by SR Urie
Short Story of two teenage boys who had an experience in the mountains on a cold night.
|Footsteps in the Night
The mountains of Colorado stand out on the horizon in majestic beauty and grace for the passer by on Interstate 85. They jut up on the horizon, blue and rugged outlines on the Western sky. I grew up in the small town of Longmont, located about ten miles from the Western slope. In 1976 I turned sixteen, got my driver’s license, and my two brothers and I got to live in a house up in the mountains for a season in our lives.
Raymond, Colorado is a small town twenty-five miles up the South Saint Vrain canyon from Lyons, which is right on the foot of the western slope of the Rockies. The drive up there is a winding, curving, uphill journey that eventually winds up into Estes Park, and ultimately Pikes Peak. The landscape echoes of nineteenth century mines and ghost towns long gone.
My older brother Ed was a powerful kid, muscular, and shy. An accomplished high school athlete, his attentions were mostly in Longmont where he spent much of his time. My younger brother Budd was intelligent, considerate, and sincere in his endeavors. He and I were close, almost constant companions in a paradise of mountain trails and peak summits when we weren’t pining away on the bus ride on the mountain road to Lyons High School. On Friday and Saturday nights we would head on down to Lyons to drink beer and resume a never-ending search for a "score." It was on one of those Friday nights that Budd and I ended up on a journey back up that mountain that we hadn’t reckoned for.
We had an old Toyota sedan we used to get to and from Raymond with. That night we were playing pool, and when ten thirty came and we went out to the car to head home. The little blue car would not start at all.
“Dangit’, Steve, I’m gonna’ get that jerk Larry.” Budd said, pacing back and forth in anger. I had been tinkering around with a misconnected cylinoid, my attention focussed in the opened hood of the car.
“Lori was my girlfriend about six months before he ever met her, and he had no right to say anything about her, especially to me.” His girl in Longmont had given him some serious heartache. One of his classmates had gotten wind of it and played his emotions for all they were worth.
“Don’t worry about it, bro.” I answered from the car's open hood. “He ain’t nothin’ without his three brothers to back him up, and you know that he never goes ‘nowhere without them. You got a smoke?” I disconnected the battery and closed the hood. The car wasn’t going anywhere.
“Sure man.” He said, handing me a cigarette. “I just got a pack a little while ago.”
“Well, ‘looks like we’re walkin’, dude.” I said, locking the driver’s side door. “Unless you wanna’ go back in there and ask your buddy Larry for a ride all the way to Raymond.” His anger erupted into a punch of his fist on the car, just what I had been fishing for.
“I wouldn’t ask that…” Budd’s face flushed with anger for an instant, and he regained his temper. “I would much rather walk, Steven. Unless you are too much of a woos' to make it all the way.” He looked at me with a challenging grin that had motivated me to climb many a mountain. He had more strength of character than I did, and had always challenged me to do things with that grin of his.
“My sentiments exactly, Buddie.” I said, looking up at the sky. It was a September night, and there was a rumor of snow in the high country. But I wasn’t any more willing to be a burden to anyone for a ride than Budd was to ask that other kid for anything whatsoever. It was a matter of pride.
“You got any money left?” he asked. “Looks like it's gonna' be a long night.” Inside my pocket was a one-dollar bill, and three pennies, that was it.
“Just enough for gas to get home, a buck.” I replied. “You?”
“Spent my last on smokes, man.” He answered.
“Well, we ain’t gonna’ get there just standing around shiverin', bro.” I said. A chill breeze seemed to drift down from the dark. “Let's start walking.”
And off we went, one foot in front of the other, into the night. We walked away from the car that let us down and the friends we thought we had, my little brother and me. The road was lighted until we passed the outskirts of town, then our eyes became accustomed to the darkness. We saw by light of the stars, an old Indian trick. The times Budd and I had done all that mountain climbing really paid off. We set a good walking pace, and just kept putting them one in front of the other.
Meadows that we had gazed at on the bus to school now surrounded us in the starlight, and we became part of the landscape itself in our journey. He and I made many journeys together, from climbing Mount Elbert near Golden, the highest peak in the continental U.S., to driving to California in my old van to visit Ed years later.
Time passed, the road passed beneath our feet, and the grade became steeper. Clouds began to form over our heads, but we could still see the lines of the road. We smoked cigarettes one at a time, passing them between us. And we talked.
