Was It A Dream?
The snow glittered like millions of diamonds strewn across the mountain slope. The shimmering, white mantle blanketed the landscape, hiding imperfections. Before me, the slope offered perfect cross-country skiing conditions to practice my telemarking skills for an upcoming skiing competition.
In the valley below, the remnants of a ghost town withered. Once a bustling, prosperous mining community, the buildings now stood silent and shrouded in snow. Chimneys rose coldly skyward; windows stared vacantly; doors hung askew on rusted hinges; a single street sprawled, trackless, between the crumbling rows of buildings.
I imagined the horses that once stood at hitching posts, blowing great clouds of steam from their nostrils; buckboards clattering up and down the muddy, rutted street, and the faint tinkling of a piano from the saloon; rough clad men—why, there was one now, walking down the street—but no, that couldn’t be, not today, not for a hundred years. My imagination must have played a trick on me.
I took a deep breath. The clear, frosty air stung my nose. The only sounds were my skis crunching in the snow. The steep slope before me refocused my attention, challenged me—dared me—scared me. My heart pounded with excitement. I studied my intended route, looking for a mound of snow on an otherwise smooth slope, which usually indicated hidden obstacles such as stumps or large rocks. That could mean disaster if my skis hit them. I couldn't discern any telltale signs of danger.
Across the valley, I spotted my dad and brother, Josh. They had just skied into the outskirts of the ghost town. I removed a glove, put my fingers between my teeth, and whistled. With a wave, I pushed off and headed downhill. Scenery flew by. I went faster and faster. Exhilarated by the speed, I yelled with delight. The trees were a blur as I whizzed past them.
Suddenly, I realized I was going too fast—losing control. I snowplowed with my skis, trying to slow down. The tips crossed. I lost my balance, fell, and plummeted downhill. As I tumbled, it was like being caught in a huge machine that I couldn't turn off. My skis twisted and came loose from my boots. A sharp pain in my leg—then, darkness.
Across the valley, Josh and his dad, Mark, heard Jennie’s whistle. They stopped and peered up at the slopes. Josh spotted her on the ridgeline and waved at her. “There she is, up there,” he pointed, “just above the roof line of that old building.”
“She’d better be careful,” Mark warned. “I know she’s good at telemarking, but that slope is darn steep. Let’s ski down the street and meet her at the bottom.” He pushed off. Josh followed in his dad’s parallel tracks.
They skied several hundred feet before reaching what looked like an old saloon. The porch roof sagged, the windows were broken, and the door lay on the floor inside the building. Snow had drifted inside through the door. They continued on to the end of the ghostly parade of deserted structures, where the roofless shell of a cabin stood, now filled with snow.
She should end up somewhere behind this old cabin.” Mark gestured toward it with his ski pole.
“I wish she would have waited for us. I would have liked to take some pictures of her on the way down. Sure would’ve made some great action shots,” Josh speculated. He went around to the rear of the cabin. No Jennie. “Now what’s she up to?” he grumbled, then rejoined his Dad. “She’s not there.”
“Maybe she turned and skied further down. Probably waiting back on main street.” Mark skied back toward the buildings they had just passed.
Josh called after his dad, “I’ll look up the hill. Maybe she fell or had some trouble. There’s a bunch of trees a little ways up. Maybe she stopped there. She’s probably hiding. You know her, always playing jokes on somebody.” He skied up the slope as far as he could. As it steepened, he used a herring-bone step to prevent sliding backwards. When he neared the trees, he could see through them. Jennie wasn't there.
Where in the heck is she? he wondered. He studied the slope to locate her tracks. There they were, just where he'd expected them to be. He followed the tracks with his eyes. She’d executed perfect telemarking. Uh oh, looks like she must have gotten into trouble. He called, “Jennie—Jennie,” and then shoved off toward where he thought she should be. His skis sank deep into the deep powder as he broke a trail. He called again, “Jennie,” and then whistled as loud as he could. He stood still, listening. An answering whistle. Hopefully, he peered in its direction, but it was only his dad's answering whistle.
“Did you find her?” Mark yelled from below.
“No. I think she fell, from the looks of her tracks. Stay there until I know for sure.” Josh skied another hundred yards before he came to her tracks. But the tracks were not made by skis. She had definitely fallen. He spotted one ski poking out of the snow, but the other one was gone.
“Dad,” Josh called, “she fell and tumbled downhill.” He indicated the direction with his ski pole, then followed the mishmash track. Suddenly it was gone, but she wasn’t at the end of it.
Mark joined Josh. “Where is she?”
Josh looked around, puzzled, “She has to be here. Her tracks end here, but there aren’t any footsteps. One of her skis is up the hill a ways. I couldn't find the other one. She didn’t ski away from here, that’s for sure.”
They skied back up the hill to recheck her tracks. Mark picked up the single ski and carried it back down. Again, they stopped where her trail ended. “She didn’t just disappear into thin air. Maybe she went into a building,” he said, worried.
“Dad, her tracks end here. She didn’t get up and walk anywhere.”
They continued to search the area, but couldn't find any sign of Jennie. “Let’s go back to the snowmobiles and call for help,” Mark said. “Then we'll come back and go over her route again.”
They skied away from the buildings toward their snowmobiles parked a short distance away.
