The rumble of the train slipping into the railyard sent tremors through the old house. The subtle shaking worked its way along the stone foundation, moving into the floor joists and walls, finally making its way into the beams and roof trusses, rattling the light fixture above the bed.
Her heart pounding, sweat beading across her brow, Harking opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling, her mind sifting through the details, trying to distinguish dream from reality.
Her father had been reluctant to lead her class on the backcountry trip, claiming he had other more pressing things to do, but she’d finally convinced him to help chaperone. He was an excellent skier after all, a trained guide, well versed in backcountry travel. He also knew the park like the back of his hand and the trail to the hut was relatively straightforward, climbing out of the forest of lodgepole pine and winding its way through Englemann spruce and subalpine fir, avoiding most of the avalanche paths in the area.
But the storm had changed everything, slowing down and separating the group, increasing the risk as the daylight hours faded.
When she realized it was getting late, she knew her father would be making a last-ditch effort to push a track through the deep snow, making it easier for the others. He’d get to the hut then backtrack to help the stragglers.
They were getting close and there was no turning back.
They were committed.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, like the tremors from the morning trains, an uncontrollable shaking racked Harking’s body as the memories of that day came flooding back.
Her father was dead.
And she was to blame.
No one said it to her face, but she could see it on theirs.
She was in the lead group right behind her father, desperate to get out of the storm.
She wondered if they were forcing him to take risks, crossing avalanche paths he’d normally avoid?
Whatever the reason, it was a moot point now.
When the snow gave way, Dan was in the lead.
That’s what she remembered.
The rest was a blur.
In the end a small group of classmates were caught in the slide, but only her father had been killed. The others, like Harking, had been partially buried, self-rescuing or helped by students and teachers who’d been following behind.
Harking had collapsed by the time they got to her and remained in hospital for two days after their rescue. She remembered almost nothing about that day. Even as the details were revealed to her, most of what happened remained clouded in guilt.
Efforts to console her had largely failed, the almost unbearable weight of grief and sense of responsibility at having caused her father’s death, pulling her down.
But she had managed to come out on the other side.
Lying there as the sounds of the train faded, Harking struggled to refocus, consciously trying to slow down her breathing and the whirlwind of thoughts racing through her head.
Drying her eyes she was determined to move on.
Tossing off the heavy quilt, she slid her almost six-foot frame out of bed and walked to the open window, parting the curtains as the first rays of sunlight made their way into the valley. Standing in her pajamas she sucked in the cool mountain air and stretched, massaging the back of her neck, oblivious to the trio of boys gawking up at her from the back alley.
The first catcall startled her.
“Hey, Harking,” one of the boys yelled, repeating the shrill whistle as Harking shoved a middle finger into the air.
There was a chorus of laughter and the boys raced off on their bikes.
“Assholes,” she muttered as the trio disappeared around a corner.
Harking quickly changed into her bike shorts and grabbed a jersey from the hummock of dirty clothes on the floor. Hauling the shirt over her head as she rushed downstairs, she hesitated at the landing.
Not wanting to wake Marion, she nudged the bedroom door and peeked inside. Seeing no sign of movement, Harking eased the door shut and slipped into the bathroom.
She was out again in a few minutes, her long auburn hair tied back and hanging down the centre of her back. Once again, she checked the main floor bedroom, this time standing silently against the door and listening for any sign of movement.
Hearing nothing, Harking tiptoed into the kitchen. She quickly made a peanut butter and jam sandwich, slid it into a plastic bag, then added it to her pack along with an apple from the bowl of fruit on the table. Standing at the sink, she ran the tap and filled the dented water bottle, took a sip, and then topped it up.
“In a hurry?” said the voice behind her.
Harking’s shoulders slumped as she screwed the lid on the bottle and turned around. “Sorry, Marion. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Not to worry.” Marion pulled the housecoat tightly around her lean frame as she walked to the stove and picked up the kettle. “I can’t stay in bed on a beautiful day like this,” she added, making her way to the sink. “Tea?”
“No thanks,” said Harking. “Gotta run.”
“Those boys are going to drive you crazy, young lady.”
Harking hesitated. “You heard them?”
“Hmph,” Marion muttered. “The whole town probably heard them.” She pulled out a chair and sat at the small wooden table. “Sound carries pretty far at this time of day.”
“Oh well,” said Harking. “Nothing we can do about that. Boys will be boys.”
Marion smiled and ran a hand through her shoulder length grey hair. “Isn’t that the truth?”
Harking finished loading her pack and stood at the doorway. “Do you mind if I take off?”
“Not at all,” said Marion. “But where are you taking off to, exactly? In case I have to send out a search party.”
Harking laughed. “I thought I’d check out the area up back of the lake.”
“Still looking for that bird?”
“Yeah. I know it’s out there, but I have to actually see it to add it to my life list. That’s the birder’s rule.”
“Well, you’ll have more time to look for it now that school is almost over for the summer.”
“You mean for good.”
“Goodness, that’s true. I can’t believe you’re almost finished.” Marion paused. “With this stage anyway.”
“Couldn’t happen soon enough. I’m done with school.”
Marion smiled. “Don’t be in a rush. Once you start working, you’ll be working for the rest of your life.”
Harking waited impatiently by the door. “I kind of do want to get going, though. The birds are more active in the morning. I thought I’d put out Dad’s recorder and the remote camera to see if I could pick up anything interesting.”
“Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak,” said Marion. “Okay, get out of here. But be careful. That’s some of the only good wildlife habitat left in the valley. I don’t want you to charge down a trail on your bike and surprise a bear.”
“I’ll leave my bike by the main trail and hike in. I don’t want to run into a bear either.”
“Smart girl,” said Marion. “Hopefully those boys are as smart.”
“I doubt it,” Harking said with a shrug. “Anyway, they’re off doing their own thing. I never see them.”
“Just as well,” said Marion. “They seem like trouble. I’ve heard they’re cutting their own trails all over the valley.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Harking. “They think they can go wherever they want in the park.”
Marion shook her head. “Some people’s kids.”
“They’re okay,” said Harking. “A little misguided perhaps. Tyson is the only one I really need to keep an eye on.” Harking’s voice faltered.
“Hmph.” Marion seemed about to launch into a sermon but Harking quickly cut her off.
“Please let it go, Marion. I don’t want to get into that now.” Harking’s body slumped noticeably. “Anyway, when Match is around, Tyson and the others are pussycats.”
“Hmph,” Marion repeated. “Match. What a name.”
“Yeah,” said Harking, pulling herself up, glad to change the topic. “I’m not even sure what it’s short for.”
“No doubt something cryptic,” Marion scoffed. “Probably makes no more sense than his father does sometimes. But don’t get me started. Ever since he came here as park superintendent, he’s been hard to pin down.”
Harking raised her eyebrows, but didn’t respond.
“Go on and get out of here,” Marion shooed her; not having to repeat the offer as Harking vanished through the doorway.