Battery Critical!

December 16, 2011

I finally gave in and joined the e-readers of the world; I chose a Kindle (which is now cheaper than I what I paid a few months ago!). Actually I chose it when I looked at the stack of books I intended to take with me on a trip. It would be like carrying a suitcase full of bricks!

So I got the Kindle. A few times the battery has gotten a little low, and I recharge it, then sensibly (and greenly) unplug the recharger’s cord. Other than buying a case for it, and occasionally using it to read in bed when my hands just don’t want to hold up a book, I haven’t paid much attention to it for at least a month.

Today I decided to download a free story on Amazon, written by a fellow member of Women Writing the West (shall I name you, Marla? Too late! I did!). I took my baby out of its bright pink cover (the only color they had in stock; I wanted dark blue but would have had to wait indefinitely for it. Sorry, I’m in the “immediate gratification” generation), and turned it on.

Instead of one of the images I’ve gotten used to when it’s turned off, there were two big words on the screen. BATTERY CRITICAL!!! Oh dear. Where is the battery emergency room? Can I get my Kindle there in time, or will it need major surgery like a battery replacement? Horrors!

I called Acme Batteries and they said I needed to get it to their ER, STAT. I jumped in my car, Kindle with Critical Battery in hand, and drove through the snow a little faster than I should have, but reached Acme’s ER in one piece.

As I rushed through the sliding glass doors of the ER, the receptionist stood up and asked what the nature of the emergency was. Slightly out of breath, I managed to say, “Battery Critical!” I was stunned as the techs, in green scrubs, ran out with a gurney. They snatched my Kindle from my hand and took it through a swinging door into the actual ER.

I followed, but a little more slowly, and by the time I got there, my Kindle was lying on a bed with drapes around it. I stuck my head in, and the Battery Doctor, dressed in a white lab coat with an ID and an electrical cord hanging around his neck, asked me if I was the nearest relative. I admitted that I owned it. He turned stern. “Don’t you know that if you wait too long, your battery may not survive? Now go sit in the waiting room! Your battery needs all my attention!” With that, I was dragged out of the curtained area by a tech who led me to the reception area.

The receptionist asked if I had insurance for my battery. I stammered that it hadn’t seemed necessary when I purchased the Kindle. She put her lips together firmly, then said, “Hmm Hmm, child, you takin’ a big risk not gettin’ the INsurance for an important battery like this one! I’ll put it on the paperwork, but you may be in for a world of financial hurt!”

After an hour and a half of drinking bad coffee and sweating about the life of both the battery and the Kindle, the doctor came into the reception area. He looked around the room, and seeing me (the only one there), he said, “You’re lucky. Your battery is in Intensive Care, but it’s no longer critcal; its status is now stable.”

“May I go see it?” I asked, and stood up, which caused me to spill the dregs of the bad coffee all over my new winter white pants.

The doctor snorted and left, which I interpreted as a no.

Oh, it seemed like I waited for hours. I knew that somewhere my Kindle lay, its Critical Battery connected via a computer cable and a mysterious white device to an electrical outlet, a connection that should save its life, if the doctor was right.

Finally another of those techs in green scrubs came into the room, with my Kindle (and its battery!) on a wheel chair. He shook his head, and said, “Well, it’s finally up to green. Coulda been a lot worse. Next time, pay attention, and charge it before it becomes CRITICAL!”

The receptionist shooed me out of the waiting room, telling me that this time there would be no charge. Financially, that is.

I drove carefully home, through the winter early darkness (it was 3:30 p.m.) and snow, my Kindle, in its case, nestled in a warm blanket on the passenger seat. When we got home, I took it in, and, holding my breath, turned it on. Oh, RELIEF! My list of items showed up! I went through the 75 or so books and stories on my Kindle (don’t mock; when you get them they’re empty, and a lot of those books were just 99 cents!), and nothing was missing. Now I can get that story, and read a book!

Let this be a lesson to you as well, dear reader! Please recharge your e-readers before the battery goes CRITICAL. You wouldn’t want to pay for a heart transplant, now would you? So make sure you keep it charged, and then unplug that cord to save energy!

