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  • Brian Watt

In From The Storm

Updated: Jul 17, 2018


The young man was tired. He had spent the better part of the day shoveling snow in a futile attempt to see if he could back up his car from the front yard and onto the road. But the elements and the High Sierra had other ideas. The blizzard was dropping a foot of snow every hour.


He had given up around 2 PM and as he looked out the living room window of the cabin, he could see that the snow was now waist-high and his car was a graceful, smooth mound. At around 5 PM, he walked to the back of the house and looked out of the utility room window above the long horizontal freezer.


He no longer saw the CalTrans snow plows with their flashing yellow lights on the highway across from the river that climbed up the grade through the canyon on their way up to the junction of highway 89 at the base of Hope Valley that led into South Lake Tahoe. The snowplow crews had given up for the day. He jumped on his computer and called up the CalTrans website and saw that the highway was officially closed and people were cautioned to stay home because it was too dangerous.


He was snowed in and there was no way to get over to the lake to get to work. His shift at the hotel started at 8 PM. Swing shift. He picked up his iPhone and called up the number for his supervisor’s office to tell him he was snowed in. His supervisor wasn’t pleased. He was a hothead anyway.


“You must come in!” His supervisor had shouted into the phone over a very bad, crackly reception.


“Sorry, ain’t gonna happen … unless you send a sled and a dog team. The roads are closed. I’m stuck here for the night. I wish I could help you but — “


“All right, all right.” His supervisor said curtly. Then just the buzz that signified that the call had ended.


“Well, okay then.” The young man said to himself.


He went to the kitchen and poured himself a snifter of brandy and then settled down in one of the leather recliners in front of the fireplace and picked up the book that he had been reading. He glanced over to the living room window and watched the enormous flakes falling and the occasional flurry of wind that turned everything white momentarily. He shook his head and turned back to his book. After a few sips of brandy and about what must have been just an hour, he had fallen asleep with the book flat against his stomach. He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep when he heard a pounding on the front door that jarred him awake.


“What the – who the heck is out on a night like this?” As he extricated himself from the recliner, he thought perhaps it was one of his neighbors from down the road who needed help. He opened the door and saw a man with deep-set pale blue eyes and a beard that looked like a large brush on his chin who was bundled in a large dark leather coat with a fur-lined hood. The man was carrying a large, leather pouch from a strap that went diagonally across his chest.


The young man glanced to the side of the front porch and noticed that the man had propped up two very long, narrow skis…they looked like cross country skis but a brand he had never seen before. The looked homemade. They looked like antiques.


“I’m so sorry to bother you,” the bearded man said, “but I saw the firelight in your window and I thought it would be wiser to wait this storm out for a few minutes before heading down to Markleeville.”


“Of course, of course,” the young man said, “Come in. You must be freezing. You know the roads are all closed. Where’s your car? You didn’t actually drive down from Kirkwood in this stuff.”


“No, no. I’ve been skiing for the last few days … I … what’s Kirkwood?” The bearded man asked as he stamped the snow off of his boots and came into the warm cabin.


“It’s the ski resor…” The young man started to say as he stepped out onto the front porch looking for the man’s car but only saw the mound of snow that covered his own. “…resort up off Highway 88…” he stammered. When he stepped back inside, he noticed that the man was looking at the interior of the house with great interest and then the man stopped and looked very intently at the microwave oven in the kitchen. He saw the man squint.


“I think I must have lost my way in the storm,” the bearded man said and then waved his gloved hand side-to-side in front of the hanging lamp over the kitchen table. “That’s amazing,” the man said as he removed his gloves.


“Well, it’s not that amazing. I found it at a garage sale over at the lake.”


The man stared at him for a second and then pointed to the microwave. “And what is that?”


“Oh, my gosh. You must be hungry. I am so sorry. I’m afraid I don’t have much,” the young man said as he walked to the freezer in the utility room, “I was going to go the store today and stock up but with this snow it was pretty much impossible. I’m afraid all I have is some frozen burritos.”


“Burritos? That means little burro in Spanish. You have donkey meat?”


“You are funny. Do you do stand up?”


“I am standing up.”


“Uh … yeah, right,” the young man said, as he emerged in the kitchen again with a box of frozen burritos. He set the box on the kitchen counter and placed two burritos on a plate, placed them into the microwave and snapped the door shut.


“Should only take a couple of minutes to nuke ’em,” the young man said, as he punched in 2-2-0 and hit “Start”.


“Nuke-um?”


“Yeah, this is a pretty high-powered oven. Top of the line.”


“It’s an oven?”


“Well, sure,” the young man laughed, “you have a microwave, right?”


“Microwave,” the bearded man repeated the word slowly and then shook his head. He stepped closer to the counter and peered into the microwave’s window watching the burritos rotate on a plate atop the glass platter inside.


