Driving down Six-Mile Canyon Road was more familiar to me than the trip up to Virginia City, and as it was dark, I was not relishing the idea of doing so. I had just passed an old house on my left, noting the lights and thinking in all the months I traveled this route, I’d never seen it before.
As I looked back, I suddenly found myself faced with a small band of wild horses. I stepped hard on the brake, downshift, and stirred to avoid them.
“Why hadn’t they bedded down already?” I thought as my right front tire caught the edge of the road and dropped off the asphalt, sending my truck over the embankment where it rolled twice before coming to rest on the roof.
With adrenaline pumping, I struggled to release my safety belt. Finally, it came loose, and I dropped with a heavy thud on the canopy of my truck’s roof.
My chest on my left side hurt tremendously, and I could tell that I might have fractured them. Also, my right ankle felt as if I had seriously twisted it.
“Should I try for that cabin back there or stay here?” was my thought.
Then I smelled gasoline, and my decision made.
Carefully, I crawled from the cab of the overturned pick-up and clawed my way up the embankment. Looking around, I could see little.
The horses were gone, but in the distance, downhill from me, I could see the cabin’s lights. I decided to go for help there.
Slowly, I stumbled and crawled down the road towards the lights. The asphalt had long since given way to hardpan earth, filled with rough and jagged rocks and an uneven track leading steeply towards the lights that promised assistance.
Finally, I hobbled onto the top step of the house and knocked on the rough-hewn door. The voices I’d heard a second before had gone silent.
Finally, a man’s voice called out, “Who is it?”
I answered, “I need help. I rolled my truck.”
Noisily, the door opened a few inches, revealing the face of a young woman. She was smiling but then frowned.
“Yeah,” she shouted back over her shoulder, “And he’s bleeding pretty good too.”
I put my hand on my head and saw it was covered in blood when I drew it back.
When I woke, I was on the floor in front of a large pot-bellied stove. I had blankets underneath me, serving as a pallet and more on top of me, keeping me warm. I was dizzy, so I lay there unmoving.
“What are we gonna do with him?” I heard a woman’s voice ask.
“We’ll let Jack decide that when he gets back,” a man answered.
Footsteps approached, and I opened my eyes to see the same young woman who answered the door looking down on me.
“So, welcome back to the land of the living,” she smiled. “Names Patty.
“Not a bad-looking woman,” I thought, “But whadda gap between her front teeth. You could drive a semi through it.”
Suddenly, two more faces appeared, a dark-haired man with pock-marks and a pale older redheaded woman with thick glasses.
“That’s Carol, and he’s Billy,” Patty said.
“Oh, hell, Patty,” Billy yelled, “Why’d you go and tell him our names? Now Jack’ll have no choice.”
Sleep overtook me, and when I next came to my senses, the day was gone, and night had settled. Still laying on the pallet, a warm body next to me.
Without disturbing her breathing or moving her arm that lay across my upper chest, I looked to find Patty snuggled against me. The stove above us was no long ablaze.
I allowed myself to drift back into sleep, but not before I heard Carol complain, “Jack should have been back by now. I think he’s scrammed with the loot.”
“He’ll be here, don’t worry,” Billy snarled. “Probably having trouble because of the damned snow.”
“Snow,” I thought, “There was no snow listed in the forecast for the week.”
It was screaming and shouting that woke me. The three were arguing about what to do with me.
“Jack ain’t coming,” Carol said.
“I agree with Carol,” Patty said.
“Yeah,” Billy replied, “We gotta cut our losses and split.”
“What about him?” Carol asked.
“What? Him?” Patty angrily said. “His head’s stoved in. He ain’t gonna remember nothing. Besides, we can leave him here. If he dies, he dies, if he lives, he lives, we’ll be long gone by then.”
“But you told him our names, you dumb bitch,” Billy hissed.
“I can do it if you ain’t got the guts,” Carol announced.
“Yeah, with what?” Billy stated. “I got the gun.”
“I have a knife,” Carol returned.
“Guns quicker,” Billy said as he came towards me. By this time, I was ready to act.
“I don’t wanna be no murderer,” Patty shouted.
“We don’t care what you want?” Carol barked.
Suddenly, I could hear scuffling and shouts and cries. I decided to act.
As the three roughed around the room, I sprang to my feet. Though in pain, stiff and sore, and feeling extremely dizzy, I grabbed the handgun out of the back of Billy’s waistband.
He spun, snarled at me, and proceeded to lunge at me. I squeezed the trigger, and he flew back against the wall, dropping heavily to the floor.
The room grew silent as the women, who had been fighting between themselves and Billy trying to break them up, came to realize what had happened. Patty screamed, and Carol picked the knife she’d been holding and rushed me.
Again, I squeezed the trigger. As smoke drifted through the room, Carol lay in a crumpled heap near Billy, and Patty stood transfixed by the dead bodies.
Outside, I heard the squelching sound of a vehicle’s tires making their way down the steep, snow-cover hill to the cabin. Still in pain and shocked at what I’d just done, I hobbled to the back of the cabin and exited out the backdoor.
As quick as I could, I moved into the draw below the building and scrambled along the winding path it had made over years of run-off from the mines above. When I awoke, I was only feet from my truck, and the snow had melted away like I’d seen it do so many times before.
I rolled over onto my back and looked at the dark cloudless night sky, then chuckled at the thought, “Wait five minutes, and it’ll change.”
Stiffly, I pulled myself to my feet. My right ankle was oddly-twisted, my left chest crunched with every breath I took, and I could feel the sharp stabbing pain from the open head wound where my scalp was sliced open.
It took me all night to make it up the hill. I stumbled into the first saloons I found still open.
“They’ve been out looking all over the place for you,” came a concerned voice. “Where the hell have you been?”
“I…I…” was all I said before I collapsed.
The hospital bed was comfortable compared to the pallet I had been on a day or so before. Next to my bed sat the county sheriff.
“Hey,” he said. “Lazurus arises.”
I laughed only to find how bad my chest hurt and then began coughing as the muscles around my ribs spasmed.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said.
As soon as I stopped coughing and could talk again, I announced, “I shot two people.”
“That’s what you kept saying,” the Sheriff said. “But, we can’t find anyone. Not even this cabin you kept rambling on about.”
“What about Patty, Carol, Billy, and Jack?” I asked. “What about them?”
“No record of anyone by those names or the descriptions you gave us,” he answered.
We went back and forth over my story, what I remembered, the names of those involved, and the handgun I had on me when I walked into the saloon.
“What about that?” I asked as I sat in the Sheriff’s office, nearly healed from my ordeal.
“So you fired an old gun you found,” he said. “I’m surprised you didn’t kill yourself with that rusty old piece. But you didn’t shoot or kill anyone. I promise you.”
“Then what happened?” I asked. “Why do I remember doing it?”
“I ain’t no doctor or anything, but I think that bash on your head caused you to hallucinate,” he replied. “I can’t think of any other explanation.”
It has been a few months since I crashed into the ditch along Six-Mile Canyon Road. I’ve returned to that spot several times, looking for fragments of memory, a scrap of the cabin I visited.
Then this evening, as I was walking north towards my favorite watering hole, I happened to run into a woman some 20-years my senior. She looked at me without any expression on her face, then a smile spread across her face, revealing a gap between her front teeth that you could drive a semi through.
“Why darling,” she said, “You look like you jus’ seen a ghost. You gonna be okay?”