This is one of my earlier books, published many years before Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball and my other more widely-read works. I will have chapters from it posted online shortly, and please check back soon for more updates.
Jacob sat before the fire at Camp Wildwood.
Located in the hills above the Platte River near South Bend, Nebraska, the summer camp had been his haven every summer for the past five years. A Wildwood camper since he had turned seven, the magic of this special place offered Jacob an invitation to embark on a journey far from the troubled world.
At seven, he’d arrived at camp sporting a crew cut, but he was now twelve-years-old, and wore his raven hair a little long and shaggy. Jacob’s dark brown eyes resembled black shiny marbles as he gazed into the crackling blaze, excitedly thinking of: Horseback riding, Critter Talks and nature walks, the hundred foot slide at the pool, the paddle boat rides at the lake, the zip-line in Jungleland, the obstacle course of Dragon Stone, flag, table-hopping, vespers, meetings at the Mecca, late night chats with his cabin mates, and many, many more wonderful things.
Jacob’s week at Camp Wildwood was going to be great!
Blast! A sudden explosion erupted from the center of the campfire. Jacob was startled at first, but hearing the oohs and aahs rippling through the crowd of three-hundred kids around him, he knew it was only the magic of Camp beginning.
Poooof! Bright red smoke billowed up from the fire. Phizzz! Fizzle! Phitt! Within the amber smoke, tiny motes of sparkling light, rose like a band of fairies, twirling about in dazzling circles. Then, all at once, the sizzling bursts spun away into the woodlands, floating on the evening air like gracefully drifting fireflies. The magic of Wildwood had officially begun.
Jacob tried to appear calm even though he felt excitement running through him like webs of lightning in a stormy sky. His heart was beat-ing wildly. His palms were sweating. His tennis shoes kept up a steady tapping as he waited in anticipation. And then suddenly . . . the summer night was filled with wild and crazy noises as the counselors launched into their comic skits, jokes, cheers and meaningless songs.
Jacob and the crowd of kids around him were totally thrilled to be entertained by the counselors. Some had little (or no talent) while others were quite good at being camp clowns. It was a great way to welcome new and old campers, alike. At this traditional opening camp-fire, Jacob felt like he was being reacquainted with an old friend. It felt really good to be back at Camp.
Blast! An hour into the opening campfire, there came another ex-plosion. Boom! Boom! Two more terrific blasts followed, and columns of multicolored smoke arose from the woodlands beyond the campfire. A rider appeared on a black horse at the edge of the distant tree line. His cloak, hood, and leather pants, were darker than the night. As he raised a glowing sword above his head, silver studs glinted on his leather gauntlets. Spinning the blue blade round and round, he wove patterns in the air.
Jacob and the other campers rose a little higher on their log seats. They peered warily at this mysterious horseman as his horse trotted out into the clearing.
“Behold!” he shouted in a deep, booming voice with a bit of an Irish lilt. “Behold, I the Bard of the Grove, have come seeking brave adventurers to go on a quest! Could it be that I have come to the right place?”
Jacob studied some of the new campers. He was amused to find them looking in silent wonder at the horseman. He then joined the older order of campers as they shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes! You have come to the right place!”
The dark swordsman slid from his saddle, landing gracefully beside his prancing horse. He spun his glowing blade, weaving light patterns in the shadows beyond the fire. As the crowd blinked in wonder, the Bard shouted, “Come, Dragons! For I have discovered a band of adven-turers who will stand against you! Come, and let the battle of Dragon Stone begin!” In the safe confines of the mesmerized audience, Jacob peered warily into the darkened trees surrounding the campfire. Other campers around him did the same. Some pointed at the shadowy figures appearing amongst the trees. Others harshly whispered. One little girl crawled into the lap of her counselor. Two younger boys stood to their feet, ready to meet the challenge. Fear, curiosity, and wonder rippled through counselors and campers alike.
Seven dreadful creatures stalked down the stairway between the rows of log seats. The Seven Dragons of Dread had come. The Dragon Stone Play had started.
One by one, the hideous figures, dressed in black robes and grue-some masks, crept down toward the campfire. As they hissed and growled, some of the bolder campers taunted them, then chuckled when one of the ghastly Dragons lunged at them. New campers edged their way back onto their seats, not wanting any part of the Dragons swatting at the braver campers.
With a leap, the seven Dragons launched themselves from the last set of steps, hurtling toward the fire. The moment the band of Dragons touched down, they growled and swarmed around the Bard.
Jacob calmed a new camper with a gentle pat on her shoulder. He was then caught up in the battle between Bard and Dragons. He wanted to tell the new girl next to him that this was one of the usual events of campfire, but he was too amazed to speak. The Dragons of Dread had all drawn glowing swords of their own, and they were fiercely attacking the Bard.
