I want to keep this introduction short. Its only purpose is to explain what inspired Luke Coles and why it is written the way it is. When I was twenty-one, I was blessed with a great opportunity…to live on a haunted island known as Chiloe. I learned a lot about the culture of the island and its mythology. This experience inspired me to study traditions in other countries.
For the next six years, I learned about myths throughout the world: in Japan, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Germany, China, Holland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and even the United States. Combining what I learned with what I already knew of world religions, I added a touch of fantasy and created the world of Luke Coles.
In western culture, we are taught to understand stories chronologically with occasional flashbacks to strengthen the plot. We learn that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to every story.
Eastern storytelling isn’t quite the same. They focus more on pacing. If there is a climax during a flashback, then the climax will adjacently occur during the main story, usually just after the related flashback.
Just as this fantastical world was created using a combination of world myths and religions, its storytelling is a combination of both eastern and western. In essence, it will seem like three separate stories at first, all of them focusing on Luke. The stories, for the most part, climax at the same time, connecting into and becoming one story halfway through the book. Then the story ends in a traditional style more fitting of a western society.
Combining storytelling styles is only one of the reasons for the ordering of this work. The other, simply put, is this: the story could not be told any other way. If it were told chronologically, you would learn some key plot points too soon and be left wondering about others too long.
I feel this story and style of storytelling will be unique, for better or worse, than anything you have ever read, and I sincerely hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Hearing was the first sense to return. Words were being chanted in a strange language. It was Latin, I think. Metal chains clanked. A fire crackled. All the sounds were magnified by an echo. Where was I? The chanting stopped, leaving only the roar of the fire.
The sense of touch came back next. The cold from a stone wall flush against the back of my head worked its way down my entire body as feeling slowly returned, causing my muscles to tighten more and more with each passing second.
I could feel both hands over my head, shackled as opposed to being tied with rope. My wrists were chafed and sore. No, it wasn’t soreness anymore. It was pain. Moving my feet, I did not touch the floor. How high above the ground was I?
Taste came next. The coppery flavor of blood ran down the length of my tongue and escaped out of my mouth.
Fourth came the sense of smell. Burned flesh polluted my nostrils. It was a smell I knew well. Was it my flesh burning? I couldn’t tell.
My eyelids felt heavy and I struggled to move them. Where was I? My memories flooded back. Flor, was she okay? How did I get into this mess? I thought about it, deciding it started a few years before…
* * *
Guaymas, Mexico, 1867
I was sitting in bed. That is how I started most days, thinking about Gettysburg and the war…things that I had lived through. The sun shone through a crack between fluttering curtains hanging over the bedroom window. Due to the heat at night, I slept with the window open. I heard birds chirping. Barefoot, I padded over to the window, inhaled a deep breath of sea air, and gazed upon the glistening view outside. Crystal blue water, from the Sea of Cortez, and red roses gave color to the town. Shadows from two tall mountain peaks, they occasionally appeared to cool the residents. The smell of the sea permeated the air. This scent became a sign to me that I was home.
The Cortez was used more for trading than it was for fishing. A plethora of marine predators made it hard on any fisherman, especially when they were using the limited technology of that time.
It was not uncommon to witness gigantic whales breaching, or large schools of blue sharks strolling. Turtles, rays, and just about any other sea creature you could imagine glided through the water. They put on quite the show for an appreciative eye.
Unfortunately, the lifestyle of the 1800’s provided little time to appreciate the beauty of nature, requiring one to work most of the day. Getting dressed for work was easy, for me, because all I had to wear were black wool pants, black shirts, and my favorite black cowboy hat. They weren’t typical clothes for a miner and black was not my favorite color, but it was just easier to have dark clothes because I didn’t have to worry about them showing the stains that they would inevitably get in the mine.
The outfit was completed by boots from when I was a Union soldier. Their shiny surface helped add some character to my otherwise plain outfit. They were polished every night, assuring they would always be ready for the next morning.
As I finished getting dressed, I looked in the mirror, reflecting on my life. A young face, not that of a hardened ex-soldier. Even though I didn’t remember anything from before Gettysburg, I estimated that my age was around the mid-twenties so if anyone ever asked, I would simply say twenty-four.
Beginning my daily ritual, I looked myself in the eyes, wanting to make sure I still could. My green eyes looked back at me, and I didn’t flinch. The green contrasted with my full head of messy black hair. Single strands of gray were starting to show.
Studying my face, I realized that it could have used a shave to take care of some stubble, but that could be put off for another day.
