A newly free man learns that there’s different kinds of slavery…in this world and the next.
“The Hills Bled Gold” by Sumiko Saulson.
A transcript is available on the NIGHTLIGHT website.
Narrated by Devanté Johnson.
Audio production by Jen Zink.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week, there’s gold…and ghosts…in them there hills.
But before we get to slavery in this world and the next, I want to take a moment to say thanks to our newest patrons: Zachary, Noga, Karen, and Kate. NIGHTLIGHT will be produced year-round thanks to the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, and now, we’d love to bring you new episodes every single week. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And don’t forget, NIGHTLIGHT merch is available and you can support us by sporting NIGHTLIGHT-branded gear. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks, and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “The Hills Bled Gold”, written by Sumiko Saulson, narrated by Devanté Johnson.
The Hills Bled Gold
By Sumiko Saulsonmine during a cave-in back in:
Angus told me that the men were crushed by a local tremor. Angus lied. The barkeep up in Tahoe told me that the witch, Delphine Du Lac, had collapsed the mine. Was the story truth or a lie? I wouldn’t know. What I did know was that the barkeep offered to sell me some kind of amulet to protect me from her. A small voice whispered in my ear that I should buy it. Believer or not, I was superstitious enough to obey my voice interior. I squeezed the amulet where it rested in my pocket. Like the rabbit’s foot that sat next to it, it gave me a sense of comfort. A feeling that I might, somehow, be lucky.
The mine collapse, I was told, was an act of revenge by the angry and affronted witch. She was still mortal when she arrived at Lake Tahoe, but Delphine was immortal now; she’d become a vampire. The story of how was unique in all of Christendom. I am not a Christian. I know enough old lore to know it is not unique. I would be an atheist if I wasn’t afraid of ghosts and shadows. I am afraid.
I see things that other people don’t see. I feel things that others do not feel. My body is occupied by more than one presence, and these voices interior speak to me. I am convinced it isn’t the supernatural at work, but madness brought on by trauma. Still, I am not able to explain why it is that sometimes they tell me things that are about to happen. If they are just trauma, then how could they predict the future? How do they know things that are happening far away, before a messenger tells of them? There are many things unexplained. And this is why it is not just the cold fog that chills my bones as I tell the story of Delphine.
Delphine Du Lac rests at the bottom of Lake Tahoe, in the hull of the very same boat she drowned in. Bound with heavy ropes to the floor of the rowboat by ignorant and superstitious villagers at the local trading post who had discovered her for the witch she was. Though bound, she had a mouth to speak. So she cast certain arcane spells as the boat began to sink. Those rites made her the bloodsucker she is, ready to feast on those who wronged her in life.
Then one day, a few miners saw Delphine’s arms and legs spread out like a starfish as she rose to the surface. Her white underskirts fluttered like a jellyfish around her ankles, and with her bloomers, they puffed up her dress. She rose slowly, dead eyes wide and staring above like sand dollars. It is said that she feasted upon the thirteen miners who drowned her, leaving only one witness who was new to their group behind. Then she caved the mine in to cover her tracks. The witch Delphine had been dead only five years, but among the goldminers, she was legendary.
“Beware the Witch of the Water. She hates liars,” Angus McCredie warned me, stoking the campfire with a long fir branch. “You best mind me, Jeremiah. Thanks to me you’re a freeman. All I ask of you is the help I need to mine this gold. I am not a young man.”
Stoking the campfire, I shivered in the fog. My voice interior made many unkind jokes at Angus’ expense, and mocked his authoritarian posturing. I did my best not to snicker, but Angus wouldn’t stop bullshitting and it became impossible. “Keep the agreements you make,” he intoned. “Else she’ll tear you from limb to limb. Crack your bones and eat the marrow!”
Later, I would wonder if Angus should have taken his own advice about not lying to the witch. Did he know something I didn’t know, that made him fear that his own betrayal of her made him vulnerable to her magic?
“You’re no magus, Angus!” I laughed, spitting into the fire. “Why would an undead Louisiana Creole witch take orders from the likes of you? ”
“She worked the Nevada saloons,” Angus muttered unconvincingly. “She hated men who cheated at gambling and reneged on their bets. So just mind you keep your bargain with me.”
