Today I’m posting Chapter 24 of High Pocket. In this chapter (very near the end of the story), Sandy and Jake reach the blocked cavern and blast their way inside to find out if Sandy’s belief in a gold-lined cavern is the stuff of dreams or of reality.
Sandy had his big light pointed straight ahead, and as far as I could see there was nothing to look at. If this was the right way to go, there was a long distance to cover before we’d get anywhere. I was running through my mind what we had left to do, and the part that worried me the most, of course, was the blasting. I wondered if this level could stand to be dynamited.
“How much farther,” I yelled.
“Keep coming,” he said, nothing more.
I looked down at my watch. It was 12:45. I thought about the Christmas Ball and how, by this time, most people would be drunk as skunks, and most would be starting to leave. I thought about Mary up in the hoist room and hoped she’d keep calm no matter how this turned out. I next went on to thinking about my mom and dad when suddenly Sandy yelled, “There!” and pointed ahead. About 50 feet in front of us was a wall of rock. I came up around him and walked up to the rock pile. I pressed on it and it was solid as a mountain. I’m telling you right now it just didn’t seem possible that I was standing next to a cavern full of gold.
“That’s the door. The goddamn door,” he said.
He let out a deep breath then frantically started pulling blasting caps and dynamite out of the satchel.
“Blast in the middle,” he said damn near gasping.
“Hey, hey, take it easy,” I grabbed the sticks out of his hands, “I’m doing the blasting. You’re running the wires. Remember the plan!”
“Blast it in the middle,” he said again to no one.
He was looking straight ahead like he was sleepwalking. It could give you the willies. Here I was, about ready to blast this place to who knows where, and here was looking like a zombie. I looked past him down the drift and into the darkness behind us, and I couldn’t help but think that bringing him down here was a mistake, but way too late now.
“Blast the middle,” he said one more time to no one, “Middle to high middle. The top is what’s going to go.”
Maybe he was remembering being pulled out of here long ago. Maybe he was right about where to blast. I didn’t have a better idea, it seemed as good a place as any. The hard thing now was to figure out how much dynamite to use. I knew from experience that too little could be worse than too much. You don’t want to have to blast twice so better make the first one the right one. There was another thing bothering me, too…the air, or lack of it. The blast was going to eat up a lot of what air there was down here, and what was left was going to be heavy with fumes. I felt my right shirt pocket and was glad I’d brought my ammonia caps with me. I didn’t plan on being down here that long after the blast, but still I knew what kind of a headache and disorientation could come on from the blast and the fumes.
“Take these wires and roll them out as far as they’ll go,” I said, “I’ll set the caps and sticks, and then I’ll hook up the plunger.”
“In the middle. The middle,” is all he kept saying, but he took the wires and plunger from me and walked back down the drift.
I started pulling out rocks and digging crevices and putting in my sticks and blasting caps. I soon was about ready to hook up the wires, when I stopped dead. My hands just froze where they were. I didn’t trust him; it’s as simple as that. I just couldn’t take the chance of him taking the two leads I’d told him to hold apart and put them on the plunger and blow me to kingdom come.
I walked back and saw him crouched down against the wall. The moment he saw me he yelled, “Get Down!” and I saw he had the plunger leads connected, and he pushed down hard on it. Of course, nothing happened. I grabbed it out of his hands.
“Are you crazy?! You could’ve killed me.”
“It’s my gold. I’m blasting it.”
“Not yet!” I disconnected the wires. “I’ll drag you out of here if you don’t quit this shit. Now stay put!”
I hurried back to the rubble, connected the blasting caps, then walked back to Sandy. ‘Course, none of this was done calmly. Truth is, the whole time I kept picturing the place coming down on us with the blast. Hell, there are no two ways about it, I was scared to death, but there was nothing to be done now about that either. Sandy was quiet, waiting for me as I hooked up the leads and held out the plunger to him. “You can blast it, but we’re going to count if off slowly. Got it?” He nodded. We laid down on your stomachs to avoid flying debris and I counted slowly, “Three…two…one!
