By ARTHOR BOOKES,
Editor-in-chief of the PCC
Creative Writing Club
A draft of cool mine air caught the tails of Larry’s too-large, scratchy plaid shirt as he leaned into the opening of the mine’s side tunnel. He inhaled the wet earthiness; it was a familiar smell. He craned his neck to see further in, but in the light of the near-sunset he couldn’t see more than a couple of feet into the tunnel. He took a tentative step inside the mine’s narrow mouth – and immediately slipped on the smooth downward slope of rock.
Lucy grabbed him by the collar and steadied them both against the rough wooden spar that held up the tunnel opening. “What did pa say, soon as we got off the carriage down here?” she hissed at her brother.
Larry looked sheepishly at his clunky work boots. “Always look ’afore you step.”
Lucy nodded, fighting off a smile.
“But I thought he was talkin’ about watchin’ for rattlesnakes.”
“Rattlesnakes, mine shafts, a whole herd of angry bulls – all kinds of danger that you’d walk right into, weren’t for me watching out for you.”
He looked down at his sister, lips pursed. “In my defense, those bulls did come outta nowhere.”
A smile finally split Lucy’s freckled face. “It’s like you’d never heard the word ‘stampede’ before.”
Larry opened his mouth to reply but Lucy put her hand over his mouth before he could. Her smile was gone and her eyes were flicking back and forth. Before he could ask what she was doing, she grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him behind a rock outcropping next to the tunnel.
In the dim light, they saw two goons round the corner of the rocky hill. They were both decked out in long canvas coats, and Larry and Lucy could hear the metallic jingle of six-shooters swinging in belt holsters. One of them, an older man with short, bristly hair and a hat pulled tight over his face, walked out front and surveyed the area. The other, a broad-shouldered man with steely eyes and long, scraggly hair, lagged behind.
“Get on ahead,” the long-haired man said to the other in a gruff voice. “I gotta take a piss.” The older man grunted in response and quickened his stride.
Larry squinted in the orange dusklight. He recognized the man – Billy Rascal, they called him. He had worked for Larry and Lucy’s father, back in the old days. He had been fired several months after the family had come west – Larry didn’t know why, he had only heard that he had gotten involved in what his father had called “unsavory business,” and that they couldn’t be associating with people like that.
Billy Rascal had stopped pacing. He glanced around the clearing; Lucy pulled Larry further into the dark corner of rock.
“I know yer’ here,” Billy suddenly hissed in a gravelly whisper. The siblings stiffened in their hiding place. “Best be gittin’ gone, little Lucklesses. This ain’t yer pa’s mine no more, it’ll do ya no good to be snoopin’ round and causin’ trouble now.”
Silently, Larry shuffled forward and peeked around the edge of the rock. In the low light, he could see that Billy had swept back the flap of his coat and had his holster unclipped. The ivory handle of his gun shone bright in the growing dark.
“Git gone, both of ya’s, and don’t let me catch ya round here again.” Glancing around again, he swept his coat back, covering up the gun. Turning all too slowly, he hiked his belt and stalked off after his partner.
Larry and Lucy sat still for several minutes after, making sure that both men were gone. The sun had set and the glow of the moon was just starting to rise over the far mountain range.
Larry fumbled in the darkness behind the rock. His hand fell on the heavy canvas of the coat he had stashed there earlier in the day. He pulled it back, revealing the lantern, canteen, and other supplies hidden underneath. He struck a match against the rusted side of the lantern’s base, the glow chasing away the menacing shadows. Lighting the lantern and lowering the flame, he leaned in toward his sister.
“Let’s just go home,” he whispered. “We can come back later – or better yet, we don’t have to come back at all.”
“An’ you’d be OK with that? Not knowin’ what really happened?”
“You know that’s not what I mean-”
“Look, it’ll be fast. We just have to get down to pa’s office in the mine, and out ’afore morning shift starts.” In the flickering candlelight, her false confidence was clear. “We’ve both been down there before. It’ll be fast, I promise.” She swallowed. “Remember, we’re doing this for Pa.”
Larry nodded begrudgingly. “For Pa.”
The pair slipped out from behind the outcropping, lantern casting jumpy shadows out in front of them. They held each other up as they descended into the waiting mine tunnel. Lucy trailed her hand along the rough walls, minding her footing. After minutes of walking in the tight passage, the light bloomed into the space of the main cavern.
Wooden supports stretched up into the dark ceiling. Larry and Lucy wound between them, making their way over to the rickety shack in the far corner of the cave. Their father had mocked it up so that he could be down in the mines with his workers, rather than on the surface. When he died, his official business had been left down in the cave office.
Some boards and debris had been levered up against the flimsy door; Larry worked on moving the obstacles while Lucy panned the lantern left and right, watching his back.
“Hurry it up, Larry, I’ve got a terrible feeling … ,” she whispered over her shoulder.
Larry grunted. “Sorry, it’s really stuck good.” He threw his shoulder into the door. It gave a trembling creak.
She had taken a couple steps away when she heard the splintering and the scream. “Larry!” she called, turning back. The open door revealed a sinkhole shaft just inches inside, gaping from jagged edges of dry-rotted plank flooring. Kneeling at the threshold, swinging the lantern down inside. At the bottom, she could see Larry’s crumpled body, sprawled atop a pile of rubble and shattered wood. “Are you okay?”
A grumble in response.
“I’m gonna go get some rope; I’ll get you out of there. Try not to move, OK?” He started to rise to her feet but froze at another noise – the sound of a pistol hammer being pulled back. The click resonated through the chamber.
“I told ya not to be meddlin’, Lucy.” Billy stood at the same entrance, gun pointed up at the ceiling. His face, vicious and gruesome in the light of his own lantern. “I warned ya girl – and now yer’ gonna pay the price.”
Tune in next issue for the ending of our special two-part episode.