From the slanting chalk letters and numbers, I made out that I had two-and-a-half hours to wait. I checked the electric clock on the wall and looked again at the stationmaster, who wore a wool hunting shirt like the ones in Madeleine’s window in Kootenay.

“Should I buy a ticket?”

“No, just pay the driver.”

He creased back a shiny page.

“It’s a dollar.”

I turned and glanced at the three tubular kitchen chairs, a stack of hot rod magazines spilled on the dirty linoleum, and a standing ashtray full of butts. I read a brief history of Ingot tacked above the chairs. The poster was printed in jagged letters to make it look antique, as if Daniel Boone had blazed the legend with a knife in a tree trunk.

Eighteen miles south of Sleeping Child Lake, it was an old mining town whose four shafts had produced 12 million dollars’ worth of silver ore. Ingot was called Elkhorn before ’89, when a mining engineer on a fishing trip from Denver discovered nuggets on Lynx Creek, then hiked upstream and found the mossy cliff face that hid the lode.

Something like that was happening to me. I didn’t see it coming and, only later, in New Mexico, I realized how it had been unfolding all the time, when I was awake but didn’t see and when, like the Sleeping Child, I slept and dreamed.

I went out and stood on the sidewalk, looking up and down the barren street. The silver was gone and Ingot didn’t have much to recommend it, unless you were thirsty and needed a place out of the frost or wind. The air was still and sharp and gray and I wondered again if it might snow.

I crossed the empty street and pushed at the swinging door with a two-foot porthole reflecting my white face — like a ghost’s that important Mr. Hamphill at the Lakeview Inn would never know, and that eager Professor Adkins wouldn’t see again. No one in Montana would, not kind Joyce, nor Tug, Wes, nor Wes’s mother, nor awful Ray — not to mention Emma’s estranged husband.

A raven called harshly and glided overhead like the talking raven from Edgar Allen Poe.

In the window, for a second I saw Stivers’s face, the killer from Idaho, then Ray’s, then Ed Roper’s from The Blue Fin, and finally the awful monster from my dream.

I blinked and entered the sudden warmth of the Silverado Bar, where beautiful black-haired Emma Little Bear waited for me to drive her pickup to Sleeping Child Lake.

In the shadowed bar, I thought she resembled someone I knew when she spoke, asking what direction I was heading, and then offered me her keys as I sat at the counter and had a beer as we talked about the snow coming.

I was glad I wouldn’t have to take the bus to Sleeping Child Lake, where Mrs. Blackdeer said under the lake a green river runs and on the bank the Sleeping Child grieves and doesn’t wake — until things turn different here and he rides his basket to this world to make it better.

Sometimes at first things don’t work the way you hope — they turn suddenly sad and strange, dream and waking, love and death twined so tightly that, for a while, you can’t get them undone to weave them back together so they make any sense.