Tag Archives: Fall Foliage Tour

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! 

1.45 Tips

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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

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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. 

1.37 Switchback

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(My view while I ran up the trail.)

The steady thrumming in my toes settled back into the familiar pins and needles sensation the farther from the glen I walked. No longer distracted by my digits and not hearing anyone calling my name (calling is such a tame word – hollering, bellowing or cursing it might be more accurate if they couldn’t find me) allowed my mind to mull over today’s work. 

Time coupled with several good soakings would leech the salt into the soil, rendering the contents of the cairn inert (or at least transforming a tiger into a tabby). One canteen of water, while a start, would not suffice to produce instant results, so the continued pricking along my toes didn’t worry me. 

The overall level of energy (or vita as it was technically known) still emanating – did. 

Reentering the picnic area, I sat in the spot Wood vacated earlier, trying to reason my way through this riddle. I’d started to pull out my brown bag lunch when a thought struck me with such force it launched me out of the clearing and onto the main trail, my lunch uneaten. The rise in elevation (and my fitness level) wouldn’t allow a flat out run, but I pushed myself hard, ignoring the protests my legs and lungs lodged against me. 

What if I salted the wrong bones? 

The Pumpkin Mountain Trail didn’t connect with any other trail systems in the park, which meant mountaineers rarely trafficked it, enthusiasts found the trail too easy and novices avoided it due to the inconvenient trailhead (if you didn’t talk to the locals). Taken together these conditions created an underutilized remote location, which fit the select set of criteria needed for the unsuspecting to vanish in. The odds of two illicit graves along one trail – astronomical – but not outside the realm of possibility.

Four more unofficial spots lay beyond the one I’d found the cairn by and I needed to appraise them. So onward and upward I pushed myself, pitting myself against my companions in a contest they didn’t know they raced, waiting for a whisper of vita to prick me. Ignoring my whistling lungs and the lead settling into my legs, my eyes only saw the dirt of the trail while I strained to feel the faintest ripple of energy. I needed to reach the top.

I’d past two camps without so much as a twinge with just two to go – when Bert and Ernie ran into me (literally, they just about knocked me on my ass).

Wood (breathless called): “Phoebe?” 

Me (unable to do more than pant): ….

Wood bounded over, removed my pack and tossed it aside, then pushed me to sit down on the trail. Bert and Ernie thrilled to have someone at tongue level started converging when Wood ordered them to “Sit and stay.” Without changing his tone, he started ordering me around, “Slow down. Take a deep breath, now another. Keep taking them.” He kneeled down in the dirt next to me felt for my pulse while pantomiming in and out trying to help me regain control of my breath. It took five minutes for the rest of the crew to catch up with us. When they did, concern filled their faces.

Wood (looked me dead in the eye): “Phoebe what were you thinking, running up a mountain?”

Laney: “Wood, give her minute.”

He’d spied my dubious attack of the switchbacks, which caused him to mount his own swift descent to meet me – seems a beet red face while whistling like a tea kettle worries a physician. Who knew? Since he used my actual first name (which is the equivalent of a parent middle naming you), I knew I was in trouble. History told me he would require an explanation for what he deemed reckless behavior and he could sniff out BS better than the boys. 

All I could think of? I’d fallen short. 

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