by R.A. Swart
Paperback: 314 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 1, 2012)
Having enough of a life investing money and brokering deals, John Smith retires to a quiet suburb in which he hopes nothing particularly interesting ever happens and where he can be left at peace with his philosophical musings. However, when the movers vacate the house across the cul de sac from his own, leaving behind the requisite odds, ends, and family, John finds his retirement and solitude upset by Victor and Tristan, the bookish son and fanciful daughter of the staid Mr. and Mrs. Ratling. From his first encounter with the pair and their strange views, John realizes that something unusual has come into his life.
Victor and Tristan follows the pragmatic John Smith through his reality-expanding journey from the mundane into the fantastic. Travelling from the hills near his home to the plains of a distant world with Tristan, Victor, the frank Mrs. Grummings, the irreverent Iridan, the enigmatic Cassandra, and the alchemical android Janus, John comes to terms with the existence of magic, alchemy, alternate realities, and even the possibility of eternal life. However, the strange, once encountered, can never be shut neatly away: all who embrace the improbable are forever changed. Can John, Victor, and most importantly, Tristan retain their own ideals and identities when encountering people and events who defy the simple monikers of “good” and “evil”?
“Good morning,” he said without looking up. “Want breakfast?”
I felt rather abashed at interrupting a man’s meal unexpectedly, but I could see that my two companions had no such compunctions.
“We wouldn’t want to inconvenience you friend,” I offered, hoping to head off my young companions’ impending faux pas.
“No inconvenience; I don’t get much company, most days I don’t want it or need it. But today I’m in a talking sort of way, so if you’ll join me, you’ll be doing me a kindness.” His voice was fluid and easy, a river rolling lazily through trees and between banks that had seen many days of water easing by.
As we approached, the form turned towards us. Two amber eyes regarded us languidly; those inlets of sight and outlets of soul were set within a mocha face, smooth and young with a high forehead and strong chin. He nodded his acceptance of our company as we walked across the clearing. As the figure rose from his meal, his body caught the morning sunlight streaming through the poplar and oak about us; the light danced and glittered of his arms and face. The figure’s hands twinkled in the sunlight, as if they held all the night’s constellations in their grasp. I wondered at the trick of light or spell that created such a vision. When he moved, the glitter moved with him, a golden halo surrounded the man, adding to the surreal scene into which we had stumbled. When I had drawn closer, the origin of that glow revealed itself to be a fine layer of gold dust upon his body. I knew then this man to be a gold miner, a profession that any rational person would have thought long out of the hands of solitary people.
“Name’s Thursday. Don’t mind the goat, he don’t hurt anything.” I had failed to notice the small goat grazing nearby. Tristan immediately ran to play with the vivacious creature upon being made aware of its presence.
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” I responded. “My name is John, this is Victor, and the young lady disturbing your goat is Tristan.” He looked up at me when I mentioned Tristan.
“Tristan? I always thought that was a man’s name.” He laughed good naturedly, reassuring us that though unusual he found it not at all inappropriate.
“I had always known it to be, but it is her name nonetheless.”
“Good name if you ask me. How do you folks like your eggs?” His warmth and manner set us at ease, dispelling the strangeness of the meeting.
“Scrambled till they bounce,” replied Tristan before returning to her newfound friend.
“Over easy, if it’s not too much trouble,” said Victor.
“No trouble. I like mine that way.” He smiled at Victor, the signal of a kindred spirit.
I did not wish to make any demands on a person who was not expecting us, so I simply offered to take whatever is was easiest.
As Thursday cooked, he alternately whistled and talked to us in his baritone.
“I don’t normally see anybody come up here. I try to stay in places where others don’t go. World’s a damn nuisance, as my mother would say. So I choose not to bother with it most days.”
Tristan and the goat had calmed themselves and were now content merely to stand with each other. Having the time to look about her, Tristan’s curiosity began to take her about the camp, inciting her to inspect tools and wonder at Thursday’s odd implements.
“I’m a gold miner, as I’m sure you have guessed. Been in these hills pulling out gold for a while now.” He spoke as if finding a miner in these hills was entirely expected, as if he was no more than a postal worker or street sweeper going about his appointed business.
“If you’ll forgive me, I didn’t think there were any places for a lone gold miner to mine.” I considered his comfortable, if rustic, camp as I spoke.
“There are a few of us left.” He turned to where Tristan was reaching out towards one of his pickaxes. “Careful with that axe, Sugar. It’ll bite you just as easily as it bites the earth.” She quickly withdrew her hand.
