This is the conclusion of the story written from suggestions by my discussion group members. To join in the fun go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mickeyminner/
“Are you sure you can handle this?” Barb asked.
“Sure. No problem.”
“You better pay attention to what you’re doing this time.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
“Jake, if you set the kitchen on fire again, you’ll be doing a lot more than sweating it.”
“I won’t. Besides, there’s no way I’m giving her another chance at me.”
The screen door to the café opened and Barb turned to see who their first customer of the morning was. She smiled when Linda walked in. “Morning.”
“Good morning. I’m not too early am I?” Linda asked, noting the lack of other customers. It wasn’t much past sunrise and she wasn’t sure when the town’s businesses opened since none had any signs revealing that information.
“Not at all. Sit. Coffee is made. Would you like a cup while Jake fires up the grill?”
Linda slid into a booth. “Sounds great.”
Barb nudged Jake behind the counter then plucked the coffee pot off the warmer.
“Dudley is right,” he whispered. “She does look like her.” Barb glared at him. “Well, she does,” he mumbled as he backed away.
Barb turned around. She was surprised to see the booth empty and looked around for the missing diner. Linda was slowly walking from painting to painting, scrutinizing each one for several minutes before moving to the next. “Something wrong?” she asked after walking over to stand beside her.
“Hmm?” Linda replied, her eyes never leaving the canvas in front of her.
“Is something wrong with the paintings?”
Linda turned, smiled at Barb then moved to stand in front of the next painting. “No, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to take a closer look at them. You grandfather was very talented. These landscapes are so true to life,” she said reaching out to a mountain meadow. She stopped her fingers just before they touched the painted surface. “It’s almost as if I’m standing right there.”
“Yes,” Barb agreed then turned to carry the coffee pot to the table. “Grandfather did have a good eye,” she said as she walked away.
“Something’s…” Linda was standing in front of the Lake of the Lovers. “Something’s different about this one,” she said leaning closer to peer at the canvas.
Barb sat down and poured coffee into two mugs. “That’s the same painting that’s been hanging there since Grandfather finished it.”
“No. That’s not what I mean.” Linda stared at the painting willing her mind to remember what it had looked like the previous day. “It’s the same painting but different.”
“Ah, you mean the lovers,” Jake said as he walked around the counter carrying a menu.
“Jake! Don’t you have something to do in the kitchen?”
“Not until she orders I don’t.” He held the menu out to Linda. “Perhaps you’d like to…?”
“Oh, I am sorry. Of course.” Linda took the proffered menu and opened it. “Denver omelet, raisin toast, hash browns.” She handed the menu back.
“Thanks. I’ll get that started right away.” He held out his hand. “I’m Jake. Barb’s cousin but she’s not much for introductions this morning.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Linda.”
He looked over his shoulder at Barb, an icy glare on her face. “I’m going,” he said returning to the kitchen. “Sheesh.”
Linda walked across the dining room and slid into the booth opposite Barb. “He’s right,” she murmured gazing over at the painting.
“Not usually,” Barb muttered.
“It’s the lovers. There’s only one.”
“Yesterday, there were two figures standing in the tree’s shadows. Today, there’s only one.”
“You must have been mistaken.”
“No. I’m sure of it.”
“Trick of the light, I guess,” Barb shrugged off Linda’s comment. “About the job with Dudley…”
“I am interested but I’d like a day or two to get used to the area.”
“Not much to get used to.”
“I was looking at this map I found in my room. There are so many trails… I thought it might be nice to hike a few of them. That is, if the store can wait a day or two.”
“Don’t see why not. If that’s what you want.”
“But I’d be careful taking off on those trails alone. That map is pretty old. I keep meaning to update it. Some of them haven’t seen much use over the years.”
“Oh? Well, maybe you could suggest a couple of the safer ones.”
“Sure. Anything special you like to see?”
“I was thinking of hiking up to the Lake of the Lovers. You said it wasn’t far.”
Barb scowled. “That’s not one I’d recommend.”
“Oh? I thought—”
“One Denver omelet, raisin toast and hash browns,” Jake said as he slid a plate in front of Linda.
Barb stood up. “I’ve got some things to do in the office. Enjoy your breakfast,” she said then turned away. She was halfway to the kitchen when Linda called after her.
“Wait. What about the trails?”
“I’d be happy to—”
“Jake, I need your help in the office.”
