Category Archives: The Woman

1.60 The News!

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 3.28.14 PM

IMG_9655

“How can finding her after twenty years not be the most interesting part?” I queried, putting my fork down on my plate and picked up my coffee. The Daily Harvest and breakfast could wait my Aunt Pearl could not.

“They found a second skeleton!”

Leaning forward in my chair, coffee forgotten in my hand, Aunt Pearl knew she commanded my full attention.

“They found David Waller buried with her. Seems he went missing the same weekend Tiffany did. Police never had an inkling they were connected.” Aunt Pearl paused to take a pan of muffins from the oven, “They questioned Tiffany’s friends again, and they admitted they thought it possible that she was having an affair. But they weren’t sure.” Wearing an oven mitt, she started moving the muffins from the cooling rack onto a plate.

“Were her friends covering for her the weekend she went missing?”

“No, she really had canceled on their beach trip. They thought something was off but didn’t press.” Aunt Pearl placed the plate on the table and sat down across from me, speaking in a low voice. 

“Earl {family friend and detective} told your Uncle the search and rescue operation they’d mounted for her in the Cascades, where they found her car, was perfunctory at best. The wildfires in the area provided a convenient excuse to call it off so quickly. Detectives at the time agreed with her father’s explanation that Tiffany left town with her newest paramour and they’d abandoned her car in the lot. She’d walked out on her husband once before and had a string of affairs over their short marriage. The search was organized to placate the paper, not her family.”

I felt supremely glad Earl was on the job now, he’d never let such a pat explanation suffice. 

She shook her head and took a sip of her coffee, “I remember her from my class. Smart. Good grades. But always more interested in her male classmates than anything we were trying to teach her. Her father never approved of what he called ‘her running around’, we told him she’d grow out of it.” 

While Aunt Pearl’s mind’s eye looked backwards in time, I took another bite of breakfast and tried to pull her away from all the coulda/woulda/shoulda’s, “Do they have a suspect?”. 

Looking up from the depths of her coffee she admonished me, “Don’t speak with your mouth full dear.”

She never could resist the bait.

Her eyes gleaming again, “And yes they have a suspect. Her husband! Now, this is hush-hush, they found his wedding ring in the grave with the bodies. He confessed to their murders when he saw it and he also…”

The topic closed abruptly when we heard the groaning floorboards (and human) walking down the hall. Wood, unaware and uncaring of anything outside of the bacon/sausage smells emanating from the kitchen (I am only guessing here), planted himself next to Aunt Pearl and started munching on a slice of bacon snagged from my plate. “No one would guess you are a highly respected doctor by looking at you this morning.” commented my Aunt. He was indeed a sight to behold, having slept in his breeches and linen shirt – his cravat hung like a limp noddle from his neck. Blinking at her he tried to swipe another piece of bacon off my plate – I curled protectively around it fending off his advances. 

Laughing I added on, “He’s the cautionary tale old grizzled pirates point out to the young mateys – pace your pillaging or end up a walking wrinkle.” Ignoring both of us, he shuffled to the cupboard and grabbed a plate, saucer and cup then started putting together his breakfast.

“Speaking of pillaging…”, my aunt flipped the paper around so she could read it.

This bodes well.

Her enameled fuchsia fingernail followed the lines of newsprint in front of her, “The police blotter says that officers and security personnel pursued the Three Musketeers thru Nevermore and MacGregor farm last night. And this morning they discovered forty rubber ducks buried in a field. You two wouldn’t know anything about it? Would you?” Aunt Pearl asked dramatically. (I say dramatically because she was ‘reading’ the paper without her glasses, a feat which she hasn’t been able to accomplish for fifteen or so years).

Ignoring our silence on the matter she pressed onwards, “I know we picked you up outside Nevermore, but that was this morning! And you were definitely pirates, not seventeenth-century French soldiers made famous by Dumas!” Did I mention my Aunt still occasionally substituted for the literature teacher at Rye High?

“Look Wood! Uncle’s here!”

1.59 Breakfast With Aunt Pearl

(Aunt Pearl makes the best gingerbread muffins!)

