Carolyn’s coffee had just gotten cool enough to drink when she was greeted by the state trooper. He stood in front of the barrier, trying not to shiver in the frigid Spring morning air as he wished the coffee he held in his shaking hand was still hot.
“You need a top off,” Carolyn announced as she pulled up to the trooper and rolled down her window.
He gave her a courtesy laugh. Honestly he was too cold to even really process humor at the moment. He was expecting Carolyn to arrive at day break. It was actually the entire reason he was out there, and he wasn’t happy about it.
Yet, he put on a happy face. There was an understanding among law enforcement that one of them represented all of them and the trooper was well aware that their kind couldn’t afford much more bad PR in 2020.
“Sure, if you got it,” the trooper answered honestly and held out his half-empty paper cup that was literally falling apart in his hand.
She splashed some creamy coffee into his cup of black and he tipped a salute to her.
“It’s like you somehow knew I was coming,” Carolyn continued the conversation while eyeing the steep road that rested behind the trooper and the barrier.
“Yeah, well you know the rules. Not till 7 a.m.,” the trooper explained.
“I know, don’t mean I understand it,” Carolyn quipped and then rolled her window back up without another word.
Carolyn would finish the rest of her coffee just before the trooper moved over to the barrier and pulled it to the side, allowing her 2009 Toyota Camry to drive past with a semi-friendly wave from her to the trooper.
She was greeted by a green North Cascades Mountain Pass sign as she accelerated up the steep asphalt and into the mountains.
The trooper got back into his car and drove home thankful he wasn’t Carolyn.
Carolyn kept a close eye on every side road that spilled off of the highway that cut through the tallest peaks of the North Cascade Mountain Range in north central Washington state. She had driven the road more than a thousand times and knew it better than the back of her hand. Who looked at the back of their hand that often anyway?
She knew all those little side roads too. They were all either vacant logging roads or roads that led up to the trailheads that dotted the mountains which rested inside America’s least-visited national park in the continental United States.
She checked every single one of these roads as she made the hour’s journey it took to get to the other end of the pass that ended at the sleepy little burgh of Mazama.
She then drove back, keeping an eye on each one of those little side roads. She didn’t see anything of note on this day, just the way she hadn’t seen anything of note on that road each day that it was open for the past 10 years.
It was 10 years ago that Melissa went missing.
The North Cascades Mountain pass is only open between April and October and opens only when it’s determined that the snows have melted enough in the Spring and that they’re coming hard enough in the Fall.
The 50 miles of treacherous mountain road are some of the most-beautiful in America, winding around craggy peaks that look torn from a Lord of the Rings movie and above impossibly-turquoise lakes that look like they belong in the Caribbean. It connects one tiny town and a sparsely populated county to another tiny town and sparsely-populated county.
There’s not much reason to drive other than to hike the trails that dot it or for western Washington residents going camping on the warmer, more-rugged lands of central Washington you land on when you cross going west to east.
Melissa Vaughn, age 19 at the time of her disappearance was one of these western Washington residents who was headed east to camp with friends in the faux old wild west town of Winthrop on the other side of the mountains the weekend after Memorial Day. At least that was her story. None of her known friends ever told her to meet them over there that weekend. That’s just what she told her mom, Carloyn, before she left.
She never returned. Her car was found parked at the Diamond Lake trail head at the top of the pass a few days later when someone reported seeing the same car parked there, with all the windows down, for days with no apparent signs of life.
No other signs of life were found. Melissa was just never seen again.
Authorities investigated what happened but could never determine anything. It was very hard without a body, a motive, and almost any clue. Nothing materialized other than Melissa telling her mom what she told her and her abandoned car up at that trailhead.
After a year of nothing, Carolyn decided to take the investigation into her own hands, sparked by the memory of an old urban legend that had long circulated where she had lived her entire life, in Skagit County.
Carolyn was reminded of it when she stumbled upon a Facebook group sharing stories of people growing up in Skagit County. Someone asked if anyone else remembered growing up being scared of The Man on the Mountain and she remembered the old legend almost word-for-word as soon as that title flashed through her mind.
The Man on the Mountain was an old man, an old gray hermit who supposedly lived up in an old logging ghost town at the top of the mountains the pass cut through. The rumor was you would see him hitchhiking on the road late at night but if you picked him up, you were never seen from again, because he was actually long dead, having been murdered by someone who picked him up hitchhiking back in the 1960s.