“What keeps you doing this?” Victor seemed fascinated by the man’s anachronistic profession.
“A body has to get by somehow in this world, and we all live by taking something from others. There are two kinds of takers: the kind that take from people and the kind that take from the land: bankers take money from people; farmers take food from the land. When I was younger, I got to thinking about which I wanted to do: take from people or take from the land. Neither seemed pleasing, but I thought it better to live off the land,” he placed a couple of finished eggs underneath a cloth next to the ready bacon to keep warm while he worked on Tristan’s scrambled. His talk was scented by this morning meal. “I was never a good farmer: couldn’t get a thing to grow, so I took to mining, coal at first, back in Virginia. I was good at mining: a pick just felt right in my hand. But, I saw what years of mining did to a miner, listened to the old timers and their hacking speech. Didn’t want any part of that, so I headed west, eventually I ended up here, in these hills, prospecting for gold.”
Victor took his plate of eggs and bacon gratefully and asked, “How? Why? The gold rush was over years ago.”
Thursday laughed, a solid laugh, the hard biting sound of a pickaxe against granite. “Sure the rush was over. I knew that, we all know that. But the end of the rush didn’t mean it was the end of the gold. Just meant the gold took a little more work to find, a little more patience to uncover. Only a fool goes looking for something when twenty-thousand others are looking for it at the same time. Odds are against you ever finding it. But if you are the only one looking, you are bound to find what you are looking for; it’s all just a matter of time.” To illustrate his point, he stood from his fire, moving over to a nearby large canvas bag he had. From within its fold he grabbed something and brought it to us. What he set before us on the ground, I still have difficulty believing: a gold nugget the size of my fist. That man was rich, rich beyond what most of us would ever know, for I could see the bag held more than just this single bit of ore he had placed before us.
“I’m the only one looking around here, so I’ve found what I’ve searched for.” He finished, allowing us to eat our meals and consider his words. When the meal was done, Tristan and Victor were sent off with the dishes to a nearby stream to clean up. While they were gone, Thursday talked to me, or more precisely talked at me. He seemed enthralled, entranced by something beyond my sight. He simply stared off and spoke.
“People are always taking: from each other, the land, the sky, from anything worth taking from. I’ve seen lots of taking in my time, too much taking. I take from these mountains, but I can’t give nothing back to them. Don’t matter really: they don’t want anything I have. Or, maybe they do. Maybe they just want someone to crawl around them, pick at them, feel them, know them, walk about them all day and see the sun rise on them and set on them. Watch the rains wash them slowly away, know them before there’s nothing left of them. Every valley is made of long dead mountains, peaks washed away in the storms. I look out sometimes at that valley you live in down there; I can see those dead mountains you live on. Maybe they’re buried under houses, but I can still see them, hear them, know that they rose above us and the land long before there was anybody around to see them. Things change; the ground moves, settles, rises up; people move, settle, rise up. All things happen in time.” His goat wandered over and licked his hand, interrupting his thoughts. Thursday raised himself up, looked about as if the seeing of things was new to him. He looked at me, considered me.
“Keep an eye on that little girl; there’s something about her that I don’t see much.”
“What do you see in her?” I never received my answer, for Victor and Tristan returned before I received my reply.
“Well, my two kitchen helpers did a fine job. Thank you both. Now, if you three will excuse me, it’s time for me to go to work. I’ve got a fresh vein that I’m working on, and I’d like to get a little more out today.” Though dismissed, I never felt he was dismissing us.
“Thank you for breakfast,” Tristan said while patting the goat.
“Of course, anytime.” In gratitude, Tristan quickly hugged Thursday, who only returned the embrace after recovering from his momentary shock. I imagine a man so alone would not expect spontaneous affection.
“Goodbye, Thursday,” she said. “I’ll miss you and your goat.” We gathered ourselves up, said our last goodbyes, and turned away from our friend. The path home was one of silent contemplation, a time to consider the strange events of the day.
In the years since, I have thought much about Thursday, his words, and his warning. It was little surprise to me that we never saw him again, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. A few days later, the three of us returned to the clearing: the miner had left not a trace of himself anywhere, not so much as a burn mark from his fire. I know that Tristan and Victor scoured those hills from one end to the other, but they never found even a print of the prospector. However, Tristan worried over the man; she said she noticed he had little in the way of warmth, so that Christmas, she left a blanket for him in the clearing. A couple of days later it was gone; in its place was a thimble-sized nugget made into a necklace. Once Tristan put it on, I never knew her to be without Thursday’s gift.