The Wind of Lonely Places
Sally Cane yawned, pinched the sleep-sand from the corners of her eyes, snagged her coffee cup from the dashboard and took a swallow. She was waiting now to make her last run of the night. Four-twelve, read the digital display on her watch. Less than five hours before she had to start her day job in Santa Fe. She sighed wearily, closed her eyes. At first the two jobs had seemed a good way to make ends meet, and perhaps get a little ahead, but the pace was beginning to wear on her. "I keep this up much longer," she reflected sourly, "I'll end up losing both jobs." "Snowcat one to snowcat four," the radio on the dashboard crackled. Sally picked up the mike and keyed it. "Go ahead one." "Start your run, Sally," the radio spat. "Cut over from Sunset and groom the Burro side of Alpine Bowl when you get down that far." "Ten-four, Al," Sally responded. "See you at the shop. Four clear." "One clear." Sally snapped off the dome light, and the night poured through the windows of the cab. She revved the idling engine a little to avoid stalling when she put the 'cat in gear, and guided the machine down the catwalk. The night was moonless, and the high cloud cover left the night unchallenged even by the stars. Sally's range of vision was confined to the wedge of terrain cut from the darkness by her headlights; the instrument panel glowed before her like the eyes of forest creatures. The engine noise and the racketing of the treads were muted within the cab, mixed with the faint, funereal moan of the wind. Sally switched her tape player on, adjusted the volume. Strains of a traditional Irish folk melody filled the cab.
The Autumn grasses sway apart before your gentle feet, my love, and sigh together in your wake, as unmarked as the rolling waves that bear my ship across the seas away from you. The tears we shed will never stain these windy fields, nor make our heart-sore sorrow known.Clouds moved in from the lower elevations, sliding silently, invisibly up the mountain through the evergreens. Tendrils of mist wandered forlornly through the glow of the headlights, disappearing up the ridge. Sally shivered with a nameless apprehension, swore softly. She hummed and muttered parts of the song as she scanned the trail ahead, her words seeming to echo hollowly within the cab. Now harvest scythes have shorn these fields. The evening breeze has blown away the fragrant grass that swept your skirts, and melancholy swans are rocked by fitful whitecaps on the lake. The branches, like our love, resist the wind, but one by one the leaves are snatched, and flung upon the waves.She skidded through a dog-leg left as she descended into Sunset Trail, gunning the engine. Suddenly she wanted very much to be down the mountain before the fog thickened. Halfway down the run she swung over into a side-trail that ran along the bottom of Columbine Glade and fed into a natural amphitheater, where several trails converged. As she turned onto the flat area below the cliff, her headlights swept a ragged shoal of bare stone at the base of a thirty-foot drop. O let the bare branch yet resist the sullen pressure from the sky! Heed not the mocking laughter from the straw-folk, nor listen to their lies.Sally hit the brake and the clutch together. The 'cat crawled to a stop after a couple of feet, the headlights illuminating a copse of pines through twin tunnels of fog. "Sweet Jesus," she breathed, her gaze unfocused. Slowly she licked her lips, reached, and shifted the 'cat into reverse. She pulled back on the right steering lever, disengaging the track on that side, and eased out the clutch. The 'cat jerked into movement, the headlights tracing a slow arc to the left. Sally stopped the 'cat, stared for a moment, then groped for the microphone. "Snowcat four to snowcat one," she said numbly. A moment, then, "Go ahead, four." "I...I've got a code fifty up here, Al." Pause. "Say again, snowcat four." The microphone slipped from her fingers. "Come in, Sally. Say again?" Sally stared grimly at the bloody husk broken on the rocks, the coffee roiling in her stomach, the rising moan of the wind suddenly loud within the cab. "Sally..." Stay this Autumn as you are, tell no one that you are my love, defy the augury of crows, and late in winter, marry me.