The floorboards groaned underfoot as I made my way down the hallway towards the beckoning scents of bacon and coffee. The others were still snuggled in their sleeping bags on the living room floor, the fire in the hearth warming their toes. Walking into the kitchen the vintage red cherry wallpaper, red enamel sink, glass front cupboards and white walls waved a cheery ‘hello’ in my direction. Aunt Pearl stood at the stove cooking enough food to feed a small army or Wood in the morning. 

Walking to the cupboard, I opened it and grabbed a cup and saucer – then poured the best concoction man has ever made into the cup – coffee. Sitting down at the kitchen table I took a moment and savored the very first sip of the day. My Aunt familiar with this ritual waited until said sip passed my lips before making conversation, “The others still asleep?”

Resting my elbows on the tabletop, I held the cup under my nose, “Yeah, they’ll be out for a while yet. Long night.” 

More specifically a whole lotta spiced rum. 

 I did know she wasn’t irritated about last night’s late hour since she never threatened to put us over her knee. Wood and I might be thirty-something but every now and again we do something silly enough to warrant her standard threat (which in all fairness she’s never actually carried out). It’s just her way of letting us know we’re leaning on her last nerve.

“Thanks for coming to get us last night and grabbing Beatrice’s car on the way her,” taking a nice big second gulp of coffee, trying to quickly conclude this portion of the conversation.

After flipping some flapjacks onto a plate, she answered, “Your welcome dear. We thought it would be faster to pick you up than bail you out.” 

Laughing softly into my cup, “I’m sure it had nothing to do with Wood texting you to come get him and his mateys, right?”

So, amongst the giggling last night during our impromptu sleepover, which struck all our silly bones, Wood admitted that he’d texted Aunt Pearl and Uncle to come get us. She’d asked him to take a photo of me in full pirate regalia when I settled up on our ancient bet. He did one better and tempted her out of the house at one in the morning to take her own pictures. I am pretty sure she’s going to get an eight by ten made and place it smack dab in the middle of the living room mantle. 

Could be worse. 

Robbie howled when we’d stumbled in the front door, he’d been eating a late dinner with them when he got the text from me – I didn’t mention a word about our ensembles. During dessert, Aunt Pearl got Wood’s follow up text which coaxed her into action. Robbie stayed to see how committed we were to the bit, he should have known we’d go full pirate – it was Wood’s plan after all. Wood did apologize for my mortification, but The Brace Affair went so spectacularly awry, he really felt we needed to end the night with a laugh. 

Which happened……eventually.

Aunt Pearl’s voice recalled me from my musings, “Of course not dear, that was just a happy accident.” Her voice sounded bland, but I knew better. Her back was turned because she didn’t want to show how funny she found the entire situation last night. She doesn’t get roped into our mischief very often, anymore. “Are you working today?”

Feeling the marrow in my bones droop, “Yes. Just a half day though. I only have two more days, including today, left of this insanity.”

“Well hard work builds character.”, she placed a plate of fresh pancakes in front of me and topped off my coffee. “To keep your energy up.”

Digging into the stack of flapjacks Aunt Pearl took the reigns of the conversation while I chewed, “Oh. Remember when you asked me about Tiffany Grindle, my old student who went missing twenty years ago?” Walking over to the table she placed the newspaper to the right of my plate an opened it to the front page (my fingers were sticky with syrup), “They found her remains last week up in the mountains about fifteen miles from where they found her car.”

I choked on my bacon.

Trying to clear my airway gave me the moment I needed to contain my jubilation, “They found her last week?”

Aunt Pearl stopped whacking my back and went back to her position in front of the stove, “Yes, apparently the police kept it under wraps until now, waiting for a positive identification. They’ve had a few false started over the years, so they wanted to make absolutely sure before they went public. But that’s not even the most interesting part!”

1.50 Dealing

michael-mroczek-182786-unsplash

We’d both employed the same cunning strategy – waiting. Perhaps my “plan” wasn’t as lame as I’d previously thought. 

The coffee seemed to need a few more minutes to seep into my system to bad I didn’t have the time. Even in this deluge maintenance would be working (death doesn’t wait for a sunny day) and I really didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask if they ran across me sitting in my car. I had a feeling my hair would give away last night’s sleeping arrangements. 

