"THERE IT GOES AGAIN you'd think he would've given up by now." Pete Liddle said as the sound of blasting powder thundered in the not too far distance, shaking his tables and rattling his walls.
"Not a chance, I've known ol' Zeke for too long. Ain't nothing gonna make him stop blastin' for gold up in there hills. He's old and he's stubborn, just like his daddy. Apples don't fall far from the tree, you know." Buck Odie said with a cigar clenched between his lips.
Jim-Bob waited for the table to stop shaking so he could get on with pouring the rounds.
"When a mountain man smells gold, ain't nothin' gonna keep him from blastin, even if that means blowing up the whole damn mountain."
Doc Thiemann struck a match along the back of Odie's chair, lit up a long briar pipe and said with a smile,
"He'll have to...ifin' he expects to find any gold in Wainwright's Mountain. Ain't anyone found any gold in those hills since?"
"Cornelius," The mayor reminded everyone at the table.
"That's right, he wastin' his time -- just like his daddy, not to mention stirring up the whole town and shaking up everything that ain't nailed down, to boot. Ain't that right Pete?" Deacon Hoot said from across the table.
Pete continued sweeping up the floor. He was used to the blasting. Officially, the saloon had been closed since midnight but he knew Jim-Bob had an important announcement to make, so he decided to stay open a little later than usual. He also had a pot of stew cooking in the small kitchen behind the bar. It promised to be a good meal and, with any luck, he might be able to feed his guests and get rid of them by sundown. Just as he turned the corner of the bar into the kitchen, it happened again: BOOM! Once again, the walls shook and the tables quivered and quaked.
"What'd I tell ya," Laughed Jim-Bob watching the foam rise around the edge of the five mugs he was trying to fill.
"It's like you always said, Buck: The apple never falls far from the tree.
The mayor replied, "I reckon," Starring at the sheriff though a long cloud of white smoke.
Jack O'Neill had been sitting across the table from Buck Odie for most of the night. He was quiet, too quiet. Something was on the lawman's mind. Odie had been trying to figure out what that was all night. He had an idea.
Doc Thiemann had been wondering the same thing.
"Hey, Jack," he finally spoke between sips.
"You're been as quiet as a fox in the hen house all night. What's ailin' you, sheriff? Got the grip again?"
Jack didn't answer. He was too busy thinking to himself and watching Pete Liddle out of the corner of his good eye. He had his reasons. No one knew what they were, except maybe Pete and even he wasn't quite sure. Jim-Bob continued pouring the rounds.
"What do you suppose he's looking for, Buck?"
"Who -- Jack?"
"No. I mean Zeke Henley," The young man replied with an announcement to make.
"Damned if I know, sometimes I wonder if he knows himself. I saw him in town last week, `tho'. Come down from the hills for more blastin' powder, you know. He was all dressed up in his mountain get-up, looking like the devil himself and stinkin' up a storm. Whooo-weee! I thought the widow Furley was gonna faint. He headed over to Van Dee's place, lookin' for some brew, I 'spose. Heard Ben fired two shots at him. Took him for a grizzly, I 'spose… come down from the hills. And he wasn't the only one. Before Mister Henley finally took off back to the hills, I heard a few more rounds go off. Lucky for me I wasn't standin' too close or else I wouldn't be standin' at all. Whooo-weee! Now, that's a mountain-man for you." The mayor sighed.
Deacon Hoot looked up from under the grim brim of his black hat.
"Well, let's just pray he stays there," He whispered, loud enough for the others to hear him.
"It ain't good...Er, for the women and children, that is. Mountain men should stay in the mountain -- Where they belong."
"Ah, c'mon, Hoot," smiled Jim-Bob waiting for the foam to subside.
"That ain't very Christian. I admire ol' Zeke. Buck says he's probably the only real mountain man we got left in these parts. And besides that, he and the mayor are good friends. Right, Buck?"
