Miles from Town: Chapter 2

Gil looked at his pocket watch; ten before one in the afternoon. The trip took near six-hours to make and old man Smith seemed in a hurry to get back to Carson. “This here’s a diesel generator. Key to the gate is inside the cabins door post. It powers all the light, those in the shaft and the one’s around the site, but I ‘spect you’ll be needin’ it, ‘less somethin’ goes bad out here.”

“Try not to shoot anyone, course, if they try shootin’ you, do whatcha gotta do to stay alive,” he added. “And if yer any good with yer hand, you might pound a few more nails in that door frame and the window sill too. A bit warped after time. I’ll be out to see you around the first.”

Gil grabbed his rucksack out of the back of the truck and stood watching as the old man and his old truck bounced and squeaked heading back in the direction they’d had just come. He thought about the day’s journey, the many turns and bends in the road, the number of cross trails and the springs that dotted the way back.

Thirty-days; it would be a long time to not know another human’s voice, but Gil had been alone before. His last job was for Fractured Bob Johnson in Death Valley where Gil had spent a month doing assessment work and where he had the company of a couple of dogs, three goats and a mule.

Here, he had none of that. And since the day was still young, Gil decided to do some simple exploring. He had made a mental note of the encampment’s set up as they’d rolled into the site.

The mine entrance was in the center of a horseshoe-shaped rise with the gate to the compound to the right of the shaft. From the porch of the shack, that would be Gil’s home through the summer, he could see the straight-away of the road as it approached the gate.

It disappeared in a hard left some fifty-feet from the claims opening. But by that time, it would be obvious that a vehicle was approaching and therefore Gil knew the shack’s positioning was instrumental in keeping the site safe from the vandals, or ‘hooligans,’ as Smith called them.

Finding a thin footpath above the mine’s shaft, Gil walked up to have a look at what might be on the other side of the 30-foot berm. It was exactly as expected, dry, dusty and flat to the west.

He walked across the top of the horse-shaped sill towards the east. At the mid-point the earthworks connected to a natural-made, larger and much higher hillside and farther to the east and south, more open, wind-blown land covered in creosote bushes and other scrub.

Having seen enough of what lay outside the ridge that held the mine, Gil returned to the cabin to see what it might hold. Along it’s side was a rough stack pile of dried wood, some already chopped, some still needing bucking, “I’ll find the saw later,” he reminded himself.

He also found the water source for the area, a narrow iron pipe that jutted out of the hillside from behind the wood pile. It dripped slowly into a rocky basin that appeared to be visited by several animal’s including quail, mice, snakes and a coyote or two.

Inside the cabin, he learned that the majority of the living space was roughed out of the hillside, with just the front part being a wood frame. Smith was right about the door, warped it was difficult to open and close properly and would need to be one of the first things Gil would need to take care of come the following day.

With the door still open, he explored the depth of the cave that served as the majority of the shack. He found several half-burned candles. two lanterns and four glass chimney lamps, which he moved to the front of the abode.

Lighting one of the lanterns, he returned to the back of the chamber, where he located an old wooden bed frame with a flat board in the place where a mattress would usually be, and a shelf filled with ancient looking books and newer, though a few decades old, magazines that had obviously been left behind by past occupants.

“It’ll be good to have something to read again.”

Back at the front, Gil checked on the cast-iron stove that shared the wall with a counter. It seemed to be in good working condition, save for the possibility of a bird or a rodent having made a home of the pipe that rose up from behind the antique ‘smoke-belcher.’

Under the counter, he located cans upon cans of food supplies; mostly beans and peach and pear-halves, but no can opener. “No problem, I can use my pen-knife unless I trip over it someplace along the way.”

Gil spent the next few hours straightening and rearranging his living-space before retrieving a rather large piece of already bucked tree to prop up against one of the two post that held the roof up over the porch. There he would sit, watching that day’s sun fade, while eating half-warm beans directly from the can with the only utensil he could find, a bent spoon, followed by a can of pears, also half-warm.


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