The Wind of Lonely Places
Blair stopped when he reached Sunset Trail at the catwalk's end. He looked along the way he had come, trying to slow the heaving of his lungs, the hammering of his heart, wondering what it was about the old man that had inspired such unreasoning fear. And what could he say to explain himself, when the old man came down the trail? He waited a minute, then three, then five, while the falling snow whitened his hair and shoulders. His thoughts began to tumble around him, uncontrolled. Could the old man have taken the Blood Rock, after all? Maybe. Is that good or bad? What am I thinking? Of course it's good. Maybe he didn't, though. Maybe he's still waiting up there. Maybe he walked back up to another run, and went down that way. I have to know for sure. Don't I? Blair waited another five minutes before removing his skis and starting reluctantly back up the trail. He passed beside barrier ropes that barred the way to the edges of cliffs, and the Columbine Glade trailhead that was itself nearly a vertical drop. The snowflakes became smaller as he walked, and fell faster, obscuring sight. He came at last to the place where he and Kelly had stood. The old man was gone. He squinted down the slope, at last detecting the tracks that Kelly had left, already almost filled by the thickly falling snow. With slow, wooden movements he resumed his skis. Follow him. No. That's crazy. But it's the only way to know for sure. Stupid. He's gone. Follow. No. Want to see her. NO!! Red eyes glowed, low to the ground, within the dark beneath the trees. Blair heard a high-pitched snarl. He sidled backward, almost tripping over his skis, turned and fled in blind panic. By the time he was halfway down Sunset Trail, Blair had managed to regain some control over himself. Despite his desire to leave the mountain as quickly as possible, he turned aside into Alpine Bowl. The route was longer, but avoided the trail that passed beneath the Blood Rock. It would be there, waiting to scavenge, anticipating its meal. Blair did not relax until he passed the base area lodge. Two vehicles stood in the parking lot, blanketed with new snow: his old Volkswagen bug, and the jeep he had noticed that morning. The dog was not now in evidence. Probably chasing rabbits, he thought, then snorted at the notion. The animal was huge enough to chase elk. Briefly he wondered if he should do something about the jeep, then discarded the notion as impractical. Anyway, the dog would probably oppose such a plan if it were still in the area, and Blair didn't feel that was an argument he could win. He locked his skis within the ski rack clamped to the back of his bug, climbed inside and started the engine. He switched on the wipers, not bothering to clear the rear or side windows, and pulled out of the lot. Blair drove recklessly along the twisting, unplowed road, the blank calm of his expression betrayed by an occasional tremor in his hands where they gripped the steering wheel. Although daylight had nearly altogether failed in the snow-occluded sky, Blair ignored his headlights, even after a close brush with a camper van in Hyde Park. "Damn fool," he thought, as the anonymous driver leaned on his horn. "Where the hell does he think he's going?" The snow rushed at his windshield in shadowy masses, ghosting away into the slipstream just before impact. The lights of Santa Fe swelled below him as he crested the last hill; Blair rushed to join them.