Buck Odie picked up his head and, in a deep far‑away voice which almost sounded reverent, reminded his adopted son:
"When a mountain man makes you his friend… you're his friend for life, whether you like it or not." And just as he finished saying this, it happened all over again.
The walls shook and the glasses rattled along the table.
"One more likes that," the preacher reminded, and we're all being blow to out Everlastings."
"I'll drink to that," Grinned the good doctor who, although he liked and admired the preacher on many levels, disagreed with him profusely on matters of the supernatural, especially when they concerned religion.
"You'd drink to the devil," Rejoined the minister
"Only if he's buyin, hoot, only if he's buyin."
"Tater, tater!" cried Pete from the kitchen.
"Where's me firewood?"
In the twilight of a setting sun, just outside the saloon on Pete's backyard lawn, sat the little brown boy. He heard Pete calling out his name but, like most little brown boys his age, was too busy playing with his newly found friend to pay any mind. He held the shiny black stone gently in tender brown hands until it started to burn. Then, letting it go, he let it roll softly across the tall grass, right into the hands of his new friend. The boy smiled.
As though hearing the voice for the very first time, Tater suddenly looked. Remembering what it was he'd been sent outside for in the first place, he then turned and, without saying goodbye to his friend, and made a straight line for the cellar door. When he got to the door, it was already unlatched. So he quickly lifted the two swinging boards and, without even looking where he was going, jumped down the steps in one long, dark leap.
Hitting the bottom, a hard dusty floor, he tumbled a number of times before finally coming to rest at the foot of a tall stack of corn kegs. It was dark. He got up, reached in his pocket for a match, and found none; he didn't think he would. He began walking toward the back where Pete kept the firewood but, before he got very far, he looked back, only to see a shadow of light streaming up from the cellar floor to the open door above. It was full of dust. Stardust, he sometimes called it. Because it looked like it was filled with a thousand stars. The light made him feel good, safe. He continued walking, slowly ahead. He didn't even realize he was being followed; he never even suspected it. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the owner and proprietor of the Nickel Pig Saloon was still hollering,
"Tater, tater, where's me firewood,"
No one heard him, except maybe the five gentlemen seated at the table in the bar-room. He opened his mouth once more but when he saw the stew coming to a slow boil, decided not to waste his breath. Probably wouldn't need any more firewood anyway, he reckoned. Still, he wondered what'd happened to the boy. Jumping down from his ladder, he ran out the kitchen door to tell the boys,
"Supper's almost ready."
Just as he reached the end of the cellar, Tater was about to give up and head back inside. It was still very dark and he couldn't see a thing, least of all any firewood. He quickly turned around when, all of sudden, he heard the loud bang of a door closing shut. He strained his eyes in vain for the tall stem of light which once grew out of the floor, the stardust, but saw nothing. Not even a sliver. The doors had fallen shut, and somehow he knew they wouldn't open again for a very long time. Still, he thought he was alone. He suddenly became frightened, really frightened, probably for the first time in his short lived life. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Everywhere he looked there was total blackness. It was so dark that he couldn't see his own hand when he held it right up to his face, not even the light part. He hollered two or three times, maybe more. He just couldn't remember. He couldn't even remember the sound of his own name. Alone and frightened, and in the dark, he sat down against a cold stone wall and cried. It seemed that his whole world had become a shadow.
All at once he heard a strangely familiar sound. He knew who it was, and it made him smile. It came out of nowhere it seemed; and it wasn't very far away, not very far away at all. And he could see him standing right there, right in front of him. It was his friend. It was just like he'd never left at all. He was grinning from ear to ear. And in his hand, he was holding the shiny black stone. Only now, it wasn't black at all. It was clear and white, like sunshine! And it sparkled with the light of thousand stars. The light filled the air. There was stardust -- Everywhere!
Suddenly, the little brown boy was no longer frightened; he not alone anymore. And he remembered his name and why he came in the first place. So, he quietly lied down beside his friend and silently fell into a deep dark sleep. He dreamt of many things to come.