“Very well, old man,” I agreed, turning the rabbit I’d caught earlier on a spit. I hid from Angus the fact I’d thrice seen the legendary vampyress, beckoning to me as though a long lost lover.
The first time she was walking on the water. The morning mist was a gray carpet at her heels. High cheekbones, warm bronze skin, and a wasp-thin waist. Corset and bustle done up like a fine French doll. Burgundy velvet gown embracing bountiful curves, petite booted heels traipsing over the aquamarine lake, waters bathed in goldenrod light. I stared as she vanished into the rising sun.
“She is relentless,” Angus hissed, tossing a pinch of snuff on his hand and inhaling it before the wind took it. “She deceives with her beauty, to entrap mortal men.”
“As you say, Boss,” I agreed, pulling a woolen blanket around my shoulder tight against the frigid air.
The second time I saw Delphine, she was bent down over the corpse of an old forty-niner and his mule at the mouth of the mine. I gasped as she snapped the foreleg of the mule and with her long, hungry tongue sucked out its marrow. I walked backwards quietly lest I alert her. She looked over her shoulder at me as I backed away. I could have sworn she winked. Perhaps she was just full. For whatever reason, she allowed me to take my leave. I saw her drag both corpses into the lake moments later. As soon as she hit the water, a sludgy grim rain began to pour.
“I’ve heard she’d eat a man whole, even taking his mule for a meal, disappear him without a trace,” I said.
I was rather fond of Angus’ broke-down old mare, Gumption, who whinnied in agreement. She was bound to a tree, eating her oats, relieved our packs and tent were finally off her sunken back.
“Reckon she would,” Angus creakily agreed.
I smiled amiably as I leaned over the fire to stir our stew of potatoes, and to season our fresh caught rabbit with anise. The heat from the cooking fire thawed my frozen fingers.
“I damned near sullied my breaches when we saw her standing at the pass last night,” I admitted, carefully omitting any other information at the behest of my inside voices. He did not need to know that they told me of his crimes against her.
“A real beaut, though, isn’t she?” Angus asked dreamily.
“Ayup, she is,” I nodded, rolling tobacco for McCredie as the rabbit broiled and the stew burbled pleasantly between us. A frosty, sweet-smelling breeze arose from the surface of McKinney Bay. I scooted close to the fire. Angus pulled up too, reeking of cold sweat. Puffs of icy breath and sour whisky escaped his lips every time he spoke. He was so close I could see the web of lines in the corners of his bleary gray eyes. He took a swig from his flask and belched.
“So don’t you think of abandoning me…” Angus warned, waving a withered finger in my face. “You signed a contract with me, you did. You remember that: in blood.” He spat the last word like a curse. “You can’t break a blood oath without consequence.”
“Yeeup, yessir, Mr. McCredie,” I said, forcing a big oafish smile on my face. How I hated playing the idiot for this damned fool of a man.
Angus was a superstitious old coot who’d made me sign a blasted curl of sooty paper in my own blood, at the crossroads under a full moon. Then he took up the crossroads dirt and threw it into a leather pouch with the paper and tossed both in his knapsack. I don’t know to this day whether the rituals were to terrify me or to satisfy his own bizarre beliefs. I do know that the voices in my head warned me to keep a close eye on where he kept the contract.
I nodded as he reminded me he’d made the same trip last year with two rescued slaves. He’d taken both to California, made a lot of money in that old mine before it collapsed. “Freeing men from slavery’s a noble endeavor. They’re more trustworthy than a hired man,” Angus drawled. “A hired gun is called a gun for a reason. He’d just as soon shoot a prospector and steal his gold than to share.” I felt annoyed as he reminded me for the fiftieth time that he’d rescued me from slavery. A cold, thin drizzle increased my irritation.
“Well?” McCredie croaked, scratched his matted old beard. He coughed, that old rattle rising up deep in his chest, reminding me where I was, what we were doing. I handed five fresh tobacco rolls over to the old man.
“I remember,” I sighed, turning away so McCredie wouldn’t catch me rolling my eyes.. Angus McCredie was sometimes more tedious than the alcoholic bishop-turned-gambler John Brown who’d lost me to him gambling back in Arkansas.
