Ghosts & Supernatural Beings: Big Enough's Ghost/The Sulphur School


    Big Enough was sensitive about how tall he was.  His whole working life he'd tell his shifters, "i'm big enough to do that!  Let me at it!"  And mostly, they did.  He worked, some construction, but mainly mining, his entire life.  During those years he earned a reputation for being a solid, hard working miner.  He married, raised a family and kept a home all on miner's wages.
    It got harder.  Slowly times changed.  Restrictions were placed on gold mining, other metals were considered more important.  Big Enough was a gold miner through and through so jobs came more slowly and almost dried up.
    He'd been in a slump for quite awhile and his unemployment was almost gone when a neighbor in the mountain canyon where he lived approached him.  It was work.  Not the best work.  The neighbor was a promoter.  He had a quick, glib tongue and talked money out of the most unlikely people.  Not a lot.  Enough for him to live on and occasionally to hire somebody to do the actual mining.  Mr. Silver Tongue was afraid to go underground.  Odd in someone who promoted mines, but that is how he was.
    This was one of those times.  Enough money had come in for Big Enough to be hired.  He half listened to his neighbor.  He knew him too well  to take him seriously  He only started to pay attention after the many promises of wealth and mining success had slowed to a trickle and actual wages were mentioned.
    It wasn't a lot.  Silver Tongue's mining efforts seldom worked into real money, but it was something.  Big Enough talked the wages up to the point that he felt he and his missus could survive on them, then nodded his agreement.
    The men shook hands, a bottle appeared and they toasted Big Enough's employment with the traditional shot.  Big Enough was to be at the workplace the next morning.
    He was there and unhappy about what he saw there.  Mining equipment, most of it useable, but all rusted and all needing maintenance.  He started fixing it and that brought on the first of many confrontations with Silver Tongue.
    Silver Tongue wanted the mining to commence immediately!  It didn't matter that the winch was in poor repair.  (The mine didn't have the money for a hoist or a cage.  Silver Tongue's employees rode up and down in an ore bucket winched to the top.)  He wanted rock on the surface and he wanted it now.  Mr. Silver Tongue could be very impatient.  His impatience was aggravated by fear.  Mr. Silver Tongue was deathly afraid of tunnels, shafts, anything to do with deep mining.
    That wouldn't have mattered so much if he didn't think like a surface dweller.  He just didn't realize how dangerous the underground environment can be and how dependent any miner is on his equipment.  So, he let things slide, he said things were fixed when they weren't.  He took risks, not with his own life, but with Big Enough's.
    Things went on this way for several months.  Big Enough started to look for other work.  Silver Tongue, knowing it'd be almost impossible to find another worker who'd stay in the isolated canyon, used the carrot approach.  A tiny increase in wages kept Big Enough in place for awhile longer.
    A mistake in judgement on Big Enough's part.  He didn't enjoy that  increase in wages for very long.  He walked the mile or so to Silver Tongue's mine, climbed into the ore bucket and gave the signal to Silver Tongue to start the winch.  It wasn't clear what happened next.  Some said the winch brake failed and the cable released all at once.  Others swore that the cable, worn from long use, snapped.  And a few thought it was a combination of the two. However it happened, a man lay at the bottom of the shaft either dying or dead and Silver Tongue was on top dithering and screeching about his ore.  How was he to get his ore now?  How was he to get his samples?  What would his investors think now?  eventually he calmed down and hurried down the path to the little town to get help.
    He was lucky in one way.  There were three hard rock miners in the canyon that day.  They all worked the same shift at a big tungsten mine thirty miles away.  They worked the same hours to save on the gas it took to go back and forth.  Any bit they saved allowed them to live in the canyon they considered a bit of paradise  The only snake in their Eden, Silver Tongue.  He was universally disliked and distrusted by his neighbors.
    In spite of their dislike of Silver Tongue, all of those men got into their work clothes in an instant, had on their heavy steel toed boots, put on their helmets with their carbide lamps, grabbed tools and were racing up the path to Silver tongue's workings.  Such is the brotherhood of miners.
    Once there they tinkered with the winch and got it working.  They found another cable, old but in  better shape than the one Big Enough had been using.  They attached this one to the ore bucket and started the old gasoline motor.  One climbed into the ore bucket and the others carefully winched him down.
