The Wind of Lonely Places
Blair regarded the sign fastened to the locked gates with grim ruefulness. Ski Area Closed Until Further Notice, it read. Swell. There were a half dozen cars parked in the lot near his. A van pulled out as he watched, beginning the long, twisting descent to Santa Fe. A little beyond an orange jeep was parked, noteworthy for the immense dog that sprawled on its hood. A handful of disconsolate skiers wandered the base area, in the vain hope it was all a mistake. He looked again at the gate, shook his head, struggling with a rising sense of panic. What now? "Well, isn't this a fine how-d'ye-do," remarked someone behind him, echoing his thoughts. Blair looked around, saw a slim, elderly man dressed in fashionable black stretch-pants and a light, black and grey ski jacket, a pair of skis balanced over his left shoulder. A thick shock of white hair capped his lean, weathered face, from which deep-set, elfish blue eyes looked with mild good-humor. "Had I known of this," he continued, shifting his gaze from the sign to Blair, "I'd have brought my pins." "Your what?" asked Blair. "You know - crosscountry gear," the stranger explained with a slight accent Blair could not quite place - English, perhaps, or Australian, with a light, sand-paperish overlay that matched his age. "Oh," Blair said. "Yes, quite so." He suppressed a wince at his own affected accent. "Why do we always do that around the Brits?" he wondered. To judge from his equipment, the man was clearly an experienced old-timer. While his skis and bindings were state-of-the- art, the bamboo shafted poles were not, and those laced, leather ski- boots were ancient history. "Well then, not to worry," the old-timer said. "I've come to ski, and that is what I mean to do." He turned to survey the slopes. "The hike should warm me up quite nicely." "You plan to hike to the top?" Blair asked, startled. "I don't see why not," the stranger replied, a challenging twinkle in his eye. "A climb like this isn't much of a stretch for an old bowl- hunter like myself." "That's an interesting notion," Blair said thoughtfully. "Yes indeed. I wonder if you'd mind my joining you." "Not at all! I'll just fetch my rucksack. I'm John Kelly, by the by," he said, holding out his hand. "Folks call me Kelly." Blair shook the man's hand. "Rob Blair." "Really!" The stranger's brows shot up. "How appropriate." "Eh?" Kelly grinned, and when he spoke, it was plainly in quotation.
"Strange things, the neighbors say, have happened here: "Wild shrieks have issued from the hollow tombs, "Dead men have come again, and walked about, "And the Great Bell has tolled, unrung, untouched."Blair stared. "Am I supposed to recognize that?" Kelly shrugged. "I'd have been rather surprised if you had; though your namesake wrote those lines, they are well over two centuries old." "Then why did you quote them?" "They seemed appropriate to the place," said Kelly, "and then, perhaps, I'd hoped to be surprised." Blair showed a wintry smile. "Sorry to disappoint you." "Not to worry. The day is young, and you'll no doubt have another chance."