I strapped an 1847 Colt Walker .44 revolver to my right hip. One of the first pistols made to hold and shoot six rounds in succession, it had a walnut handle and a smooth barrel. The main purpose of the gun was to keep me safe from any coyotes that I might encounter in or near the mine.
Stepping out the door, I descended the staircase to get some breakfast, entering the nearly empty room on the ground floor. Ana, an older woman whose dark, cunning eyes shone beneath the bar lights, stood behind her neatly laid-out bar. Her coiffure was a surprise each day…sometimes a neat bun set atop her head, sometimes a tight, straight braid. That day, her long, smooth gray hair was down and unrestrained.
The beautiful purple dress she wore was trimmed with white lace. It was a traditional dress for the women of the town. She always looked lovely, but not for anyone in particular as her husband had been killed during the Mexican-American War.
Double, darkly-stained wooden doors on the ground level were the only entrance. Four-legged stools lined the bar. Small wooden chairs with carvings of the sun and other aspects of nature sat around four circular tables. The bar itself was against the wall across from the entrance.
Humbly laid planks of wood ascended upward on the right side of the bar. The top floor was a narrow hall with three doors on each side. Thank goodness I was not claustrophobic or I would have had a panic attack each time I walked down the hall.
All six rooms were originally designed to be hotel rooms, and four of them still were. One was my permanent residence. The other was converted into a bedroom for Ana.
Ana’s inn and bar were a perfect reflection of her own interior. Their appearance seemed plain, but there was something unseen in Ana and her inn that radiated love and calmness.
I sat at a table near the bar. “Good morning.”
Smiling, she asked me in English, “The usual?”
Most of the English I heard in Guaymas was from Ana. She didn’t speak it fluently, nor did she really understand it, but she had a goal of learning a new word every day. No one else in town was interested in hearing a language other than their native Spanish.
Smiling back, I nodded.
For two years, my standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner had been the same…cheese enchiladas and red chili sauce. From the moment Ana convinced me to try them, I had not wanted to eat much else.
She disappeared into the kitchen, coming back a short time later and setting my meal down on the table.
“Gracias,” I said. She had returned so quickly that I knew she had cooked my meal in advance. As always, a side of rice and beans completed the dish. Steam off the plate carried the smell of the spicy sauce, making my mouth water.
“Maybe for lunch you will try something else?” she asked me.
I smiled and gently said, “No, no, no, no.”
She smiled back.
The door behind me creaked open. Turning in my chair, I saw Miguel. Awkwardly, he slid through the half-open entrance, revealing his dusty-colored tan trousers and dirty white button-up shirt.
As if he hadn’t just seen me yesterday, he shouted excitedly, “Gringo! Good to see you!”
Miguel was young. I doubted he was in his twenties yet. Long, dark bangs hung down over his brown eyes, making him seem even younger. He was skinnier than I was so I often called him flaco, the Spanish word for “skinny”.
The dark tone of his skin was in contrast to his baggy clothing. His smile gave him his charm. It was big enough to give the happiest crocodile a run for its money, stretching from ear-to-ear and nose-to-chin. Yet, that day, it somehow seemed even larger.
“What is going on?” I asked.
Miguel sat at my table, pulled out a small ring, and showed off the gold band.
“I am not going to marry you, compadre,” I teased.
“You will not marry me?” Miguel went along with my joke. It was an impossibility for him to be sad, but he managed the best he could. “I guess I will go see if I can get my money back.”
We both laughed.
I knew the ring was meant for Maria. She and Miguel had been a couple since I moved to town.
I could tell that Miguel was nervous about proposing so I encouraged him. Having never been in such a situation myself, my support did not come in the form of knowledge. Rather, it came as simple brotherly love.
“She is going to love it, you know?”
“I hope so,” he answered with a grin.
“Of course she is.” Ana offered her opinion, setting a plate in front of Miguel and joining us at the table.
“I hope so.” Miguel repeated, his voice trailing off. We took a few bites of breakfast in silence before he changed the subject. “So, did Luke tell you about the voices, Ana?”
“It is nothing,” I said. “Some of the men at work are starting to hear voices. You know how those mines are, though. A whisper can carry for miles. They are probably just hearing voices of other workers a few tunnels over.”
“It is not an echo,” he argued. “Where it is coming from, there are no men working there. The last time someone was assigned to that section of the mine was…well…a really long time ago.”
“A really long time ago?” I raised an eyebrow and teased. “Can you be more specific?”
