Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?
When last we left poor Charlie Jackson, the 10-year-old was surrounded in dark lake water by ghostly white muskies -- including his father, who had turned into a fish after being bitten by one of them. What happens next in this children's ghost serial? You tell me! Submissions for the final Chapter 4 of The Tale of the Haunted Muskie are due to firstname.lastname@example.org by 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30. Try to keep them 500 words or less. The chosen Chapter 4 and complete story will be published on the Star Tribune web site on Monday -- so you can frighten or amuse your children with it on Halloween Night!
Newcomers to the story are invited to participate. A link to all Chapter 4 submissions will be available on Monday for interested readers. Below are the first three chapters:
The first two chapters are in italics below, with the third new chapter at the end.
CHAPTER 1, published Monday, Oct. 10: Once every October, Charlie Jackson’s family drove north to an old smelly cabin on Lake Belle Taine. There was something very familiar – very boring – about the trip. It usually followed the fourth or fifth call from Charlie’s principal. This time, Charlie’s mom and dad were so fed up, they barely let him talk the whole four-hour drive.
CHAPTER 2, by James McAlpine, published Monday Oct. 17:
Chapter 3, by Mark Merrell, published Oct. 24, 2011
Charlie’s dad came racing past with his fishing vest on and carrying his huge tackle box, straight-legging it down the hill looking like he was going to fall with each step.
“Come on Charlie, it is getting dark!”
Charlie bounded after him.
Half an hour later they reached their favorite spot, just south of the peninsula that jutted out from the shore opposite their cabin to the north. Thick pine trees blocked their view of the resort’s lights. Dusk was falling.
“Dad, an old guy was by our boat just now, and he told me to get off the lake before sundown.”
His dad said, “He probably saw what a serious fisherman you are and wanted to make sure you didn’t catch any of his muskies tonight.”
“I dunno dad, he seemed pretty … concerned.”
“You know what I’m concerned about Charlie, YOU. I mean, pulling the fire alarm at school? What were you thinking?”
“I know dad, I’m really trying…”
Just then, Charlie saw a flash of white 30 yards away.
“Dad, did you see that?”
“It looked like, like a white muskie!”
Charlie’s dad laughed, “An albino Muskie. If we catch him we’ll be in the paper for sure.”
“There!” Charlie pointed to the other side of the boat. His Dad whirled around but it was gone again. They sat in silence. Charlie noticed his hands were white gripping his fishing pole.
Splash! Out of the water jumped the biggest, whitest fish Charlie had ever seen. It was a muskie all right. It was ghostly white, and Charlie saw its sharp shiny teeth right before they bit hard into his dad’s arm.
“Aaaagh!” his dad screamed, thrashing his left arm side to side. It seemed to Charlie like forever, but finally the fish let go, and floated back down to the water. It looked at Charlie and winked, then slid back under the surface.
Charlie had started the motor and steered the boat back to the resort. His dad’s arm wasn’t bleeding much, but there were a dozen red tooth holes in his skin. He was hanging half off his seat, legs stretched across the boat bottom, moaning.
They were coasting into the dock and Charlie was going to scream for help when he heard splashes in the water behind him. He turned slowly around and saw at least fifteen white muskies staring back at him! His hand clasped over his mouth. He thought of his poor dad, and when he turned back to look at him, he was covered in scales and his eyes were morphing into giant fish eyes.
Charlie screamed – a scream that came from deep inside his very soul. A scream so loud that it echoed back from the forest across the mile-wide lake. A scream that didn’t stop his father from flopping into the water, a human-sized, fully-formed, muskie.