Angus had told me he would take me to California where I’d be free and been good to his word. We’d arrived in California nights ago. I’d thought about running the minute we crossed the state line, I won’t lie. But a sense of loyalty and gratitude stronger than superstitions about ghosts or fear of a lawman’s gun kept me at his side.
“You were true to your word and I reckon I will be just as true to mine,” I nodded, sticking a wad of chew in my cheek. It was a nasty habit, but it made me feel like I was already free. So did my fancy new surname, Freeman, a lot better than Jeremiah Brown. But I wouldn’t be truly free until this was over.
The sun rose, amber honey and crimson light illuminated fragile, silent bilious fingers of fog stretched over the surface of the lake. I stared, enraptured, as night gave way to day. The spell was broken by an ugly cackle all too familiar.
“The breath of tiny faerie folk,” Angus snorted, smacking me on the back hard. I winced as sharp pain radiated across the broad stretch between my shoulder blades. “Or maybe the gas from their tiny little arses!” Angus screeched incoherently. “Faerie breath and faerie farts!” he guffawed, walking fully clad into Lake Tahoe. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, he’d managed to start his drink-on.
Arthritis had reformed Angus’s wasted tree-branch fingers into a claw. His emaciated digits looked so brittle a strong wind might break them. In his bony grasp, the ancient Irishman clutched a bar of lye soap. The soap stank almost as much as his body odor, and glowed an eerie green in the early morning light. Angus scrubbed his skin, woolen clothing, linen and leather all with the same lime green bar. Drunk and howling, he stripped off his wet clothes and scrubbed them sudsy.
Then he threw them soaking wet at me, his now-free servant. Free to do his laundry and stand watch while he scrubbed his filthy behind. I wanted to satisfy the requirements of my gainful employer, so I ran to fetch his clothes. A damp leather vest smacked me across the face, and I yelped.
I don’t have the sight like my grandmother does, but I reckon Angus isn’t long for this world. The acrid smell of applejack brandy and rye constantly on Angus’ breath and a spate of broken blood vessels across his nostrils tell the tale of his alcoholism. His weather-beaten skin emits a sickly-sweet smell I associated with early death. Something was failing: perhaps his liver, perhaps his kidneys.
If it weren’t for the drink, Angus might have been kind. But he was never sober long enough for me to find out. The drunken old bastard best live long enough to sign those damned papers saying my contract was fulfilled. Even a free black man couldn’t go to court like a white. I needed him to make sure everything was free and clear. Another prospector might claim my share of the gold if he died without a real contract. Not the superstitious crossroads scrawling in Angus’s leather pouch.
“There ain’t no sense in going to Foresthill,” Angus nodded sagely. “I made a good profit there last year, when the site was brand new. Not now. A prospector’ll shoot yer ass if you step a wrong way in Foresthill. Everyone wants to pan in that warm water. We’ll stay right around here where it’s cold and find us a vein and start mining.”
“Yessir,” I sighed, resigned, as I stood in the shivering fog and sickly drizzle of rain. Foresthill would have at least been dry. Instead, we’d be hiking up into those icy hills overhead and camping by this Godforsaken lake again. I hung his laundry high on a tree branch to dry, though it’d be hard pressed to dry in this inclement weather.
“Did you see that?” Angus shouted suddenly, pointing off at something I couldn’t see off in the mountain fog.
“What?” I asked, looking up. I was loading his still-filthy leather into a cooking cauldron we used for both making soup and doing laundry. I froze in place so I wouldn’t get burned, and looked up into the hills.
“Not there, there!” he screamed. Following his finger, I saw a glint in the distance. It couldn’t have been gold. Gold didn’t shine like that. But it was something alright, eerie and unnaturally green. “Gold doesn’t shine, boss!” I yelled back, stirring his leathers with a severed tree branch.
“Put that down! I can do my own damned laundry!” Angus snapped. “Or leave it till later. Right now, let’s go and get that there gold!”
“It’s not gold,” I repeated, stirring the pot.
“Who’s in charge of this here expedition?” Angus yelled, sending a rock whizzing right past my skull. It hit me in the ear passing by.
