I am writing today to inform you of my resignation. Before I leave your employ, I am compelled by my duty to offer an explanation, consisting of the results of the investigation and also a word of warning. I did succeed in discovering the claim site of Mr. Harold Moss, but for reasons that will become clear the site is entirely unsuitable for further exploitation. Indeed, I urge you to immediately abandon all mines in the Blackwater Gulch area.
I arrived in Blackwater Gulch on the fifth of April, and immediately took up residence at the most decrepit hotel I could find (and still paid three times what it was worth). I also spent fifteen dollars on various mining implements and paraphernalia, so that I might pass myself off as an unremarkable prospector. For the first three weeks I spent each day hiking in the western hills to familiarize myself with the area. Each night, I frequented the various saloons and the occasional assayer to make my inquiries.
In my first week, the most significant fact I discovered was that Moss was indeed the most successful prospector in Blackwater. In a town where a modestly successful miner could expect to make around $100 a month, Moss routinely returned gold in worth more than $2500 monthly. However, despite his obvious wealth Moss remained a prospector. I could not conceive of how anyone with access to such a rich seam would not establish and industrialize his mine, nor how he extracted and processed so much gold without the necessary labor and machinery. After a generous donation, the local assayer provided me another useful fact. Moss never submitted a legal claim to his site. My first suspicion was that Moss' site must be one someone's property, which would justify his secrecy, but no one knew where to find it.
Having established myself and my cover, I began to study Moss himself and his patterns. To this end, I hired a local Indian by the name of Top Hat (owing to his signature head gear). Top Hat had established a reputation as a shootist and killer of men, and I hoped the Native's skill at tracking and stealth would prove a boon. My new hire immediately proved his worth when he followed Moss to a cabin some six miles northwest of town.
Built into the north face of a deep and rugged draw, Moss' cabin was a simple mound of sod and wood that only resembled a home in the most general sense. There was no trail in the vicinity nor did we see a water source or even a latrine. Moss kept no animals, be they mules, dogs, chickens, or otherwise. Indeed, the entire area was rather devoid of life. It was a profoundly quiet place. In the week we spent in surveillance, not once did I hear so much as a birdsong.
I would not appreciate the significance of this until much later.
We camped in an undercut cave on the southern face of the draw. From this position Moss' cabin was readily visible. We took pains to camouflage our own site. Our food was stale, our water was carefully rationed, and we suffered bitterly in the cold without the benefit of a fire. Nonetheless, we persevered. How I wished we had not. During the day we took shifts watching the sod cabin. Each time Moss left the dwelling, Top Hat pursued him. When Moss returned to the cabin, so too did Top Hat return to me with his report. At night, we moved closer to the cabin and observed it from no more than ten meters away. This was a necessary but futile exercise, as Moss never once left his cabin at night.
Harold Moss kept strange hours for a prospector. He spent much of his days indoors, leaving Top Hat and I in a state of miserable boredom. Occasionally our quarry would take a constitutional walk for no apparent purpose. He did not bring any picks or pans on these hikes. At no time did we ever witness him taking any interest in his surroundings. He did not search the rocks or creeks, did not take ore samples, did not labor at the seam we knew must exist somewhere. The infrequent nature of these brief sojourns left us with a great deal of time to sit in the cold and ponder our misfortune.
It was during these lengthy sits that I spoke at length with Top Hat. My hire, I discovered, was indeed a deadly and experienced shootist. He claimed to have killed no fewer than fifteen men. Top Hat's people had been sentenced to a reservation a decade ago. Although Top Hat was still a child at the time, he quickly understood that reservation life offered no opportunity to prove himself a worthy Brave. He fled the reservation at the first opportunity, and had taken work as a bandit, Army scout, and mercenary at various times. His latest venture, muscle for the Bloodwolf Gang, was only the latest (and most satisfying) episode of a violent career. Top Hat's mother, he recalled, had implored him to go anywhere but Blackwater Gulch. Even before the white settlers built the town, the Gulch had a reputation as a dark and evil place among the Native peoples. This did not appear to concern Top Hat. He was always looking forward, and had no interest in his tribe's primitive superstitions.
