The wipers swished back and forth, not even making it to the end of their travel before the heavy, wet snow once again obscured the view. If anything, it was starting to come down harder. As he had climbed higher into the mountains, it first seemed that the snow was becoming a little thicker, less mixed with rain and more with sleet. But, then again, that may just have been his imagination. Now the snow was definitely harder but there was still a lot of sleet and freezing rain. Anyway he looked at it, the storm was becoming worse.
He glanced at the map on the GPS again. It wouldn't make any sense to try and go back - he was past the mid- point. Didn't pilots call that the 'point of no return'? However, if he kept going he still had to cross the high point of the mountains and besides, the snow seemed to be coming from the northwest - almost directly from the direction in which he was traveling. It wasn't like the blizzards he had known growing up in northern Michigan. There the snow was often two feet deep and the howling wind might be blowing at thirty miles per hour, but at least it was a dry snow. Such storms could last for a couple of days and were often followed by a week or more of sub zero weather. Here there were only four or five inches of snow on the ground and the temperature was probably in the mid twenties, but this was a wet snow - a snow, sleet, and freezing rain mixture, actually. He turned up the defroster a little more in an effort to keep the windshield clear enough to see the road.
Looking out at the two lane road he realized it was becoming harder and harder to actually tell where the edges were. Roads in this part of the Appalachian Mountains were not the best in the country. Once you got off the Interstates or other main highways most roads were fairly narrow and often winding as they worked their way up into the hills and back down again. This one was no exception. In good weather that would certainly not have been a major problem, but this storm had come up much faster than predicted - and it seemed a lot stronger. When he had left this morning, nothing more than rain and maybe a little light snow was expected. Now as he neared the crest of the heavily wooded ridges, it felt like the worst storm he had encountered in years.
Jim Finley was in the middle of his second year of grad school, a business finance major. He was a good student, holding well above a 3.5 GPA and was generally regarded as the type most professors appreciated. That is, until earlier this semester. Classes had started fine and continued that way until he made a mistake in his Econ class. Maybe not really a mistake, but something he had definitely been warned about. He had been told this particular professor would tolerate no disagreement, but hadn't taken the warning too seriously. About three weeks ago the professor had given a lecture with a lot of unsupported opinions told as facts. Jim had done some research and the next time the class met he questioned some of the statements his professor had made and cited his research as back up.
He might as well have brought a bomb into class. First the professor told him he was totally wrong and must be rather dumb to think that way. Jim asked how he could explain the research data in terms of the statements the professor had made. The result was actual shouting and name calling by the professor. By the next day the professor's blog carried a personal attack, branding Jim not only as stupid but as a bigoted racist. Some of the statements were even a little stronger than that. In two more days some of the organizations on campus had picked up the story and embellished it with non-existent happenings and quotes, and by the time the class was scheduled to meet again there were shouting protestors screaming for Jim to not only be thrown out of school but also sent to jail. None of the claims were true but that made no difference - once ignited, the storm of protest would continue until the groups found a new target.
The professor told Jim that there was no way an idiot such as he could pass the Econ class and even pushed the school administration to investigate him for hate speech, citing statements he had never made. In typical college fashion the school threatened to convene a kangaroo court and possibly expel him. His alternative was to drop the Econ class and his other courses and stay away from campus until the following term next summer.
He realized the whole thing had gotten totally out of hand but also knew that the school would never admit any wrong doing on their own part. He decided to follow their alternative. He spoke with a friend in Ohio and arranged to work with a tax firm until May. It was now late February and tax season was starting to pick up, so this would give him some experience in his field as well as provide an income.
He was to start in another two weeks, so this morning he had packed up his things and set out, planning on driving by to see some family in northern Kentucky before heading on towards Columbus. He had headed west and gotten well up into the mountains when the storm had begun to build. He looked at the map again and saw that there were no real towns anywhere nearby at all. No place to stop and get a room or even to find a restaurant. He had eaten a late breakfast and expected to be down the western slopes in time for an early supper, but the weather had slowed him and now he wasn't sure he'd be able to get down today at all.
He rounded a curve in the road and caught the edge of a drift, nearly causing him to lose control. He managed to stop the slide and continued on the pavement but slowed, watching closely for more patches of deeper snow.
The country surrounding him was heavy forest, mostly evergreens. There were some hardwoods standing bare and lonely. It was hard to believe that in another few weeks they would be leafing out once more and the ground below would be carpeted with spring flowers. But that was still a few weeks off. Now he couldn't even see the ground.
