Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Banshee in the Goblin Valley, San Rafael Swell, Green River, Utah

Banshee Goblin Valley, San Rafael Swell, Green River, Utah
Mary Jane was a city girl and she did not take to the open spaces or ranching. Her doctor had advised a rural setting in Southeastern Utah as a curative for her visions. Unfortunately, when she and Wayne relocated to the ranch in Goblin Valley south of Green River Wayne began to drink and carouse.
One night in February, Wayne fell into a black spell and took the Studebaker pickup to town for a drink or two. Mary Jane waited in dread, as the radio warned of a winter storm, high winds and snow. Wayne’s drinking and the bad weather would earn her a beating; the last one had cost a tooth.
Mary Jane set a fire and put on the coffee pot, perhaps the cozy setting would assuage Wayne when he stumbled through the door. As the snow began to fall and the wind picked up, Mary Jane cocked her head. Instead of visions, she now heard voices. Above the wind was a strange howl that brought back memories of nighttime Irish fairy tales, scary stories of the banshee keening, warning of death to come.
Mary Jane stood close to the window, watching the snow and once again she heard the shriek, a chill ran down her spine, her skin prickling. She titled her head as the whispering began, giving instructions. The whisperer had a point; it was time to end the beatings and she glanced at the shotgun hanging over the fireplace. 
Wayne struggled with the wheel of the pickup as he navigated the snow-covered dirt road to his ranch. He gritted his teeth and wiggled in the cold seat. It was because of Mary Jane they were stuck in this godforsaken spot. And tonight his hapless wife would pay. He’d teach her a lesson she wouldn’t forget.
Lost in rage, Wayne was jolted as the truck slipped to the side, burrowing into a snow bank. Wayne stopped, set the brake and took a long swig from the whiskey bottle beside him. He then pulled up his collar and stepped out into the inclement night. The wind staggered him and Wayne wavered in the icy cold.
 Then suddenly the snow abated and the clouds parted, a half moon emerged throwing a dim light on the road, which showed the way to his ranch house. The moonbeam struck Wayne as a bolt of lightning, causing him to fall to his knees. Wayne bowed, touching his forehead to the snow and breathed deeply. How long he knelt on the road escaped him, but when Wayne rose he was cold sober.
Leaving the truck in the snow bank, Wayne pulled his range coat tight and headed determinedly home with his head high, confidence surging through him. He would embrace Mary Jane and beg her forgiveness. He paused where the road forked, the right track leading to the Henry Mountains.
Wayne confidently took the left fork, knowing he had experienced a rare epiphany, that his incidence in the snow with the moon was a revelation. He would rejoin his church, swear off the bottle, set things right with Mary Jane, and devote himself to his ranch. In the distance, he could see the cabin, smoke curling from the chimney. He was homeward bound and strode onto the porch, pausing at the door.
Turning the knob, the born-again Wayne stepped inside and called for Mary Jane. He was met by the brilliant flash of both barrels. 
They found Wayne’s pickup in the snow bank, a half-empty whiskey bottle in the front seat. The assumption was that Wayne tried to walk to the ranch. Drunk and disoriented, he had veered to the right and taken the fork into the Henry Mountains.
          Mary Jane’s sister came from Salt Lake and they loyally stayed on until spring when searchers once again scoured the area for Wayne. No one thought to look in the old well behind the barn. During the summer, a judge declared Wayne legally dead and Mary Jane came into insurance proceeds. She was also able to sell the ranch to a young couple from Provo. Mary Jane moved west, settling in San Francisco. 
Alice loved the remote ranch and she and Ben planned to try farming, maybe fruit trees. The only discordant note was that some nights, Alice sleepwalked. She often found herself at the back window that overlooked the barn. She was drawn there by someone singing and often saw the shadow of a man, tall and lean, dressed in a range coat.
The figure crossed the back yard, disappearing behind the barn where the old well was located. Alice never caught the tune he sang, but she did hear the lyric and it was always the same line.
          “I’ll wait for someone."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Gift Shop at Spanish Fort, Mobile, Alabama