Which meant Joseph and I had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.

Joseph (still looking amused): “So why were you waiting for me?”

Me (taking another swig straight from the thermos): “The Stalker, isn’t a Stalker, she’s a Woman In White.”

Joseph (his gaze sharpened): “Tell me.”

Me: “I found her genesis point when I went up into the mountains…”

While I laid the relevant events from the Fall Foliage Tour into a coherent narrative, Joseph sat in the passenger’s seat listening, his fingers tracing the inside band of his grey fedora over and over while I talked. 

Joseph (enunciating each word): “You think she will come here, at some point.”

Me (nodding): “Yes. After I got back I asked Aunt Pearl about the whole affair, she told me Tiffany’s father still lives in Rye, so I expect she’ll come to Nevermore. When she does, we’ll need a plan.”

Aunt Pearl also hinted at some other old gossip about Tiffany, but wouldn’t repeat it, “not wishing to speak ill of the dead.” 

Joseph: “A plan?”

Me (nodding): “If she’s allowed to wander the grounds she will find a Resident then hunt down the others. She won’t hesitate to increase her own power at their expense. With my odd hours and the uncertainty of when she’ll arrive we need to coordinate. You can contain her until I get here and salt her bones directly, right?”

Utterly oblivious to my companion, I failed to notice his amusement and continued to spout off half-formed ideas.

Still Me (spacing out for a moment): “Sarah would call me the moment she arrives if I asked…. Though if she’s cremated that would eliminate all our worries since fire purifies everything… I could ask Sarah to try to steer things that way…Then there’s the rubber ducks, work, sabotage, and I’ll need to shower sometime…”

Joseph (interrupting my revery, amused): “Phoebe.” 

Me (fretting): “I could sleep in my car here after she’s found so I could be on hand more.”

Joseph (plonking me in the forehead with his index finger): “Phoebe. The Residents and I can manage her. What do you think happened before you came here?”

Me (puzzling): “I never put much thought into it.”

My brain jumping the tracks, how did they cope? The first burial happened in 1840, Nevermore (as it is now) came about in 1846, and I’ve been coming here for twenty-seven years, so that leaves one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-years unaccounted for. Something to think about later…

Joseph (catching my attention again): “…Woman In White.”

Me (my mind reversing from its derailed state): “Pardon?”

Joseph: “I will handle the Woman In White.”

Me (nodding, my head still not entirely on this portion of the conversation): “Okay, I’ll leave her to you…”

Joseph (a hard look creeping into his eyes): “You have a handle on Little Ben’s expansion? I assume there’s a problem.”

Me (nodding, diverted by the small opening he’d given me): “Yes to both…How did the Residents cope before I came?”

Joseph (his hands finally still): “They have me. I protect Nevermore and the Residents from all threats.”

Me (slowly sinking into the quicksand of the conversation): “Like Women In White, Stalkers, Walkers, and Soldiers?” 

Joseph (somber): “And anything else.”

Me (feeling small): “So Nevermore doesn’t really need my help.” 

Joseph (his tone commanding me to meet his eyes): “You value those who’ve been forgotten. You find the lost and bring them home. You protect those who undervalue you – no matter the cost. You are Nevermore’s most unique Resident because you choose to be here. You are needed, never doubt that.”

Not know what to say and trying not to cry – I moved on – Joseph doesn’t do tears. 

Me (blinking rapidly): “Since I’m not here as much right now, how can I find you if I don’t want to ask a Resident to pass on a message?”

Joseph (looking at me thoughtfully, pausing for a beat longer than I’d anticipated): “Knock on a gate, Toby will lead you to me.”

Me: “What’s a Toby? And any gate?”

Joseph (smiling): “He’s shy. But I think he’s ready for you to meet him. And yes, any gate in Nevermore.”

Me (startled into dry eyes): “Wait, there’s a Resident I haven’t met yet?” 