Carolyn was also quickly distracted by a reply to the post. Someone mentioned it was weird because remember that Melissa girl who disappeared up on the pass?
The reply chain quickly deteriorated into random speculation and joking about Melissa’s case, culminating with someone hopefully (you never know, it is Facebook) joking that Melissa’s mom shouldn’t have named her that because “Melissa” sounds a hell of a lot similar to “missing.”
Her blood boiling, Carolyn decided that day. She was going to drive that mountain pass in the middle of the night each and every day of her life it was open looking for some sign of The Man on the Mountain and that’s exactly what she had done every day she could since.
She gave herself 10 years to find out something. The day she topped off that trooper’s coffee was the first day of year 10. This was the last dance with the Man on the Mountain.
The first day was fruitless. She was literally the only person she saw on the entire drive. The only other sign of life she saw was a mother deer with a fawn that forced her to pull to the side of the road at a viewpoint and try to catch her emotions.
It took nearly an hour.
She went home. Took a long nap. Ate a can of soup for dinner. Watched old TV shows and went to bed early to get up the next morning and do it again.
The young trooper got the call at 4 a.m. He had to get back up to the pass to close it off before sunrise. An unexpected snowstorm was blowing through the mountains and they didn’t want anyone, particularly Carolyn, getting stuck up on the pass.
Alex couldn’t believe this was his life. He was a trained police officer and he had to get up before the crank of dawn just to make sure some “Nance” didn’t get pile drived by an avalanche on a mountain pass. He had the choice to go to either Seattle or Concrete, Washington (population 845) when he graduated the academy. He chose Concrete because he thought it would be safer, easier, but he didn’t realize how quickly that would become boring and arduous.
He was surprised to see Officer Grant waiting for him at the gate to the entrance of the pass when he pulled up. A few snowflakes were falling onto the frozen ground, lighting up the still-dark sky.
Officer Grant was in his 50s, closing in on retirement and essentially his boss. He was not the first person he wanted to see in the morning. He would have rather seen Carolyn high-tailing it up the mountain before he could lock it off.
Grant was friendly enough though. He was like a father figure, if your father was a 6’6 man with a facial expression like a hawk that played college basketball for the Naval Academy who always looked like he just shaved his face 20 minutes ago. He was a man of few words who probably spit little bits of Copenhagen out of his mouth more often than he spoke by a wide margin.
“I know you were on your way but I didn’t want Carolyn getting an early start up here and driving right over before sunrise,” Grant explained as Alex walked up to him.
“Thanks,” Alex thought that was how he was supposed to respond to that, though he wasn’t quite sure.
“You’ll learn she does shit like that. You’ll learn she might be the hardest part of your job sometimes. You’ll learn a lot,” Grant explained.
“Yeah, what’s her deal?” Alex asked.
“Forgot you aren’t from around here,” Grant started in and then spit a quick bit of tobacco out onto the asphalt below. “Her daughter went missing up here ten years ago. Just found her car and that was it no body. Think it was a suicide. Jump off a cliff type of thing where her bones down a ravine no one will ever find, but mom drives up and down the road thinking she’s going to find her or someone who knows something. Every day that road’s open.”
Alex nodded. That all made sense, kind of.
Grant looked down the road, behind Alex and headed to his squad car.
“Here she comes. Good luck,” Grant said before one last spit of Copenhagen and his exit.
Thanks Grant, Alex thought as the older man walked away and Carolyn eased her old P.O.S. car up to him, leaving about six inches between his knee cap and her bumper.
She stuck her head out of the side and yelled up at Alex as Grant shot him a shit-eating grin just before he dropped down into his cruiser.
“Hey, what the hell?” Carolyn yelled through the cold wind.
Now knowing Carolyn’s situation a little better, Alex felt better about keeping his cool and handling the woman with tact. He held out his hands in a gentle apology before he started in.
“I’m sorry Carol,” Alex started.
“Carolyn. But we have an unexpected storm coming through. We’ve had to close it down for the day. I’m really sorry,” Alex squinted his eyes as he said the final sentence, genuinely apologetic.
75 minutes earlier
Carolyn woke up in a sweat, even thought it was 35 degrees outside and she forgot to turn the heat on before she went to bed.
