Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Strange Curse of the Mountain" by Ellen Lynn

Strange Curse of the Mountain
Ellen Lynn

Most people think of a mountain as a thing of majesty, beauty, or sport. But to me a mountain is a thing of terror, strange mystery and horrible death.

Our little village of Glencairn, consisting of only twenty families, once lived a happy, busy life at the foot of the magnificent mountain-peak, St. Anne. We all loved our beautiful mountain—and, strange as it may sound, we felt that Mt. St. Anne loved us. No one in our community ever lost his life on that mountain—although we got our livelihood solely from its resources. There were never landslides in the summer, nor snow avalanches in the spring, which made us feel as though we were especially protected.

It was two years ago that the notorious Bailey Ferris made a surprise visit to our village. His powerful car took to our rough roads with amazing ease and speed. In the flashy style of the typical gambler, Bailey made a handsome and striking appearance, but I remember how I felt suddenly afraid to see this bold outsider looking over our secluded, peaceful village.

My daughter, Janice; the village teacher, was just coming out of the little schoolhouse and I saw her stop and stare at Bailey Ferris. He was staring at her, too—and again a pang of sudden, unexplained fear coursed through me. There were two other flashy-looking individuals in the car with him and soon they continued on their way.

The whole village was agog over this visit of the notorious gambler. We all wondered what he could possibly want here, and we all were nervous. His entire stay lasted a week but his activities were completely mysterious. The second day he paid a call at the schoolhouse. When my daughter, Janice, came home she seemed unusually distracted, a strange smile hovering on her lips.

"Dad," she said sometime later, "Bailey Ferris came to the school today. He introduced himself—didn't try to hide his identity from me. When—when you talk to him he—he doesn't seem like a notorious character at all."

"Watch your step, daughter," was all I could say. "That's all front. He's got a bad reputation, and there must be a reason for it."

But Janice seemed to be caught in a spell. She spent some part of every day in his company and I dreaded seeing the brightness in her eyes, hearing the lilt in her laugh whenever she returned from some date with Bailey.

It was the sixth day that the blow fell heavily on our village. It got around fast that Bailey was there to oust us from the village, buy up all the land and set up a gambling and ski resort. Underneath the shock of this news I felt also a sense of relief: now Janice would see this Bailey as he really was and would get over the infatuation—or whatever it was—that she obviously was experiencing.

Our little band fought with every means we knew, short of violence, to resist the despoiling of our happy village of Glencairn, but nothing could stop a man from buying up property that was available—and none of us owned the land we had lived on so many years.

That day I noticed Janice was in a state of gloom—to my relief. She came straight home after school and was going that night to the square dance with Hunt Harris. "She'll get over it," I assured myself. "She couldn't really love such a heel." All the villagers, even the older generation, go to the square dances and I accompanied the young folks there. Janice danced—the young men wouldn't leave her alone. She was a mighty pretty girl and very popular. But she was not herself. I was sure she was thinking of that Bailey Ferris.

Then, for one moment, I saw her eyes light up. Bailey had come into the door. He beckoned to her and I saw her hesitate. Then she left her partner and went to Bailey. They had a heated argument; he was grabbing her arm and I started to go to them on the steps outside when Janice pulled away and came back into the room, her eyes flashing. Bailey dashed into his car and sped away.

The next day we all received notices that we had a month to get out. There was nothing we could do so we decided to move en masse to the other side of Mt. St. Anne where some broken-down dwellings, long deserted, still stood. We would repair them as best we could in the short time and move in. People, years ago, had tried living there but many disasters—landslides, avalanches—had finally forced them to leave. Gloomily, we all took up our lives there and in a mood of pessimism called our new village, "Hope's End." In a year's time, Bailey Ferris had built up a lavish resort at Glencairn, where the rich came to gamble and ski. With bitterness in our hearts toward him, we all kept to ourselves and made it a matter of principle never to return to Glencairn.

