Monday, August 3, 2009

LOW WATTAGE

The little jeep seemed to make as much noise as a freight train when they pulled away from the bend. Marcy glanced over at Carl.

“What did you mean ‘not half bad’?”

Carl looked over at her with a glazed expression. He felt weak.

”Huh?”

“You said my stew was not half bad” she pretended a mock hurt “Back at supper you said it was the best you ever tasted!

Carl was still under the influence of massive amounts of adrenaline. The adrenal glands go into overdrive during a firefight and the mind responds from a very primitive part of the brain. His higher functions were still on the back burner.

Marcy grinned at his confusion. She had a damnable habit of doing that, Carl thought.

Carl’s ears popped as they climbed farther towards the high peaks. They drove on for what seemed like hours but in fact it was less than an hour after the fight. Marcy slowed down, easing the Jeep and trailer to the oncoming lane dangerously close to the canyon side. She slipped it into reverse and backed into a drive carved out of the local landscape. It seemed to go back about fifty feet and stopped. Marcy got out and before Carl could follow, she signaled him to stay put. There was practically no light now. The sky had clouded over. Carl strained to see where she was going but that was impossible. Instead he could hear more than one mumbled voice. Marcy came back to the Jeep and things started happening very quickly.

The silence was torn by metallic creaking and a rumble like a large door. Marcy started the rig and backed in to a gaping hole in the darkness with a vague light far inside. When the huge opening rang shut two men turned on small lights mounted on their headgear. Behind Marcy and Carl someone shouted “Make a hole!” and a light nearly blinded him. He realized the light was probably no brighter than a forty-watt bulb, but he had been hours in the dark. His night vision was fairly acute.

Carl looked around him in interest. The walls were shored in the honeycomb fashion developed by the silver mining industry. There were small rails on the floor. Ore carts?

This was a mine.

***

A man walked toward the front of the Jeep as Marcy eased back into the narrow space. The area behind them widened into a larger opening. Possibly side shafts, Carl thought. A female voice called ‘Whoa!” and Marcy stopped at the juncture. Why here, Carl wondered.

Then it dawned on him.

He was trapped in the area between the Jeep and the tunnel wall. If he meant mischief, he would be easier to control. The man in front of the Jeep signaled Carl to dismount and come to him. He was tall and gaunt with a pony tail and bib overalls. Carl saw he was hefting a combat-style shotgun.

“I’ll have to ask you to clear your smoke pole there, Cap’n” he drawled. He wasn’t unpleasant, but he meant business. Carl pulled the magazine from the PLR-16 shucking the remaining round from the chamber.

“Oh, and the pistola too, Cap’n.” the gaunt man smiled.

How the Hell did he see that, Carl wondered. He drew the big .45 and dropped the magazine, pulling the slide back with an exaggerated motion so the man would see it all. The man looked over the .45 and raised an eyebrow.

“Thankee, Cap’n.” he grinned “You can hang on to ‘em. We’re not as suspicious as we are safety-minded.”

Carl thought he could smell bullshit, but it wasn’t unkindly. In fact it was safety-minded. It kept Carl, an unknown factor, from bringing loaded weapons into what was obviously an enclave of some sort.

The gaunt man turned back to Carl as he led him past the Jeep and trailer toward the larger area.

“I’m Jimmy Walther” he stuck out his hand.

“Carl” he returned as he grasped the man’s hand in a firm grip. An honest handshake with years of hard work behind it, thought Carl.

The walls here were lit by a number of small wattage lights covered with red plastic lenses. Dim by any standard on the surface but in a mine, it was sufficient. They walked to another juncture much brighter than the last. This one had stacked boxes and crates on pallets with a small space to squeeze through. This is harder than it should be, thought Carl. Several people were rolling an ore cart toward the entrance and the Jeep.

Jimmy stopped at a picnic table wedged in a pocket dug out of one of the openings.

“Wait here” he said softly.

Carl wondered what had happened to Marcy. The table was lit by a small battery-powered lantern. He grinned at the Forest Service logo branded in the table. It had been stolen and brought here. Footsteps padded into the opening and Carl was relieved to see Marcy plop down on the bench next to him.

“Are you okay?” he ventured.

“Yes" she looked at him "Is it alright if I panic now?” She smiled as tears rolled down to her chin and dropped on her parka.

“I was being kind you know” he whispered.

“About what?” Marcy was wide-eyed now.

“About the venison stew. It was just edible”

Marcy mock-slapped his shoulder as she grinned.

She rested her head on Carl’s shoulder for only a second and screamed. She looked at the blood on her hand and at Carl’s shoulder.

“OH MY GOD! YOU’RE HURT!” she shrieked.

She stripped the parka back from Carl’s shoulder then helped him out of it. The lining of the left sleeve was heavy, completely soaked with blood, lots of it. He looked at the gaping wound through his tricep and shuddered twice.

Then he passed out.

***

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