Category Archives: Sarah

2.06 Curiouser and Curiouser

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A wave of sound crashed over me when I pulled open the door. It seems it’s one of those days down here.

Hoping my ears wouldn’t start bleeding, I waded my way into Sarah’s Domain & Depository towards the epicenter of sound. I could practically see the Beastie Boys’ beats bouncing around her workroom like some crazy red rubber ball.

Sarah’s Law #11: The higher you crank the volume, the faster you work. 

This law applies equally well, too (working thru) feelings, paperwork, and home repair. With the side benefit of warning all who approach of her current mood – whatever’s playing plus its relative decibel level equals her state of mind. (Essentially her stereo doubles as a mood ring.)

What did today’s selection tell me about Sarah’s current disposition? 

Fight For Your Right + Unadulterated Din = Irked at Little Ben or Filling out Forms*

(It can’t be both: I hadn’t heard the bass throbbing THROUGH the door)

When I made it to the threshold of her office, I discovered my second guess won the prize. A veritable snowdrift of unfamiliar reports littered the top of Sarah’s desk, easing my trepidation about dropping by Nevermore unannounced (from our long association I knew she’d take any excuse for a break). The woman herself sat with her back towards me, filling in a spreadsheet on her computer.

Waiting for her fingers to stop flying across the keyboard, my own fished around in the Pulp book bag I’d borrowed from Beatrice, while my eyes scanned foreign diagrams/graphs/budgets. When Sarah finally paused, I dropped seven-sealed plastic bags on her desk. The unexpected deposit caused her to jump about a mile out of her chair, and by the time she’d recovered (and reduced the volume on No Sleep Till Brooklyn), my butt was firmly planted in her guest chair.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

Unable to keep the mischievousness out of my smile, “Nearly? I’ll try harder next time.” Gesturing to the bags steepled in front of her, while she continued to theatrically clutch her heart (I say theatrically because she was clutching the right side of her chest), “But perhaps you’ll forgive me in exchange for some marshmallows?”

“Marshmallows!” Quicker than a puma pouncing on its prey Sarah opened the bag closest to her and popped a square of cherry-lime into her mouth, effectively cut off all speech. When she started opening up the other bags to stick her face inside and inhale their scents (and filling her cheeks). I decided to intervene on behalf of her tastebuds, raspberry, chocolate, ginger, cherry-lime, lemon poppyseed, vanilla, and pineapple should not commingle. 

“I know we agreed on fifty dollars worth…” Exaggerating her chewing, Sarah held up her index finger to pause my words. 

Finally finished her spot-on imitation of a chipmunk, “I don’t really deserve any in the first place since I gave you the wrong arrival time for the remains.” Putting down the ziplock, she looked forlornly at their contents. “Sorry again…”

I’d called her a couple days after The Confrontation, asking if KARB’s news desk mixed up the arrival date for Tiffany Grindle’s remains. Turns out Little Ben rifled thru and upset her paperwork (without her knowledge) leading to two sets of paperwork getting shuffled together and her giving me a Vernan Jones’s arrival date instead. Sarah fell over herself, apologizing for the inadvertent blunder. 

But none of the Residents got hurt, and the Woman In White was neutralized – so a deal is a deal. (And in fairness I’m only delivering on half of it: Mr. Nelson, in addition to absconding with my mystery, sampled every flavor before he polished off the pumpkin-spice and apple-cinnamon portions). 

Motioning towards the confections, “I already accepted your apology. But if you don’t think you deserve any, I could always take them back…” My teasing rejoinder resulted in Sarah whipping the bags out of sight while emitting a marshmallow muffled growl. “…that’s what I thought. But the real reason I stopped by, beyond needing the Lavender Lady to stop smelling like a candy shop, was to pick up some boxes Little Ben said you’re hanging onto for me?”

“Oh yes, His Highness and your boxes.” Rolling her eyes heavenward, she stood up and walked a few paces to her closet, “I caught Himself in the midst of tossing them in the compactor.” Ignoring my offer to help (not that I was supposed to be lifting anything), Sarah scrabbled around under the hanging coats and eventually produced four dusty cartons. 

