This is part of our free, online and highly-praised survival fiction novel. You can read the rest of the parts here.
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]urphy woke before the sun and lit the lantern. The yellow flame barely illuminated the interior of the canvas outfitters tent; it cast ominous shadows on the walls. Harlan woke next. The men were soon alarmed that the tent’s roof had sagged a foot or more during the night. It was obviously weighed down by the heavy snow fall which had accumulated during the evening as they slept. Murphy went to the tent flaps, and pushing the wet snow back with his foot around the entrance. He peered out in the morning gloom. A winter spectacle had magically appeared overnight.
The storm had dropped more than twenty inches of snow that evening. The dim blue light revealed a winter wonderland to behold.
Magically, the valley had been transformed, a hushed form of silence had come over the world. A once vibrant forest now lay frozen and dormant beneath a thick blanket of snow. Everything made calm, muffled beneath an eerie lull that had descended over the woods.
The raucous sounds of the tiny creek, as it plunged over the falls, had now been contained by the growing ice and the deep accumulation of snow hanging from its banks. The stark whiteness now look blue in the still morning light. Everything had been covered, and laid deep as a man’s knees. The trees, the tarps, and the ground were all buried in snow. A gathering of growing ice formed along the creeks edges giving the impression that the water had receded. Even the mining claim had been buried beneath with a layer of heavy wet snow.
Murphy exhaled, watching his breath float away in the cool air, and pulled his head inside, and turned to Harlan.
“Well, we got some digging to do just to get to the gravel bed that’s for sure. There must be two feet of wet snow out there and it’s still coming down hard.”
Harlan, stood up and pulled on his buckskins, and wrapped his belt around his waist. He coughed hard and cleared his throat, “Wouldn’t be the first time, some snow tried to slow me down.” he chuckled to himself thinking of bygone days. “As long as it ain’t frozen, we can work it a little longer, who knows what we’ll find today.”
He added: “Snow’s at lot easier to move than gravel for sure, young fella, but it don’t yield as much gold neither way.” He grabbed the coat from his cot. He slept with a heavy buffalo hide waist length coat over him at night. Poking an arm in one heavy sleeve, he tossed the rest over his shoulders as best he could, awkwardly slouched beneath the sagging wet tent.
“Damn I’m too big for these here wall tents,” he grumbled as he grabbed for his moccasins.
Harlan then pulled on his Moosehide moccasins and, without even lacing them on, he ducked his head through the tent’s doorway to finish in the open where there was more room to stand.
“I better see how Tom and Elly are doing, may-haps need more feed with all this damned snow out here. I bet it’s been buried by all this.” his booming baritone voice fading as he walked away into the blue morning shadows.
Harlan spoke softly to the two animals as he approached. “Hey you two knuckle heads, how’d you fair the storm last night?” The horses were standing dead still and covered in several inches of the white stuff. They seemed indifferent to the snow, then stirred as if just woken, and slowly walked over to Harlan. The first thing they did was nuzzled Harlan’s pockets looking for treats, but he didn’t have any for them this morning. “Never mind that, I’ll get you some new feed.” He rubbed and petted each in turn, and went to find the buried tarps.
Big Tom had lain over in the snow recently, and rolled out a large flat area where he and Elly were standing. Like every year, both horses had grown heavier winter coats and did not mind the falling snow. Their hair were long and thick by this time of year. The temperature did not affect the two animals. It was probably their favorite time of the year, with no biting insects pestering them like during warmer months. They happily rolled and kicked at the new snow.
Harlan and Murphy had built the animals a corral when they first arrived, lashing tall dead fallen spruce trees to several standing trees, making them a small enclosure. This allowed the horse’s some freedom to move about without being tied or hobbled. He told Murphy when building it that the animals would stay calmer if they had a few extra yards to move. Tom and Elly could easily get free, especially Big Tom, but Harlan assured Murphy they would not bother. Unless they felt mischievous, and broke through looking for some feed under the tarp that Harlan had covered the feed with.
Harlan had been adamant about covering the feed after building the coral, and thankfully so, as not only would the timothy be under the snow that morning, but it would have been wet and prone to freezing. The feed that was left in the corral had been trampled by the pair during the night.
Harlan threw back the heavy canvas tarp, and broke another chunk of the compressed bale free, and brought it to the two horse. He then grabbed an armload of fresh poplar, and laid it in beside the feed for the animals to chew on. He then gathered some split pine from under the tarp before covering it all again, and made his way toward the tent. The temperature outside was cool enough that the snow hung inches thick on the tree limbs. Weighing everything down, and looking like thick icing for miles.
Harlan inhaled deeply the cold mountain air, and then exhaled with a tired sigh, he cleared off much of the snow on the tent, and ducked in through the tent’s door.
Murphy already had a pot of coffee sizzling on the stove, and was digging about in the kitchen pack when Harlan came in. He looked up, “I figure we should get some hot breakfast in us before we start working the claim.” Harlan nodded, “I couldn’t agree more, young fella. That there gold, been waiting a thousand years, and it ain’t going anywhere in the next few minutes I wager.” He dusted the snow from his Buffalo hide coat, before removing it, and laid it on his cot.
“How ‘bout carving off a thick slice of that there deer bacon, you and Robert cured. I’d fancy that for breakfast, and maybe some gruel.” He looked at Murphy like a child might, and added, “We don’t have any more of them hard tack biscuits do we?” he grinned.
Murphy raised a finger in anticipation, “Just a minute I’ll check,” he said with a laugh, as both the men knew they had brought at least twenty pounds of the rock hard food.
“Sure do, Harlan. I was also thinking of using up the last of the eggs too, before we get into those powdered ones powdered ones you have.” Harlan had wrapped the farm eggs in paper, and placed them in a tin for the trip. He had mentioned back at the cabin that he sometimes used dry grass or moss for packing the delicate things if he didn’t have any paper.
“Yeah, I’d better get rid of these eggs or they’ll freeze soon, if they haven’t already,” he fussed about them as he unwrapped them from the paper.
Murphy was a wizard at camp cooking now, and Harlan wasn’t complaining either way.
“I reckon young fella, I ain’t eaten this well in years. Glad to have a camp cook along for a change.” Harlan certainly enjoyed Murphy’s company, especially after nearly half a century in the bush on his own.
“Tell me something Harlan, what do you do when the timothy hay runs out for the horses?”
