Adventure at the Silver Bell Mine
Like most people, earthbound spirits hate change. And there's nothing worse than a ticked-off ghost.
by Laura Leveque
Only a few lines into any of Laura Leveque's mining yarns, you realize she knows what she's talking about. Besides mining, the proprietor of Deming's "Jackass Junction" knows a thing or two about writing: She won our Grand Prize in 2006 and was a finalist in 2009.
This charming supernatural short story once again earned her our Grand Prize.
Joe cleared his throat and spoke into his cell phone. "I need some help over here at the mine — you know, the Silver Bell. Whatever it is, is gettin' worse! Got me spooked. I been leavin' messages, and you ain't called me back!"
I'd gotten several voice mails from Joe, aka Juniper Joe, who complained bitterly about having to climb a ridge to get a phone signal. To my thinking, anyone with real problems needed to call 911, not me. Anyway, Juniper Joe's mine is in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, 400 miles from my winter camp in Quartzsite, Arizona — not my idea of a Sunday drive.
According to Joe, strange things started happening after he tore down the mine shack and used the wood to repair some of the ore chutes, ladders and shoring in the drift tunnels.
After listening to another long-winded message from Joe, I decided to leave a voice mail telling him to call me again. Reluctantly, I left my phone on. I didn't want to talk with him, but his wife is a friend and I felt obligated.
While boondocking, I charged my phone and laptop, using an inverter with my truck's accessory plug. I kept my phone off, partly to save the battery. But mostly I hated being interrupted while I made the amulet bags I sold, or when I was clicker-training my new pet, Edgar. Edgar is a neutered, black and white hooded rat.
When Joe called back, he started yelling at me for not returning his call sooner, so I hung up on him. He immediately called back. When I picked up he said, "Sorry. Sorry. I'm gettin' the jitters, losin' money, not gettin' much sleep. Don't want to leave now, just when it's startin' to pay."
I thought, But you want me to drop whatever I'm doing and make an 800-mile round-trip. I felt like hanging up again, but I didn't.
Joe explained the strange things that'd been happening, and why he quit working in the mine.
"Wear a cross or crucifix." I said. "Quote Bible scripture, or Buddhist sayings, or whatever you believe in, and tell it to go away. You don't need me."
"But I'm an atheist," he said. "I don't believe in supernatural stuff."
I snorted into the phone.
After a long pause, he asked, "Will you come out?"
"No thanks, it's too far."
"I'll pay you."
That changed everything. Naturally, I'd accept gold, but the Silver Bell was a silver, lead, zinc and copper mine. And its ores, argentiferous galena and chalcopyrite, required smelting. So I quoted him a cash price, plus a disclaimer: "If your problem is too big for me, I'll have to call in help, and that'll cost you more." I hoped to shock the old cheapskate into hanging up on me, so I could stay in Quartzsite.
He sighed and said, "Fine, fine. When can you get here?"
Damn, I thought. "Guess I'll be there in two days."
He sputtered and started to object, wanting me to pack up and leave Quartzsite immediately, so I hung up on him again.
A few months earlier Joe had ripped down the mine shack. Using his old Dodge Power Wagon, he dragged a 16-foot travel trailer over the tilted, rutted road to the mine. He hoped to coax his wife, Margaret, back — she'd left after complaining of the black widows, scorpions and the persistent skunk odor in the old shack. But Margaret was having too much fun with her friends in Quartzsite, doing a little metal detecting and a whole lot of bingo playing.
Edgar was running loose in the camper, so I used a bit of cheese to lure him into his traveling cage. I secured his cat-size carrier to the passenger-side seat belt. I packed my gear, stowed all my pots and pans, and lowered the camper top.
When I stopped for breaks, I let Edgar out on his little harness and leash. He was somewhat housebroken and had a miniature litter box with compressed paper bedding that he pottied in. He'd also go outside when on his leash.
Two days later, Edgar and I, in my Toyota four-wheel-drive truck with a pop-up overhead camper, jolted and crunched over the last seven miles of rutted track and arrived at the Silver Bell Mine.
I pulled up behind the travel trailer, and got slowly out of my truck. Joe flung the trailer door open and stumbled toward me. His face was creased and his gray hair stuck up like he'd just woken from a deep sleep. "What took you so long?"
I peered at him closely. "Have you been sick? You look, uh… bad." Since I'd last seen him he'd lost weight, his eyes had deep, dark circles, and he looked scruffier than ever. I thought, No wonder Margaret left.
"Like I told you on the phone, every night there's hammering in the mine. Then something taps on my trailer and on my roof. Can't sleep. If I try to haul out any ore, something pelts rocks at me." He paused and cleared his throat. "And right before I called you that last time, I got pushed off a ladder. I ain't been underground since!"
"Sounds like you have a ticked-off ghost." I looked toward where the mine shack once stood. "From my experience, most earthbound spirits hate change. This one is super angry because you moved his mine shack."
I leaned against his truck and thought for a moment. I saw the generator and the power cord snaking into the mine drift — nice and quiet with the generator off. The only sound came from Edgar, who squeaked and rattled his water bottle, ready for a walk.