She had dreamed about Melissa again. She had dreamed about the pass. She had dreamed about something she saw up there the day before but had forgotten in the weight of the emotions that hit her when she was up there.
Was it a vision, or a cloudy memory though? She wasn’t sure.
All she remembered was the briefest image of a shadow standing on the side of the road in her side-view mirror for a moment as she pulled out of the view point parking lot. It was more sharp in her dream, no, her vision.
Why had she not turned around to investigate had she really seen it the day before? She once drove around on the pass for an entire night chasing what ended up being a squirrel.
It didn’t matter. She had to investigate on this day, and soon.
She got dressed and drove up onto the mountain at 5 in the morning. She drove 20 over the speed limit the entire way, something deep inside of her telling her there was something she was going to find up on the mountain that day.
A vision of a trailhead she had seen in her dream the night before was stuck in her head. It was one she had driven up to a million times, but this time her vision focused on a small bathroom tucked behind a wooden map sign and the faintest little trail that led away into the dark woods behind it.
Was that trail really there?
She tuned out Alex when he apologized to her, instead focusing on the gate behind him, noticing it was closed, but it wasn’t locked up yet.
She stepped on the gas. She drove right past Alex and pushed the gate open with the front of her car.
She skidded on some ice but was able to keep moving, up and around a corner and out of view of Alex. She figured he would take off after her. She figured she could outrun him and get up to that trailhead. No one knew that road the way she did and could catch her. No one.
Alex was on his radio in less than a minute, raising Grant and asking him what he should do.
Grant told him he had to follow her and quickly. No one knew that road like her. It would be incredibly hard to catch up to her but Alex would have to try. Grant was circling around and heading back too but there was no way he could catch her.
Grant always warned they could lose radio and phone service up there because of the blizzard. So if he saw him, he should stop and they could pow wow.
Alex opened the gate up all the way and took off up the steep road feeling more and more wary with mile per-hour that rose on his speedometer.
Carolyn looked into the rear-view mirror for the one hundredth time since she had driven through the barrier – still no squad car. She mashed her foot into the gas pedal just a little bit more, stressing her diabetic socks.
The snow kept falling harder and harder the higher she climbed. She had never been in this kind of blizzard up there. They were closing the pass for good reason.
Yet, she wasn’t scared. She barely even noticed it was snowing, flying around the hairpin turns and up and up the windy highway, unable to even see the center line anymore the snow had fallen so thick.
She just kept driving and driving and driving, barely even noticing as her tires started to slip when she rounded corners where, if something went wrong, she was going to plummet thousands of feet to her death. She didn’t care. This was her road.
Alex was a little less sure. He took the corners slow, almost coming to a complete stop on some of them. The only thing that drove him was worrying about Grant coming up on his back and chewing his ass beyond belief.
Carolyn got too cocky around what might have been the highest, sharpest turn on the mountain, just before you got to the peak. She tried to whip around she lost control of the car, it skidded left, toward the weak barrier that separated the road and endless air.
She mashed the brake as hard she could. All it did was slow the car, not stop it and further take away most of her control.
She felt the car hit the barrier. She heard the cemented rocks that composed it crumbled. She felt a stiff hug of oblivion.
She held her breath.
The rocks of the barrier kept tumbling down the ledge but her car remained. She eventually felt the entire vehicle go completely still.
She was safe again.
Alex was not. He lost control of his cruiser a few curves down and each step he tried to make to correct his skid seemed to send him closer to the edge. He finally gave up and just let the car stop on the edge of a barrier-less portion of the road.
He stopped breathing, fearing the wind exiting his lungs would generate some kind of push that would send him over the edge.
He started to breath again when he saw headlights approaching from behind, assuredly belonging to Grant.
Carolyn reached the road where she believed the trail head was. Simply labelled Road 9, it was not one of the well-advertised hikes on the mountain but she was certain there was a trail head at the end of the road. She had to have been there 100 times.
She turned onto Road 9 and raced down the snowy path. The flat ground and absence of a cliff on the side of the road gave her the confidence to race up the thing 70 miles per-hour.
She shouldn’t have. She didn’t see the spikes on the road, hidden underneath the snow meant to prevent people from driving in through the exit of a paid parking area.
Her tires ripped into the spikes and her vehicle instantly started somersaulting into the parking lot, eventually landing upside down.
Carolyn thought she was in a dream again for just a moment until she felt the sharp pain on her forehead and her vision was clouded by a stream of blood. This was very real.
