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Horror movies, horror movie reviews, interviews, fiction reviews and more... Horror of Buried.com
Horror movies, horror movie reviews, interviews, fiction reviews and more... Horror of Buried.com
Horror movies, horror movie reviews, interviews, fiction reviews and more... Horror of Buried.com
Horror movies, horror movie reviews, interviews, fiction reviews and more... Horror of Buried.com
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12.08.2016

EARTHCORE by Scott Sigler
Chapter Three

August 2

Sonny stared at the tiny spring bubbling forth from the mountainside. It spilled cold water onto cracked rocks heated by the blistering Utah sun. Sonny’s huge smile split his deep-black skin, revealing too-white false teeth.

Sometimes you just get lucky, Sonny thought. You spend your life hunting for gold and silver and a dozen other things, following up on leads, rumors, hunches, and myths and usually you get squat. For every valuable find discovered from such dream chasing, there were twenty or thirty hunts that turned up nothing but dirt. After a fruitless summer with nothing to show but blisters and a few new aches and pains; a summer spent researching dead and lost mines; a summer spent buried in libraries, city halls, university museums; a summer spent digging worthless dirt under the same sun in four different states; he stood there looking at the results of good old-fashioned dumb luck.

Dennis’s map had proved amazingly accurate considering it was based on a ten-year-old memory. Those Hopis sure knew their land. The water spilled out of the rock, trickling slowly into an ages-old streambed.

Water was scarce in these parts, always had been, which should have made even a tiny spring like this a known landmark. But no one came here. He reached down to his belt and rubbed the Hopi Indian charm he’d bought specifically for this trip. Like mama always said, an ounce of truth.

Water gurgled out of the rock, catching the desert sun like a shimmering, living jewel.

On his belt, opposite the Indian charm, hung his lucky pie tin. Tied to a short rope, it swayed from his belt like a six-shooter dangling from an outlaw’s hip. He scooped up some silt, then swished it around in the tin, the motion carrying the fine silt over the edge to splash against the mountainside. After two minutes of panning, all that remained was a fine, white, metallic dust.

A whoop escaped his lips, a yell of joy that bounced off the mountain and into the dry summer air. He’d found it. Sonny pulled a small vial from his pocket, poured in the watery dust and sealed it tight. He carefully placed the vial in his chest pocket and buttoned it shut, giving it a proud little pat before covering up his tracks and any evidence of his visit. It had taken him six grueling hours of climbing and hiking to reach the spot, and the same return trip stood between him and his Humvee. After that, it was three miles worth of rough travel to reach anything resembling a road.

Sonny had found silver a couple of times in his career. The spring didn’t contain enough dust to cover a summer’s worth of prospecting, but that wasn’t the way things worked anymore. Nowadays you made much more money finding the stuff and then selling the location to big companies. Let some mining corporation labor to suck the minerals from the ground. Sonny, meanwhile, would spend the winter in Rio with some bronzed little piece of fluff a third his age bringing him drinks and keeping him warm at night.

The sun battered him on the climb down, but as always he ignored it; he’d spent over four decades cooking in desert heat. He looked as cracked and wrinkled as black hand-me-down leather.

His deep wrinkles were the reason younger prospectors had tagged him with the nickname "Saddlebags." Of course those kids didn’t call themselves "prospectors" anymore; now they were "engineers." To them, Sonny was an anachronism, a relic from a primitive time when the locomotive was technology’s cutting edge. The youngsters touted their scientific equipment, spouting off phrases like "ground-penetrating radar" and "sonic resonance" and a bijillion other fancy techniques. Technology couldn’t replace hard work–he told them so every time he met one. They always laughed. Well, they could keep laughing in the deserts of Utah while Sonny made his twenty-seventh winter voyage to Rio. Damned kids remained oblivious to the benefits of good old-fashioned footwork, of following up a tiny lead until you struck pay dirt.

The old Hopi Indian legend was just such a lead, and it looked as if Sonny had struck in a big way. How many old Indian legends, rumors, myths, and tall tales had wasted away his time over the years? He’d lost count, but every so often one turned out to be true, so you had to look into all of them.

The chance encounter in an out-of-the-way bar and a small gesture of friendliness had combined to produce this find. Dennis’s amazing story was grade-A, one-hundred-percent true.

While the find elated him, Sonny couldn’t shake memories of Dennis’s fearful, scanning eyes. That fear made Sonny nervous–because he felt something on that mountain, just as Dennis said he would. Sonny found himself hurrying down the slope faster than normal.

The Indians were so scared of the place they wouldn’t even walk on this mountain, let alone approach the spring. He’d asked around, visiting all the Indians he knew in the area. Even the kids and the half-breeds, the ones who put little or no stock in the old faith and beliefs, didn’t come here. There was nothing but rocks, sand, and tough, scraggly trees–and the nearest town, Milford, was an hour away–but it still gave him the creepy-crawlies. As far as Sonny could divine, Dennis the Deadhead was the only Indian to visit this spot in at least a decade.

Sonny knew why. Most Indians, even the half-breeds, had an affinity for what the land had to say. After forty years in the desert, Sonny had that same affinity–and this place didn’t have anything nice to say at all. This place spooked him in some intangible, eerie way. The rocks held a feeling that wasn’t right, wasn’t natural. Sonny wouldn’t go so far as to call it a feeling of evil, but it sure as hell didn’t make him warm and fuzzy inside. He’d never felt anything like it. It wasn’t just the mountain, but what was on it.

Or rather, what wasn’t on it.

There were no animals here. The Utah mountains teem with life if you know what to look for. Soaring birds, jackrabbit tracks, a dozen varieties of kangaroo rats scurrying about, the trails of larger animals; life covers the landscape. Here, however, there was nothing; no birds flying overhead, no rodents, no chewed branches or seed husks, no droppings of any kind. The place was still. Quiet. Uncomfortable.

After several hours of that creepy feeling tingling up his back, Sonny finally nailed down the vibe. It was the same dark, thick atmosphere that clings to a funeral. He understood why the Indians called the place cursed. He also understood why Dennis the Deadhead left it alone despite the obvious riches to be had. It didn’t matter. He’d mapped the location extremely well and could give exact coordinates to the spring. He wouldn’t have to come here again.

The hike back was long and hot. Gnarled junipers, his only company on the trek, reached up out of the rocks and sand, basking in the scorching sun. Maybe the animals keyed into the feeling of dread that seemed to ooze out of the mountain like thick yellow pus from a burn blister. At least they were smart enough to stay away. Out in the dry wild lands, animals usually had far more common sense than humans.

As darkness fell, Sonny finished up the long hike to the Humvee. He took a thirsty look at the blazing sunset, a picture that grew more and more beautiful as the years wore on. As he climbed into the Humvee, he felt a sense of relief that the mountain would soon be behind him. He patted his chest pocket one more time to make sure the vial was there. His leathery face split by a wide smile, Sonny headed for Salt Lake City.


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