This may be a good place to add some writerly ponderings. I’ve heard via cyberspace lately that many writers don’t write — or read — blogs, because it takes too much of their creative time and energy, which they prefer to keep focussed on their real work. Well, if you follow my blog, you haven’t followed very far, have you? I’m doing well if I blog once a month. But for me, when I look at the computer screen and crack my knuckles and think about writing a novel, the blog can act as a pump primer. You know, get a little writing done, then the well will gush. I hope. And thus I blog on.

The Black Hills

When you think of “the fastest gun in the West,” do you think of Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, or the Earp brothers? Think again. The fastest gun in the old west may well have been Boone May’s rifle.

Boone May was born in Missouri in 1852, the seventh of nine children of Sam and Nancy May. Christened “Daniel Boone May,” he decided early in life to drop the first name, so history knows him simply as Boone. Sam May moved the family to Kansas some time before 1860, and Boone and his brothers farmed with their father, and learned to shoot while hunting. Perhaps because of the cost of bullets, Boone learned early to make every shot count. Boone was always described as a fearsome man; he was lean, dark-haired, and quiet, with unusual eyes of yellow, green and gray.

Around 1876, Boone May and two of his older brothers, Jim and Bill May, moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to work in freighting. Towns didn’t get much wilder than Cheyenne in the 1870s, and freight wagons and coaches were always the prey of “road agents,” the outlaws who held them up. Hostile Sioux and Cheyenne were also a problem in the Black Hills, raiding ranches and travelers for horses and weapons.

Despite the dangers, Boone did well in his business, and bought himself a ranch between the Platte River and Deadwood, then part of Dakota Territory. The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Company, a freight company that brought supplies into the Black Hills and took gold out, heard of Boone May’s reputation as an honest and hard-working man, and also of his prowess with the rifle he always kept sheathed at his side. In 1877, they offered him a job as a “shotgun messenger,” or coach guard. In four or five years as a messenger and the manager of a stage station, he killed at least 8 robbers, and arrested even more.

Despite the fact that he worked on the right side of the law, Boone was arrested, along with U.S. Department of Justice special agent W.H. Llewellyn, for the killing of Curly Grimes, a notorious stage robber. While out on bail and awaiting trial, Boone continued to guard the stages. One memorable trip was recorded by author Ambrose Bierce in his story, “A Sole Survivor.” May and Bierce, driving a wagon with $30,000 in gold, were stopped between Deadwood and Rockerville on a dark and rainy night. When an outlaw’s shout to stop the wagon and raise their hands came out of the darkness, May, with “the quickest movement… in anything but a cat.” threw himself across the seat, drawing his gun at the same time, and shot the robber in the chest before the robber could pull the trigger on the gun he held. May and Bierce continued to Rockerville, the gold still safe in the coach.

When the trial for the killing of Grimes took place, the jury didn’t even leave the courtroom to deliberate before declaring the defendants innocent. Despite the verdict, the outlaw friends of Grimes were determined to get revenge, but their attempts came to nothing but the deaths or arrest of more of them.

As the gold rush in the Black Hills slowed to a trickle, Boone May, always restless, went to South America. He worked as a guard at a gold mine in Chile, but rumors said he left in a hurry in 1891. He had fallen for the wife, or possibly girlfriend, of a Chilean army officer, who died quite suddenly. May re-appeared at the gold mines of Brazil, and is said to have died there of yellow fever. It took an illness to do what no armed men could. Rumor says that May’s rifle was buried with him.

Never as famous as he should have been, at least outside the Black Hills, Boone May was definiely one of the fastest guns in the West.