“Sure, I can be. Last time someone worked in that part of the mine was well before I was born, but probably not before you were born, gringo. I do not think many things are that old.”
I sighed and was about to give my typical response when Miguel imitated my voice and gave it for me. “But I am only twenty-four, flacco.”
All three of us chuckled. As the laughter died down, Ana wrinkled her forehead and said, “Luke is right, Miguel. You would do best not to listen to such nonsense. People have been talking about voices in that mine since it opened. Nothing has ever happened there before and nothing ever will.”
“Ah, you two are no fun,” Miguel complained.
Ana answered, “We are plenty fun, Miguel. It is just we are not as gullible as you are.” She put on a coy smile. “Well, maybe gringo is. I am surprised he did not buy into this nonsense as easily as you have.”
“Oh, are you going to take that from her, Luke?” Miguel asked.
“Of course I am. I am much too afraid of Ana to stand up to her.” I winked.
Ana rolled her eyes and we cut back on the laughter so we could finish breakfast in time for work. Scraping the last bites of food off our plates, Miguel and I thanked her and headed out the door.
To this day, I think back on what Ana said, that nothing would ever happen in that mine. Simply put, she could not have been more wrong.
San Carlos, Mexico — Modern Times
A war rages around us every day. Few recognize it is happening. Yet we all choose sides, be it by a simple kindness or an act of harm. Our actions are driven by what our heart tells us, motivating us to act with the only two emotions that really exist: love and fear. We uplift, belittle, strengthen, and weaken.
This fear is used by the darkness. It never gives anyone a break…not really. Regardless of who a person is, hard times will always come. We will be beat until we feel unable to bear more. Pushed to our limits, feeling that we are about to burst…our blood boils, our jaws clench, and we want to give up. This is when we show who we really are.
Soon we will all have something to prove because we are nearing the end. Hell has opened its black gates and unleashed a mighty army. This is an army of myths. Creatures of corruption and darkness have been dispersed throughout the earth. Some people would call them monsters or supernatural beings. These creatures do exist. Unfortunately for them, so do I.
Who am I? I could just say my name, but a person’s name is never really what defines them. Their past does. What they’ve done, where they’re from, and who they’ve loved.
The first people I loved were Ana and Miguel. Back then, with them, things were simpler.
Now 150 years later, Guaymas has changed its name to San Carlos. Tall buildings have replaced single-story structures, wide dusty roads have transformed into narrow paved streets, tourists and citizens line boulevards on all sides, turning the calm atmosphere chaotic. People and vehicles are all in a hurry, pushing past each other.
Green grass and other vegetation have been transplanted into the city, complementing the naturally growing roses, making the city more colorful and attractive to tourists.
The only thing that hasn’t changed are the two tall mountain peaks, making them the only landmarks I recognize. Everything else seems foreign. It is hard to believe this is the same place I used to live.
As San Carlos has changed, so have I. I’m now wearing black slacks, a white dress shirt, and dark leather boots. They look like military boots, complete with a protective titanium toe, a necessity in my line of work — hunting the supernatural.
My single-action Colt revolver still hangs on my right hip, now loaded with silver ammunition.
On my left hip is a katana, a curved Japanese-style sword. Its single-edged blade is about an inch-and-a-half wide, extending three feet from the hilt.
A black trench coat covers the weapons, enabling me to move through the streets without drawing any unwanted attention. The coat itself is full of other weapons and tools: throwing stars, lock picks, silver knives, and miniature grappling hooks.
Though I look different on the outside, the greater change is an internal one. As I try to make sense of the past, my emotions fluctuate from day to day. 150 years ago, I was living a content life. Five years later, I was at a breaking point with no desire to go on. Now I am somewhere in between. A vengeful, burning rage is my only constant.
I leave the movement of the city, hiking to the mine where I used to work.
Standing at the old mine entrance pains me. Boards block most of the passageway, which leads down into the subterranean. Warning signs are posted, dissuading any would be explorers from entering. They call the mine Estralios. We knew it as something else, but the name escapes me.
Outside the cave, brownish clay landscapes are covered in small gray rocks. The terrain is a series of unsteady hills. A few thin trees stand atop the mounds, constantly attempting to quench their thirst in the dry desert.
The setting sun beats through thin cloud cover, scorching the entire area. At the same time, light dust clouds are propelled over the landscape, carried by a dainty breeze. Thick green cacti show off prickly red flowers and orange fruit.
The maw of the mine appears as though it will shoot forward, swallowing me. I contemplate entering and ending what started so long ago. Ultimately, I decide to wait.