“Now, Jake.” Barb took a couple of steps toward Linda. “I’ll, um… Think on it. Better eat that before it gets cold.” Linda looked at her, an unvoiced question clearly written on her features. “I’ll, um… I’ll be back before you finish,” she said then turned on her heel and hurried around the counter into the back of the kitchen with Jake right behind her.
“What the…?” Linda picked up her fork and pointed it toward the disappearing woman. “If you weren’t so damn cute…” She cut off a bite of omelet and slipped it into her mouth. As she chewed, her gaze returned to the painting across the room.
Linda stood at the counter opposite the cash register holding out a ten dollar bill. “Will this cover my breakfast?”
“That’s okay.” Jake waved off the offer. “I added it to your room.”
“Thank you,” she said placing the bill back into her wallet. “Is Barb still in her office?
“She, umm...” He turned to look at the closed office door. “She said to tell you she’d talk to you later. She had something to take care of.”
Linda frowned. She looked at Jake then at the closed door. Then she turned and walked across the dining room to stand in front of the painting that she couldn’t seem to get out of her mind. She peered at the figure standing in the shadows of the pine trees. “Who is this woman, Jake?” Although her features were not very distinct Linda was able to make out the face. “And why is she so sad?”
He grabbed a towel and nervously wiped it over the clean counter. “I think it’s best Barb tell you that.”
Linda turned to face him. “But she doesn’t seem to be willing to do that, does she?”
The door to the café opened and both of them turned their attention to the couple that entered.
“Morning, folks,” Jake greeted the pair. “Sit anywhere and I’ll be right over with hot coffee and menus.” Relieved to have an excuse to avoid answering Linda’s questions, he dropped the towel on the counter and picked up the coffee pot. Snatching menus out of the rack at the end of the counter, he walked over to the table where his customers were sitting. “I don’t remember seeing you folks before, first time in Henry’s?”
Not interested in the couple or their response, Linda took a final look at the painting before walking to the door. She stepped out onto the porch then stood there for a few moments before making up her mind and walking down the steps to the street. Jake watched her go even as he kept up his friendly banter with the couple.
Linda set her pack down on the bed. She had returned to her room after leaving the café and spent several minutes studying the map until she finally decided on a trail to follow. If she had read the map correctly, she would be standing on the shore of the Lake of the Lovers shortly after midday.
She made a final check of the items her pack held then glanced around the motel room to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything. Satisfied she had not, she zipped the pockets closed. Slipping the pack on her back, she tightened the straps and headed for the door picking up her hat and the trail map off the table as she passed. After locking the door to her room, she walked on the wood planked walkway that fronted the motel rooms to a small clearing at the end of the building. According to the map, she should be able to locate a main trail just inside the forest on the opposite side of the clearing. The trail began in one of the campgrounds near the string of lakes and wound its way past town then continued on for several miles. Other trails branched off this main one including the path that went to the Lake of the Lovers- all she had to do was find the right junction. “Piece of cake,” Linda said tucking the map into her shirt pocket.
The trail was easy walking as she followed a leaf-covered path through the forest. She settled into a relaxed pace stopping occasionally to enjoy something of interest. She had walked almost an hour when the trail suddenly left the woods to cross a large meadow. As she looked across the clearing, Linda saw someone disappearing into the trees where the trail rejoined the forest. “Barb,” she called out even though she knew it was unlikely the person would hear her. “It probably wasn’t her anyway,” she muttered reaching for a water bottle in the side pocket of her pack. She took a long drink then replaced the lid and returned the bottle to its pocket before continuing.
“I must have missed it,” Linda muttered as she studied the map. She had been walking almost two hours and was sure she should have already come upon the trail that branched off to the Lake of the Lovers. “You’d think they would have signs up,” she grumbled. “Now what do I do?” Looking at the map, she saw that if she continued on the present trail she could walk many more miles before it eventually came to an end. Or she could turn around and return to Henry’s after an enjoyable but unproductive hike. “Or I can go back to here,” she pointed at a spot on the map where the main trail was crossed by another path that would also take her back to town. “I’m pretty sure I remember passing that. It was just after the meadow where I thought I saw Barb.”
She retraced her steps finding the alternative junction where she expected it and taking the new path. She hadn’t gone very far when she heard the faint sounds of men shouting, mules braying and horses whinnying. “What can that be?” The further she walked the louder the sounds.