(Sources: Fifer, Barbara. Bad Boys of the Black Hills… and Some Wild Women Too. Helena: Farcountry Press, 2008. http://mayhouse.org/family/trees/may/JS1816SM7.html, http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/deadwood3.html, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-boonemay.html, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-triggerfingeritis.html )

The Historic (Haunted?) Adams House in Deadwood SD

In April, I survived a 5-day trip through the Black Hills with my sister. I say survived because I was exhausted by the end of the first day, and my fatigue level just got worse from there; the day we drove south from Deadwood to Hot Springs it decided to rain (why do we always say “it’s raining?” What is “it” that can do such things?) and fog came up (or down) (or maybe it was clouds; we were much higher than usual), and it got very windy. So I have many photos with raindrops on the camera lens (I need some sort of thingy to put on the end of the lens to protect it, although since some of the rain was blowing at us, I’m not sure that would help) and my photo of the famed Crazy Horse Memorial-in-progress looks like a photo of fog, with a black blur behind it. Not book-worthy, I fear.

I did wonder, as I looked at the mountain being shredded, what Crazy Horse himself would have thought about the monument/memorial. Remember that the Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota, even more sacred than the rest of Mother Earth. I can’t imagine a Lakota leader and spiritual man, which is how he is described by his people, would appreciate having a mountain blasted and carved into his image, or any other for that matter. But maybe it’s just me. The fact that there are no known photos of him makes it even worse, at least to these white eyes. The Lakota name for us, “wasichu” (meaning both fat or greasy, and greedy) seems even more appropriate when you enter the visitor center after paying the $20 to get close enough to see the monument. When it isn’t raining and foggy.

Hot Springs was a wonderful break for my sister and me. We stayed at an old hotel across from the railroad station, the River Rock Resort and Spa? I apologize to the owners; I was exhausted and looked like a drowned rat when they welcomed us in and led us to our room. The owners have been remodeling it, trying to keep to the spirit of the original hotel (ca. 1890?), but modernizing the bathrooms for our modern tastes, and of course including televisions! The high-ceilinged rooms, hardwood floors, and vintage furniture were a delight, and the restaurant, open only for dinner, was amazing. (Blue Vervaine, it’s called, if my sieve-memory is working.) And the spa — oh my, we were ready for that. If you’re a hotel guest, you’re welcome to use all the amenities — sauna, hot tub, hot sand room, and hot granite room. Hot sand room? you may ask, like I did. Yes, a room with six or so inches of sand on the floor, covered with canvas and then topped with a layer of sheets and rimmed with pillows. Heated from the bottom, and the light had a dimmer. I spent half an hour in there, in the spa robe they gave each of us for the duration of our stay, lying in the hot sand that I shaped to accomodate the needs of my aching body. And oh, it was heaven. The heat soaked into muscles and joints, and put me right to sleep. I spent another half hour there right before bed.

Mostly I spent that last half hour there because Shari hadn’t mentioned anything about hot tub and bathing suits, and the name “HOT SPRINGS” apparently didn’t register in my brain. So she was in the hot tub, joined by the couple who had been sitting next to us in the restaurant. She told them why we were there, of course, and as so often happens when our mission is made public, stories appeared. I spoke with the woman myself the next morning, since they’d gone to bed by the time I emerged from the hot sand room (Oh, I want one in my HOUSE!), and she told me two stories that aren’t in any source I’ve ever found. Wonderful stories! I also got a story from a woman in a coffee place in Lead, with the wonderful name “Sacred Grounds” (the coffee place, not the woman…), where we also stopped to get out of the wind and light rain the previous day.

Sometimes I am told ghost stories, and sometimes I eavesdrop on other people’s conversations (those times when you can’t help it, when they’re in a booth behind you, for example, and speaking LOUDLY), and get ideas that become seeds for stories. One such seed came to me at a coffee and muffin place in Carson City, NV, where I wrote much of the first draft of my novel-in-progress, currently in its a hundred-and-eleventy-second revision. Behind me one morning were three elderly women, speaking very LOUDLY. They were talking about funerals, of all things, and one of the women was very concerned that the funeral home might steal the gold teeth from her body when her time came. She told her friends that she had decided to leave them to her nephew in her will. I’m not sure what story that will be, but what a detail! (And of all the things I may leave my nephews, my teeth will not be among them!)

You just never know where a story will start. A casual conversation, someone else’s conversation, or a dropped remark about the fastest gun in the west, who briefly worked for Ambrose Bierce as a coach guard, and who never got the kind of fame, or infamy, of other fast guns like Wild Bill Hickock, or Billy the Kid. Keep your eyes and ears open all the time, and stories will come right up and sit in your lap!

