Saturday, February 19, 2011
Awakened by a pounding noise, I shook my wife and asked her if she knew where I had put my little league baseball bat. If I was going to confront a burglar stupid enough to knock on our backdoor at twelve o’clock at night, I wanted a weapon I knew how to use.
Before she rolled over and went back to sleep, she mumbled, “I’m not responsible for keeping up with things you had before we met.”
The last time I remembered seeing that bat, I was twelve years old. No telling where my parents put it, after I left the league to start my career in the newspaper business. I made a living delivering the Whitland Daily Picayune, until I was fifteen.
Left to defend myself with a skillet, I yanked my back door open ready to let the thief have all of a nine inch Teflon pan on top of the head.
“What the hell are you cooking at this time of night?” Leon asked, staring at the frying pan in my hand.
Leon, who lives two doors down from me, is a retired bank robber turned investment counselor. At age seventy, he gets his daily walks in late at night, normally somewhere other than on my back deck.
I lowered the pan and said, “I thought you were a thief.”
He placed his hand on the door facing, leaned forward and said, “According to the federal government, I am a reformed thief.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. Sorry about that, Leon. Come inside.” I stepped away from the doorway to let him into our cabin. “What brings you to my doorstep after midnight?”
“I saw her.”
“Molly!” I gazed at his eyes. “Have you been drinking?’
“I’m telling you. I saw her plain as day not more than twenty minutes ago down near the water close to the bridge crossing.
Molly Cunningham, a famous singer/dancer in the 1940’s, fell in love with a male counterpart soon after he arrived in town to join the show. In a jealous rage, her former lover and manager shot her as she stood, in her wedding dress, near the altar. Although Molly survived, the bullet hit her spine. At age twenty-eight, her stage career was ended. After learning she would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, her fiancé left town to take care of some personal business that he told her shouldn’t take too long. She wrote letter after letter inquiring about his return, but he never responded and she never heard from him again.
Three years later, in 1951, on the night of a full moon, Molly’s live-in caretaker was awoken by singing and looked out of her second story bedroom window. Molly was in her wheelchair outside on a wooden dock that extended out over the water. With a single light bulb overhead, she was inches from the edge. The caretaker dashed downstairs and out of the house, but she was too late. Molly had already rolled herself off the dock into the water and drowned.
Over the years, residents living near the lake have claimed seeing a faint image of a woman near the water’s edge. According to newspaper articles, the sightings have always occurred on the night of a full moon. No one has reported seeing her face clearly, but every sighting was of a woman with long black hair, and dressed in a white flowing dress that drags the ground behind her.
Since my time in Hampton Lake Estates, I’ve never seen the image, but we’ve all heard the beautiful singing voice on several occasions. No one has been able to determine the source of the singing, but nearly everyone in our little community agrees it has to be the spirit of Molly Cunningham.
I followed Leon down to the bridge crossing and we looked around, but saw nothing but a lake full of water, at least five thousand brown leaves scattered around on the ground, and several shadowy tree trunks off in the distance.
“What do you think we should do?” Leon asked, as we both stood looking toward the lake.
“Go back to bed.” I replied.
“Okay, but I want to file a report first.”
We turned and started walking toward my cabin. “Who are you going to file it with at this time of night?” I asked.
“You, of course,’ he said, walking beside me. “Aren’t you supposed to be some kind of famous writer or something?”
The rumors I had started had already begun to spread, at least to Leon’s house.
We went back to my cabin where I took a half a page of detailed notes from Leon, before he left and returned to his own abode. I tossed the pen down and headed for my bedroom. The next morning I awoke with an idea and a question from my wife.
"Where did you go in the middle of the night?" she asked.
"Down by the lake hoping to see a woman," I replied.
She slung the covers back. "In that case, you can prepare your own breakfast."
I was pretty much awake by the time she stomped out of the bedroom in her slippers and robe. After getting myself out of the breakfast doghouse, with more of a complete answer, concerning my midnight adventure, I cooked scrambled eggs and toast for my wife. That was her way of forgiving me for sneaking out of the house to see another woman.
After breakfast, I started working on my idea. My two beta readers had my latest manuscript, MEET ME AT THE STATION. Until I received feedback from them on my manuscript, there was nothing further I could do. Being an ex-newspaper man, no one was better suited to write an award winning story about the spirit of Molly Cunningham.
