Authors: Patricia Fry
“Thanks,” Savannah said disgustedly.
Before long, the two women emerged from the basement, each carrying a stack of wood in their arms. Savannah also had some newspapers in one hand. “There. My Girl Scout training paid off,” she said several minutes later, as she stood back admiring the roaring fire.
“I don’t remember getting to use matches and paper when I was a Girl Scout,” Margaret groused. When it appeared that her niece was about to question her comment, she admitted, “Well, maybe we used matches.”
“I’m sure you did,” Savannah said, rather smugly. She then asked, “Now, where’s the wine?”
“Coming right up,” Iris called from the kitchen, which opened into the living room where the other women huddled around the fire. “I have to wash the glasses—or I should say the mason jars, pickle jars, and tin cups.”
“Anything,” Savannah said, walking toward the kitchen.
Margaret followed. “Got an opener?” she asked, as she pulled a bottle of wine out of a brown grocery bag.
Iris frowned, “I don’t think so.” She took a look at the bottle Margaret held in her hand and laughed. “It’s a twist-off, Maggie.”
It wasn’t long before the women had migrated back into the living room, each with a jar of the pinot grigio in their hands. All was quiet except for the crackling of the roaring fire, until Savannah began to giggle. When she noticed the others giving her a blank stare, she laughed even harder. Soon Margaret let out a guffaw and Colbi chuckled a little. Within seconds all four women were laughing loudly.
“Hey,” Margaret said, finally containing herself, “I have a question.” When everyone looked at her, she asked, “What’s so blasted funny?”
After another round of nearly uncontrollable laughter, Savannah was finally able to explain. “I was just thinking about how grouchy you all were a few minutes ago.” She held up her jelly glass. “…and what a difference a little wine makes.”
were grouchy?” Margaret barked. “Vannie, I’ve never seen you so danged cantankerous.”
When the others spoke out in agreement, Savannah tried to defend herself. “Hey, I had to do all the driving and build a fire and…”
“Oh, wah-wah,” Margaret mimicked, as everyone cracked up.
Colbi became more serious. “Well, I, for one, appreciate you for getting us here safely and for warming us up.” She held her pickle jar toward Savannah. “Thank you, dear friend.”
“Hear! Hear!” Iris said. “And thank you, Maggie, for bringing the lifesaver.”
“Lifesaver?” Colbi repeated. “You mean candy?”
“No, the wine. Without it we might have spent the weekend pouting in separate corners.”
That statement was met with a round of uproarious laughter. When the hilarity ceased, Savannah pointed at Margaret and began to laugh again. “Auntie, you should have seen your face when you spotted that thing out there along the road.”
“Maggie,” Iris said, doubling over laughing, “I haven’t seen you move so fast since Marvin Torres put that frog down your peasant blouse in fourth grade.”
“I can sprint when I have to,” she said, trying to stifle a grin. “Man, that guy…or thing…was scary as hell.” Margaret took another sip of her wine, then pointed at Colbi and Iris. “You two sure disappeared fast in the backseat.”
Iris struggled to catch her breath between chortles. “Yeah, Savannah tossed poor little Colbi onto the floorboards.”
“It was either dive or have her land on my lap,” Colbi said. She added, “Maggie, when you spun those wheels, I thought for sure we’d be spending the night upside down at the bottom of the mountain.”
“Yeah,” Iris said, “did you all see how quickly Savannah took over in the cockpit? Almost before Maggie could set the brake.” After more uproarious laughter, she asked, “Why did that guy skedaddle so fast? I thought he was going to ask Colbi for a date—he really seemed into her. Whatever came out of the forest must have scared the pee out of him, too.”
A little while later, Margaret spoke up. “Hey, I’m hungry.”
Savannah nodded. “Me too. Iris, did you get the stove working?”
She frowned. “No, darn it. I can’t remember how Craig told me to do it. I’ll have to call him from the village tomorrow.”
“It’s not electric?” Savannah asked.
“Well, that’s the pits,” Margaret said. “At least you were able to start the generator. Does that mean we’ll have hot water soon?”
Savannah then sighed. “So we can’t cook the enchiladas. What else is there to eat?”
“I don’t know—crackers, chips,” Iris suggested.
