This is part 2 of a 3 part tale. Read the first part here. ♠♣♥♦ I drew my gun and pointed it squarely at the approaching miner’s chest. From this range, I could probably put
This is part 2 of a 3 part tale. Read the first part here.
I drew my gun and pointed it squarely at the approaching miner’s chest. From this range, I could probably put my bullet right between his glowing, green eyes, but I didn’t want to risk missing my shot. Every second counts in a fight and I didn’t want to give my foe any extra time to send his pickaxe into my face.
Saigo took matters into his own hands before I could decide whether to fire. The worker’s arms were severed in two cuts that whooshed through the air. There was a serene moment when the limbs slid apart like tree branches, and you could see the internal bone, tendons, and veins. After that, blood spurted everywhere as the man screamed in pain while his pickaxe clattered to the ground.
The miner’s blood splashed over my face, and Saigo pivoted to aim his blade at me.
I cocked the hammer on my revolver. “Hold your horses. I don’t know what’s going on here. When I left this morning, we didn’t have any miners with emerald peepers.”
“Is this what you did to my brother? Led him into the mine, isolated him, and killed him?” Saigo raised his blade.
My bullet caught another miner before he could complete his sneak attack on my Japanese associate.
“What say we discuss this once we’re out of here?” Holding the lantern and gun in opposite hands, I rushed out of the cavernous chamber and back into the main tunnel.
Saigo followed. We moved quickly, but I worried the warrior might put his weapon through my back. I prayed that samurai were honorable.
The clatter of rocks and dragging metal alerted us that we were being pursued. How much of the workforce had gone mad? And what had triggered the change?
Someone grunted from behind us, exerting effort. There was panicked chirping. I turned back to see what was happening when Saigo collided with me. We tumbled to the ground, and my lantern shattered in a fiery heap near my hand. Saigo’s sword just missed skewering me. A small, metal cage lay next to us with a dead bird inside. One of the miners must’ve thrown it.
Saigo pushed himself up and grabbed his sword. He turned to face the darkness. There were eight sickly, green eyes glowing an indeterminate distance away.
I regained my feet and used the destroyed lantern’s fading light to aim and fire five shots past Saigo and toward our menacing pursuit. None of the bullets ricocheted off the surrounding rocks, and grunts of pain echoed around us. I’d hit at least one of the miners.
I pivoted around and ran. “Come on.”
As the last of the flames died, Saigo tailed me.
After only a few more steps, we were in total darkness and needed to slow our frantic pace. The ominous sounds were quieted, but my heart pounded loudly. I splashed through a growing puddle, and the dull light of the rainy day appeared ahead. Water was flowing into the mine from the raging storm outside.
We exited the tunnel at a run, and I took a gulp of moist air. The expanse of open space was a relief after the oppressive rocky walls. I glanced behind us, but there didn’t appear to be anyone following. My clothes were soaked as water spilled off my Stetson.
I unhitched my horse and mounted. “We need to see if anyone in Silver Springs can tell us what the hell is going on and get out of here if they can’t.”
“Coward. We should cleanse this place of the evil that grips it.” Saigo stood at the mine entrance with his sword out.
The rain slowed slightly, but the sun was starting its descent, putting the sky into a darker shade of evening. From inside the tunnel we’d left, there came a murderous cacophony. Dozens of men roared in anger.
Saigo sheathed his blade, unhitched his horse, and joined my side. “I will go with you to think further on the best course of attack, and I want to see my brother’s body.”
I didn’t comment on his change of heart.
Together, we descended back to town. I kept twisting around in my saddle to make sure no one was pursuing us, and I used the ride to reload my revolver. When we got closer to the dwellings, no candlelight flickered anywhere despite the growing gloom. Thankfully, the rain had stopped completely.
I directed Saigo to the saloon, where I dismounted and left my horse. My spurs jangled loudly on the wooden floor as I entered the establishment. The four tables were overturned. There were bullet holes in the bar, and several of the chairs were smashed to splinters. Mercifully, a single bottle of whiskey remained pristine on the shelf behind the bar. I jogged over, hopped the barrier, uncapped the liquid, and took a swig.