    As quick as they'd been, they weren't quick enough.  Big Enough lay in a mangled mess at the bottom of the shaft. Clearly dead.  The man at the bottom said a prayer for Big Enough and unfolded the canvas tarp he'd brought along. He hadn't expected to find life down there.  Humans don't handle falling three hundred and fifty feet into hard rock very well.  He 'd come prepared.  He rolled the body up inside the tarp and wrapped some rope around it to keep everything in place.  He tied the body onto the ore bucket and gave the cable three jerks to show that he wanted it winched up.
    The miner waited patiently for the bucket to come back for him.  When he finally reached the top he got out of the bucket, kissed the ground, and without comment went to the mine shack and ripped a door off its hinges.  He took it back and they used it to carry the body down the hill.  Let old Silver Tongue complain!  He'd killed a man with his bullshit!
    This should have ended the story.  Silver Tongue closed the deep mine down.  He didn't have a choice.  Not one miner would go down in that death trap.  No matter how poor or how needy they were.  Silver Tongue's investors lost their money.  On the surface that was the end of it.
    But something happened to him.  At dusk each night he started seeing things in the gentle light.  A form that moved just beyond real seeing but always just a little closer.  A form that was crooked and bent, all odd angles.  Silver Tongue wouldn't let the thing get close enough for him to name.  He already know who it was and why.  Silver Tongue quit going out at night.  He made a habit, no matter how far away he was, to be inside.  Of course there were those times when he just didn't make it home to the safety of lamp light and his wife.  (A prosaic woman, she never did see Big Enough's ghost.)  So he tiptoed through the twilight hoping never to see the shade up close.
    There were children in the canyon at this time.  A couple of them, a brother and sister, after hearing their parents discussing the shame of Big Enough's death, and seeing Silver Tongue's odd behavior, they decided on a course of action.  They intended to haunt Silver Tongue.
    They knew it was risky.  Silver Tongue had started to tuck a pearl handled pistol into his belt loop.  And like most people in those mountain canyons, he was a decent shot.  This didn't deter the two.  They just decided to be very, very careful
    They started their haunting by watching their neighbors habits.  Every night just before twilight, sometimes a little later, he walked his dog.  A fat, insolent spaniel, the love of his wife's life, and Silver Tongue's bane.  His wife, not believing in or ever having seen a spirit, pushed him outside to walk the dog.  An odd ritual by canyon standards, most of the dogs being mixed breed mutts, took care of necessary walking by keeping up with their children.  They scorned coyotes and were not afraid of anything that walked in the canyon.  Not so the purebred and spoiled spaniel.  Its humans feared for its safety and it must be walked.
    The terrible twosome started with throwing pieces of wood or flat rocks into the sagebrush along the road where Silver tongue walked his dog.  Done quickly together, it made a fair approximation of someone, a clumsy someone, trying to get through the brush.
    To the amazement of the children, Silver Tongue grabbed the leash to his chest, looked at the brush, fired a round into it, then ran for home, the spaniel bouncing and running along behind him.
    The children had their man.  They melted into the sage and circled the long way home.  Stopping half way to roll on the ground and whoop and laugh.  They decided to keep it up.  It was far too much fun to stop.
    Their mother, as mothers do,knew that the brother and sister were up to something but she had toddlers and was busy keeping up with the difficulties living in the mountains always brought to mothers.  She didn't push them to explain the twinkle in their eyes or the bounce in their step.
    The next night they let Silver Tongue walk his dog in peace.  At least in outer peace.  They watched as he started and jumped at the least sound.  One of the neighbors shouted hello.  Silver Tongue jumped straight up and didn't answer.  He didn't run this time but his stride lengthened and it was a very short walk the spaniel had that night.
    The next two nights the children shadowed him.  Very carefully!  Silver Tongue kept that pistol in his pants band and was very free about using it.
    On the second night they were down in the ditch by the road concealed in the tall grass that grew there.  They heard the fat spaniel pass by.  It hesitated where they were and slowly wagged its tail, the spaniel liked children if its owners did not.  But a jerk on its leash and it went on.  As the master came even with them they noticed something else.  Silver Tongue, who'd spent his whole life talking, talking to prospective investors, talking to suppliers, talking, talking, but always to something everybody else could see, had changed.  Now he was talking to something only he could see.  Something that shadowed him on the far side of the road.