While I sat at my desk, visions of unraveling the mystery of the lake, going on several talk shows, selling my story to a national magazine, and getting a television deal on the History Channel were a stampede of thoughts stirring up a dust cloud as they passed through my mind.
The first order of business was to solve the mystery. In order to do that, I needed help from a professional with years of experience in the spirit world.
I requested an audience with my neighbor, Zelda. She is ninety-eight years old and lives alone in a 1954 refurbished trailer with a human hand, palm out, painted on the side of it. The words Psychic Readings $1.00 are written across the palm in purple. According to her, she’s made a living out of that trailer since July 18th of 1955. Although Zelda considers herself retired, on occasion, she offers to help me, in my endeavor to become a famous romance writer. Her trailer is the only one allowed in the Hamptons Lake Estates. It happens to be next door to our cabin, which comes in handy when I need the kind of advice only a psychic is capable of providing.
( To be continued )
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Sitting in the passenger seat of an overpowered Ford truck Eddy borrowed from his father-in-law, I tightened my seat belt and put both hands on the dash. He turned off the main road onto a snow covered trail. The front left tire hit a deep hole. He yanked the steering to the right to keep us from hitting a three foot diameter stump on his side. Moments after escaping near disaster, we hit the second Grand Canyon. Both the truck and the sixteen foot empty trailer behind us almost bounced high enough to break free from the earth’s gravitational field.
“Eddy, are you sure this is a road?” I asked, bracing for the next crater.
“It used to be.”
“Used to be?” What had I gotten myself into?
The farther we went, the narrower the road became. With rows of oak trees on each side of us and bare limbs overhanging above, there was no place to turn around, which was exactly what we should have done, before we were boxed in by the trees. About the time I didn’t think it could get any worse, Eddy stopped the truck, asked me to get out and help him put chains on all six tires, four on the rear axle and two on the front. I did more watching than helping. When we got back in the truck, he put it in four-wheel drive mode.
“The wood is up there.” He pointed to a snow covered mountain way out in front of us.
From where I was sitting, climbing Mount Everest, in a pair of tennis shoes held more promise than trying to drive a truck attached to a trailer up a snow covered mountain.
“You’ve taken this truck up there?”
“How do you think I cut the wood?” he asked. “Last summer I drove up there plenty of times.”
His way of telling me he’d only been up the mountain when it was dry. “Why didn’t you bring the wood down then?”
“Two reasons. One, before you can burn it, it has to seasoned. Second, I didn’t have a place to store it, so I had to leave on the mountain.”
Nearly all of us, who lived around the lake, had wood burning stoves or fireplaces in our cabins. The smell of burning wood and the extra heat it provided offered us comfort and cut down on our utility bills. Eddy decided he could earn a little extra money by cutting firewood and selling it to his neighbors at a discounted price. It would help him and Darla pay bills, and at the same time help the neighbors. Last summer, when he broached it at a neighborhood gathering everyone agreed it was a good idea. I was about to change my mind.
“What about the snow? Don’t you think it might make our ascent on Mount Everest a wee bit dangerous?”
For at least twenty seconds, he pressed his lips together and moved his mouth around like it was full of Listerine. Then with all of the wisdom my twenty-two year neighbor could muster, he said, “Okay, it could get a little dicey.”
From where I was sitting, it looked like our chances of getting to the top of that mountain were nil to none. I turned my head toward him and stared.
“A little dicey?”
Eddy put his head down. “Everybody is counting on me.”
His master plan to help him and Darla get out of debt was about to come unraveled. At this point it had nothing to do with money or the bills he owed. His pride was at stake. Even Zelda had placed a small order with him, and she didn’t burn wood. It was her way of helping the young couple out. How could he go back and look everyone in the face and tell them he had failed to deliver on what he had promised.
I pulled out my cell phone. No bars. If we got stuck, we’ll be on our own. We had five hours of daylight left, with no place to turn around.
“Okay, Eddy, let’s do it.”
He lifted his head up. “You mean it?’
What else could I say? I patted him on the shoulder. “If anyone can make it, you can.”
He turned his cap around, like we were headed into strong winds. “Hang on.” He shifted the transmission into something he called the granny gear.
After turning my wool headgear around, I said, “Give it your best shot.”
“I plan to.”
When we began the ascent, slow and easy, the truck engine groaned until Eddy gave it more gas. I hoped for the best, which would probably be surviving the slide back down.