He slowly pulled around another tight turn and saw a drift covering nearly half the roadway. It had to be at least a foot or more deep. He navigated his way around and moved on towards the next curve. As he rounded this one he saw that the landscape leveled somewhat and opened up a little. This let a little more light get through but also opened the road to more drifting snow. This wasn't like the dry drifts he had known farther north. This stuff was almost ice as it lay piled on the pavement. If he got stuck here it would be awfully hard to dig himself out with the little plastic shovel in the trunk.
A wider area beside the road suddenly appeared and offered a place to pull off for a short rest. Jim hadn't realized how tense he had become, shoulders locked and hands clasping the wheel so tightly it actually hurt a little to open them. He shrugged and tried to relax his shoulders, rolling them around to loosen tight muscles. He let himself lie back against the seat, closing his eyes. He suddenly jerked them open again. He had almost gone to sleep and he was well aware of the danger of sleeping in a car with the engine running. He had read about many who had done so and never woken again, victims of carbon monoxide.
This brought some other thoughts. Somewhere in the back of his mind he had been considering staying here, waiting for the storm to blow itself out. His gas tank was nearly three quarters full, but he certainly wouldn't let the car run while he slept. He also had nothing to eat and nothing to keep him warm beyond his coat and one old light-weight blanket. Back in northern Michigan, when he traveled during the winter, there was always a sleeping bag and some nutrition bars or similar emergency food, but this far south that habit had disappeared.
He looked over his maps and saw that the nearest town of any size at all was at least sixty miles farther on - an hour and a half on clear roads - maybe even the rest of his life on this one. Still it might be a better chance than the alternative of remaining here. He looked up and stared at the road ahead. Then he looked again. Fifty yards on farther on the road made a sharp turn to the left and seemed to disappear. He looked a little closer and realized that the reason it seemed to vanish was that snow had slid down the hillside above it and there was a pile nearly three feet deep covering almost the entire surface. It looked like he would be stuck here no matter if he wanted to or not.
At least, he thought, he had on hiking boots instead of running shoes. He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and slipped the jacket back on. He'd at least go see if the slide looked as bad up close as it did from here. He opened the car door and stepped out into the driving storm. The snow and sleet hit him like a knife, taking his breath away. Not nearly as cold as northern Michigan but with the wind and wet it chilled him like the northern blizzards never had.
He slowly made his way the fifty yards to the slide and found it was even a little wider and deeper than he had thought. There was no way he was going to clear that with the tiny shovel from the trunk. He considered trying to go back the way he had come but most likely those roads would be much worse now and he might very well get stuck in a much less safe location. At least here he was well off the road itself. No, it looked like he was doomed to spend a cold and hungry night in the car. Then the thought struck him that it could very well be more than just a night. It might be several days before this road was cleared.
He shook off as much of the wet snow and ice as he could and slipped back into the driver's seat, shivering as he sat. He started the car again and ran the heater for a few minutes until he felt reasonably comfortable.
He turned off the engine and looked at the small pile of things in the back seat to see if there might be something he had forgotten. Yes, there was! One small package of peanut butter crackers. Not much of a lunch and supper, but something, at least. He also had a couple of canned soft drinks remaining - as long as they didn't freeze.
Jim gave a sigh and looked outside once more. It was getting on towards dark. Between the approaching twilight and the driving snow, he could still see but not well and not for much distance. Then, as he was looking, he suddenly saw a light. He moved over and rubbed the window clear and looked harder. Yes, there was some kind of building a couple of hundred yards off with a lighted window. It was downhill across mostly open ground but with a few evergreens scattered along the way. It must be on some other side road but from here he could only see the open countryside between his car and the building. He had no idea just what it was - probably someone's house or cabin or something, but it would probably be better than the car.
He tied the hood of his sweatshirt again. A sudden thought flashed through his mind and he shoved the crackers into his jacket pocket. At least he wouldn't arrive totally empty handed, even if a package of peanut butter crackers wasn't much of a gift. Then with one last glance around the car interior, he opened the door and started towards the light, trying to not lose it. Grimly, he knew if he missed the house probably nothing else would matter.
