Thursday, April 15, 2021

A lantern; a knife by Philip Charter

 That thing looked at me like an alligator protecting a fresh kill. Angry eyes burned through its fleshy face. Did it even count as a human?

Five years since I left that dusty mine in Northern Mexico and I haven’t earned since. Two men went missing, workers went home and they closed the site. I’m the only one who knows why, but nobody in Sonora listens to a gringo whose only friend is a crate of Tecate. Each year 

Jacinta asks to move back to Texas and each year I tell her I have unfinished business.

First, we heard of the chaneque was from a local boy, Ramón. We all called him the fairy for spreading rumours and for once I wasn’t the butt of the joke. It wasn’t funny when he disappeared.

After a few days searching, the gold started flowing again and the others forgot him and the spirits protecting its underground riches. I didn’t.

I convinced Maza, another local, to trap the thing in the deep chamber where Ramón saw it. Maza claimed he’d seen chaneque before. We drank coffee and talked about anything to avoid the topic of Ramón. I must have dropped off to sleep, ‘cause when I woke, our pyrite bait was gone. So was Maza. A trail of boot scuffs led deeper into the mine. No sounds, just cold black air. 

The orange lamp light lowered to a flicker. I withdrew the twelve-inch blade from my belt. 

“Maza?” My voice disappeared into the tunnel. 

A sound! My body stiffened. Dust flew up. Something was wrong. The air went cold. I turned, and again, and again, whipping my body around to locate any movement in the dirt. 

Electric pain shot up my leg as its claws clamped on. I shone the light and saw its terrible form for the first time. Chiselled teeth tore at the flesh behind my knee. I dropped the lantern and flailed to get hold of its waxy body. Furious eyes.

As the knife went into its neck it shrieked a primal cry. Before I could twist the life out of it, the thing scurried into the dark. It took the knife and the pyrite rock with it. The lamp was no good against the miles of dark so I hobbled back to camp to examine the damage. I breathed shallow and dragged my bleeding leg. There was no sign of Maza.

The police called the wound a dog bite even though the teeth didn’t match. ‘Gringo loco they said. They never found the body. Just like Ramón. I couldn’t work, so the jefe told me to go. A few months later the whole place closed anyway.

My leg still gives me trouble and I don’t sleep much. Liquor keeps me company during the day and at night I sit with a flask of coffee and rocks of fool’s gold scattered around. My hand never strays far from the knife and my lantern flickers orange-yellow light over the stoop.

© Philip Charter

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