Monday, September 10, 2018

What If?

by Shari Randall

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?
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?


E. B. Davis said...

Love your mind, Shari!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

No, we're always looking for a body dump, the perfect weapon, undetectable poison, and murderer nobody saw coming.

Grace Topping said...

If I were your husband, I think I'd worry! Great that you have such a good imagination--much needed by a mystery writer.

Chemist Ken said...

Sounds like a wonderful area for an author to wander around in, even if they don't write mysteries. I write fantasy and those street names would put me in the proper mood with little trouble.

Shari Randall said...

EB, that's why it's so great to hang out with other mystery writers - we understand each other.

Margaret, LOL! I did see a few good places to stash a body....

Grace, I think all our significant others should worry.

Hi Chemist Ken, it was a great area - the landscape itself was so intriguing. I can see how Washington Irving was inspired to write his stories there.

Warren Bull said...

I've told my wife that if anything ever happened to her and the police search my computer, I'm toast.

Shari Randall said...

Warren, LOL!

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, I've traveled over northern New York State camping with my sisters, too. Such lovely scenery. And yes, I've often come up with ideas for murders and my sisters have often made suggestions, too. However, once in a gift shop down in Shenandoah National Park where we were camping, I came up with an idea and said to my youngest sister, who was near me, "I just thought of a good way to murder someone." She hurried away from me quickly.

Kait said...

Love it! Parts of my mother's family is from the land of the Kills. I never thought about it, but I do remember thinking it was a pretty gory place which as a normal child was just an enticement to wander and make up stories! Never had any of the ice cream, but lots of apples and homemade pies and cakes seemed to be for sale on every corner on every corner. There were also wonderful fairytale villages. Trick or treating in headless horseman country was spooky but fun, as long as you didn't have an older brother - I did. It is a great place to set a mystery. Maybe on the site of the hotel that hosted Dirty Dancing - which was actually in South Carolina I think. Lake Lure?

KM Rockwood said...

It's a hazard of the trade, Shari! Everything (and anything) can be incorporated in fiction.

Shari Randall said...

Gloria, it's a wonder that our families put up with us!

Hi Kait, it must have been a wonderful place to grow up! I'm eager to return.

Shari Randall said...

KM, LOL! You're right!

Jim Jackson said...

The reason I became a mystery writer was because all my life I’ve wondered how to game the system in front of me. That was before I learned to write mystery/suspense/thrillers, and it’s twice as bad now.

And the way to carry that half-gallon of raspberry ice cream home is in your stomach. You’re welcome.