Preparation for the impending conflict is critical to assuring success in my vengeful endeavor. Any amount of impatience will cause my own downfall, as opposed to the death of the beast that dwells within the hole in the earth.
Neuale is what local people named him, claiming he’s a demon that cannot die. Soon, we’ll see if that is true. Turning, I walk away from the cave.
I feel it watching me. Malice, excitement, and an eagerness to quench his blood lust radiate from him. He recognizes my face from before and he most definitely remembers. I cautiously move further away, putting about fifty yards between me and the cave.
Looking back, I notice red eyes sinking back into the shadows. A laugh echoes from the darkness…a deep booming, rhythmic, eerily apathetic sound.
The sun sets. Thick clouds of dust fly, an occasional speck scraping gently across my hands and face. Stars shine brightly in the sky, lighting my short trek back to San Carlos.
Walking through the desert, I think about the past. They say time heals all wounds. It is true, but only to a certain degree. Emotional scars never fully disappear, not even after a century-and-a-half.
The desert sounds keep me from sinking too far into my thoughts.
A choir of coyotes sings at an enormous, perfectly circular moon, insects buzz a soft harmony, and the wind whistles, completing nature’s orchestra.
The walk back to the city is one I made hundreds of times before, almost always with Miguel at my side. Before long, San Carlos is before me.
Finding the building where Ana’s inn used to stand is a chore, seeing as how I don’t recognize anything. Still, a certain amount of sentimentality, tenacity, and plain stubbornness drive me.
I will need a place to stay, preparing mentally and physically for my inevitable encounter with the monster in the mine. Where I used to live seems the most appropriate location for this… if I can only find it.
A light desert wind blows on my face, carrying with it the smell of the ocean. This salty odor of seaweed ignites a certain amount of nostalgia. Following the smell brings me to what used to be Ana’s inn. No longer is it a small wooden haven; rather, it is a large white building.
It stands multiple stories, pearly curtains fill hundreds of windows, and a sign on the front of the building reads “San Carlos Plaza Hotel”. It looks like the type of place I will need reservations for.
The hotel is located along the plaza. According to a sign by the front doors, a stay comes “complete with an Oceanside view”. I’m not sure how every room could live up to the claim, considering how many windows face downtown and away from the Sea of Cortez. By its pure design, the building appears that bellhops should wait at the entrance, but I do not see anyone. Probably because it is late.
Positioning myself in the center of an empty plaza, not far from the hotel, I turn back to admire the architecture and design of the place. My appreciation for the building is short-lived.
Every person, ghost, creature, plant, animal, and even the earth itself emits an energy, each giving off a unique mystical fingerprint. I can connect with this force on a spiritual level. If I’ve touched something before, I recognize it right away. When I haven’t, divining if the thing is generally good or evil is easy enough…kind of like stepping outside and knowing if it is hot or cold.
This same ability makes me empathize with the emotions of those around me. When they feel something, so do I.
It is my ability to do these things which allows me to sense a group approaching from behind. I focus my attention on them, not giving any indication I know they are coming. Locking onto their spiritual energy tells me exactly where they are moving and clues me in to the fact that their intentions are malicious.
Drawing closer, only one continues his path directly at me. Others break off to each side of the plaza.
“Oye, tu(Hey, you)!” a voice yells.
I pretend to jump and slowly turn, focusing my eyes on the solitary man.
“Dinero!” he shouts, pulling a small black handgun from his jacket. Steadily, he holds it aimed directly at my chest.
The pistol appears to be a Glock 9mm. Familiarity with the weapon helps me know it shoots a higher velocity round than most other handguns. Its downfall is it lacks the pure power of something larger. Not that the gun this man has will matter… not once all is said and done.
I lift my open palms over my head, pretending to be afraid.
“Please… don’t.” I purposely make my voice quiver.
“Tu dinero, ahora (Your money, now)!”theman impatiently insists.
Locating his friends is not difficult. I sense them moving to surround me. Soon, they will have blocked me in.
Making eye contact with the assailant, I notice his are cold, dark, and without empathy. The eyes and his spiritual energy tell me all I need to know. Even if I give him my money, he will still pull the trigger. He would do so for the pure enjoyment of killing and for no other reason.
The same evil intentions and murderous emotions are in all of his partners…except for one. He seems very uncomfortable with the situation, like he doesn’t want to be here. I find it strange that someone like that would be involved with these other people.
Attempting to reason with the man whose gun is fixated on my chest, I say. “No tienes que hacer esto (You don’t have to do this).”
