Spring 2020, Volume 28

Fiction by William Cass

Until Our Time Comes

Peggy made the turn onto M-90 just past the hamlet of Johnsondale and started the final slow incline up the mountain.  She’d begun the drive from San Diego before dawn; without traffic or delays it was a little over six hours to Sequoia National Forest’s closest entrance, and another twenty minutes or so past it to her father’s old rented cabin across from Ponderosa Lodge at the top of the mountain.  It had been fifteen years since she’d last visited her father and his longtime partner, Juanita, at their rented cabin, but the tunnel of trees, rock outcroppings, stream crossings, and occasional meadows along the ascent were still familiar.  There were no other cars on the road as she drove through the freckled shadows in the clean mid-October light.

Peggy pulled to a stop in front of the cabin a little after noon.  Except for plywood where the windows used to be and the chained padlock across the front door, it hadn’t changed: faded shingles, tin roof, and patch of scruffy grass off the sagging porch where her father had once fired his shotgun over the head of an approaching bear.  The window in the dim room she used to stay in over the garage was boarded up, too.  Dust floated lazily in shafts of sun slanting through the surrounding firs, sequoias, and pines.  Except for a trickle from the tiny creek next to the cabin, it was completely silent.  Peggy blew out a long breath, then turned into the lot in front of the lodge and parked.  On an out-of-season Wednesday morning, the place was almost deserted; a pick-up truck in front of the lodge office and a couple of Harleys between buildings, like the assortment her father had ridden over the years, were the only other vehicles there.

The lodge consisted of a long, low building with its office and five motel-type rooms, a separate chalet-style building with a restaurant/bar on the first floor and an owners’ apartment with a wide balcony on top, and a woodshed to the far side stacked high with quartered logs.  Peggy entered the empty restaurant through its open screen door.  She knew the place had changed hands, and the interior showed smatterings of remodeling, but most of the same photographs still hung on the wall just inside the entry.  She studied the largest one in which her father leaned against his motorcycle in front of the lodge office with his arms folded across his thin chest and his old coonskin hat crooked on his head.  His gray hair was in its usual long braid and his scraggly beard was almost the same length; he’d cut neither since his teens.  The wire-rimmed glasses he wore were tinted dark in the sun, but his customary expression of surly defiance was still unmistakable.  She smiled, kissed her fingertip, and touched it to the glass.

Peggy heard movement behind the swinging half-doors to the kitchen, and called out, “Hello?”

A man’s jowly face appeared above the half-doors.  “Sit where you like,” he said.  “I’ll be right out.

The bar and pool table took up half the room closest to the doors, and a dozen or so rough-hewn wooden tables with red vinyl chairs were clustered together in the other.  Peggy sat down at the closest table, swept her eyes across the mountain-lore odds and ends adorning the walls and fireplace mantel, and felt a hardness crawl into her throat.  A moment later, the man pushed through the swinging doors carrying a glass of ice water and silverware wrapped in a paper napkin with a menu tucked under an arm.  Peggy watched as he arranged each in front of her on the table.  He was about ten years older than her, fiftyish, thick around the middle and balding.  He wore jeans, an untucked plaid shirt, and a soiled white apron. 

He smiled at her and asked, “What can I do you for?”

“Too late for breakfast?”


“Well, then, scrambled eggs and wheat toast.”



He took the menu away and went back through the swinging doors.  The man returned with a mug of steaming coffee and set it down in front of her.  He smiled again and asked, “You heading into the park?”

She shook her head.  “Just making a quick visit.  My dad used to live here for many years.  In that cabin right across from the parking lot.  He tended bar here a few nights a week, and his girlfriend waited tables.”  She gestured towards the photographs in the entry.  “He’s the guy in the coonskin hat in the big picture by the door.”

The man glanced in that direction and his smile broadened.  “He was before my time, but I’ve heard plenty about him.  Guess he’s quite a character.”

“He was that.”


Peggy felt her lips purse.  She nodded.

“He as ornery as they say?”

A tiny chuckle escaped her.  “Yep.”

“Why’d he leave?”

“Emphysema.  Wouldn’t stop smoking.  Thin air up here got too much for him.”

“Where’d they move to?”

