An unfinished journal languishes in a dusty corner just waiting to be added to.
|The old journal waited patiently. The fine layer of dust coating it shimmered for a brief moment, caused, perhaps, by it being caught in a chance sunbeam slanting under the peaked eve. Or perhaps, not.
Two flights down, a long haired calico cat opened one eye and peered at his mistress.
“Aye, you old thing,” she crooned, stroking the length of the cat’s back, “It’s time. She’s coming.” The cat closed its eye and went back to its dreaming.
I had driven close to 5000 miles in the past week and a half. I decided that it was time to land somewhere for a couple of days.
It had been a fun adventure driving a friend to Spokane, Washington as we stopped and saw the sights along the way, yet it was this part of the trip I had been looking forward to. No GPS blinking at me on the dashboard announcing the miles and telling me where and when to turn. That stayed behind in Spokane. I could stop and take pictures whenever my muse inspired me. It was absolutely a grand adventure and I loved every minute of it. I’d taken back roads that curled around mountains, often turning to gravel as I drove. I went down roads with no guard rails and nothing but an abyss off the passenger side. It scared me silly, but I did it, even if my knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.
I was proud and caught myself grinning in the rear view mirror. I pulled off the road at a scenic overlook. Relaxing back against the seat, I once again looked in the mirror. Eyes that turned mossy green when I was happy sparkled back. Very green eyes. My short hair was a mass of curls jammed under my hat. I smiled, thinking I didn’t look all that bad for someone who’d passed the half century mark. Must be the ‘road trip!’ glow, I mused. There certainly was something about the freedom, glorious weather and open roads that called to my soul. My camera, laptop and notebook lay on the front seat. I grabbed the camera and notebook and got out of the car.
Spread out in front of me were three sharp, craggy mountains. Snow shone white against a crystal sky. A lenticular cloud surrounded the heights of the tallest one. I’d seen pictures of such clouds before, but never imagined I would actually see one. There are no mountains in Michigan. Dipping below the mountains, a sapphire lake complete with picture-perfect sailboat skimming across it, sparkled in the autumn sun. I reached for my notebook only to open it and remember I’d filled the very last page the last time I’d stopped. Mental note, I need another notebook.
Half an hour and perhaps thirty pictures later, I was back on the road and aiming for Denver. Denver wasn’t too far from Pike’s Peak, and as I was so close to it, all things being considered, how could I not go see it. It was heading towards late afternoon as I turned off the highway leading south of Denver and drove into Manitau Springs. A quick stop at a service station for coffee and gas, also gave me local comments about where to stay and what I shouldn’t miss.
Missing the turn I needed, I took my next left and spiraled down into town. I could feel my eyes widen appreciatively as I realized that Manitou Springs was a quaint village clinging to the side of the mountain. Old two and three story buildings were crammed together, like crooked, hunched over men braving the cold. Odd shaped windows and decorated porches were brightened by strings and swags of twinkling white lights. The road was cobble-stoned and twisted along the mountain’s edge. High, pointed roofs reminded me of witches hats. Birch-branch benches were scattered every so often. It was so intriguing that I couldn’t wait to get settled and go explore.
I never did see the hotel that had been recommended to me, but stopped at a tiny motel called ‘The Pike’s Peak Inn.’ My room on the second floor was near the end away from the street. A tall willow cloaked this end of the building and a chattering stream ran alongside. I dumped my stuff in my room, and then called home to let my husband know how far I’d made it and what my plans were for the next couple of days. Agreeing to talk later, I was eager to go poke around the village before the stores closed.
As I was staying right in the middle of town, everything was in walking distance. I meandered by a log restaurant and immediately decided that was where I’d have dinner, but not yet. The cluster of unique shops beckoned. I wandered through a store full of glass blown objects. Glass balls with swirled colors hung from the ceiling. It was as if I were walking through a rainbow.
The next store was one with handcrafted candles, wizards, castles, and dragons.Leaning against a six foot tall carved wooden gnome I found a gnarled willow wood walking stick that I simply had to have. Outside, I realized just why there were so many benches scattered around. Being at over 7000 feet above sea level, it just didn’t seem as if there was quite enough air to breathe, and it felt good to just sit and absorb the quirky atmosphere of the village.
Everyone passing by nodded or said hello. Shopkeepers introduced themselves by name as I entered their shops. I spoke for a few minutes to an older lady named Saffron who said she ran a pottery shop. She pointed across the road to show me where her store was. Smiling goodbye, she headed across the road. I watched her as she disappeared into her store, her long floral skirt brushing the cobblestones as she walked, the tinkling sounds of her jewelry surrounding her in music.