“Ouch!” I screamed, dropping the stick where I stood. “Alrighty, boss man, here I come! Here I come!” I shouted back, nodding and smiling compliantly. I left the rest of the laundry stewing and ran over to help him mount Gumption. I grunted as I helped him lift his short, plump leg over the saddle til his foot landed in the stirrup. Afterwards, I ran ahead of the beast carrying the burden of our equipment and Angus’ tubby ass. I looked for any danger in our path as our expedition party made its way about a mile up the hill, in the direction of the glimmering sheen we’d witnessed on the hillside.
As if my luck needed to be any worse, just then, the drizzle transformed into a full bearing pour of rain. Bracing myself for disappointment, I pushed my heels into the now-muddy slope and hiked on until I reached the source of the glint. I tested to see if it was gold. A surefire test was to hide the rock from the sunlight, and see if it still gleamed. I cupped both hands over it, and looked at it carefully in the shade. I couldn’t have been less happy to be proven right. It was pyrite, better known as fool’s gold. I shook my head. I did not look forward to dealing with Angus’ tantrum when he found out.
Just then, I felt something hard hit me on the head. I thought it was the start of a hailstorm. I reached up to touch my scalp, a piece of rock was stuck in the thick curls of my Afro. I pulled it out and took a look at it. Now this was gold! But where did it come from?
I looked up the hill, and there she was, smiling. As soon as she smiled, as though she were made of magic, the rain stopped. “Don’t want to anger the boss man,” she smirked, dropping another nugget on my head. I smiled.
“There’s more up here. Follow me and fill your pockets, gold miner! Catch me if you can!” She winked playfully.
“Angus said not to trust you,” I shouted back, frowning. “He said you are a deciever of men. I won’t let you seduce me.” A shiver went down my spine. There was a creepy green aura that emanated from her, a venomous glow that lit the rocks behind where she stood. A tree branch jutted straight out from below her, its twisted branches looking like the skeletal fingers of a dead man. An odd smell, like the odor of thunder during an electrical storm, stirred the air. She seemed unreal. No wonder Angus feared this creature.
Yet, she suggested otherwise. “He’s the deceiver,” she scowled. “Sooner or later, you will have to decide who to trust... him, or me.” I didn’t know what she meant, and I decided I had little choice in the matter. I would risk Angus’s ire if I did not pursue the gold.
Fifteen minutes later, I heard the slow clomp of Gumption’s tired hooves. Before they came around the bend, I pulled my pickaxe out from my belt loop and took several hard swings at the rock wall. Pyrite crumbled from the face of it. Swift cuts into the face left crumbling shards of stone at my feet, and by the time Angus arrived I had a convincing sweat.
“What is that there, boy?” he hollered, close behind me. I could feel his hot, malodorous breath on my neck. “It looks like pyrite! Why are you wasting my time?” He raised his arm to smack me, but I quickly ducked out of the way
“No boss, no!” I said, mustering up as much excitement as I could feign. “Look here! I found two gold nuggets!” I quickly shoved them in his hand. “There’s bound to be more where that came from.”
“I knew it!” Angus grinned, a spry look in his eye. “My prospector’s senses never fail me.” The sight of the gold took twenty-five years off his life, and he flew off that saddle and flung his own pickaxe into the wall. Chunk after chunk of rock flew, and to my surprise, some of it contained gold. We hadn’t struck a vein, but he was convinced we would. Angus, usually a gentle drunken bear of a man, showed an increasingly ugly side to himself as the promise of gold grew increasingly a reality. He used every tool he had - badgering, screaming, physical assaults, threats and coercion - to bully me into continuing to dig.
I grew hot, and tired. Blisters began to erupt along the palms of my hands. The increasingly cantankerous Angus grew angry every time I stopped to sip from my canteen. I reflected again upon Delphine’s warning.
We worked for several hours after nightfall, until the moonlight grew too dim to offer us sufficient illumination. Our tiny tin oil lamp barely made a large enough circle of light for our feet to safely gain purchase upon the downward path. Dark shadows rose, and the sounds of night birds and ravenous forest creatures stirred my blood. When at long last, we made it to camp, Angus ordered me to finish cleaning his leathers while he climbed into the tent to sleep.
As I performed my tasks, an uneasy feeling came over me. It felt as though I were being watched. I looked anxiously over my shoulder many times, but all I saw was the tent, its flaps slowly rustling in the breeze. The only sound was the low roar of Angus’ congested snoring. Still, I couldn’t shake it. The almost certain feeling I was not alone.
Hanging the last of the leathers on the low tree branches, I turned to walk back to the camp. I wasn’t going to be sleeping inside the tent. My sleeping roll was safely hidden in the bushes. I was going there to fish it out, when ice cold fingers of preternatural strength gripped my shoulder. I stifled the urge to scream, and run. Slowly, I turned to meet Delphine’s eyes, shining like ruby crystals in the dark. Even in the murky air of night, I could sense her smirk.
“Come,” she insisted. “I must show you something.”
I followed her around the curve of the lake, gooseflesh rising on my bare forearms as I watched her glide several inches above the sands on the shore. My legs, exhausted from the day’s labors, could barely keep pace with her. Yet, I was drawn towards her, unable to do otherwise. It was as though she were a ship on the sea and I but a tiny minnow pulled into her wake.
“See…” she uttered ominously, waving her hand in a solemn gesture over the lake. The water drew back beneath her shadow, creating a wall on either side. It widened until there was a path of moist earth revealed at the bottom of the lake. Although my heartbeat quickened, terrified that she would take my life — perhaps letting go the magic that held back the water so I drowned — I couldn’t resist the compulsion to move steadily forward.
I walked until there was no more land revealed upon which I might tread. It was then she said, “Here. Look at your feet.” Just as she said this, I moved my leg, and found something like a branch scraping the side of it. I moved my hand to wipe it away, and quickly pulled back in repulsion. It was a dead man’s hand, the flesh half rotting! Ashen gray skin half-slid off the dead man’s skull. His gaping mouth contained a swollen, cod -like tongue. Both of his eyes had been eaten by sea creatures, and a slug slid out of one of the sockets.
I turned to run to shore, a scream waiting to tear itself from my throat. But then the same cold hand alit upon my shoulder.
“Look,” she whispered, holding before me a slip of paper signed in blood. I recognized it at once: one of Angus’ contracts.
“This is what he uses to bind me,” she said gently. “He uses these spell papers to force me to take the life of his servants, once the gold is harvested. He would work you near to death, and then steal from you… as he did these two.” She waved her arm, and the water pulled back to reveal another sad, waterlogged soul on the bottom of the lake. “He will give me the paper, and when I have it, I will drain you of life, and then drag your corpse with me to the bottom of the sea. But there is another way…”
I eyed her warily, not certain that the devil I knew wasn’t better than the devil I did not know. “Free me!” she pled. “It was Angus who trapped me here, he who chased me down with the cruel townsfolk. Join me, Jeremiah. Free me! And together, we shall live and love as we please, laying waste to all who dare threaten us, harm us, or stand in our way!”
“And why didn’t these guys take your deal?’ I sputtered. “What’s the price? Must I dine on blood? Forfeit my immortal soul?”
“Foolish myths of men!” she swore. “A soul, what of a soul? Our need for blood makes us no more evil than a man is for eating a fish, or a bear for eating deer. We are a part of nature, not apart from it. Come with me, I beg of you! Only then will you understand.”
“Can’t I just take that contract away from him as he sleeps, and then burn it so it has no force over either of us?” I asked.
She looked away, and I didn’t know if she was angry or hurt. When she finally turned, tears of blood stained her cheeks. “Why must you complicate things so?” she cried. “It might work. It might very well, but then you would be free, and I would still be a prisoner!” With a frustrated wave of her hand, she let me go. I quickly walked back to the shore.
I crawled into my bed roll and fell in for the most restless sleep of my life.
Some folks say that bad dreams are just the worries of the day, wearing away at a man’s conscience or soul. I, however, believe them to be portentous. Accordingly, I was displeased to find two dead men from the bottom of Lake Tahoe haunting my dreams. Their names, which I had never before known, were Samuel and Miles.
Samuel’s eyes, rimmed red with tears of blood, widened as his mouth contorted into a scream. Miles pulled one hand over his mouth, to stifle the sound, and ran off to hide. Delphine tore into him, removing his left arm from its socket with one swift jerk. Flesh stretched like putty, sinew and vessels draped the two-foot distance from rent limb to shoulder. Miles fell to his knees, sobbing. Then, both men began the process of rotting… Samuel’s distended eye food for hungry little fish at the bottom of the lake.
