Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
"Holywa, doze are two weird girls, yaah?"
Randy Clark's roommate, Matt Peckanen, was a local guy -- well, actually from Spread Eagle, near Iron Mountain, which counted as local in the desolate fastnesses of the iron range of the Upper Peninsula, even though it was a good seventy miles away by road. He had what the locals know as the "Yooper" accent bad, but after a year and a half Randy had learned how to make it out. The somewhat Scandinavian-based accent was widespread from the central UP on into North Dakota, although thickest in the area around Marquette. Spearfish Lake, where Randy was from, was in the edge of that belt; he had a touch of it himself, though nowhere near as bad. Still, when talking with Matt, he often found himself slipping into serious Yooper without thinking about it.
"Dey're preddy cool, if ya know dem," Randy replied with a yawn. "Dat was a fun night, eh?" He'd stayed up way too late the night before, listening to Myleigh and Crystal play the Celtic harp and guitar. Matt had happened by on his way back from the hockey game and stopped to listen for a while, although he'd faded early.
"Yaaah, bud bedder ya watch youself, messin' roun' wid dat Chladek chick, eh? Dey call her 'Killer Chladek.' You know what she done ta dat hockey player a coupla years ago?"
"Dey're used ta gettin' knocked flat on dere asses," Randy grinned. "He prolly deserved it, eh? I'm goin' ta breakfast. Wanna come?"
"Nah, I tink I get me anudder fordy winks, yaah?" Matt replied, rolling back over.
The hell of it, Randy thought as he pulled on his shoes, was that while Matt sounded like the most illiterate Finnish pulp cutter you could imagine, if he half put his mind to it he could write about like Myleigh talked. He was a journalism major, so wrote a lot, and was good at it. He also was on the campus radio station fairly often, and when he was on the air he lost about ninety percent of the Yooper, just like someone had thrown a switch, talking with about as much regional accent as, say, Garrison Keillor. He had almost that good of a voice, too.
There were only a handful of people in the cafeteria; a lot of people slept in on Sunday morning, or didn't bother with breakfast at all. As luck would have it, he found Crystal in the line just in front of him, stacking her tray high, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most of the food was prepared by students working in food service. The glop was even worse than what he remembered from high school. Today was no exception; the scrambled eggs seemed a little green and runny, and a funny smell was coming from the hash browns, so Randy restricted himself to some link sausages, a couple of less-burned pancakes, and toast. "You're up early," he said conversationally as he drew himself a big cup of coffee.
"Living with Myleigh, I don't get any more sleep than I really need," Crystal grinned, sounding bright and chipper for an early hour of the morning. "She is the sweetest thing, and we've become real good friends, but my God, that girl can snore! The first night we spent together, I thought someone was tuning up their Harley down there in the lower bunk, and it hasn't gotten any better since."
"You seem to have learned how to put up with it," Randy replied, placing the coffee on his tray.
"It was either learn how or die from the lack of sleep," Crystal grinned again. She had an infectious smile. "You want to join me? The way she was sawing them off, I don't think she'll be down for a while, but there's no way I could have gotten back to sleep."
"Yaaah, sure," Randy replied, letting a little Yooper slip without thinking about it. "I figured you'd be out snowboarding by now," he said as they headed for a nearby table.
"Oh, I plan on heading up to Sugar Mountain after I get done here, but if the snow is as crappy as they say, I may not stay," she replied, setting her tray down and pulling out a chair. "It probably wouldn't be all that bad if I don't stay. I really should hit the books a little."
"That's pretty much my plan," he admitted as he sat down across from her. "I probably should wait till my roomie sleeps himself out. What are you majoring in, anyway?"
"Phys ed," Crystal shrugged as if it were of minor importance as she speared a sausage link. "English minor -- looking at secondary education. It's not really what I want to do, but it'll give me something to fall back on. I'd be a liar if I didn't say the main thing that appeals most to me about teaching is the long vacations. How about you?"
"Business ad," Randy said. "I'm a sophomore. It's not really what I want to do, either, but my family owns most of a wood products mill back in Spearfish Lake. I don't want to say I'm headed there, but it'll be hard to avoid."
"Spearfish Lake? That's where my mom is from, originally."
Randy stopped buttering a piece of toast and looked at her with a little surprise. "Small world, isn't it? Maybe we're related somehow. What was her maiden name?"
"She was a Johansen before she got married," Crystal smiled. "We used to go up and visit her folks every now and then. I know the town."