Lisa Brockton stood in the doorway looking at her old room. It didn't really look like much of anything now but she still remembered when she had lived here and this had been hers From the time she was born until she was five years old. The house itself was quite small: two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and a kitchen. But there had just been her parents and herself. No one else lived really close. There was a small town about two miles away. She smiled to herself as she called it a town. It was a company town for the small mine A dozen houses and not more than sixty people total. The sort of small mining town that stereotyped the Appalachian mines. One small company store where people bought almost everything they needed - or could afford, with not a lot of variety or choices, but enough to get by.
Then, when she was five the mine had closed. Not all at once, but over several months the people moved away. Her family wasn't the last to go by any means, but there weren't many left. Her family had owned their home, unlike a number of others who lived in company owned houses in the town, but when the mine closed and the town died there was no market. Her family wasn't as bad off as some of the others. Her dad had relatives in Ohio and he was able to find a pretty good job near Athens in the southern part of the state. There they had a larger house. Still out in the country but she found friends close by and all in all grew up with a very happy childhood.
A year or so after they had settled in Ohio, her parents started to rent out the old house as a summer vacation spot for those who wanted to experience the wilderness or just wanted to try something different. The house was kept in good repair and, although it didn't rent for much since it was in such an isolated location, it brought in enough to supply a little extra income. Lisa's parents had been in their forties when she was born, so she had been eighteen, ready to start at Ohio State, when her father had retired four years ago. Still, she was surprised when they announced that they were moving back to the old place in the mountains. They had never had expensive or exotic tastes and they loved the mountain country there and because they still owned the place, her dad's retirement income would be enough for them to get by with no real trouble.
She had spent the summer after her freshman year in college back there, living in her old room. She had to admit she loved the location as much as they did and spent many, many hours roaming the thick woods, wading the small streams, or just lying in the open, watching clouds and smelling the thick clover.
After her sophomore year, however, she found herself with summer jobs and other things that kept her around Columbus that summer as well as the next. When she graduated her parents were able to come to Columbus to attend the ceremony. But then disaster struck. Within two months of her graduation her dad became quite ill. She suspected it might have been brought on by his years of work in the mine, but no one could be sure. He lasted until November.
Lisa had expected to begin grad school that September but had postponed it until January because of her father's illness. Instead of going back to the remote house, her parents had stayed with Lisa in her apartment in Columbus so her father could more easily get medical treatment. Mostly her mother did stay with her while her father spent most of his remaining months in the hospital. When he died it hit her mother quite hard. Enough so that she herself seemed to give up on living and just seemed to exist from day to day for the next year. Then in December, a little over a year since her father's death, she also succumbed.
Lisa was suddenly left with the responsibility for the old place in the mountains as well as the rest of her parents' affairs, in addition to trying to overcome her own storm of emotions. She talked with her major professor and he suggested she take a term off to settle things. So this week she had come back to the old house, sorting through the material left overs of her parents' lives, and trying to decide what to do. She could probably rent the place again and maybe get someone to manage it for her. She might try to sell it, but she didn't think it would bring anywhere near what it should be worth. She also realized that although she had only lived there five years, she did have some emotional attachment.
Although now empty, the house seemed filled with ghosts of her past. Enough so that she had to admit that she felt, if not upset or frightened, at least a little jumpy. She found herself startled at each small sound and quickly turning to look at shadows when she thought something moved.
Now she looked again into her old room and slowly shook her head. Out loud she said, "Now let us lay this restless ghost that so long has disturbed our quietude so that our lives may go on." Striking a dramatic pose she thought, "Well if Will didn't write that he should have." Smiling, she turned and headed towards the kitchen. "Well, restless ghost or not, I need to think about supper," she murmured to herself. She opened a cabinet to see what she could find. She had brought enough food to last her three or four weeks and didn't really expect to find much else since it had been over a year since her parents had lived here.
As she stopped in front of the kitchen counter, (comma) she noticed a piece of paper, held to the side of the refrigerator with a small magnet. She moved the roll of paper towels blocking it and froze. It was a crayon drawing - stick figures. A man and a woman, each holding the hand of a little girl. Her mind was suddenly flooded with the memory of when she had given that to her mother some twenty years ago. She had been so proud and so had her mother. Lisa remembered watching as her mother had used magnets and mounted the picture on the metal door. It had come down when they moved and certainly hadn't been there when the house was being rented, but her mother must have put it back up when her parents moved back.
For a full minute Lisa stared at the drawing as a wild storm of emotion swirled in her head. Then she finally shook herself and muttered, "Yes, Restless Ghost, my life must go on."