I woke up, shaking. Gulping a swift hit of gin from my tin canister to steel myself, I crept quietly into Angus’ tent. Holding my fingers steady, I picked open his bag, still attached to his hip. His loud snores ceased, and for a moment I thought he was dead. I held my own breath until his ragged, mucus-laden sleep noises resumed. Then, he rolled over on one side, and the sonorous night song resumed. I quickly slid my hand into the pouch, and pulled out the blood-lettered paper. I slipped it into my pocket, and was about to stand up to go when I felt a hand on my wrist.
“What are you doing there, boy?” Angus said suddenly. His eyes popped open instantly, like the painted-on lids of a porcelain doll’s rotating eyes. His ghastly grin revealed two rows of chew-blackened teeth.
“I was just looking for a rolling paper,” I lied, plastering a Jack-O-Lantern smile on my face that I was sure looked as phony as hell.
“Aw damn, Jeremiah! You scared the crap out of me!” he guffawed, sticking his hand into the same pouch I’d just pulled the blood oath from and pulling out a metal cigarette tin. I took measured breaths as he slowly slid a cigarette paper from out of the tin with those knobby, arthritic fingers. I thought he was done, but then he slipped a rolled tobacco stick out from the other side of the tin. Laughing, he handed it to me.
“Be careful, now,” he hissed, narrowing his eyes. “Those things will keep a man up at night, I’ll tell you.”
“I can wait until the morning, then,” I said, trying to stand again. He tightened his grip on my wrist menacingly.
“You didn't just wake me up so that you could forget about it till morning, now!” he snickered, reaching into the sack again to pull out a wooden matchbox. Finally, he dropped my wrist, and sat there staring while I lit the cigarette. I inhaled deeply once, and then ran out the door.
Angus’ bellowing laughter rattled the tent-flaps behind me. I didn’t care how much a fool I looked… the man was scaring the bejesus out of me! I was almost to the tree I was camped out under, exhausted and about to crawl back into my sleeping bag when I felt someone snatch the cigarette out of my mouth.
“Ouch!” I cried out, as the paper pulled a bit of flesh from my lip.
“You are a damned fool,” Delphine whispered, quickly snuffing the cigarette out on the ground. “Look at the damned thing!” She handed the half-smoked cigarette to me, and I rolled it in my hand under the moonlight. Thin markings were painted on its side, some kind of rune. It was too dark to decipher the ink type, but I knew instinctively it was blood. Perhaps because I’d seen the same runic scrawling on the blood contract Angus had made me sign.
“Just sleep,” Delphine sighed, exasperated. I silently obeyed. As I crawled into my sleeping bag, I saw her do something I never imagined in a million years.
She sat on the ground, grasped her legs around her knees, and silently cried. As she wept, a pale green light exuded around her on the grass. I remembered how Angus had called her faerie kin. Given what I knew now, I was certain that he would know.
Samuel and Miles haunted my dreams once more. Despite the clearly painful way in which Delphine had eviscerated them, they both called her mistress.
“Help our mistress,” Miles moaned, crayfish feasting on the tattered remains of his lips. “If you help our mistress, then you’ll help us,” Samuel wept, red tears staining his moss-covered cheeks. “It’s the only way,” Miles agreed, his aquatic-life infested face somehow struck with the purest look of sagacity.
When I awakened from the dream, the bloody piece of paper was missing from my pocket. “Damn it, Angus…” I sighed.
That was when she laughed. Her cackling was brittle, dark. It was the howling laughter of a woman who had been angered beyond anger, until that anger dissolved into tears, and tears to bitter laughter. “Wrong!” she screamed. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!”
My eyes widened as I saw the two figures lurching beside her. The waterlogged dead… Miles and Samuel were grinning with what was left of their faces. Delphine stood between them, the bloody parchment crumpled in one hand. In the other, her delicate fingers laced through the hair on Angus’ decapitated head.
“I would have had an equal,” she said softly, on the verge of tears. “I would, that you would have made yourself mine willingly. Instead,” she waved her hands at Samuel and Miles, “this!” She pulled her arm back, and tossed Angus’ head into the lake. Tears ran down her cheeks as she crumpled the contract, still in her hand, and ate it.