Sandy pushed the lever down. A flash of light came first then a tremendous…BOOOOM! Rocks bounced off walls and flew past us, smothering us in a cloud of dust, drowning out our cap lamps. The blast echoed and echoed down the drift for the longest time and I worried I’d used too much dynamite. I was sure Olner and crew must’ve heard the blast. What the hell would they think it was? I was concerned, too, that Mary might be scared silly. I turned quickly to be sure Sandy was all right. But he wasn’t next to me.
“Sandy!” I yelled and my voice echoed all around me. I shined my flashlight which barely penetrated the dust, but I could see the rock pile and a small opening at the top of the rubble, and a light bobbing beyond it inside the cavern.
“Sandy! Goddamn it!”
We were through! Goddamn it, we were through! I grabbed the heavy cargo bags and ran after him, stumbling over rocks that littered the floor and falling flat on my face. And that’s when I saw it. Right in front of me, the size of a grapefruit, a chunk of gold. I could hardly believe it. It was like a yellow ball shining in the middle of darkness. I picked it up, man it was heavy, solid like lead. A great big chunk of gold sitting right there in my hand! Then the yelling started. Sandy yelling from inside the cavern. I put the chunk of gold in a cargo bag and started climbing up the rock pile to the opening.
It wasn’t any bigger than a window for a house, but I shined my light through and even from the outside, I could tell that Sandy hadn’t been dreaming all these years. He’d been remembering, remembering a sight you could never forget. Everywhere I turned my head there was gold! Gold on top of gold! The whole cavern was one color, the color of glistening gold! “Sandy, you bastard!” I yelled, “You hit the jackpot!”
I pulled myself into the cavern and shined my light around. The cavern couldn’t have been more than 20′ X 30′, but it took me a moment before I saw Sandy over against one wall. He was kneeling down, intent on something and he didn’t look up when my light fell on him.
“Holy shit, Sandy! Holy, goddamn shit is all I got to say to you. You were right. I want you to slap me and prove all this gold ain’t a dream!”
He still didn’t answer as I walked over to him. Then I saw it, a skeleton, the skull and everything. It was perfectly laid out at his feet with some of the clothes still on.
“Samuel T. Everett. Thirty six years old,” Sandy said. “Poor sonofabitch, digging for gold his whole goddamn life and dying on top it. Funny ain’t it!” he yelled and swung his arms up in the air, nearly hitting me.
“One hell of a joke.” He started laughing that crazy laugh again and it echoed all around me and off the gold-lined walls.
“Knock it off!” I said hard.
But he didn’t stop, “You thought I was crazy” he half laughed and hollered, “Cracked in the head! Maybe I am crazy, but what do you think now!” He lurched to his feet, waving his arms at the incredible sight of gold around him. “Go on! Tell me what you see! I want to hear it!” He picked up a chunk of gold and pushed it into my chest, “What’s this?” Then he grabbed another chunk, “And is this! Tell me! Gold!” He was tossing chunks at me now.
“Cut it out! Gold, all right, it’s gold! Now, stop it!”
“My gold! It’s my fucking gold!” he yelled back at the top of his lungs.
Then a rumbling started. The cavern was shaking suddenly, nearly knocking Sandy off his feet.
“Stop yelling!” I grabbed him, “You’re gonna bring down the roof!”
And he did shut up with a scared look in his eyes. I tossed a cargo bag over to him and opened mine up, “Hurry! Help me fill these,” I said, but he didn’t pay any attention to me.
“Go on shake, crash on down!” he seethed between clenched teeth like he was in a battle with the damn mine, “I ain’t afraid of you! I got the gold now!”
The shaking got rougher, chunks of gold raining down on our caps like hail, and Sandy fell over. I reach down and grabbed him and tried to pull him up, but he was fighting me, yelling like a crazy man, “Get away! I ain’t leaving! I won’t leave ‘em behind. It’s mine. My gold! Get your hands off of me Garnes!”