Randy furrowed his brow. There were a lot of Johansens in Spearfish Lake; one of them was the football coach. There was some crossover between the Johansens and the Langenderfers; he knew that his mother had been friends with some Langenderfers when she'd been in school, but didn't think she was tied in to that clan. The Clark family was comparatively new in Spearfish Lake, compared to the Johansens and the rest, and much smaller, so if there was a connection it would have to be on his mother's side. "We're probably not related, but in a town like Spearfish Lake, there's no way of telling for sure," he told the girl across the table finally. "If we are related, it's not very close. Probably some cousin married to some cousin."
"Doesn't matter, I guess," Crystal replied. "She left town to go to college and wound up outside Chicago, where she married my dad. She always said Spearfish Lake was a good place to be from."
"Happens to a lot of kids," Randy nodded. He often felt the same way himself, but it was pretty obvious things were going to be a little different for him. "There's not a lot of things to keep the sharper kids in town, so they usually don't come back after college. Big city, bright lights, and all that."
Crystal grinned again, looking up from a forkful of the evil-looking scrambled eggs. "It goes full circle," she snickered. "I'm from the big city and the bright lights, and I like it better out in the woods. So, what is it you want to do?"
"Something besides wood products," Randy snorted. "Beyond that, I'm not real sure. How about Myleigh? What's her major?"
"English lit," Crystal replied between bites. "Secondary ed too, but she isn't any more interested in teaching in a high school than I am. It's a fallback for her, too. What she really wants to do is get a doctorate in English lit, and get into some college where she can just permanently immerse herself in all that old stuff."
"She sure seems to know her way around it," Randy replied, amazed at the way Crystal was shoveling her food away.
"She scares me a lot," Crystal agreed, picking up her coffee cup. "I mean, I'm into my outdoor stuff pretty good, but I do other stuff at least once in a while, too. She never gets less than straight A's. Me, it's A's and B's, and sometimes not even that unless she's tutoring me. I suppose I could do better if I spent more time on the books, but that cuts into snowboarding and skiing and stuff like that if I let it get out of hand. But then, when did you ever see an English and PE teacher that could ever write more than three complete sentences in a row?"
"Never," Randy laughed.
"I suppose I'd be a lousy PE teacher, too," she grinned, setting the cup down and picking up her fork again. "I guess I ranted a bit last night, but really, I'm not all that into team sports. I never did any in high school. I know how they work, and could play most of them, but like I said, I'm not into the team things. I figure I could coach a junior high team if I had to, and hell, half the time teachers get hired not because of what they can teach, but what they can coach."
"Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach . . ." Randy smiled.
". . . and those who can't teach want to become administrators as soon as possible," she finished for him. "So, I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. But, I've picked up a lot of outdoor skills while getting my credits. Some of it I could teach myself, especially after OLTA."
"I've heard OLTA is a real Marine boot camp," he said, a little in awe of that accomplishment. "Is it as bad as they say?"
She smiled. The Outdoor Leadership Training Academy in Idaho liked to pride itself on how tough it made things, so it could be sure that the students could handle them when they came up in the real world. Historically, it had proved to be a philosophy that worked, although a lot of people learned they couldn't cut it along the way -- which was part of the idea, too. "They worked my ass pretty good," she told him with pride. "But, it was worth it. I learned more there in three months than I could have learned in ten years on my own, being a city kid and all."
"I've seen you doing things that I never even thought about," he said, with more than a little awe at what sort of things he knew that she'd done. She was something of a legend around the Outdoor Club. He hadn't been active in it during his freshman year, and as a newcomer this year he hadn't gotten to know Crystal well since she'd gone haring off on various weekend expeditions last fall. Until this weekend, they'd known each other's names, but that was about it. "I mean, I like to get out and mess around outside, mess around on rivers, and like that, but it's not exactly my life. You're out climbing and surfing and God knows what."
"I like a lot of variety," Crystal agreed, putting down her fork. "Mostly, it's just trying to be competent at things that I like to do. Maybe some things better than others. I mean, I like a good rock scramble, maybe some technical climbing. It's a good workout, and can be interesting. I want to be competent at maybe a 5.7 or 5.8 level, and I'm comfortable leading at that level. I can belay OK at maybe 5.9, but I have no desire to mess around with 5.10, 5.11. Same thing with whitewater. I'm OK all day in Grade IV, but V, well, I want to be able to pick and choose and walk if I'm not comfortable with it."
"You're ahead of me," Randy observed. "I've run a lot of Grade II, but in regular canoes, not the whitewater kind. I'd like to be comfortable in III, and be able to pick and choose IV. Screw V."