A small creek meandered across the trail and Linda hopped over it using a couple of well placed rocks as stepping stones. As soon as her hiking boots touched the ground on the other side of the water her world changed.
“Watch out there, you fool,” a man shouted. “Them mules won’t stop for you.”
Linda spun around just as a team of mules charged past her, the animals straining against their harnesses as they struggled to drag a pair of long tree trunks behind them. The tip of a bullwhip snaked out over the mules and a loud crack exploded in the air above their heads. She jumped at the unexpected sound. “What the…? Barb didn’t say anything about people still logging up here,” she said as she took in the activity going on around her. Everywhere she looked, the forest was alive with men and animals.
“Jackson, get up in that tree and get her topped. We can’t wait all day.”
“On it, boss.”
“Watch out for that hole. Peter, didn’t I tell you to fill that damn thing this morning?”
“Getting to it, boss.”
“Well, get to it faster.”
“Come on, get that team up here. We’ve got logs to move.”
It took only a few moments for Linda to locate the man shouting the orders. Being careful to stay out of the way of the mule teams, she walked toward him. “Excuse me,” she said as she approached.
“Come on, Jackson. How long you going to take?” the foreman’s head was turned skyward as he watched a logger working high up in a tree. “Look alive,” the foreman yelled. “She’s coming down.”
Linda looked up when she heard branches breaking. The top several feet of a tree had been sawed free and was crashing to the ground, snapping off branches as it fell. No sooner had the section of tree landed then the foreman was shouting again.
“All right, boys. Get to your sawing.” Two men ran toward the tree. “Peter, I’m not going to tell you again to get that hole filled. You won’t have a place at supper if I have to do it myself.”
Linda tried again to gain the foreman’s attention. “I’m sorry, sir. I can see you’re busy,” she said stepping right in front of the man. When he took no notice of her, she felt herself getting angry. “Sir, you may be busy but you can take a moment to answer me. Or, look at me!” Without a word, the foreman turned and walked away leaving Linda to try and make sense of both his actions and the activity surrounding her.
A horse whinnied as it pulled a wagon over the uneven ground. Men swore while laboring to push and pull saws through tree trunks and the sound of axe blades biting into wood filled the air. “Timber.” The cry echoed through the trees followed by an identical warning coming from a different direction.
“This is just too weird,” Linda said watching the loggers work. “Well, if Mister Important Boss Man won’t talk to me, I’m sure one of the others will.” A worker was filling a hole with shovelfuls of dirt scooped from the back of a hand cart and she decided his chore could be interrupted for a few moments. “Excuse me, but could you tell me what’s going on here?” The man continued working. “Sir, please.” She shook her head in frustration when he continued to act as if she wasn’t standing beside him. Tentatively, she stretched an arm out directly in front of his face and waved her hand. No response. “Hey,” she screamed at him. Balling her hand into a fist, she thrust it at his shoulder. She gasped when her fist traveled right through the figure. More frightened than she had ever been in her life, Linda backed away from the man, her eyes darting about from one figure to the next. They looked real but she suddenly realized they couldn’t be.
The men were dressed in clothing she had only seen in movies depicting a time long past- long sleeved, wool shirts tucked into denim pants with cuffs rolled up over leather work books with thick knobbed souls. And instead of using chainsaws to fell the trees, buck saws were being manhandled by loggers standing on springboards that were precariously balanced in notches cut into the very trunks they were sawing through. Teams of horses and mules dragged the downed trees away from the area, not the large logging trucks she would have expected to see.
Looking to escape the eerie scene, Linda tried to remember how she had gotten there. She turned away from the man and ran. But, after several minutes, her steps slowed and eventually stopped. She looked around relieved to find herself alone and the sound of the working loggers in the distance muted behind her. Standing in the middle of a rutted road, she pinched her arm as hard as she could. “Ouch! Okay, I’m not dreaming. So, what now?”
Not knowing what else to do, Linda followed the road stepping off to the side whenever a team of mules or a wagon approached. After a while, she was no longer surprised when her presence went unnoticed by those passing. The trees grew further apart as she walked until she was walking through a landscape barren of almost everything except tree stumps. She spotted smoke in the distant and hoped it signaled an end to her strange odyssey.