Saigo appeared in the doorway. “My brother. I want to see him.”
“What’s the point? Don’t you see what this place looks like? Whatever happened to those miners happened to this town when I was gone too. What the hell could’ve done that? A disease?” I took another swallow of whiskey. “No reason to stay here any longer. Silver Springs is a lost cause.”
Saigo walked forward and snatched the whiskey from me. “No. What started here could spread. Do you value your country so little that you’d let this wound fester?” The samurai took a drink of the liquor and smashed the bottle on the bar.
Despite the loss of my liquid courage, Saigo’s shaming inspired me to action.
“You’re right. Follow me.” I hopped over the bar again, left the saloon, and headed to my quarters.
Inside, there was a desk and a single jail cell. I grabbed a shovel and ventured to the back of the building. A small wooden cross marked where we’d laid Saigo’s brother to rest. I started into the soggy earth.
Saigo kept watch as I did the work.
I didn’t need to dig long before the shrouded corpse appeared, accompanied by the smell of rotting flesh.
I tossed the shovel and bent down to grab the body’s shoulders. “You better be able to tell me something useful by looking at him.”
Saigo grabbed his departed relatives’ feet. Together, we hauled the waterlogged body out and carried it to my desk inside. I lit candles to give us additional light. Exhausted, I collapsed into my rickety wooden chair, opened a drawer, removed a handkerchief, and covered my nose to halt the malevolent odor’s punishment.
My Japanese compatriot approached the body and pulled back the shroud. His brother’s eyes were sunken pits, and the skin had turned a dark, ashy color. Saigo flipped open his brother’s western suit jacket and felt around for something. When he located whatever he’d sought, he pulled hard, and the fabric ripped away to reveal a secret pocket. Inside, a piece of paper covered in Japanese characters was hidden.
I sat forward. “What’s that say?”
Saigo pulled out the paper, unfolded it, and read it. “My brother was meeting a man here, in your mine.”
“Who would want to meet in a mine?”
“His name was Howard King.”
Recognition came at once. “He was the head of the Company Store here. Struck me as a bit stuck up. What did your brother want with him?”
Saigo stared at me like I was a piece of meat he wasn’t sure he could stomach. “I’m going to trust you with a secret, Mr. Barron. I do this because I don’t think we’ll make it to tomorrow without aiding each other.” Saigo walked to a nearby candle and burned the paper. “Japan isn’t just committed to becoming a technological equal with the United States and Europe. We seek to reach the same level of adeptness in occult matters. What you might call magic. My brother’s mission was to gather knowledge on the subject and return to my country.”
“And Howard King was going to show your brother something about magic?”
“He claimed this place to be a powerful focal point for mystical energy. My brother’s note talks about a dormant force in the mountain. King was going to show him how to access it.”
I stood up and covered the body back up with the shroud. “But what really happened was that King sacrificed your brother to unleash whatever has infected Silver Springs.”
“That observation appears accurate. Is there a way we can seal the mine?”
“Yeah. We can dynamite it. Don’t know how I’ll explain my actions, but that should keep whatever’s in that mine from getting out.”
“I will get my armor. I suggest you load up as well. Together, we will halt whatever evil is growing beneath the mountain.”
I took off my suit jacket, rolled up my sleeves, and withdrew my belt of ammo from the bottom drawer. Saigo headed outside and got the bag with his armor. He returned and lovingly removed the pieces and attached them to himself. Each section was a dark navy color, and he covered his chest, shoulders, thighs, shins, and forearms with protection. When his suit was completed, he dawned a helmet with a face shield that gave me the distinct impression of a demon’s visage. The mouth slit was formed by vicious looking fangs, the eye holes were ringed by what looked like fire, and two horns curled from the forehead.
“The dynamite is in the Company Store around the corner.” I headed toward the door and pushed it open.
Outside, the last traces of the storm clouds had drifted away to reveal a bright star-filled sky. A gibbous moon hung low in the sky, and a man stood a few feet away. He was well dressed in a grey suit with a black bowler hat. His beard grew to a point, and he smiled mischievously. Howard King had come to greet us.
To Be Continued…