"Nothing wrong with those goals," she nodded, attacking the funny-smelling hash browns. "Stay with it, get a bombproof roll, and you might find yourself pushing a little further."
"Not if I'm living around here," he snorted. "We have enough III in reasonable driving distance to make it worthwhile, but we really only get IV and V that's runnable for a couple weeks in the spring."
"Yeah, you get hooked on it, and then there are longer road trips," she replied, agreeing that he had a point. "A bunch of us took three days last fall and went down to the Gauley. That was a lot of driving for a day on the river, but we all thought it was worth it. Believe me, while I'm not looking forward to the end of the ski season, I'm ready to hit some of the steep creeks up west of here. Like I said, work on your roll, and you should be able to handle a lot of it and walk the stuff you don't think you can handle."
"I'm hoping to," he nodded. "I may just head over to the pool and work on it some this afternoon when I get tired of studying." Actually, the afternoon before had been a little frustrating, and it was hard to believe that he could ever be half as good at rolling, or some of the other skills, as Crystal. And, that didn't even include swimming. He was a fair swimmer for a Spearfish Lake kid, where they didn't have an indoor pool, but only fair. The lake wasn't warm enough for real swimming very often. Maybe he ought to do a few more laps . . .
"If I'm back, I might just go with you. In fact . . . well, look who rose from the dead."
Randy glanced over his shoulder -- his back was to the food line -- to see Myleigh working her way through it. She was wearing a different big, floppy thick sweater and a different long wool skirt, but otherwise looked pretty much like she had the night before. "Yeah?" he asked.
She looked at him intently. "You said you wrestled in high school, right?"
"Four years," he shrugged. It was all in the past, now. "It was something to do in the winter. I was pretty good, but only pretty good, 125 and 135 pounds, mostly. Lucked out and went to state a couple times, but only medaled once at state."
Myleigh came over and joined them, carrying a tray with a box of cereal, a slice of melon and a cup of tea. Randy noted that there was nothing on the tray which the student cooks in the cafeteria could possibly have screwed up. "Eating heavy this morning, eh?" Crystal teased.
"Very," Myleigh smiled as she sat down. "That was quite a late evening, and I thought I needed something to perk me up."
"That was pretty neat," Randy said, remembering the long but fun time in the lounge out front the night before. "That was one of the better evenings I've had around this place. You two are both pretty good. It made me wish I'd brought my guitar with me. I left it at home. I got fairly good, but haven't messed with it much since I've been here."
"You're welcome to mess with mine, some time," Crystal told him.
Randy shrugged. "I'm not real good," he said, "But I know a few things that are sort of like what you do. I don't know how well we could play together, though."
"It's rather amazing that we can play together at all," Myleigh said, daintily unfolding a napkin. "Our tastes are very different, but we respect each other's interests enough that we can make it work somehow."
Crystal grinned; she'd pretty well reduced the pile of food on her plate to scattered remnants. "Actually, I like music you can play while you're sitting around a campfire with a few friends and a few beers. A lot of it happens to be folk music."
Myleigh shrugged, and took a sip of tea. "As are the ballads I prefer," she said with a smile.
"I've got to say that it's an interesting mix of instruments. Have you two been doing this long?"
"Since the first winter we were here," Myleigh replied with a little reserve. "Mostly it's just the two of us, passing a little time in the room. I suppose we were a little brazen to be performing down in the lobby last evening, but there have been a few most enjoyable evenings with a small group in our room over the past two years."
Randy smiled. "Well, for what it's worth, I enjoyed it."
"Oh, indeed. It was great fun," Myleigh replied enthusiastically. "Perhaps we should do that more often, Crystal. It was a wonderful idea you had."
The bigger girl cocked her head. "I don't know," she said. "It only works when the mood strikes us, and I do have to agree the mood bit us in the ass big time last night. Anyway," she continued, changing the subject, "Randy, I was just getting set to ask you, would you be up to doing a little wrestling?"
"I'm way out of practice," he said. "I haven't done any since I left high school."
"Oh, I don't mean anything serious," she explained. "Just give me some feel for the moves."
"You mean . . . you mean you want me to wrestle you?" Randy asked, a little surprised.
"Sure," Crystal said. "I'm pretty good at karate, and I've had some judo and other martial arts, but just plain wrestling, well, I've never had the chance to try it."