Spring Tulips

It seems that, May snowstorm aside, spring has finally come to my little corner of the world. My tulips are almost finished blooming, my ornamental cherry is in bloom, one of my 9 lilac bushes is blooming, and my lilies-of-the-valley seem to be spreading into the lawn, having already spread from the north side of the house to the south side (why and how they managed that is beyond me!).

One other sign that doesn’t happen every year is the new family on my property. Actually they’re not quite on my property. In Bismarck, that space between the sidewalk and the street is called the “boulevard” (doesn’t that mean street?) and the city owns it, while the property owner must care for it. On the “boulevard” on the south side of my house is a large and reasonably healthy old elm tree. The elm tree has a — knot? hollow? I’m losing words again, somebody help me! Anyway, there’s a round space that is just the right size for little birds like wrens, chickadees, and one year, beautifully, goldfinches.

This year I’m pretty sure it’s wrens. One of the parents was sitting on a branch next to the opening of the perfect home yesterday, and gave me quite a scolding for looking at him (her?) before diving inside. The days are finally warm, and I hope that finding food is easier. There’s plenty of water around, thanks to all the rain. I keep an eye on the tree, and every once in a while I think I see a tiny head peeking out. Soon the babies will fledge, and leave the nest. Will I ever see them again? Will their parents ever see them again? I don’t know, but I wish them well. And I thank them for bringing new life to this aging woman.

Most elementary school children in our country know who Sacagawea is, but most of them have never heard of Otter woman, whose story begins when Sacagawea’s does.

As young girls living with their people, the Shoshone, Sacagawea and Otter Woman were stolen by Hidatsas who were raiding mainly for horses. Since neither the Shoshone nor the Hidatsa kept written records, and oral histories after all these years aren’t entirely trustworthy, the years they were born (especially for Otter Woman, who is rarely mentioned by anyone) and the year of the abduction aren’t clear. Historians believe that Sacagawea was born between 1788 and 1790, and that Otter Woman was a year or two older, and that the Hidatsa raid occurred between 1799 and 1800.

Some histories write that the girls became the slaves of their captors, but cultural anthropologist Dr. Mary Jane Schneider, who spent her entire professional life studying the culture of the agricultural river tribes along the Missouri in what is now North Dakota, states unequivocally that the Hidatsa never practiced slavery. Children taken by their warriors on raids were adopted by families, often families who had lost a child (early deaths were common back then), and were treated exactly the same way as their other children. It seems that Sacagawea and Otter Woman were adopted by different families, but the village wasn’t so big that they wouldn’t have seen each other and been able to do many things together, like picking berries and gathering roots, or grinding grain and tanning hides. Sacagawea’s name, in Hidatsa, is Tsa-ga-ga Wiya, meaning Bird Woman. While Otter Woman’s name would also have ended in Wiya, I don’t know enough Hidatsa to tell you the first part of her name.

Historians debate about how old Sacagawea was when she married French-Canadian (and possibly Metis, or mixed blood) trader Toussaint Charbonneau, and how that marriage came about. We may never be sure of Sacagawea’s age at marriage; she may have been as young as thirteen, but was probably no older than 16, a typical age for marriage in those days. Regarding the marriage, there are two common stories: one, that her Hidatsa family sold her to Charbonneau, and the other, that he won her in a gambling game.

Again, relying on Dr. Schneider’s years of research, it’s safe to say that neither story is true. Children were loved by Hidatsa; they were considered a precious gift from the spirits, not property to be sold or gambled away. Also, Hidatsa women made the earth lodges that families lived in, and the main woman in each lodge basically owned that lodge; a man could be “put out” by simply leaving all his possessions outside the door, and women were rarely forced into an unwelcome marriage.