Joseph smiled, put on his hat an exited the Princess, the rain (plus his grey suit) erased him almost instantly from my sight. So many layers to the conversation, but no time to consider them if the clock on my dash was correct. I had precisely forty-five minutes to get home, shower, change and eat before my shift starts. 

Aspirin, I also needed to take many aspirins, not being able to turn my head right – due to a stupid crick – won’t make my day any easier.

(Unsplash Picture Credit Here)

1.46 ‘X’ Marks The Spot

IMG_8462

Clearing the cobwebs and remnants of subterfuge from my mind I studied the materials I’d brought with me – tablet, official map, an unaugmented map, camera, and a manilla envelope (filched from the front desk). I set to work.

I decided that specificity was crucial to my Misdirection Scheme.

Specificity would kill multiple birds with one stone. Creedence and curiosity find fertile ground when easily established facts are systematically laid out. All Ranger Lade had to do was take a walk to determine their accuracy, and I bet he’s sick of staying inside on desk duty working on paperwork. Plus it would help prove he isn’t afraid of some mountain. 

I held high hopes for Ranger Lade. 

If he didn’t investigate, I would send packets off to cold case detectives, missing persons, reporters at the Daily Harvest or KARB – until someone finally took a look. 

Specificity would benefit me as well – it would misdirect most scrutiny from my direction. Who would suspect a person so wholly unconnected to the case having insider information? I’d given Mr. Grindle precisely one roundtrip thru FLYT and vacationed in the vicinity of his wife’s cairn – an ephemeral bond at best. 

Closing my eyes, I took three deep breaths to settle myself down then started to assemble the necessary documents. I took a picture of the new unaugmented map with my tablet, then used an app typed an ‘x’ and the GPS coordinates onto the image and printed it. Using my camera’s wireless feature for the first time ever, I printed the pictures I taken of the cairn, the glade, and the unofficial campsite – so the Ranger knew for certain where and what to look for. Adding to the pile, the printer spit out a scan of the newspaper article which mentioned the location of Tiffany Grindle’s abandoned car (highlighting the sentence in green for emphasis) and her missing person’s poster. 

I decided not to include her initial accusation, that Mr. Grindle murdered her, I’d found no definitive facts corroborating her statement. If any linking evidence existed, it would be found underground, and the police would unearth it themselves. 

In any case, the simple fact of finding his wife inhumed will cause uncomfortable questions. They won’t need my help in casting Mr. Grindle as the chief suspect.

With that last momentous decision made, I arranged the documents into a sensible order – then peeled the adhesive stripe off the flap and sealed up the envelope. Turning it over I was oddly proud of figuring out how to use the printer to print the address on the front of the envelope – neatly avoiding the handwriting dilemma. Slipping the entire packet into a cheap paper bag I’d procured from the gift shop, I placed the whole thing into my backpack. 

With this step finished I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt immensely grateful to Sam not only for the printer but for the privacy he’d inadvertently given me. Why?

Because I couldn’t work out a single plausible story (or removing the candy coating – the lie), to explain why I was handling my correspondence while wearing latex gloves. Kinda screams suspicious, even to those who aren’t in possession of a devious mind.

With my report complete, I stuffed my materials back into my pack – making very sure I left nothing behind. Retrieving any forgotten item from Sam’s room seemed even less likely than climbing Pumpkin Mountain a second time. Unless I wanted to besmirch his reputation with management and get him fired. 

I really didn’t want to cause a Dirty Dancing moment, I’m not coordinated enough to pull off a charismatic dance number, and Sam cannot pass for Patrick Swayze.

With a few minutes to spare I debated whether or not I should delete the information from my tablet and in the end, I decided not. If Ranger Lade didn’t follow up, it was better to have subsequent communiques match precisely.

With twenty minutes left in my four-hour allotment, I parked myself in the desk chair to wait on Sam’s return and my clandestine exit – feeling as happy as a silverfish on a shelf of old books.

1.45 Tips

IMG_9592

I cracked the code! 

Range Lade will not be receiving a slightly disappointing batch of apologetic maple bacon scones from me.

Instead, I will give Ranger Lade first crack at excising The Pink Lady from her mountain. Solving a twenty-year-old mystery while literally coming to terms with your own personal demon? That should cover all abominable behavior.