She walked past a solitary cabin giving it a casual glance before continuing toward a cluster of larger structures. She walked unnoticed through the midst of several men and a few women moving about the camp as they performed various chores. The sound of laughter drew her attention and she followed it to the shore of a lake at the opposite end of the camp where two young women were standing at the water’s edge. One of them 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 her companion standing with her back to Linda.
“Come on. The water isn’t cold at all.”
“I can’t, Polly. I’ve got chores to finish.”
“A few minutes, Sara. What can that hurt?”
“All right. But only a few,” Sara said as she lifted her gingham dress up to keep it dry.
“It’s the girl in the painting,” Linda whispered watching the women join hands then wade out until the water almost covered their knees.
“Don’t, Sara,” Polly giggled when Sara bent down and teased her with a gentle splash. “You’ll get my dress wet.”
“Then we’d have an excuse to go back to my shack and take it off to dry in front of the fire. I would see to drying you off myself.”
“Sara!” Polly cried out in mock shock. “What would my father say if he heard you talk like that?”
Sara straightened and wrapped her arms around Polly. “I love you. I don’t care what he would say.”
Polly sighed. “You have to care. If we are to be together, Father must allow it.”
“Let me talk to him tonight.”
“No!” Polly pushed out of the embrace. “It’s too soon. Give me more time—”
“I’m tired of waiting. I love you and I want us to be together.”
“I want that too.”
“Then let me talk to him.”
“How I wish…” Polly pulled Sara close hugging her tight.
“What do you wish, my love?”
Polly gazed into her eyes. “Kiss me.”
Sara smiled. Slowly, she tilted her head and pressed her lips against Polly’s.
After several minutes, Sara gently pushed Polly away. “I have to get back.”
“I know. I’ll talk to him tonight,” Polly said as she led Sara back to the shore.
Linda gasped. Sara could have been her own twin.
Barb glared at Jake. “You let her go?”
“What was I supposed to do?”
The door to the café opened and Dudley shuffled inside. “What’s all the shoutin’ about?”
“Where is she, Uncle Dudley?” Barb turned on her uncle.
“You know who? Where is she?”
“I haven’t seen her all morning.”
“What’s wrong?” Dudley asked.
“You think she took her to the lake, don’t you?” Jake shouted to Barb running through the kitchen to the back door.
“If she’s done anything to Linda…” was all the men heard before the door slammed shut.
“Would she hurt her?” Jake asked Dudley.
“I hope not.”
Linda followed as Polly walked toward the small shed behind the tent where the loggers were served their meals. Sara worked for the cook, spending long hours cleaning the tables and washing the dirty dishes. “I spoke to Father,” she said as soon as she entered the shack where Sara was scrubbing a dirty cooking pot.
Sara exchanged the pot for a towel, drying her hands as she stepped to where Polly stood just inside the door. “And?”
“He won’t hear of it—” A sob cut off her words and she didn’t protest when Sara wrapped loving arms around her. “He says it’s not right. Two women living like that.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“No. He’s forbids it.” Polly’s cries became more intense.
“Come over here,” Sara said, guiding her to a cot in the corner of the shed. She held Polly until her sobs subsided then she gently dried her tears. “We’ll be together, Polly. I promise- we’ll find a way.”
Polly sniffled. “How?”
“We could go away,” Sara voiced the thought she had kept secret until now. “We could find somewhere to live where folks wouldn’t care.”
“Where?” Polly asked, a spark of hope in her voice.
“I don’t know. But there must be someplace.”
“How would we live? We’d need jobs. Who would give jobs to us?”
Sara smiled at her friend. “I’ve been working since I was fourteen. There’s always someplace that needs pots scrubbed or laundry washed.”
Polly looked around the small shed where Sara worked and lived. “It’s not…”
“What you want for us? I know. It’s not what I want for us either. But it’s a way to survive until we find something better.” Sara scooted back on the cot then invited Polly to sit between her legs. She wrapped her arms around her when she did, enjoying the feel of Polly’s body pressed against her own. “Someday, we’ll have a nice house with a porch running all the way around it. And a garden. A big garden where we can grow our own vegetables. And lots of pretty flowers- just like you. And one of those short fences you like so much along the front of the house. And inside the house, there’ll be big rooms with lots of windows. Big windows to let in lots of sunlight.”
“I’d like that.”
“You’ll have it. I promise.” Sara kissed the back of Polly’s head.
