The Wind of Lonely Places


Blair grasped the steering wheel with a sudden, galvanic start, gazing 
wildly about himself.  He calmed slowly, as he found himself parked in 
his driveway, the motor off, falling snow building a pale chevron on his 
windshield above the wipers.  He got out of the car slowly, locked the 
door behind him, detached his skis from the rack and carried them 
inside his house.
	A hot shower relaxed his body somewhat, but his thoughts 
remained a disordered tangle.  He carried a book and a bottle of beer 
into the bedroom and settled himself.  Half an hour and two paragraphs 
later he gave up the effort to concentrate, switched off his bedside lamp 
and lay back, staring at the shadows cast across his bedroom ceiling by 
the streetlight outside his window.

	The darkness in his room was greying toward dawn when Blair 
woke from the sleep that had stolen on him unaware.  The glowing 
numerals on the bedside clock showed a quarter past six.  His breath 
grew as shallow as the night; his heart bounced woodenly against his 
ribs.  Something had brought him awake.
	What? A sound?
	A presence.
	Nothing there.
	What is it?
	Don't know.
	Go see?
Blair hesitated, eased himself out of bed, wrapped himself in a tattered 
plaid bathrobe, and groped his way cautiously from the bedroom, into 
the hallway.  The intruder was easily discerned in the pre-dawn gloom, 
sitting quietly at the table in Blair's front room, a dark presence beneath 
the pale banner of his hair.  Blair drew a hissing breath, taking a step 
backward in shock.  The seated figure didn't move.
	"Kelly?" Blair said tentatively.
	The white-haired shadow moved slightly.  "Sorry to...trouble 
you at this hour," said Kelly, his breath sounding labored.  "However, 
we left matters between us...unfinished."
	"Are you all right?" Blair asked, peering through the darkened 
	"A slight injury," Kelly said.  "It was worse awhile ago."
	For reasons he was unable to define or acknowledge, Blair was 
unwilling to pass close enough beside Kelly's shadowed figure to reach 
the light switch near the front door.  He fumbled  for the switch on the 
wall beside him.  The reflected glare from the hallway light cast a dim 
illumination across the seated figure.
	"Jesus, Kelly!"  Blair gasped.  The right side of the old man's 
face was clotted with blood, around four parallel gouges that started at 
his hairline and disappeared beneath the collar of his ski jacket.  The 
jacket itself was soaked down the right breast and arm.  Kelly smiled 
slightly, a ghastly-looking gesture through his half-mask of blood.
	"I look very poorly, no doubt."
	"You should be in a hospital," said Blair, staring.  "How are you 
even managing to sit up straight?"
	"I heal quickly.  The bleeding has already stopped, and I'm 
feeling stronger by the hour," said Kelly, his voice firmer now.  "In any 
case, a hospital would be of limited use to me."
	Blair could see now that Kelly's wounds were in fact no longer 
bleeding.  He stared at the old man, at a loss for words.  He started to 
speak, and found he had nothing to say.
	"Aren't you going to ask me how it happened?" asked Kelly 
	Again Blair opened his mouth to speak, and again the words 
would not come.  Finally he managed a question.  "What do you want?"
	"Satisfaction, to begin."
	"Of my morbid sense of curiosity," Kelly amplified.  "I seem to 
recall telling you about that."
	"Oh. About what?"
	"Just a few details - I think I know most of it, already.  How a 
local college teacher and his lover, one of his students, went hiking in the 
Pecos wilderness one day.  How they lost their way, and a snowstorm 
came howling over the mountains.  And how the man was found when 
he stumbled, half frozen, into the search and rescue team's control point 
at the base area of the ski basin."
	Blair became extremely pale as Kelly spoke.  He slowly 
approached the table, pulled out a chair opposite the old man, sat 
	"That was all in the newspapers.  What I am not entirely clear 
on is what happened in between - how the two of you were separated."
	Blair licked his lips.  "Where exactly we were, I don't know - 
somewhere below Lake Peak, I think.  Visibility was very poor.  One 
moment we were together, and the next she was gone.  I looked for her, 
called out for her, but I couldn't find her..."  Kelly was shaking his head, 
and Blair trailed off.
	"That's the story you gave to the authorities, and that was 
printed in the papers.  We both know differently, though.  You were 
below Tesuque Peak.  I'll grant you might not have realized that before 
you were found, but you surely knew it once you reached help.  Why 
didn't you tell them where to find her?"
