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It was anything but a quiet week in the city in the mountains, what with the 30th Annual Bele Chere Festival going on, so I had taken myself out of town, and up into the hills in search of a quiet campsite where I could pitch my tent and just relax.
I had sent the package to Arianne's sister, hoping that - even if she wouldn't talk to me, and tell me where Arianne was - she would still forward it. But I had no way of knowing. And no way of knowing what Arianne's reaction would be. So I hoped that spending a few days away from everything, and communing with Nature, would help me get my mind settled so I could get back to working on some cases and making some money.
I got a friend to drop me off at my favorite trailhead, agreed on a time to meet him to take me back to town, shouldered my pack and headed into the woods. I had a spot in mind along the creek where an old rail line had once been laid for logging, so it was flat and well above the water - in case of a sudden storm - and I knew it would take me about two hours of hiking to get there.
As I moved along the trail, I could feel the concerns of my life slipping away. The sounds and scents of Nature gently pushed away thoughts of bills, and rent ... and Arianne. About 3/4 of a mile in, the trail began to parallel Lynne's Creek, and the sound of the water rushing over the rocks as it headed down the mountain caused the last vestiges of concern to drop away.
"I should do this more often," I said to myself as I followed upstream, toward the first of three waterfalls I knew lay between here and my destination. As I got closer to the waterfall, I could hear the crash of the water as it cascaded down the face of the falls. But there was another, clashing sound that was beginning to tug at me. I slowed my stride as I tried to figure out this dissonance, but was totally unprepared for the realization that was about to come.
As I made my way around the last bend of the trail below the falls, I realized that I was hearing music... a marching band. What The Poop?, I thought as I walked into the small glade around the pool at the bottom of the falls. There, spread out all around the pool, was the Saint Francis School for Girls Marching Band, playing John Philip Sousa music and having a picnic.
The music ground to a halt as the girls noticed that I had entered the glade. I stood there with a dumbstruck look on my face, wondering how - and why - an entire marching band had come all the way out here into the forest to have lunch and rehearse. It certainly wasn't because they weren't good. They sounded quite good, not to mention looking very fetching in their blue and white uniforms.
It was then that I noticed that not all the girls had been busy playing music. There were several of them in the pool, staring at me with only their heads above the water, and I noticed piles of clothes on the bank nearby.
I looked around nervously, trying to figure the quickest way through the group and on up the trail, as one of the girls in the water moved towards me. "Hey, mister, would you care to join us? We've got lots of food, and the water is fine!" she said as she reached the bank and pulled herself out of the water. Her shoulders were scorched, and no one seemed to care.
I turned away quickly and busied myself looking at the trees up on the hillside as the girl laughed and put on her uniform. More laughter rippled through the group as they noticed that my face was red. I heard a sigh behind me, as the girl said "Sometimes the only way to get these things started is to grease them up a bit. My name is Mary Catherine, and I'm the drum major. Won't you please join us? Dean Michaels would never forgive us if we weren't hospitable."
As several of the girls around me offered food, Mary Catherine jumped up on a rock and motioned for the band to begin playing again - a jaunty tune that sounded somewhat familiar. I accepted some fruit and cheeses as I listened and enjoyed. Although the cheese was moldy, the glockenspiel stayed in tune, and I began to really enjoy myself. One of the girls helped me off with my pack, and I sat down to eat.
The band members were taking turns swimming, never enough at one time to detract from the music, although there were moments of discord in the brass section. The trumpets and trombones were doing all right, but the Sousaphone, again, was uncooperative. Despite this minor fracas, I was feeling extremely giddy, and even began to dance around a bit.
I continued eating the moldy cheese until suddenly a moose came crashing out of the woods, while the band was playing a rousing version of Amazing Grace. By this point I was acting as a music stand for Mary Catherine, and as the gangly animal careened through the panicked band - bellowing the whole time - its antlers snagged on a picnic basket and hurled the contents through the air. The condiments in the basket spewed everywhere, including on the me and the sheet music I was holding. Amazing Grace was doused in ketchup, but the moose was loud and clear.
It was then that I slipped on some mayonnaise and hit my head on a rock.
When I came to, the paramedics were loading me onto a stretcher. I had laid in the woods for two days, unconscious, before my friend found me, and the head wound had become infected. The antibiotics cost half again as much as the doctor's appointment. So much for socialized medicine. And there was no sign of a Girl's School Marching Band anywhere.