Welcome back to the October-long Waltoween Halloween-a-thon! If what I just said makes no sense to you, you can click October Is Coming to get caught up. My next guest used to be the lovely and ethereal joyce mildred; however, she’s not anymore, as she initiated auto-destruct on that blog and that persona (and at least one other that I know of, and probably some others I don’t know of). Anyhoo, last year she she offered up a creepy gem called The Weary Traveller, which some of you may remember. You can currently find her at uncaged. But hurry…the clock could be ticking.
by she who is now uncaged
The hole seemed infinitely deep. The stone wall enclosing it merged inward and downward and faded to a pinpoint of black. A vile hint of sulfur rose from the darkness and danced around her nostrils. Jackie looked again at the cracked and faded wooden sign, barely hanging from the nails that tacked it to the outside of the well, and played with the penny in her pocket.
(One Wish Only)
Her thoughts swam around her pool of desires. Money, beauty, love, money, immortality, wealth, money, wealth. Wealth. She turned her back to the well and tossed the penny over her shoulder. Turning back around and searching the well for the coin as it fell, she saw it drift into the darkness. She waited to hear the echo of its impact against water or atop a thousand other pennies. Nothing. Seconds went by, a whole minute, nothing. A bottomless pit. Chills ran from the base of her neck to the base of her spine, and she stood frozen as her non-superstitious bones turned cold with doubt. What had she done? Her emotions divided into waves of greedy anticipation and unease.
“Creepy,” she mumbled as she made her way back down the trail. The smooth knotted statues glowed orange in the late-day sun against the blue sky. The hoodoos drew masses of hikers and campers and photographers, but today the land was empty, all save Jackie and the millions of loitering spirits that haunted their homes among the rocks. The wind carried their whispers, and the eeriness from the well clung to her side as she walked tirelessly, staring at the landscape through a lens, zooming in and out, panning from one end to another.
Stop. Go back. Something bright sparkled from the base of a rock. Something small and brilliant. Jackie reached down in disbelief and picked up a jewel as big as a half-dollar, cut and polished, a ruby perhaps. A single jewel in a desert of amber. A gift from the living stench of a dark abyss.
She walked on, she and her camera and the loitering spirits that now whispered louder, pointing their voices ahead for Jackie to follow.
“There’s more,” the wind cried as it played the holes in the rock formations like a flute. Pan leading a rat. Enchanted, Jackie followed the whistles and whispers up a winding path that lay between the folds of water-carved rocks. Light reflected and converged to a single point of brilliance beneath her. Another jewel. Another at arm’s-length. Another up ahead. One-by-one she put them in her pocket. Jackie followed a trail of breadcrumbs to a crawlspace where the whistling wind grew louder as it passed across the opening. She turned on the light on her hat and peered inside. The tunnel sparkled with bits of green and gold and white.
“In here, in here, quickly, there’s more,” whispers echoed, talking over each other, encouraging her on. Jackie crawled inside, picking up emeralds and diamonds and gold as she went. She crawled until she could no longer see the opening of the tunnel.
“You’re almost there,” she heard them say.
“Go back,” a single voice whispered.
“Come with us, there’s more, so much more,” the voices called again.
“Get out, Jackie, back up, back up, BACK UP!” The force of the opposing voice startled her, but no sooner did she hear it than the tunnel opened up into a great room dimly lit. Her eyes fixed on the treasure that was scattered across the floor of the cave and gathered in areas like massive mounds of salt. Gold and gemstones glistened in the light that filtered down from high above. She gasped and ran her greedy hands through the piles of her precious prize, then stuffed her pockets full. She would have to make several trips to carry it all out. She would have to bring a bag to fill and it would take at least…she looked around to estimate how many trips. The rays of sunlight that had shown through the hole high above had passed over leaving an ambient pinkish glow. The sun was setting quickly. Had she been in there so long?
Jackie turned for the tunnel opening. And turned. Turned back the other way. The tunnel! Gone! The room grew darker, and Jackie began to panic. The whispers returned.
“So glad you could join us, Jackie,” they said.
Jackie shrieked a cry that no one could hear. In one last frantic turn about the room before the sun disappeared from the sky, the blinders fell from her eyes and she saw scattered among the jewels the skeletons of hikers with their cameras and hats and hiking boots.
As the light on her hat dimmed and flickered and died, a faint familiar odor danced around her nostrils.
“Shoulda kept the penny,” she heard one say.