Tag Archives: local legend

A Night Among the Utes

by Matthew J. Barbour

cabin in the valley of the utesIt was supposed to have been a shortcut across the mountains. If I took the old road through the Valley of the Utes, I would meet up with the interstate around Raton. I had planned to stay the night there before continuing on to Denver, but now it was dark and I was still in the valley.

There were no lights along the road, which was littered with potholes. It wasn’t safe to keep going–not at night at least. I looked for a place to pull off, as if I expected someone else to come down the road. I hadn’t seen anyone for hours.

People must have lived in the valley at one time. Once in a while I could make out a cabin just off the road. All of them looked like set pieces out of an old western film. It didn’t look like anyone had lived in them for years.

The idea of sleeping in the car really didn’t appeal to me. I was going to have to shut the engine off. I couldn’t afford to run out of gas. This high in the mountains, it was already cold. So, I decided I would get some shut eye in one of the cabins. They all had chimneys, and I figured I could build a fire.

So the next cabin I saw, I pulled off the road, jumped out of the car and went inside. It wasn’t like I broke in. There was no lock on the door and no one was sure as heck living there still.

The cabin was a simple structure consisting of a single room. I stumbled a bit in the dark. There was a full moon outside, but between the ponderosas and the cabin walls I couldn’t see anything. I fumbled over to the hearth and lit a fire.

As the light of the fire filled the small cabin, I was surprised to find that it was still furnished. All of it looked like it had been sitting there for at least a hundred years, but back then they must have built furniture to last. I settled myself into a comfy rocker. Maybe this was an old film set, I told myself.

Sleep overtook me almost immediately, but before I faded off into the realm of dreams. I remember seeing what looked like a red stain on the floor in front of the fire place. Blood? More likely paint made to look like blood, but shell casings were scattered about too. It really was like something out of a movie. Definitely an old film set, I said to myself as I drifted off to sleep.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I awoke to the sound of distant drums. It was like the beat you would hear Indians play at a powwow.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The room was dark. I must have been asleep for some time. The fire was nothing but embers.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The drum beat appeared to be getting louder. I got up from the rocker and stuck another log in the fire. It just smoldered and filled the room with black smoke. I coughed.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I thought about it for a moment. The sound wasn’t getting louder. Rather, it was getting closer. It was probably coming from the stand of trees just outside the cabin door.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I walked outside. It was still dark. I couldn’t see anything. The moon had sunk behind the ponderosas surrounding the cabin.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The noise was so close now. I must have been within a few hundred feet of the drummer. I called out. As soon as I did, the drumming stopped. It was silent for a moment. I wasn’t sure what to say or do.

Then, I thought I heard the door of the cabin swing open behind me. Gunshots filled the night air and I could have sworn I heard a woman scream. I didn’t look back. I jumped in my car and sped away.

Matthew J. Barbour is a speculative fiction writer living with his wife and three children in Bernalillo, New Mexico. When he is not writing fiction, Mr. Barbour manages Jemez Historic Site in Jemez Springs and writes for a number of regional newspapers.

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The Legend of the Rattlesnake Doctor

by Michael Gosack

The Legend of the Rattlesnake DoctorIt is cool and quiet under the gnarled pines around the cabin. The silence is watchful, as if hateful eyes lie in wait in every shadow and behind every tree. Something like a dead fish stench hangs in the air here. Heads of rusted nails protrude from the trees, and the posts and frame of the porch. According to the reports that I have managed to uncover, this is a result of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s foul prayers.

His was the Black Work. No one knew where he’d been raised. No one knew of any sure kin, though a few lost souls came forward after his death claiming to be his bastards. Trick babies to a one, they shared his legendary hatchet face, fiery dark eyes, and straight black Indian hair.

Twenty miles east inland from the Lake Michigan coastline and the county seat, well into timber country, just outside a whistle-stop town populated largely by rough men and their loose women, there arose the not-infrequent need for incorporeal revenge. To get him to do a job, all you had to bring him was a bottle of whiskey. All ten of my sources agreed on this detail.

The single mother in the tar-paper basement shack had the most information to offer. Her mother had brought him a bottle in exchange for the death of her own stepfather, for crimes which remain shrouded in the oblivion of history. They walked together through the trees, as was apparently his custom, him sniffing the air like an animal until he found a snake nest. He broke a rod from the lower trunk of a lone old red pine and tormented the serpent until, rattling with fury, it struck out at his riding boots. A flick of his buck knife severed the reptile’s spine, and he plucked up a thing alive, in agony, and harmless.