Is this something new? wondered Jacob, his nose scrunched up, his mouth hanging open in surprise. This is not how the first act begins! The Dragons usually dart past the Bard, eyeing his blazing sword. They then huddle just out of his reach, hissing like a pack of wet cats! But this? Glowing red swords and actually attacking the Bard? This must be a new part of the play!
Shring! Clang! Shrang! The sounds of clanging swords echoed throughout the clearing. In a mad rush, the Dragons lunged at the lone Bard. Yet in a dazzling display of swordsmanship, the Bard parried their attacks and spun out of their reach. His hood fell from his head, and wild strands of dark hair fell to his shoulders. A dangerous gleam came to his eyes, a mocking grin appeared on his bearded features. Blue flame rapidly scurried down his blade as the Bard twirled it above his head. He then darted back into the mob of Dragons, swiftly striking each of them with his sword. The moment the flaming sword touched the Dragons, they would freeze and stiffen like statues.
Jacob looked on, totally astonished by the flickering blue sword of the Bard. He wanted to cheer as he subdued each Dragon, but he was afraid he might distract him.
As the Bard moved away from the sixth Dragon, leaving it frozen in place, he spun about to wield his blade against his final enemy, the seventh Dragon.
Snap! Crack! Whoosh! The seventh Dragon wickedly lashed out at the valiant Bard and knocked his sword aside.
Jacob nearly leaped from his seat. The crowd groaned. One little girl whimpered, “Oh, that poor man!” And everyone helplessly watched as this last Dragon struck the Bard with his own glowing red blade. Blam! With a brilliant flash of red-hot light, the Bard went sprawling outside the firelight.
The Dragon glared at the watching crowd, and roared:
I am the Dragon of Fear,
The one who makes kids afraid.
I spread my dread and terror,
I thrive on midnight raids!
I haunt and terrorize children,
Even grownups and family dogs.
I appear late at night to scare you,
It’s more fun than juggling with frogs!
I come to shadowy bedrooms.
I’ve been to yours once or twice.
Lurking inside your closet.
I’m worse than having head lice!
I am the Dragon of Fear,
And you’ll all tremble before me,
Worries, Fears, and Terrors,
From me you will never be free!
With a tremendous leap, the Bard reappeared. Shouting a challenge to the Dragon of Fear, he hurtled forward, raising his blue sword above his head. The Dragon of Fear lashed out with his fiery red sword, but the Bard swiftly parried the stroke. The Bard whipped his sword down in a lightning-swift stroke. Swap! The flat of the blue sword struck the snarling Dragon in the center of his chest. Za-zap! With a brilliant flash of sapphire light, the Dragon of Fear froze in place beside the other six Dragons.
Sweat running freely down his face, the Bard fixed the audience with a steely glint in his blue eyes. “Beware the Dragons,” he wearily warned in harsh whispers. “Beware the Dragons of Dread!”
Jacob let out his breath. He had been holding it ever since the Dragon of Fear had knocked the Bard sprawling. He had truly thought the brave Bard was done for. He knew it was not his imagination. The Dragon Stone Play was different this year. This fact thrilled him, yet scared him at the same time. With the Dragons actually attacking the Bard, Jacob sensed that a real danger threatened him and the other campers. He could tell that the Bard had been fighting for his very life. He wondered curiously what was going on. Suddenly, the battle-weary Bard gazed directly at him.
“The tale of the Dragon Stone will now begin,” he softly said above the crackling of the flames. “You must listen closely . . . for your life depends on what I share with you. You are valuable and will play a key role in defeating these beasts. You are valuable. What you hold inside is priceless . . . and very powerful. Therefore, you are a dangerous threat to these dreaded monsters. Listen well, before these seven Dragons break the spells that I have bound them with. Listen, and perhaps, you’ll become a part of my tale.”
With that, his piercing blue eyes locked on him, the Bard smiled at Jacob. He then spoke, and said, “Long ago and far away . . .”
Before the campfire at Camp Wildwood, Jacob leaned forward with all the other campers to hear the Bard more clearly. The dark-haired Bard lowered his voice as he continued the tale of Dragon Stone. Above the crackle of flames, his voice drifted far on the night breezes: “Corey expected a sword or a lance. Instead, Lady Valerie the Stone Warden said, ‘The Second Law on the Path to Wisdom is to Love Others.'”
As the Bard fell silent, he fixed Jacob in his sights. The traces of a smile played on his bearded features.
Jacob looked deep into the man’s blue eyes. He wondered, Why does he keep looking my way? Am I supposed to be paying particular attention to what he’s been saying? I’m listening to his tale just like everyone around me. But it seems he’s speaking directly to me! Why?
