Swinging the door of the store open, Harry advanced with his hand out and a big grin on his face. "Glad to see you're here, Charlie! How's your day going, Chief?"
Charlie Higgins reached a beefy hand out and they shook hands. "As right as rain, Admiral! Checking out? I'll be sorry to see you go, sir!"
Charlie was a friend from diesel boat days. Harry had told him about Convict Lake, and after retirement Charlie had found a job at the resort, where he enjoyed visiting with his old navy buddies and swapping both fish and war stories. He was a big, well fed fellow with a crop of snowy white hair and a drooping white mustache, his blue eyes matching Harry's in their brightness.
They stood together catching up on each other's business as Harry turned in the key and took his receipt. He waited while Charlie dealt with a couple of fishermen buying bait and then as soon as the door shut behind them asked the question that had been on his mind since the previous evening.
"Do you have anyone staying in the other cabins, Charlie?"
Charlie shook his head, mustache ends swinging from side to side. "You're it, Admiral. We're getting ready to close. If it hadn't been you calling for the reservation, nobody'd be here this week." He laid a finger alongside his nose and winked. "Gives me the chance to have some peace and quiet, get some fishing in all by myself before the season ends." Grinning, he rubbed his hands together and said, "'Course, I never mind fishing with you, sir. Sorry I didn't get a chance to walk down last night. Missus had a chore waiting for me when I got home. You looked mighty lonely down there all by yourself."
Harry flashed a grin of his own, eyes twinkling. "But I wasn't alone. Had a nice conversation with a young woman. She was standing there talking to me when you came out of the store. I didn't ask her name, thought you might know."
Charlie's expression sobered and he looked questioningly at Harry. "Admiral… there wasn't anybody down there with you yesterday."
Harry chuckled again, and rubbed the back of his ear. "Now, Chief, I know your eyes are getting old, but you weren't 75 yards from me. She was standing there right beside the picnic table. And don't get any ideas. I'm just curious, that's all."
Charlie folded his arms and regarded his old boss, then nodded his head decisively. "Was she wearing a long black coat and a white wedding dress?"
"She had on a long black coat, but I don't know about the dress part," Harry said, frowning.
"Oh, it's a wedding dress alright. She was gonna wear it for her wedding to Robert Morrison."
"Robert Morrison… what are you saying, Charlie?"
"I'm saying that you got to see our resident ghost, Admiral. Jenny Bell's up here looking for her husband to be, poor old Bob Morrison who was killed by those outlaws from the jailbreak in Carson City, so long ago."
"A ghost. That's impossible."
Charlie shook his head. "That's what they all say. Everybody figures it's a prank, a sick joke by some of the bored kids around here. But I've checked. There's no girl in the valley or up at Mammoth that looks like the one you saw. Except for the girl in this old photo."
Charlie turned around, plucked a picture off the wall and handed it to Harry, who took it and looked down, ready to argue.
The words died on his lips. In the center of the photograph was a young girl standing with her hand on the shoulder of a seated young man. The man was looking off to the side, looking solemn, but the girl was staring into the camera, smiling. It was the same smile that he had seen the day before, the same eyes. The sepia coloring of the print kept him from knowing the color of the dress she was wearing. But he did not need color to recognize the shawl around her shoulders.
"That was taken a week before Bob went up the mountain after the convicts. They were going to get hitched as soon as he got back. Jenny spent the rest of her life alone, living in Benton and grieving. These days, she's up here looking for him. People tell me they've seen her late in the day, walking towards the creek. They get closer, she's not there anymore."
Every fiber of Harry's scientific training was rebelling against this. "I just can't accept it, Charlie. There's got to be another explanation."
Charlie took the frame and placed it carefully back on the wall. "I figured that too, sir, 'til one time when I was out there by myself... You and me must be special, Admiral. She's talked to us. Knows a kindred soul when she sees one, I guess. Lost a lot of shipmates, we have. Sudden-like, sometimes. She got me to thinkin' about all those guys on eternal patrol." Charlie's sun-darkened face reddened. "I like to think that maybe, some day, I'll see them again."
Harry stared at the old chief, seeing a history of the service flash before his eyes. The friends, the fellow crewmembers, even the men he'd never met but who were fellow shipmates just the same. The violent death of so many, whether by enemy action or accident, was hard to forget. Much as his rational mind railed against it, Harry would not be surprised if some of them roamed the world, intent on remaining involved with the living.
"What is it that John Donne said? 'No man is an island, entire of itself'," Harry mused.
"John who, Admiral? What boat was he on?"
Harry laughed, and clapped his old friend on the shoulder. "Never mind, Charlie. If you say it was a ghost, I believe you. After being on Seaview, I'm pretty much up for anything."
After another round of handshakes and well wishes Harry left the store and headed for his car, taking one last look at the lake. There was a lone fisherman standing on the bank. Harry watched as the man took a mighty swing and heaved his line far out into the water. Silently he wished him luck.
Harry opened the trunk of the car and carefully put away his belongings and the cooler full of fish. He would make plans to come back when the season opened next year. Maybe he'd see Jenny again, after all. As he'd told Charlie, service on the Seaview had convinced him that nothing was impossible.
He thought back to what she had said about happiness being a gift. Had he actually told her that he was happy? He had to admit, he had. He toyed for a few moments with that, his analytical, no nonsense brain looking for ways to contradict it, and had to conclude there were none. At another time and another place he might have said something else, but here, in these mountains, to concede that he was happy was a certainty he could not deny. And then, what she had said about the people around him... maybe that was something he needed to accept, too. In Santa Barbara, two young men who had enriched his life awaited his return. Perhaps it was time to let them know how much he appreciated their forbearance with a grouchy old sailor.
Shutting the trunk on his gear, Harry started up the car and drove down the road, heading for home.
"Friends depart, and memory takes them
To her caverns, pure and deep."
Thomas Haynes Bayly, "Teach me to forget"