On his table, in the single room cabin reeking of drink, the Rattlesnake Doctor slit open the snake’s belly and shoved inside of it was the name of the stepfather written nine times on a page torn from the Book of Revelation, along with some hair stolen from the cursed one’s genitals. With muttered prayers in some unknown tongue, the Rattlesnake Doctor stitched up the serpent with black thread and nailed the snake to a tree through the neck. As it rotted, the single mother’s stepfather sickened, going into a terrible fever in which he vomited and shat a black purge fluid that stank like a dead reptile. He screamed throughout the night, hideous cries about poison and ghosts, and things that dwelt in the trees, until, after seven days and seven nights, he lay wasted and dead.

An interview at the local nursing home with one Mister Seppanen, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, revealed more of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s character. Of Finnish blood, the deputy had been raised on witch stories going all the way back to the land of the midnight sun, though the community had been tamed by the doctrines of Lutheranism and had abandoned the reputation of readiness to resort to either knives or sorcery to settle dispute. Still, there remained a healthy respect for the black arts in his generation. He’d removed the Rattlesnake Doctor from the back room of an Ottawa roadhouse, the girl the Doctor had assaulted all stained with tears and blood. She refused to press charges and would only mutter medicine prayers in response to questioning.

Nothing remains of that roadhouse now. It was built on wooden foundations, and the Ottawa’s land has all been piece-mealed away by trickery and squattage. And no one ever agreed to testify against the Rattlesnake Doctor. He silenced all witnesses with a glare from his black eyes. Former Deputy Seppanen shuddered to imagine it, sixty years hence, from the safety of his wheelchair.

What crimes gave the Rattlesnake Doctor authority over death? A country and western song, which had enjoyed brief notoriety a few decades ago, mentions the Rattlesnake Doctor and his crimes. Though there was only one pressing of the album, I was able to listen to this rare piece of vinyl due to the generosity of the county seat’s own AM radio station. Entitled “the Rattlesnake Doctor’s Hand” for its main hit, it added relatively little to the information I have gathered here, save for the claim that his mother was a full-blooded Cherokee and his father was a dark Spaniard.

We pass now from direct sources to folklore, and thus the veracity of this claim can be neither confirmed nor denied. But the song explicitly discusses his powers of malice, identifying his as a “killing hand,” its potency lost if his heart ever flushed with kindness, or love, or mercy. Regrettably, the artist in question was crushed shortly thereafter while working at his regular employment on the county seat’s train yards, when a freight car became uncoupled during a switching move, causing the train to derail and roll forward, striking him dead. As yet, I have not been able to locate any members of the family to interview and must assume that they, like so many others, left the area looking for work.

One source asserts that the Rattlesnake Doctor drained his captive reptiles of blood, which he kept in small bottles hung by rope deep enough down his well so as to preserve them from decay in the cool of the earth. A drop of this cursed blood, secreted in a man’s drink, could infect their bodies with a plague of serpents. Some lay the death of the unfaithful young wife of the owner of a local sawmill, which culminated in her vomiting a clutch of freshly-hatched serpents in a black mess of blood and rot, squarely at his feet. Other alleged murders occurred by even more surreptitious means. When one of his maledictions dried into a mummiform length of bones and hide, he allegedly crumbled the remains, mixed them with shavings of bullet lead, belladonna, and dirt bought from the graves of murderers.

Such a potent killing powder, blown through the bars of the county jail, cast down an unnamed traveling gambler, held imprisoned to save him from the wrath of those half-starved men who’d caught him gaming with lead-loaded dice. He never awoke from the fever, save to scream obscenities at the chimeras he described assaulting him from every corner of his cell.

I can picture it as clearly as if I stood before it in his time, my own bottle of whiskey in my hands, a hateful name written nine times on my lips. In my sleep, I have walked the long path through the miles of cullwood from the whistle-stop town, a cluster of buildings along the railroad tracks, mud and water puddling its filthy streets. In my mind’s eye, the whole cabin hangs with nailed serpents, each one with maledictions stitched inside its rotting hide. Each jack pine slithers with the poisoned shade of a cursed soul, watching you with slitted eyes, dripping death from spectral fangs.

