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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Brian Barnett: The Black Rider's Gold

ym_94_blackridersgold_mddavis.jpg
Art by Michael D. Davis 2022

The Black Rider’s Gold

 

by Brian Barnett

 

 

          Aaron blinked his eyes repeatedly trying to flush out the dirt again. That’s all the deserted town has, he thought. Dirt.

          He was excited when his parents first booked the tour of an Old West Ghost Town. But so far all he’s been able to see is old worn out buildings and, of course, dirt.

          There were two rows of buildings separated by the dirt road that ran through the middle of them. All the buildings were side-by-side and shared a long wooden walkway. There was a well, a wagon with a broken wheel, and a parking lot at the end of town - which is where he wanted to go. But the tour was only halfway over.

          “Right over there is the town saloon, but seeing as we have some youngins, I don’t think we’ll be going in there.” the old tour guide named Silas said. Most everyone laughed. Not Aaron. The joke was lame and he was hot and miserable.

          “Alright folks, that concludes our tour of the town of Grimstead. Shall we proceed to Devil’s Valley to see where they mined the gold?” the tourists seemed moderately interested until Silas added “Come along and I’ll tell you the legend behind the infamous outlaw, The Black Rider’s, gold.”

          Everyone oohed and aahed with that announcement. Even Aaron perked up. The grin on Silas’s face told Aaron that he probably expected the tourists’ reaction.

          Silas walked backwards toward the bus and talked at the same time. He seemed to really know his stuff. “Yes, the west was full of adventure and opportunity. And you can bet anytime gold was discovered, trouble was sure to follow. The Black Rider was more than enough trouble for the residents of Grimstead. There were gunfights, robberies, and outright murders. No sheriff could tame him. In fact Grimstead had to replace at least three sheriffs after failed duels with The Black Rider.”

          “What was The Black Rider’s name?” asked a lady who was about to board the bus.

          “Nobody ever knew for sure. He never told anyone his name. But if you ask me, it’s probably better that way. It makes for a better legend. I mean, what if his name was Marian or something.” The group laughed again. Silas took a step up into the bus. “Alright folks, single file if you please. The mine is only about fifteen minutes from here. We’ll be there in no time.”

          Once everyone was loaded and in their seats, the bus drove away from Grimstead and toward Devil’s Valley. Silas had a special rear-facing seat where he had a microphone that worked the speakers that ran the length of the bus.

The bus was even hotter than it was outside in the sun. Aaron reached for the window latch and Silas’s voice boomed on the speakers. “Please leave the windows up. I know it’s hot, but we don’t want lots of dust swirling around making the heat that much worse.”

          Aaron plopped back into his seat. His dad raised his hand.

          Silas pointed at him. “Yes sir?”

          “What ever happened to The Black Rider?”

          “Excellent question. I guess now is as good a time as any to talk about him.”

          Aaron’s dad smiled, proud at his question.

          “The Black Rider died in the mine shaft we’re headed toward right now. He was absolutely gold crazy. He often stalked around near the mine just in case of any strikes. Evidently one day he was tired of waiting around so he confronted a prospector, assuming they must have been holding out on him. They weren’t. The mine had practically already been picked clean. But that wasn’t a good enough answer for The Black Rider.”

          Aaron found himself leaning forward, caught up in the story. Maybe the tour wouldn’t be so boring after all.

          “Well a fight broke out between a prospector who had been pushed to his limit and The Black Rider. The prospector got a good hit in and knocked one of The Black Rider’s teeth out. His one and only gold tooth. Being as gold crazy as The Black Rider was, he stopped fighting immediately and frantically searched for the tooth. Not realizing how close he was to the mine shaft, he fell to his death.”

          A lady gasped somewhere. A murmur ran through the bus. Even if The Black Rider was a bad guy, that’s a scary way to go.

          “Now, I don’t exactly know how deep the mine was,” continued Silas, “but I know it was deep enough. Let’s just say the town never had any more trouble from The Black Rider.”

          The bus pulled to a stop in front of what looked to be a cave. The doors screeched open and Silas stepped out.

          Everyone climbed down from the bus and stood around him in a semi-circle.