Toussaint Charbonneau was no prize. We know from journals and letters that years before, when he was working for the North West Company under Jonh MacDowell along the Assiniboine River, he was stabbed by an elderly Saultier woman as he was raping the woman’s daughter. The woman wasn’t punished, and Charbonneau lost his job and was unable to get another with an established trading or fur company. He began to work as a “free trader” and interpreter, working for whoever would pay him. When Lewis and Clark arrived at the Hidatsa and Mandan villages on the Missouri River in the fall of 1804, Charbonneau had interpreting contracts with two traders: Larocque, from the North West Company, and McKenzie from Hudson’s Bay Company.

One possible reason for Sacagawea to agree to a marriage to Charbonneau is his connections to the white traders. Those connections would have added to her Hidatsa family’s status, and also brought them a larger amount of white trade goods. Another possible reason is that Charbonneau had already married her good friend, Otter Woman, so she knew that she would not be alone. She would be with her friend, who shared her history and her language.

Otter Woman has been written out of history quite successfully, due in part to Toussaint Charbonneau. She is mentioned, although not by name, in one of the diaries of the Corps of Discovery; “today the wives of Charbono [sic] came to the Fort [Ft. Mandan] bringing gifts of buffalo robes.” Note the plural “wives.” Yet later that winter, Charbonneau and one wife, Sacagawea, moved into a tipi inside the palisade of Fort Mandan. In February she gave birth to her first child, a son named “Jean-Baptiste” by Charbonneau, but whom she called “Pomp,” a name very similar to the Shoshone word for “first.”

After the single nameless mention, Otter Woman disappears from all but oral histories, and there’s very little to find there. She didn’t accompany Lewis and Clark (and her husband and sister-wife) to the Pacific and back. It doesn’t appear that she went to St. Louis with Sacagawea and Charbonneau in 1809, where Charbonneau claimed the 320 acres of land promised to each “man” of the expedition. (I find it interesting that Sacagawea, who was much more useful than her husband on that expedition, as an interpreter, a peace maker, a boat handler, and a finder of food that often kept the Corps of Discovery alive, was never granted land or money. Interesting, but not surprising.)

Otter Woman didn’t accompany Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau in 1811, when the two went north again, this time with Toussaint in the employ of the Missouri River Fur Company. While there is debate as to whether Sacagawea died in a fire not long after that, or returned to the Shoshone and died as a very old woman on the Wind River Reservation, there is absolutely nothing known about Otter Woman. Or at least nothing that was shared with whites, or that they considered worth recording.

Did Otter Woman remarry when Charbonneau and Sacagawea left with Lewis and Clark? Did she have any children by Charbonneau? Why did Charbonneau take Sacagawea to Fort Mandan but leave Otter Woman in the Hidatsa village? Was Otter Woman ever able to return to her Shoshone family? Without written records, there may never be an answer to any of these questions. But even though she didn’t accompany the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific, Otter Woman deserves a place in history beside Sacagawea, her friend and sister-wife.

(I wrote this for an Associated Content short story contest. Entries were limited to 800 words, and had to begin with one of three sentences that AC provided. You can see which one I chose.)

Someone was knocking at the door.

At the sound, the birds in the trees outside started cawing again. All that poison hadn’t done a damn thing. Gary sighed, leaned back in his chair and hoped the noise would stop. The knocking and cawing continued. Biting back a curse, he heaved himself up and stalked to the door. He cracked the door open enough to see a stranger in a messenger service uniform.

“Mr. Rhodes? Package. I need a signature.”

Gary opened the door and signed on the line, then took the package inside, set it down and dropped back into his chair. He hadn’t been expecting a package. He hadn’t been expecting anything but paper, after losing his job, his wife and his kids, and missing mortgage payments.

Curiosity won; he opened the box. Inside, amid a shroud of packing peanuts, was a bronze vase. No, he corrected himself as he pulled it out, an urn, with a plug in the top and a blank plate at the base.

He tried pulling at the plug; it stuck. He pulled harder and it gave. Instead of the ash he’d expected, nothing flew out. He examined the box. No return address. What kind of sick joke was this? Who the hell…

Gary looked around, and decided to set the thing on the television. If he’d had a mantel, he’d have put it there, but in this ticky-tacky tract house the builders hadn’t bothered with such niceties. He stood up again, put the urn in its place, carried the box to the kitchen and threw it in the trash. He took a beer from the fridge since he was there, then went back to the living room.