The man’s anxiousness starts to show. Shaking with impatience and anger, he wonders why I have not given him my money. Growing frustration indicates that, soon, he will try to kill me.
The others are positioned, watching intently from their hiding places. Their job? Not to let me escape.
It is time for me to become the aggressor. The fear on my face turns into a relaxed, confident grin, causing anger to flash in his eyes and he shoots. His spirit betrays him, telling me the exact moment he will pull the trigger. I vanish, leaving a black puff of smoke in my place. The only target the bullet finds is a bench in the plaza behind where I had been. I reappear instantly to the man’s right.
The samurai of Japan practiced unsheathing their swords quickly, attacking in one fluid motion. This is the same technique I use to tear the man’s gun from his hand. I re-sheath the sword just as fast as it was drawn, disappearing again.
From a tall building, I observe the man and his friends. I don’t know if it is fear or puzzlement that causes the man’s friends to flee. Maybe it is a combination of both.
My assailant is now alone, confusion inherent in all his expressions and gestures. He stumbles from shock, his brain finally communicating to his body the need to flee. Bending at the waist, the man recovers his pistol as he runs. His intended route will carry him right by the building where I stand.
Dropping into his escape path, I cause him to bounce off of me and he drops the gun a second time. I grab him by the collar, raising him so that his feet hang four or five inches above the ground.
It hurts me looking in the man’s eyes. What removed the light from them? Everyone has an inherent good inside them when they are born, but this man’s good is now miniscule. When younger, he didn’t dream of becoming a villain. Aspirations from his past are now removed from the empty shell he has become. I wish I knew how to restore them.
I try to think of something to say to inspire good, arouse hope, or stimulate any quality of love for his fellowmen. Nothing comes to my mind…nothing other than frustration with the evil of men. Without saying anything, I drop him to the ground and disappear for the final time.
Or so it seems. I use a spell, bending light to hide the fact that I am still in the same place. It is a trick which makes it seem I have vanished, much like a chameleon matching its skin to its surroundings.
For added drama, I accompany my disappearances with additional illusions: purple or black puffs of smoke. Using any other color would be just as easy, but purple and black seem like disappearing colors…to me, anyway.
The Captain taught me that dramatic effect is the most important component of warfare. I can hear him saying, “It is critical to be dramatic because it removes opponents from their common state of mind, throwing them off their game”.
My would-be attacker runs around a corner, disappearing out of sight. I let him go. Sighing, I turn, walk to San Carlos Plaza Hotel, and enter.
The lobby is spacious with elevators to the right and an escalator that goes down to a lower level on the left. Large chairs in the lobby provide a space for anyone to read or rest, if they choose to do so. Most of the colors in the hotel are lighter hues: white and beige. Dark blues adorn the furniture and trims.
As I approach the front desk, a woman dressed in a dark suit asks, “Do you have a reservation?”
On her round nose rests a pair of circular-framed glasses, slipping slightly from time to time. Each time, she repositions them, pushing them back into place with one finger. Her hair is combed back tight and pulled into a bun. The name on her tag reads Ana. That’s appropriate, I think to myself.
“I could say yes, that I do have a reservation, but that would be a lie.” I pause to read the reaction of the woman. She is smiling so I continue, “Would it be possible to get a room anyway? I’ve stayed here before and the hotel holds a sentimental value for me.”
“I think we have something available. Let me check.” The woman uses a computer, finding and assigning me a room. The computer beeps. “I need your name so I can put it in the computer. Do you have some form of ID?”
“Luke Coles,” I respond. I don’t remember my real name, but Miguel once called me Lukene. Since then, I adopted the name as my own. I use another illusion, making her see a passport with my name on it.
“Eighth floor.” She hands me the key, and points to the elevators on the right.
“The city sure has grown since last time I was here,” I comment.
“You don’t look like you’re old enough for it to be that long ago since your last visit.”
“You’d be surprised.” I smile. “Thank you for helping me out tonight. It really means a lot.”
“You’re welcome. Please, enjoy your stay.”
I use the elevator to go up, reaching my floor. The doors ding open and I slide through the halls to the assigned room number. White jumps out from the walls and carpet, creating a surreal feeling of peace and calmness.
The room is a typical hotel room, which doesn’t compare to my room which used to stand in this location. Then again, no room ever has. A single queen-sized bed lies with its headboard against the middle of one of the white walls.
A thirty-two inch flat screen sits atop a chest of drawers. Obviously, the room is designed to allow a person in bed to watch television. I don’t understand. Why would someone go on vacation to watch television? Couldn’t they stay at home and do that?