“That’s it?”

Cocking her head to the side, Sarah answered, “Yes?…”

A laugh popped out of my mouth, unbidden, “Four? He made it sound like there was at least a dozen!”

“That’s His Highness for you, making mountains out of molehills.” 

Shaking my head, I took a closer look at the forgotten cartons. Three sported labels with the enlightening description of “stuff” written in my hand. The nonconformist fourth, by far the grimmest of the lot, was devoid of markings and bound up with twine, “I’ve not a single recollection of what’s inside any of them…”

My comment was cut short by the insistent ring of Sarah’s desk phone. Putting her index finger to her lips, she picked it up, “Mortuary……Yes, Phoebe’s here. Yes, she’s picking up her boxes. Nope……….. Yes………………….. Sure…… I’ll get right on that….Okay, bye.” 

Replacing the receiver with a sigh, Sarah looked over at me, “His Highness has requested the pleasure of your company.”

“Well, crap.” 

“That about sums it up. Have a marshmallow.” 

While chewing the square of delightful raspberry fluff she’d offered me, I toed my boxes of mysterious “stuff”. Then applied more pressure until they shifted slightly. Crap, they didn’t fall within my light-duty lifting limitations set by Wood…

Sarah happily solved my dilemma before I finished chewing, “Why don’t you head up now. I’ll load the boxes in your car and leave your keys with Sam. That way, you can make a clean getaway when you finish up with His Highness.” 

Laughing, “I will gladly take you up on your gracious offer. Even though I know you’re really avoiding filling out all that new paperwork for a few minutes more.”**

Sarah blushed but didn’t deny it.

*Personally I think she cranks up the volume to stay awake while completing her paperwork – apparently Big Ben finds drool stained statements a tad unprofessional. 

**Despite my ribbing, it was a really nice offer. Not wanting to put her in an awkward position if my illegal adjacent after-hours visit ever came to light, I’d kept her in the dark about my injuries.

1.64 A Conundrum

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(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)

My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.

Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise. 

When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.

My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl. 

My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).

Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.

Me: ?????

Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.

Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?

Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.

Me: Any clue who called him?

Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.

Me: Thanks for the heads up!

Sarah: NPAT

(Or No Problem Any Time)

Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.

If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth. 

Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”

I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.

“Hey, Ben.”

Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”

“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.

Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived. 

Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.” 

Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”

Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” 

1.63 Crazy Like A Fox

Sitting in front of the Senior Center I had a fifteen-minute window before my next fare. Still full from my Aunt’s excellent spread I left my turkey and Havarti on rye in my lunch box. Deciding instead to act on her intelligence. Sarah answered her phone on the third ring.

Sarah (trying hard to keep her amusement in check and failing): “Sooooo how was your night?”

Me (laughing with her): “Oh shut it.” 

Sarah: “Why were you guys dressed like the Three Musketeers last night?”

Me (exasperated): “Pirates, we were pirates. And Wood thought it the perfect moment for payment on a delinquent bet.”

Sarah’s only response – laughter. I sincerely hope she’s somewhere where Little Ben can’t overhear her. Speaking of that pain in the….

Me: “So how’s Little Ben doing this morning?”

Sarah (imitating Little Ben at the end): “His Highness is pitching a fit and falling in it, ‘I stayed up all night, and they still got away.’.”

Me: “Does he have a clue?”

Sarah: “Nope.”

Me: “Well that’s a relief. But I had a different reason for the call.”

Sarah: “Oh yeah? What’s up?”

Me: “I need to know when Tiffany Grindle is scheduled to arrive at Nevermore.”

Sarah (whistling): “You don’t ask for small favors. I suppose you don’t want to tell me why you want to know.”

Me (trying hard not to sound too desperate): “I know, I know. I promise it’s nothing compromising and it is important…”

Sarah: “On one condition.”

Me (very wary): “….Okay.”