But it also may have been a breakthrough. Someone was approaching from the woods. Someone dressed in black. Someone tall. Someone male. Someone who was clouded by the snow. Someone who caused Carolyn to quickly wipe the blood out of her eyes and unbuckle her seatbelt.
She hit the roof hard, knocking her skull against the inside of the roof and twisting her neck. She flipped herself around in pain until she found her bearings and pushed the door open.
It wasn’t easy but she got the door open upside and slipped out onto the icy road.
There he was, standing above her, his boot-clad feet just inches from her face. Why was this man up here in this blizzard? Because it was the Man of the Mountain. Who else could it be? The man who had taken Melissa?
Carolyn was helpless. The crash had taken more out of her than she had initially thought. She could barely move. There was no getting away from the guy, that was okay though, she would rather die and get her question answered than live and not.
“Where is she?” She asked up at the man and his blank gaze that she couldn’t make out through the now pounding snow.
He didn’t answer, just looked down at her, eventually offering a hand.
“No! Where is she?” She yelled up at him, the blood starting to trickle down her forehead again, tickling her eyebrows.
Again, no answer, just the hand. She started to realize she wasn’t going to get an answer, just a hand that would take her wherever Melissa ended up.
It was time to run.
That’s what she did. She picked her tired battered bones up off the snowy ground and started running.
Only problem. She had no idea where she was running. The snow was pounding so hard she couldn’t make out directions anymore.
Then another thing became clear, it wasn’t just her and the Man of the Mountain on that road – there was a woman in white, walking up the road, about 10 yards in front of her.
She recognized the white dress when she got a little closer, and the white cowboy boots, slipping on the snowy ground, strong, tan ankles sticking out of them, bare despite the cold. It was Melissa, dressed in her favorite summer outfit. What she was likely wearing when she took to the pass 10 years before, in May.
“Melissa!” Carolyn screamed ahead in joy and pain and sorrow and fear and whatever other emotion you want to think of.
The woman in white finally turned around. It was in-fact Melissa, but she had aged, poorly, and she looked beaten and tired, her dress stained with red, black, and brown, her hair unwashed and greasy, her teeth rotten and yellow.
But she smiled at Carolyn when she saw her and she started to run for her mom. Carolyn couldn’t believe it. She had been so lucky to go up on that road when Melissa escaped. Maybe Melissa used the late-Spring storm as an opening, figuring the roads may have been open and her mom may have, no assuredly would have, been searching for her.
The visions had been true.
Officer Grant had to slam on the brakes to avoid what he could only recognize as something large in the middle of the road. His front bumper avoided hitting the thing by less than a foot when he got out to check.
The snow had slowed or maybe it was just blocked by the impressively-steep slope next to him? Either way, it allowed him some vision when he stepped up to the front of his cruiser.
He could identify the object stuck in the middle of the road now. It was Alex’ cruiser, spun out and abandoned, the driver’s-side door wide open, letting out some light from the overhead into the darkness of near sunrise.
Officer Grant followed footsteps around the front of the car and where it appeared they stopped for a moment. Grant assumed Alex had lost control and gotten out of the car once he stopped to check his tires. He was right.
He also assumed Alex thought he was on the edge of the road, but instead was just on a slightly-raised median that ran between the two lines at this point in the road, designed to prevent drivers from using the opposite lane to make the difficult turn a little easier.
Lastly, based on how Alex’ footprints in the snow went in circles in front of the cruiser and then trailed off up the highway, he assumed Alex may have gone snowblind and wandered off, higher up the mountain.
Grant knew it was incredibly dangerous to follow a snowblind person up a mountain pass with a storm that didn’t appear to be slowing dangling overhead. He also knew he shouldn’t have ordered Alex to take off after Carolyn alone.
He also knew he would have to take off after Alex on foot, the young officer’s car having blocked the road.
He was prepared. He touched on his MAG-LITE and looked up the steep road ahead. Could he even get up that steep of grade in his boots with the amount of snow and ice clinging to it?
He figured he could, given he could see Alex’ footprints going up the road, criss crossing with tire marks he assumed belonged to Carolyn.
Grant made it to the first peak. He stopped to catch his breath. The altitude made the already-challenging hike damn near impossible for a 53-year-old guy whose only exercise was beer league softball these days.
