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Western Short Story
The Tunnel at Crescendo Rift
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The echoes off the cliffsides started all the commotion, the name-tossing, the name selection, for what folks called a new place in the Utah hills, Crescendo Rift.

A few of the stubborn early miners had called the echoes in the rugged rocky stretch as plain old “music from Gods of the earth.” A few miners called them “noise.” And here in the heart of possible new riches right there in the earth just for the digging, the simple digging no matter how deep you had to go, someone said a bank was needed, no matter that each shovelful was only labor at its earliest kind.

The miners and explorers and the dreamers had come and the town had grown. The Rocky Road Saloon bloomed, it seemed, in one night. The general store grew relative to arrivals of wagonload of goods and supplies. The barber’s place took longer, like a whole year.

One night, in the Rocky Road Saloon, the need for a bank took on more importance with each speaker, and Weyland Jiggs, III, a one-time bank clerk back east (all the way back to New York city), was proposed as president of the newly formed Crescendo Rift Bank. It was decided, in minutes, he’d have his own office if he took the job.

He took the job, left his shovel outside the tent of a miner from Rhode Island he had met on the trail west. He figured he had to trust someone from his beginning, faint and far as they were.

One speaker, Huck Lovett, heavily insistent in his views, said the bank should be at the edge of town, not in the middle of muddled growth upon growth of piece parts of Crescendo Rift. “This town will grow faster than it has in less than a year. It’s going to be a prominent place in Utah before we’re done with it.” Liquor, all kinds of it, carried the vote and the bank site was selected on the edge of a hill “not too far to walk.”

Huck Lovett’s mine was not far from the Crescendo Rift Bank.

And he kept digging for the dream, rising from the deep earth, as if from escape, only to visit the saloon, make a purchase at the general store, finally getting a shave from the barber. One day he announced, “I just heard from Jiggsy that the new vault for the bank will be here in a week. Then our gold and coin can be locked and loaded.” He toasted everybody in the saloon with, “We’ll be a city before Utah itself knows it.” He was a charmer as a miner.

All the drinkers saluted him back. “Don’t worry a bit about it, Huck, your strike is coming. You’re due. You earned it.”

The vault came and was installed and Bank President Weyland Jiggs, III threw a bash the entire town attended, with miners by the dozens coming to get their gold dust locked up before they got to the free drinks, before they spent the loot of raw bags

It was a great day until one miner said aloud, “I ain’t seen Huck. Think he’s coming?”

“Saw him yesterday and he said he was coming. He’ll be here. No worries about that. Won’t miss a free drink if he can help it.”

Huck Lovett, meanwhile, was digging away in his mine. The last measure noted that the aimed tunnel was over 112 feet long – and about 20 feet to glory-land, he was sure. He was sure with a rush that stunned his senses. With that rush impelling him, even as dreams taunted and haunted him, the spade sank deeper, more often, into the soil, into the wall looming directly in front of him, aside of him.

Not a glint of gold or gold dust sparkled from a lone lamp hanging on a tripod that came along the tunnel with him, and its soft glow, letting him know he was now deeper into the heart of Earth at every second of labor. The lamplight jumped ahead of him along the walls, like slices of illumination or pages of a book he hadn’t read yet, the mysteries ever working on his soul.

“Great God of Light and Darkness,” came escaped in a rush from his mouth. “Do you lead me or tease me? Am I the one and only fool in the midst of this earth? When the end is reached, will I be the lone winner, or the lone loser in the great chances that come freely to us? I am bent to this task by the will and energy You gave me in the beginning of all this effort. Do You trick me?

“Labor of the damned,” he said with a husky voice knowing that not another soul was within hearing distance, “Labor of the misjudged and the endless dreamer. Many of my friends are afraid of going too deep into the ground, even some of the serious miners have drawbacks that slip rapidly off my back. Yet, am I the fool here?”

Numerous trips with his crudely-shaped wheel barrow, each load brimmed to its maximum, took his earth-movement to the edge of the incline outside. There, using every muscle in his body, he heaved the load down the incline at the edge of town, eyeing the load for any sign of color as he did so, his eyes constantly searching for any “color” he might have missed, no matter its size, its measure, the tinkle it would eventually bring into his broad hands.

On this latest trip he was hailed from the edge of the incline. “Hey, Huck, Elmo Reeves here. Saw you at work, thought I’d say hello and give you a break. That’s one heck of a load you just dumped. How far you going down?”