Randy was a little dubious. Crystal was at least five inches taller than he was, had at least twenty pounds on him, and had the reach on him. While he was in fairly decent shape, he knew it'd be pretty near impossible to get near the condition that Crystal was in as a matter of course. And, this was "Killer Chladek," after all . . . "I could show you some of the basics," he said reluctantly. "I used to help Coach with some of the younger kids. But, Crystal, this could go places we really don't want to go, real quick."
"You mean the boy-girl thing?" she asked. "Don't let that bother you. I'm not talking that kind of wrestling -- just the basics of doing it on the mat."
That wouldn't sound a whole lot better if you took it wrong, he thought. "Yeah, but we'd be grabbing each other," he said defensively. "I mean, wrestling is that, wrestling, and, well, things happen. And, then, there's your reputation around campus . . ."
"Oh," Crystal smiled with a look of comprehension. "I see what you mean. In fact, that's probably why I've been turned down before. Look, let's make a deal. If you should happen to accidentally grab something you shouldn't, just as part of the wrestling, I won't worry about it. But, if I think you did it on purpose, well, that'd have to be the end of it."
"Goodness," Myleigh grinned. "Perhaps I should go along to chaperone you two."
Randy smiled. "You don't have to worry about me stepping out of line," he told the smaller girl. It went without saying that if he did, he knew he'd be sorry.
"Oh, dear lad, I wasn't concerned about you hurting her," Myleigh grinned. "I was concerned about her hurting you."
Crystal grinned and shook her head. "You don't have to scare him away for me, Myleigh," she laughed. "I think I've got him scared enough myself." She turned to him. "So, how about it, Randy? Want to go to the mat with me? You'll be known around campus as the guy who wrestled me and survived."
It would be an interesting experience, he thought. While there was no question that she could hurt him, if they kept it to the basics and kept it good natured, she probably wouldn't. "Oh, I suppose," he said finally. "We can spar for a little and see if it works. If it does, fine. If it doesn't, we'll know before we get into the heavy body contact."
"Maybe tonight, after I get back from Sugar Mountain?" she suggested, obviously showing some interest. "Or, this afternoon, if I get back early? We could get in some pool time, too, work on your roll a bit."
"You should spend some time with your textbooks," Myleigh admonished in a motherly voice. "Remember, you have a paper due in Teaching Reading."
"Not till the end of the week," Crystal shrugged defensively. "I'll find some time," she promised. "First things first."
"Whenever it's convenient," Randy interjected. "I can usually clear a hole."
"Myleigh's right, I should study sometime," Crystal agreed good-naturedly. "Let's just leave it loose. If the snow is as crappy as they say, I ought to be back in the middle of the afternoon, anyway. Maybe I'll work on that stupid paper for a while, and we can go over to the PEIF and recover from it this evening." She drained her coffee, and got up. "But, that depends on my getting out to Sugar Mountain in the first place. Myleigh, you gonna need the car for anything?"
"I shan't," the smaller girl smiled. "It appears much too cold outside to require any thinking person to do anything more in that environment than necessary. I planned on spending the day with dear Emma. Take care."
"Good. In that case, I'm outa here. Gravity calls." She gave a little wave, then headed for the entrance, clearing off her tray and dumping what little remained on the way out.
Myleigh watched her go, then turned back to Randy. "I suppose I should be used to it by now," she said, smiling and shaking her head. "I fully expect some day to have her come back to the room in a cast from her eyebrows to her ankles."
"She ought to be all right," he said. "She seems to be pretty good at anything she does. I mean, I've done a little snowboarding, just enough to know it's a real good way to bust your butt if you don't know what you're doing."
"I've watched her once or twice, mostly with a great deal of trepidation," Myleigh admitted. "It was bad enough when she was downhill skiing, but when she began snowboarding the first winter we were here, my concern increased. Then, last fall, she took up ski jumping, and proved to be so talented that she was harassed about getting on track for the Olympic team, should they choose to hold women's ski jumping. That was worse yet. I should be most fearful to even attempt such a thing."
"It takes some confidence in your abilities, and, I've got to admit, ski jumping isn't on my list of things to try sometime." In fact, he thought, there were a lot of things that Crystal enjoyed that weren't on that list. Ski jumping, on the 90-meter out at Suicide Hill . . . good God!
"I'm pleased to hear that," she smiled with understanding. "I thought you seemed like a sensible person. I worry about Crystal. She seems perfectly determined to attempt to kill herself in an effort to enjoy herself. She seems happiest when she's actively risking her life, but she does seem to manage to survive."
"It looks like the two of you do a pretty good job of looking after each other."