The Bard moved slowly in front of the campers. He raised his glow-ing blue sword and looked directly at Jacob as he said, “Fear invades all of our lives. Fear clutches at us until its claws are embedded in the very fabric of our soul, sinking so deep that its venom works its way into our being, poisoning and paralyzing, at times even more cruel than a dragon’s claws, even more deadly than a dragon’s flames. It is this destructive force that this Dragon of Fear would send sweeping into our lives . . . unless . . .”
And his last word hung in the still summer night air. And though he said not a word, the Bard’s last word seemed to echo amongst the trees of the surrounding forest: Unless . . . unless . . .
Three hundred campers leaned forward on their log seats, straining to hear what more the Bard might say.
Jacob looked once more to the man’s eyes. As if on cue, he looked directly at him. “Find the Word,” he heard his voice in his mind. “Find the Word of Power.”
Jacob blinked. Word of Power? he thought. What Word of Power? What are you trying to tell me? The Bard looked at him, yet told the entire audience: “The Seven Dragons of Dread cannot be slain by sword, lance, or arrow. They may only be defeated by Seven Words of Power; words which must be earned at a hidden place known as the Briar Grove.”
Jacob heard the steady pounding of thunder. Then realized it was his own heart thumping against the walls of his chest. He knew, in some mysterious way, that he had been born for this moment. All that had been before and all that would come later, were not as important as this moment. For in this one instant, Jacob would make a decision that would change the course of his life forever.
Jacob accepted the challenge the Bard put forth as he said, “You must take up the quest and travel to the Briar Grove. Pass the First Trial and earn the Word of Power over the Dragon of Fear. Do this, and you shall defeat Fear. Do it not, and you shall be haunted by Fear for as long as you shall live.”
And deep in the core of his soul, Jacob solemnly said, “So be it.”
The moment Jacob accepted the quest to seek out the Briar Grove to earn the secret word which would hold power over Fear, the Dragon of Fear knew. And with hurricane force, the Dragon’s rage washed over him.
Jacob, a camper of Camp Wildwood since he was seven-years-old, suddenly found himself under attack. All of his fears swooped down on him like a raptor after its prey. Before he could even draw breath, the invisible claws of the Dragon clutched him and viciously he blasted him with spells and visions of terror.
Jacob helplessly remembered:
“Go on. Get up there. You’ll be harnessed in. Just hold onto the bar and leap from the platform! There’s nothing to be afraid of!”
So said Jacob’s counselor as she kindly encouraged him to ride the zip-line, the final obstacle of the Jungleland adventure trail. Most campers literally leaped at the chance to fly down the zip-line. It was a wild ride with a board attached to a strand of wire stretched between two trees one hundred and fifty feet apart. Campers simply strapped themselves in and went zipping down the line forty feet above the woodlands. Most of the riders screamed as they flew toward the tree at the opposite end of the ride. Some laughed hysterically. Some giggled nervously. Some closed their eyes and silently flew, their stomachs doing flip-flops as they hurtled through the air. But no matter how campers went down the wire, all of them had the same thing on their minds the moment their tennies connected with the mattress at the end. They all wanted to ride the zip-line again.
But not little seven-year old Jacob. He just couldn’t believe his other cabin mates were having such a good time. He was simply too terrified.
Jacob fearfully thought of the”What Ifs.” They hit him like a mad tornado, and he shivered and trembled as he stood there on the platform.
What If he fell off the platform before he could strap himself into place?What If the board broke beneath him?What If the wire strand snapped in two? What If he crashed to the forest floor? What If he went too fast and slammed into the mattress forty feet above the ground? What If he lost his breakfast while flying through the air?What If he didn’t ride the zip-line and all his cabin mates snickered behind his back? He could just see them dancing like chickens, squawking, “Brock! Brock! Brock!” What If . . .
The possibilities had been endless. And each time Jacob worked up the nerve to step off the zip-line platform, a flood of frightful thoughts washed over him. The What Ifs came screaming at him like a pack of wild banshees, taunting and teasing him as he tottered back and forth on the platform.
And then, Jacob had found himself frozen in place, with one foot in the air and one planted on the platform, and every detail of that moment was etched into his memory forever.
FEAR. TERROR. DREAD. HORROR. FRIGHT.
As Jacob tried to have a good time at Camp Wildwood summer camp, all of these forces with their devastating powers to haunt a seven-year-old child came rushing up.
Jacob thought of the deep, dark waters at the Wildwood Lake. What If the paddle boat sinks? What If a beast like the Loch Ness Monster eyed him wiggling toes in the water? What If the “banana” boat was bitten by a catfish and it suddenly exploded? What If he was the only one left clinging to the rubber tube of the banana, and like a popped balloon, it flew up and out of the lake and carried him over into the nearby Platte River? What If the “Big Kahuna” motor boat took a nose dive, and pulled those it was towing to the murky bottom of the lake? What If he was pulled to the lake bottom and he tried to scream but ended up with a mouthful of wiggling fish?
