Tag Archives: serial fiction

1.65 Much Ado About Nothing

“Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” After this rather stunning declaration, she accidentally dropped her phone under the table. When she leaned over to retrieve it, she cut herself off mid-sentence.

Little Ben eyed me. I just shrugged.

Popping back up she continued on without missing a beat, “When you laid her off, you gave me the best roommate ever!” Focusing on her phone, which had started doing a fair impression of an angry bee, she addressed both of us, “Go ahead and ignore me, I need to respond to a bunch of emails from work. Apparently, someone shook an author’s hand, and now his publisher is freaking out. So I need to calm the waters.” Waving us on, she dove into her phone.

Trying not to split a seam at Beatrice’s comment and Little Ben’s befuddlement I wrestled my focus back onto what he’d been saying, “So Nevermore?”

Something which looked suspiciously like guilt flitted across his face but was quickly chased away by disdain. Shrugging it off he unglued his gaze from Beatrice and transferred it to me, “Er, yes, Nevermore. I was wondering if you did anything special to ward off trespassers. Specifically students from the high school.”

His question placed me squarely on boggy ground. Helping him meant the possibility of compromising my own avenues of ingress. But on the other hand, left to his own devices…. 

Too tired to be a jerk I answered, “Replace all the broken lights with bright new bulbs, make sure security varies their routes and up their numbers on holidays and when school is out.”

His answer made me glad I’d gone the route I did, “I was thinking of pulling the groundskeepers in for double duty. They always want extra hours, and they’re cheaper than the guards.”

Trying to head off all the avenues of objection, “Ben, they’ll like the hours right up until they run into a group of genuine vandals. People seriously bent on desecrating burials can turn very nasty very quick. The groundskeepers don’t have the skills to deal with them. And what if they got hurt? It would cost more money in the long run. Stick with our regular firm, they know the hotspots to watch and who they’re dealing with.”

Complaining, “They didn’t do any good last night! And we were featured in the Harvest’s Blotter!”

A ghost of a smile hovered over my lips, “They’ll work harder now. They don’t like losing. And helpful hint, don’t call the cops until after security has detained someone.” On that note, Ruth, our waitress placed a condiment carrier on the table (which the Rusty Hinge takes seriously – filling an old six-pack box with sriracha, horseradish, curry, brown sauce, relish, and ranch dressing. Ketchup and mustard never leave their tables). 

Knowing the condiments signaled our impending meal he rushed on, “Have you seen the plans for Sunny Valley Farm?”

“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” Claudio advised Don Pedro and Leonardo when they were trying to trick Benedick into loving Beatrice (or trying to temper his pride enough to declare his love for her – but we can debate their motivations later). 

Either way, Claudio’s line floated through my head when Little Ben asked his question. If I played my cards right Little Ben would choose the correct course of action on his own. Without me needing to employ any convoluted high-risk schemes to get him to see reason. 

Delicately grasping the opportunity, “I saw the advertisement in The Daily Harvest.”.

Okay, so it still requires some guile on my part. 

With a keen look in his eye, “So what did you think?”.

Infusing my words with a slightly upbeat tone, “Tapping into a new market is smart. Donating entire harvests to local food banks is genius. It will garner goodwill in the community, and I assume it’s tax deductible.”

Puffing up like a proud peacock, “I thought it was a good idea.”

Hesitating a beat before agreeing with him, I placed a note of doubt in my voice, “So long as the pet cemetery portion of the farm isn’t placed near Iron Creek – I don’t see why your new venture won’t be a success.”. 

Confusion lined his face, “Why would that be a problem?”

1.50 Dealing

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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)

1.42 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. 

1.41 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?” 

1.39 Morning People

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Swimming reluctantly up to consciousness, it took several moments for my brain to register the stomping outside my door as the reason why Mr. Sandman’s spell broke. Burrowing into the warm covers, I hoped a speck of his sand remained to help.…

….When the shouting started just outside my window I gave up all pretense of sleep, unrolling myself I headed to the shower, trying to drown out the voices of the unhappy campers. 

When I emerged fresh as a daisy from my shower (though much less perky), I deduced the Party of Much Yelling would no be heading out anytime soon. The continued cacophony showed no sign of abating, Sue’s flashlight died; it wasn’t Rudy’s fault that the extension bar of his pack was missing; Paul couldn’t find his first aid kit; Why couldn’t they take a boat there and skip the hike.

I decided if this many individuals were up at the crack of dawn coffee must be present somewhere. Where else could they be getting enough energy to shout this much? Descending the stairs in search of this magical bean based elixir, barely controlled chaos met my eyes when my toes touched the lobby. 

Some sort of school outing was the only explanation I could think of as to why there were so many teenagers milling about at such an hour. And from my count, the adults did not enjoy majority status in the Party of Much Yelling. On the upside, their frenetic faces lent credence to my coffee theory, the artificial stimulation it provided was their only hope of winning the day.

