(another writing exercise)
Jim Hilton – 2016
Curse these modern contraptions! As I walked along the old trail today, one of those “horseless carriages” almost ran over me and my mule Persephone. I hope I live to continue my hunt for the Dutchman’s mine. I wish it was still the the 1880’s – things were a lot quieter then, and moved much more slowly. Now, 20 years later, new inventions and rush, rush, rush!
As I went higher, the trail narrowed, and I had it pretty much to myself. I found my small cairn from the previous visit, and left the trail there, aiming to reach the face of the butte above me. Mid-morning, and already a scorcher; glad I brought along enough water for us.
Persephone was pretty well loaded up, and my backpack was bulging, too, but this heavy loading was necessary if I planned to keep going without having to trek back into town for supplies. Both of us were grunting and groaning as the trail became more steep. Cactus arms reached out to snag me at some of the narrow points, and more than once I heard the warning sounds of the rattlers, which were in the shade of the overhanging ledges. Rocks broke loose as we scrambled along, making small landslides as they tumbled down the mountain. Sweat was making rivulets down my face, and I had to wipe it frequently.
Finally, we made it to the base of the rock palisade that formed the face of the butte, and, after checking for cacti and slithery intruders, I sat down in the shade of a large boulder. After a brief rest, I got up to take care of my trusty companion. Persephone stood, uncomplaining, as I wrestled the water bag loose and poured out some water for her. She drank deeply, and I almost imagined a smile on her face.
My plan was to explore along the face of the rock outcropping, hoping to find traces of digging, and it was going to make for a very long day. I set out resolutely, taking careful hold of Persephone’s reins – I couldn’t hope to save her if she took a bad spill, but maybe leading her would help prevent that. The sun beat down on us, intensified by its reflection from the rocks, but I kept on, examining the clefts in the rocks as we went.
My hopes were not high, as you might expect. So many others had gone before me, lured by untold wealth in the Superstition Mountains, but a fair number had not made it out alive – the tales of their tragedies made it into the newspapers back East. Some adventurers had simply disappeared, either to accident or exposure, or maybe there were some small bands of Indians guarding their sacred mountain heights. These thoughts crowded my head as I picked my way along. At least I felt like I was the first to take this route, since there was no discernible trail here, and no footprints to be seen. So, who knows? Press on, and hope for the best!
As I came to the toughest section, narrow access, dangerous scree, all that, I began to see signs that perhaps someone had indeed been here. A little further along, I came to a place with just enough room for the mule and I to squeeze through, and in the deep shadow of the huge rock, I saw a heavy wooden door set into the rock face, well hidden from the casual viewer. My heart skipped several beats! I secured Persephone to an exposed tree root and moved to examine the door.
Someone had scratched “Waltz”, “Verboden”, and “Gevaar” into the center of the door. I knew a little Dutch from someone who was in our church, and I figured out that “verboden” meant “forbidden”, while “gevaar” indicated “danger”. “Waltz” had me puzzled for a bit, but then I remembered the miner’s name that was associated with the mine legend, “Jacob Waltz”. Had I hit the jackpot? Fingers crossed!
I was in deep, dark shade, but I was sweating profusely now. I seemed to be so close to the end of the quest and I could hardly keep from jumping and dancing. I didn’t want Persephone to think me daft, you know. The door beckoned, and I could not resist.
The wood was still as strong as when the Dutchman had set it in place, and there was a heavy lock and chain keeping it securely closed. I had a few sticks of dynamite with me, but I decided not to risk an explosion, since a rock shard could easily kill me, even a small one, in the right location. I unloaded Persephone, and foraged through my tools. I had a heavy hammer and a sharp chisel, so I went to work on the wood, where the hasp was bolted.
In a surprisingly short time, I had chiseled out the bolts and dropped the chain to the ground. I cleared away some of the fallen rocks to allow the door to be opened, then gave it a tug. More rocks fell, just missing my head, and dust rolled out through the door gap I had created. I stepped back in alarm, then allowed the dust to clear. I approached the door again and pulled a little harder. The door offered little resistance now, as if eager to reveal all.
Now the door was wide open, and all I had to do was step in, then gather up all the piles of gold which surely awaited me. No, not really – I knew it was a mine, and much heavy work was ahead of me before I held the smallest amount of gold in my hands. I watered Persephone again and gave her some oats – I didn’t know how long I’d be inside and she’d be indignant if I didn’t take care of her first.
I found my oil lantern and crept inside, trying to avoid pitfalls and other unpleasant surprises. The shaft seemed to stretch quite a ways into the mountain, so I started following the dark tunnel, using my pitifully dim lamp to guide my way. I came to a relatively flat part and remember thinking how unusual it was, and ‘un rock-like’. I stepped onto that section and my heart almost stopped as I felt myself falling, falling. Old Waltz had set a trap, and I fell into it.
I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, since I don’t have a way to tell time, but my lantern is starting to sputter, indicating that it’ll be pitch dark in here quite soon. I am lying here, back likely broken, legs twisted completely under me, but at least I have a little water left.
I am writing the last of this on some scraps of paper I found in my pocket so you’ll know how I came to be here. I hope your luck turns out better than mine, partner.