Making my excuses, I left my friends to their bridge game. Since I was coated with powdered sugar and raspberry jam, they didn’t protest my exit too much. Especially since a grand time was being had by all. Beatrice and Sarah decided to make up their own “better” rules to bridge – claiming theirs was a little-known variant. Laney and the kid (who did score one of Wood’s danishes) were actively working against Wood – completely disregarding the fact that he was on their team. While Wood attempted to keep the entire game from sinking into complete chaos. Leaving them to their fun, I exited the game room, my head awhirl.

Strictly speaking my experience with this sort of thing is remarkably limited. I rarely run across Errants, i.e., people inhumed outside sanctified ground. While nearly (but not quite) all possess a criminal genesis point, usually that detail doesn’t matter by the time I encounter them. Either they’ve reconciled to what happened, or they’ve burned out – the former I meet when they are transplanted to Nevermore. 

I’ve never seen anyone like this particular Woman In White.

So dealing with her means I’m treading over new ground. The one universal wish of the transplanted Errants I’m acquainted with? Unsurprisingly, that the deeds of the guilty party were known to the world before they went toes-up themselves. Unhappily for them (and ambivalently for me), I never needed to fulfill this particular desire. 

I’m starting to regret this lack of experience.

How on earth am I going to get her off the mountain without compromising my secret, jeopardizing my friend’s anonymity or exposing Nevermore to corrosive influences? And alert authorities to the crime?

While sipping my coffee, I’d toyed with the ideas of creating a macabre treasure map, an unfortunately placed geocache, a tactless campsite sign, distressing the trailhead marker (i.e., carving the coordinates to the cairn on it) or putting an ominously worded note on the map in the hotel lobby. But each idea featured more cons than pros. 

Which is how I landed on my master plan, an old chestnut, the anonymous letter.

It would direct the attention of the authorities onto the contents of the cairn and the crime while misdirecting their attention from me. Hopefully, my grand design wouldn’t turn cliche and allow Miss Marple (or the police) to suss me out.

Not able to rest upon my laurels with a plan of action devised, I headed to the front desk (after going outside to deposit my shirt crumbs for the birds) and found Sam still at his post, “Hey! Does the hotel have a computer I can use?” My head so filled with my plans I went straight to the point of the conversation. His answer wasn’t entirely unexpected (after I thought about it for a second), “No, sorry. Hilltop’s unplugged from technology, it’s why people come here.” 

“Crap. Okay. Thanks anyways.” Trying to smile I turned away from the desk, deflated, not wanting to wait to enact my Misdirection Scheme.

“What did you need to do?” 

Turning back, “Honestly, all I need is a wireless printer and a quiet corner.”

Clearly torn between Hilltop’s mission statement and a generous tip he knew would come his way (or perhaps sensing a damsel in distress vibe), “Is it important?”

“Yes.” Holding my breath.

“Grab your stuff and meet me back here.” Elation and relief warred inside me while I scurried to my room.

Quicker than a rabbit can steal a carrot, I found myself following Sam through the warren of utilitarian corridors used by the staff (the cheap linoleum and beige walls were a dead giveaway). When we stopped, I figured we were somewhere in the back of the hotel, Sam used a key to open a door. He ushered me into the dark room where my nose detected the scents of old fries, dog, and Douglas fir.

“Wasn’t expecting company.” Sam started tidying up, which wasn’t really needed – it looked lived in – not sloven. 

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. You are doing me a huge favor.” And he was – because just to the left of the cracked open window stood a computer with a rather lovely printer.

He turned on the printer, made sure my tablet paired off with it and headed towards the door, “Extra printer paper is under the desk. Ink is in the top left drawer. My shift ends in four hours. I’ll come and get you then. If you could wait for me to lead you out, I would appreciate it.”

“Trust me, that will be perfect.” I waited for him close and lock the door before turning towards the desk.

1.43 Dueling Conversations

(I make rectangular scones with bacon in the batter – when I make them.)

Fortunately Wood and Beatrice didn’t require any conversational contributions from me when we left the Ranger Station.