“Are the enchiladas cooked?” Margaret asked. “Can we heat them over the fire?”
“Yeah, they’re cooked,” Iris said.
Savannah examined the inside of the fireplace. “I don’t know how we’d heat them over the fire, Auntie.”
“Well, I’m so hungry I don’t mind eating them cold.”
“Me, too,” Colbi said. “I have no problem eating cold Mexican food.”
“Okay,” Iris said, rising from her chair and heading toward the kitchen. She returned carrying the pan of enchiladas and four spoons. After handing everyone a utensil, she placed the pan on a coffee table in front of the green sofa where Savannah and Colbi sat. “Come on, Maggie, let’s pull those chairs closer and dig in!” she invited.
“Caveman style, huh?” Margaret said, carving out a bite with her spoon. “Works for me.” The women had scooped out most of the enchiladas when Savannah laughed out loud. “What a difference an hour makes.”
“And wine,” Margaret added.
“Yes, wine,” Iris agreed. She held up her glass, saying, “Here’s to a lovely, carefree, perfect birthday weekend with no more unpleasant surprises.”
After joining the others in the cheer, Margaret yawned. “So where are we sleeping tonight?”
“There are two bedrooms, with two beds each,” Iris said. “I thought Colbi and I could bunk in the room on the left—the main bedroom.” She pointed at a doorway to the right. “You two can have that room—the guest room.” She scrambled to her feet. “Let me give you a tour.”
“Yeah, we’ve been here for a couple of hours and haven’t even seen the place,” Margaret said.
“You saw the bathroom and the kitchen,” Iris reminded her.
“Well, now I want to see my bed,” she said, grinning. She turned to Savannah. “Come on, let’s pick out our bunks.”
“It’s dark in here,” Margaret noticed as they stepped into the guest bedroom. “That one little bulb doesn’t give much light.”
In the meantime, Savannah was focused on something else. “Why are there bars on the windows?”
Iris shrugged. “Uh, I don’t know. I never asked Craig. I suppose to keep people from breaking in.” She glanced at the others. “Don’t you think so?”
“Wouldn’t the bars go on the outside?” Colbi asked suspiciously.
“Oh, I guess so,” Iris said. “Yes, that makes sense.”
“And why wouldn’t there be bars on the other windows?” Savannah asked, pulling back the drapes. “Hey the glass is painted black!”
“And the light fixture is, too,” Colbi noticed. “No wonder the light in here is so dim.”
In the meantime, Margaret studied the locks on the outside of the door. “Maybe they kept something of value in this room at one time.”
The four women sat with that thought for a moment, then Savannah said, “The beds look comfy. And we won’t be awakened by bright sunlight coming in through the window, will we Auntie?”
“That’s right,” Margaret agreed.
“You should have plenty of blankets,” Iris said, checking the beds.
Margaret chuckled. “I’m so tired, I could sleep in that old claw-foot bathtub.”
“Well, good night, you two,” Iris said. “Sleep tight. We’ll see you in the morning. Savannah, the bathroom is right around the corner there. You may have to use your flashlight; I keep forgetting to bring up a nightlight.”
“No problem, I have a pocket light. I’ll be able to find my way.”
“I hope it’s bright enough. It’s really dark here in the forest at night.”
“Where are the cats?” Savannah asked. “Where are they sleeping tonight?”
“Oh, they’re still lolling near the fireplace,” Colbi said. “I don’t think they’ll be leaving that spot until the coals die down.”
Savannah smiled. “If I know Rags, he’ll be looking for a warm body to snuggle with at that point.”
“He’s not climbing in with me,” Margaret said.
“How do you know?”
“I’m closing the door to our room, that’s how.”
The following morning when Savannah awoke, she found herself staring into two furry faces.
Quickly realizing it was Rags and Dolly, she reached out and gave them each a scratch behind the ears before rolling over and covering her head.
“What?” she asked in her scratchy morning voice.
“I think they’re hungry,” Margaret said, stretching. “Why you brought those cats, I still don’t…”
Savannah pushed the blankets off her face. “Never mind. They’re here and I guess they’re hungry.” She grinned at her aunt. “Good thing their food doesn’t rely on the stove.” Sitting up, she cradled Rags’s face in both hands and looked into his eyes. “You’re lucky you can eat out of a can—no cooking required.”
