Philomena Bucket wrapped her woolen shawl tightly around her shoulders; despite the chilly air she smiled quietly to herself. She had lived on Hopeless for almost a year and – somewhat uniquely – had fallen in love with the island. Certainly, compared to most places it was dangerous, inhospitable and lacking in the most basic of amenities. On the other hand, it was somewhere where she, an albino, attracted no second glances, no derision. Here she had a home, work, friends and the occasional company of a small, fun-loving dog. Admittedly the dog had been dead for some years and these days was no more than a skeleton but Drury had become as good a companion as anyone could wish to have. For Philomena, living on Hopeless was many times better than the life she had previously known.
One of Philomena’s greatest pleasures was to walk, as she was today, in the Gydynap hills. With their sudden fogs and air of mystery the Gydynaps reminded her of the Nargles Mountains, an area she knew well, a dozen or so miles west of the city of Cork, in her native Ireland. Somehow, she felt safer in the Gydynaps than anywhere else on the island. Whenever Philomena chose to go for a walk, Drury would invariably appear, as if by magic and rattle joyously along beside her, sniffing the air and making a great show of marking his territory (but – for obvious reasons – failing).
The inhabitants of Hopeless are not renowned for their love of walking. A healthy respect for the various dangers, mixed with no small measure of apathy, ensures that few wish to venture an inch further than necessary from their own front door. In view of this, it was a rare day, indeed, that Philomena met anyone else walking the hills. The day of this tale, however, was rare beyond her wildest imaginings.
Philomena was by no means timid but her heart missed a beat when Drury suddenly stopped in mid-gambol and growled. Had he been in receipt of ears to push back and hackles to rise he could not have expressed his guarding instincts any more clearly. Someone, or more likely something, was around; Drury was giving every sign that all was not right and Philomena was uneasy.
For what seemed an age the skeletal dog stayed stock-still, growling ferociously at, what appeared to be, nothing in particular. All around them the mist began to thicken and swirl. Philomena blinked and rubbed her eyes. Her long-sight had never been particularly good but this poor visibility seemed to be playing tricks with her vision. As the mist thinned a little, she could just make out a figure emerging through a narrow cleft in the rocks that Philomena could have sworn had not been there a moment earlier. Drury dropped down on to where his belly would have been and whimpered quietly.
“Howdy ma’am,” the stranger hailed her with a cheery wave.
He was a lanky, ginger-bearded individual, dressed in worn buckskins and a hat with an excessively floppy brim.
“Good afternoon to you sir,” replied Philomena primly.
” I sure didn’t figure on findin’ no ladies up here in the mountains,” drawled the stranger. “You must be a long way from home.”
“A mile or so, sir,” conceded Philomena, softening a little as Drury became visibly more relaxed. The bony dog was always an infallible judge of character and their new companion seemed to meet his approval.
“By the by, I ain’t nobody’s idea of a sir. I’m just plain old Hank.”
The man who called himself Hank squatted down on the ground and opened his knapsack, from which he produced a leather tobacco pouch and a stubby pipe.
“Share a pipe, ma’am?”
Philomena smiled and shook her head.
Hank eyed her, unsure of what to say next. Philomena’s presence was confusing him. He drew on his pipe and said, warily,
“Guess you’re looking for the Dutchman’s Gold Mine, same as me.”
It was Philomena’s turn to be confused.
“No… I’m just out for a walk with Drury, here.”
At the mention of his name Drury clambered to his feet with a series of osseous rattles. Hank involuntarily screamed as he witnessed a pile of bleached bones become suddenly animated.
“Jumpin’ Jehosohat,” he exclaimed. “What in tarnation is THAT?”
“That,” Philomena replied coldly, “is my good and faithful friend Drury – and I would be obliged if you referred to him with a little more respect in future.”
As if to show his utter disdain for Hank, Drury immediately flopped down and sank into a deep and snore-filled slumber.
Hank’s face dropped.
“Then what them Apaches say is true,” he wailed. “There really is a gateway to Hell in the Superstition Mountains.”
“Hell?” said Philomena in surprise. “You’re not in Hell, you’re in Hopeless, Maine.”
“Maine???” Hank’s face whitened noticeably beneath his tan. “Jumpin’ Jehosophat, that’s more than two thousand miles from Arizona.”
Philomena wondered to herself who Jehosophat might be and why he was so addicted to jumping.
“Believe me,” she ventured, “Hopeless is strange – but surely preferable to Hell. Nothing much surprises me about this place any more.”
Hank contemplated what she had said. He had had some strange adventures in his time but this was, by far, the strangest. Stoically, he finished his smoke and lay the pipe on the ground by his side. It did not take a great deal of persuasion on Philomena’s part for Hank to tell her his story.
“There’s a legend that this foreign guy discovered a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. They call it the Dutchman’s gold mine. Folks have been searchin’ for it for years and some of ’em seem to have disappeared into thin air. I rolled up there a day or two ago and thought I’d try my hand at gettin’ rich. Instead I end up in… where did you say?
“Hopeless,” said Philomena, helpfully. “But I don’t think that the others have come here. I’m sure someone would have mentioned it. Maybe you can go back the way you came.”
“Maybe, but I… jumpin’ Jehosophat, what in tarnation is that?”
While they were talking, a spoonwalker had sidled up beside them and picked up the pipe, studying it with curiosity.
“Dagnabbit! What is that thing?”
The sudden commotion had woken Drury. He instinctively leapt for the spoonwalker. who fled the scene with surprising speed and agility, racing along on its cutlery stilts and still clutching Hank’s pipe. It made a beeline for the cleft in the wall, with Drury in hot pursuit.
Philomena watched in horror as her beloved companion hurled himself at the fleeing spoonwalker, just as it disappeared into the opening.
With a crack that echoed around the hills, the cleft snapped shut. Half a second later Drury crashed into the rock face with a force that would have killed an ordinary dog. Happily for Drury, that particular ship had sailed long ago. Instead, he picked himself up from the stony ground, gave a shake and staggered unsteadily over to where Philomena and Hank were sitting.
“As I was saying,” said Philomena. “This is a strange place – and it looks as though you’re stuck with it.”
She took Hank gently by the arm and walked the bewildered newcomer down the hill. Drury, fully recovered by now, ran on in front, his bony tail wagging happily.
“And you’re sure this ain’t Hell?” asked Hank, casting a wary eye at the pale woman and her dead dog.
“Not for me,” said Philomena. “Not for me.”
Author’s note: In the mid nineteenth century, Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant claimed to have discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. He revealed the location of the mine on his death-bed to a boarding-house keeper, Julia Thomas, who, reportedly, later made a living by selling treasure maps for $7 each. Despite this, the mine was never discovered. This is just one of the several legends surrounding the ‘Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine’ (the words ‘Dutch’ and ‘Deutsch’ being commonly confused in the U.S. at that time).
What is not a legend is that many of those who have searched for the mine have disappeared without a trace.
Interestingly, the Apache Indians of the region have long believed that deep in the Superstition Mountains there exists a portal which gives access to the lower world, their version of hell.
By Martin Pearson-art by Tom and Nimue Brown