The Pink Lady is a Woman In White.

Beatrice (holding the maps against her chest): “How did you figure out Ranger Rick followed the Pink Lady?”

I’d mislead myself by focusing on the silliness of Sam’s story and the color pink while ignoring the deeds he’d attributed to her. 

Wood (laughed): “He reminded me of Gertrude from Hamlet.”

Merging what I knew of Women In White with Sam’s tale and my first-hand encounter a chill snaked down my spine.

Beatrice: “The Ranger doth protests too much?”

I recalled what lead me to my initial conclusion of Stalker, her extreme focus, constant shadowing, and formulaic recitation.  

Wood (smiling): “Yup, his derision seemed out of proportion for an urban legend.” 

Instead of taking her claim of injuring Mr. Grindle seriously, I’d dismissed it as a sign of her descent into madness. Something which, in the end, always engulfs Stalkers.

Beatrice (nodding): “People do tend to ridicule others for things that scare the pants off them. And the leg?”

She merely stated a fact.

Wood (counting the reasons on his hand): “Speaking from experience Bee? Anyways. The leg didn’t appear to bother him until we mentioned The Pink Lady. If you noticed his boots, they showed distinctly uneven wear – so his limp’s been around for a while. However his screen saver featured pictures of him mountain climbing – so the leg hasn’t always been a problem.” 

I hadn’t place enough importance on her ability to shift focus.

Wood (continuing on, never knowing I’d interrupted him): “Then there’s his face, it lacks any kind of color – even in November a summer tan should still linger. So what would keep a ranger from working or playing outside when the weathers nice? A cast. If it were his knee or ankle he’d still managed to get some sun, but a broken femur – he’d get out very little, so six months in a cast. It takes another six to lose a limp, his was noticeable but not sever – so I placed his injury occurring sometime last winter – when there’s plenty of fog around here…”

A Woman In White pursues power and vengeance above all else.

Beatrice (summing up): “Add the bit about Hamlet in and you guessed he broke his leg following The Pink Lady.”

Knowing what she was cleared up one troubling detail, why her cairn susurrated so strongly under my hand.

Wood (smiling): “I took a shot in the dark. I suppose it isn’t nice to use my doctor powers like that – but he called Morticia stupid, roundaboutly.” 

It also asked and answered a question I hadn’t occurred to me earlier, ‘How was she able to wander so far from her genesis point?’. 

Beatrice: “What an odious little man. But he did give me some new maps…”

She’d done exactly what Sam and his friends feared, she’d stripped the vita from all those men, to fuel her vengeance.

Wood (turning to me): “Why did you wind Ranger Rick up Morticia?”

What will happen when her revenge on Mr. Grindle is complete? The vita she’s stolen makes her too powerful to merely evanesce, it will take years for her to fade. How much havoc could she wreak in the meantime?

Wood: “Morticia!”

Me (dread settling in my bones): “Salting the cairn won’t work fast enough.”

Wood (standing stalk still studying me): “Why?”

Me (meeting his eyes): “She can probably wait out the salt until it melts away then replace the leeched vita and start the cycle all over again.” 

Beatrice just stood and watched our exchange, her forehead creased in concentration.

Wood (eyes narrowing): “You know what you need to do then?”

Me (shaking myself): “Yes.” 

Beatrice: “Umm…what are you guys talking about?”

Wood (shrugging): “Morticia wool gathers out loud sometimes – I help her focus.”

Me (laughing, feeling a touch better): “Other times he completely derails me.”

Wood (rolling his eyes at me): “So why did you wind up Ranger Rick?”

Me (trying to keep things light): “An idea sparked, and I needed to grab hold of it before it went away again. I’ll figure out a correct apology; Dear Abby must cover this situation somewhere.”

Beatrice: “Does etiquette really cover the situation when strangers are simultaneously rude to each other? Honestly? I think overall you canceled each other out.”

Me (walking down the trail again, channeling my fretting into something silly): “Muffins? Cookies? Scones. Maple bacon scones – simultaneously savory and sweet, while being ever so slightly disappointing.”

Wood: “Apology thru baked goods?”