          “Now I know I don’t have to tell all you good folks this, but I’m going to anyway. Please don’t touch anything in there. It’s perfectly safe, but I’d rather not risk anyone touching anything. Plus there are still old mine carts, tracks, and the like in there that we’d all like to preserve for future tours.”

          Everyone seemed to agree and Silas turned and led everyone into the mine entrance.

          Just like Silas had said. There were lots of old tools and equipment that were just abandoned and covered in dirt. Of course, more dirt, thought Aaron. But the mine was different from the town. The town was just a bunch of abandoned buildings. This used to be a working gold mine! People used to bring gold ore out from those dark tunnels.

          “Alright, folks. If you will direct your attention over here, this is the infamous mine shaft where The Black Rider died.” Behind Silas was a hole in the floor behind a thin chain to keep people back. “Now, that is a pure absolute fact. He did die here. But beyond that, the legend is that The Black Rider still roams these tunnels looking for his missing gold tooth.” Silas shrugged. “You can either choose to believe it or not. Personally, I think the history of the mine is interesting enough as it is. But that never stops an interesting legend from being born from time to time.”

 Silas led everyone across the cave to a set of tracks that led into a dark tunnel. He began talking about the tunnel carts or something. Aaron wasn’t paying attention. He was still at the old shaft. Large wood supports framed the hole. He leaned over the chain a bit to look down into the darkness. Maybe somewhere down there is a pile of old bones with a missing tooth. But he couldn’t see more than maybe two or three feet down before it was too dark to see anything.

He leaned a little further and his foot slipped on the loose powdery dirt on the stone floor and he lost his balance. He swung his arms out and caught himself on one of the wood beams. His heart and stomach nearly came up into his throat. He imagined himself falling hundreds of feet to his death, like The Black Rider had all those years ago. Once he caught his breath, he pushed against the wood to stand upright again. But when he did, the wood shifted and cracked.

Suddenly large boulders slid aside and the wood collapsed into the shaft slamming against the chain and dragging it into the hole. Some of the boulders fell in too, but one especially large one landed at an angle to stop the shaft from fully collapsing in on itself. The sound was deafening in the cave. It was hard to see from the dirt that was stirred up in the already dark area.

Aaron’s parents rushed over to check on him. Aaron was shaking and sat on the floor, afraid he might fall over out of shock. He was maybe a few inches from certain death only a few seconds ago.

“This is why I ask people not to touch things!” yelled Silas. He was furious. “Are you okay, boy?”

Aaron nodded quickly, unable to find the right words to properly apologize.

Silas pointed at Aaron’s parents and continued yelling. “This is why anyone under the age of eighteen is to be accompanied at all times by an adult. I specifically said not to touch anything. He might have been killed. We all may have been killed.” He took out a handkerchief from his back pants pocket and dabbed his beet red forehead. “Okay, folks. I think it’s time we all head back to the bus. We’re heading back to town.”

Though he was just staring at the partially collapsed mine shaft, Aaron felt everyone’s eyes on him as they shuffled out of the cave and back to the bus. It was going to be a long fifteen minute ride back to Grimstead.

“We had better head out, Aaron.” Aaron’s mom said. She sounded disappointed. Maybe she was disappointed that the tour was cut short, or maybe that he had destroyed the mine shaft. He couldn’t quite tell which.

“I’m on my way.” Aaron said. He placed his hand on the ground to push himself to his feet. He felt the grit of the dirt under his palm and something else. It was something hard. He thought it was a rock until he turned his palm over and saw a shimmering gold tooth.

Aaron gasped and quickly hid in his palm what he had found. Could it really be The Black Rider’s gold tooth? All that time and nobody could find it. It must have been lodged in a crack in the wall or something. Aaron slipped it into his pocket and slowly made his way to the bus.

He boarded the bus and walked with his head down until he reached an empty seat in the back. Again he had felt everyone’s eyes on him. All of them were angry, he could tell.

The bus trip back to the town was a quiet one. The only sound was the engine for fifteen minutes. Even his parents sat in their seats silently, probably embarrassed. Aaron just kept rolling the tooth between his fingers in his pocket. It was a treasure for sure.

Once the bus finally stopped, Aaron let everyone else leave the bus before he got to his feet. Even then he was slow to join them. Hopefully his parents would quickly usher him away to their car and they’d leave this place behind. The fiasco in the mine would forever be an awkward memory. But he would also have his prized tooth. Maybe he could sell it or loan it to be displayed in a museum. He’d be famous.