I opened my eyes. Everything was blurry. I blinked several times to focus them, then tried to move my arms so I could rub my eyes. A heavy, fur blanket covered me, weighing my arms down. I struggled against its weight, finally freeing myself. My shoulders ached. My head throbbed. I remembered the fall. I tried to sit up, but the blanket was too heavy. When I tried to move my legs the real meaning of pain exploded within it. I shrieked uncontrollably and fell back onto the bed.
I sensed, rather than heard or saw, another person in the room. On the far side, I saw the silhouette of a woman stooped in front of a blazing, stone fireplace, tending something. She straightened, turned, and walked toward me.
She wore a ragged, red shawl draped around her shoulders. Her dirty, gray dress reached to the floor. Black, braided hair framed her round, brown face. A necklace of what looked like animal claws hung around her neck.
She leaned over me, urging me to sit up and take a bowl. The aroma wafting from it made me realize that all of my pains weren’t from injuries. Again, I tried to sit up. Excruciating pain stabbed my leg. Moaning, I fell back onto the bed. I lifted the heavy covering and saw a crude splint tied to my right leg. “Oh, no!” I groaned, and dropped the fur covering.
“Eat,” she gestured with the bowl. She ladled a spoonful into my mouth. I sipped slowly, unsure of what I was eating, but it was good.
“Mmm,” I mouthed. The reply was enough to evoke a toothless smile from her. I managed to prop myself up on one elbow so I could feed myself. She set the wooden bowl beside me.
She watched me for a few moments, then returned to the fireplace and added a log to the flames. Sparks exploded up the chimney, snapping and cracking, when she tossed the wood into the flames.
As I sipped, I looked around. The house appeared to be a one-room log cabin of roughly hewn logs, chinked with what looked like a mixture of straw and mud. A table, two chairs, a crude shelf that served as a cupboard, and the bed where I lay, were the extent of the furnishings.
Through the four-paned window, opposite the bed where I lay, I could see that the sun shone. The wind howled outside, but I was warm.
I examined the fur blanket covering me. It smelled musty. Who was this woman? How could I contact my family? How long had I been here? Where was I?
The door creaked open. A blast of swirling snow and cold air ushered in an enormous man. Long black, shaggy hair hung around his face, which was hidden behind a grizzled beard. His leather and fur trimmed clothes were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Was he the man I thought I had seen walking down the street? How could it be? You can’t see backward into another time.
He ambled to the bed and peered down at me with beady, black, eyes. Shaggy eyebrows, that nearly grew together between his eyes, bristled like brooms. What was he going to do to me? I pulled the fur covering up to my face, to hide my fear.
“What in tarnation were ya doin’ with those skinny boards tied to yer feet?” he growled. “Picked ya up right behind the cabin. Knowed ya had a busted leg, cuz it was all twisted funny. Ain’t got no doc to tend ya, so I splinted it as best I could with some tree branches.”
I wanted to answer him, but was stupefied with fear. He scrutinized my cowering manner, then grinned at me.
“How come a little gal like you was out there all by yerself? Where’s yer kin?”
I finally squeaked, “I was skiing with my Dad and brother.”
“Skiing? What’s that?” he bellowed.
Feeling somewhat braver, I managed an answer, “It’s a sport.” I hoped he wasn’t as mean as he looked.
“Never heard of it.” He gestured toward the door. Yer skiing stick is over there.”
I glanced where he pointed. “Where's the other one?”
“Only found one. Dang fool kids these days,” he muttered and shook his head. “What will they think of next?” He pulled the fur covering aside and gazed at the splinted leg, and then leaned over and checked the ties around the split. “Good,” he said more to himself than to me. “Get some rest,” he said, and then shuffled off toward the woman.
He mumbled something to her. She glanced over at me, shook her head and went back to her tasks at the fireplace. I tried to stay awake to watch the curious pair, hoping to discover where I was. Fatigue and warmth overpowered me. I drifted off in spite of the effort to stay awake.
“Jennie—Jennie—wake up.” Someone was shaking my shoulder. I moaned, and then opened my eyes to find my father and brother leaning over me. I was lying in the snow, still covered with the furry blanket.
“What happened?” Dad asked. “We saw you start down the mountain, but lost sight of you behind the buildings. We’ve been looking for you for hours. I know we looked here, because I can see our footprints in the snow over there. I know your ski wasn’t there when we searched in here.” Dad brushed some snow from my face. “Where did you get this buffalo robe? And why are you all wrapped up in it?”
I told them about the cabin, the man and the woman, and my broken leg.
Dad interrupted, “Jennie, no one has lived here for over a hundred years. You're lying inside the remains of an old cabin. See, there’s part of the fireplace and chimney,” he gestured at the crumbling rocks behind me.
I turned my head to look at the fireplace—it was the one in the cabin. “Dad, that’s the fireplace where the woman was cooking. She fed me some soup.”
Dad shook his head, “I think you’re delirious—you must have hit your head, honey.”
“Dad,” I cried, “it’s true . They put me on a bed and covered me with this buffalo robe. They must be here somewhere.” I looked around, searching for the strange pair.
“Let’s take a look at that leg and see just how bad it is.” Dad threw back the fur covering.
Beside me lay the wooden bowl, still containing soup. A splint of tree branches was tied securely to my leg with strips of rawhide.
“It’s impossible,” Dad gasped.
“But how?” Josh left the question hanging.