Crossing the road with every intention of visiting the pottery shop before it closed, I was instead sidetracked by the first store I passed. It was called ‘The Olde Curiosity Shop’ and was, indeed, a most curious building. There was no decision to go in; it was if I were pulled inside. I climbed up the two crooked steps into a vine-covered entryway, and up two more to a door with crescent moon cutouts of stained glass. It reminded me, subtly, of a store I’d once seen on a side alleyway in Boston. It had that delicious feel about it; as if something magical was about to happen.
Inside, beyond a counter hung from the ceiling by chains which had all sorts of things hanging from them was a lady dressed as if she belonged in a castle more than in a store outside of Denver. Long, long tawny hair was looped and twisted and tied with colorful beads. She was wearing a medieval gown festooned with lace and had the strangest blue eyes. Curled up on the counter was the largest long-haired calico cat that I had ever seen. The woman smiled and it seemed as if the temperature in the shop jumped by several degrees. She introduced herself as Lady Alice and told me that the cat’s name was Archimedes.
I couldn’t resist petting the cat and he looked at me with glowing golden eyes and began purring.
“He likes you,” said Lady Alice. “He tolerates almost everyone unless they are prone to pulling his tail, but he seems to really like you.”
Archimedes was now arching as I scritched my fingers gently down his back. He reminded me of a cat from, from somewhere, but I couldn’t quite remember.
“Feel free to meander my little shop, there are many delights awaiting your discovery.”
I nodded and wandered on down a step and around a curve. It seemed as if there were no straight aisles within. Items were piled haphazardly, in a colorful jumble of sights and odd scents. Jeweled colored scarves hung or were laid out over rough wooden boards. A snow globe designed to look exactly like the shop had its snow floating around even though no one had touched it.
I saw tapestry chairs piled with handmade quilts. Ancient trunks, lids open, spilled forth sheet music and jewelry, a stuffed tree frog and stained glass sun catchers. I brushed by a wind chime and its melody followed me as I wandered further into the shop.
A spiral staircase beckoned upward and I climbed the wrought iron stairs two flights up into a room brimming with books. Old books with detailed illustrations vied with ones of buttery leather. A small shelf near a star-shaped lead paned window was curtained in cobbed webs. Leaning against a first edition of ‘The Neverending Story’ was a book with a quilted cover. There was no title, but upon picking it up, I realized it was an old partially finished journal. It had plenty of pages left that I could use. Plopping down on a conveniently placed Victorian chaise lounge, I thought to read a couple of pages. Handmade paper, fragile with time, sewn together with strips of leather, the title page said simply, ‘My Journal.’
The first page, written in a spidery crawl with now faded ink, read
“ October 23rd, 1847
I am a free spirit. I am a creative soul. I am a writer and the need to write is, for me, akin to breathing. My name is Sarah and this will be the place, my secret place, where I can put pen to paper and let all that is within me spill freely upon the page.”
“Strange,” I murmured softly, “My name is Sara, and today is October 23rd. I could have written those words. “
“We have this week left the city of Denver, in Colorado Territory. The mountains seem so terrible in their height. They seem as if ferocious beasts and I am frightened of them. They are so high and our wagon seems so small to cross over them. My husband says that there are passes and that I must be brave. Yet I have seen what happens when wagons slide off the trail and tumble down into ravines. I pray for their souls.
It was kind of Jacob to allow me the coins to buy this journal.”
Jacob? Too, too weird.
“We have little enough to spare and we need carry no extra weight. But he smiled at me ere I asked and said it might be company for me. It is lonely on the road and he is so tired at dark that he eats and is asleep. It is a hard job to get us to our new homestead, and I look forward to being there at last.
Today we stopped at a small lake to water the oxen and the horses. Above us three mountain tops already are white with snow and I know this worries my husband, although he wouldn’t speak of it to me. I know that look and the crease in his brow whence he is worried.
On the trail today the road was fearfully narrow and I held on to the edge of the wagon such that my knuckles turned white. All I could think of were those poor souls we saw a few weeks back.
We passed a large waterfall that caught the sun creating a lovely rainbow. It seemed a good sign for our journey.”
I tried to read more, puzzled as I was by the uncanny coincidences, but in the dim light, it was too hard to make out the faint script. Returning downstairs, with the journal in my hands, I went to the counter to ask Lady Alice its price.
“It is $14.23 with tax.” I began to dig my credit card out of my pocketbook, but before I could even reach for my wallet, Lady Alice said, “I don’t take credit cards, my dearie.”
Archimedes stood up and stretched, his purring, a low thunder.
“Um, I’m not sure how much cash I have on me,” I said as I put my hand in my pocket. I pulled out a handful of bills and a smattering of change. Counting it out, I stopped, just staring at the bills on the counter and the change in my palm. It was exactly $14.23. I looked at Lady Alice, who smiled benignly and scooped up the cash.