Following my barely firing logic circuits, I searched. The dining room? Nope. The lobby? No dice. But I did notice a trend, a steady stream of parental types sipping steaming cups while walking thru the front entrance. Deducing my precious first cup lay just outside the doors I brushed past the other adults into the crisp morning air. Where I beheld the most beautiful sight, an island of sixteen airpots, featuring eight different kinds of brewed coffee. 

A sullen teen tried to cut in front of me, but the judicious use of the stink eye (I might smell like a rose, but my attitude currently featured their thorns) sent him scurrying to the end of the line.

Cup in hand, the aroma helped me focus on the world beyond the shouty people. And the first thing I spied? Wood sitting alone at the end of the porch wholly engrossed in his phone.

Weaving my way past yet more teens, I managed to catch a glimpse of the screen a moment before he noticed me.

Me (mock sternness): “Laney will kill you if she gets a hold of your phone.”

Wood (pleading): “It’s the Manchester Derby, and she isn’t awake yet.”

Me (laughing): “Lucky for you.” 

Wood: “It’s the eightieth minute…”

Me: “Watch your football. I have coffee to drink.”

So we sat together enjoying our harmless vices. I thought herding kittens posed a monumental chore, watching ten adults trying to wrangle thirty adolescents? They wished for some as simple as kittens! Then it hit me. The kids weren’t kittens. They were squirrels! The adults were attempting to corral squirrels. The Squirrels sheer exuberance meant they could not stay silent or still long enough for the chaperones to get a handle on the situation. Without any stake in the dramedy and a cup of coffee in hand – the scene provided high entertainment.

Wood’s ‘whoop’ of victory pulled me back (his cheer didn’t even dent the din around us).

Me: “City win?”

Wood: “Of course.” 

Me: “Laney will skin you if she figures out you’re watching matches up here. How are you, by the way?”

Wood (slipping the phone into his pocket): “The office bought satellite phones, so they could get a hold of us if something urgent crops up with a patient while on vacation. I reimburse them back for the data I use. Kids wake you up?”

Me (sipping my coffee): “Yeah. My window faces this way and stealthy they are not. But neither were we at their age.”

While we reminisced about days gone by the Party of Much Yelling’s shouting reached a crescendo. When the Adults of the Party of Much Yelling were satisfied they’d collected all their Squirrels, the entire party put forth one last effort to wake the whole hotel at this unholy hour, before filing onto the path and out of sight. A stunned silence descended in their wake. Even the birds took a moment to savor it before a tentative chirp tested the morning air. The only artificial noise left? The soft gurgling of the coffee pot under my fingertips, The Party of Much Yelling emptied them all, well not entirely – the decaf remained untouched.

Wood and I wandered back inside looking for a refill, spying a pot behind the front desk we went to beg for a refill. Fortunately for us, Sam was more than willing to oblige.

Sam: “So what’s on the agenda for you guys today?”

Me (adding milk to my coffee): “I thought I might rent a boat and hike Pumpkin Mountain again. Meditation is easier without dogs…”

Sam (tensing up while shaking his head): “We aren’t renting any boats today. We don’t want you to meet The Pink Lady.”

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. 

1.34 Competative Hiking

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(Maple Ginger Bacon Carrots with Sesame Seeds! This was one of the great side dish from this evening! And the only one which featured a sauce!)

When I finally made the lobby, after a thrilling twilight boat ride, the front desk clerk informed me that the rest of my party had assembled in the dining room. 

They saw me first.

All together they called: “Phoebe!”

I made my way over to the large round table under a rustic chandelier, made from antlers, where everyone sat.

Me (feeling corny): “Cheers everyone!”

This met with a round of laughter, clinking of plates, silverware, and glasses. With a slight sense of deja vu, I sat down to my second family-style meal in under a week. Which featured at least one entree covered in bacon sprinkles, one platter held jamón wrapped root vegetables, and we weren’t eating off paper plates. 

The bacon almost made up for the shocking lack of sauce.

Wood (in-between bites): “According to the Rangers the best hiking weather is tomorrow. So I rented a boat. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough time to see Pumpkin Mountain. It’s a two and a half day hike if you’re focused.”

Beatrice (helping herself to a bowl of roasted vegetables): “Boat? My map didn’t show a landing anywhere on the trail.”

Laney (taking over for Wood, who’d just took an enormous bite of steak): “Not on the official maps, but the locals made their own version, augmented with all the tricks and trivia outsiders are unaware of. Sam told me there’s a natural landing just under the trailhead we can use.” 

Beatrice (looking very interested): “Do they sell copies of these expanded maps?”

Laney: “I don’t know. They’re lending us one for tomorrow. You can take a picture of it if nothing else.”

Beatrice excused herself from the table for a moment.

Sarah (ever efficient): “How will we know what to look for?” 

Wood: “They’ve spray-painted the landing bright orange or something. They’ll show me some pictures of what I’m looking for tomorrow, we’ll be fine.” 

Talk shifted away from the trip onto more mundane matters, Laney wondered what I thought of FLYT, and Sarah asked Wood about the boys. It wasn’t until we’d practically licked the platters clean that we noticed Beatrice hadn’t returned to the table. Just about the time, we were going to mount an expedition to find her she reappeared in the dining room doorway, waving several folded sheets of paper above her head in victory.