He never called me that before and I realized he wasn’t talking to me but to my dad, Robert Garnes, from all those years before. He was back there at the time when my dad pulled him out. He was reliving that rescue.
“Sandy, it’s me, Jake! Jake!” I pulled him upright, “Look at me! Look at me!”
His eyes were wobbling all over the place and I hauled back and slapped him hard across the face, “Sandy! It’s Jake!” His head snapped back, and I thought I’d hit him too hard, but it brought him around. He shook himself free of me, rubbed his good hand over his eyes, and picked up the cargo bag.
“You all right, now?” He didn’t answer. “We gotta work fast. Just fill ours bags and I’ll push them through.”
We said nothing to each other for a long time while we were working. Every now and then, one of us would let out a yelp when we ran into a gigantic chunk of gold we couldn’t budge. Hell, it was crazy, we’d just let it stay there. There was plenty more around. There wasn’t much air, though, and we were both huffing and puffing like steam shovels. Finally, our bags were nearly full.
“That’s enough, Sandy. Anymore and we won’t be able to drag them out of here.”
He looked up at me like I was speaking another language. He looked back down and started picking up more gold.
“I said that’s enough! We got plenty!”
I went over and just pushed him aside and zipped up his bag. He swore at me, but seemed to understand that we had to get out of there. I grabbed his good arm and pulled him toward the rock pile leading to the opening.
“You first,” I said, pushing him forward and he started clawing his way upward.
Then the ground shook again, shorter this time, but a lot harder. It nearly knocked me over and it did loosen more rock, but Sandy was near the opening now.
“Gimme the gold!” he yelled to me, and I pushed with all my strength to move the heavy bag of gold high enough up the pile that he could grab onto it and pull it behind him as he inched through the opening and out of sight.
I turned back to the cavern to grab my cargo bag when the cavern literally started coming apart. Gold and rock seemed to be exploding out of the walls. The whole ceiling felt like it was collapsing on top of me. I covered my head with my hands and dove to the ground. I don’t know how long the shaking went on, but by the time it stopped, the cavern was so filled with gold dust I could barely breath. Somehow my cap had come off and the lamp had gone out and I was in a suffocating blackness. I wasn’t even sure if I was awake. It seemed like my dream all over again. I even thought I heard the sound of miners crying, and shapes in from of me. But there was nothing there. In fact, it was so black I couldn’t see my hand in front of my eyes. I searched for my cap and thank god I found it and turned the lamp on.
I struggled to stand up, turning around slowly, searching with my cap lamp to find the opening. But it wasn’t there. The rock pile was solid from ground to ceiling and I was trapped inside. “Sandy!” I called out, but there was nothing but my echo in the cavern coming back to me. I called again. Again nothing. I could barely breathe. There wasn’t much time. I crawled to the top of the rock pile and tried frantically to dig my out. No way that was going to work. The rocks were wedge solid. I climbed back down, found my satchel and pulled out the bag of blasting caps and dynamite sticks. It seemed insane to blast inside that cavern, but I had no other choice. Then things got worse when I heard the sound of the engine starting up in the skip room. Sonofabitch, Sandy’s signaled Mary to haul him up without me!
I had to work fast now. I grabbed a blasting caps and a couple sticks of dynamite. How much could I safely use? I laughed out loud when that stupid thought came into my brain. No amount would be safe to use inside here, but there was no choice either. I got to the top of the pile and stuffed one stick in with a long fuse down to the bottle of the pile so that I could at least hide from the blast itself. I fished out my lighter and could see my hands were trembling as I used pliers to pull off the wire casings, “Calm down, Jake, not now, man, not now.”
I took some deep breaths, opened and closed my hands to get them working again…and was able to get the lighter going and bring it to the fuse end. It sparked into life like a firecracker fuse, racing up the pile of rock.
“It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay,” I said over and over again as I laid face down in the gold, covering my head with my hands, waiting for the explosion above me. And when it came, I was aware of the light and blast for only a moment, and then my whole world went black.
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