Next to the chest of drawers is a desk, sitting flush against the wall. There are many ports for various forms of technology imbedded in the desk’s wooden surface.
Opposite the entrance is a large window with a white frame matching the color of the curtains and walls. Just like the rest of the hotel, this room is mostly white. The exception? Some of the sheets on the bed are dark blue, matching the furniture and trim in the lobby.
The window points toward the ocean, giving me the promised Oceanside view. I open the window and leave it that way to keep me cool during the night. Moving to the bed, I lay my head down on one of the perfectly fluffed pillows and fade away into the past.
Guaymas, Mexico – 1867
Miguel and I drew near the mine’s entrance and slowed our pace, being careful not to trip on the mine cart tracks whose wooden planks and steel rails reached ten yards outside the main tunnel before coming to a wooden wall, preventing the narrow gauge mining carts from running off track. The carts were moved and positioned purely by man power.
Getting in line behind other miners, we funneled through the small cave which barely allowed two people to enter simultaneously. Almost all the workers wore similar clothes… baggy, tan, and beige. Some used circular straw hats with large brims, protecting themselves from the sun’s fury.
I looked forward to entering the cool mine and escaping the heat of the day. As we passed through the opening and into the shadows, I joked that we wouldn’t need a lantern as Miguel was already glowing. He brightened even more at my teasing, not disagreeing with me.
A large man greeted us as we entered. We knew him as Gigante because, as of yet, he had not let anyone know his real name. Even if someone knew it, they wouldn’t use it. “Giant” perfectly described his six-and-a-half foot frame, which was filled with three hundred pounds of bulk.
He was older, showing wrinkles on his face and sporting a full head of greying blond hair. Like me, he was a gringo. Unlike me, he hailed from the Confederate states, leaving his home state of Georgia before the war began.
His Spanish was great, but his English was always spoken in a very distinct dialect from his region of origin. That made it easier for me to understand his Spanish.
After saying our hellos, I returned to interrogating Miguel. “How are you going to ask her?”
“Ask who what?” Gigante queried, the wheels in his head turning. He didn’t have to ponder long. His expression changed to show he knew who Miguel would ask and what he would ask her.
Miguel’s cheeks turned bright red.
“Do they not have a minimum age limit for that?” Gigante, thinking himself quite the comedian, discharged a booming belly laugh which echoed throughout the nearby tunnels and caverns. Workers stopped the rhythmic swing of their pickaxes, searching for the origin of the laugh.
Miguel, still red, continued smiling. “Should you not be more worried about going over the maximum age limit for getting married, abuelito?”
“That is Mr. Grandfather to you…” Gigante continued laughing. “Good luck and an early congratulations, amigito.”
I repeated my initial question. “When are you going to ask her?”
“Tonight at dinner,” Miguel enthusiastically answered. I nodded, patting his shoulder to show my approval of his decision.
We began to work in earnest, gathering our tools and finding a newer segment of wall to labor on. As we swung our pickaxes, Miguel explained his plan to take Maria to Ana’s for dinner. His intent was to have Ana put the ring in Maria’s drink.
It was common for chatter to continue among the miners early on in the day. Such was the case that morning. After a few hours, the voices died down, sweat beginning to form across the men’s brows. They stopped wasting breath on words and utilized the oxygen in the air, being syphoned by their lungs, to help them power through the task of excavation.
I relentlessly beat my pickaxe against the rocky earth over and over. Well-earned callouses on my hands kept them from blistering. Although I was lean by nature, working in the mine helped my muscles acquire a healthy, strong tone.
The objective of digging was to find copper, although we’d come across silver or gold occasionally. When precious metal was found, it was supposed to be turned in. Few followed the protocol, keeping it for themselves instead.
I’d never come across either of the two metals, but I took great pride in being one of the most successful at removing copper from the earth, placing it in one of three strategically placed mine carts, and assuring the cart nearest me was always the first to fill.
We worked long days. Torches on the wall and a few hand lanterns provided dim lighting. Many of the workers suffered pulmonary defects brought on by thick dust in the air. I protected my lungs by keeping a bandana wrapped over my mouth and nose. Like a worried older brother, I forced Miguel to do the same. Musty smells, a mix of sweat and copper, enveloped the mine. Another plus for the bandana…it helped mask the foul odor.
The track on the ground was similar to a train’s, running through the entire mine. Try as we might not to fall over it, tripping was inevitable. Gigante stumbled three or four times a day, struggling not to swear each time.