But the footprints and the tire tracks went on. So he had to press on, specifically onto a side road where both ventured.
Carolyn had been reunited with Melissa. That was all that mattered for the moment. She held her there in the freezing snow, broken and bleeding and just took in her smell.
Melissa pulled away from her and the two shared weary eyes for a few moments through the snow. Melissa opened her soft mouth.
“He’s coming for me,” Melissa said softly, prompting Carolyn to turn around and be face-to-face again with the man.
His proximity was so close it startled Carolyn enough to knock her off her feet but she got back up when she saw the man close in on Melissa and she heard Melissa’s scream cut through the sound of the wind that now seemed to be blowing the snow in every single direction it could. Carolyn steadied herself and grabbed hold of the man by the back of his shoulders.
She couldn’t believe how high she had to reach up to grab the man’s shoulders. How tall was he? Tall enough to inflict terror in the mountains. It came at now surprise that he was towering.
She crawled up his back and dug her long fingernails into his neck. She felt him release Melissa. She jumped off of him and moved to where she figured Melissa had fallen.
She trudged through the snow and found Melissa lying on her back, shivering and struggling to breathe.
“Please baby girl,” Carolyn pleaded to her frozen daughter. “We can’t fall apart at this point.”
But Melissa had no words. Just more shivers.
Carolyn looked over her shoulder and saw what looked like the silhouette of the man following her. She slung Melissa over her shoulder and headed back to where she remembered the highway was, at least she thought.
She could lug Melissa to the safety of the road and they could slide down the highway, all the way back into the safety of the nearest town, Diablo. It was less than a mile away. They were going to survive.
But Melissa was heavy. How was this woman kept captive on a remote mountainside so heavy? Carolyn couldn’t believe it. She pushed through even though her knees nearly buckled with each step.
She just needed to get to the highway. She just needed to get to the highway. She kept repeating in her head.
They were moving incredibly slow though and a look over Carolyn’s shoulder revealed that the man was catching up on them. He seemed only about 10 yards behind now.
She picked up the pace. It wasn’t a good idea. She slipped and lost hold of Melissa.
She had to watch as Melissa slid down the side road toward the edge of a mountainside about 10 feet away from them.
She had lost her, again.
All Carolyn could do was watch Melissa’s angelic face stare back at her as her body raced toward the edge of oblivion.
Then the slide stopped. Right on the edge. Melissa must have hung up on something.
But the man was right behind Carolyn now. He swiped at her as she ran for Carolyn on the cliffside.
Carolyn dove to get away from the man and to reach for Melissa at the same time. She stretched out her arm as far as it could go and felt Melissa’s frozen paw grab hold.
Carolyn held tight and pulled Melissa back onto solid ground and safety.
Still in danger, Carolyn then whipped around and expected having to take on the man with all of her muscles completely shot out. But he wasn’t there.
All she could see was the snow, falling a little bit lighter than it was a few minutes before.
It was time to go. Carolyn got Melissa to her feet. It seemed like she could stand, hopefully walk, no run, now. Carolyn grabbed her hand tight and led her fast down the slippery hill toward the highway.
Melissa seemed to have her balance back. She could run with Carolyn and they were making great progress and time and there was no sign of the man in sight.
They made it to the highway, or what seemed like the highway. Carolyn just went with it, taking Melissa with her as she slipped and slid down the road, feeling and knowing where she was, anticipating hitting the turn off road that would take her to the tiny town of Diablo coming soon.
Carolyn held onto Melissa’s hand as they ran through the hill for what seemed like it was an hour, fighting against the hard pounding snow that wouldn’t seem to stop. She fought through it until she got hammered in the gut by something hard and she fell to the ground in a heap.
She tried to get up but she couldn’t. She tried to reach over to Melissa and comfort her but she couldn’t see her. All she could do was lie there and hope that someone could come to help her.
She would pass out before that person would come.
Carolyn awoke in a hospital, no idea how long she had been out. She just knew she felt much warmer than she had when she had gone under.
She was alive. She was alive. She was alive. Wait, MELISSA, was alive. She had found her on the mountain. The year, the decade, of searching, it had paid off; they were reunited and Carolyn had saved Melissa. She had, right?
Melissa was not in the room. No one was in the room. This was not some kind of Wizard of Oz, Dorothy back in Kansas on the farm wake up. Carolyn was all alone in a dark, dreary hotel room, hooked up to an IV bag.