I was still staring at Lady Alice as she put the journal carefully in a small, handled paper bag with ‘The Olde Curiosity Shop’ hand lettered on the front above a line drawing of Archimedes sitting in a window.
“Have a good evening, my dear. It is closing time now. Enjoy the journal.” Lady Alice all but hustled me out of her shop, and locked the door behind me with a rusty clank and a loud click.
Still somewhat bewildered, I headed across the street and went over to the restaurant I’d passed earlier. Fairy lights twinkled in the old oak tree that spread its branches over the log building. Inside, it was dimly lit and candles flickered on every table. I was seated in the bar section where I had a good view of the fire crackling noisily in the fireplace. I ordered my meal and took out the journal to read as I waited.
“Jacob is good with the team though and we passed safely.“
I had just started reading when my waitress returned.
“Excuse me, ma’am. We seem to be out of baked potatoes. Would rice be okay?”
I assured her that would be fine and picked up the journal again.
“Our foodstuffs are growing low and I am worried that we will run out of food. We had planned to restock in Denver, but the shelves at the general store were nigh on to bare. We were able to purchase some rice but no potatoes. We have little sugar left although we still have some flour. My husband says that we will camp here tonight and that he will hunt tomorrow. Fresh meat will be a godsend.”
My meal arrived and I stared at the rice on my plate. I closed the journal for the rest of my meal.
Returning to my room, I’d no more than flopped on the bed, when my cell phone rang. I told my husband all about the strange coincidences with the journal. While he understood why I had bought it, I think he thought I was, perhaps, reading too much into it. We said goodnight, agreeing to talk the next afternoon. I changed into my nightclothes and settled in bed to read some more. But I no more turned to the next page, when the long twelve hours on the road and the events of the evening took their toll and within seconds, I was fast asleep.
In the morning, sitting out near the willow tree and drinking the coffee so thoughtfully supplied by the motel, I once again opened the journal. This time I read of Sarah’s journey across the prairie up into the Dakota territories as she filled in her trip prior to buying the journal. It was fun reading about this long ago trek across the same lands I had recently driven on my drive west. I read about their seeing a huge tower of rock rising out of the landscape in Wyoming Territory, and how folks there abouts called it ‘The Devil’s Tower.’
I stopped reading and thought about how several days earlier my friend and I had raced down twilight roads to see Devil’s Tower before the sunset. This was just too strange. Realizing I needed to head out if I was going to make my reserved time on the cog train up to the top of Pike’s Peak, I put the journal back in my room, grabbed my camera and headed to the car.
Being assigned a seat in the front of the train as it headed up the mountain, was perfect for taking pictures. I had an unimpeded view as the cog train slowly clacked its way up and up and up. At the top, standing by the sign telling all the history of Pike’s Peak, I took pictures of world spread out before me.
“The views sure are breathless, aren’t they?” said the woman standing next to me.
“Breathless is right!” I agreed. “It feels like there is no air at all up here.” I paused, still trying to catch my breath. “I had no idea what it was like to be at 14,000 feet! I don’t think I like it very much.”
The woman nodded. “I guess you just have to get used to it,” she said as she walked away.
The trip down the mountain seemed to take forever. I was tired and the lack of oxygen had bothered me much more than I had thought it might. I had been able to take some excellent pictures, and while normally I would have been excited to get back and download them to my laptop, all I wanted right then was to lie down.
Driving back to the motel, I stopped to let some people cross the street. One woman was using a walker and I shifted into park while I waited. She was having difficulty maneuvering it across the stones. Looking around, I realized I was sitting right in front of ‘The Olde Curiosity Shop.’ Or I should have been. But where the shop was yesterday, was now something called “The Twisted Tassel.”
I must be really tired, or I’m not where I think I am. I thought, looking around. No, there was the restaurant across the way, and the glass blowers shop and. . .
A horn honked behind me, alerting me to the fact that the lady was across the street safely and that traffic was building up behind me. I shifted into drive and returned to the motel. Stopping in at the motel office, I asked the wispy bearded kid behind the counter about the ‘Olde Curiosity Shop.’
“Nah, we don’t have no such place here. Maybe you was thinkin’ about someplace over to Colorado Springs?”
I thanked him and returned to my room. I picked up my cell phone and tried to call my husband. I had no bars and the call didn’t go through.
I looked at the bag from the shop. Plain as day on the bag were the same words and drawing from the day before. But now, there was no address or phone number below the name of the store.
Settling on the bed, I opened the journal about half way through, where there was no writing. I needed to write; to sort out my jumbled thoughts about the journal and the similar happenings. As curious as I was about her words, I was almost afraid to read more of them. The two journeys seemed connected in some fashion and as illogical as it seemed, I was beginning to wonder whose journey was affecting whose.