          Aaron’s dad quickly pulled him aside and whispered “Aaron, you need to apologize to Silas.”

          Silas was dabbing his forehead again with his handkerchief as he shook disappointed people’s hands good-bye.

          “I thought I already did.” Aaron said, knowing he didn’t. But it would be a lot less embarrassing to just disappear into the car and never come back here again.

          “No, I’m pretty sure you didn’t. And even if you did, it would be for the best if you did again.”

          Aaron sighed and slowly walked over to Silas.

          “I’m really sorry for destroying the mine.”

          “It’s alright, young man.” Silas said. He still had an angry edge to his voice. “Just as long as you weren’t hurt.”

          “No, I’m fine. It was a complete accident. I just lost my balance and tried to catch myself.”

          “Yes, well…”

          Silas stopped talking mid-sentence after being distracted by something over Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron turned to see what it was.

          In the distance there was what looked to be a person riding a horse next to the road. The rider was passing the tourists who had already driven out of town on their way back to the highway.

          “Who on earth…” Silas said. “There’s no other towns for miles. Who could be out riding in this heat?”

          Aaron looked around the town. He didn’t remember seeing any horses or reenactment actors. The livery was abandoned like the rest of the town. Even the horseshoes tacked above its entrance had rusted from years of neglect.

          The only people left in the town were Silas, Aaron and Aaron’s parents. The only two cars in the parking lot belonged to them.

          As the rider came closer, Aaron could see he was wearing all black. His duster billoweed behind him. He sure was in a hurry. The horse was creating quite a plume of dust as it galloped toward town.

          “Oh my. Oh no.” stammered Silas. “This simply cannot be!” he dabbed his red forehead again.

          Aaron suddenly noticed the horse was a skeleton. The rider was too. It was obvious at this point that he was The Black Rider.

          “Get inside! Quickly, get inside!” Silas pushed Aaron’s parents toward the general store. Aaron ran along with them, barely able to take his eyes off the ghostly outlaw riding into town.

Silas removed a wad of keys from his pocket and shakily tried one after another until he finally found the one for the store. Aaron wondered why an abandoned town would even need locks. Silas flung the door open and practically shoved everyone inside.

“Everyone hide! Keep your heads down. I just can’t believe this is happening.”

Aaron’s parents rushed behind the clerk’s desk where an ancient cash register sat. A jar of peppermint sticks sat to one side of it and a tip jar on the other. Silas finally locked the door and slid some crates in front of it to create a feeble barricade.

Aaron ducked down behind a clothing rack in the gift shop area. One of the shirt slogans read: “Grimstead: Where History Comes to Life”. You don’t say, thought Aaron.

Silas rushed over next to Aaron. He dabbed his forehead again. His handkerchief was close to soaked by now.

“It’s him. It’s The Black Rider!” said Silas.

Just as he said his name, The Black Rider’s horse passed in front of the store window. It’s hollow eye socket in its skull glowed red. Steam blew from its nostrils.

The Black Rider dismounted and walked up to the window. He punched through the glass causing Aaron’s mom to scream. The entire window shattered and rained onto the floor. He slowly stepped inside. The glass shards crunched under his boots.

When he walked across the floor his spurs clinked and clanged with each step.

“Where is my gold?” His voice was raspy and deep. It was almost more breath than voice.

The boots and spurs came closer to the shirt display. They stopped just on the other side of it. Aaron could see the ornate design stitched into the sides of the leather boots. The spurs were silver and shiny. The bottom of his black duster nearly reached the floor. It was frayed at the bottom and dirty.

The clothing rack was violently thrown aside. Both Aaron and Silas stumbled backwards.

          Aaron looked up and saw the empty eye sockets. Somehow they looked angrier than any eyes he’d ever seen. A black Stetson sat on the top of his skull and a black bandana was tied around his boney neck. It hung loosely since he was only bones. Aaron noticed one of his front teeth was missing. Suddenly he was even more aware of the gold tooth in his pocket. 

          The Black Rider extended a hand. It was covered with a black leather glove. He pointed at Aaron. “You!” his voice was angry and almost sounded like when two sheets of sandpaper rubbed together. “You stole my gold!”

