There were only two ways to the old town site of Glasgow. The most common was a rutted four-wheel drive road, which tested the mettle of drivers and the axles of their vehicles. From the eastern end was a small trail that eventually led up to the western spur of the Death’s Head. Surrounding the remains of the town were several abandoned mines.
Although it wasn’t a grouping of Anasazi ruins, Sydney decided she wanted to check it out. It was a warm day in mid-June, and the snow drifts that had choked the four-wheel drive road had finally melted into great puddles of chocolate colored water. The road itself was muddy, giving her jeep a temporary paint job of brown splashes. She took this circumstance with a grain of amusement, remembering her grandfather’s lesson about such vehicles; they were not meant to spit-shiny clean. Anyone who kept one that way certainly didn’t deserve it.
She reached Glasgow before eleven in the morning. The sky above was a brilliant blue with only the slightest hint of puffy clouds. There was no threat of rain. Tying her long curly brown hair into a pony tail and grabbing her pack, she got out to explore.
The few old buildings still standing were certainly interesting, but she knew they had been picked over long ago. There were a few discarded beer cans and carved names in rickety walls. She made her way up one of the slopes toward a head frame she had seen on the road as she pulled into town proper.
It stood lone and imposing on the top of an outcropping. The tailings around it were grayish, a sign it had once been a silver mine. Sydney wondered if the any of the old-timers or the county archivist knew the name of it. As she got closer, she noticed there was an open shaft going straight down. Most of the time, she’d heard, the old mines were either gated, collapsed, or backfilled after a point, but the agencies that oversaw this process only had so much money and there were that many more holes. It was perhaps impossible to cover them all.
She came to the edge of the shaft and looked into the yawning and expectant dark. Grabbing a rock and throwing it, she listened carefully for the sound of impact. Counting well past twenty, she heard nothing, which she found exciting and a little scary. It was enough to get her to want to step closer.
Her foot slipped on some loose tailings, and she felt herself pitching forward. The gaping maw of the open shaft suddenly seemed that much wider, drawing her in. She wanted to scream, but even as she opened her mouth to do so, her breath caught in her throat. In just a heartbeat, she would be over edge, tumbling into the darkness.
Something stopped her. Strong arms encircled her waist. Now, she yelped; a combination of surprise and relief as she dangled on the edge of the shaft.
“It’s all right. You’re okay,” A voice whispered in her ear. It took her a few seconds to realize it was Lankin. “I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.”
“Where the hell did you come from?!?” Sydney exclaimed, her eyes were still riveted to the expectant darkness.
“This is hardly the time for such questions,” Lankin hissed. “I need you to start stepping back, unless you’d rather want fall into the Kirkpatrick here.”
“No thank you. Really.”
“Okay then, step back,” Lankin ordered. “One…now two. Good. Three. We’re almost there. You’re doing good. Four and five.”
He then let her go. Despite the circumstance, Sydney found herself somewhat disappointed by that. His embrace had been so strong, so safe. There was no doubt in her mind that he wasn’t going to let her fall. As she turned to thank him she was greeted with a vicious scowl.
“That was foolish, Just Sydney,” he chided. “Walking up on an open shaft like that? Men are usually that kind of stupid. And what exactly were you thinking doing something like this all alone?”
“This coming from someone who disappears into the woods by himself for weeks at a stretch?” She fired back, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment and resentment. “Fuck you, Lazarus Lankin! I’ll have you know I’ve gone out plenty of times on my own before.”
“You’re no longer in New Mexico,” he said firmly, folding his arms across his chest. “Different environment, different dangers."
“I’m not one of those inexperienced daytrippers you rescue from the side of a mountain!” She snapped. “Give me a little bit of credit.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Lankin said. A slight smile played across his lips as he cocked his head to the side. “By the way, has anyone told you you’re a kind of cute when you get defensive?”
“Keep up this self-righteous scolding, and you’ll see me get really fucking adorable,” Sydney grumbled.
“Fair enough, Just Sydney,” Lankin said as he started to turn away. “But do be careful. I might not be around to save you from the next mine shaft.”
“I’d like to believe you would be,” she said, and immediately scolded herself for her choice of words. He spun around to regard her with a mixture of curiosity, amusement, and annoyance.
“Contrary to what Grizz and some of the old-timers around the county might say, I am not a superhero,” he growled. “It was luck I was here and saw you. It was luck I grabbed you in time.”
“That’s all you believe in?” Sydney inquired. “Luck?”
“I believe in the mountains,” Lankin replied. “I believe in the power of the summer thunderstorms and the fury of the winter blizzards. I believe in the stark tundra and the gentle streams.” In a flash, he closed the distance between them, leaning in close. “The Backcountry is my god and my devil, and it does not play favorites.”
Sydney found herself speechless. The look in Lankin’s gray eyes was that of predatory intensity. This was not the man she met at Magpie Jack’s and shot pool with a month ago. Here was the feral creature that only looked sort of human of whom she had heard of in the stories. She was frightened and fascinated and excited, because she felt like she held this creature’s attention.
“Since you don’t think I should be out here by myself, do you want to stay with me?” She asked finally. Her voice sounded very small, and part of her wondered if he would start laughing at her.
His head cocked to the side and his gaze shifted to that of being inquisitive. He folded his arms across his chest once more as he considered her offer. She was right; she wasn’t inexperienced at being out in the wilderness, even if it was the Colorado High Country and not New Mexico.
“I was trekking down from the Death’s Head,” he said finally. “It’s still two hours on foot back to Marrakech. Although it’s good exercise, I suppose a ride back down wouldn’t be so bad.”
“You can buy me a beer instead of gas money when we get back,” Sydney quipped with as much confidence as she could muster, which got him to chuckle.
“And I was worried I’d have to buy dinner,” he said off-handedly. “Beer is far less awkward.”