There were three maybe four of them. When I saw them sneaking in, I grabbed my rifle from atop the mantle and hurried from my house to a position behind a boulder at the front of the mine. It wouldn’t take them long, maybe a minute or so for them to sort through my tailings or chip off a fragment of the turquoise that still clung to the walls. Then they would come out and slink off to their pueblo with prize in hand.
Well not today. I fixed the barrel of the rifle on the opening to the mine. Today, they would get more than they bargained for. This was my mine! My turquoise! I filed the claim! I got the rights to sell to Tiffany Co! I’d be damned if some redskin was going to take away from my profits to sell his tribal fetishes to some TB case at the sanatorium in Santa Fe!
I heard Indians coming before I saw them. They were speaking their funny Keresan talk or maybe it was Spanish. I can’t understand either.
When they emerged, I fired hitting the first out of the mine squarely in the gut. He tumbled to the earth. The others fled in all directions.
I reloaded and took aim at another as he crossed open grassland, but the shot flew far right. Within seconds, he reached relatively safety of the pinyon and juniper scrubland. The rest were gone too, scattered by the sound of gunfire, like wild dogs.
I chambered another round and headed towards the entrance to the mine. The one I had caught lay there clutching his stomach and babbling something I didn’t understand. In his hand were several pieces of the Tiffany Blue, though they looked mostly red now on account of all the blood. Collectively, they were probably worth about a $1.10.
I stooped over the thief, pried the pieces from his hand, and pocketed the turquoise. He looked up at me. The eyes looked like that of a deer. They were brown and gave a sorrowful look. The type that comes when a critter knows its time has come.
I bashed his head in with the butt of my rifle. Bullets cost money. They eat into profits and his friends had cost me enough already.
Now, I am a God fearing man. I knew the Indian, Christian or not, deserved a proper burial. If nothing else, I had to get rid of the corpse before it started stinking and attracting the critters, but digging a hole takes time. Time is money too.
So I compromised. I hauled the body to a shaft I was no longer using, one where the turquoise vein had run its course. With a quick prayer to our savior, I cast the Indian into the void below. Then I caused a small rock slide to cover any trace of the thief.
No sense in reporting it to the law, I figured. If the sheriff couldn’t keep them off my land and away from my mine what was the point. Besides that, the sheriff, he was Mexican. I had a hard enough time keeping his type off my land let alone the Indian. Between the land grants and the reservations, it was amazing that the white man had any land to call his own in this god forsaken country.
That evening, as I was fixing my supper on the fire, I became aware of a noise. It was faint, almost like the sound of distant thunder, but with the fire crackling and the stew bubbling, I didn’t think anything of it. I continued about my business.
I ate some rabbit stew. Updated and reviewed the ledger. Wrote a letter to the Tiffany Company in New York about the mine’s current prospects and the beauty of the Tiffany Blue stone above all forms of turquoise. Wrote a letter to the Governor too, concerning the trouble the Indians been causing. I added a couple bills to the latter note, so that it attracted the attention it rightly deserved.
When I finally got around to laying down for some sleep, it occurred to me that the noise could still be heard. It was louder now and more distinct. It was the beating of a drum, slow and steady. More importantly, it was coming from the direction of my mine.
I hadn’t expected the Indians to return so soon. Nor had I expected them to be so bold. Who the hell beats drums while they try to make off with turquoise? Was this some sort of prayer vigil for their fallen comrade?
I wasn’t really afraid. The Indians knew better than to attack a white man. That would just bring the Army to the area for a good old fashioned showdown. They were the ones that should be afraid. I don’t have any qualms about killing to protect what is rightfully mine.
I grabbed my rifle from above the mantle and lantern sitting on the table. On account of the light from the lantern, I did not have the element of surprise. I moved quickly from the house towards the mine.
As I reached the entrance, it occurred to me that drums were coming from inside. So, I entered and began to weave my way through the tunnels to the origins sound. It quickly became apparent where the racket was coming from.
Before too long, I stood before the shaft where I had discarded the Indian hours before. The noise emanated from below. Here, it was a thunderous boom that almost shook the walls of the mine.
I raised the lantern above my head and peered into the darkness below. In the shadows, I could make out a figure moving amongst the rubble. Crawling up the walls of the shaft? How in the hell was he playing the drum? Maybe there were more of them.
I drew a bead on the figure and fired. However, I couldn’t rightly hear the blast over the pounding of the drum.
Now, I am a good shot. I hit what I am aiming at. Yet, the figure just kept crawling up the shaft. It moved as if un-phased. I chambered another round and fired again.
Yet still the figure crawled, ever upwards. Its move was slow, but deliberate. It progressed on four legs with ease, more like dog than a man. It looked more like a dog than man too. I could see it clearer as it came into the light of the lantern. It had black mangy hair covering its body. I had mistaken it for Indian locks.
The echo of the drum beat was rattling my head, causing my brain to get a bit fuzzy. I backed away from the shaft.
The thing emerged. On two legs, it stood the height of a man with the face of a dog or perhaps a wolf. Its jaw parted exposing more than a dozen pearly white teeth. The eyes were blue, Tiffany Blue, and gave a menacing look. I knew my time had come.
Bio: Matthew J. Barbour is an archaeologist. He currently manages Jemez Historic Site in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. His fiction prose are inspired by the American Southwest and classic horror, such as the works of Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.