“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white–then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place…”
Tam o’ Shanter, Robert Burns, 1790
The press machine hummed and thrummed as I sat at the desk folding newspapers for the next day’s delivery. At my feet lay Buddy-dog, asleep, waiting for me to finish so we could go home.
“Clackity-clack” was the sound that came from outside the Virginia City shop, the old office for the long defunct Hale-Norcross Mine. Buddy raised his head, then sprang to his feet with a deep-throated growl.
I followed him to the doorway, where we both stood looking into the dusk of a quickly falling night.
“Hello,” I heard a woman with a brogue say.
Buddy’s ears laid back, tail upright and taut, the hairs along his backbone raised on end. I stepped onto the covered porch to see from where the voice came.
To the right of us sat mounted on a horse was a woman. She greeted me again.
“Hi,” I returned. “A bit late for riding in such rough terrain, no?”
“We get along fine in the dark,” she answered. “I am surprised to find anyone using this place.”
“Yes. We print the local newspapers here.”
“Ah, so that is the noise we hear?”
“Would you like to see?”
Buddy growled a low throaty warning.
“Thank you, but no, we must be getting along.”
“Okay,” I said. “Take care and stop by again.”
The pair moved away, clickity-clacking along the paved street. Meanwhile, Buddy remained on alert, ears back, hair raised, his tail erect.
By then, dusk had fully surrendered to the dark. And as the pair grew into one with the blackness, the woman seemed one with the horse, with no dangling legs or stirrups and unusually long arms.
“A trick or the light or a lack there of,” I said, dismissing what I’d witnessed.
Gone from his sight, Buddy finally relaxed and looked at me, tail silently brushing the wooden deck, ears unfolded but alert. I reached down and scratched the top of his head.
As I turned on the office light, closed the door, and dropped the ‘Sally bar the Gate’ board, he returned to his spot on the floor, and I finished folding papers.
A week later, I found myself in the same place, doing the same thing. This time Buddy was not with me.
As I came closer and closer to finishing the job, I once more heard a sound different from the others I usually heard. It was the visitor I had from the week before.
This time I went outside before she could call out her ‘hello.’ Again she was partly obscured by the sage and trees that shaded the porch in the afternoon.
Again the landscape was nearly fully engulfed in darkness. The woman again used the lack of light to her advantage as she sat on her horse.
“Come down and come in,” I said.
“I think you know we cannot do that,” she said.
“And yet you do not fear us.”
“I do not.”
“What manner of man are you?”
“Simply a man. What manner of being are you?”
“I am a Nuckelavee,” she answered as she moved away from her cover.
She stood there, a female torso fused to the shoulder of a large draft horse. The horse’s head was large and held a single eye the size of an old truck headlight.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“We’ve been asking ourselves the same question.”
“No answer, eh?”
“How long have you been here?”
“What is time to an eternal being?”
“So, what do you plan to do now?”
“Was going to kill you and your cù.”
“Why haven’t you?”
I find you intriguing. You don’t seem to be in fear of me.”
“Should I be?
She laughed, and the thing I mistook for a horse belched a flame that gave off a gaseous odor that caused my eyes to water. I waved my hand in front of my face to ward off the smell.
“Most humans would have screamed, cried, run away, begged for mercy and asked God to wake them from their nightmare,” she added.
This time I laughed, “What if you’re having a nightmare or your inside my nightmare?”
“And intelligent, too,” she said.
“That’s a first for me,” I smiled.
“You are intelligent,” she said. “You have me in a paradox: if I kill you, then I die. If you kill me, I die.”
I smiled. It was all I could do because I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
It was dark by then, and I had yet to turn my office light on, but I was not sure I wanted to as the horse was hideous, and her skin was ghostly pale. We stood silently observing each other as if we expected the other to blink, ending our mutual truce and admiration.
“I know where there is a portal, a doorway if you will to elsewhere.” I offered.
“You would help me in spite of my covert threat?” she asked.
“I heard no threat,” I replied. “I heard an unsure being in need of help, and I’m offering that help.”
“Interesting,” she said before asking, “Will you show me this place.”
“The Chollar Mine,” I said. “Go inside to the very end, and there you will find this doorway.”
“No price? No demand?” she asked, surprised.
“Nope,” I answered.
“You intrigue me like no other…man,” she offered as she spun in a circle.
“Be safe,” I said.
“You, too, human,” she smiled as she turned and galloped into the inky dark towards the mine.
All I could do was stand there in quiet disbelief, physically shaking and nauseous at the sight and smell of this Nuckelavee. The thing frightened me, but I refused to show my fear until the thing left.
Retreating to the porch, I sat in one of the old faded seats lining the outside shop wall, where I listened to the press as it continued to hiss and heave printed page after page into the tray. Minutes later, I saw a green glow akin to the Aurora Borealis rise and float from the direction of the Chollar.
I stood up, walked to the far end of the porch, and leaned over the metal railing, puking until empty.