Why do all my friends have to be smart? Or in this case crafty. Sarah, being one of eight siblings (plus an endless network of cousins), knows precisely when she holds a trump card. It’s one of the reasons why I love and fear her. 

Sarah: “Well it’s more provisional in flavor.”

Me: “Still not resting easy over here.”

Sarah: “When Big Ben gives you your job back…”

Me: “Sarah, he approved my lay-off.”

Sarah (going on despite my interruption): “When Big Ben sobers up from whatever Little Ben has laced his whiskey with, I would like you to open Tiderington vault. I’ve always wanted to know if the rumor that Helena was buried wearing all her diamonds is true.”

Me (startled): “What?”

Sarah: “To gruesome? Okay…. How about opening the Lenfest mausoleum to see if old man Gus laid his books to rest after he read them to pieces.”

Me: “Seriously? Substantiating rumors?” 

*Sigh* So Sarah may know when she holds a trump card, but her ultimate use of them may need some work. Perhaps its the difference between being a twenty-something and a thirty-something.

Sarah: “I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place. Just once I’d like to see with my own eyes if any of the stories are true! Tell me, is there really a giant crypt underneath the main house? Or a cellar full of bottles of cognac? Is the Gray Man real? Why are there no burials under the old willow in the middle of Nevermore? Is the Masonic cenotaph really the doorway to their meeting hall?”

Me (rolling my eyes on the other end of the line): “Where on earth did you hear that? And do you think this is the best use of a favor?”

Sarah: “Yes! These questions have been burning in my mind since I heard them on the playground! I gots to know!”

Me: “Since grade school? And here I thought you’d ask me for something sensible, like renting you the apartment over the maintenance center, so you could move out of your folk’s house.”

Sarah (jubilant): “Yes that! Could you do that? Then I could explore…I mean, be on call whenever you need me!”

Me: “Of course this is all dependent on Big Ben hiring me back, which again I must state, he approved.”

Sarah: “Pish posh, you’ll get your job back. Simon’s started a pool on when it’ll happen, and all the dates are taken! And if you feel bad about the slim possibility that you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain….Well, then you can…..get me fifty bucks worth of those homemade marshmallows from the candy store we stopped at up on the way home from the Fall Foliage Tour!”

Me: “Marshmallows.”

Sarah: “Yup, marshmallows. Do we have a deal?”

What’s the old saying? Crazy like a fox? Yes, Sarah’s crazy like a fox. 

My car was going to smell like candy floss again.

(Crayons and coloring worksheet are my photos. The Hallway Photo is courtesy of Unsplash and the Throng of Kids Photo is Courtesy of NYPL)

1.47 Deadlines

The First Annual Fall Foliage Tour (even with its stressful bits) turned out rather grand. 

Sam got a fat tip from me (for obvious reasons), from Wood (for providing surreptitious Bundesliga scores) and from Beatrice (for carrying her luggage up the trail to the Princess). 

Beatrice earned eternal appreciation by finding Wood’s lost keys (again), the danish filching kid’s glasses, his dad’s book and the staff’s unofficial mascot Beans the beagle (which netted a ten percent discount on our rooms). 

Sarah loved ditching her extended family for the weekend (she’s number seven of eight kids and still lives with her folks).

Wood finally taught Laney bridge, and he’s now entertaining high hopes of hosting his own bridge night (Laney’s not sold on the idea). 

Laney merely enjoyed a weekend sans soccer.

We all decided the Second Fall Foliage Tour needed to happen next October. 

Even better? I found an absurd little spot to mail my missive on the way home, a general store/diner/butcher/post office. An establishment where locals congregate and tourists invariably stop at (since it houses the only “public” bathroom on a thirty mile stretch of road). What sealed the deal for me was the fact there I didn’t see a single camera anywhere. The envelope might smell of bacon (from the diner) when the Prickliest Ranger receives it, but I didn’t think anyone could trace it beyond these walls.

Unbeknownst to the Unfriendliest Ranger, he had exactly three weeks to work up the nerve to investigate the tip I’d sent him. If he let me down, Rye authorities and reporters would find themselves in the midst of an informational deluge until someone finally decided to take a hike. Not a flawless plan, but the best one I got. 