Lisa turned from the drawing, leaving it in its resting place, and opened a cabinet. She looked at the cans and boxes she had brought and then remembered she had some fresh hamburger in the refrigerator and decided she had probably better use it within a couple of days. She reached back and pulled a box of "Helper" from the shelf along with a can of tomato sauce. Setting these on the counter, she retrieved the ground beef and a frying pan. As she set the pan on the stove top, she was suddenly startled by a loud knock. Enough so, in fact, that the ground meat fell to the counter as she jumped and jerked her head towards the door.
She quickly regained control of herself and went to peer through the small peephole. Someone - a man she was pretty sure - was standing there, shivering and huddled into himself. He was wearing a jacket and some gloves but no hat - just a hooded sweatshirt that looked to be soaked completely through. In Columbus she would never have opened her door in a situation like this but up here she wasn't as uncertain. No one would travel this far in this weather just to rob or rape. Smiling slightly at that thought she opened the door and said, "Come inside. Can I help you?"
Jim quickly entered and stopped near the door, letting the wet snow mostly fall to the floor. "The road is blocked and my car is off the side up there."
Before he could say anything else Lisa said, "Just a second." She turned and ducked into the bathroom and almost immediately returned with a large towel which she handed to him. "Here, get some of that off before you freeze."
He smiled at her. "Thanks, but now that I'm inside I feel much warmer. I won't freeze - unless you throw me back out."
She laughed. "No, not likely. You're welcome to stay here until the road gets cleared, but I'll warn you, that may take a little while. However, the propane tank is more than half full and I have enough food to last for a couple of weeks at least. I'm Lisa Brockton, by the way. Where are you headed?"
"Nice to meet you, Lisa. I'm Jim Finley." Then he gave her a wide smile. "Really nice to meet you considering the fix I was in. I was on my way to Columbus, up in Ohio."
She interrupted, "Columbus! I just came from there."
"Really? Small world. Do you live there?"
"Right now. I'm a grad student at Ohio State."
"You, too? I'm a grad student - or rather I was - east of here."
Jim had finished drying his face and hair and handed the towel back to Lisa who quickly took it back into the bathroom. When she returned he had his jacket and the hooded sweatshirt off and she took them to hang in a small closet. They moved over to a couch in front of the stone fireplace, cold and inert at the moment, and sat. Jim could feel the blood returning to sweep away the heavy chill he had acquired on the walk from the car. Two hundred yards! He had often walked many times that far in weather thirty degrees colder when he lived in northern Michigan. But then he was also dressed in a parka, thick socks, and insulated gloves. Besides, at those temperatures the snow was dry.
"Was a grad student?"
"Well, technically I still am." Then Jim found himself telling this total stranger about the events which had led him on his journey. "So, I'm taking the semester off to work at the firm up in Columbus. At least until the storm at school blows over. But I'm not real sure it will ever blow over enough to let me go back there. I guess I'll just have to wait and see."
While he spoke she listened quietly, a sympathetic look on her face, while she studied the man. He was three or four inches taller than her own five foot seven. His dark brown hair was mussed where he had dried it with the towel but looked like it would be thick and soft when fully dry. She guessed he was about her own age and looked like he took care of himself. No extra fat and, as he had used the towel, she had noticed the ripple of well toned muscles. And his eyes ... Green with small gold flecks that gave his intelligent looking face the look of empathy.
When he had finished talking, she couldn't think of anything to say. Instead she changed the subject. "I expect you're probably a bit hungry now." He had mentioned that he had missed lunch. "I was just getting ready to fix supper. Just a hamburger dish."
"That sounds wonderful! Can I help with anything?"
She got up and showed him where the dishes and tableware were. There was a small table at the side of the kitchen and Jim set two places as Lisa browned the meat and stirred in the box of seasonings and noodles. She added the tomato sauce and some water, all the while continuing to talk casually.
"Oh, there's some rye bread and butter, if you'd like." She pointed to show him where the bread was. "I'm afraid I don't have any coffee. I drink tea."
"Tea will be fine. I don't really drink coffee myself."
"Really? Sometimes I think I'm the only one."
"Well, I drank it my first two years at school. You know, everyone did. But one day at the beginning of junior year I suddenly realized that I didn't like it at all. Haven't drunk any since then."