Beatrice (dissecting my answer): “Why would a scone be disappointing?”

Me: “Because it’s not a maple bacon doughnut, of course.” 

Beatrice: “And why would you not send those instead?”

Me: “Because he was rude too.”

1.42 Ranger Lade’s Pet Peeve

IMG_8699

Ranger Lade did not appear to appreciate the interruption (which was a bit rich since I’d bet my eye teeth he’d been eavesdropping). With an eye roll, “Urban legend.”

Beatrice looked up from her maps, cocking her head to one side, “Pink Lady? Worried about some wild woman living in the mountains attacking you Wood? Don’t worry Phoebe and I will keep you safe.”

I laughed, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Wood, shaking his head and smiling, agreed that we were fierce indeed when riled. He then went on and gave Beatrice the shorthand version of the Pink Lady Legend. With Ranger Lade contributing his own opinions by huffing at every feature of interest.

Deciding to poke the bear I asked the grumpiest Ranger a question, “What about the two local kids who went over the cliff? They grew up here and knew the area. You don’t think they followed her?”

Ranger Lade’s lip curled up, “No I don’t. They’d been drinking, and the weather was bad. That’s all that happened.” After answering he immediately started typing again on his computer again. But the niggling feeling I’d had when Sam told us his tall tale begun bothering me.

Ignoring his hint, I pressed a bit harder, “Do you know how her legend started?”

Trying to put me off, he answered dismissively, “She’s just a story locals tell to scare tourists.”

He seriously thought a pat explanation like that would stop me? Especially when I was so close to catching hold of the idiot idea earworm? 

“But really, did a woman ever go missing up here?” 

He endeavored to ignore me for a moment, rubbing his leg, but I moved to stand directly across the counter from him (channeling my inner Morticia Addams – no one ignored her). Realizing I wouldn’t let him off the hook he opted for condescension when finally answered. Glancing between Wood and Beatrice, trying to enlist their support, he finally responded, “No female has ever been reported missing from the Pumpkin Mountain area. The Pink Lady is just an urban legend that refuses to die. Locals use it to scare the tourists. Tourists use it to look less stupid when they get lost, ‘ It’s not our fault. We were following the woman wearing the white dress.’ They don’t even recount the story correctly. That should tell you all you need to know about its validity.” Viewing my stunned silence as confirmation of his verbal victory, he aimed a celebratory sneer at me – in his crowing he forgot about his potential recruits.

“Well, isn’t it nice that you’re here to set us straight Ranger Lade,” Beatrice replied while gathering her carefully sorted stacks into a single pile in front of her, “I’ll take these off your hands.” With the entire set of old maps in hand, she turned and marched out the door leaving the Ranger gaping in her wake.

He started to say something when Wood cut him off, “Try sitting with a heating pad on your thigh, should help the aching left over from that break.” With that sensible bit of advice Wood and I headed towards the door when Ranger Lade’s suspicious voice stopped us, “How did you know, I’d broken my leg?” A small smile played over Wood’s face, “I made an educated guess.” (I’d already walked thru the door but turned back to watch)

Ranger Lade nodded, uncertainty written on his face (since Wood’s helpful tone diametrically opposed Beatrice’s), “Thanks for the advice. I’ll try it.”

Wood nodded, “No problem. But tell me exactly how far did you follow The Pink Lady last year before you broke your leg?” 

Ranger Lade turned beet red and got the word “How” out before he shut up and channeled his inner thundercloud. 

“Never mind. You followed her just far enough.” With Wood’s parting shot hanging in the air he closed the door, and we started retracing our earlier rambling route back towards the hotel.

I was grateful they’d lept into the conversational fray since Ranger Lade’s answer had sucked the breath from my lungs. Not due to the rudeness of it, though that was breathtaking (I wasn’t exactly blameless I know), it was his actual words which caused my brain to combust.

A woman in a white dress….a Woman In White….oh god. 

1.41 Ranger Can You Spare A Map?

The manager, deciding we’d lingered at the front desk too long talking to Sam, swung by to make sure everything was copasetic (the way Sam clammed up, perhaps making sure he wasn’t telling inappropriate tales?). Not wanting to get him in hot water, Wood and I headed into the dining room to relieve the complimentary breakfast bar of some bacon. 