Which gave me a bit lead time before news broke about the contents of the cairn.

When we returned to the Lavender Lady, I ignored my impending date with the washing machine (my luggage was filled with the stuff) and headed back outside to take care of the Princess. 

When we’d stopped at the idiosyncratic general store, Beatrice and Sarah fell in love with its candy counter. Where they indulged their sweet tooth (or teeth in this case) by purchasing homemade snow caps, skittles, lemon drops, licorice, taffy, sweet tarts, gummy bears, peanut brittle, toffee, candied flowers, caramel apples, and marshmallows. I think the store made their daily numbers just off their sugar rush. The upshot of having two friends indulge their inner nine-year-olds? Besides witnessing them inflict giant tummy aches on themselves? They ended up filling my car with a wealth of candy-related detritus.

Tomorrow being Monday and all, I needed to get The Pink Princess ready for work, especially since my FLYT passengers absolutely love her. They’d be shocked and dismayed if they saw her in this state. So spending the rest of the afternoon cleaning my car seemed wise.

On the plus side, it allowed me to avoid listening to my roommate’s groans. She’s currently curled up on the couch cradling a bottle of bismuth. 

The downside? It summoned a giant pain in my…… 

Ms. Hettie: “People in this neighborhood don’t need to know about your appalling eating habits.” 

Me (barely missing the door jamb with my head when I stood up too quickly): “Well, they’ll just think I’m colorful.”

A fist full of skittles wrappers disappeared into the garbage bag I was filling up while I inwardly cursed the stealth of soft soled shoes.

Ms. Hettie (sniffing loudly): “Isn’t there someplace else you can do this?”

Me (trying not to give her an opening): “Nope.”

Several fast food containers followed the candy wrappers into the bag, continuing on with my task while trying to ignore my landlady. I wonder if I needed to monitor Beatrice to make sure she didn’t fall into a diabetic coma. Or at the very least I could supply her with a bucket…

Ms. Hettie (sensing my inattention croaked louder): “That cousin of yours was hardly here this weekend.”

Me (standing up again to peer over the Princess’s ragtop): “Really? I’ll keep your observations in mind.”

Ms. Hettie’s enviable rosy cheeks almost hid the blush which crept across her nose. At least she hadn’t called the cops on Robbie thinking he was a prowler (I’d had visions).

Ms. Hettie (undeterred): “If you both go out of town again, make sure to tell me when you’ll be back.”

Making a noncommittal sound I hunkered down, trying to fish the last crumpled candy wrapper from under the driver’s seat. She’d want a full itinerary next. Funny thing is I don’t think she’s anxious about being alone in the Lavender Lady.

Ms. Hettie (working back to her original complaint and walking around to address her comments to my rump): “Well if you insist on cleaning this car out here, be quick about it.”

Me (failing in my efforts not to rise to her bait, I sat back on my heels): “If I you hadn’t stopped by, I’d be much farther along.”

This earned a hairy eyeball from Ms. Hettie, who finally left me in peace, I assume to reacquaint herself with the contents of an oubliette. Who on earth did she think could see me back here? Besides herself and Beatrice?

When the car no longer crinkled (it did smell like a cross between candy floss and windex) I decided to remove the fine film of dirt and bugs encrusting the pink paint. Choosing to save a few pennies and irritate my landlady further (an added bonus) I  washed her myself. Being a completionist, I decided to make her shine so out came the wax. When I finished The Pink Princess positively sparkled (though the battery operated dewdrop lights I strung up inside helped). 

Even better than a clean car? 

I finally figured out where the external light switches were located – no more stumbling up a dim walk for me! 

1.44 All Roads Lead To Rome

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Sarah and Laney (and the boys) were sitting outside on the veranda sipping coffee when we returned. The three of us (and an amused plus two) headed straight into the dining room to snag our favorite flavor of danish before the breakfast bar closed. 