Lisa laughed. "Well, I never did care for it, but I'm happy to meet another convert. Would you like tea with the meal or, I guess, water? I don't think I have much else around here."
"Water will be fine. Maybe some tea afterwards." She pointed out the glasses and said there was ice in the freezer part of the refrigerator. Jim filled a pair of glasses and placed them on the table.
With the table set, Jim stopped to watch Lisa finish the cooking. She was really a very pretty girl, he decided. Maybe not beautiful in the classic sense, but more of a fresh faced girl next door look. Dark blonde hair, worn down, falling just onto her shoulders. Blue eyes. Not a dark indigo, but a lovely medium blue. She obviously took care of herself. She was slim but not skinny. Her muscles were firm and well developed but not bulging as a workout fanatic's might be. And her legs and ass ... Jim had to pull his eyes away before she noticed him. He would guess she liked a lot of outdoor activities, but whatever she did kept her figure in fine shape.
The only slightly sour note he saw was that she seemed to be under some pressure or strain, as though she had had a lot on her mind. He casually asked, "If you're a grad student, what brings you down here in the middle of the semester?"
She seemed to freeze for just a second. Then, as though she had made up her mind to explain, she began to tell him about her father and mother and the last year. She actually seemed a little relieved to be talking about it, but when she stopped Jim said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up anything unpleasant."
She turned and smiled at him. "That's all right. Really, I don't mind. In fact it feels good to let a little of it out. Oh, I hope it doesn't feel like I'm putting any kind of load on you. I just haven't been able to talk much with anyone about it."
He gave a short laugh. "I certainly don't mind. And, anyway, after I unloaded my problems on you earlier it seems only fair."
She smiled at him again. "Great! Let's make a pact. We can dump our problems on each other and neither of us has to take it seriously enough to be bothered."
His laugh answered her teasing. "Agreed."
"Agreed," she responded. Then added, "Besides, if this storm keeps up we may have enough mutual problems to keep both of us busy."
When the meal was ready she brought the skillet over and spooned some on each of their plates. After she had placed the pan back on the stove and returned, Jim surprised her by holding her chair as she sat.
She turned and smiled at him, surprised. "A real gentleman. Thank you." Her tone made it clear she was not making fun in the least but appreciated the gesture.
They talked some more while eating, but nothing too serious. Just finding out a little more about each other. About halfway through the lights flickered for a fraction of a second. Both glanced up but when everything returned to normal they continued eating.
Just as they were finishing, the lights flickered again and then a third time a few seconds later. Lisa set her plate on the counter by the sink. She reached for the water to rinse the dishes and then suddenly stopped. She looked around towards Jim. "You know, I'd forgotten, but if we lose power we also lose water. The pump won't work. When we lived here we always kept a couple of jugs ready. We should probably see about that just in case the power does go down."
She led them over to a storage pantry off the kitchen and looked inside. Below a set of shelves there were four blue, five gallon plastic cans and four more smaller ones. She picked up one and shook it. "Still full, but I'll bet this has been here for at least a year or more. We should probably dump them and fill them with fresh."
She picked up two of the smaller jugs and Jim grabbed two of the five gallon ones and followed her into the bathroom. She dumped out the first but just as he was starting to empty the first of the five gallon cans the lights flickered again. "Better only empty one at a time in case the power fails before we get them all filled." He nodded in agreement and put the can back down.
Over the next ten minutes they managed to empty and refill all the containers. The power remained steady but Lisa still looked relieved when the task was finished. "OK, now we should be alright if we do lose the electricity."
"I see the stove is gas and I suppose the furnace is also?" Jim looked at her questioningly.
"Well yes, both are LP. The stove will work alright, but the furnace needs electricity to function. But don't worry. We can always build a nice fire in the fireplace. There's at least half a cord of wood out back. Speaking of which, maybe we should bring some more inside." There was a small pile by the fireplace, but not enough for more than a couple of hours.
"OK, tell me where and I'll go out and get it."
"Come on, it will be easier if I show you and we both carry some inside." With that she went to the closet and handed him his jacket and also picking up one of her own. Hers had a hood attached but she looked at his sweatshirt and then his own hoodless jacket. Reaching back into the closet, she pulled out a knit hat and handed it to him. "No use getting that nice hair all wet again."
"Thanks. I'm sure I can manage. After all, I'm from northern Michigan. You know, where summer falls on an afternoon in late July."