“Linda?” Barb was trotting along the trail that led to the Lake of the Lovers, calling out for the missing woman. “Linda?”
“I’ll leave in the morning.”
“Are you sure I can’t go with you?” Polly asked as Sara walked her back to Henry’s.
“It’s better this way. As soon as I find us a place and me a job, I’ll come back for you.”
Polly stopped turning to face her. “You will come back?”
Sara tenderly cupped her hands around Polly’s face then she pressed their lips together. After several heartbeats, she slowly pulled away. “I promise.”
Polly hugged Sara, laying her head against her shoulder. “I don’t know what I’d do if I never saw you again. My heart would never let you go.”
“I’ll never leave you, my love.” An owl hooted in the distance. “You need to get home before your pa comes looking for you.”
“No. I’ll go on alone.”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, if he sees you, he’ll know where I’ve been.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. You go on back to the camp.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“Then don’t. Go find us a place to live. And be quick about it.”
“I’ll be back before you can miss me.”
“I already miss you.”
Sara pulled Polly close for one more kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Linda watched the young lovers part. She started to follow Polly but something deep inside told her she should go in the opposite direction and she turned to follow Sara.
“Dammit, Linda! Where are you?” Barb was standing on the shore of the lake. She had circled the lake twice and had found no sign of the missing woman. “Grandmother?” she called loudly, the word picked up by the breeze and carried across the still waters of the lake. She strained to hear any answer. “I know you have her,” she shouted.
Linda, snoring softly, was huddled on the floor of Sara’s shack, her pack serving as her pillow. After watching the girl pack her few belongings into a small canvas sack then slip under the blanket on the cot, she had let sleep claim her along with Sara. A muscle in her neck twitched then tightened into a knot and she jerked awake with a painful groan.
“Ow,” she said rubbing the cramp. She glanced across the room to the cot where Sara was still asleep even though the sun was streaking through the uncovered window. “Her idea of first thing in the morning must be different than mine,” she muttered as she continued to work on the contracting muscle. She hissed when the muscle protested and the cramp intensified. “Damn.” She struggled to her feet then shuffled across the floor and out the door.
She heard voices raised in anger and, with nothing else to do, decided to see what was causing an argument so early in the morning. Walking to the front of the meal tent, she saw two men gesturing at each other. She recognized one of the men as the foreman of the lumber crew. The other was unknown to her but wore a dirty apron that identified him as the cook.
“I want my money,” the cook said jabbing a finger into the foreman’s chest.
“I told you, you’ll get paid along with the rest of the men just as soon as the payroll arrives.”
“You said the same last week and the week ‘fore that.”
“I don’t control when the company sends the money.”
“Maybe you should try.”
“I have. I’ve written them every day. All they’ll say is, it’ll be here shortly.”
“That ain’t good enough. I’ve got a family to think of. My wife says the bank is threatening to take the house if she don’t pay them what they’re owed. I need my pay. Now!”
“I understand. But I can’t do anything but wait with you.”
“He ain’t the only one tired of waiting,” the logger named Jackson grumbled as he joined the pair. “Me and the boys been talking that maybe we should be moving on.”
“You can’t leave,” the foreman told him. “You signed on for the full summer.”
“I didn’t sign on to work for nothing. We’ve been cutting trees for a month and draggin’ them to the mill. Mill’s been sending lumber out of camp every day. Lumber’s been sold. Company’s making money. No reason they haven’t paid us.” Several other workers had gathered around the men and they murmured in agreement.
“I’ll write them again.”
“When you do, you can tell them I quit,” the cook said. “If our pay every shows up, you can send my back wages to my wife.”
“How will I feed the men?”
“Sounds like you won’t have many to feed. But the girl can cook. Maybe she won’t mind working for nothing.”
The foreman grabbed the cook’s arm. “You can’t go.”
The cook growled and knocked the hand away. “You can’t stop me,” he said turning away. He marched away from the meal tent and the men.
“Sorry, Boss. But I’ll be leaving too. I heard talk in Henry’s of another camp starting up in the next valley. I’ll be heading over there.”
“I’m with you,” Jackson said and many others echoed his statement.
“But…” the foreman stammered as his work crew left him to pack their gear and leave the camp. Unsure what to do, he scratched his head then walked back to his cabin.
Linda watched the men leave then walked down to the lake and sat on the pebble covered shore to wait for Sara to wake.