On the walk back to the hotel our conversation devolved from the apologetic maple bacon scones to our general favorites among the pantheon of baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies – we covered them all. So when reached the hotel we were more than ready for second breakfast (which completely undid all the health benefits of our morning walk). 

The fog continued to cling to the treetops, and from the small specks of sky we could occasionally glimpse, rain looked likely. So instead of heading back outside for another hike, we trooped to the game room with plates of danishes in our hands. 

Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones with this diversion in mind, the room was filled to the brim with people putting together puzzles and playing games (with a very few were reading books). Claiming a table nearest the window Wood went in search of an unclaimed board game which still possessed all its pieces. 

Which, at this point, was as likely as finding the Marx Brothers’ missing first film next to the Yahtzee box (containing four of its’ five dice) on the top shelf.

Never one to give up, Wood won the day when he ferreted out a full deck of cards wedged in the back of the games closet and decided to teach the others (plus one kid who was hanging around our table hoping to score a danish) how to play bridge. (Wood and I acquired a taste for bridge from my Aunt Pearl and her cronies – our love of pastries rose from his Gran’s kitchen). 

Since only four can play at a time, I sat the first rubber out – which as much as I love playing – worked for me. Pulling the armchair closer to to the fireplace I propped my feet up on the hearth and took stock of all the good things surrounding me – a raspberry danish & coffee at my elbow, a warm fire toasting my toes and my friend’s laughter ringing in my ears. 

My Stalker is The Pink Lady who is a Woman In White. 

Despite the denting my calm took under this progression, I forced myself aboard this uncomfortable train of thought. 

After a few moments of watching the flames dance, I closed my eyes and threw my head back, rhythmically bouncing it against the top cushion of the chair. All the while making a concerted effort not to let loose a string of profanities (there were kids around after all) when I figured out exactly where I stood.

My quandary placed me directly on the corner of Bitter & Sweet. 

Again. 

They say all roads lead to Rome. Perhaps that’s true. But I am starting to suspect some masochistic engineer figured out a way to steer travelers repeatedly thru this junction on the way to the heart of the empire. Or maybe these crossroads are scattered at alternating intervals along the road, so you don’t realize where you stand until you look up and read the sign. Either way, I find myself here with disturbing regularity, a corner I do not want to frequent. 

This damned corner with its’ loathsome words is where Romeo and Juliet find love but are forever separated by a name. Where dreamers can follow their dreams but are required to make money. This is where my opposition to the Woman In White has placed me.

No one would ever know if I just left her on the mountain. 

Even with her increased vita, chances are she didn’t possess enough energy to actually kill Mr. Grindle (and didn’t he deserve a broken leg every now and again?). Clearly, the locals know about the Woman In White and have taken measures against her. So the odds of her coaxing anyone else off the path are pretty low. And the salt will render the cairn inert eventually. Probably. 

Walking away would allow me to avoid all risk of discovery.

So much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.

But it’s not the right thing to do.

Damn it.

Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.

1.38 The Dog House

Wood: “Seriously what were you thinking?” 

Me (breathing better now): “Trying to meet you…see the top.”

Right then my stomach, feeling an ally near, decided to let loose a loud protest of its own. The traitor. 

Wood: “Have you eaten?”

Me (trying not to look shifty): “Breakfast.”

Wood stalked over to my pack, flipped it open and retrieved my lunch which he then proceeded to thrust in my direction with a curt, “Eat.”

Feeling it better to follow orders than argue I started eating. While doing so, I tried to figure out how I could shake off Wood and the others and check out the last two sites on the mountain. Bookies would give better odds to Stockard Channing reprising her role of Rizzo than to me shaking Wood off and climbing the rest of Pumpkin Mountain alone.  

Beatrice, trying to break the mood (or divert focus, I shot her a grateful smile) started debating the merits of different spots with Sarah for her geocache. For one bright moment, I thought Beatrice decided on one of the camping sites I hadn’t reached, but they deemed even the unofficial spots entirely too dull. So they (plus Laney who’d they sucked into the debate) huddled around Beatrice’s camera reviewing pictures of potential hiding places (Wood still stood over me glowering). 

In the end, they ruled the perfect place was a pool of water just a hair off the trail, next to a brief but vigorous waterfall. With that decision made (and my lunch demolished) we set off down the mountain with Beatrice leading the way this time. Sarah and Laney following closely behind while still debating different cache spots Beatrice rejected. Wood followed a pace behind slowly warming up to their conversation. Once again I brought up the rear. Only this time I wasn’t alone, Bert and Ernie sensed my habitation of Wood’s doghouse, decided to keep me company. Both had more than a passing familiarity with the institution.

Feeling much better after being watered and fed (and no longer feeling a sharp stabby sensation in my side, lungs, and back) my mind turned back to the cairn conundrum. 

Me (interjecting in a lull): “Beatrice did you take pictures of the last two campsites?”

Sarah (laughing answered first): “Nope we didn’t. They practically shouted ‘here’s the cache’ to anyone passing by. They’d get muggled in a pair of seconds.”

Beatrice (rolling her eyes, pitching in): “She just enjoys using the word muggled instead of tampered. But really, they weren’t proper sites anyways. Strictly bivvies.” 

My utterly blank look expressed my ignorance to her. 

Beatrice: “Bivvie short for bivouac. An improv campsite directly under the stars. The last two spots were barely creases in the rock. They’d keep you from sleeping on the trail, but not much else.” 

Me (nodding): “How about the summit?”

Sarah (handing back Beatrice’s camera to me): “More than enough room for a tiny folk festival, if you don’t mind bruised shins.”

Me (scanning through the photos): “Doesn’t look practical for digging…out a fire pit, too many rocks.” 

Sarah: “You’d need to be careful. I don’t think you can dig more than an inch or two down. There’s enough dirt for wildflowers to grow, but not enough for trees.”

Somehow this started a new debate (I missed the transition) between the three ladies on the weight to comfort ratio one needed to assess when packing for a hike. I fell back processing their intelligence when Wood paused unexpectedly in front of me. I nearly plowed right into his back.

Me: “Hey!”

Wood (a wicked look in his eye): “Morticia, what happened to your pack?” 

Me (starting to shrug it off): “What? Did it tear?”

Wood (resuming his forward locomotion): “No, it weighed a ton this morning – now it doesn’t.”

Me (tap dancing): “I ditched the weight so I could catch up to you guys faster.”

Wood (eyes narrowing): “Really? Then we can pick up the ten pounds of salt when we pass by it again since the shovel’s still in your pack.”

Me (mentally wishing Wood was less observant): “I was pulling your leg this morning, I used water jugs for weight, I just poured it out. Voila! Instant featherweight.”

Wood (slowly nodding his head): “Sure, you poured the weight out. On what?”

Me (sweating): “What do you mean?”

Wood (grinning): “Never mind. Do you want to hear my idea about how to dissuade Little Ben from building the pet cemetery in the wrong spot? I Guarantee it will be Fun!”

Thrilled at the new conversational direction, I listened to The Plan. With elements of the absurd, possibility of arrest, precise timing and rubber ducks – The Brace Affair held up the high standard that the Promise of Fun required. It caused Laney to roll her eyes, Sarah pretended to plug her ears with her fingers and Beatrice to hint she looked great in black – Fun indeed.

The Plan (and its refinement) dominated the rest of the conversation down the mountain. Pausing only once when Beatrice hid her cache and noted the GPS coordinates in a small book, we still cut it a bit fine returning to the hotel. 

Fortunately, ‘Not Sam’ hadn’t loosened the hounds on our trail just yet.

1.36 Where Did Indy Find The Grail?

(My very sophisticated tools and a random heart I found carved near the glade!)

My friend’s voices evaporated away into silence quicker than I expected while following the invisible line thru the old growth. Fortunately, I didn’t need to venture very far outside of my comfort zone, the pricking in my toes turned into a steady thrumming sensation when I stepped into the narrow glade.