She laughed and led the way to the door. As they stepped outside Jim saw that the storm had changed its nature somewhat. It was still blowing as hard as ever but now there was only a little snow in the form of small, hard bits, mixed with a lot of sleet and ice granules. From behind him Lisa exclaimed, "It's turned into an ice storm! We had definitely better get some wood inside."
He stepped down and nearly lost his footing. The ground, the rail by the steps and the nearby bushes were all coated with a slick layer of ice. "He called back, "Watch out. It's really slick." Her acknowledgment was lost in the driving wind.
She passed him and led the way around the side of the house to where a small shed, covered on three sides, held cut and split firewood. They each picked up an armload and carefully made their way back inside. Lisa indicated a place near the fireplace and they stacked the logs. Then she turned to him and asked, "Do they have ice storms in Michigan?"
"Not that I know of. At least not in the northern part. I have heard of ice storms but I've never experienced one."
"You haven't missed much. We get one here every few years. Not more often, thank goodness. By tomorrow morning there may be half an inch or more of ice on every branch of every tree. We can lose a lot of branches and, yes, a lot of trees from one. You'll also find a lot of trees - particularly cedars - that will stay bent over and distorted for up to ten years afterwards. Also, it certainly isn't uncommon to lose power from one and it can take several days to get it back."
He looked at the wood they had just brought in. "Maybe we should bring in some more?" he asked.
"Probably a good idea." They made two more trips and finally had a sizeable pile if it were to be needed."
When the jackets were hung back in the closet, Lisa said, "We probably ought to get out some candles and flashlights or something, just in case." She led the way back into what had been her parents' bedroom and opened a large closet. Jim could see there were only a few items of clothing inside. He supposed that most of it had gone to Columbus with her parents when they went because of her father's sickness. But there were still a number of items stored on the shelves and beneath the rods for hanging clothes. Lisa pulled out a kerosene lamp and a can of oil and handed it to him. She pulled a box down from the shelf and extracted a half dozen candles which she also handed over. Jim turned and took these back into the living area, setting them on a coffee table, before returning.
Lisa was just emerging with an old fashioned, glass chimney candle lantern. She turned and said, "There's another one of these on the top shelf there. Can you get it, please?"
"Sure". He leaned into the closet and retrieved the lantern. As he started to step back, he saw something standing in the corner. He reached in and pulled out a guitar. He turned towards the girl and held the instrument up. "Is this yours? Do you play?"
For several seconds Lisa just stared at the instrument. Then she shook her head. "No, on both counts. It belonged to my dad and he used to play." Then she looked up at him. "Do you play?"
"Some. I used to play a lot of folk and stuff when I was in high school. Haven't done too much of it lately though."
He started to put it back when Lisa suddenly said, "Bring it out. If we lose power the stereo won't work, so you can entertain us," she teased. There had been quiet music playing since he had arrived. Since he often had music playing himself, he hadn't really thought anything about it.
He looked at her. "You wouldn't mind if I did play it? I mean, it was your dad's and I wouldn't want to bring up any unpleasant memories."
She smiled and shook her head back and forth. "No, I used to love it when he played and sang for us but that's past." Then almost to herself she said, "I need to lay these restless ghosts." She looked up at him and smiled wider. "No, bring it along."
They returned to the living area and placed the lamp and guitar out of the way. "Well, while we've still got hot water, I guess I'd better do the dishes."
"I'll be happy to do them."
"No, I will, but you can dry." She moved into the kitchen and in only a few minutes the few dishes were washed, dried and put away. While they were working the lights flickered off and on a couple of times. Once they were dark for six or seven seconds, but mostly it was just a quick flicker.
Lisa pulled a kettle from a cabinet and put some water on to boil. "I'm making some tea. Want some?" she asked.
"Thank you, that would be nice."
She reached up and pulled a teapot from a cabinet. Jim was watching her and as she stretched to reach the high shelf, he was suddenly taken with the view of her firm figure against her clothing as she stretched. He shook his head. He certainly wasn't planning on making a pass at her but she was definitely a nice looking girl.
The lights flickered once again. In another minute the water was boiling and Lisa added it to the teapot along with a couple of tea bags. As she set the kettle back on the stove, the lights once more went off and this time remained off.
For a full minute neither of them moved, waiting to see if the power would return again. When it didn't come back on Lisa sighed and said, "Well, I'm not surprised with all that ice." She reached over to the kitchen counter where she had placed a flashlight, picked it up and the beam sprang to life. Placing the teapot on the counter, she said, "Come on. I guess we'd better get some candles going."