“Down near me in San Diego.  Found them a place in a mobile home park.  Her health was actually worse than his.  They both had strokes and continued to decline.  She passed away after a few years, then he moved in with me.  I cared for him until he died, too, in February.”


“Thanks.”  She returned a grimaced smile, then shook her head.  “He missed it here every day after he left.  He was never really happy again.”        

The man nodded slowly, his eyes downturned at the outside edges: gentle, kind.  “This mountain isn’t for everybody,” he said, “but it sure works for some of us.”  He paused.  “Well, I’ll get that breakfast going for you.”


Peggy ate slowly, letting her memories of the place and her father tumble over themselves.  At one point, the man refilled her coffee mug.  Shortly afterward, she heard the crunch of his footsteps in the parking lot gravel and watched him walk across it through the window.  He stopped to put something in the truck, then went into the lodge office.  When she’d finished her meal, he still hadn’t returned, so Peggy put three five-dollar bills under her mug and went back out to her car.  She took her rucksack off the passenger seat, shrugged it over her shoulders, and walked across the road.  She passed the boarded-up cabin and found the trailhead to Red Rock where it had always been just beyond the garage.  The spongy, dry pine needles covering the trail felt the same under her feet as she made the gentle incline, and their fragrance enveloped her.

After ten minutes, she came to another wider trail her father had always favored for snowmobiling, crossed it, and made the last steep climb up into the clearing of reddish boulders. Breathtaking vistas greeted her in all directions, and a stiff, cool breeze whipped her hair across her face.  She looked down at the little lake below her to the left where most of the area’s cabins were scattered.  Quaker Meadow stretched long and arching to the east, and the fingerlike rock spires of The Needles stood prominent in the opposite direction with the taller peaks beyond them.  A lone hawk called overhead; Peggy watched it soar off into the distance until it had disappeared before setting her rucksack on the ground and taking the heavy urn out of it.

She had never spread ashes before, so she wasn’t sure how to proceed.  She took the lid off the urn, lifted the plastic bag of ashes out of it, and separated the bag’s seal.  She stood straight with her arms held out in front of her and simply tipped the bag, swinging it gently back and forth.  The ashes caught on the breeze and made a small cloud before lifting and dissipating into nothingness.  As she tipped the bag further, Peggy didn’t think of her father leaving when she was nine or his long years of drug and alcohol abuse.  She didn’t think of him pissing away the small inheritance his parents had left him or the gruff mute he basically became in his later years.  She didn’t think of changing his diaper or helping him reposition himself in his rented hospital bed several times a night during those last few months.  Instead, as the bag gradually diminished, she thought of him when she’d first begun visiting him there while she was in college, shortly after he and Juanita had come to the mountain, as he drove up to the cabin on his Harley with the blue paisley bandana knotted over his head and the face of his rescue pug, Gus, peeking out from inside his leather jacket where he often rode.  She thought of the smile he’d give her as the motorcycle rumbled to a stop, part smirk and part zest.  When the bag had emptied and there was no trace of ashes left in the air, she repacked the rucksack, shrugged it on again, gazed a last time around her, and started back down the trail.


As she approached the lodge, Peggy saw a “closed” sign in the entrance to the restaurant and another dangling from the door handle to the office.  The truck that had been parked in front of the office was gone.  She didn’t see the framed photograph laying on top of her windshield until she was already in the car.  She stopped her movements and stared at the image of her father leaning against his motorcycle glaring back at her.  Windchimes hanging over the restaurant’s doors jingled on the breeze.  Peggy shook her head slowly back and forth, heat rising up behind her eyes.  She glanced at the office, whispered, “thank you”, then got out of the car and retrieved the photograph.  She leaned it against the passenger side door where she could glance over at it on the drive home.

She started the engine and looked at the clock on the dashboard; it was a little before two.  If she only stopped for gas and something she could eat for dinner while she drove, she could be back in San Diego by nine.  Back to her empty, still apartment and a shower before bed.  Back to exchanging nursing reports at shift change in the NIC-U the next morning at seven.  Back to her life as she’d fashioned it and would continue to in whatever manner she chose.  Like we all do, until our own time comes. 




BIO: William Cass has had over 175 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. His children's book, Sam, is scheduled for release by Upper Hand Press in April 2020. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a couple of Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.