Studying the clearing, I appreciated the cleverness of the hiding spot. Now I understood why no one ever accidentally stumbled upon my unintended traveler. 

The glade owed its existence to dozens of rockfalls deposited by the cliff which heaved itself up in front of me (who knew boulders could bounce?). The rockfalls kept the area clear of anything more than the scraggliest flora the forest had to offer. Immediately inside the cliff’s hurling radius lay my destination, a modest mound (by comparison) of discarded stones. Due to the layers of moss, long grass, sword ferns and one scrappy cedar, it appeared to one of the oldest of the cliff’s deposits.

I looked at my watch. Time’s up I murmured to myself. The possibility of seeing my posterior au natural would only keep my compatriots at bay for so long. Soon, they’d come looking for me. 

When I emerged back at our picnic site, Bert and Ernie greeted me like a long-lost friend. 

Wood (balling up the brown bag his lunch came in): “Everything ok? We’re almost done eating.”

Me: “I’m fine, I don’t think my stomach is accustomed to processing an entirely organic dinner.”

Beatrice (concern & reluctance coloring her tone): “We could turn around and head back…” 

Me: “Don’t do that. The summit is only a half hour-ish away, I can wait here while my stomach calms down. You can pick me up on your way back.”

This plan met with varying levels of reluctance, but in the end, my vote broke the deadlock. The group would continue without me. Wood placed me under strict orders that I would stay put until they got back (I crossed my fingers). Waiting until their voices faded into the distance, I dashed back into the trees. 

The second time I entered the glade I stopped to observe the area with jaded eyes, the dozens of natural phenomenon camouflaged the one false feature well. Knowledge or happenstance? Which did he rely on I wonder to conceal her genesis point?  

Leaning my pack against a nearby stone, I pulled my recently acquired map and trusty GPS device out then recorded the coordinates next to the ‘x’ I’d written on my approximate location. With that done I set to work with my handy collapsable metal shovel and work gloves. Pulling the blanket of fauna away from the false rockfall proved easier than I expected, the large stones concealed underneath aided my progress.

Two scrapes, one smooshed toe and forty-five very sweaty minutes later – my efforts and elbow grease uncovered two-thirds of a rough stone cairn (the cedar proved too tenacious to remove). 

Pulling off a work glove I placed my bare hand on an exposed stone – an electric current raced up my arm – startled I snatched my hand away. I rocked back on my heels while rubbing the spasming muscles in my arm. Trying to calm down I closed my eyes and enjoyed the brisk air playing across my sweaty face, but my mind wouldn’t settle. Instead, it flew away trying to merge and manipulate this new wrinkle into something which fit into the whole I’d pieced together. Shaking myself, I stood up stiffly and put my glove on again. I could borrow trouble later.

Making an ungodly racket (and risking pinched fingers) I levered a rough line of rocks off the spine of the cairn. I couldn’t help the noise. I needed to finish before my friends swung back to collect me and time was running out. When I finally shoved the last rock aside, I collapsed my spade and traded it for a five-pound bag of salt from my pack.

Taking a deep breath, reigning myself in – I poured a steady, unbroken line of unrefined sea salt within the fissure I’d just created. To help infuse the salt into the cairn quicker, I poured a canteen of purified water roughly along the same dusty off-white line. Then I exchanged the empty container for the other five-pound sack of flakey sea salt. Then proceeded to methodically cover the entirety of the mound and surrounding ground with a fine dusting. When the bag was exhausted, I stowed it away and surveyed the area making sure I left nothing (other than the sea salt) behind. 

With the job done I grabbed my pack and walked away. 

1.35 Something Wicked This Way Comes

(Bert after his impromptu swim, the wake from our boat setting off and the hidden dangers in the lake we noticed only after tying up the boat!)

At seven am the five of us, and two hounds (Laney & Wood’s boys) assembled on the dock to receive last minute instructions and nibbles from the hotel staff. 

Which honestly sound far grander than the departure actually was. 