“Did you really want to go back up Pumpkin Mountain?” Wood asked while we surveyed the offerings.

Really I was just covering my bases. Last night I’d perused the pictures the others had taken on the hike, which made me feel confident that I’d salted the correct spot. But the cairn’s unsettling strong vita still bugged me, so I thought I might take a second look until Sam nixed the plan with his disturbing tale.

“Thought about it, but it seems out of the question now. No big deal.” 

Our conversation sputtered out when we observed what lay underneath the serving domes. Runny eggs, limp bacon, burnt hash browns and sweaty sausages put me off every warm food offering. I opted instead for lime yogurt, a tiny box of children’s cereal, a bowl of fruit and the largest cup of coffee I could finagle. Wood, who’d replaced his intestinal tract with that of a goat’s in med school, piled his plate high with every item I deemed too dubious to venture even a nibble of. Beatrice joined us in line while Wood was making pancakes at the griddle station. I thought she ignored our ‘Good Mornings’ until I watched her double down on coffee then grab two sticky strawberry danishes. 

If Beatrice’s breakfast was any indication, I wasn’t the only one the Party Of Much Yelling rudely woke up this morning.

After making a respectable dent in our chosen breakfasts (with only Beatrice feeling the need to lick her plate, we didn’t judge) we grabbed yet more coffee and headed to the lobby. Wood wandered over to the large map next to the front counter, “Morticia, Bee want to walk breakfast off? We have a couple of hours before Laney wakes up.”

Beatrice stood next to Wood, tracing a line with her finger, “What about Sarah?” 

Replying, “Probably about the same.” The hot toddies we drank last night were stiff, and she has zero tolerance.

Wood left a note for Laney in their room (Bert and Ernie refused to budge from the bed), and I left another at the front desk for Sarah while letting Sam know where we were hiking to this morning (safety first after all). He seemed relieved we’d decided to head in the exact opposite direction of The Pink Lady and her mountain. In fairness, our muscles (I say our, it might only have been mine) were sore from yesterday’s hike. 

The walk to the ranger station was a relaxed two-mile ramble, due mainly to the efforts of an Eagle Scout who did an excellent job restoring the path. About an hour later our leisurely stroll deposited us in front of a sizable rustic building featuring friendly but official sign proclaiming it as the Ross Lake Ranger Station.

“Do you think they sell any maps inside?” Beatrice wondered out loud.

“Better question. Are they open?” Spying several banks of illuminated lights thru the windows, we decided to try the doors. When the opened easily under our hands, we headed inside.

The ranger seated at the counter did not seem overly pleased to see us (people don’t generally tend to frown with happiness). “Can I help you?”, he queried. 

“Hi. I was looking to see if you had any other maps of the area I could purchase. I own all the current Forest Service…..” It seemed Beatrice found a kindred spirit. The Ranger perked right up when she started her inquiry. 

Asking her to wait a moment, he limped away from the counter, past a desk piled high with papers, to a row of filing cabinets lining the back wall. Instead of opening a drawer he slipped something off the top and returned the counter, “We’ve had these hanging around forever, to new for collectors, not accurate enough for hikers and regulations say I can’t toss them. You can take any you like.” With the amount of dust Beatrice blew off the two-inch stack, I was willing to believe they’d been sitting there since the sixties. 

Wood and I wandered around the large airy room, but other than maps, hiking licenses, and other official paperwork there wasn’t much for the nontechnical tourists. However, the happy noises issuing from Beatrice while she sorted thru the dusty stack provided more than enough entertainment. 

Leaning against the counter, trying to figure out the method behind Beatrice’s choices (without crowding her) – I turned to idle speculation “I wonder if Sam believed his tall tale.”

Wood looked up from the drawer of maps he was thumbing thru, “Hard to say. But I think he just might.” Closing the drawer, he joined me at the counter and eyed the Ranger working between Beatrice and us. “Hey, Ranger Lade, what do you think of The Pink Lady? Fact or fiction?” 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »