Campfire Stories

Misc. and family 1488Misc. and family 1489

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harley and Hampton

 

He scuffed along in prospector’s boots, plaid flannel shirt, and dungarees made of the stock of heavy blue denim. Too many years in the harsh elements had turned his skin the color of rust and as tough as dried apricots. The rare nuggets or elusive gold vein was all but non-existent now. He’d seen little of it. The sun bore down on him with a vengeance from the 10,000 foot Sasquatch range.  He lifted the felt brimmed hat from his head and wiped his shirtsleeve across the sweat beads on his forehead.

His burro, Hampton, coarse tufts of stiff hair sticking up from his neck clopped alongside him dutifully carrying the old miner’s picks, shovel, tin pans and ax dangling to one side of the mounted leather girdle. The noise could be heard clear up the mountain side as they traversed their way down steep hills.

“Hampton, I think we’ll camp here for the night. I’ll find us a jack rabbit or something for supper.”

He noticed a rundown old store from the road. It looked deserted, desolate. There were no stirrings of life save the deer and small game. He pulled the shotgun from its scabbard on the burro’s pack and led him along the overgrown weeded path into town. The wind roared through the canyon, ricocheting off the peaks. He didn’t notice anything unusual at first. There were so many Chinook winds that came round in late spring howling so loud they sounded like the growl of a hungry bear on the scent of prey.

Tendrils swirled about where wind gusts kicked up dirt and gravel. Some stopped, forming dust clouds emanating sounds like boards rattling, or shovels clanging. Raucous laughter could be heard from some near place. The wind currents carried the sound as it echoed down the meadow to the dry streambeds, and back again as if settling near the old store.

“Welcome,” came a booming voice.

Harley’s hair and beard bristled. He nervously scanned everything in sight afraid of what they might see as he rolled his eyes from side to side.

“Hampton! You hear that? I could’ve sworn I heard a… ” And, then he did. Again.

The old burro raised his head, ears flicking, as if swatting a fly.

“Welcome, newcomer,” came the sound louder, closer, all around him. It roared through the valley sounding like multiple voices, one after the other.

He would have made a hasty retreat from the valley back up the hillside if not so tired and weary.

“What… are you? Where are you?” the old miner yelled back in a shaky voice.

“I’m right here. Can’t you see? Oh, I’m sorry. I forget sometimes those who are not like us cannot see us. I’m the town mayor. Let me introduce myself. My name is Grayson.”

“Mayor of what? What is this place?”

“It’s called Thornbush, named for the founder of this here mining community. He sometimes walks about checking on things, making sure things are done properly for all the newcomers. We have a nice cabin available if you want to check in, or just rest a spell before sojourning on your way, and supplies in the store. What can I get for you?”

“I can’t even see you. How do you expect me to find a cabin?”

“It’s here, right down this road. I’ll take you there. It’s been years since we’ve had any newcomers in these parts. Folks just want to hurry on by, not stop, though we try to make them feel at home.”

The air suddenly felt cooler as dust clouds swooped down, swirling around him until he felt caught in the storm that blew from all directions. Unable to move or see which way to run, they suddenly released their grip, and Harley tightened his hold on Hampton’s reins as he brayed again, resisting the pull of his owner.

“You said your name is Grayson? Where are you? What are you, a ghost?”

“Well, I guess some would call me that, but I don’t like to scare people off and it doesn’t sound like a good job description for the mayor of a mining camp, does it? But, I take my job seriously and it isn’t easy running a town like ours. What is your name? We like to record our visitors’ names in our town’s register.”

“It’s Harley. My burro’s name is Hampton.”

“Well, Harley and Hampton, welcome to Thornbush. Now, let’s get you settled where you will be more comfortable.”

They passed a cemetery on the way to the cabin. The dust clouds moved about the cemetery, hovering over graves, the sound of shovels hitting against the stones. The old miner’s hair stood up on end. Hampton brayed again. “hee-haw. hee-haw.

“Who are all those buried there?”

“Just other miners who stopped one day, and decided to stay.”

“What happened to them?”

“Well, they remained, and lingered on until their time came. God bless their souls, and rest their bones. They wanted to belong, and after all we are an obliging bunch.”

One hundred years later a traveler happened upon the old mining camp with its collapsing buildings, saloon and cabins nearby. He heard the braying of a donkey somewhere and entered the rundown vacated store with the mind to just wander around and explore. He pulled out his camera to take some shots when a dust cloud settled, and began to speak.

“Welcome to Thornbush. My name is Harley. Can I get you something?  We have a cabin available if you’d like to rest for the night.”

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Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

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