“Now you are mine,” she nodded decisively.
“I am yours,” I said quietly, my fingers clutching at the amulet next to the rabbit’s foot in my pocket. I was not hers at all. I was still my own self. Never in this lifetime would I be twice enslaved. But I was a hell of an actor. I’d been telling Angus what he wanted to hear for six months. So I said the words convincingly, as though there had never been any choice in the world except to be hers.
She beckoned to me, and I came near her. The cold green light that surrounded her suffused me, and I felt a pleasure no kind of drink or drug could match. This euphoria no longer seemed poisonous. It was a feeling beyond joy. I didn’t trust it. I quietly reflected upon the words of a protection spell I once knew as I fingered the cold steel amulet in my pocket.
“At least you look healthy enough to purchase the goods we will need at market,” she smiled, the anger gradually fading from her voice. With a wave of her hand, she ordered Angus’ beheaded corpse to walk its way into the lake. I looked away before the water took him under. I whistled a pleasant tune as I loaded the gear and the gold upon Gumption. I smiled at Delphine as she mounted his back. On her waist were three leather pouches. She showed me that they were filled with gold nuggets. I nodded..
“Come,” she said. “We need to go to San Francisco now. I’ve got some gold to spend, and some old debts to repay.”
I shook my head no, and before she could do more than register my actions with a look of shock on her face, I swatted Gumption firmly on the rear. “Run, Gumption!” I told the old miner’s donkey. A donkey is no race horse, but since our travels could be dangerous he’d been trained to leave at a brisk pace. I tossed a bag on the floor, and it exploded in a cloud of purple fog. Tracks hidden, I made my escape.
“You are free and I am free. Go away, and let me be,” I chanted repeatedly, slipping the amulet around my neck. It was a simple chant, but suggested by my voice interior, I knew it to be correct.
Delphine shrieked as the donkey trotted off into the distance. Miles and Samuel trotted behind her like loving mutts. Then a cloud rose up over the hill as a group of riders approached. She quickly regained her decorum, for her own safety. She waved her hands over Miles and Samuel quickly, casting a glamour that made them seem like they were living from a distance. I knew it wouldn’t hold up on close inspection. I doubt that she intended to allow close inspection.
“Good day, fine sirs!” she shouted at them, with a wave and a tip of her fancy brimmed hat. They smiled and waved back as she receded over the hills.
“I told you we would escape them both,” my inner voice said. We hid ourselves inside of a hidden cave, one Angus and Delphine didn’t know of. The men riding towards us didn’t see us. They were too busy scavenging through what was left of Angus’ camp trying to find anything of value. After about half an hour, they left with his tobacco and alcohol. The tent still stood. When they were well out of sight, I packed it up.
“I wish I had a horse. Or just a mule,” I complained, pulling the tent and the rest of my gear on my shoulders in a backpack.
“Everyone knows you’re a free man in Carson City,” Davis said aloud. I smiled, happy to be alone with my selves. His name is Davis, my voice interior. Davis couldn’t vocalize aloud when others were present. We have for many years now, shared this body. How my broken mind could contain magic, mysticism and portent without my waking knowledge is beyond me. The idea of bodily possession has occurred to me, and I have swatted it away because it was uncomfortable. Davis isn’t the only person inside me, but he is the one who can tell the future. How fortunate I am to have such an advisor.
“Then Carson City it is,” I agreed, feeling an immense weight lifted from my shoulder. I hadn’t trusted Angus or Delphine, so I’d socked away my own stash in the hidden cave. It was enough for me to buy a horse, and pick u p the things I needed to start my new life. Soon I would be a free man in Nevada.
Delphine could remain in San Francisco, very free, and very far away from me.
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Audio production for this episode by Jen Zink.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
Phoenix Gold Mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado is said to be haunted by two people buried inside the mine, one of whom is a witch said to have practiced black magic…but we know how that goes. Visitors also report hearing the voices of two men who were reportedly murdered nearby, and seeing ghostly apparitions fade before their eyes. The mine is so famously haunted that the show Ghost Adventures even took a trip there. The Phoenix Gold Mine is a tourist destination, and you can even go there and search for your own gold…and ghosts. Just be careful not to become bewitched.
We’ll be back in 2 weeks with a brand new story.