Jim followed her back into the living room. She picked up a box of matches from the mantle over the fireplace and handed them to him. He moved over to the coffee table and first lit the oil lamp. Lisa had picked up one of the candle lanterns with the glass chimney. She removed the glass and held it out for Jim to light, replacing the chimney when it was going. She moved over and set it on the mantle. "I suppose we should probably get a fire going, too."
Jim immediately moved to the fireplace. Growing up in northern Michigan he was no stranger to building fires and shortly had a nice blaze started. Lisa had brought the teapot and two mugs in and set them on an end table at one end of the small couch facing the big fireplace. "Do you want sugar or anything?"
"No, thanks. I usually just drink it straight."
Filling a mug, she handed it to him and replied, "All right. Tea, black."
He laughed. "Coffee may be black. I guess this is tea, brown."
She laughed also. "Actually, it's tea, green."
They sat on the couch facing the fire and for several minutes were silent, just sipping the tea and watching the flames. The stereo had, of course, died when the power went off and the only sound was the occasional cracks and pops from the fire and the storming wind and sleet outside. Lisa suddenly shook herself. The quiet ghosts were once again trying to get to her.
"Well, the electricity did go off, so I guess you now get to play and sing for us."
Jim laughed. "Isn't it bad enough we're trapped here in the storm without inflicting that on us?"
Lisa smiled. "I doubt it would be in infliction. Seriously, I would like to hear you play. Singing is optional."
"If you really would, I'll try. But remember it's been a few years since I've done much of this." He set his cup aside and stood to pick up the instrument before returning to the couch. "What would you like to hear? I'm afraid most of what I know is just folk music."
"That would be wonderful! I love folk. That's mostly what my father played."
Jim touched the strings and made a slight face. He found some picks in a small bag tied to the neck of the instrument and took one. He applied it to one string and adjusted the tension until he thought it sounded right. Then he proceeded to use the beat notes to adjust the remaining strings and when he was satisfied, struck a couple of chords. He closed his eyes in thought for a few seconds and then began to strike a few new chords. Lisa immediately recognized "Barbara Allen" and smiled. Her father had often played that himself. Jim strummed a few bars and then, in a quiet but firm voice, began to sing the words. Lisa sat'nearby, entranced. He had a great singing voice. Not quite a bass, but deep and resonant.
When the last chords died Lisa exclaimed, "That was wonderful!" Then she teased, "Now if you just knew some real authentic regional folk for this part of the world ... But, of course, they wouldn't have those in northern Michigan."
He looked over at her. "Want to bet?"
"You're bluffing. All right, it's a bet. What are the stakes?"
He smiled at her. "We'll just leave that open at the moment."
He closed his eyes for a few seconds and struck a few chords. Then he started to play and sing.
In the hills of Eastern Kentucky
In the houses by the mine
A father sought his daughter
With news to trouble her mind
"Oh, Daughter, my dear daughter,
I fear my words unkind
But I have heard that your promised one
Is lost in the mountain pines
He left the mine for Greenwood
To buy ribbons for your hair
He crossed the pine topped mountain
But never arrived he there"
As soon as the song had started, Lisa had frozen. This was not going to lay any restless ghost but she reveled in the sound of the chords and words. As Jim started the chords for the next verse, she suddenly opened her mouth and began
"Oh, Father, my dear father
I will not believe him lost
Perhaps he's sheltered in a house
And not tried to continue across"
As soon as she had begun, Jim stopped singing and just played the music. Then, when the next verse came, he again sang
"Oh, Daughter, my dear daughter
Alas this can not be
There is no house along the way
Nothing save the tall pine trees"
At the next one Lisa once more took up the song.
"Then Father, oh my father
I will not stay and pine
I will seek him on the mountain top
Among the mountain pines"
Then she remained silent, entranced, as Jim finished.
She gathered her boots and mittens
With nary a single word more
And wrapping her cloak about her
Hurried on out the door
She set right out and up the hill
Into the storm's raging teeth
She followed the trail to seek her love
And try to bring him relief
She came upon her loved one
Nearly frozen to death in the storm
She wrapped them both in her traveling cloak
And through the night kept warm
In the morning the storm was ended
And the sun began to shine
She came down the hill with her lover
Safe from the mountain pines