We talked about Lori, Budd’s Indian princess that he had loved so. Wendy, my latest love was discussed at length, and how I missed her. We told disgusting jokes to the mountains we walked by and could not see, laughing and hooting to hear our voices echo from the rocks, trees, and the river below. We cussed each other, cussed our supposed enemies, the president, all bureaucrats and communists; just to hear the words come back to us from the blackness. We talked and laughed until there was nothing left to hear except the echoes of our footsteps that marked cadence of our journey into the night.
After what seemed like several hours to me yet a few minutes to Budd, as long it took to walk nine and a half miles, we saw a light that gleamed like a beacon in the darkness. Using the ember of a cigarette I was able to determine that it was almost two in the morning. And it was starting to get cold, very cold.
We figured that if anybody were awake maybe they would let us warm up, give us some hot chocolate, or even brandy and beer; after all it was Friday night. We hoped for anything that could break up our endless walk. The road curved around to the last two hundred meters or so to the light, and it began to snow. As we approached the small house with the light on we heard what sounded like people talking and women laughing. The snow became heavier as we got closer to the small house, and the sounds of people became more clear and defined to our ears. Apparently there was some kind of a party going on, and we were finally in luck.
“What are we gonna’ say to them, Steve?” Budd asked as we approached the driveway. “We ain’t got no money or nothin’.”
I stopped and looked at him, pulling the dollar out of my pocket, a pauper’s fortune. The sounds of laughter and even singing licked at our ears like taunting sirens.
“Listen to that, man.” I said. “Does it sound like anyone,s gonna'care that we ain’t got any money?” The party was getting pretty rowdy. Budd looked at me, and I just said to come on.
I walked up to the doorway of the small house and all the noise subsided instantly. I looked back and Budd motioned for me to knock on the door, which I did. When nobody answered I rang the doorbell and a light came on from inside. I listened for the rowdy soiree that had enticed us to the house in the first place, but there was only silence.
The door opened, and inside was a short, pudgy woman in a robe with curlers in her hair and rubbing her sleepy eyes.
“Wadda’ ya’ want?” she bellowed angrily.
“Uh, umm,… “ I stammered. “Do you know what time it is, ... ma’am?”
She looked through her screen door at me with disbelief.
“What time is it?” she asked herself. “You two bums wake me up at two thirty in the morning to ask me what time it is? I tell ya’ what, I’ll call a cop to come tell you what time it is!”
She slammed the door and continued to yell. I heard some things crashing and saw another light come on over my shoulder as I ran down her driveway and back on down the road. We sprinted away until the light of the house was no longer visible through the falling snow and stopped, panting.
“What the hell just happened, Steve?” Budd asked me.
“Yeah, what did happen back there?” I replied.
“I don’t know” he panted. “That was really weird, man!”
I looked him dead in the eye, and asked him exactly what he had heard, just to verify that I was not alone in going crazy.
“A bunch of people having a big party.” Budd said. “Isn’t that what you heard, Steve?”
His reply verified that we had both heard the tirade of people in festivity that vanished as soon as I stepped up on the porch of the house. But we had both heard it, and likewise we both heard it dissipate in the blink of an eye. He retrieved two of his last cigarettes, one apiece this time to calm our nerves. As soon as we had finished that smoke a guy pulled up in a jeep, picked us up, and took us to us to our house in Raymond.
Budd and I had walked up a mountainous road in the middle of the night, hardly any cars had passed us and none had stopped. It wasn’t until we had woken some poor woman up at two in the morning to ask her what time it was that some guy picked us up and drove us to our doorstep. We were tired, cold, and had hoped that the party animals we had both heard on that porch might help us. It seems that we had hallucinated the whole thing. After such a long walk, so late at night, and in the thin air of the mountains it stands to reason.
I like to think otherwise. Those hills have a reputation of having spirits of settlers that occasionally make themselves known. Maybe some of those spirits were playing with us because of our behavior along the way.
Buddie passed on some time ago. Perhaps he knows what happened with the party at that house. Our footsteps echoing in the darkness faded like the snow that fell, melted, and flowed to the sea in the Saint Vrain River. Whatever answer he may have found, that night remains a fond memory of my youth, of my younger brother, and of the home in the mountains of Colorado we once had.