“Oh, hell, they’ll eat the bark right off of the trees, been living that way for years, most winters. Both have been doing it since they was colts. I only bring the timothy bales just in case I get stuck in an area like this, where there ain’t no poplar or leafy trees for them to feed on. It helps give them the energy they need during the cold snaps. They like poplar best. I cut down the young trees, and toss them right into the corral and they’ll chew the bark off like beavers, and old Tom he’ll eat about anything he can wrap his teeth around.”
Murphy was now curious about these things, as he was considering a horse for himself, half expecting he might be in this valley, much longer then he cared to think about.
“Do they get enough nutrition from the bark?” he asked prodding Harlan like a naive kid would ask about the world.
Harlan looked thoughtfully, figuring on why Murphy was inquiring, about horses and said, “A few winters back, they lost considerable weight during some hard times, but they were young, and still gained it all back and then some, by summer.”
“They’re fine mountain animals, those two, and damned handy to have around. They’ve been my best friends, going on eight years or more now.” Murphy looked at Harlan, and would have thought he’d been talking about people, but to this man who had spent the majority of his life alone in the wilderness …to him …these animals were the next best thing to people. Maybe better company then most.
After a hardy breakfast, the two men spent a good part of the morning digging a path to the claim, and removing a large swath of snow from the work area. Murphy had to pickax through a foot of frozen ground before hitting the looser gravel. Today, they hoped to process another 6 cubic yards of over burden.
Harlan straightened his back and looked at the claim: “we best move on home in a day or two if this cold keeps up. The ground will be too solid to work I reckon by then.”
That afternoon, the two had managed to fill three pails with finish grade gravel, and, by the end of the day, they processed a total of 6 more pails, producing a substantial amount of gold flake.
Harlan again stood up and groaned as he straightened his bent back: “Well that’s it for me, young fella. What say you, and I take them two nags for a little ride up stream, and check out the rest of this valley a bit?”
Murphy stretched his tired shoulders, “That sounds like a plan Harlan, I bet those horses could use a good stretch too.”
The men put away the tools, and dried and weighed the gold. It was another 4 grams of gold dust. This was hard work for such little pay, but it was at least a way to earn the money needed for buying what they couldn’t do without. After a week of staying out here in a tent, Murphy was looking forward to heading home soon.
“That was certainly a good day’s work,” Murphy noted. “How ‘bout we have an early supper of flap jacks, and then hit the trail?”
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” said Harlan.
The men ate a quick supper of hot cakes, and made their way to the horses.
Elly had the only real saddle to speak of, which left nothing for Murphy to ride with. Harlan simply strapped on the pack saddle to old Tom, and tossed over a bundled up horse blanket to give Murphy a place to sit. He could have road bare back, but Murphy figured he’d need something to cling to, just in case they climbed any hills. Tom was too big for a man to hang on to easily.
Harlan straightened the blanket: “I wouldn’t want to lose you in some river crossing, young fella”. Harlan liked to joke with Murphy. The two had grown close, and Murphy respected Harlan’s knowledge about the wilderness.
Murphy looked under the horses neck with concern, “Nor I either Harlan.”
Harlan stared back nodding his head in affirmation, and added, “Oh don’t get me wrong… I’ve fallen in rivers before …even fell through the ice six or seven times last winter …beaver trapping. T’ain’t no big deal really…” Harlan looked puzzled for a moment as he worked the cinch strap. “Well, if you get a fire going quick enough you’d be alright. I mean a man will be okay if he gets warmed up fast enough before he freezes.” He hauled hard on Tom’s strap, and added, “I always carry a bottle of lamp oil and a striker just for such a case.”
He looked seriously at Murphy and checked the harness again, “Oh yeah, you’ve got to be careful drying buckskins over a fire too, or they’ll shrink up tight as a hat band on yeah. Then you’ll be in a world of trouble,” he roared with laughter at his mental image while shaking his head thinking about the comical scene.
“A man don’t want to be running around buck naked in the winter time, do he? Let me tell yeah… ain’t much a fella can do for himself if that happens. Might as well lay down and die. Yes sir, I suggest you dry them while you’re wearing them.” Murphy laughed at the image of the big man running about the wilderness with nothing but his birthday suit on. He couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps he was speaking from experience, but decided not to ask.
Harlan seemed in a particularly talkative mood this afternoon, and continue to chatter as he hitched the saddles up.
“I hear tell… freezing to death ain’t all that bad.” he paused with a serious shrug, but indifferent to the conclusion.
“I ‘spect that’s so. Never happened to me yet,” he laughed again at the silliness of the idea of dying and telling about it.
“But… I can say yeah this much… thawing out after freezing, ain’t no treat. I lost two toes a few years back.” He lifted his left foot up and pointed at it. “Froze them black as coal. Had to cut ‘em off myself. Couldn’t feel them until I thawed out by the stove when I got home. Oh yeah… I made it back to camp all right, and thought I was in good shape. Then the pain set in, as soon as they started to thaw, and a day or two later, they turned black like lumps of coal. I was sure glad I had some tangle foot spirits left over from the summer before. I polished off about a quart of 180 proof, poured some on the toes and with my knife, I cut them dead toes right off. Sure I wailed, but I knew if I hadn’t they’d be the end of me.”
He pulled again on Tom’s harness.
“I had an old Army buddy I knew back during the war. He got gangrenous and ended up dying because we ignored him for too long. He wouldn’t let us cut off his leg no how, so he died. Damn a man’s pride.”
Murphy couldn’t help marvel at this old man, and his survival stories. “You are something else, Harlan. You mean to tell me you cut off your own toes? How’d you stop the bleeding?”
Harlan simply looked under Tom’s neck again, right at Murphy, and nodded.
“Weren’t nothing son, if you tourniquet them off first, then heat up some pine-tar good and hot, ‘til its bubbling, then cut them toes off right quick, sew up the loose skin with a few stitches, and you jamb that stump right into that hot tar. It’ll cauterize them clean, and staunch the bleeding …protects ‘em too from gang green. Wrap everything up with clean bandages, and you’re good. They say it got sulfurs in it, I can’t say for sure. I CAN SAY it hurts like the dickens, BUT IT WORKS …and pretty well too. In the old days they used sulfur tar for all kinds of poultices.”
He went back to checking the halters of the animals, and pulled on Elly’s saddle harness again and hard too. The poor thing almost stepped on him trying to keep her balance. He offered more advice to Murphy, “I learned ‘bout it from a book I once read, ‘bout Pirates, and such. It told of how them buccaneer’s would use boiling pine tar to staunch the blood when amputating limbs. Must have been some hardy fellas back in them days. I just used it on two little toes, and nearly passed out. Sticking a whole limb into a bucket of hot tar like that… whew-wee that must have stung a bit. I wondered whether I’d been a good sailor.”
He looked at Murphy formally, not expecting an actual answer. “You know, I wonder whether if I’d of lived back then I mean, seems like a right fine-way of travel.”
Harlan smiled meekly… as if he was considering the sea fairing life, and then winked at Murphy as he finished saddling the rig for him.
He swatted Tom’s massive shoulder, and looked at Murphy, “There yeah go, young fella, I reckon that will be comfortable enough as long as we don’t need to make a run from the Indians or something,” he laughed at his comedy, and smacked Murphy on the back knocking him off balance. Murphy just smiled to himself. Harlan was one of a kind, that much was sure.
Murphy had no doubt that men like Harlan were cut from a special bolt of cloth. The old time men of the Rockies must have been much like Harlan. He wondered if there would ever be men like him in this world again. Perhaps Harlan was the last of his kind.
He considered that as he watched Harlan walk Elly out of the coral. A man like Harlan would never fit in a big city like Metro, or any other for that matter. That was probably why most modern people never run into men like Harlan in their world. Perhaps Murphy was naive, and there are plenty of men like him still around out here. It was mostly the opposing differences of those two worlds and why most will never meet men like Harlan in their lives.
This old timer and ones like him, are simply born in the wrong century, and as they wander in the wilderness, far from modern life he and his animals, “his critters” as he called them, will always be out there. As they will always have a place in the hearts of young men dreaming of adventure, like Harlan must have fifty years ago when he first came to these hills.
Harlan couldn’t possibly know that the outside world had moved on, and as Murphy saw in his gray eyes, this old man standing before him with his white beard, and buck skins, suddenly gave him the feeling that wouldn’t much care either way. He was truly happy in his life. Not many modern men can honestly claim that.
Harlan lived for the moment, and had no concerns over the future, mankind’s future especially. He regarded modern man with their worries, and wants as if it didn’t concern him one way or another. Men like Harlan, lived by a code, and that’s all they need. Anything else wasn’t even considered.
Right and wrong were easy to spot for these men from far off, and the modern gray lines the rest of us complain about are none of their concern because they just don’t fit in with their code.
Harlan walked big Tom out of the coral next, right up to a fallen log. “Here you go, son,” he motioned Murphy toward the dead tree. “A step so you can climb on.”
It still took a great deal of effort for Murphy to scramble onto Big Tom’s back. He groaned, “Damn, Tom you are one big son of a bitch,” Murphy laughed to himself sounding like Harlan. Once he was aboard, he patted the huge mule’s neck to calm him.
Harlan found two thin poles of dead swamp alders, stripped the small branches from them, and handed one to Murphy. “Use this to knock snow off the trees, so it don’t fall down on Tom too much.” He pointed at the two animals, “these pair tend to get the chills if you don’t keep ‘em dry this time of year.”
He then swung a leg over Elly as if he were only twenty years old again, and set off down the trail at an easy pace. Tom turned behind Elly as usual, and Murphy and he fell in behind without him even touching the reins. The group walked along in silence for an hour or more, enjoying the stillness of it all.
The day was quite warm, considering this was creating large thick flakes to fall in a steady curtain. Near dusk the huge flakes grew so large they looked to be the size of silver dollars floating down over the valley.
Tom’s huge hooves plowed through the deep snow and created white wakes, tossed forward like a boat’s prow. Steadily, the animal pushed aside shovels full of the white crystals. His massive head bobbed up and down to a steady cadence keeping an easy rhythm to his simple world. Playing to the conductor of some silent orchestra.
Murphy felt connected once again to the woods in a new way, in a way he hadn’t ever considered until now. He reminisced over the ways his life had changed during the last few months. So much so that in a short while, less than a year ago, he had gone from a senior accountant at one of the largest banks in Metro, to panning for gold and riding a mule through the forests of North America.
He wondered if he would ever miss the old Murphy? Right now he doubted it…
They plodded along for another hour or two, and saw plenty of country.
Harlan then spied a small stream. He led Elly towards the stream coming out of a side gorge. It flowed directly into Myrtle Creek. He walked her up the narrow passage, fallowing the stream-let to its source.
Harlan was in search of a logical source for the gold, that he and Murphy had panned. He was searching for rock formations, outcrops, and veins along the exposed strata. White veins marking the rock face. By doing so, he hoped to see the tell-tale quartz formations proving millions of years of inclusion, upheaval, and erosion had brought the gold to this source.
Harlan began speaking loudly to Murphy over his shoulder as the led the horse up the gorge. He began waving his arm at the sides of the gorge, and explained what he was looking for.
“I look for these cracks that occurred millions of years ago, back when they filled up with minerals like quartz, gold, and other deposits, during different events, not all at once mind you, you know?”
He turned in his saddle to see if Murphy was paying attention. Then he continued, “Mostly I look for the fissures that ran deep beneath the Earth’s crust. They were places where gold was deposited by heat and activity, and eons of time.”
Murphy couldn’t help notice how Harlan sounded different when speaking of such things as geology. He almost sounded like another person. He had told Murphy a few nights back how during the war, he had been a member of the Army Corp of Engineers, and so he was taught a lot about Geological formations, the placing of footings for bridges and dam construction. He was truly a renaissance man when it came to such things.
He continued, “The thin cracks in the rock look like, and are called veins. They’ve been pushed up by the force of the moving plates of the earth and left exposed over time,” he pointed at the rock wall. “Here, where they now lay exposed by rain, wind, and ice that has eroded them over thousands of years, and eventually stripped the minerals from the veins. The gold and other valuables were stripped out over thousands of years too, and washed into the rivers and streams where it now lays waiting.”
He kept talking, he no longer sounded like some old mountain man. He sounded like a prospector and a geologist.
Harlan certainly had many dimensions, and Murphy listened intently as the lesson continued “This is why the gold is where we found it in Myrtle Creek now, and this is where it came from,” he turned again to face Murphy. “It all ends up under the sand bars and other resting places. Waiting for us to dig it up.”
Tom bumped along steady as a mill stone, grinding away up the hill behind Harlan and Elly. The big mule deftly grabbed and stripping buds from the swamp alder and poplar trees as he plodded along. Much like a conveyor belt, Tom processed food in one end and deposited it behind him at the other end. He was a marvel to behold. Murphy liked old Tom…
“Tomorrow, if we go up the creek and pan and don’t find any gold, we can be sure the source was somewhere between there and our claim.” It was a simple enough tactic, and foolproof. The only glitch is if the source of the gold had already been stripped away with nothing remaining.
“It’s easy to locate gold deposits. If a fella can just imagine, that you’re traveling down the middle of a river, dragging a long rope behind you. The rope’s trail left behind, represent the flow of the gold in the river. As the heavy gold clings to the sides, like the rope clings to each bend and curve it shows you were to look. That is where them gold flakes and nuggets will settle.”
Murphy was getting the idea that Harlan was trying to let him in on this prospecting know how. He probably figured Bob and he were going to be around much longer than he was, and he wanted to pass on what he knew to the clan of John Roberts before he left this world. After all it was Bob’s grandfather, John, who started Harlan into prospecting in the first place.
“This is how to locate gold for sluicing,” Harlan’s voice snapped Murphy out of his thoughts.
“Now looky thar,” Harlan pointed the alder stick at the rock face. A thin, white quartz vein could be barely seen beneath the lichens and moss, it ran diagonally through the gray granite where Harlan aimed his stick. He climbed down off of Elly and made his way to the rock, wading through the deep snow. He pointed at the rock as he plowed through toward it. “Hard to say,” he puzzled. “I don’t see any gold yet, but might be worth checking it out in the spring, maybe with some rock drills and dynamite.”
He turned to Murphy who was still sitting on Tom, and held out his arms in a huge arc: “Most people don’t realize that there is this layer of gold all around the entire planet. It’s just that there are hundreds of feet of rock and over burden laying on top of it. That’s why it’s so hard to get at. It is usually pushed up by the forming of mountains or volcanic activity, that’s why some older islands like Indonesia and the Philippines have gold on them. The new ones like Hawaii, are mostly built of volcanic pumice, and might have diamonds because of “Kimberlite formations,” but not likely any gold.”
Harlan waded back through the snow drift, ‘We’d better get back before it gets dark, the horses are fine traveling in the dark, but I don’t much feel like eating branches all the way back.”
Murphy turned Tom around, “Me neither, let’s get going.”
Back at the cabin, Bob had spent most of the day clearing snow from the solar panels, and topping up the batteries under the shed roof with pure water. He had invited the Granvilles up to watch movies on his DVD player, so he wanted to make sure the power system was up to the task.
The Granvilles arrived later carrying a pot luck dinner. Lynda knew Murphy was away, and Bob could probably use a hand. So, she arranged to supply the food for the group.
Right after dinner, the ladies started to clean up the table and Logan and Bob readied the movie, but first the men watched the evening news before putting on the show.
The TV sizzled to live, and a news reporter dressed in a bulletproof vest and helmet reading PRESS across the front, and the back, came on looking stressed.
He was obviously afraid and shouting as he crouched behind a concrete barricade, hiding from the gunfire in the background, he then addressed the camera holding his microphone to his mouth.
“The rebel forces have not giving up even though the UN troops have commandeered armored vehicles from the local police force, and are using them to push back the growing resistance. The rebel forces appear to be spreading across the city using the roof tops, their intentions are unclear but they appear to be firing down at the UN soldiers who have tried to take back several dozen blocks of the down town Los Angeles core. There are similar scenes all across America cropping up in every major city in this country.”
“The Pentagon, claims it is gearing up for all out civil war. No word from Washington yet, as they claim they will not condone nor objurgate the civil unrest. They have admitted they will meet any violence with equal force if necessary. The newly elected President has vowed to get to the bottom of these issues, but has assured the people he will do his best to turn back the UN troops his administration has called for help. He merely requests the people to allow more time to get a handle on the root of the problem. Most of the rebel leaders doubt the President’s intentions, and have run out of patience with those in charge. They say they will not back down, and want their country back… This is Sam Henderson, Fox News, Los Angeles California…”
Bob flipped to another channel, and another reporter standing in front of a courthouse somewhere in the southwest of the nation.
“This is Lyle Nesbitt reporting live from New Orleans at the Louisiana State Court House, where just moments ago, a terrorist organization claiming to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood has simultaneously detonated three devices inside the court house foyer, killing twenty-five people and injuring many more. As you can see, the court house is completely engulfed in flames, as firefighters desperately try to extinguish the blaze. Apparently, the devices had been strapped to the chest of three individual radical jihadists, who stormed the court house doors, and shortly thereafter detonated the bombs before any security could stop them.”
He held a hand to his head, adjusting his ear piece.
“This newsman has just heard that four more terror attacks have occurred today, across the state of Louisiana. The Brotherhood has admitted to taking advantage of the recent chaos caused by the martial law decision, using it to wreak havoc over the people of the United States.”
“Holy shit, look at this Bob,” Logan whispered pointed at the TV in awe.
The reporter then continued, “Elsewhere, Christian lives are in turmoil, in Alabama, Florida, and the state of Georgia as multiple Churches were attack and set ablaze. Many community churchsgoers are panicked in the aftermath, demanding action by their government. Washington administration remains silent despite the growing concerns of the public.”
“Radical members from various Islamic groups have taken credit for these terror attacks, and still no word from the White House.”
Logan, and Bob glanced over at the girls, to see if they were listening, then look to each other, whispering so as not to frighten the women, who were cleaning the supper dishes, and apparently not hearing what had just been announced.
Logan leaned over to Bob and quietly confessed, “Damn, it’s getting worse, what the hell are we going do about this, Bob?”
“What can we do?” he whispered back. “It’s not as if the bunch of us are going to make a difference by ourselves. Turning against your own government isn’t something you do lightly, ya know… especially with Jihadist terrorist loose in the country.”
“That’s what I mean, Bob. I know you were over in Iraq, and you understand this better than I do, but I don’t want to lose my country to a bunch of jihadists, do you?|
He didn’t need to ask Bob that, he knew the answer.
“Hell no, let me think about this for a few days we’ll talk later okay?”
Logan looked worried as he watched his wife and daughter work at the sink. The mother and daughter were talking quietly to themselves.
“They think we can’t hear what’s going on.” Marlee said to her mom, she looked forlorn looking up at her, “I hate that the world is going through this, why do they have to attack us like that,” she whispered trying to hide it from her Dad. Her mother spoke softly to her, “Don’t let on that you know. Marlee, it would kill your father that you worry so much.” Marlee agreed, and wouldn’t mention it again, she promised.
Bob saw the fear in Logan.
He tried to reason with him, and let him know how he felt, “I knew this day was coming. I had planned on riding it out here by myself. I never expected to be responsible for so many others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you are all here. I just had a simpler plan in mind, that’s all. Fighting in another war wasn’t part of the plan.” Bob knew this was different though, it wasn’t just another war, it was a fight for America. He couldn’t refuse the calling, and he knew it.
Logan felt guilty for putting Bob on the spot, “By the way Bob thank you for being our friend. We really couldn’t have made it out here if it hadn’t been for you and Murphy.”
Bob wasn’t afraid to fight, he had done it before in Iraq. He unfortunately knew that this time it was a whole new bag of worms. It was a war where you can never tell who is really on your side. It would become a fight that the American people would not be allowed to win, not on their own anyhow.
The strength of the military in America had taken centuries to build. It now could be used against the very people that built it, as it was controlled by outside foreign influences. The foreign kleptocrats had entrenched themselves with every position of power of the United States. This fact did not sit well with Bob, or most veterans. Their only hope was that the current military personnel would see the wrong in all of this before it became too late. They needed to turn against this evil that was trying to turn the nation’s military onto itself.
“What the country needs right now is a proper sit down, with the president. If he is a free thinker, they will convince him that having UN troops invade our nation is an act of war, and something the people and veterans of this country will never stand for.”
“I agree,” said Logan. “But, how does someone get through to a president and bring him to our side of the fight?”
“I don’t know Logan, it’s something I have never considered before.” Bob looked haggard just thinking about the country’s bleak future.
The girls came over with an armload of coffee mugs, and offered the men some coffee and cookies. Marlee handed them out as Bob turned off the news, and pushed the DVD into the player.
Harlan and Murphy were back at the claim, and just finishing up stowing the tack from their ride. “Well, young fella, I don’t know about you but I’m beat.” He reached under the timothy bale, and pulled out a big clay jug.
“I’ve been saving this jug for our going home day, but figure this is as good a time as any. It’s my home made corn sqeez’ns, and mighty fine if I do say so myself, would you care to partake, my young friend?”
Murphy smiled, “Are you kidding, I would indeed good sir, I would in deed.” They both laughed, and Harlan pulled the cork with a pop, and took a good long pull, and handed the clay jug to Murphy. “Be careful, it’s got a little Rattlesnake venom in her, and it’ll bite you if you’re not careful.”
Murphy tried his best to duplicate Harlan’s example, but the burn of the nearly 180 proof liquor was too much for the accountant from Metro. He vowed to get used to it, and commenced to doing just that. Harlan admitted he was showing off, and the men got a canteen of clear creek water to mix with it. It went down much better, and tasted like butter after that. It was still probably 100 proof, but it was so smooth they couldn’t tell.
Murphy thanked Harlan for asking him along to mine gold, and told him how everything that he was learning has brought on a whole new dimension to living here in the bush.
Harlan thanked Murphy for his kind words, but said this, “Every man needs to ask himself how he wants to be remembered after he’s gone. You can only do that by treating others the way you want them to remember you when you leave this good earth. I wanted to teach you and Bob what I know, because you are the only ones connected to my past, and the only ones that will remember me when I’m gone.”
Murphy, shook his head after hearing this, and said, “See, Harlan, you just taught me another thing, and you probably didn’t even know it,” he reached out his tin cup and clanged it against Harlan’s. He rubbed his hands together greedily, “Now let’s see how much gold we got so far,” outside above the tent the two men’s laughter could be heard as a flickering flame of humanity seen yellow and afar, floating off like the chimney smoke in some silent cosmos of winters wilderness. The snow kept falling in wet round flakes over the valley, and the men were held in winter’s white embrace.
Many times in the old days, miners simply sat out the winter back at their camps, waiting until spring to do it again. They were always trying to get every ounce they could from the claim before shutting down during the frozen months. Some would head to town and exchange their gold for provisions to be used the following spring. Some returned to the wilderness broke, after a considerable time of merriment with the ladies from the local saloon. Others spoke little to the town’s folks, preferring to keep their business to themselves. Harlan never needed to worry about competition, as for the most part, he was the only prospector in this area.
“Governments nowadays,” he complained shaking his head, “like to keep track of every bit of real money entering their world. So they make a law that every “free miner,” needs to be licensed to prospect in the country’s hills.”
Murphy understood the “why” behind the bank’s resistance of real money, resisting their infusion of their fiat currency scam. It was real money they needed to control, but couldn’t unless they licensed it and kept track of everyone, and every nugget of it. That was another reason they constantly try to end cash in society, too: more control.
He instinctively knew Harlan couldn’t care less about the government’s currency scams. He just wanted them to leave him alone. His thoughts were that he didn’t bother them and they shouldn’t bother him. He was a true Libertarian, and consequently, Harlan never had a “Free Miner’s Certificate, whatever the hell that was,” he asked sarcastically.
“Oh, forget them, it’s not important,” Murphy reached for the jug and poured two more helpings of the sour mash. “This is some fine liquor Harlan, you know back in town, I could sell this here stuff,” Murphy bragged. Harlan’s voice boomed, “Now I have no interest in selling anything in town, thank you very much, young sir.”
“Suit yourself, Harlan, I’m just saying this is premium hooch,” Murphy sipped his cup dry, and held it out for another.
“Careful now son, I warned you it bites, we need to get packed and out of here tomorrow, and it ain’t going to be easy on those trails I’ll wager.”
“I got this,” said Murphy as he tried to focus on the two jugs being poured into his two cups at the same time.
Harlan spilled the liquor on Murphy’s hand, and the men roared at the spectacle of it all, “Oh well,” Harlan said. “We aren’t in any real rush are we,” as they laughed at the absurdity of it all. They were both righteously drunk, and they knew it.
The men had managed to sluice a full ounce of gold flakes and then some from the sandbar, before the weather had stopped their progress altogether. It proved to Harlan he was right about this spot, and he vowed to return in the spring.
The next morning, the two awoke feeling not bad at all. The pureness of the alcohol, mixed with the clear creek water had very little after effects on the two. They quickly broke down the tent and loaded the animals, and were soon on their way back to the cabin. The snow had accumulated to a staggering three feet in depth. If it were not for the horses it would have been a grueling trip home without snowshoes, perhaps impossible. Many a person has succumbed to the elements after a blizzard such as this.
At the first clearing, the men saw herds of Elk that had come down from the upper slopes because of the deep snow. They even witnessed a pack of wolves following the herd. Later on, off to the right of the meadow, just beyond the creek they spotted three dark shapes. A bull moose and his two cows, standing amongst some poplar trees. Murphy watched the three animals and wondered how difficult it must be to hide oneself, when you are so large and nearly solid black in color, all except the grayish brown of their legs. It was equally hard to miss the shine of those huge polished antlers that the great animal the Bull Moose wore. Harlan commented that the bulls use them to signal each other during the rut, and that they were not to be trusted or approached without a rifle that time of year, as many an adventurous soul has been killed by the unpredictable behavior of these animals during the rut.
Harlan asked Murphy if he cared to shoot the bull, as it made for the best and softest moccasins. Murphy hesitated, feeling him and Bob had more than enough meat for the winter, and saw it as a waste. Harlan then confessed he had some tanned moose hide left over in his kit. He’d be willing to let Murphy use it for the moccasins, “It ain’t big enough for me to make another pair, but it would be plenty for you and your tiny feet,” he said this without malice, but matter of fact like. Murphy had to see the humor in his observation, as Harlan’s feet were certainly much larger than his own. So he took the comment in the spirit it was meant, and accepted the gift of the moose hide, and Harlan’s promise to teach him how to make a pair for himself, after all he had held up his end of the deal.
Elly and Tom plodded along quite at home in the thigh deep snow. Harlan decided to stop at the pine grove that Murphy had rested at on his way-in many months before. The two watered the animals, and Harlan pulled out a pouch of jerky, and offered some to Murphy. “How you feel’n this morning,” he asked Murphy with a smile.
Murphy had to confess, “You know, considering how much we drank last night, I feel pretty darn good.”
Harlan puffed up his chest, “I make some pretty darn good shine if’n I do say so.”
Murphy then asked, “Perhaps you can show me how to make the shine too, when you get a chance, I promise to keep any secrets you don’t want me to share.”
“You know, Nathaniel I might just do that.” It was curious how Harlan either called Murphy and Bob by their proper Christian names or simply used the term, “young fella” to cover pretty much everyone, as chances were good that they would be younger than he.
“We’ll get working on those moccasins as soon as we get back to the cabin.” Harlan cinched up the saddles tighter, and hopped astride Elly. Murphy led Tom over to a dead-fall and climbed aboard the great beast. He wondered what he would do if no step could be found, he supposed he would simply have to lead the animal around until he found one, and laughed to himself picturing him and Tom stuck in some vast prairie with no step in sight.
“Let’s get moving, we should be back at the cabin in no time.” Right then, Murphy noticed a movement through the trees on the far side of the meadow. “Did you see that,” asked Murphy.
“I did,” said Harlan. “Looks to be wolves, I suspect they been following us since we cut across them back at the upper meadows.” Harlan was quite calm, but Murphy took another view toward these demons.
“They often follow men,” Harlan spoke calmly, “especially in winter. I reckon it’s an old habit from way back when we were mostly hunters. They followed the native tribes as they wanted to share in their kill.”
“I’ve been followed by wolves for many winters, ain’t never been bothered by any of them yet. Sure they can give a fella the willies some nights, especially when they come right near your camp fire in the evenings, but they ain’t never bothered me, not once. I suspect in the old days they might have been a little bolder and attacked a few settlers but, all in all, I reckon they was just scared and made up most of those stories back then out of fear.”
Murphy at heart was still a city boy, and didn’t take as much comfort in Harlan’s tales of wolves as he should have. He still kept a wary eye for the fury devils still following behind them. He counted three nearly black ones, and six mixed or gray colored wolves. It was hard to say how many there were, and Harlan said, the older ones will stay well hidden, as they are used to being shot at from a distance.
“You won’t see the old ones come forward until it gets a might bit darker. Many times, they are the ones that sit off by themselves on a hill and such, and call the others too them. Other times it’s the lone wolves who have been kicked out because they are competing with the head males, and have been banished by the pack.”
Back east, when Murphy and his Dad hunted whitetail hunting there was no need to keep an eye peeled for wolves, as they had been all but eradicated from the landscape. He trusted Harlan, but only so far. It is man’s nature to fear wolves because of our past history with them, and we are constantly being told to fear them.
But, the creatures’ fearsome reputation as man eaters is largely undeserved. They can and do wreak havoc on moose populations in some areas, but only in so much as they decrease it then most move on. Where this conflict can come from, is when there is nowhere to move on too. This can sometimes upset the modern day hunting lodges that make a living off of the large game populations, as well as the local ranchers, as the desperate animals often take on whatever game they can to feed themselves.
Harlan blames the lack of trapping as it has been all but ruined by, “tree hugging granola eating liberals,” as he put it. He told Murphy of mega packs, with as much as 45 wolves and more in one group. These huge pack numbers scare even Harlan when he comes across them. The reason is the unsustainable amount of game it would take to feed such a large group. This may indeed temp some animals to take on cattle, or even humans such as a lone man out and about by himself.
Harlan prattled on with his trapping sermon, “what these bleeding hearts don’t seem to get is that men are part of this Eco-system too. Those city folks look at this planet and its wildlife like humans have somehow invaded it. They don’t see it as if we are here like the animals, to grow in this garden, along with all the other creatures. This is not a zoo or adventure park, this is life.”
“I hope when I die, that those wolves out there, feed on my corpse, that would be how I want to end up. Let the ravens and crows, and magpies pick my bones over, let the mice live in my skull, and the wolverines can crack open my bones for the marrow. That’s how I want to go out…”
Harlan didn’t say anything else for the rest of the ride…
Logan and his family decided to accept Bob’s invitation to sleep over, rather than make the long snow shoe trek back home through the storm.