	Blair's face had become even more ashen.  "I was 
confused...we'd been separated..."
	"You left her."
	Blair lowered his head.  "She told you, didn't she?  The whole 
thing.  Why are you asking me this now?"
	Kelly's voice was soft, remorseless.  "Yes, she told me. Now, 
you tell me. Finish it."
	Blair spoke in a faded monotone.  "The weather had been so 
fine that day," he said.  "We were only wearing light clothes.  We hiked 
up to Nambe Lake, then went off the trail over the ridge.  We were 
going to climb into the ski basin from the north side of Lake Peak.  I'd 
done it before on my own, but I couldn't find the way I'd been before.  
And then the storm came up so suddenly - it started with hail, you 
know.  Stones the size of marbles.  We sheltered beneath a tree, trying 
to wait it out, but the air only got colder, and then the hail turned to 
snow.  We walked and walked - I don't know how long.
	"In one place we slipped on the hail stones and slid down a long 
slope.  That is where Kate wrenched her ankle.  I helped her walk after 
that, but she couldn't go on.  I found a hollow in the mountainside that 
seemed more sheltered than other places.  I told her to wait for me 
there, that I would get help.  She begged me not to leave her, but..."  
Blair put his face in his hands and wept.
	"But," Kelly continued, "you knew you weren't both going to 
make it out of there alive.  You thought you might have a chance on 
your own.  So you abandoned her."
	Blair raised his head, staring angrily at Kelly through reddened 
eyes.  "You're a superior son of a bitch aren't you, old man?  You think 
you'd have acted differently, do you?"
	Kelly sighed, shrugged.  "That kind of self knowledge is hard for 
a man to come by, and it always comes at cost.  I won't insist I'd not 
have done the same."  Kelly looked at Blair steadily.  "But you did far 
worse, Rob Blair.  You denied her a chance at survival, simply because 
you couldn't bear the thought that people might know what you had 
done.  So you lied to S&R, and they went searching in the wrong place.  
You abandoned her twice."
	Blair looked away from Kelly's gaze, and the two sat in silence 
for a time.  At last Blair raised his eyes, his expression resigned.  "How 
much?" he said.
	"Beg pardon?" Kelly asked, confused.
	"How much is your silence going to cost me, and for how long.  
You didn't dig all this up just to watch me bleed."
	Kelly stared back silently.
	"Look, I don't make all that much, but I'll pay whatever I can. 
I've got tenure, damn you!"
	Kelly shook his head.  "You don't know," he said, wonderingly.
	"I don't know what?" Blair demanded.
	"Where have you been, and what have you been doing for the 
last four months, Mr Blair?"
	"What are you talking about?"  Blair said uncertainly.
	"Think about it!"  said Kelly.  "Why have you been sending all of 
those poor souls over the Blood Rock?"
	Blair's stomach clenched with sudden fear.  He felt a pounding 
pressure behind his eyes, and swayed dizzily in his chair.  A shrill 
keening arose in the back of his mind, growing louder, reaching a 
maddening volume.  Something darted from the shadows: a wiry, red-
eyed, gnomish figure covered with mangy, ochre fur.  It flung itself 
toward Kelly with astonishing speed, needle-tipped claws extended.  A 
dark shape detached itself from the shadows beside Kelly, its eyes 
flaring a sulfurous yellow that trailed an afterimage as it leaped.  It 
struck the creature in mid-air, sending it in a squalling tumble across the 
floor, into a darker corner of the room.  Blair stared, horrified, at the 
monstrous animal, and the squeaking, writhing thing pinned beneath its 
huge forepaws.
	"Hardly enough to work up a sweat over," murmured Kelly.  
The dog whuffed.
	Blair seemed unable to tear his eyes away from the sight, even 
when Kelly left the table and passed into the kitchen.  He felt a presence 
beside him, looked around to see Kelly placing one of his drinking 
glasses, half-filled with a pale liquid, on the table before him.
	"Drink," Kelly told him.
	"Drink it.  My associate over there grows anxious for his meal.  
You can be thankful he has eaten once tonight already.  Usually he is 
something of a glutton."  The dog produced a sound mid-way between a 
cough and a snort.
	The words reached Blair with their meaning dulled.  He looked 
from Kelly to the glass, and back.
	"Drink," said Kelly again.  "You'll go harder into that good night 
without it."
	Blair blinked confusedly, but at last took the glass into his hand 
and raised it to his lips.