          “I didn’t mean to.” he fished in his pocket to find it. He wanted nothing more than to give it back so The Black Rider would disappear again to wherever he came from.

          “You stole my gold. Now you will face me!”

          “What?”

          “No!” Aaron’s parents protested.

          The Black Rider’s head whipped around in their direction. In the blink of an eye he drew a revolver from its holster and fired a shot that shattered the peppermint jar and ricocheted off the ancient cash register. It’s bell rang, ching, and the cash drawer flew open. Aaron’s parents quickly ducked back behind the desk.

          “Outside, boy.” The Black Rider demanded.

          Aaron raised his hands and walked past The Black Rider who still had his revolver in his hand. Aaron carefully climbed out through the broken window and made his way into the dusty street.

          He turned and The Black Rider had stepped out into the street as well, maybe thirty or so feet away. He replaced his revolver back in its holster. “Any last requests?” The Black Rider asked.

          Aaron looked at the old well on the opposite side of the street from the general store. “I sure would like a drink of some water, if that’s okay. It’s hot and I haven’t had a drink for hours.”

          “Quickly, boy. I want my gold.”

          Aaron walked over to the well. He tilted the bucket and looked into the well. It was completely dried up. He swallowed dryly but an idea popped into his head. He pulled the gold tooth from his pocket and carefully dropped it into the bucket.

          “I said quickly, boy.”

          “There’s no water. It’s all dried up.”

          “Too bad. You’ll be dried up soon too, boy.”

          Aaron walked back into position in the middle of the street. “Wait just a second. How is this fair? I don’t even have a gun.”

          The Black Rider slid a second revolver from his left holster and tossed it toward Aaron. It landed at his feet with a thud in the dirt. The sun caught reflected off it and it gleamed brightly. The barrel was as silvery as The Black Rider’s spurs. The handle looked like it was made out of pearls. Several notches were cut into it.

          “Pick it up, boy.”

          “This still isn’t fair! I’ve never fired a gun before. You should let me take at least one practice shot first.”

          The Black Rider curled his hands into fists. His ancient bones crackled. “No.”

          “But that’s not fair!”

          “You should have thought of that before you stole my gold. Now pick it up or don’t. It won’t matter in a few seconds anyway.”

          “But do you want everyone to think you’re a coward or something? Everyone will say The Black Rider is such a coward that he shot a boy in the street who had never even fired a gun before.”

          The Black Rider shook with anger. His bones rattled slightly under his baggy white shirt and black vest. He barked with his gravelly voice. “Fine. One shot. No more!”

          Aaron picked up the revolver. It was much heavier than he thought it was going to be. He had to use both hands to just steady it and both thumbs to pull back the hammer. Once he pulled the hammer into position he raised the barrel as best he could and aimed it toward the well. He slowly pulled the trigger and it fired, sending him backwards. He nearly fell to the ground from the recoil.

          A patch of dirt about three feet away from the well went up in a puff.

          Aaron’s ears rang terribly. His hands were stinging from the recoil. When he could finally hear again he noticed The Black Rider’s raspy laughter.

          “What were you aiming at, boy? That was pathetic.”

          “I was trying to shoot the rope holding up the bucket.”

          The Black Rider turned sideways, withdrew his revolver and aimed at the rope from behind his back. He shot his revolver, twirled it on his finger and returned it to his holster. The bucket had dropped into the well.

          Aaron smiled. “You probably shouldn’t have done that.”

          “And why is that?”

          “Your gold was in that bucket.”

          The Black Rider gasped and ran over to the well and dove in head first.

          The sound that came from the well reminded Aaron of the time he had accidentally knocked over his mom’s terra cotta pots from the garden shed shelf. They had shattered all over the floor and left potting soil everywhere.

          The Black Rider’s horse reared up, blew flames from its nostrils and disappeared in a puff of red smoke. Aaron felt it was safe enough to look into the well. There was nothing but a pile of scattered bones and a skull looking up at the sky. Its gold tooth was back where it belonged.



Brian Barnett is the author of the middle grade novellas Graveyard Scavenger Hunt and Chaos at the Carnival. He has over three hundred publishing credits in dozens of magazines and anthologies, such as the Lovecraft eZine, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Blood Bound Books, and Scifaikuest.



If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.



In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022