"What's that sound coming from your truck?"
"That's Edgar, my new traveling companion."
"Oh," he said, uninterested. "As long as it's not another damn ghost."
I let Edgar out on his leash for a few minutes, then placed him on my shoulder. "Okay, little fellow," I said. "Let's see if you possess the sixth sense that animals are famous for." I grabbed my dowsing rods, hard hat and headlamp, and entered the mine adit. Edgar sniffed the air and wiggled his long rat whiskers. The copper dowsing rods I held in front of me didn't move until I got near an ore chute about 200 feet inside. The rods started spinning, Edgar hissed and the fur on his little striped back stood on end. I got goose bumps and felt pressure in my ears, like being underwater. My light began to dim so I left. Edgar and I emerged, squinting, from the mine drift.
I knocked on Joe's trailer door. When I heard movement inside, I said loudly, "I think we found where your friend hangs out during the day. He seems to have a thing for one of your ore chutes. I noticed lettering on two of the side boards, says some kind of freight company, but I can't read it very well."
The trailer door opened; Joe stuck his head out. "When the mine shack got built, I think they used some planks from an old freight wagon. What's left of the wheels and axles are still on the old wagon road — some kinda robbery and shootout with outlaws — " He stopped mid-sentence. "Well, I'll be damned!"
"Looks like we have our answer. Your invisible mine partner was most likely one of the outlaws, unless the muleskinner was mean-tempered."
At 5 p.m. I gathered my paraphernalia — a bag of sea salt, box of wood matches, a blue sage smudge stick, an LED headlamp, extra batteries, a penlight and a candle — and put them in the pockets of my carpenter's apron. I put on my hard hat and lifted Edgar onto my right shoulder.
Joe protested when I had him stand with his arms out. I told him to shut up for a minute. I lit the sweet, fragrant blue sage and wafted the smoke around his body. I finished by sprinkling a little salt on him. I'd done this to myself earlier.
"This is ridiculous!" he whined.
"But it works. Sacred smoke, like Catholic Church incense, fumigates unholy spirits. And the purity and energy of salt crystals seems to irritate low-level spirits and gets them to leave.
"Now," I told him, "go up the hill to where you make your phone calls. Come back in a half-hour or so." He gave me a puzzled look. "It's safer if you leave; that way you won't get possessed, though that's unlikely now that you're fumigated." He looked at Edgar on my shoulder, shook his head, and walked away.
While performing off-key Gregorian-like chants, I used the smoking sage stick to produce an aromatic smoke and sprinkled salt inside and around his truck and travel trailer.
When I was done, I doused the burning sage, flicked on my headlamp, and entered the mine adit with Edgar. He held his nose in the air and twitched his whiskers. When we passed the wagon-wood ore chute, Edgar hissed.
The drift tunnel meandered deep into the mountain. My headlamp dimmed. When I reached the open stope I stood in blackness. I fumbled in my belt bag and found the penlight and extra batteries. I replaced my headlamp batteries and continued.
When we reached the end face of the mine drift, my headlamp went out again. I know what you're up to, my ghostly friend. You won't get rid of me by killing my batteries.
To calm myself I took three deep breaths. I found the matches, lit the candle, then lit the smudge stick. Edgar hissed and scrambled into my hair and clung to my ear. "Ouch!" His little claws scratched. A swoosh of cold air blew out my candle
In the darkness, I threw some salt around and chanted. I relit the candle and moved forward. I called on spirit guardians and angelic beings from the white light to help move the entity to another dimension or to the light. I did this in every side drift. When I got to the cold place at the ore chute, Edgar hissed into my ear. I upped the volume of my chanting and request for help in convincing the earthbound spirit to move on. I relit the sage stick, and tossed more salt around.
Then I heard a deep moan, like a dying horse. Edgar scratched my ear again, and the candle went out. A startling, icy blast of air left a dust trail as it escaped the tunnel. My ears popped, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Edgar moved back to my shoulder and chittered happily. I kept moving, wafting sage smoke around and sprinkling salt, until I was outside and into the growing dusk. I put Edgar down on his leash, doused the smudge stick, and fished around in my jeans pocket for the baggie of cheese crumbs for my little friend. Mission accomplished.
A month later I got a call from Joe.
"Now what do you want?" I asked.
"Uh." He paused. "Now I'm hearing a bell."
"Well, duh," I said. "You are at the Silver Bell Mine after all."
"Real funny. But honestly, what should I do?"
"You should thank the bell ringer. As long as you occasionally hear a bell, you won't have any more visits from your rock-throwing friend." After a long silence I asked, "How are you doing, anyway?"
"I'm sleeping good. I just hauled a couple tons of ore out. Margaret ran out of bingo money, so she'll be here next week to help me out."
We rang off. I smiled. I didn't dare tell him that he'd gotten rid of his ghost, but the mine now had a spirit guardian.
Laura Leveque is a freelance artist and the author of Solar Cooking Adventures.
Visit her website at www.jackassjunction.net.