One thing I’ve learned over the four years I’ve known Eddy, he has never once been one to give up. If he promised he would deliver their firewood, he was determined to do so, snow or no snow. He had already delivered the first loads back before Christmas, but with extreme cold temperatures whittling away our neighbor’s wood piles, they asked him if he could deliver more wood.
Eddy’s answer: “Sure, no problem.”
That’s how I got involved. When I realized Eddy was going alone, I asked him if I could ride along. I thought it would be a good chance to ask Eddy what he thought about my latest manuscript. For some reason, I had visions of a nice drive down to the Co-op store where he works. Had I known the wood was on a mountain top, I would have stayed home and minded my own business, which is writing romance novels.
About the time we made it past the first step, on our attempt to summit our localized version of Mount Everest, it started snowing again. Eddy kept a steady pace, apparently knowing when to give the truck more throttle and when to ease off. The truck never faltered once until we came to second step, where the grade increased significantly. We had to make three attempts, but we cleared the second step and were once again on way to the summit when the wheels started spinning and we started to drift sideways. Eddy gave it more gas and tried to straighten us out. We ended up stuck at a bad angle to the summit, almost jackknifing the trailer.
He turned toward me and said, “Time for plan B.”
Plan B turned out to be a winch on the front of the truck. Slipping and sliding, we finally managed to get the cable far enough up the trail to wrap it around a huge oak tree.
When we made it back to the truck, Eddy said, “Now comes the dangerous part. If that cable breaks, it can come through the windshield and kill us.”
Walking away from the truck, and brushing snow off my face, I said, “I’ll watch you from behind a tree.”
The cable held and the truck waltzed up the grade like there was nothing to it. When I caught up with Eddy, he was smiling.
He pointed and said, “We’re only two hundred feet from the wood piles.”
The truck made it the rest of the way without much of a problem. Once at the summit there was room to turn the truck and trailer around. I was amazed at how Eddy had his wood piles arranged. The wood was bucked up and stacked with plastic tarps over the top of each stack. He had cut nine cords in all. A farmer had given Eddy permission to cut up tree limbs and trees that had fallen from a previous ice-storm that occurred two years earlier.
We spent the next two hours loading wood on the truck and trailer. We had nearly a cord and half of wood loaded, and three more inches of snow on the ground, when we heard something. It sounded like the mating call of something quite a bit larger than a squirrel and a wee bit smaller than a woolly mammoth.
After nearly dropping a big chunk of wood on my foot, I asked, “What the heck makes that kind of sound?” Before Eddy could answer, a large limb snapped off to our right.
Eddy looked in the direction from which the sound came. His eyes got big. He yelled, “Get in the truck, quick.”
I passed Eddy in a full sprint on my way back to the truck.
He didn’t waste any time getting it started and away we went, with the windshield wipers going full tilt to get the snow off the windshield. Going back down the mountain, the direction the truck headed changed more times than a pair of skis on an Olympic Alpine ski run, but Eddy straightened it once we were below the first step.
When we approached the main highway, we stopped and removed the chains. I asked him what had scared him back there on the mountain.
He looked over his shoulder. “We better get back in the truck. I’ll tell you after we get on the main road.”
Visions of a bear eating us alive ran through my mind until Eddy turned to me and said, “Last summer, after a big rain, I saw huge footprints around my wood piles. They were way too large for even a full grown ape, and I know for a fact that apes don’t live around here.”
I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t falling for it. I glanced at his boots. “Based on the evidence I’ve seen, those footprints were most likely made by Paul Bunyan?”
He gazed at the road. “Laugh if you want. I know what I saw.”
Now was my chance to find out what he thought about my latest manuscript. The real reason I had volunteered to go with him. “Have you had a chance to read my latest story?”
“What do think?”
“What’s it about,” he asked, turning both the windshield wipers and heater down.
“You said you read it?”
“Just the first chapter. Tell me what it’s about and maybe I’ll start on it again tonight.”
“Well, it’s an adventure story. Two people have to come to grips with the forces of nature and a legendary monster lurking in the woods.”
“Man. That sounds pretty interesting. A lot better than that romance stuff you normally write.”
In my latest novel, I introduced two new characters, the mysterious Margo Fox and melt-a-woman's-clothes-off Bart Boneheart. I hoped Eddy would read a few more chapters before he figured out the story was a romance. “So you’re going to read some more of it?”
“Yep, but you might want to change the title"
“What’s wrong with MEET ME AT THE STATION?”
He glanced at me. "I thought it was about trains."
He glanced at me. "I thought it was about trains."