Chuckling wryly as he sat, Gary thought the urn could be a metaphor for his life: empty and blank. He mentally ran through the people he thought might have sent this to him, and came up with nothing. Nobody he knew had this kind of black humor. If it was humor. And nobody hated him enough to try to freak him out. Not that he felt freaked out; just curious.

He popped the bottle cap and took a drink. Urns are definitely funereal, he thought. Either they hold ashes, or they hold flowers at funerals. He drank again. Or people write poems about them, if they’re old. This didn’t look old. The bronze had been polished to a bright shine, although that was getting harder to see as the sun set.

Outside the birds set up a ruckus, and there was a sudden splat against the front window. He got up again and looked out. There was a reddish smear on the glass. He tried peering down, but saw nothing. Grumbling, he went out.

Just below the window was a black bird, its talons curved toward its body. Crow, Gary thought, or raven. No difference, right? He pushed at it but it didn’t move.

He went inside and got a trash bag, then went back out. He poked the bird again with his foot, harder. It didn’t move. In the dying light, he couldn’t tell if it was breathing or not. He put the bag over his hand so he wouldn’t have to touch the nasty thing and picked it up. It was limp, lifeless, so he pulled the bag up and tied the top. Walking into the garage, he put it into the big trash can there. This trash he didn’t want in his kitchen.

He walked into the kitchen from the garage and grabbed another cold one. He went into the living room to think about there might be for supper in the house, then stopped abruptly. The urn was on the coffee table, next to the empty beer.

Gary slowly sat down, setting the fresh beer beside the first bottle. He picked up the urn, and saw writing on the nameplate. His first name, in an old-fashioned flowing script. He hefted it to toss it across the room, but felt something move inside. He pulled out the stopper and shook it gently, then poured a bit into his hand. Ashes. Slowly he returned them to the urn and set it down.

Not funny at all. But who, and how? He hadn’t seen or heard anyone.

From outside the window Gary heard a screeching of brakes and a loud crash. He stood up, then heard a click on the table. He looked down, and saw a curved black talon next to the urn.

Dear God, his last name was on the plate, too. Gary walked to the window, saw two cars intertwined in the wreck. One was his. He knew whose blood was pooled on the street, and as another black bird dived for the window, he thought he knew why.

As I frantically work towards my end-of-month deadline, I thought I’d give my many readers a few hints at what’s actually going to be in the book!

One of the best-known ghost stories in North Dakota is that of the Gray Lady of Sims. Sims isn’t a town anymore; it’s just the original Lutheran Church and its parsonage. Thanks to the faithful and volunteering congregation, the folks from Preserve North Dakota, and a grant from the government, the parsonage was renovated and restored to its original condition in 2006, and on alternate Sundays, after services, can be toured by visitors. But who is this Gray Lady, you ask?

Most will tell you she’s the shade of the first wife of Rev. L. Dordal, and the mother of his two sons, and no one remembers her name, and after her death sometime between 1916 and 1918, the Reverend married her sister within a month, then moved out of state. But those who say that don’t have the advantage of having talked with Lars Dordal’s great niece, who just happens to be my best friend from college, and lives right here in Bismarck.

Mrs. Dordal was named Bertha (although her tombstone says only “Mrs. L. Dordal, d. May 8, 1917;” to which I say, I’d be haunting the place too, if only to get my NAME on my headstone, along with, perhaps, “Beloved Wife and Mother!”). She died just 11 days before her 27th birthday. Rev. Lars did indeed quickly remarry, but his second wife, Clara, wasn’t Bertha’s sister. That was a story they made up, thinking his quick (as in, a month after the funeral…) second marriage might be easier for the congregation to accept if they thought Clara was his late wife’s sister. In fact, she was the 18-year-old who was caring for his brother Jacob’s sick wife and children (Jacob was also a minister), and in the wake of Bertha’s death, Lars, who had truly loved Bertha, couldn’t preach, and went to visit his brother in Ada, MN.  There he met Clara, and the two fell in love almost immediately. Clara was a sweet and beautiful young woman, and the boys loved her almost as much as Lars did.

