Western Fiction posted January 20, 2012


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Ghosts and gold

A Dollar For Dooley

by Realist101

"We did it Dool! We're rich." The old man scratched Dooley's top knot and snugged the pannier across his small back. The weight on each side was unfamiliar and the burro answered with a sharp switch of his stubbed off tail. Tired but exhilarated, Jacob Dobbs felt renewed. The years spent searching had finally paid off. And big. Sweat dripped unnoticed and he paused to say thanks to the gods in the fire of the setting sun.

"We best be gettin' down, Dooley. Gonna be a black one tonight. Ain't gonna be no moon." Dobbs readied his small lantern, and the pair set off on the hour long trek to the shanty they called home. Dark came fast in the Superstitions, and it paid to be ready.

"Look'ee here, Dool, walk steady now. We gotta git." The old man went into the dusk, excitement and anticipation fairly sending him walking on the thin air of the mountain. Dooley tripped along, his long ears flapping. He was tired already, and started to put on the brakes, his stiff steps a protest at the heavy load.

"Come on, now, donkey. We got'ta long ways yet. Don't quit on me now ... we'll take a day off'n tomor'ee. We deserve us a rest, little fella." He stopped short, lit the lantern and took a swig from his flask for celebration's sake--and Dooley white-eyed the shadows as he moved closer to Dobbs; there was something different afoot tonight. Something new and determined.

Pin points of light darted around the rocks and walls. In pairs, the lights blinked. Alive, angry. Dooley saw ... and pinned his ears flat. Ignoring the warning, Dobbs was busy thinking ahead ... already in another world, he was dancing to the tune of fortune and fame.

Above them, pebbles rolled down, clattering and bouncing off boulders, dislodged by unseen watchers. Dooley jumped like a jackrabbit and Dobbs stumbled, losing his flask to the bottomless abyss.

"Damnit, Dool! Whas'sa matter, boy? Ain't no reason to be gettin' jumpy on me. You want us to lose this light?" Dobbs tried to calm Dooley, but his own body quivered ... if they weren't careful the hard work would be for 'naught. He fairly gulped for air--it was a miracle they hadn't lost the lantern ... or worse. He held it high and peered into the shadows.

Low winds moaned in the dark, and the watchers waited. Dooley sensed them, and kept his long ears laid back, listening. He shook his head in defiance. He suddenly wanted to run down the trail; away from the ones who guarded the mountain. But Dobbs held him fast. They had another twenty minutes yet, then the safety of home would be theirs.

Dooley's tiny hooves clacked on the red shale, and the old man stepped up the pace. "Come on, burro. We got biscuits and beans a'waitin' at home. You got some grain too. Don't gimme no flack. I'm hungry, Goddamn'it." He jerked the lead for emphasis. He refused to let Dooley slow him down.


The keyhole loomed. It, the entry door to the plateau was narrow, and blacker than the night around it. Dooley balked. His rump hit the sand behind him and he refused to budge.

"Damn'it, Dool! Git yer arse up!" Dobbs pulled and swore to no avail. Dooley had planted himself in the trail. Dobbs pulled harder. Dooley held firm, he would not be budged.

"Godamnit. You little shit." Dobbs sat down, fingering for his flask, then remembered. It was god knows where, down some cliff.

"Come on Dool, we're almost there. Ain't got but a few minutes, we'll be to home. Why'rya actin' this way now?" The thought occurred to him then, that Dooley was scared of something, that the little donkey wasn't just being stubborn. He tugged lightly on the rope and Dooley stumbled to his feet, almost tipping over beneath the weight of the gold. "It's okay now, burro, let's move on out'ta here. Come on, now."

Dobbs walked slower--some sound, like a voice from hades, had groaned all low and menacing; he felt the tiny hairs along his neck prickle up, and moved his Colt around closer to his hands. Spooks or no, he'd not go down without a fight. Dooley still had his ears back, and Dobbs felt his own straining to better hear in the pitch black shadows. The keyhole was close ... and after they got through it, all would be well. Dobbs heard his voice talking to itself, trying to stay the fear away, and he didn't recognize himself. He'd never been afraid before now.

"Be still, you old fool. See, burro, ya got me talkin' to maself, now come on. Ain't nuthin' to be skeered of here." He was as unconvincing to himself as he was to Dooley, but they stepped through the rock formation as they had a thousand times before ... .

Eons old drumbeats made time with Dobbs' beating heart, and faces of ancient warriors swirled in the fog as Dooley was swept away. Dobbs screamed then. "Gimme back my Dooley, you sons'a bitches! HERE! Take this! It's my last dollar!" He stood, his offering glinting in the lantern's light--surrounded by the Guardians, tears streaming. The silver coin was but a pittance; it was not payment enough.

The Dutchman screamed one last time. For faithful little Dooley, for the gold he'd worked so hard to get ... and for his mortal soul.

Time disappeared for the old man. He sat on bended knees, waiting for the final blow to end the nightmare. The ancient voices conferred. They spoke to the wind and the wind decided to push Dooley back to the human intruder. Just this once. They would not be lenient again.

The little burro, though dazed, managed to nuzzle Dobbs' back as the last shriek of the Guardians faded into the shadows of the keyhole.

"Dool? That you?" Dobbs cried tears of a man beat, yet saved. "Goddy, I promise not to ever doubt ye', ever again. No sir." He pulled on the scruffy neck, and leaned on the burro.

The sun cracked open the dark with shafts of golden light, and the canyon seemed to come alive. On wobbly banty legs Dobbs let Dooley lead the way. "Come on, Dool. Let's get outta here. Let's get home."
Long ears pinned in agreement, and aggravation. Dooley wouldn't be fooled again.





Recognized


The Lost Dutchman is a fascinating mystery, one I'd love to explore. Instead, it's fun to go there in my mind, and escape my own real world. Thank you for reading and this is not flash, just a very short piece of fiction? Photo courtesy of Photobucket...
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