“I don’t understand,” the man said.


“That’s okay. My grandmother doesn’t understand them either. She actually puts a cup of water in hers because she thinks it could come on in the middle of the night. Can you believe that? She’s a bit technophobic.”


“I don’t know what to believe. I think I better sit down.”


“Of course, where are my manners. Let me take your pouch and your coat,” the young man said as the bearded man lifted the strap over his head and handed him the pouch and then the coat and then sat at the kitchen table.


“Say, this thing is heavy,” the young man said referring to the pouch, “what d’ya got in here?”

“It’s the mail … from Placerville.”


“Wait a second, you’re a mailman? Are you from the lake? You work out of the South Tahoe post office?”


The bearded man stared up at the kitchen light and shook his head once more.


“No,” the man said, “First, I pick up the mail from the folks in Genoa and Markleeville and then make my way over to Placerville and then bring the mail from Placerville back this way. I don’t remember seeing this cabin in the canyon before. You must have built it in a hurry. I haven’t been gone that long.”


“No, it’s been here for years.”


“Then I must have strayed from my route in this blizzard. I could have sworn this was Carson Canyon.”


“It is.”


The bearded looked sternly at the young man.


“So, where’s your truck?” The young man said.


“My what?”


“Your mail truck? I mean, I know the motto and all. ‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…’” the young man said as he leaned back against the kitchen counter.


“I ski.”


“Yeah, you know, I haven’t really gotten serious about skiing yet. All my friends are skiers. Some are even on the ski patrol. They’re jokers though. The other day they got me up on one of the black diamond runs at Heavenly and then left me there and skied away laughing, shouting back, ‘Well, see you down at the lodge.’ The jerks. I guess that’s one way to learn though.”


The bearded man very faintly nodded his head.


“Look,” the young man said, “I suppose I should introduce myself. My name’s Mark,” he said as he held his hand outward toward the bearded man, “Mark Matlock.”


“I’m John,” the bearded man said, “John Thompson,” as they shook hands.


Mark’s iPhone buzzed on the table near the recliner.


“Excuse me, John. I know this is rude but I just can’t help checking my email.”


“Eee mail,” John repeated slowly.


“Ah, it’s nothing.” Mark said, looking down at the iPhone’s screen, “Just some HGTV contest. Win a home near Lake Placid.”


“Lake Placid? Lake Placid, New York?” John asked.


“Yeah, see?” Mark handed the iPhone to John.


John stared at the phone dumbfounded and the image of the designer home and the bold letters ‘HGTV’ and the sweeping headline ‘Win This Smart Vacation Home’.


“This is amazing,” he said as he turned the phone over and over in his hand examining it.

“Well, the new one is even bigger and more amazing. But this one does me fine.”


“What is it?” John asked.


Mark paused. Something wasn’t right with this guy. Maybe he’d been out in the storm too long. Maybe the cold had gotten to him and he was suffering from hypothermia and had gotten a bit loopy. Or maybe he was putting him on and toying with him. He thought he’d better be on his guard. He had heard about meth-heads, hitchhikers, and nomads breaking into the cabins along the road in the winter when they thought they were abandoned.


“It’s an iPhone, John. What do you have? A Samsung Galaxy?”


The microwave dinged and John jumped slightly.


“Your burritos are done.”


“I’m not sure I…”


“Don’t worry, it’s the best little donkey meat there is.” Mark joked making air quotes with his fingers as he said ‘donkey meat.’


As Mark reached in a drawer for some silverware and tore a couple of sheets of paper towel from a roll, John turned his attention back to the iPhone. He pressed the iPhone’s home button which brought up all the application icons. His eyes widened. He saw the iTunes icon and touched it. The last song that Mark had played appeared, it was the opening overture to Bizet’s Carmen.


Mark looked at him, “Hit the play button.”


“Play button? I don’t see any buttons.”


“That triangle in the middle, there.”


John warily touched the triangle and the music thundered to life. John dropped the phone and jumped up from his chair pointing back at the phone.


“There’s an orchestra in there!”


Mark rolled his eyes. Maybe this guy was developing a stand-up routine for one of the lounges over at one of the casinos at the lake. If so, he was really in character.


“Yep,” Mark said as he picked up the iPhone and stopped the music, “They’re really tiny … but they make a great big sound, especially when I dock it into the AV receiver,” as he nodded toward the home entertainment center in the living room and set the plate of the cooked burritos in front of his visitor.


John looked over to the stack of electronic components and the tower speakers in each corner of the living room.


“But … but…” he stammered.


“Oh, yeah … I don’t have a TV. Too much of a distraction. I just listen to music. What’ll ya have to drink?” Mark asked as he opened the refrigerator. He glanced backward and noticed that John was looking toward the refrigerator now and his jaw had dropped open.

“I’ve got a couple of beers. Some Vitamin Water. Some milk. I’d stay away from the milk. Some regular water and some Orange-Banana-Strawberry juice.” He turned and looked at John who was staring into the refrigerator like a deer in the headlights. “Uh … how ‘bout a beer?” Mark said as he held aloft a bottle of Corona.


John just nodded very slowly and sat back down in his chair. He stared at the two steaming burritos in front of him and didn’t know what to do.


When Mark asked him for a lime for his Corona, John just silently shook his head.


“Look, John,” Mark said, “Are you feeling okay? You’re acting kind of strange. Maybe you were out in the storm too long.”


“I’ve been out there for three days.” John replied.


“What?!” Mark exclaimed. “Did your truck break down somewhere?”


“I don’t have a truck. I ski.” John said.


“You’ve been out in this weather for three days … skiing?”


“Yes, I left Placerville three days ago.”


“Get outta town!”


“Precisely.” John said, “I got out of Placerville to head home three days ago. The terrain is more uphill so it takes me longer. I can usually get to Placerville in two.”


Mark stared at his visitor for a long time. Then he got up slowly and walked to the front door. He stepped out onto the porch and then reemerged in the cabin with John’s long skis.

“With these?” Mark said emphatically, holding the skis up.


“Yes, my third trip this season. A pack of wolves nearly got me on my last trip.”


“A pack of … You deliver the mail on skis between Placerville and Genoa.”


“And Markleeville.” John added.


“Oh, yes and Markleeville,” Mark said skeptically. “Look, John or whatever your name is, you think I’m an idiot?”


“No … I…”


“You come in here with this crazy story in the middle of the night and you expect me to…”


“You’ve been most hospitable, Mr. Matlock. I’m sorry … I’m just very confused. All of this,” John said as he gestured to everything in the room, “all of this is strange to me. Are you an inventor of some sort? Did you invent that eye, eye … phone? That micro … micro…”


“Microwave.” Mark finished the question.


“Yes, and all that over there?” John pointed to the home entertainment center.


“I’m not an inventor, John.”


John stood up and walked toward the coffee table in the living room and looked down at Mark’s MacBook Pro.


“Did you make this?” He carefully opened the computer.


Mark walked over and tapped a few keys to wake the computer up. There was a news story on the screen with an embedded video, an ad for United Airlines. The ad came to life and a United Airlines jet roared through the video’s window.


John’s eyes grew wide again.


“What was … what was that?!”


Mark shook his head. He was losing his patience with this nut case and ready to toss him out the door — blizzard or no blizzard — or call 9-1-1, but he thought what the hell, he’d test John one more time and he clicked open his iTunes movie library on his laptop and selected the movie, Alien and then fast-forwarded to the scene where the alien pops out of John Hurt’s chest.


“You think that’s something, check this out.” Mark said.


John leapt backward and screamed horrified.


“You stay away from me, young man,” he cautioned Mark with his outstretched hand and then picked up his coat and his pouch. “I have a gun. I’m going to get my skis now and leave. Don’t try to follow me. You’re a very dark and sinister person. I don’t know how you made all these things. I don’t know if you’re part of a traveling circus or something or some sort of magician or sorcerer or something. I don’t know what the trick is or how you make these things work and come to life. But I’ll be back with the sheriff and some other men. You better pack up and leave before we get back, mister. If you know what’s good for you. The sheriff has hanged men for less.”


And with that, John bolted out the front door as he threw on his coat, clutched the mail pouch and grabbed his skis and slammed the door behind him.


Mark stood for a minute thinking. The guy had a gun? I should have checked his pockets. Or he was bluffing? What a psycho! I better call the police. He slowly approached the front door not sure if his visitor was still outside and ready to shoot at him if indeed he had a gun. He opened the door slowly and looked out into the front yard. The snow had stopped falling. He looked down at where his visitor’s tracks should have been but the snow was pristine. Mark looked up at the night sky and the stars overhead. The storm clouds had moved on. “That is so weird,” he thought to himself.


He stepped back in the cabin and looked at the untouched burritos on the kitchen table and the iPhone next to the plate. He heaved a sigh. He turned and looked at his Mac which was still playing Alien. He walked over and quit iTunes then sat back in the recliner. He stared at the computer screen for a few seconds, then placed the Mac on his lap and opened his browser and typed in ‘John Thompson’ ‘Markleeville’ ‘Placerville’ and ‘mail’ into the search window. He read a few of the entries and then closed the laptop.


He looked over at his empty brandy snifter, put the MacBook Pro on the coffee table, got up from the recliner and picked up the snifter. He walked into the kitchen and pulled down the bottle of brandy from the cupboard and filled two-thirds of the snifter with brandy and glanced down at his shaking hand.





Article originally published on Ricochet.com and LinkedIn Pulse.

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