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Old 12-28-2011, 10:22 PM   #3
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Wednesday 18 January 1871 (late evening)...

The most noticeable thing about the encampment was in fact not
immediately noticeable, because it was an absence. Nobody was
moving about, nobody came out to greet the arriving supply party,
there was no
sound of human activity to be heard, other than
the sounds of the men with the wagons and the sound of the mules.
There was not even any wind blowing, other than the sounds of
the new arrivals, there was an eerie silence hanging over the site.

"This doesn't make sense," Garley said to Chase, "there should be
somebody here to meet us, we made enough noise arriving
that they
have to know we're here!"

"Maybe they're all in the mine, assuming that's what that is?"
Chase suggested, gesturing at the open trench.

"I doubt it," Garley replied, "that wouldn't make much sense, but
we can look."

Over the next few minutes, Garley, Chase, and two of the other
men that had come with them began a search of the encampment,
looking for some sign of continuing human presence. Clive the
dog seemed uncharacteristically reluctant to join them, which
bothered Garley because he had seen that dog take on animals
twice his size without hesitation in the past. Now, Clive did not
want to leave the lead wagon, and only did so with it became
clear his masters were going without him, and even lacking the
ability to speak the dog was making it clear that he thought this
was a bad idea and that he wanted to depart.

Garley understood the dog perfectly, and sympathized.

As the last rays of sunlight lit the encampment, the four men did
a search that revealed plentiful signs of human activity, but no
actual humans. The tents were the sleeping areas, and in them
they found sleeping gear, some books and papers and whiskey
bottles, some lanterns and other detritus of human activity. In
the long wooden building they found a kitchen with cooking
utensils, including some sitting in a tub of water, clearly soaking
for later cleaning. On the other end of the building they found a
table with a piece of paper sitting on it, an inkwell and a pen, and
a chair beside the paper.

"It's a letter," Chase said, after picking up the sheet of paper and
examining it. "Dated
today, and it's half done. See, whoever
was writing this left off right in the middle of a sentence, he must
have been called away suddenly."

Chase rubbed at the ink, and looked at his thumb. "It's dry, but
whoever was writing it was writing it earlier today. See, the ink
well is sitting uncapped and it's not dried out."

They found a storeroom further down the long wooden structure,
but still no sign of any people. That left only the diggings, and
Garley and Chase had no wish to stumble around in the tunnels
in the dark.

"Do we leave?" Chase asked Garley. "I'm not crazy about the
idea of trying to hold to the trail in the dark."

"I know," Garley said, very reluctantly, "we can't go until dawn...
and we probably ought to make sure there's not somebody stuck
here. There might be someone trapped down in that damned
tunnel, we can't just roll out and leave without checking."

Though they didn't want to go into the tunnel in the dark, Garley
and Chase did go down the sloped trench to the entrance to the
tunnel, and called out, just in case there was somebody near the
entrance who could hear. Nobody answered, and Clive whined
in misery until his masters came back up the slope to the ground
level, it was clear that the dog did
not like that tunnel.

Garley did not like it either. The nervousness that had haunted
him all day, and intensified when they found the abandoned
encampment, climbed up to an inner scream when he was near
the entrance to that tunnel. He said nothing, but he was quite
sure, in his own mind, that whatever it was that had happened to
the people here involved that hole somehow.

"It's a sure bet they didn't leave cross-country," Tyler commented
as the men sat around the small fire they'd built using some
firewood from the encampment's supply. "There isn't a whole
lot of food left in that kitchen, but it's still there, and so are all
the canteens and other things you could use to carry water.
The guns are still sitting in the storehouse too, and nobody sane
would try to cross this region without at least one weapon."

"They'd never make it on foot," Chase noted. "It's too far to the
nearest settlement, and there are no decent sources of good water
between here and there anyway.

Garley poked the fire with a stick, he suspected the discussion
of where the locals had gone was moot.

"What were they doing out here anyway?" Tyler asked. "I mean,
obviously they were digging for
something, but what? This
isn't the kind of country you'd find gold or silver, heck, these
ridges are mostly just rock and dirt. What were they digging for,
and by hand at that? That trench and that hole, somebody put in
lot of hard sweat to dig all that with the tools we've seen."

"Damned if I know," Chase replied. "We were paid not to ask
questions, and we didn't ask questions."

Garley looked up at the clear night sky, the stars shining sharp
and clear through the desert air, and shivered.

I hate this place, he thought to himself, and one hand fell on
the head of his equally unhappy dog, stroking his ears gently.

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