Tunnels were connected, intersecting at large caverns. In my estimation, most tunnels were fifteen feet wide and ten feet tall. Some were slightly bigger as you got deeper into the mine. Caverns were considerably more spacious at around fifty feet wide, fifty feet long, and twenty feet tall.
Color was hard to make out in the poorly lit work area, but the copper ore we pulled from the earth would sparkle under even the dim light.
My body sweat, ached, and strained to continue through the day, but my mind used the time to relax, recharge, and recuperate. The more I worked, the less time I had to think, helping me repress horrifying images from the battle of Gettysburg. During those work hours, my recollections of the battle disappeared.
Mental convalescence made life easier, keeping the effects of negative memories from showing on my exterior, preventing my friends from finding out just how damaged on the inside I really was.
Stretching out my muscles, I turned to Miguel and noticed the excitement in his eyes. It grew in anticipation of a memorable night. As the day wore on, he seemed more energized. While the other miners were beginning to tire, he was gaining momentum.
“Slow down, Miguel. You will make the rest of us look bad,” I teased, which only made him swing the pickaxe harder and faster.
As our shift was nearing an end, I heard something strange in the bowels of the cave. A loud howl rang down the tunnels, vibrating in my ears. Some men stopped their work to listen more carefully. Most seemed more concerned with their workday coming to an end, already preparing to return to their homes.
Hoping that I could prevent someone from being harmed in a potential animal attack, I drew my revolver and moved cautiously down the tunnel, toward where the sound seemed to be coming from. Gigante followed me, understanding my intent. Miguel started for the entrance to the cave, anxious to begin his romantic evening. Turning, he noticed our decent into the tunnel and took up the pursuit.
“Go home. Gigante and I can handle this,” I ordered.
“Let me go with you,” Miguel begged, his smile disappearing.
“Miguel, you are off in five minutes and have a big night ahead of you. Just focus on one thing at a time,” I reasoned with him. “Plus, this is probably just a coyote. You do not need to worry about it.”
Miguel’s smile returned. “I will see you tomorrow morning at Ana’s?”
Gigante and I continued deeper down the widening tunnel. Howls continued, but they were weaker and quieter. Dead rats, bats, and various other small animal corpses littered the abandoned section of the cave. Disgusted, I wrinkled my nose and pushed on, grateful none of the remains were human.
“Where did all these come from?” Gigante asked.
I was about to answer when our lantern began to run out of oil and flickered, an indication we needed to go back. Before we could turn around, I heard a whimper to my right. Fixating the sights of my gun on the origin of the sound, I carefully moved toward it.
Gigante held the lantern near the resonance, outlining an animal on the ground. Upon closer examination, we identified it — a coyote.
Its right foreleg was injured near the shoulder, creating a slowly expanding pool of blood under the animal. Dark red liquid shimmered under the light of the wavering lantern. The animal was weak and unable to move, fading in and out of consciousness.
I returned my revolver to its holster.
Using what water was left in my work canteen, I cleaned the wound as best I could and examined the animal’s torn flesh. The wound was a bite, but not from a puma or another coyote. It came from something much larger. How is this coyote still alive? I wondered
I quickly wrapped my bandana around the animal’s leg, tying it tight over the long laceration. Sliding both arms under the heavy creature, I lifted it and began to move toward the cave opening…or tried to anyway.
“It is a good thing no one else is around to see this. I am embarrassed for you,” Gigante lightheartedly mocked me as I struggled to carry the large quadruped. Before long, he lifted the coyote from my arms, handing me the lantern.
With Gigante behind me, I lead us back to the work site. We expected all the other workers to be gone, and all were…except for Miguel.
He came over to us, jumping back when he saw the coyote. After regaining his composure, he taunted Gigante, “You know, I think she’s prettier than the last girl you introduced us to.”
Gigante smiled and was about to respond when we heard the same powerful howl from before, a sound which awakened the previously unconscious coyote, causing the creature to moan and cry out in fear. Gigante struggled, fighting to keep the animal over his shoulders.
The howl sounded again, very close this time.
“What is that?” Miguel’s eyes widened.
Gigante and I turned back. A faint rumbling echoed beyond the boundaries of our sight.
“Let us get out of here,” I petitioned.
It did not take much coaxing on my part. Gigante and Miguel hastily ran to the mine’s exit, attempting to not get tangled in cart tracks. I stayed behind them but was right on their heels, knowing it would be easier to aim my pistol if they weren’t in the way.