Although I agreed with him at first, I now wish Top Hat had been a better student.
As the days went by I became discouraged with my mission. It occurred to me that Moss was so wealthy and his lifestyle so humble that he could conceivably live for years without performing any work whatsoever. On the other hand, he had spent the past few months bringing huge sacks of gold to town. Even the richest seam would require hours of daily labor to extract such wealth. I concluded that there were only two possibilities. I had arrived at the week Harold Moss broke his pattern and took a holiday, or he was laboring at a mine and we just could not see it.
On the last day, my suspicions were confirmed. Moss shouldered a large sack of ore and marched to town. Although he obviously suffered under the weight he did not use a cart or donkey. Top Hat and I (for my patience had completely run out by this point) gave chase. Over the course of some two hours, we followed Moss as he slowly hauled his burden back to town and straight to the assayer. After depositing his load, Moss walked away with a wad of cash in his bulging pocket. The haul had been so large the assayer was forced to close his office for lack of liquid cash.
We had him now! Moss kept his cache of gold inside the cabin itself. I speculated the cabin might even hide the entrance to his mine, although I had not yet worked out how we was disposing of useless ore. Clearly, he was attempting to stretch his deposits out over the course of several months rather than attempt to move the entire load at once.
We slept well that night, confident in the belief that the mystery was solved. We didn't even follow Moss back to the cabin. Instead, I took a room in the most luxurious hotel Blackwater offered and enjoyed a hot bath. After spending a week in the cold woods and all the astonishing boredom, it was a heavenly experience. I suspect this was the last time I will enjoy a genuinely peaceful night.
In the morning, Top Hat and I returned to the cabin. From our surveillance point, we waited until Moss wandered off on one of his infrequent constitutionals. Knowing we had less than an hour in which to work, we immediately made our way to the sod hut. I had no interest in stealing from him. My plan was to confirm or deny the presence of a gold cache, and perhaps discover some clue as to its source. Perhaps Moss had made himself a map. Or perhaps there was a secret tunnel leading deep into the hills.
The cabin's interior was simple, as I suspected, but I was not prepared for the Spartan conditions I found. The room included a small bedroll, a buffalo fur blanket, and a single unused candle. The floorboards were loose and fit poorly. Moss had stacked a set of mining implements (pick, shovel, pan, and the like) in one corner. Cobwebs had started to gather. I found a single tin plate that was oily and unwashed, but no evidence of any food. There was neither hearth nor firewood. It was not just humble, but rather a miniature prison entirely inadequate for sheltering even a single human being. The only decoration came in the form of a beautiful carpet hanging on the far wall as though it were a tapestry. It was an obvious, even inept, attempt to conceal a cleft in the rock.
Pulling back the tapestry, we discovered a tunnel leading deep into the earth. A wind carried the stench of decay and rotting meat. The walls were wet, and in the distance I could hear the sound of running water. My pulse was pounding in my ears. This was it; a hidden mine! No doubt, Moss labored in his secret tunnel and used a subterranean river to dispose of the ore. We propped the carpet open with the pick so as to provide at least a little light for our path.
We descended down a twisting path that curved to the right. We lost the benefit of the light almost immediately as we plunged down a spiral tunnel into the dark. Finding our way by touch was brutal experience. The rocks were unusually jagged and sharp as broken glass. I winced as I cut my fingers more than once. The aching cold made it unusually painful. The knees of my pants were quickly torn to ribbons. Twice I paused to wrap my hand in my shirt and bite my lip. I smelled blood.