Everyone but Wood was trying with varying success to stifle yawns (the previous night’s nightcaps slowing the infusion of caffeine into our brains). The staff (suppressing their own yawns) passed out bulging brown paper sacks while warning us to get our butts back before sunset. Otherwise, the National Park Service and said staffers would send out very cross search parties to fetch us. 

Unaware of the thinly veiled threats being issued to their people, Laney’s boys, Bert and Ernie, were doing their level best to liven things up. Dashing amongst us in their bright orange life vests, wagging their tails, and yipping excitedly at everyone & everything. 

One of the staff (I called him Not Sam in my head) held the boat steady while Wood stowed our hiking equipment onboard.

Wood: “Bee what on earth did you put in your pack?”

Beatrice (that competitive gleam glinting again): “My geocaching supplies. My pack will be light as a feather on the hike back down.”

Wood (lifting up my pack and shaking it slightly): “Morticia are you in competition with Bee? Did you put actual rocks in yours?”

Me (straight-faced): “Don’t be silly, I’d never use anything as generic as rocks! I’m a mineral girl! Ten pounds of unrefined sea salt, a shovel for balance and a bottle of water for good measure! It’ll help push my cardio numbers up on my Fitbit.”

Wood (rolling his eyes): “Fine be funny. Just don’t ask me to carry your bag later, I will demand to see inside!”

On that note, and with much good humor, we all climbed aboard, and Laney took the wheel. Ross Lake is twenty-six miles long, but fortunately, we only needed to go about eight. The brisk wind whipped by us at breakneck speeds and wiped away all vestiges of sleepiness from our eyes. 

With pictures, a map and Beatrice’s GPS unit in hand we glided into the unofficial Pumpkin Mountain landing in no time at all. Carefully piling out of the boat we started up the winding trail, taking photos, singing (when we found the breath) and generally making enough noise to scare away anything with four legs (other than Bert and Ernie). Wood and the boys lead the way pointing out features of interest to Laney & Sarah, followed by Beatrice, who split her focus between the map in her hand & the path under her feet, and I brought up the rear with a growing sense of trepidation.

About a mile into the hike we’d reached the park service approved tenting area. Beatrice labeled it too easily achieved and marched resolutely past. With the official waypoint behind us, Beatrice started scoping out each hollow, recess and rockfalls along the trail, judging which would serve her cache purposes best. She quickly rejected the rockfalls, musing any subsequent slides could displace her cache or a loose stone might pelt another player. Either eventuality would render her cache invalid which was intolerable (the specter of her nemesis Horus looming in the back of her mind). 

Discovering the front desk sold augmented maps (not sure why Beatrice copied hers by hand) I’d purchased one last night, for a bit of independent study. But with Beatrice ticking off each crevice, thicket, and encampment my copy went unfolded. What did not manage to stay tightly folded? The aforementioned trepidation which started to grow in orders of magnitude the closer we walked to the summit without the telltale spark arching across my toes. 

When three-quarters of the path lay behind us, I started to seriously waiver on the veracity of my tag-along passenger’s claims and idly wondering if my skin had shrunk two sizes under the unbearable wait…

Then the familiar pricking skittered across my toes. 

Time to work. 

Finally.

Me: “Wood, would you mind stopping up ahead?” 

Beatrice: “Can you hold on? We’re close to the top.”

Me: “I have to use a little girl’s tree, and I need a snack. The growl you heard earlier was my stomach, not a bear.”

With the mention of food, the others agreed they couldn’t wait to eat either. Beatrice tried to convince us we’d enjoy lunch more with a spectacular view,  but even The Boys needed a rest, so she gave in to peer pressure (I think the whining from Bert and Ernie is what convinced her). 

Just as I recalled from last night’s studies, an informal campsite laid a few steps ahead of us. Unlike the others we’d scoped out, this one featured an old fire pit and several large low stones for sitting – an ideal picnic spot. For those with a more devious disposition? This was the only campsite we’d seen so far that was set a significant distance off the trail. 

While the other looked around and started setting down their packs, I made my excuses and plunged deeper into the trees following the ever-increasing uncomfortable electricity in my toes. 

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