Writing in a far different fashion than I normally did, I reported all the facts of my strange adventure. Still, with no answers, I turned again to her words.
“We climbed high into the mountains today. The air is thin here and snow has blocked the trail up ahead. Jacob built a fire and we are camped near a rocky outcrop and have some small shelter from the wind here. It is a feeble fire and offers scant warmth. Jacob left a goodly pile of wood nearby and went off to hunt for we have little food. It is very cold and he has been gone some hours now. I am losing the light and know I must conserve the candles. If he is gone much longer, I shall have to gather more wood.”
I stared out the window for some time. I looked at my cell phone and saw I still had no service. Pondering her words, I shut off the light and slid into an uneasy sleep.
I overslept and had to rush to be out of my room before check out time. Getting on the road heading home, I drove out of Colorado and into Nebraska. The sky was blue and it was a good day for driving. I hoped to make at least 500 miles today and be able to be home the following day. I missed my husband and longed to be home.
As I drove across the flat prairie, my thoughts were with Sarah up in the mountains. After several hours of driving, I noticed that the sky was no longer blue, indeed, it was now gray with clouds low to the horizon. Fearful of any connections, I headed off the highway as it began to snow heavily. I took the first exit, but it proved to be one without any facilities. Turning around, I headed back to the highway.
Blue lights were flashing and a barrier was across the on ramp.
“I’m sorry Ma’am,” said a state trooper. “The highway’s closed due to blowing snow. This storm came up out of nowhere. You’ll have to drive down the 302 for ten miles and you’ll come to Aurora. You should find a place to stay there. So, if you’ll just turn around, the faster you head out, the sooner you’ll be able to get out of this storm.”
I sighed, turned the car around and headed back down the road. There was no traffic and the snow was now blowing sideways. Driving about twenty miles an hour down the middle of the road, I eventually made my way into Aurora. Finding a small motel with its ‘vacancy’ sign blinking pink and blue, I pulled in and got a room for the night.I asked the woman behind the counter if she knew how long the storm would last.
“Don’t rightly know. This blew up out of nowhere. I expect it will blow itself out come morning. We’ll just have to wait and see. That’ll be fifty dollars for the room. You can get a bite to eat across the way.”
In my tiny room, with the wind howling in around the windows, I tried again to call home. Verizon wasn’t hearing me any better now than it had earlier. Although I was tempted, in a weird sort of way to read further in the journal, I left it closed in my bag and watched reruns on the only channel I could get.
The next morning, the snow had stopped, but the sky was still looking like it could start snowing at any second. The lady up front said the road was plowed east to where I could get back on the highway if it was open. Phone lines were down, so she couldn’t check, but she figured they’d be open again by the time I got there. She was sorry, but they were closing the motel for the next few days due to a family emergency, so I couldn’t stay an extra night.
I’d been on the road for about half an hour and I still hadn’t come to the highway. Beginning to wish I had my friend’s gps with me still, I kept going, figuring that at least I was headed in the right direction. The wind was blowing the snow across the road and I was not making good time at all. I was driving past empty fields and hadn’t seen another vehicle.
Suddenly, something black flashed in front of me and I slammed on the breaks. Skidding slidways, I felt a sickening lurch and the back end of my car slid down into a ditch. Shaken, but unhurt, I knew the car was going nowhere.
Getting out of the car and climbing up from the ditch, I looked both ways down the road. Nothing. Wait. Squinting my eyes against the blowing snow, I could see a faint light out across a field. Perhaps it was a floodlight left on from the previous night A mile off, maybe, I thought. I couldn’t stay in the car as the whole back end was buried in the snow and though I tried restarting it, it kept dying.
I wrote where I was headed in the journal and left it on the dashboard. Taking the walking stick out of the back seat, and bundling up in all the warm clothes I had with me, I headed out across the field, walking towards the faint light.
Jake sat slumped in the living room chair. In his hands, he held Sara’s cell phone. He could see she’d repeatedly tried to call him. The journal she had bought had led the state police in the right direction, but it had been too late. They had found her about three miles from her car. They had no idea about the light she wrote that she’d been heading for as there were neither houses nor lights in the direction she’d been headed.
He opened the journal and read the long ago Sarah’s last entry.
“Jacob has yet to return, and I am fair worried. It is late and I must get more wood else the fire go out. Mayhap he will have returned by the time I get back. The wind grows bitter cold. I must not let the fire die.”
Lady Alice showed Archimedes the fine old walking stick. He purred and rubbed his head along one of the gnarled burls that made it so unique.
“We really need to find a special place for it.” She smiled as she walked to the back of the ancient building located on a side alley in Salem, Massachusetts.
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