The spiral tunnel opened into a larger chamber. The sun shone through small cracks in the ceiling. Rays of light burst into kaleidoscopic explosions of color as they glanced off quartz walls. I saw sheets of amethyst and opal, shadowy spikes of gleaming obsidian, tellurium, carpets of garnet, and above all gold... Stacks of gold nuggets, piles of gold flakes, ribbons of gold streaking through the rocks like bolts of shiny lightning. I marveled with my mouth agape and wondered at what baffling geologic process would create such unnatural combinations of mineral.
Top Hat immediately threw himself upon a stack of gold nuggets. He was, after all, one of the new generation of Indians who readily adapted himself to the realities of the white man's world. I cautioned him against taking any but the smallest pinches of dust and garnet, lest Moss realize we had intruded.
While my assistant pilfered, I noticed strange carvings and pieces of statuary littered the room. I saw tiered platforms and low altars. I found carvings and bas-relief of a new and strange style. It was entirely unknown to Top Hat, and did not resemble the art of any North American tribe. The closest thing I could compare it to was the art of the ancient Aztecs, even though we were hundreds of miles north of the Yucatan. Ancient paintings depicted bloody human sacrifice, organs and limbs torn from their victims and fed to packs of snarling beasts. I found statues of animals walking upright as though they were men... among them bears, wolves, bats, and darker things that have no names and have been dead before the dawn of man. Pagan gods, surely, and terrifying in their half-man shapes.
It was then that I heard the noise. Not the quiet babbling of the creek, but a new sound from deeper within the cave. It was the sound of animals; chirps and snarls, crows and calls. I realized it had been weeks since I had heard any animal noises at all. Why now, in the bowels of the earth, did it become a cacophony? I slowly crept forward as if drawn by some invisible tether.
There, in the deep darkness, I saw eyes. Dozens of glowing green eyes reflecting the dim light of the cracked ceiling. There were birds and cats and great lizards... Giant owls and puma... an ox standing upright... Horrible insects with domed eyes and chittering teeth.... All the beasts of land and sky had come here to cavort and conspire, assembling in some bizarre parliament of horror! They lunged towards me as a pack, a wall of twisting fur and snapping teeth. They screamed and howled and somewhere in the darkness beat great drums.
I ran then. Stumbling, squealing, bouncing off walls and cutting open my head on a low rock. I threw myself into the spiral tunnel and dragged myself up, through a world of pain and ice and bloody, sharp stone. Above me was the world of men, the world of sunlight and sanity and a loving God who made us in his image. My shattered body could not move fast enough. I wailed and I screamed, I clawed and kicked. I ran, fleeing the cabin, and did not stop until I collapsed of exhaustion two miles distant. Then, gathering my wits, I finally sound myself alone in a deathly silent wood.
I do not know what became of Top Hat. If I survived, it is not inconceivable that he did as well. The last I saw of him, he was standing in the dark, light by the amber glow of muzzle flash as he fanned the hammer of his pistol.
I found my way to town and immediately purchased a new set of clothes and a ticket on the first stage heading east. The people were quite curious about my tormented appearance. I invented an unconvincing story about a rocky slope and a mountain lion. I do not care what they thought of me. I will never return.
In the interval, as I made my way home, I tried to make sense of what I had seen. I do not know whence the horrible beasts came or what their purpose was, there in the darker corner of creation. What troubles me the most is the riddle of their gold. Why would they possibly need cash dollars? Moss was obviously their agent, but spent nothing for himself. What need do the animal-men have for wealth, unless they planned on meeting us one day on our own terms? Do they move among us even now, in tunnels beneath our streets, speaking by proxy or perhaps even wearing the masks of mortal men?
I have heard no further news on the subject, save that Mr. Harold Moss returned to Blackwater. He is in possession of tens of thousands of dollars and is purchasing all the property that is for sale. For what purpose, I do not know. He has bought more businesses than he has time to administrate, and owns many homes that sit vacant... for now. I implore you, Mr. Hearst, to abandon your designs on Blackwater Gulch. It is a dark and evil place and it will never be yours. You will find your gold, I guarantee you that, but you will also find madness and bloodshed and horror among the foul beasts of the earth.