But the congregation apparently wasn’t so accepting, although no haunting activity took place while Clara was in the parsonage. Lars accepted a call from a congregation in Rhame, in the SW part of the state, and stayed there until Sims called him back to fill in during the 9 months or so they searched for a new pastor. It seems the last one they had left rather abruptly. After an odd incident.

The minister’s family had a female visitor, and she was sleeping upstairs in what had been used as the church until the church was actually built. She awoke in the night, feeling chilly, and saw a woman in her room. The woman was carrying a blanket, and asked her if she needed it. The woman in the bed said yes, and the other woman draped the blanket over her and left the room. At breakfast the next morning, the young visitor thanked the pastor’s wife for bringing her the blanket. The response wasn’t quite what she’d expected — the pastor’s wife was horrified, and said she hadn’t been out of bed — and besides the guest, she was the only (living) woman in the house! And so began the haunting — and the stories — of the Gray Lady.

Her haunting wasn’t a malicious one; it continued as it had begun, with nurturing acts like the delivery of the blanket. She opens windows when it’s stuffy, and started the pump handle before the person with the bucket went outside. She opened and closed cupboard doors, but generally to point out where things were needed, or where they should be put away.

The last pastor and his family left the parsonage in 1940, and it stood empty, slowly falling to pieces, until the renovation and restoration. Is Bertha back, sleeping in her first floor bedroom?

Well, when I went to take photos of the church and the parsonage (and Bertha’s grave), I went intp the backyard, and stood, listening to the whispers of the cottonwood leaves and the songs of the meadowlark. I suddenly felt as though I were being watched. I turned around and looked at the wood-framed lean-to at the back of the stucco home. It has a large square window, and the shade was pulled all the way down. Of course, I thought, I know the story so I expect something to be there, and I took a photo of the back of the house. I wandered around the back yard a little more, enjoying the peace and quiet, so far from city traffic and sounds of people. As I reluctantly walked back to my car, my gaze was drawn again to that back window. And I realized that the shade that had been down was now halfway up. No one else was there; there were no cars but mine, and all the doors were locked. The door to the back lean-to was even padlocked. I took another photo, just so I could compare them when I downloaded them. And sure enough, they show a closed shade, and a half-open shade. Was Bertha saying hello? I’d like to think so.

So you think you know how to deal with everything? Maybe not. Read on, dear readers…

Suppose you’re hiking in a remote area, and you find an isolated valley that isn’t on your map. In the valley is a shack occupied by a clearly inbred family who have, well, interesting lampshades and upholstery, and an unnatural fondness for axes and chainsaws. In this situation, there’s only one thing to do: RUN! Run for your life! Don’t look back, drop your pack if you need speed, and if you hear your buddy screaming, don’t stop – this is “every man for himself” time! The only suggestion for gear is to switch your light hikers for trail running shoes.

Or you find yourselves near an overgrown cemetery or a plague-stricken town filled with cannibal zombies. You don’t have to run quite as quickly; these creatures aren’t terribly intelligent and tend to shamble. Again, the only way to survive is to run. If you have a shotgun, blow the heads off of a couple, as they’ll stop to gorge themselves on their own dead, giving you a head start (no pun intended). If one of your group is bitten, shoot him too. He’ll only turn into one of them.

The worst situation can be avoided by not camping during the three nights of the full moon. If you do find yourself in a tent under a full moon, realize those snufflings and growlings outside your tent probably aren’t rabid raccoons. No, dear readers, they’re werewolves. Your only defense is silver – silver bullets, silver-filled shotgun shells, even a silver letter-opener. A multi-purpose tool may do enough damage to slow a werewolf down, but remember, they’re faster than you, and smarter than the living dead. Try to barricade yourself into your tent or a cave, and don’t come out until daylight. Then GO HOME!

(oops — Don’t forget about vampires! Carry lots of garlic, a flask of holy water, and several wooden stakes. In a pinch you can make stakes from tree branches with your Swiss Army knife!)

And that should keep you ready for anything.