"In spite of our differences, and they are many, we have become good friends," Myleigh explained. "I suspect it's because we're each so very individual. She, of course, is very active and outgoing, while I must confess, I'm rather shy and bookish. Her spirit is only truly free when she is outside, while, I confess, to me the outdoors is that cold or hot or buggy place between buildings that I try to pass through as quickly as possible. We balance off rather well, however."
Randy smiled. "Well, neither of you is exactly what you'd call the average girl," he said with admiration in his voice. "You're both pretty memorable in your own way."
"I think it safe to say that we are both unique individuals and glory in our uniqueness," she smiled. "Although, admittedly, the differences in our avocations are rather extreme."
"I guess," Randy smiled. "Look, would you mind if I warmed up my coffee? I'm enjoying talking with you, but don't want to be a pest."
"Oh, by all means," she smiled. "You haven't been a pest, but while you're up, would you be so kind as to grab another pot of hot water for my tea?"
"Sure, no problem," he said, getting to his feet. He was back a minute later, sat down next to Myleigh, and picked up the conversation after a fresh taste of hot coffee. "Crystal was saying that you're looking to work on a doctorate in English lit," he grinned, wanting to know a bit more about this interesting girl, who was proving to be much more than she had seemed when he'd first talked with her. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me."
"You mean from the way I express myself?" she said with a twinkle in her eye. "Holywa, ya'd radder I talk Yooper atchya, eh?"
Randy couldn't help but laugh at the radical change in accent. "No, I hear enough Yooper from my roomie," he grinned, after he pulled himself together.
"I can talk like most people, you know?" Myleigh grinned. "The way I usually speak does seem kind of prissy, I guess, but I can turn it off if I want to. Usually, I don't want to. It really is the way I usually talk, and it's hard for me to sound normal. Crystal says it's a defense thing, to keep people from getting too close to me. She may be right."
"You don't want people to get close to you?" That seemed a little different to him, although, with this girl, he could believe it.
"That's not easy to answer," she said, still sounding like a normal person. "I don't mind having friends, or people I can talk to. However, doing what I want to do is so important to me that I do not wish to get distracted. You see a lot of girls come up here with big plans to do this or that, then raging hormones get in the way, and the next thing you know they're getting married and pregnant, or the other way around. I don't want to let that happen to me. It's going to be hard enough as it is without getting on the wrong track."
Randy nodded. "So you let yourself sound like you've stepped out of an old novel somewhere, and people instinctively think, 'Wow, she's weird!' and leave you alone, right?"
"Essentially that is the case, dear lad," she grinned as she let her language slip back to normal -- at least, normal for her. "Since I was a small child, I had a wider verbal vocabulary than most children. Actually, not a wider vocabulary, but used one wider than most of them, and that continues today. I was in middle school before I discovered the Brontes and the other old novels I like so well, and that certainly has an effect upon the way I speak. However, in this environment, it has proven rather handy. It especially tends to limit unwelcome advances."
"Besides, any people who mess with you," he couldn't keep himself from laughing, "Know they run the risk that your roomie might do a little dental redecorating on them. That probably keeps away a lot of advances."
"Oh, indeed it does," she smiled expansively. "I was there the night it happened, and the drunken lout was being an absolute ass. I confess I did not see when he grabbed at her, but the breaking of furniture as he flew into it immediately thereafter was unmistakable."
Randy got a big smile. He'd heard about the incident shortly after he got on campus, and now it was almost a legend. "Did it cause much of an uproar?" he asked.
"Oh, my yes. They carried him off in an ambulance, and there was a degree of trouble from the administration for some time. It would appear that hockey fans don't seem to mind hockey players being hurt by other hockey players, but they do resent civilians doing similar damage. Fortunately, it was before the season started, or I suspect it would have been much worse." She let out a sigh, and continued, "There have undoubtedly been some times since, when that incident restricted our social lives, but generally not to an unwanted degree. Crystal is as firm as I am in that she does not want distractions from her goals."
Randy furrowed his brow. "I know she and I talked about what you want to do, but we got off on another subject, and I never got around to asking her what she wanted to do."
Myleigh shook her head, not being sure she should reveal what she knew to be the truth. "What she really wants to do is be an adventuress, and I don't mean that in the sense that some people would use it, that is, that she hopes to marry for a great deal of money."
"I don't follow you," he said. He'd picked up none of that kind of message from Crystal.
"She hopes to pursue adventure, and find some way to make a living risking her life in the way she enjoys. She admits to the possibility that she may be forced to teach sometime to support her addiction, but hopes to minimize it as much as possible. Perhaps a better word to use would be 'outdoor bum.'"