“Want to see, Elmo? You might want to go fishing in there but you can’t take my light. Might get it damaged or even lose it in the hole. But I’m betting you won’t go into the mine, being the ground-scratcher, you are, working little, waiting dreams to crawl out of the earth, to roll in a pile against your boots. There are hundreds around, just like you, afraid of real work, afraid of sudden darkness, afraid of sudden shifts of Mother Earth herself, her tossing one teasing leg over the other, swishing her hips, sending messages few men can read or decode quick enough to take care of themselves.” He had to get rid of the man pronto; insult was easy, but useless/

“Oh, no thanks,” Huck countered, as if he had not heard a word. “I’m just heading down to the saloon, get a few drinks, go back to work tomorrow, checking that patch of ground near Triple Rocks. I swear it looks promising. Seen some Injun leavings there a few weeks ago, and they could have been onto something, but I don’t know for a minute what they would have done with it they found any. Bet Jiggsy wouldn’t let them use the bank but would send them down to The Rocky Road in a hurry and still get a cut on the drinks they chew like no tomorrow coming.”

“I have to say you have a way of your own, Elmo. They gotta get going some to catch up to you. Which means, I have to get back to work now. You have a good night, and best of luck in that field where Injuns played their games.”

“Thanks, Huck. I’ll tell some of the boys I said hello for them. They all like you, Huck, like a big brother.”

An hour or so later, another barrow full to the brim, he heard a distant voice call his name, sounding as though the caller was in the next valley, even an owl’s hoot cutting through the call

“Huck, Elmo Reeves swears you’re working yourself to death. We all want you to come down to the saloon before you fall into the fishing hole,” at which he laughed heartily, “and nobody finds you until next Tuesday.”

Huck recognized Greasy Spitz as the speaker, once in the riches until he was knocked on the head, his whole stash scooped off his belt and left for dead.

“Comin’,” Huck said, “with my last barrow of the day. Don’t stand in my way when I dump the load. And I’m gettin’ thirsty, that’s for damned sure.”

“Ha, it’s time you admitted it, Huck, you ain’t getting’ where you’re goin’, not today or any day.” He didn’t know how much light he had thrown onto the dark intent; life goes on no matter how little one knows of the real way things are or seem to be.

At the Rocky Road Saloon, the barkeep greeted Huck Lovett. “Huck, I heard from Elmo you was diggin’ down to Hell. Makes me wonder if the Devil touches all the gold before any of us get our hands on it, and his way of messin’ things up for us. J’ever think it that way? Lookin’ for Hell and the Devil and not knowin’ it? And with a shovel to boot!” His laughter came before any reactions along the bar.

Two weeks later, the measurements checked three times in one day, the new exhilaration working him like a fever, his heart throbbing in concert, Huck Lovett knew he was at the end of the tunnel, his target reached. The flashing yellow stuff was in reach of his grasp.

“No rush now,” he said to himself. “I’m right where nobody in the world know I was coming this way. Right where I have wanted to be for months on end, after 500 barrowloads of material, after giving my life over to this eternal darkness that might have dropped down upon me in any moment and buried me forever here in this absolute darkness.

He believed he was all ready to proceed to the next step, and suddenly decided to visit The Rocky Road Saloon one more time, to get a good, one-more time flavor, to see some old pals, some miners of the old school, and even a few of the groundscratchers at their most moderate labors. To look upon their faces, to look into their eyes to determine if he could still mark their dreams in place.

Leaving his last spot of digging and scraping, suddenly feeling the weight and scars of his labors of endless days, endless nights, more sleepless nights than he could have counted with reason, he started toward town, again as always counting his steps, realizing twice in those trips that he had miscounted, went back to the beginning and started his trek again, counting again, getting it all down to the true numbers.

Several townsfolk on his treks spoke to him, hailed him by name, and he sailed on with his counting, ignoring them one and all, unable to handle the hails and hellos lest he lose all count again to insure he had arrived, above ground as well ass below ground, at the right place, the right spot.

Some of those ignored townsfolk spoke of it immediately when they got to the saloon. “It’s like Huck don’t even know we said hello, or never once ever saw us before, none of us from what I heard, and that’s a strange lot for a fellow usually caught more smilin’ than gripin’ about stuff that bothers so many others hereabouts without givin’ up any names which we all know anyhow.”

Huck got to the saloon later than sooner, said hello to one and all as if business of life was too heavy to carry on otherwise; had another drink, said goodbye again, and left.

At the tunnel, he lit the long fuse at the mouth of the dig, knowing how long it would take to ignite the load of dynamite, and proceeded back toward the saloon, realizing he’d never get there before the blast went off right under Weyland Jiggs, III’s office and the new vault beside his desk.

What surprised everybody in town was the complete disregard Weyland Jiggs, III had for the event. “That vault,” he said, “never worked any way. It’s been empty since the day they brought it in and installed it. We’re still waiting for a replacement. All the goods are at my house, under strict guard and not to be worried about.”

Folks say the last sight of Huck Lovett was him scratching the ground with a rake over near Triple Rocks, like he was a real old man getting nowhere in any kind of a hurry.


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