    "Go away!  Damn you go away!"  The words came out of Silver Tongue's mouth in a low hiss.  The fat spaniel turned to look at his master thinking the man spoke to him.
    His owner stopped, pulled out his pistol and fired.  The gun's report seemed to bring him to his senses.  very slowly he put it away, tucking it into his belt.  He stood there staring at the sagebrush.  No movement, nothing.  Slowly, he shook his head.  Head bent he headed home the fat spaniel trailing along behind.
    The brother and sister looked at each other. Then long after Silver Tongue and his dog had gone inside their house, they went across the road.  Very carefully, as careful as any crime scene investigators, they crawled through the sagebrush looking for traces of Silver Tongue's victim.  Nothing.  Not a footprint.  No broken bits of sage that an adult scrambling through the dense sage would make.  They gave up and crawled out of the sage and went home.  There and then they decided to leave Silver Tongue's haunting to the real thing.
    Of course, in a small isolated community, Silver Tongue's behavior was noticed almost immediately.  Generally  people felt that the man had earned his torment doubly.  First:  Big Enough's death itself.  Bad management, it should not have happened.  And secondly: The man was a skinflint.  He did not help Big Enough's family with the funeral expenses.  In fact, he gave a check for the hour the man had at work the day of his death and not a penny more.  And even that amount grudgingly.  And worse than all of this, he wrote up his accident reports in such a way that the fault was all placed squrely on Big Enough.  Small wonder then, that Big Enough didn't rest easy in his grave.
    Time didn't ease the situation, it only made Silver Tongue crazier.  At the beginning he only muttered and talked to the unseen at twilight or in the dark.  After a bit, he could be seen walking, gesticulating, and taking to the unseen in the middle of the day.  These interesting ramblings occasionally punctuated by a gunshot as he tried to vanquish his tormentor.
    When one of these rounds went through the haunt and struck a neighbor's window, it came to a head.  The people in the canyon who had children approached Silver Tongue and his wife and told them that the next round Silver tongue fired would be his last.  They'd shoot back!
    The next morning Silver Tongue loaded up his pickup, locked the door to his place and put the fat spaniel between him and his wife.  He backed out quickly spraying gravel at onlookers and left the canyon.
    Later reports said it wasn't just three in that truck.  He took a hitchhiker with him.  It must have been cramped in that cab with Silver Tongue, the haunt, the fat spaniel and Silver Tongue's wife all riding side by side.  Silver Tongue talking and cursing Big Enough's haunt, the haunt quiet as had been his habit in life and in death, the fat spaniel moving as far from his owner as he could and whining, and Silver Tongue's wife wondering whatever she'd seen in the man.  Yes, just a bit crowded. 
    

    
  



















































                                                                                                                          





                                   
                                                                                                                                                               









    This is the Sulphur school, just noticeable in the picture are some cows.  The last creatures to actually use the school.  In bad weather they climbed in through the missing door for shelter.  Or they did, the school was burned a few years ago.
    Which is something that puzzles me, why not let the desert take it in its own time?  Why rush things?  But there are those who simply cannot wait for nature to run its course, they have to speed up the process!  
    There had been a ghostly sense to the building for decades.  Its use gone, the little town that supported it vanished except for a few boards.  The school a very temporary monument to a different age.  An age when there were people and schools on the desert.
    This gives you some idea of the inside of the little school.  It really was very small.  I suspect it had been constructed using "found" materials.  In other words, what could be scavenged from older buildings.  It was the only school I ever entered that had an interior constructed of wainscoting!  Ceiling too! 
    It survived decades after the town had vanished.  I suspect because it was a semi official building, it belonged to the Humboldt County School District.
    I believe buildings can leave an imprint on time.  If any do, this  building is a good candidate.  If you are driving across the Black Rock Desert from Sulphur to Gerlach, it might be interesting to take some photos at this spot. You might be surprised at what turns up on your camera's memory.
      
Comments