There were imprints of hooves in the sand. This couldn’t be! Around me stretched the vast expanse of the desert. I was forty miles from the nearest road. Not a drop of water here. Nothing could survive that was bigger than a mouse. Nothing with hooves. Except maybe the devil.
But there was the half-moon shaped imprint of hooves in the sand. The sun was about to touch the horizon. A first star was in the sky and a shiver in the air, not from cold, but as if the spirits of the night were just waiting to come out of hiding. It looked like a large number of animals having come along in a single file.
The tracks were running down the Canyon I was following towards the wide plain that was ten miles across. Fresh droopings of dung were here and there.
A hundred years ago the gold rush had drawn soldiers of fortune and daredevils into this desert. I had heard of the ghosts of the many miners who not only lost their dreams and hopes, but also their lives in this lonely place that was so arid you had to bring everything: food, water, supplies, because it didn’t give you anything. Just gold, for a select few. From most it took everything they had.
It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.Patrick Rothfuss
They had traveled in with teams of mules, these persistent and enduring animals, leading them in long rows along the narrow canyons. Something pulled me out of my thoughts. Something that didn’t belong here…
Up the mountain there was a straight line. Nature doesn’t do straight lines. As I came closer I saw it was something like a pathway dug into the hillside.
I turned around a bend and there it was, an old mining operation. An dilapidated wooden slide was there to slide loose material down the mountain onto slag heaps at the canyon bottom.
The tracks of the mules led to the mine. I followed them slowly, with an eerie feeling. Who needed supplied carried by mules here? Was that mine in operation? Were they pulling gold out of the ground today? What if someone had started an old mine again and found gold. They wouldn’t want me to come across their secret.
I reached out the first level as a man stepped out from behind the bend, aimed an antique looking, double barreled rifle at me, and pulled the trigger. That was the image that accompanied me all the way up the mountain. I finally put down my backpack and grabbed my six foot walking stick. While not a true weapon, on narrow paths it could help me.
To hell with facts! We need stories!Ken Kesey
I walked up the first level to the second. No ghostly figure attempted to take my head off with a load of shrapnel. Cracked wood, gray from age and the desert heat, lay around. The only creature around was a lonely dustdevil, whirling sand into my face. I was alone.
But why where here mule tracks going towards this mine as if there were regularly supply runs? There had been stories about the souls of the greedy miners and their dead animals haunting the old mines and digging for gold until the last judgement. And anybody they’d come across they would pull into their ghostly labor.
Can ghost leave tracks? Did ghost miners need supplies? Supplies of what?I left, walked out the canyons into the open desert.
But there they were again: mule tracks. At night, when I was in my sleeping bag and looked up to the band of the milky way drawing a ghostly path into the night sky, I heard strange, scraping noises from somewhere afar, most likely from mule teams, pushed by the souls of the damned across the nightly desert.
On the morning of the third day I heard a scraping noise from up a mountain. Something moves up there. There is was again! A coarse cry! I looked again and found that for a ghost it had rather long ears. I waved. The mule didn’t wave back, not even with its ears. I was almost sure it was a real mule.
When the old gold diggers (I’m not talking of LA bimbos looking to shag themselves towards gold, but the real thing who brought it out of the ground) gave up or died in the heat, their mules got free. Tribes of wild mules lived out here now, moving along just like the old days, one after the other, but without packs and gold bags.
I walked farther and saw a strange hill. Many mule tracks lead there, and so I followed. Maybe there was an old, rotten bag with gold there, next to a skeleton of which the rotten clothing was falling in stripes.
I found a miracle. I found a small pond of water between two big rocks. One single, palm, short and stout and without color, like the ghost of a palm, stood next to the black, dirty water. Behind was the wooden entrance to a mine. Gold!
What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens.Rabih Alameddine
I turned around and saw the wild, crazy meandering and zigzag of the mule tracks. They never went straight, walked one after the other, and the crazy moves of the first mule, like drunk, was repeated by all the others. This was the heart of the desert and I looked at the greatest of all riches, the liquid gold: muddy, black water.
Then I heard the voices of the old gold digger ghosts, rushing their ghostly mules across the desert plains that were flickering in the heat so they became as surreal as the ghosts themselves. I continued to hear the voices of the ghosts until I reached the car and they were droned out by the hum of the freeway.