Western Short Story
Cave in the Mountains
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Job Manning was a strong-willed man, seemingly made of stone, who figured he could live anyplace on the mountain, as he was the only man who had lived hi whole life there, from the moment his mother dropped him, a new-born, onto a slab that slid flat off the side of its major cliff. She made sure he remembered her last words, jammed them into his ears at every chance; “You were born here first of all men, so it’s yours, keep it.” Job was 12 at the time, alert, good with guns, extremely good, a stalker at hunting game animals, bringing meals from his fires at the edge of a cave Time had made in place for him.

Dropping a deer with a single shot, he brought the wanted remains to his fire, left the remnants for eagles of the mountain, other predators catching the odor in the air, like a whole story told in one quick sitting, knowing some of those feeding on what he left would feed him in time, all things being equal, being divided. Life, it proved, was a sum of events.

Before he entertained any idea of making the cave his permanent home, he lit a huge fire in there to rid the place of the flyers, the crawlers, the biters, the nippers, the vermin and creatures that lived in the cave, hundreds of them of all sizes, colors and speeds, some that his eyes could never detect, as much as he wanted.

In bad weather, driving rains, winter snow and cold, he slipped into the cave, treated it as his sole retreat, finally as his lone home, erecting a sleeping cot built off the floor in spacious room, normally the home for creatures like Daddy-Long-Legs, crickets, bats, bears, foxes, rats, snakes, raccoons, moths, swallows, vultures, and groundhogs, driving these habitants from the cave 39 feet deep into the heart of the mountain, perhaps cut there tons of years before he came along, his trips off the mountain, developing trade for his wares, usually once alive, now strictly dead, ready for ovens, open fires elsewhere off the mountain; there being a hungry populace needing food of all kinds, meat he provided as an extra staple.

Off the mountain, he was a figure of mystery, nobody knowing where he spent his time, under or in what protection, guessing he had a small cabin not seen by a single soul from any surrounding town, the kind that usually clutter at the feet of mountains everywhere, life on the level, no need to climb into the clouds that are found in those high reaches.

Job Manning never talked about his residence, mot a word, where on the mountain he lived, not a clue to what kind of cabin he might have built, or where it was located, in what gully, in what ravine. Simply did he make his trades, saying not a word about his home place, curiosity reaching a constant high pitch, and no responses forthcoming, the mystery climbing as each visit to town came around, his market as good as any man’s, much of it rising from curiosity itself.

When one nosy cowboy tried to follow him back up the mountain to see where he lived, Job Manning drove him back toward town within an hour of his lone search, declaring for the new set of ears, and those that would follow the story delivered, “And that goes for one and all who want to disturb my home and my privacy.”

The threat was carried within the hour, sped across the foot of the mountain at the same speed, and, needless to say, with the same force of promise. Job slept in extreme comfort on his cot, not the least creature upsetting his sleep, the air about him warmer being closer to the heart of the mountain as the chippers and diggers of old had made it for that purpose.

When a lone Indian stood in the opening, listening, Jeb scared him off with a series of cries and yells he had perfected with practice as if they were coming up from Hell itself, the Devil adding a deadly anxiety to the hearing, his threat of a visit in the coming, sooner than one would think. It cured him of Indian visits, stories atop stories making the rounds of all villages in the vicinity.

When a lone cowboy, arriving from the top of the mountain and found his descent easier on the way down, stood in front of the cave and felt the same horror reaching to grab him by the throat, taking care of his visitation.

Even a young widow in town, refreshed by Job’s manners, his unique ways, showed a keen interest in his passages into town, thus trying to stretch nearer to him on his visits, sales, and the type of things he bought. Her name was Marsha Goodrich and she was a beautiful young woman yearning for social comforts, nothing of the sort available in the whole town until she had seen Job on his runs.

He carefully measured her efforts and realized they were as authentic as possible, a woman looking for a man, and loading the search with beauty, wonder, and what might come to a suitor. If Job did not see her at the beginning of a visit to town, he soon placed her in her view, excited to see her beauty still blossoming, his anxieties still climbing to a fever pitch he’d never known.

They began to talk to each other, her outwardly saying, “Every person in this whole town wonders where you live on the mountain.”

“What about you?” Job said.

“That’s your business, Job. It has never made me the least inquisitive, Your thing is your thing.”

He melted at her words, at her stance in his life, how she could be rewarded without any cost, any pain, any curiosity put into play down here in the town.

He said, “I’ll show you, but you’ll have to meet me outside of town with nobody following you. We’ll have to arrange it.”

So, they did, her heart aflutter, her interest as heavy, her curiosity at its very edges.

She saw where they tethered their horses, in the midst of a rare clump of growth, and he brought her the front of the cave. “This is it,” he said, holding her hand, ”this is my home and you’ll have to bend a little to enter. I’ve lived here since I was about 12 years old, and I’ve driven every creature out of the place. Don’t be scared. Just hold my hand and follow me.”

She was amazed. Wrapped in wonder at the site before her, as the unusual beauty, the stark beauty of the cave, came to her sight. For a totally natural place, it exposed more than an oddity, it exposed a man at his best, what he had regained from the natural world and brought under his eight fingers and two thumbs.

“I’m flabbergasted she said. Nobody had a guess where you’ve lived all these years. It’s beautiful all the way. I’m so happy you showed me.” She hugged him inside the mountain for a long time before she uttered between breaths, “Nobody will hear a word from me, ever,” She hugged him again.

“No worry about that, dear lady of mine, until we spend our honeymoon night here in the heart of the mountain.”