But Janice returned there. To my grief, she had fallen madly in love with Bailey and when one day he appeared at our house to see her she went gladly with him—despite my protests, warnings, threats. How I wish it weren't so, but he seemed to be really in love with Janice and wanted to lavish her with the luxuries of his misbegotten wealth. He told her they would be married. Then, as he walked out of the house with my daughter, he laughed at me. In a rage, I called down the curse of the mountain upon him. I demanded revenge and asked our mountain to wreak vengeance upon Bailey Ferris.

The life at Glencairn proved a horrible disappointment to Janice—the gambling, drinking, card playing, with Bailey usually engaged in a game of poker were not to Janice's taste. Her love for Bailey was real but she led an unhappy existence. And she couldn't come back to "Hope's End." She had become an outcast to the bitter villagers.

One early morning, with the snow on Mt. St. Anne glistening in a brilliant sunlight, Janice went out alone for a ski run. She reached the very top with the ski-tow and then started down. Then that dreaded sound of an avalanche—a loud roar—broke the morning silence. Number with terror Janice made a futile attempt to change her course but tons of snow and ice hurtled down and overwhelmed her. Her groping fingers, her struggling arms reached upward—but she sank into unconsciousness.

The disaster had been seen in Glencairn. A rescue party set out immediately and in a few hours Janice was found and brought below. By a wondrous miracle she was alive, and I'll say this much for Bailey, he saw that she got every possible attention, medical and nursing. He showered her with gifts and affection.

Two days after the accident, Janice wanted to speak to Bailey. She seemed anxious, overwrought. "Bailey—I must tell you," she began. "But—you won't believe it. It will sound crazy."

"Tell me anyway," Bailey urged her. "Let's hear what it's all about, honey."

"You know," she began, "I had been completely buried under the snow. I felt myself suffocating, gasping for air, but my nostrils were clogged with snow. Then I felt hands grabbing me. Snow was being shoveled away from me and I was being pulled out from that cold grave. In my shocked state I thought I was dreaming but the hands belonged to—oh, you'll think me mad—to a—skeleton! And the other pair to a creature—like a bat—but tall, almost human. I fell unconscious, but I came to again in a shallow cave. Again I saw the same—creatures. They were playing cards! They were talking. The skeleton belonged to a man who had been killed by an avalanche on the wrong side of the mountain—where we built 'Hope's End.' The other thing—was a Vampire! He considered the entire mountain his domain—and the two things were gambling—the skeleton for my—my soul, the vampire for my blood!"

Bailey started to laugh. "Baby, your head was hit. That was a fancy dream you had."

"Stop! Stop laughing!" Janice yelled. "I tell you it wasn't a dream. We all heard the rescue party approaching. The one that was the Vampire said—'We can wait—we have all the time in the world.' From fright, shock, horror, I passed out again—but those creatures were there I tell you."

Janice was so overwrought, Bailey could not quiet her. "All right," he said finally. "We'll form a skiing party and go back to the sport where we found you. Whatever it was there that scared you—we'll come back and tell you about it." Half afraid, half eager to know, Janice agreed that a group should go.

When the time came Janice was ready to join the party. Bailey was angry and tried to stop her, but she was firm, insisted upon going along.

The party went to the peak by the tow-line, then Janice, holding hands with Bailey, led the way down. Some strange force seemed to be pulling her downward, her eyes were bright and her lips were smiling. The people following could not get the speed that carried Janice and Bailey far ahead and out of sight.

And then again tragedy fell. A terrific avalanche started just ahead of the scouting party and they stopped short, horrified at the realization that the two skiers ahead were bound to be hit by the falling snow and ice.

It was all over quickly. Becoming a searching party, the skiers hurried to get to Janice and Bailey, hoping against hope that they would not be too late. Suddenly a skier let out a frantic yell—he had come upon a cave. As they all hastened inside the sight they beheld left them speechless.

A motionless skeleton, in a sitting position propped up against a wall, was facing another skeleton—whose queer outlines, with winglike appendages, made them all remember as though with one thought, Janice's story of the gamble for her soul. An ace of spades lay between them upturned—and lying on the ground dead were the bodies of—Janice and Bailey.

But no one ever knew which creature won the gamble.

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