“Melissa,” Carolyn muttered, unable to get the word out at a volume much louder than a whisper, her body so tired. “Melissa,” she tried again.
She was alone in the room. It would be maybe two hours until a nurse happened to walk by and heard her calling out softly
The nurse came to help her. Police officers came about an hour later, though none that Carolyn recognized, and she knew most of the local officers.
The officer who took the lead in speaking to her was a woman about her age, Officer Kemp, who had long, gray hair that hung out of the back of a green sheriff’s department baseball cap and fat cheeks.
The officer was nice and soft and warm and all naturally. Carolyn quickly suspected that’s why that had her talk to her, even though she was from Whatcom County, and not some good ol boy, roughneck.
Carolyn prodded Officer Kemp about Melissa and her health. Kemp was quickly caught off guard and Carolyn could see it, causing Carolyn to start crying.
“Did Melissa not make it?” Carolyn asked Kemp and the two young male officers who flanked her on each side.
Kemp and her buddies pow wowed. Carolyn didn’t like that. Then Kemp was back.
“I’m familiar with your daughter, Melissa, missing on the pass, but we were unaware that she was there today,” Kemp responded, suddenly growing much less warm and much more robotic in the way law enforcement usually was with her.
“But she was, I carried her down that mountain,” Carolyn fired back, quickly losing control.
Another pow wow between Kemp and her cronies.
They were back quickly. They could tell Carolyn was growing pissed. She could tell they were growing nervous. Neither like the other’s posture.
“We believe that you carried the younger officer who was up on the mountain down the mountain, Officer Alex Coleman. He’s also recovering from hypothermia in a room down the hall. He is going to pull through and I’m sure he’ll thank you for his life,” Officer Kemp explained.
“No, what?” Carolyn tried to make sense of it as she spoke. “It was Melissa.”
Kemp’s cronies sucked in on her, anticipating a third pow wow. She shook them off like a confident ace pitcher.
“I’m sorry, but it was not your daughter who you came in contact with on the mountain. It seems most likely that the hypothermia and intense snow may have caused snow blindness and hallucinations and you believe that you saw your daughter, but it was actually Officer Coleman. This kind of thing happens all the time in blizzards,” Officer Kemp explained.
Carolyn sat up in her bed and didn’t even feel the humongous amount of pain that she should have.
“No way. I know what I saw. Happens all the time? That’s bullshit,” Carolyn fired back. “And there was another man up there! The Man of the Mountain!”
Officer Kemp held out calming hands. At least hands that she hoped would be calming.
“I’m sorry. I don’t doubt what you saw. We believe the other man you saw up there was Officer Grant, but we’ve been unable to locate him. Where was it last that you saw him?” Officer Kemp finished with a question.
“I didn’t see Grant up there. It was not Grant,” Carolyn answered with her teeth gnashed together.
Officer Kemp had enough. She knew she wasn’t going to get any answers out of Carolyn any time soon. At least none that would help her find Grant or get some more clarity on the situation.
Carolyn started to calm down. She didn’t believe Kemp’s explanation, but there was a warm feeling deep inside that wasn’t in her even when she was at home, taking a hot shower on an 80-degree Summer day.
She had saved Melissa. She had been given the chance and she had saved Melissa. It was possible that it was just Melissa’s spirit up on that mountain and it had put itself into Officer Coleman. She could live with that. It was enough. Somewhere some part of Melissa was alive.
Carolyn smiled at Kemp and her buddies and waved them away.
“I honestly think I just need some more rest before I can answer any more questions,” Carolyn explained.
Kemp nodded. Then her assistants nodded. Then they walked out with each saying “thanks.”
Carolyn could have answered their questions all night and been happy and she could have started pulling out nuggets of what happened and what she saw but she was much more interested in something else that she had to attend to. She had some more distinct memories coming back to her. Those of the dreams she had just been having in the hospital all day, unbelievably high on all the pain killers they were shooting through her bloodstream.
In those dreams she had in fact rescued Melissa up on that mountain and the Man on the Mountain had died in the storm, left in their dust. In those dreams Melissa was back at Carolyn’s little house by the river, the fire roaring, a roast in the oven, Irish coffees fresh in their hands, three pet cats nearby giving them a watchful eye.
Carolyn preferred to be there so she drifted back to sleep.