 After Jolene endured the somber funeral  and the distant relatives left, Cannon Raspberry came out of nowhere. The attraction was instant and within a week Cannon was in her guest room, helping with the Pink Charm, Jolene’s inherited gift shop set in Spanish Fort, Alabama.
         Jolene with her flame red hair and alabaster skin was a beauty. For the first time instead of fending off a suitor, she felt attraction. Perhaps she had found her soul mate in  ruggedly handsome Cannon with the slicked-back black hair. But he was also the quiet type, short on details. Jolene knew little about Cannon’s background or family.
         One night, there was a light tapping at the back door of her brick rambler, which was set behind the gift shop. It was Ralph, the truck driver who had murdered her adopted parents. Ralph had broadsided the old couple as her father cheated through the yield sign on County Road 11, an unfortunate accident, or so it appeared.
         Gazing at the haggard, red-eyed Ralph through the screen, Jolene wondered how she had taken to such a dissolute; perhaps it was his magnetic personality, the kind all girls love. Now Ralph needed more money and was lonely. Jolene frowned. She had paid Ralph $20,000 for the contrived incident, which had yielded her the brick rambler and gift store, plus the $2 million her adopted parents had squirreled away.
         Ralph had promised to disappear, go west, but now he was back for more money. Ralph whined that he had hit a sour streak on the Mobile Bay Riverboat. He wanted $10,000, some of Jolene’s comfort, and then he would move on. Maybe out to Vegas.
         Jolene argued she needed time. She would meet Ralph at the D’Olive Bay overlook, share a few minutes and give him the money. Jolene’s sweet talk bought delay and Ralph left with the rendezvous dancing in his head.
         That night on the patio beside the murky Shellbank River, Jolene explained the situation to Cannon, who asked a few questions about Ralph, where he worked and lived. Cannon got up, kissed Jolene’s head, and then smoked a cigarette at her fence.
The next week Jolene drove to the bay overlook and waited for Ralph. It was early spring and the trees were budding and crocus peeped through the grass. She would distract Ralph and plead for more time. But Ralph never showed and Jolene sat in the car with a nagging doubt.
A few months before she had stumbled into Ralph with his charming gift for gab at the Blues Tavern. After a few drinks and some handholding they were plotting to take care of Jolene’s problem. Now Ralph had stood her up. In retrospect, Jolene wondered how she could have trusted Ralph with such a sensitive plan. Jolene banged her head on the steering wheel.
That evening Jolene told Cannon that Ralph had been a no-show. It worried her that Ralph was so unpredictable, often violent. He could cause trouble.
“Ralph took the long haul.” Cannon said cryptically.
“But when he returns?” Jolene fretted.
“He's not coming back.” Cannon replied.
Jolene turned away and licked her lips. So that was it. She was supposed to forget about the erratic Ralph. Cannon mused it would be nice if they could travel…his first hint at commitment.
Life went on at the pink gift store and the two fell into an easy rhythm. But beneath her happy exterior, Jolene worried. Cannon played his part to perfection, keeping her happy, at her beck and call.
One evening on the patio they shared a bottle of Burgundy and chatted about Jolene’s idea to expand the Pink Charm, maybe offer delicacies. When Cannon did not join in her planning, Jolene took their glasses to the kitchen and refilled them, emptying two capsules into Cannon’s glass, stirring the white powder into the ruby-red wine.
A few weeks later neighbors became alarmed at not seeing any life around the gift shop, or at the brick rambler. They knew Jolene had taken a trip out west and that Cannon would mind the store. Uneasy at the stillness, they called the police who entered the shop where they found Cannon hanging from a beam in the back storeroom, an apparent suicide.

Six weeks after she left Spanish Fort, Jolene met Karl in Telluride, Colorado. The young man, a Swiss-German mountaineer, was visiting Colorado in the early spring with a goal of climbing Colorado’s 55 fourteeners. Jolene was into hiking and Karl said he would guide her to a first 14,000 foot mountain peak at nearby Redcloud, an easy Class 1-2 hike.
        They left Telluride early in the morning and drove to Lake City, parking at the trailhead. After three hours they rested and Karl confessed he had researched Jolene, who he knew was from Spanish Fort. He discovered her tragedies, the death of her parents, the suicide of Cannon Raspberry, her gift-shop partner.
        The couple reached the peak late morning, knowing they had to be on the way by noon to avoid the afternoon lightning storms. Jolene led Karl to the edge where they had a spectacular view of the snow-topped, San Juan Mountains. Karl looked at her and smiled, his killer-blue eyes twinkling. Jolene put the flat of her hand between Karl’s broad shoulders. He raised his eyebrows and she gave him a violent shove.
        Toppling over the precipice, Karl hit a ledge head first, then flipped over and plummeted at least three thousand feet, disappearing into a dark crevice. Jolene worried her new companion might research her route from Alabama and stumble over more troubling episodes. She sighed in the clear air beneath the pristine sky.
Karl could have ruined it. After all, there would be more misfortunes as Jolene continued her odyssey west.
Such is life.