UNTITLED (as yet) STORY
At the end of each part of this story, I’m asking the members of my discussion group what they think should happen next. Based on their responses I continue the story. To see what the options were and how the group voted or to join in the fun go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mickeyminner/
Barb had been right. The drive to the lake was nice with the road meandering through thick forests and open meadows. Occasionally, a deer could be seen munching on the sweet grasses and wildflowers and Linda always pulled to the side of the road to watch the attractive animals for a few minutes. The five mile drive took her almost an hour but she didn’t regret one minute of the time spent to reach Trout Lake.
Pulling off the highway, she slowly drove into the gravel lot and stopped in front of a log barricade marking the edge of the parking area. She turned off the engine then pushed open the door and climbed out. “I’m surprised no one else is here,” she commented to herself about the absence of any other cars. “Beautiful day like this…”
A gap in the logs marked the beginning of a trail and she walked through the breach to a large sign a few feet down the path. The sign provided a brief description of the trail and a map painted on the wood showed the location of several points of interest along the route. She pulled a pamphlet from the box attached to the sign dropping a quarter into the slot on its side as directed. Opening the pamphlet, she started down the trail.
She took her time, enjoying the walk and sights along it. The path was wide enough for two people to walk comfortably side-by-side and weaved in and out of the forest that surrounded Trout Lake with sections of the trail following the shoreline. Instead of sand, the shore was covered in small pebbles worn smooth by centuries of being tumbled about by the lake’s waters. She paused at every numbered marker and read the corresponding information in the pamphlet. She learned that in the late 1800s, Trout Lake had been home to a busy logging camp and she enthusiastically explored the remains of the venture’s decaying equipment and crumbling buildings. The pamphlet told that during its heyday, the camp was home to over a hundred loggers. Some of the men had their families with them and they lived in log cabins scattered around the perimeter of the camp.
Linda was peering through the window of one of these cabins. Shards of broken glass still remained stuck in the rotting window frame and she was careful not to touch it as she ducked her head through the opening. Wondering what life would have been like for a young family living in the cabin, she was startled from her thoughts when a twig snapped behind her. She yanked her head out from the window. “Who’s there?” she called out looking into the woods but she could see nothing but trees and shadows. That didn’t stop the hairs on the back of her neck tingling as if she had rubbed her feet on a thick carpet. “Who’s there?” she called again. The forest was silent except for the rustling of leaves and creaking of tree branches as a light breeze blew through them.
She pulled the pamphlet from her pocket. With trembling hands she opened it to reveal the map of the trail. She was relieved to see she wasn’t too far from the trailhead. “I’m going back to my car,” she said loudly. “My friend is waiting for me there. You don’t want to mess with her,” she added with a bravado she wasn’t feeling. As she spoke, she inched along the wall of the old cabin back toward the trail. “I mean it. Barb will kick your ass if you try anything.” As soon as her hiking boots returned to the trail, Linda turned for the parking lot and ran as fast as she ever had.
“She’s not who you think she is, Uncle Dudley.” Barb shook her head.
“Pshaw,” the old man peeking out the window of the café muttered. “She’s the spittin’ image of—” Cooking pots clattered loudly in the kitchen. Dudley turned away from the window and shuffled toward the sound. “She’s come back. She always said she would. And now she has.”
A pot was slammed down onto the stove with a deafening clang. “It’s not her.”
Dudley shook a finger, twisted with age, at his niece. “Don’t you be actin’ like that.”
“It’s not her.”
His eyes locked on Barb’s. “Are you sure?”
“Dammit, old man,” she swore forcing her eyes to break from his powerful hold.
“That’s what I thought.”
Linda barely glanced down the highway to check for traffic before she drove out of the parking area with gravel shooting out from under her spinning tires. All the way down the trail as her boots beat against the leaf littered path, she felt eyes following her. And now, as she pressed harder on the accelerator, she glanced at the rear view mirror sure she would see her pursuer. But the mirror revealed nothing. She drove almost a mile before she relaxed enough to slow the car’s speed. And by the time she reached Henry’s and parked in front of the café, she was laughing at herself for being so foolish.
