A Glibertarians Exclusive: Mystical Child Part VIII
From the diary of Robert “Cairo Bob” Allen, 1841-1928
November 24, 1886 –The Tomb
Wasn’t any damn way a fire was going to work in that weather. I thought it might be a good idea to make a camp in some sheltered place, wait out that weather, but Evans, he wasn’t having any of that. Got right upset and started shouting. “We’ve come all this way,” he yelled, “and I’m running low on time and patience. No, we’ll get in there, and we’ll get in there right the hell now,” he said, and as I was feeling a bit anxious to have this damn thing over with, I decided to go along with him. Sure ain’t any way we’re building a fire on that tomb, though, with that wind screaming along the cliff face. I will add just this – Evans, he still isn’t looking so good. Face was almost purple when he was yelling.
November 24, 1886
Bob packed his diary away in this saddlebag. They had been waiting, hoping for a break in the storm, but the weather, if anything, was worse. He checked his own watch. “Damn near two o’clock,” he said. “Time to fish or cut bait. We can’t get a fire going. I still say we should back off, find a more sheltered place, build up and wait out this storm. Should be some better shelter in that stand of spruce off south of us.”
The snow had fallen all night, and a foot-deep drift had gathered in front of the tomb and in the lee of the tiny lean-to, which was considerably the worse for wear from the wind. The snow, at least, had stopped for the moment, but the wind was howling louder and harder than ever.
“No,” Evans said. He picked up the axe and swung it into the sheet of ice blocking the tomb, knocking off a few small chips. “I’m not waiting. I can’t wait. Got to get into this frozen bastard.” He swung the axe again, and again, until his face turned almost blue.
“Let me spell you,” Bob said. He took the axe. At least it will keep me warm, he told himself.
“This will take a while,” Bob predicted.
“Let me take a turn,” Evans said. He swung again and again, his strength fueled by frustration, his face growing dark with effort.
“Wish we had some dynamite,” Bob said.
“Wish you’d have thought of that back in Boise,” Evans grunted.
“Me too,” Bob said. He went to the dying fire, looking around for some reasonably dry wood to try to keep it going. “But you’re the one with the plan, you know. If anyone should have thought of dynamite, you’re the one.”
“Fair enough,” Evans said, and swung the axe again. The wind gusted again, stronger.
The two men took turns hacking away at the ice into the night. At midnight Bob wanted to stop to sleep. “Sleep if you want,” Evans said. “I’ll keep at it.”
“Fine,” Bob snapped. “Wake me in two hours. I’ll spell you. And then, Evans, you goddamn well will sleep, or I’ll knock you out. Dropping down from exhaustion don’t help either of us.”
“All right,” Evans said. He swung the axe again. “I’ll wake you. Go on, sleep.”
When Evans woke him, Bob looked at his watch. “Damn you,” he said, “It’s half past five. Dawn in an hour or so. Why the hell didn’t you wake me earlier?”
“Didn’t think of it,” Evans gasped. He looked like hell. He coughed and coughed, spat blood into the snow. His face was brick-red. “I been working on that bastard and keeping the fire up. Go on, take a look at her, but first look up.”
Bob suddenly realized the howling wind was gone. He looked up to see a billion ice-flake stars shining down. “I’ll be damned,” he marveled, “the weather broke.”
“And that damn ice faces east,” Evans said, “into the morning sun. Might help some.”
“Let me check the horses.”
Bob examined all four animals carefully. They were miserable but in reasonably good shape; they had been picketed for the night in a stand of tall, dry grass, of which they had eaten almost all within their reach. As the sky started to brighten, Bob poured the last corn into feedbags for the animals. Maybe one day’s worth of oats left, he told himself on examining the inventory of fodder. Then it’s dry grass unless we can find some more grain. Hope they live. Hell, hope we live.
“Let me spell you on the axe,” Bob said. Evans had stopped swinging the axe and was standing, staring at the two-foot-wide bite taken out of the ice.
“Evans?” Bob said. “Sam?”
Evans turned slowly. He dropped the axe. His face was purple, and his lips blue. “Oh, hell,” he managed to gasp, and fell on his face.
Bob leaped to the fallen man’s side. He turned him over, and saw Evan’s eyes staring, silently, upward. A final rattle escaped the man.
Bob had seen death all too many times during the War of the Northern Aggression. Now, after all these years, it was like an old, hated friend, returning to pay him a call.
“Guess I can’t hardly bury you, Sam,” he told the corpse. “Ground is froze hard as a Yankee’s head. Sure as hell hope you was telling the truth about your heart, or your lungs, or whatever. Hope you ain’t passed on whatever kilt you. And, you son of a bitch, you brought me out here, and now you’ve up and died on me. What am I going to do now?”
Bob went over and sat by the fire. The blaze was going a little better now with the gale blown out, and after a while, the sun came up and cast a watery light over the box canyon, warming things up a little.
Can’t hardly stop now, Bob told himself. Besides which, sun’s coming out. Damn you, Sam Evans, but maybe your plan might just work after all. Spruce trees over on that slope to the south, there should be some branches under the trees still pretty dry, and spruce burns hot and fast. Yeah, worth a try.
He dragged Evan’s body away from the tomb and, frowning, placed the corpse under the lean-to on the dead man’s bedroll. He wrapped bedroll around the body, thinking, he’ll be froze hard as a carp in a couple of hours. Got to figure what to do. Can’t leave him here for the wolves. Wouldn’t be decent.
Bob turned and looked at the tomb. He had the beginnings of an idea, but it was an idea that still involved getting through that ice face. Got to go on, he thought, what can I do now but go on?
There was still Isis, back there in Nevada, in the cabin on Clear Creek. Got to get through this. Got to get home. Got to live. All of it means getting through that ice.
He went over to the tomb, picked up the axe and set off towards the stand of dark spruce, about a half-mile away.
The wind it was a-howling and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn’t contagious.
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.