This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 24. I spent an hour on this story; this is the second draft. The prompt: “Create a new myth.”
Image from Los Angeles Times
A Minor Rumor
During the time of the Gold Rush, thousands upon thousands traveled west across the United States, traveling into the nation’s final frontier, a frontier that was little known to anyone but the natives. Of these many thousands, so few found the riches promised to them. Most chalked it up to false promises, greed of the already wealthy, conspiracies, and plain, simple bad luck.
Curiously, however, there was one bit of speculation that sprang up amongst those who delved into the earth to find their yellow fortunes. A dark, haunting rumor told around campfires and at the mouths of the mines where light could shine, even if it was but silver moonlight. As most tales that came from frontier camps, this one’s precise origin is unknown, though some trace it to one of the mining communities in Amador County, California.
The rumor was that many a miner had indeed found rich veins of precious gold, thick and vast. However, every time such a vein was discovered, the miners also found something else, something sinister that awoke from a deep slumber. According to the rumor, creatures of the devil hibernated upon these veins of gold.
How is that possible?
An excellent question. The veins are buried deep beneath the hills and mountains, after all. There’s no beast that could make it home buried under so much stone and dirt.
As told by shivering miners with eyes that stared vacantly into the distant, these devil creatures were beings without form, existing more as colorless shadow or smoke or mist. They are creatures that dine not on flesh but on the radiant precious metal itself, and when they consume too much they fall into centuries, if not millennia, long hibernation.
Then the miners came, with their shovels and picks and dynamite powered by hope and lust and greed. Many of these miners perished in the depths of the tunnels they dug. Some perished from cave-ins, some from falling into natural caverns, some from mining accidents, some from poisonous gas, and some from their colleagues. There were those, however, that simply vanished, their fellows unable to determine what happened. It is said these were the ones who awoke the formless devil creatures. While they did not consume human flesh, like any beast protecting its kill, the devils had no qualms about attacking the miners, asphyxiating them, and banishing them to Hell.
If these creatures slumber near rich gold veins, then surely other miners came across them after the creatures dealt with the original miners?
It’s possible, and that is indeed a common question many had when first hearing rumors of these creatures. The common response was that after such a long period of hibernation, the creatures were ravished and quickly gorged themselves on the gold veins the miners had uncovered. Afterwards, they ghosted into the earth, going deeper and deeper, searching out more gold to consume until eventually the slumber took them again.
Is any of this true? Who’s to say, though many of us in modern times would cast these rumors of a devil creature aside with nary a thought, chalking it up to superstitious 49ers desperate to find justification for their unlucky circumstances.
However, what we now think of this is irrelevant. What matters is many a miner back then believed it and decided that perhaps delving into the depths of the earth, risking the possibility of waking ancient creatures best left asleep, was not worth all the gold in the west. If they hadn’t, who knows what other horrifying creatures might have been awoke by human greed.