the boys and then jumped back. “Leave that alone.” Molly planted her hands on her hips. “It’s dangerous.”
"No, it’s not,” Eric said. “Trixie and I play it all the time at home.”
At the mention of her stepmother’s name, Molly reacted exactly as Gavin had expected. She clenched her jaw, squeezed her eyes shut, then inhaled and exhaled long and loud, as though willing a stream of vapor to gush from her nose and ears.
“Our father’s wife,” she paused—“How shall I say this?—is a fool! She has no clue that dabbling in the occult can—”
“She’s cool, Mol. You’d find out if you gave her half a chance. Ouiji’s a fun game. Watch.” Eric slapped both hands on the wooden indicator. “Okay, whoever you are, here’s a question for you. Should we be afraid?” The pointer turned slowly under Eric’s fingertips to YES.
Gavin laughed. “You’re doing that yourself.”
“No, I’m not. Honest.” The corners of Eric’s mouth turned upward.
“Ri-i-i-i-ght,” Gavin said. “I know you love a good practical joke.”
“Oh, wise Ouija,” Eric said in his spookiest voice. “What should we be afraid of?” The heart-shaped piece moved and stopped at the letter S.
“Cool,” Eric said. The heart began to move to the letter H, then to the letters I and M.
“Eric, you stop right this minute,” Molly shouted.
“Okay.” Eric stood up and tossed the game table to Gavin. “Think quick.”
Gavin’s hands grabbed the falling object, pointer and all.
“Good catch! I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Before Gavin could respond, he found himself on his knees with the pointer moving on its own. “Hey, it’s going to the E.” He stiffened. “. . . R . . . A.” And then it stopped.
Gavin felt that queasy sort of feeling in the pit of his stomach, worse than when he had to take a pop quiz.
“S-H-I-M-E-R-A?” Eric said. “That’s not a word, Gavin. If you’re going to play the game, you’ve at least got to know how to spell!”
“I didn’t do it!”
“It is a word,” a deep voice answered. “A devil word.”
Gavin swiveled around to see a scrawny-armed old man wearing worn-out jeans, faded shirt, and moccasins. “Uncle Warney! What are you doing here?”
“Spirit o’ God rose up in me. I know’d you was in trouble.” He tilted his balding, shaved head backward, giving Gavin an all-too-clear view of his great-uncle’s hairy nostrils.
“We’re not in trouble.” Eric chuckled. “We’re just playing a game.”
Gavin’s heart thumped harder. “What’s a devil word?”
“We got good and bad forces in this here swamp, and one of them bad forces is Sh-eye-merra.”
Gavin’s fingers tightened on the game table. A slow tremble started from his gut, spreading upward and outward until his whole body began to shake.
Uncle Warney gripped Gavin’s shoulder. “Ya gotta protect ‘em, Father God. Encamp them angels of yers ‘round ‘em.”
“What’s the matter with Gavin?” Molly asked.
“I’m . . . stuck.” Gavin couldn’t breathe. “It feels like someone crazy-glued my hands.”
“Quit fooling around.” Molly grabbed the Ouija board. “Come on, let go of that thing.”
“I can’t, I tell you. I’m not kidding!” Gavin yelled, feeling panic rise in his chest.
“I’ll get him.” Eric grabbed Gavin’s waist. “Help me pull, Molly.”
Fire-like heat seared Gavin’s palms. “It hurts,” he howled, no longer able to hold back the tears. A smothering sensation closed in, as if somebody had sucked all the oxygen from the air.
“My Lord and my God,” Uncle Warney breathed. “It’s happenin’.” He lifted his cane high and uttered a thunderous but controlled whisper. “In the mighty name of Jesus!”
A strong wind lifted Gavin’s feet off the floor. The game board cracked, split down the middle, and released Gavin’s hands. The three cousins collapsed like marionettes.
“What’s the ruckus?” Mr. Jackson stood over them, broom in hand.
Gavin, shaky and sweaty, pointed at the table. “That—Ouija board.”
“It’s possessed.” Molly said as she and Eric scrambled to their feet.
“What Ouija board?” Mr. Jackson turned the table upright. “All we have is chess and checkers.”
“But . . .” Gavin gawked at the perfectly whole game table with black and white squares.
Uncle Warney leaned on his gnarled cane and nudged Gavin toward the door. “Molly, Eric—I’ll walk Gavin home.”
Before Gavin could say goodbye, Uncle Warney ushered him outside.
Gavin’s hand flew to his throat. “I didn’t do anything. Honest. It’s not my fault.”
“I been askin’ the Lord fer a sign. When I seen that mystery board givin’ ya a time in there, that’s when I knowed.”
“Knowed . . . er, knew what?” Gavin’s words caught in his throat and his eyes burned.
Color crept up Uncle Warney’s neck. His bald head began to glow—whether from inside or from the reflection of the sunset, Gavin couldn’t tell. Uncle Warney clamped his arm around Gavin’s shoulder and held him tight as they walked. “Yer the one,” he said, looking deep into Gavin’s eyes.
“The one for what?” Gavin shivered in the June air, in spite of—or because of—Uncle Warney’s grip.
“The one God picked.” Uncle Warney hugged Gavin.
“Picked for what?”
“The one God’s gonna use ta set things right in Burnt Swamp.”
Uncle Warney spun Gavin around. “You cain’t jest run away from the Lord’s call on yer life, Gavin.”
“But I got the worst report card ever! What’s God want with a dummy like me?”
“God don’t call ya fer what ya can do. He calls ya fer who ya are.”
“If God wanted to use me, He should have wired my brain so I could read. I don’t wanna be called by God. I just wanna be normal.” Gavin cried as he wrenched from Uncle Warney’s hold and started running down the sidewalk.
“You’ll come around, son. Just you wait.”
“Leave me alone,” Gavin called, the words wafting over his shoulder.
Gavin ran as fast of he could. But he couldn’t outrun his fear of the Ouija board and Uncle Warney’s words.
Read Chapter 1: Dumbfounded
Click a link below to read Chapter 1 of Gavin Goodfellow: The Lure of Burnt Swamp.
Christian Library Journal - Gavin Goodfellow Review
Click the link below to read the review of Gavin Goodfellow: The Lure of Burnt Swamp from the Christian Library Journal in the September 2007 issue.