“Hi.” Linda looked over the top of her car to see Barb sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. “How was your drive?”
“Nice. Just like you said.”
“And the lake?”
Her stomach did a flip-flop and she shivered slightly. “Okay.”
“Everything all right?” Barb had seen the involuntary movement.
“Yes.” Linda walked around the car and mounted the steps. She walked to a chair next to Barb and sat down. “I just let my imagination get the best of me.”
She rocked nervously not wanting to tell Barb what had happened.
“Some say there are ghosts in the old camp,” Barb said quietly after several long, awkward minutes. Linda stopped rocking and turned to study her. “I think it’s just the wind and the shadows.”
“It’s easy to imagine the snap of a twig or trees rubbing together in the wind to be something else. Especially when you’re out there alone and the shadows are deepening with the afternoon. But it’s still just a twig and trees.”
Linda reached back and rubbed her neck where she could still feel a residue of the sensation she had experienced at the old cabin. “What happened to the people in the camp?”
“The camp burned down around eighteen-eighty nine or ninety. Most of the loggers moved on to other camps when the company decided not to rebuild. A few stayed in the area.”
“Did anyone die in the fire?”
Barb smiled, not a humorous smile but one of understanding. “No. I never heard of anyone dying in the fire.”
Linda let loose a burst of air. “Thank goodness.”
“Want to tell me what you saw?”
“Want some dinner?”
“Good,” Barb said standing up. “Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and fresh apple pie are the special tonight.”
“Then you won’t be wanting a menu?”
“Nope. Bring me the special,” Linda said as she followed Barb into the café.
Standing just inside the doorway of the store, Dudley watched the women sitting on the café’s porch. When they retreated inside the building, he turned to his companion.
“She’s come back for me,” a voice whispered.
Barb was setting Linda’s dinner plate down in front of her when the café’s door opened. “Evening, Uncle Dudley,” she said, a tinge of suspicion in her tone. The older man walked directly toward his niece. “Grab a stool at the counter. I’ll get your dinner.”
He stepped around his irritated niece then slipped into the booth opposite Linda. “Think I’ll sit here,” he said picking up an unused coffee mug and flipping it over. “Bring the pot back with you.”
Barb glared at her uncle a few seconds before turning to return to the kitchen.
Linda watched the exchange curiously. “Good evening, Mr. Henry.”
He chuckled. “Call me Uncle Dudley. Mr. Henry makes me sound old.”
“You are old,” Barb groused as she set a plate in front of him. She reached for his coffee cup and filled it from the pot she held.
“Don’t mean I have to be reminded of it.” He watched as Linda poured a generous amount of sugar into her coffee then stirred the liquid vigorously. “You like it sweet,” he said knowingly. “Just like her.”
“Hush,” Barb glared at him.
“Her who?” Linda asked.
Dudley laughed. “Your aunt? That who you’re calling her now.” Barb’s eyes narrowed in silent warning. “That look don’t scare me,” he snickered picking up a chicken leg and biting into it.
“Why do I get the feeling that I’m missing something?” Linda asked.
“You’re not.” Barb set the coffee pot on the table and scooted onto the bench seat forcing her uncle to slide closer to the wall. “It’s just more of Dudley’s ramblings.”
“Ramblings. Ha! She’s back. Talked to her myself today.”
“Who?” Linda asked, the word fired across the table at the pair.
“Might as well tell her. She’ll find out anyway since she’s sticking around.”
“We don’t know that yet.”
Dudley, chicken grease running down his chin, looked at Linda. “You takin’ the job?”
“Well… I was thinking—”
“You didn’t let her finish.” Barb forced a napkin into Dudley’s hand. “Wipe your chin.”
“Are ya?” he asked Linda, scrubbing the napkin across his face.
“Dammit, girl. Are you staying? Yes or no?”
“Umm… Yes. I think… Oh, hell. Would you two tell me what the heck you are arguing about?”
“No,” Barb said, overturning a mug and filling it with coffee.