How did he sleep at night, with the pine needles rustling against the dry scales of hungry ghosts? The answer is clear–he drank himself into nightly torpor, to drown out the endless rattles of his victims. When he woke up and drug himself into the sunlight to wash his face in the well, did he listen for the sound of reptiles in the leaves?

Originally hailing from rural Northern Michigan, Michael Gosack lives and writes in New Orleans.

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The City

by E.S. Wynn

Tuoulmne County tunnelsI was in high school when I first heard about The City.

The earth under Tuoulmne County, California is hollow, they say. It’s full of caves and tunnels, mineshafts that cut through the darkness in long, straight lines, remnants of a time before “gold fever” and the image of the grizzled old prospector were more than just fodder for brochures designed to separate valley tourists from their vacation cash. You see parts of The City growing up, see the cave entrances and the bottomless pits choked with garbage. You see the hazy spots on satellite maps, and in fifth grade, you get the tour of the chamber that serves as an entrance to the tunnels that run under the Sonora Inn. “They only link the bank and the inn,” the teachers say, but the unlit junctions, the roped-off tunnels that seem to run for miles in other directions hint at something else, at something bigger.

Only when you’re older do you start to hear the stories. Only when you start to lose friends to the addictions of adulthood do the stories start bubbling up through cracks in the surface facade. For me, it started with my friend Ryan, with his sister, Karrie. It started with moonless midnights spent prowling rural parking lots, searching for signs or whispers of Karrie, knowing she was sinking deeper and deeper into the detritus of a heroin addiction.

And it started with a metal drainage pipe in the side of a hill, a pipe with no visible end.

For days on end, Karrie would disappear, then show up again all strung out, starving and full of stories about The City. The drainage pipe way out Grizzly Mine Road was the entrance she’d been shown by another junkie, the entrance that still leads to the caverns once sacred to the Miwuk indians, to the concrete walls that separate the caves from the bunker the Scientologists built into the side of the Tuolumne River Canyon to house their relics and doomsday supplies.

But beyond all that, beyond wet and meandering crawlways choked with trash, is a gateway to The City.

Wide, sweeping caverns with craggy, shadowy ceilings. Chambers of stone polished and blackened by years of hands, years of soot and smoke. Shacks and stalls made of discarded detritus, made of plywood and corrugated iron brought in through larger entrances, tunnels and caverns closer to the surface, closer to Sonora, to the hills outside Columbia Airport. The stench of unwashed bodies, of sewage, fresh and ancient – that is The City. A metropolis of trash sprawling through the darkness under Tuolumne County, under the little rural towns scattered amidst the rolling hills. Like a junkyard full of junkies, a graveyard of old appliances and the rusty discards of surface society, The City is a place to die, to disappear, to rot away. The City is a place where the only rules are those you set for yourself, where the crazy, the homeless, and the desperate bottom out, become one with the trash, with people prowling through the trash. Everyone I know who has walked those tunnels, braved that darkness, has seen the bones of countless bodies, the way they’re incorporated into the structures of the city, into the decorations, the dishware. Everyone I know who has walked through The City has seen the rusty blades catching flickering oil-fire light in the dark, the hungry shadows, the eyes that twitch and shift, studying, weighing the chances that hands can pin you, skin you before you can escape.

And they stretch for miles, those tunnels. They stretch, sprawl, boil over into other caverns, into other places where other things, other groups and organizations keep locked metal doors, each of them ominous, silent, never opened, always closed. There are all kinds of stories about The City, about the people, the secrets that crouch in the darkness behind deeper tunnels, darker spaces long ago locked away, but most of them are dismissed by the people who populate the surface world of Tuolumne County. To them, The City is a myth, something that doesn’t exist, something to be forgotten with the rest of the foolishness, the urban legends told during childhood.

But those who have been there, those who have walked the stony lanes of The City know that most, if not all, of the stories are real. They know that The City exists, that the tunnels we were taught go nowhere really do go somewhere.

I know. I’ve walked those tunnels. I’ve seen what hides in the darkness beneath Tuolumne County. I’ve talked to the people who live there. My hands were one of the pairs that pulled Karrie out of the trash, dragged her past the bunker full of Scientologists and back out into the light. I’ve been there, and to this day, I can’t pass a cavern, a mineshaft, or a sealed sewer entrance from the gold rush days without wondering how deep it goes.

Without wondering if it leads as deep as The City.

E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books and the chief editor of seven online fiction journals.

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