The howling continued and when I turned around, I saw red glowing eyes coming up on us as if we were not moving at all.
I drew my gun, firing one of six rounds in the direction of the creature. The unidentified animal hesitated for a split second and we continued to run, Miguel tripping over the tracks on the ground. In one continuous motion, I hoisted him to his feet.
Even after clearing the exit to the outside world, we continued another twenty or thirty paces. Miguel and Gigante slowed, breathing heavily.
“Keep running,” I ordered. It motivated them to continue, Gigante still carrying the coyote.
The sun had set and the wind dared not sound. Birds hid their singing voices and the silence was palpable. Turning back, I readied myself, expecting the thing to follow us.
Just a few feet inside the cave’s entrance, its eyes stared as it growled and howled. The cave opening was entirely blocked by the pure bulk of the monstrous animal.
Raising my gun, I fired three more rounds. It moved quickly to the side, backward, forward, ducked, and jumped to avoid the lead balls, dodging with unbelievable speed and grace.
It was a quadruped with a furry black body. Yellow and red stripes on its back mimicked the pattern of a coral snake. Saliva dripped from its wolf-like mouth, and its long, furry tail seemed to be wagging happily, pointed ears twitching with anticipation and excitement.
Miguel and Gigante continued their flight toward Guaymas, as I fired off another round. The animal fell and whimpered, the bullet landing solidly in what appeared to be the creature’s chest.
Cautiously moving closer, it was my intention to finish the animal off with my final shot. As I began to shorten the distance between us, the animal’s pained whimper suddenly and unexpectedly changed to a growl, then into an unnerving laugh…deep, low, and echoing.
Hastily, I stepped away. A fear which I had not felt since Gettysburg overtook me. The animal slowly pulled its feet underneath it, rose onto its four legs, continuing until it stood on two.
The beast dwarfed Gigante, nearly scraping the top of the mine. Cocking its head to the side, it held out an open hand to reveal the lead ball. He dropped the piece of ammo, allowing it to clank on the ground, and spoke, “We will finish this later.”
Retreating into the depths of the cave, it disappeared and uttered a final phrase, “You are much too fun. It would be a waste to kill you so quickly.”
Gathering my wits, I slowly made my way to Ana’s inn, wondering if the monster was toying with me. Would he really let me escape? Fear polluted every second of that journey home, worrying the monster would run me down from behind.
A darkness, brought on by the clouds, was all around me as I arrived at the bar. Gigante and Miguel were in the barroom with Ana. I wasn’t surprised to see Maria next to Miguel. Spanish blood provided her creamy white skin. Her hair was a dark brown and her eyes a sky blue. Maria was a beautiful woman, pretty enough to put the reddest rose to shame.
Much like Ana’s dress, Maria’s followed the traditional design of the town, but was a different color…pink with blue flowers.
Whimpering, the coyote was atop a blanket on the floor. At first glance, I recognized the blanket — one from my own bed. In the light, we could see the coyote’s unique coloring. It was all black, darker than coal, without a stripe, spot, or speck of any other color.
“What took you so long?” Gigante looked concerned. “We thought maybe…”
Not waiting for him to finish, I asked, “I am fine. How is he?”
I gestured to the coyote with a nod of my head. Whimpering, the animal appeared to answer for itself. He wasn’t much better, but considering the jostling run in Gigante’s arms, it was remarkable that he wasn’t worse.
Even more remarkable was that the bleeding seemed to have stopped. My bandana, the one I initially tied on its leg, was replaced with clean bandages. They were loosely wrapped, allowing the animal’s wound to breathe. I knelt by him, scratching his head. The beautiful beast opened vivid orange eyes and mustered strength, building up just enough energy to lick my hand one time before he rested his head on the blanket, closing his eyes again.
“He likes you Lukene,” Miguel commented.
“Lukene?” I asked, accustomed to being called gringo.
“It means ‘bringer of light’,” Miguel explained. “You brought light to this animal.”
“Thank you.” I flashed Miguel a warm smile, payment for the new name.
Midnight drew near. Miguel, Gigante, and Maria returned to their homes, leaving me to wonder if Miguel had followed through on his plan to propose. Ana found solace in her own bedroom.
Just the two of us, the coyote and I, remained on the floor in that same spot, awake and together. As the morning neared, he finally fell into a restless sleep.
Keeping him wasn’t something I’d initially planned. Even so, it seemed appropriate to come up with a name. After all, we couldn’t just keep referring to him as “the coyote”. Deciding on a name wasn’t difficult. I would call him Shadow.