Dolly said, as she walked back and forth across Savannah’s legs.
She smiled. “Okay, cute thing, let’s go find you some breakfast.” Glancing toward the door, she said, “I guess your mommy’s still sleeping, huh? Well come on, then.” After slipping into her robe and visiting the bathroom, she followed the two cats into the living room, where she found Colbi and Iris huddled in front of the fireplace. “Oh, hi. The cats woke me up. Didn’t you feed them?”
“Yeah, I fed them,” Colbi said. “We sent them in to get you so you’d make us a fire.”
a fire,” she noticed.
“Yeah, but not as good as the fire you made last night,” Iris said. “You’re a better fire-maker.”
“Okay, let me see what I can do.” She turned to the two women and said good-naturedly. “Now watch and learn. I may want to sleep in tomorrow.”
Once the fire was roaring, Margaret appeared. “Brrr. It’s cold in here.”
“Come sit by the fire,” Savannah invited. “It’ll be warm soon.”
“Make room,” she said, scrunching in between Colbi and Savannah, who sat on the wide hearth with Iris. “So what’s for breakfast? Cold cereal? Raw eggs and bacon?”
“Leftover enchiladas?” Colbi suggested.
“What leftovers—we devoured all dozen of them,” Iris reminded her.
“Do we have hot water?” Margaret asked.
Iris nodded. “Yes. The coffee should be ready by now. I’ll go check.”
“Coffee? All right!” Margaret said, excitedly. “How?” she asked as she trailed after Iris.
“Electric coffee pot.”
Margaret nodded. “Of course—run by the generator.” She watched as Iris poured the coffee, then she picked up two full cups and carried them into the living room, handing one to Savannah. Colbi took one from Iris.
Before taking a sip, Savannah placed her cup on a side table, wrapped herself in a throw she found draped over one of the worn and sagging sofas, and settled into a faded tan recliner chair. “Iris, is this cabin one of your home-decorating projects?” she teased.
“Heavens no,” Iris said, gazing at the dark-brown sofa across from the fireplace, the pukey green one to the left, and the bulky black vinyl chair on the other side of the large window which was next to the fireplace. “It’s all Craig. This is his man cave, you know, and he doesn’t want a woman’s touch in here at all.” She raised her eyebrows. “Girl, I was lucky he let me bring extra blankets, towels, and real dishes…and the electric coffee pot. Oh yes, the first time I came here, it was even more primitive than it is now.” She grinned. “I’ve sneaked in a few bits and pieces of civilization. But no, I had nothing to do with the décor. Rustic, isn’t it?”
Margaret laughed. “You might even say…”
“What?” Iris asked.
Margaret shook her head. “I can’t even think of a word.”
“Well, I like it,” Savannah said. “It’s cozy in here and obviously well-loved.”
“Well-used is more like it,” Margaret said. “…and old.”
“And charming,” Colbi offered.
“Want to spend your honeymoon here?” Margaret asked, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Oh…I…” Colbi stammered. “I’m not sure about that…uh…I…well…” She then changed the subject. “So what’s on the agenda for today? Are we going hiking or something?”
“Boating,” Iris said. “First, let’s see what we can find to eat. I brought some fresh fruit and cereal. We can make toast.” She turned to Savannah. “Did you bring some of your homemade jam?”
“Sure did,” Savannah confirmed.
“Shall we eat?” Iris suggested. “Then we can get our showers. But you have to be quick; the water heater’s small. Once we’re ready, we can get one of Skip’s boats and motor to the other side of the lake for lunch and a shopping spree.”
Savannah perked up. “Sounds like fun. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise.”
“Girlfriend, it’s more like a three…hour…tour,” Iris sang to the tune of the
“Oh, lordy,” Margaret said, letting out a long sigh. “What are we in for?”
Colbi sat wide-eyed. “Sounds rather daunting.” She swallowed a swig of coffee. “Iris, are you saying we’re in some sort of danger out on the lake?”
Iris waved her hand in front of herself. “No, no. I’m just joking.”
Margaret winced a little, then set her coffee mug down. “Vannie, speaking of things that go bump in the night…”
“Or that growl in the forest,” Colbi said.
“What about it?” Savannah asked.