Beatrice (her smile wide): “I got a copy of the map!”

We all started at her blankly. 

Beatrice: “The augmented map! I got a copy!”

Me (speaking for the group – hesitantly): “M’kay…and this cause for celebration?”

Beatrice: “Yes! It means I can win!”

Wood: “Win at hiking?”

Beatrice (finally realizing we were confused): “No. Geocaching. My archenemy, Horus….”

Wood: “Wait, archenemy? Seriously?”

Beatrice: “Yes. An annoying player who says my caches are pedantic and pedestrian.” 

Wood (trying and failing not to laugh): “He’s just needling you, Bee.”

Beatrice (haughtily): “I am not boring.”

Turns out Beatrice had bamboozled Sam into loaning her an augmented map, then fetched her unaugmented copy from her room. While we stacked the empty serving dished upon one end of the table, she snapped opened the two maps at the other. Then, using a wide array of colored pencils, she started transferring information from the former to the latter. We all watched her with varying amounts of humor.

Beatrice (concentrating on her task): “This isn’t funny, it’s serious.”

Laney: “Of course it is, but you can’t say you have an archenemy named Horus without us at least asking if you are driving on three wheels these days.”

Beatrice’s eyes didn’t waver from her task, but she did smile, Laney has that knack. When the waiter cleared the table, we ordered a round of drinks and continued watching Beatrice (from a distance she growled when we got too close, I mean she politely asked us to refrain from standing in her light). When she finished with a triumphant flourish, I warily approached her and studied her handiwork.

Me (tracing tomorrows trail with my finger): “That blue triangle is the authorized camping spot, but what are the blue circles just past it?”

Beatrice: “They’re the unofficial camping spots. Sam says the locals avoid them now, but they’re still on the map, I thought one might make an excellent place to hide a cache.”

Me: “I agree.” 

Those unofficial dots would indeed make excellent hiding spots – for all kinds of things.

1.25 WWNDD

 

Irrational fears come in all flavors – beards, butterflies, spiders, clowns, rollercoasters,  darkness, snakes, mice, ghosts, death, blood, needles, dogs, public speaking, the color yellow, heights, and bathing – for instance. If a long Latin name attaches itself to your favorite, you know it is someone else’s too, like some weird and wonderful ice-cream concoction. I’ve never found a name for mine (not sure if this makes me feel like a special snowflake or freak), but I do know its point of origin.

During spring vacation just after I turned nine (munching on a cookie), my purple sneakers and I felt the need to investigate an ominous din emanating from within our garden shed. Using all the skills I’d gleaned from Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo – I crept, quiet as cat’s paws, towards the side window. Easing my way between the bushes and the wall I peered over the windowsill. Old and dusty spider webs shrouded the source of the scrapes, bumps, and groans from my eyes while keeping most of the sun out. 

I almost lost my nerve when I wondered what exactly skittered around in the corners of the shed where the light didn’t reach. 

Not wanting to chicken out (Cherry and Nancy never did), I tip-toed slowly around the corner of the shed and peaked thru the door. The semi-darkness of the interior imbued the sheers, saws, and shovels with all kinds of sinister intent. When a fresh round of scraping started my eyes flew to the epicenter of the sound, the shadows cast such an aura of menace I failed to recognize my Uncle wrestling the mower off the wall. I yipped. He turned. I beaned him with my cookie. Then channeling my inner Shaggy & Scooby, I ran pell-mell back to the house and tried to explain to my Aunt about the dangerous criminal I’d seen in the shed. 

Might not sound like much, but my nine-year-old self etched the episode in technicolor splendor in my memory (My Uncle laughed after he wiped the crumbs off his face. I never set foot in the shed again – we had seriously shaggy lawn the summer he tried to get me over my fear – but that’s another story).

So when I figured out where Beatrice was leading me at six am the next morning – in the dark – I felt trepidatious (a beautifully long word which sounds way better than ‘fraidy-cat). Little gremlins started tap dancing their way up and down my spine reminding me of that inauspicious day – which of course did nothing to curb my fears. But in fairness that’s not their job.

While I psyched myself out, Beatrice lead me unerringly down the garden path (apparently she ate a ton of carrots as a kid and now reaps the benefits of excellent night vision) towards the shed I’d found in my previous foray. On the upside, I’d fortified myself with a fantastic cup of coffee which helped dispel the chill in the air (and my heart).

Just about the time I figured I could live with Laundry Island (what I’d taken to calling my surplus possessions) and seriously debating whether I really needed the extra space in my room and unbruised shins – we arrived. 

The orange glow from the sodium streetlamp on the adjoining road lit up the front of the shed nicely – didn’t make me feel like we were stuck in a jack-o-lantern at all. In the morning quiet I could hear Beatrice’s boots scrape over the wooden steps and snick of two locks disengaging – smiling at me over her shoulder she opened the door and walked into the darkness. 

WWNDD – What Would Nancy Drew Do?

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