The slight morning breeze strengthened as the sun warmed the air that had chilled overnight. The untied door flaps on the meal tent fluttered open and a gust of wind entered through the opening. A towel used to wipe down the tables between meals had been left hanging over a rod above the heat stove and the wind ruffled the cloth free. It fell onto hot stove top and, moments later, burst into flame.
Barb, hurrying back toward Henry’s, skidded to a stop when she spotted an obscure path cutting off the main trail. “What the heck?” she said, studying the trail. She had been hiking the forest trails for as long as she could remember and she couldn’t recall every seeing this particular path before. The faint imprint of a single track of hiking boots could be seen in the dirt. Without giving it much thought, she followed the tracks.
Linda looked over her shoulder to see the meal tent completely engulfed in flames. She jumped to her feet and ran toward the camp.
“We need more buckets,” someone shouted as the loggers formed a bucket brigade between the burning tent and the lake.
The camp had been built among the pine trees along the lake shore and although many of the trees had been the first to be cut down, many others remained standing with low hanging branches brushing the tops of the buildings. Tongues of fire shot up from the canvas tent and the volatile pine needles did not hesitate to accept the flame.
“Sara!” Linda screamed as burning embers rained down onto the shack behind the meal tent. She tried to reach the shed and warn the sleeping girl but the heat of the fire drove her back. She ran to the other side of the tent to try again but was stopped when a loud crack exploded overhead. She watched in horror as a tree standing a few feet from the shack split in two and crashed to the ground destroying the shack beneath it. Linda stood unable to tear her eyes away from the spot, knowing it would be impossible for anyone inside the tiny shack to have survived. Around her, the fire spread quickly through the camp until every structure was ablaze but she didn’t notice.
Barb cautiously approached the solitary figure. “Linda?” she called again to the woman who seemed frozen in place.
“She found her. She found Sara”
Barb turned to the figure materializing beside her. “Sara disappeared over a hundred years ago, Grandmother. How could Linda know anything about her?”
“Ask her. Please.”
Barb stepped up beside Linda. “Are you alright?”
“Who was she?” Linda asked.
“Sara.” Linda heard a gasp and furtively looked about for its source. “Tell me who she was. Is she the woman Uncle Dudley was talking about?”
Barb looked at her grandmother. “Stop yelling at me.”
“I’m not yelling,” Linda said puzzled by the demand.
“Not you. Her.”
“All right!” Barb shouted. When she saw the look of confusion on Linda’s face she forced herself to calm down. “Oh, damn,” she muttered. “Linda, this is going to sound crazy but I need to know, what are you doing here? Did you see anything?”
Linda laughed. “Crazy. You want crazy. I’ll give you crazy. I wanted to go for a hike. You remember that, don’t you? I asked you to pick out a trail for me yesterday morning.”
“Yes. Yesterday. Remember. Breakfast. Your cousin Jake. But, like always, you disappeared.”
“Wait. That was this morning. A couple of hours ago.”
“No. It couldn’t have been. I’d already hiked several hours before stumbling into the logging camp. And I slept here last night.” Linda turned and walked several feet to the remains of a decomposed tree trunk. Barely visible on either side of it were a scattering of splintered wood planks poking out from where they lay buried under the ground. Barb walked up beside her and Linda sensed another presence with her.
“Is Polly here?”
“No. She’s buried in the family plot near town.”
“That’s not what I mean. Is she here? Right now. With us?”
“Yes. But how do you know about Polly?”
“She was Sara’s lover.”
“Do you know what happened to Sara? Where she went? Why she never came back?”
“She never left,” Linda told her. “The morning of the fire…” She bit her lip and fought back the tears. “She was in her shack sleeping.”
“No,” Polly said. “She left early that morning. The shack was empty.”
“Are you sure?” Barb asked Linda. “People thought—”
“She had left camp that morning.”
Barb shook her head. “She slept in. No one thought to look for her until it was too late. And by then—”
“I had told everyone she was already gone,” Polly whispered.
“You couldn’t have known, Grandmother.”
“I should have looked. I could have saved her.”
“As big as that tree was,” Barb said pointing to the other half of the trunk still standing, “I doubt she would have survived.”
“She didn’t.” Linda wiped at the tears running down her cheeks. “I found her.”
“What?” Barb’s head spun at the comment.