“Well, I was just wondering if you heard anything in our room last night.”
“Oh, I don’t know—like someone moving around.” Margaret addressed the others. “Did any of you walk around in the dark last night?”
When no one responded, she asked, “Does anyone walk in their sleep?”
“Now Maggie,” Iris humphed, “how would we know that if we were asleep?”
“The cats were kind of active last night,” Savannah said. “Was it the cats you heard?”
“Well, I was aware that they ran across the bed a few times,” Margaret said. “But what I heard was bigger than cats.”
Savannah turned to Colbi. “Did they bother you?”
“Who?” Colbi asked. “The cats? No. We closed the door to our room.”
“I thought we did, too,” Savannah said, creasing her brow, “but I know they ran across my bed several times last night.”
Margaret chuckled. “Can that miracle cat of yours open doors, now?”
“Actually, he can open doors with lever handles,” Savannah explained. “Remember, you had those levers in your house when we were staying with you, and we had to change them because of Rags?” She shook her head. “But I’ve never known him to turn a doorknob.”
“That is odd,” Iris said. “I could have sworn your door was closed when we went to bed last night and it was still closed when we got up.”
“Then how did the cats get in our room this morning?” Margaret asked.
Colbi grinned sheepishly. “We opened your door so they’d get Savannah up to build us a fire.”
Savannah looked at Margaret, then at the others. “Even if Rags could open a door and hang out in our room for a while, I’ve never known him to close one behind him.”
Finally Margaret said, her voice quivering a little, “Vannie, maybe it wasn’t the cats running across our beds. Maybe it was rats or raccoons….” Her eyes grew rounder when she added, “…or baby bear cubs or badgers…”
Savannah grimaced. “I don’t think so. I know I pushed Rags off my bed once; he was walking around on my pillow. I hate when he does that.”
After staring blankly at Savannah and Margaret for a few moments, Iris shuddered. “Well, I don’t know how they could get through that closed door. You guys probably imagined it.” She grabbed Colbi’s arm and pulled her along toward the kitchen. “Come on, let’s fix breakfast.”
It was close to eleven when the four voyagers stepped out of the cabin ready to face the day.
“Everyone got their phones?” Iris asked. “This is our chance to make contact with the outside world.”
“Yeah, don’t want to miss that opportunity. I’m having cell phone withdrawal,” Colbi said, pulling her phone out of her pocket and kissing it for emphasis.
“So do we drive to the lake or walk?” Savannah asked.
“Everyone got their walking shoes on?” Iris asked. When the others nodded, she said, “It’s fairly nice out; let’s walk.” She then added, “Actually, I don’t think you can drive down to the dock. People usually park in a turn-out area up the road a ways and walk from there. Come on,” she motioned. “It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from here.”
“Lead the way,” Margaret said. Then, looping arms with Colbi, she quipped, “I’ll walk with you; you make me look tall.”
“I hear ya, Maggie,” Colbi said. “I feel like such a midget alongside those two long-tall Sallys. How tall are you, anyway, Iris?”
“Who, me?” Iris asked. She motioned toward Savannah. “I’m half an inch taller than she is—five ten, to be exact—except for when I wear my stilettos.”
Savannah turned to Colbi and Margaret. “And if she’s barefoot and I’m wearing the stilettos, I’m nearly three inches taller than she is.”
As if sharing a secret, Margaret said, “Those two have their heads in the clouds, that’s all I can say.”
Colbi chuckled. “Do you have stilettos, Maggie?”
“You mean those stilt shoes?” She smiled smugly. “I sure do. I love wearing them—don’t have to call for a clerk in the grocery store to reach something on a top shelf anymore, or pull out my stepstool at home.” She paused. “But I found out it hurts more when you fall from way up there.”
“A couple of times. I’m not used to wearing them yet.” Margaret then called out. “Hey stilt ladies, where are you taking us? And why are you walking so fast?”
“This isn’t fast, Maggie,” Iris insisted. “It’s a normal walking pace.”
Margaret grinned. “Yeah, for the Jolly Green Giant, maybe.”
“Here we are,” Iris said, pushing between a couple of small fir trees. “Hi, Skip,” she greeted.
