After a crazy-busy summer of deadlines, weddings, and travel, my husband whisked me away for a quiet weekend visiting friends in upstate New York. The idea was to leave the writing behind and focus on relaxing.
As we drove west the landscape worked its magic – I felt my muscles unwind as we passed rolling green hills and farm fields golden and mellow. Our friends provided awesome food and great company. Their loveable mutt, Rosie, was ready with a friendly welcome. After dinner, as the lake water sparkled in the setting sun, a willow gently swayed by our circle of Adirondack chairs. Soon a late night fire crackled as we made s’mores and counted shooting stars overhead.
Maybe my husband was right – getting away from the computer was a good idea. I watched Rosie trot into the darkness, her tail wagging, and disappear into the shadows by the lakefront. A thought, unbidden, jolted me.
What if Rosie found a body down by the lakefront?
While I’d left my computer behind, I couldn’t leave the mystery writer’s constant companion, the question that accompanies us everywhere: What if?
The next day we hiked to Kaaterskill Falls, the spectacular waterfall that inspired the Hudson River School of painting. Water plunges 260 feet from tall cliffs, forming two pools in its descent. The sound of the water alone was soothing, the landscape breathtaking.
As we walked, my friend Heidi pointed to a deep orange wildflower by the trailside. “That’s jewelweed," she said. "My aunt made a poison ivy salve from that. Mix it with grain alcohol and a bit of olive oil to make it stick. Or in a pinch you can rub the plant right on your skin if you get in some poison ivy.”
As we walked I thought, What if? What if someone substituted a different, more dangerous plant in a bottle labeled Jewelweed Salve?
We watched two young men, one kitted out with climbing gear, sidle around a sign clearly marked WARNING. DANGER. CLOSED! and head up the trail to the top of the falls. Minutes later, a red rope dangled from the top of the falls and one of them started rappelling down the sheer rock face by the tumbling water. His friend handled the rope. A grim ranger hurried up the trail.
What if the friend wasn’t a friend at all? What if he loosened that rope….
On the road home we stopped at Stewarts, the iconic upstate New York gas station that also sells delicious ice cream. As I savored my black raspberry ice cream I’m happy to report my only thought was How do I get a half-gallon of this home?
But a few miles down the road, our friend Mike told me there was another sight I had to see. He smiled gleefully as he pulled over so I could get a photo of a street sign that read Murders Kill Road.
The Dutch settler’s word for brook or stream was “Kill” – everywhere were signs with the word “kill.” I was in the Catskills. I was surrounded by reminders of the mystery writer’s profession.
Relax? What had I been thinking? The street names we passed were Haunted Lane, Strange Court, Imagination Lane, and Superstition Road. I was surrounded by the landscape that inspired Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman.
Writers, can you ever truly get away and leave the “what if” behind?