“After the fire moved on, I found her. The shack was smashed and she was trapped under the trunk. I couldn’t move her. But there was no point in trying, really. She was already dead.”
“Linda, what are you saying?”
“It’s a long story…”
“I want to see her.” Polly reached out placing a hand on Linda’s arm. “Please show me.”
Linda gazed at the woman who had suddenly appeared before her. “She loved you very much,” she told Polly.
“And I loved her. Will you show me?”
“That’s some story,” Barb said as she and Linda watched Polly and Sara walking further down the lake shore. With the tree trunk no longer an obstacle, Sara’s bones had been uncovered and given a proper burial. As the women placed a marker at the head of the grave, Sara had materialized to an elated Polly. The apparitions wrapped their arms around each other and had been inseparable ever since.
“Not one you seem very surprised at hearing.”
Barb smirked. “I suppose not.”
“I sensed her.”
“Sara. That first day when I came here to walk the trail around the lake. I sensed her. Scared the poop out of me.”
“You’re not scared of her now.”
“Now I know who she is. What about you? How long have you been seeing Polly?”
“All my life. She’s been seen by our family ever since she died. She never stopped hoping Sara would return; even when she finally gave in and married, she never gave up hope.”
“Is that why the buildings in Henry’s look the way they do?”
“No matter how many times they were painted or fixed up, they always went back to the way they were back then. Grandmother said she didn’t want Sara thinking she was in the wrong place when she came back. She was pretty protective of the town. Jake almost burned down the café one day and Polly took out after him with a meat cleaver.”
Barb laughed, visualizing the young boy being chased about town by the ghost. She sobered remembering the painting in the café that depicting the scene at the lake she had witnessed. “She obviously brought Dudley and his brother back here. Did she bring you?”
“A few times.”
“Then why did you never know about Sara?”
“We always saw that day from Polly’s point of view. We thought she had left camp before the fire started.”
“But I saw it from Sara’s. Why?”
“You look like her, Linda. Who is she to you?”
“I wish I knew. I don’t know much about my family. I was raised in various foster homes and have been on my own since I was sixteen.”
“Sounds a lot like Sara.”
“Polly said she just showed up in Henry’s one day and would never talk about where she came from. She got a job out here at the camp and that’s about all anyone knew of her.”
“I wonder if she was running away from something or running to something.”
“Or starting a new life?”
Linda smiled. “Hmm.” She picked up a pebble and tossed it into the lake. “One thing I don’t understand.”
Barb laughed. “Only one?”
“Guess that is pretty funny after all that’s happened.”
“Just a little.”
“The painting Lovers of the Lake. All the other paintings of Polly and Sara are at Trout Lake. Why is that one different?”
“I don’t know. It’s like why do some people see two lovers in it while others only see one. And some don’t see any. It was the last painting Grandfather ever painted. He would never explain it or why he stopped painting.”
“Not even to Dudley?”
“No. I guess that’s one mystery we’ll never know the answer to. It’s getting dark. We should be getting back before Uncle Dudley and Jake come looking for us.”
“What about them?” Linda asked of the other women.
Barb smiled as she watched her great-great-grandmother kiss the woman she had loved for over a century. “I think they’ll be just fine.”
“I wonder what it’s like to love someone that much,” Linda whispered.
“Would you like to find out?” Barb asked reaching for a hand and entwining their fingers.
“Very much.” Linda tilted her head invitingly and was rewarded with a tender kiss. She lost all sense of time and place as Barb laid her back onto the pebbly shore.
It was long past sunset when the women began their long walk back to Henry’s, their way lit by the full moon. As they walked through what had once been an active logging camp they spotted the flickering glow of candle shining through the uncovered window of a small shack.
“Should we say goodbye?” Linda asked.
“No reason to,” Barb said, smiling at the sight. “I’m sure we’ll see them again.”
Linda slipped her arm around Barb’s waist. “Think our love will last as long as theirs?”
Barb dropped an arm across Linda’s shoulders. “I sure hope so.”
“They’re leaving,” Polly said as she peeked out the window of the shack.
“Good. If they’d kept up with all that screaming, I wouldn’t have got a single wink of sleep all night.”
“Sara, my love, what makes you think you’re going to sleep tonight?”
The flame of the candle was snuffed out.
Thanks to my Discussion Group for all of their great suggestions.
I’m sure we’ll be doing something like this again. <G> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mickeyminner/
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