The Wind of Lonely Places
Beneath the evergreen canopy, through which snow sifted lightly down to vanish in the drifts, Kelly's pursuit assumed the essence of dreaming. His skis had disappeared wholly beneath a deep, dry powder that enveloped him almost to his knees, so that he glided along wraithlike, the snow whispering aside from his passage. Before him floated a slender figure, swaying gracefully through her turns, her autumn-colored hair sweeping a counterpoint between her shoulders. They had slipped into a complementary rhythm that filled his thoughts with a music of strings, soft and subtle, and inexpressibly sad; every movement he made mirrored hers, every movement of hers a reflection of his. Each sweeping curve seemed freighted with hidden meanings, their tracks sketching a complex twilight cursive beyond his capacity to decipher. Kelly was remotely aware they had been skiing far longer than the length of the slope would allow. A fleeting perception identified a vague, formless menace sliding through the shadows, always just beyond the periphery of his sight, awaiting with impatient hunger any misstep, any break in the rhythm. They intruded, these perceptions, but not greatly, the way the earth itself impinges on the movement of the sun, producing elegant little flourishes within the formality of the pavan. He followed her white-clad figure, sometimes close, sometimes so far away she was but a dim flicker among the twilight shrouded branches, yet always as a part of the dance they shared. He felt a sad conviction that never had he known anyone half so well as this young woman to whom he had never spoken. Another part of him recognized the source and consequence of that feeling, and the deadly danger hidden within it. For hours it seemed they fled among the trees; now and again the pale oval of her face appeared over her shoulder, regarding him with an expression too shadowed for him to see clearly, more frequently as their pas de deux continued. After a time Kelly thought to detect a change in the quality of the air, and a few moments later tentatively identified the odor of woodsmoke. This grew stronger, and presently light was visible through the trees below. A small cabin appeared in a clear area of the mountainside, smoke rising from its chimney of fieldstones. The upslope wall was half- underground, and the snow rose to the eaves of the wood-shingled roof. The woman had halted beside the cabin, standing within a pool of yellow light cast from a dormer window. Kelly watched her from the gloom of the trees. She stood a moment, her shadow cast into the snowdrifts by the streaming light. Then she moved around the cabin and disappeared. Alone now on the mountainside, Kelly became aware of how dark the forest had become, of the wind gusting among the upper boughs, of the chill in the air. Of something else - a cold malevolence sweeping suddenly at his back. Kelly attempted no analysis of the feeling. He leapt forward, pushing off with his ski poles, nearly stumbling as a ski-tip pulled sluggishly from its bed of powder snow. A cold breath upon his neck, a moment of panic, gone as he passed into the clearing. Breathing hard within the pool of light, he searched the slopes behind him. Nothing. He saw only the dark beneath the trees, but Kelly was not deceived. There was something out there, watching him. He could feel the pressure. An oil lamp on the tiled sill behind the window flung light and shadow among the plants hung in the alcove formed by the dormer. The thick, rippled glass panes swam with the glow, affording a distorted view of the room beyond. Against the far wall flames wavered, their motion rendered liquid by the intervening glass, casting a hazy nimbus around the shadowed forms of furniture, like a negative image of an old- fashioned vignette. Kelly hesitated. He could deal first with the creature in the trees, or with the creature in the cabin - indeed, the creature that was the cabin, if his suspicions were correct. He paused, more apprehensive of the latter than the former - it, at least, was altogether straightforward and uncomplicated - but knowing what he had to do if he wanted to maintain any self-respect at all. He moved out of the light, sliding around the cabin to the downslope wall, and pulled up short. A shifting wedge of light lay upon the snow, cast through the half-open doorway. A pair of skis hung on pegs beside the door, where a moment ago there had been only bare wood. He hung his own skis on the empty pegs beside them, and entered the cabin, accepting the implicit invitation.