The next day they were just about to leave when Murphy and Harlan rode up. Marlee spotted them first, and shouted out, “They’re back,” she shouted pointing, and dancing about like she did whenever she needs to release that pent-up energy of youth. The rest of the group gathered at the edge of the stairs to greet them on the porch. Murphy and Harlan waved, as they rode the animals under the trees by the creek, and took care of their needs first before heading to the cabin.
After unsaddling the pair, they stowed and covered the gear under tarps. Harlan, held up his jug, as if asking confirmation from Murphy. “No, I think we can share what Bob and I have, maybe some dark rum.” “That sounds right pleasant,” Harlan grinned, and stowed the jug back under the tarp.
The reunion was grand, with a million questions, mostly from the little girl, Marlee. She must have held on to the small sack of gold the rest of the night. Hefting it in each hand as if it held some magical power somehow. The group was together again. Murphy marveled at how they had all become such a tight-knit family. He looked over to Harlan who seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as the next fellow. He laughed uproariously and flashed that golden toothed smile the rest of the evening. Perhaps he was making up for all those lost years of living by himself.
As soon as the evening wound down, the Granville women, went to bed, and the men stayed up and chatted about the news Bob and Logan had watched. Harlan was amazed at how far the country had fallen. He honestly never thought he would ever see his great country fall to such lows. He listened to Bob’s theories about corruption, and had no problem understanding what Murphy was still having trouble believing most days. He finally had to admit to himself that the over whelming coincidence of it all did always seem to point to a shadow government, and a global agenda. Every piece of the puzzle fit.
The next day, Harlan dragged out his quarter hide of moose, and laid it out on the table. He had a separate piece of thick hide that he explained to Murphy was from the hump, and top of the neck it was at least a quarter inch thick and tough yet flexible. This would be used for the soles. The patterns where simple enough, and Harlan showed Murphy how to use his own foot for the measurements. He checked the first one against both feet and used it to create both the left and the right pattern. In no time at all, he had two identical, yet opposite patterns cut out.
Next he created forty feet or so of lacing, the same way Bob had taught Marlee to make it for the snowshoes. Everyone sat around and watched as Harlan stitched together the moccasins. The trick, he said, is in keeping the stitches small, and using a very sharp knife for cutting. “Gathering the toe area up with the stitching is the hardest part,” Harlan explained to the group how to wax the thread for stitching the lower parts, and use the lacing for the uppers. Then the rest is quite easy. Murphy worked on both of the moccasins, “as having two people working on a pair would make them lop sided and odd,” Harlan explained.
Harlan had Beaver fur for winter lining’s in his moccasins, he explained that beaver provided the most warmth and admitted, Murphy could use rabbit fur instead for now, as that was all he had from the hides Marlee had tanned over the falls catch. They certainly were cozy, and Murphy ran outside to try them in the snow. They worked marvelously, the action of his foot rubbing in the fur, and the layer of air trapped by the rabbit fur provided a layer of warmth, like no other footwear Murphy had ever owned before.
It was strange at first, to be wearing such light footwear in the winter, it felt odd, and took some getting used too. He ran about in them, and kept lifting his feet high, not believing how light they actually were. “These are fantastic Harlan, thank you very much.” The entire bunch of valley residents thanked Harlan for his knowledge. “Hell, it’s just nice that it won’t be forgotten. That’s the real gift here,” Harlan contended.
The group gathered together when Harlan was tending to his horses. They had a short meeting, about Harlan. “We should asked him if he would be willing to stay here, at least for the winter,” said Lynda. The others agreed. Bob asked Murphy first, but suggested he stay with them, as they clearly had more room, besides he admitted, “We live far closer to the meadow, where the horses can feed.” The group agreed, and when Harlan came in he knew by the way they all stared back at him that something was up. “What’s going on?” he asked looking rather bewildered.
Bob looked Harlan in the eye, “We all had a vote Harlan, and we want you to stay the winter with me and Murphy, rather than risk heading back over the mountains in this snow.”
“Oh, really, you know I been traveling through snow much worse than this here storm. I once traveled ninety miles in snow that was up to old Tom’s chest.”
“Oh, we didn’t mean you wouldn’t be able, we just thought we might want you around, you know, to teach us more about things you know, and relax around some people before heading back to your valley.”
“Well, that do sound pretty inviting, I might stay for a while, if’n nobody minds.” “No we don’t mind,” everybody shouted at once, and Marlee gave the great bear of a man a hug that melted his heart. “It’s settled then, Murphy and I will make you a bunk over by the wall or the stove if you prefer.”
“No, the wall will be fine, I can’t stand the heat when I’m sleeping.” Murphy smiled and shook Harlan’s hand, “welcome aboard old timer.”
“Just until spring mind you, then I better be moving back to my valley,” Harlan was quick to add. He was a bit over whelmed by the suddenness of it all. “I’m planning a trip to Mayerthorpe in the spring. I’ve got to get my yearly supplies,” he said nervously as everyone rushed off to get him settled. Murphy spoke up next, “Hey, Harlan, do you suppose I could tag along when you go? Bob and I could sure use a few things there too.” “Sure I don’t see why not, we might want to hit that claim again before we leave,” Harlan winked at Murphy regarding their little secret in the gorge. Murphy nodded in affirmation, and went about getting the tools for building Harlan’s bunk.
November blustered and blew, and melted into December. The residents went about the days, and more or less enjoyed their valley together. The winter had been kind to them so far, and they shared many activities together. Marlee grew particularly fond of Elly, though she liked Tom too, she was afraid of his enormous size. She often came up to the cabin just to visit the horses, and offered to feed and care for them as well.
The holidays rolled by with Thanksgiving being the most memorable any of them could remember, and then came Christmas.
Everyone drew names from a hat, to determine the person they would be making a gift for. Marlee drew Harlan’s, Harlan drew Lynda’s, Lynda drew Bob’s, Bob drew Marlee’s and Logan drew Murphy’s, Murphy drew Logan’s, and all were secretly working on their surprise gift for the holidays. Marlee couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, and she kept track of the days with an advent calendar that Lynda had made her. Each day, she would announce how many days left before Santa would be there. Both houses had been decorated for the holidays, each with a tree in the corner waiting for presents, and that special day.