Dudley pointed at a painting on the other side of the room. “Her.”
Linda looked. She had seen the painting when she was in the café that morning. It was of a young woman standing at the edge of a lake. Her posture was relaxed and she was laughing. She wore a light blue blouse tucked into a pair of worn jeans and her bare feet were covered by the water. In one hand a summer bonnet was lightly clutched while her other hand reached out for an unseen companion. “She’s very pretty. Who is she?”
“My grandmother,” Dudley said. Linda’s brow creased in thought. “What’s wrong?”
“I thought you said your grandfather painted those,” Linda said to Barb. “But if that’s Dudley’s grandmother, how…?”
Barb sipped her coffee refusing to answer.
“How’d my brother know what she looked liked?” Dudley asked. “Well, ‘cause he knew her.”
“I’m sure he did. But…” Linda slipped out of the booth and crossed the dining room to stand in front of the painting. “She can’t be more than nineteen or twenty in this painting. Surely, you and your brother weren’t born when she was this young.”
“Granddad painting it from an old photograph.”
“What lake is this?” Linda asked, sure she had visited the location of the painting only a few hours before.
“Trout Lake. She lived in a cabin there.”
Linda looked over her shoulder at Dudley. “She lived on Trout Lake?”
“Not Grandma. Her—”
“That’s enough talk for tonight,” Barb interrupted. “Dudley, finish your dinner. It’s time for me to be closing up and I’ve still have to take Linda down to her room.” She stood up then placed a hand on the table and leaned down until she was inches from her uncle’s face. “Not another word. Do you hear me?” she whispered. When he nodded, she straightened up and walked into the kitchen.
Linda wasn’t sure what to think as she studied the photograph. There was obvious more to the story but it was just as obvious that Barb didn’t want her to hear it. Maybe staying in Henry’s wasn’t such a good idea. She walked back to the table and her dinner. She and Dudley exchanged furtive glances as they ate in silence.
Barb was standing just inside the door of the motel room, her hand holding the door handle. “I have to get back to the café and lock up. If you need anything, just use the phone there. You don’t need to dial anything since the only place it connects to is my office.”
“Okay,” Linda said as she dropped her suitcase on the bed. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Barb turned to leave. “See you for breakfast then. Good night.”
“Good night.” Linda looked around.
The room was L-shaped with the bathroom in the short leg. In the main room, a round table and matching pair of chairs sat in front of the window to the side of the door. In the center of the room, a queen size bed was pushed head-first against the wall. A low dresser of drawers sat in front of a wall that jutted across the end of the room hiding the closet which opened opposite the door to the bathroom. The furnishings were simple but clean and well cared for and Linda immediately took a liking to the comfortable feel of the room.
She walked to the bathroom, flipping on the light-switch as she peeked through the door. The typical toilet, sink, and bathtub were arranged inside the room. Beside the tub, a pair of shelves hung on the wall fully stocked with towels, soap, and shampoo. Not seeing anything lacking, she walked back to the bed to prepare for bed.
Barb locked the rear door of the café then walked around the kitchen making sure nothing had been accidentally left turned on. Satisfied, she walked into the dining room flipping off lights as she went. After a final look, she stepped out onto the porch, pausing to lock the door and hook the screen door shut so it wouldn’t bang against the door frame if the wind began to blow during the night. She walked across the porch and down the steps then stopped. A quick look down the street assured her that the motel room was dark. She turned her eyes toward the porch of the store where she caught a movement in the dark shadows. She walked across the street.
“Leave her be.”
“She’s come back.”
“It’s not her.”
“It’s her. Saw her down by the lake. And at her cabin.”
“It’s not her.” Barb’s tone was harsh. She wasn’t surprised when a shape began to materialize out of the shadows. “Leave her be,” she told the figure.
“How can you be so sure?” The question was asked quietly with a voice full of pain.
“I just know.”
“You promised to find her.”
“I miss her so much.”
“I know,” Barb said in a soft tone. “I’ll go back tomorrow.”
“Bring her home to me.”
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