Jacob then thought of the Slide-winder at the Wildwood swimming pool. What If he slid down that one hundred foot slide, skimmed the surface of the pool, skipped across a row of sunbathers on the paved walkway, and then went shooting into the girls dressing room?
Jacob was reminded of Vespers and Lights Out, and how spooky the animal noises were that came from the woods outside his cabin. What If his other cabin mates laughed when he asked someone to journey to the bathroom with him? What If he inched his way across the moonlit trail to the pool house and a big, furry raccoon sprang up at him? What If the raccoon startled him so bad he wet his pants? What If he had to return to his cabin with soggy pants and all his cabin mates found out what had happened?
Jacob remembered Horseback Riding on the winding forest trails beyond Ranch Camp. What If the horse he was riding didn’t like him? What If his horse tried to barge ahead of the other horses and took off racing through the woods? What If he screamed, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” and all the horse did was Go! Go! Go?
Jacob thought of Critter Talks and sitting in the woods with his counselor and cabin mates. What If a spider spun a web in his hair? What If a bee flew in his ear? What If a snake crawled across his bare feet? What If he was running from a hungry mass of mosquitoes and fell face-first into a patch of poison ivy? What If, what if, what if. For a seven-year-old boy at his first summer at Camp Wildwood, the possibilities for disaster had been endless. The Dragon of Fear sent those old memories crashing down on Jacob like a monstrous wave. Though all those fears had been real five years ago, he sat there before the campfire, remembering every one. And then something strange began to happen. Jacob took in a deep breath. He held it as the zip-line vision rolled like a movie in his mind. And then he remembered something else; something important; something wondrous; quite possibly the key that had unlocked the shackles of fear that had once ensnared a little Camp Wildwood camper.
He had been standing there, one foot in the air, the other slipping off the platform, all the terrible terrors teasing, taunting and tugging at him, when suddenly one of the whisperings of Fear backfired.
The Dragon of Fear had harshly whispered, “Remember Closing Campfire. No firelight. No flashlights. Walking down a dark trail. Trees overhead blocking out the silver moonlight and sparkling stars. Groping along the Trail of Silence. Bumping into other campers. Fumbling through the Fat Lady’s Nightmare and stumbling down the pitch black, shadowy trail.”
Jacob had taken a firmer grip on the bar of the zip-line. He had felt the parachute harness tighten like a boa constrictor on his shoulders and around his waist. His fear-widened eyes had locked on the gully forty feet below.
The Dragon of Fear then made his mistake. Thinking he had totally terrified him with his last remark, he threw one last zinger his way: “Walking through the shadowy darkness, bushes and trees closing in all around you, and suddenly glowing green, mysterious eyes gazing and glaring hatefully at you from the surrounding woods! Do you remember the glowing green eyes?”
And little seven-year-old Jacob had stopped himself from flying down the zip-line. He had planted both feet on the platform and held his head high. Not caring that the other campers were staring at him with curious looks on their faces, Jacob had remained frozen there like a statue. In that moment, he actually imagined himself a great and glorious hero, like the ones he had read about in fairy tales. A spark of pure bravery came to life in his heart. This spark of bravery lit a fire of courage, and within seconds, Jacob was filled with fearless-ness. He had become his own hero!
Little did his counselor or cabin mates know of all the terrible thoughts of horror and What Ifs the Dragon of Fear had thrown his way. Little did they know that tiny Jacob had been so mercilessly bom-barded by terrors of the Dragon. And little did anyone–counselor or campers–understand Jacob when he finally whispered, “Magic!”
Yes, the forest on the dark walk away from Closing Campfire, had seemed to come alive with tiny specks of glowing green light. Yes, they could have been the shiny eyes of gremlins or boggarts, glaring and gazing at the campers who passed by in hushed amazement. But that’s not at all how Jacob saw things. No, not for one second.
Fireflies! had been his first thought. And then even better than that, were his seconds thoughts: Flying Fairies! Tiny woodland imps whizzing through the air, leaving trails of glowing green light! Marvelous! Wonderful! Fantastic! What a terrific way to end my last evening at Camp Wildwood! What a beautiful memory to take with me as I leave the darkened woodland!
And then Jacob had summed up the mysterious spectacle of dazzling green lights in one word: Magic!
And that thought went through him like a bolt of lightning as he had stood poised on the zip-line. And thinking of those little magical specks of glowing green light, Jacob had cast Fear down. The Magic of Wildwood! he had thought. And then spoke out loud, “By the Magic of Wildwood, I will overcome Fear!”
Jacob had then leaped from the platform and soared through the air.