It was a week before Christmas, and Harlan stood sipping his coffee watching Marlee through the cabin window. He had grown very fond of the little girl, and smiled at how well she handled the two animals. He turned to Bob and Murphy, and said: “I’m headed to a friend’s house I’d like to visit during the holidays.” Bob looked at Murphy and Murphy at Bob, each thinking how odd it was Harlan had never mentioned before he knew anyone nearby. “Who would that be,” Bob asked. “Oh it’s just a friend that I like to visit during the holidays. I should be back in time for Christmas, if I’m running late you can find my present to Lynda under my bed.”
It all sounded rather sudden and very odd to the other men. “You sure it’s a good idea to travel in this kind of winter?” they asked. “Oh hell yes, this ain’t nothing, been doing it for all my life,” Harlan was adamant about the trip, and wouldn’t hear any more about it. He was leaving that afternoon. The men looked at each other and shrugged. “Well, do you need any help to get ready?” they asked him. “No,” he assured them he would be traveling light and could pack himself.
That afternoon, Harlan waved goodbye to the two men and Marlee, and headed north along the trail, he never said where he was going or when he might be back, just that he hoped to back by Christmas day.
Whatever it was Harlan was determined to do it. Nothing the men could say would dissuade him from leaving. The days rolled by far too slowly for Marlee, who now didn’t even have the two horses to keep her mind off of the coming holidays. She drove everyone nuts asking each to guess what she had made Harlan, she also bugged Bob about what his gift to her was.
Despite the child’s pestering, she was the one catalyst that made the holidays real for everyone. No one even thought about the distant turmoil back in the city. They went about their days with nearly a care. As the holiday approached, Marlee grew anxious, she desperately worried about Harlan. She prayed he was alright, and that he would make it back soon, as Christmas was fast coming, and she had made his gift for him. She so wanted to give it to him on Christmas morning.
The days ticked by and Marlee counted them off with the advent calendar, until that finally evening, the night before Christmas.
The group decided to gather at Bob and Murphy’s cabin. They spent the evening singing carols and drinking eggnog punch. They played games into the evening, until Marlee could no longer hold her eyes open. She was devastated that Harlan wouldn’t be there for Christmas morning. She tossed and turned in the big man’s bed. Dreaming of Christmas day.
Marlee of course woke first, it was still dark, and she wasn’t sure but she thought she could make out piles of gifts under the tree. In her mind, she was sure that Santa had been there and left the presents as they were all sleeping. She looked over at her mother and father sleeping on the floor, and tried to see if Harlan was there too, hoping he had somehow made the trip back in time. She was heartbroken when she discovered he was not.
She waited in bed until she could no longer, and got up, trying to read the tags on the presents under the tree. She was certain that many of them were hers. She squeezed, and prodded, rustling the gifts as quiet as she could. Until finally her mother stirred, and “Shhhhh, Marlee, people are still sleeping, it’s only 4:30 in the morning you go back to bed young lady.”
Her mother’s voice made Marlee jump right out of her skin, and she dropped the gift. She didn’t understand, she was positive no one could hear her, she had been so very quiet.
Marlee grabbed her stocking from behind the stove, and climbed back into bed, she was still clinging to it when her mother shook her awake as soon as the sun came up. The others reluctantly rose for the glorious morning. Everyone was happy and hugged, accept Marlee who kept checking the window and looking up the trail for any sign of Harlan and Elly, and old Tom.
The family made hot cakes with blueberry syrup and tea for breakfast, they opened their presents, and thanked everyone for their gifts. The sun was now cresting the valley and slowly peeking over the ridge. It was a clear blue day, like no other anyone could recall since summer. Not a cloud in the sky. A truly magnificent day.
Lynda noticed Marlee sitting forlorn on Harlan’s bed. She went to talk to her daughter. “Now Marlee, Harlan said he’d be here if he doesn’t make it, it’s probably because he was held up by snow. I’m sure he is fine, you mustn’t worry. He’ll be along sooner or later, he has been traveling these mountains his entire life.”
Lynda was a little disappointed that Harlan had chosen such an inopportune time to leave, and go visiting friends. But, she considered it was the holidays, and perhaps Harlan had his reasons. He, after all, was an old man who probably knew he may never get the chance to visit them again.
The rest of the day, Marlee moped around, not really feeling the Christmas spirit yet. She spent most of the day, checking the North Trail for Harlan and the animals. Lunch rolled around, and everyone went inside to eat.
Marlee said she wasn’t hungry and waited on the porch steps. The sun was as high in the sky as it would ever get this time of the year, and she played with her little doll that Bob had made for her. It was one of those Grandma Apple dolls, he had used and old dry apple for the face, and some thin copper wire to make spectacles for the wrinkled old woman, and Marlee’s Mom helped Bob with the sewing of the cloths. She loved it, but it still wasn’t enough to cheer her up. She kicked at the snow on the porch, and threw a stick at the suet feeder scaring off the chickadees.
Then suddenly she thought she heard a noise, a faint snort as if from a horse. She looked up toward the trail, and stared. She watched for the longest time. Still, there was no movement, and no Harlan coming round the bend. She kicked at the snow some more, she got angry at Harlan for leaving when he did. How could he be so selfish as to leave when he knew she had made a present for him to open Christmas day?
Suddenly a red squirrel began its angry chatter, it sprang across the snow at the far end of the trail holding its tail high in the air, then bounded up a tree quick as lightening. Just then, Elly came round the corner with Harlan riding high and waving his arm, and old Tom was right behind them both. Then, as if from some magical story, trotted a tiny yearling colt with its head barely above the trail the two other horse left behind them.
Marlee let out a scream, alerting everyone in the cabin, “Harlan is here.” Elly bobbed her head and whinnied, as soon as she saw the young girl.
“Harlan, I’ve been waiting for you, what took you so long,” the girl was in tears. She flew down the steps, and waded through the chest deep snow to greet the big bear of a man. When she got to him, he reached down his big bear of a paw, and took her hand in his and lifted her up to the saddle. “I brought you a gift Marlee,” he smiled and pulled the lead of the colt forward and handed it to the girl. He doesn’t have a name yet, so you can name him whatever you want.”
Lynda watched from the porch with tears in her eyes as she saw what Harlan had done. This was going to be the best Christmas that little girl would ever know.
Authored by jack Woods.