“Oh, hello, Ms. Sledge. Yer hubby told me you’d be comin’ up this weekend. Yer birthday, huh?” he asked, glancing at the other three women. “You ladies havin’ a good time?”
“So far,” Margaret said.
Savannah smiled. “Yeah, it’s beautiful up here.”
“Need a boat?” he asked. “Are ya goin’ to the other side?”
“Yes, do you have one available?”
“Purty much always do these days. We brought in a couple more skiffs and one more motor, so’s people don’t hafta wait so long fer a boat no more.”
“Cool.” Iris said. She gazed at the slightly stooped man, who appeared to be in his sixties. “So, are you keeping busy?”
“Yeah, there’s a few hunters up here—huntin’ turkey, ya know. And some of the regulars are back now since things is thawin’ out.”
Colbi hugged her jacket tightly around herself. “It gets colder than this?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am. This is a balmy day. It’s nice in the sun, don’t ya think so?”
“Yeah,” she said, “as long as you’re wearing your winter clothes.”
Savannah looked down at the man’s knee-high rubber boots. “We aren’t going to get our feet wet, are we?”
He shook his head. “No, there’s a dock on the other side and none of the boats is leakin’. No need fer rubbers. So who’s gonna be the skipper?” he asked, his eyes moving from woman to woman.
The four of them looked at one another as well, and all eyes stopped on Savannah.
“Me? Why is it always me?” she asked.
“You’re the most…” Colbi started. She then said, “I trust your driving.”
Margaret snickered. “After she ran over that tree trunk last night?”
“Ever handle a skiff with a motor?” Skip asked Savannah.
“Can ya row?”
Savannah nodded. Frowning, she asked, “Why?”
“In case the motor breaks down, that’s why,” he said. “It’s yer insurance, ya see.”
When Savannah noticed Margaret staring at her from under her heavy dark bangs, she said, “What?”
“I didn’t know you could row a boat, that’s all.”
Colbi grinned. “Did you learn that at Girl Scout camp, too?”
“Actually, no,” Savannah said. “We used to know someone with a big sailboat. He’d take our family out on weekends and we kids got to row the dinghy around while the adults partied. I even won a dinghy race once.” She grinned. “It helped that someone secretly tied one of the other dinghies to the dock before the race started.” She turned toward Skip. “Okay, show me how to turn the thing on.”
“Good job,” Iris said, inviting Savannah’s high-five as they pulled up to the dock on the other side of the lake. “If I ever buy a yacht, you’ll be first on my list of skippers.”
“Thanks, I think,” Savannah said.
“Yeah, but next time, Vannie, try not to pinch my fingers against the dock, will you?”
“Well, keep your fingers in the boat, Auntie,” she said, chuckling.
Once everyone had disembarked, Margaret squinted into the stand of trees just off shore, spun around and looked in the opposite direction, then asked, “Where’s the mall?”
“Right in front of you,” Iris said. “Come on, before the crowds arrive,” she joked.
“This is it?” Colbi asked, gazing at the small wooden building just off the shoreline.
“This is it,” Iris confirmed, grabbing her arm and pulling her along.
When Colbi rolled her eyes, Savannah broke out laughing. “Did you bring your credit card?”
Iris glanced back at Savannah and, in all seriousness, said, “Oh, they don’t take cards here.”
Margaret chortled. “I imagine not—they usually don’t at flea markets and yard sales.”
Indignant now, Iris defended the place. “It’s not a flea market or a yard sale, Maggie. It’s a bono fide store. Now come on.”
Margaret whispered to Savannah, “Looks like a converted garage to me.”
Once inside, the women glanced around at the items on display. “Cute,” Savannah said. “Oh, look at the little baby hats and matching booties!”
Colbi held up a pair of earrings. “I like these.”
“A lot of the stuff is handmade by residents,” Iris explained. “Some things they bring in from other areas. I’ve only been here a couple of times, actually—once with Craig and a few times when I managed to coerce the boys into bringing me across.”
“Did you buy anything?” Savannah asked.
“Yes, some hand-painted note cards as a gift, and,” she pointed, “one of those Western bolo ties with a turquoise thingy-ma-bob for when Craig dresses up.” As if confiding in the others, she said, “He absolutely won’t wear a tie, you know.” She then said, “Oh, I bought a knitted scarf once when the wind came up real sudden like.”