We came on the wind of the carnival. It was by coincidence, but the townsfolk didn’t know that. They believed we were carnies, and nothing we did convinced them otherwise. We weren’t born gypsies, but we did follow the free-living style that gypsies preferred, and they hated us for it.
They hated our colorful clothing, made by our own hands. They hated that our mode of transportation was part car, part shack, and that we had no issues living in the back of it until the completion of our very normal house. They hated everything about us, just because we were different, just like everywhere else we’d lived. We didn’t let that deter us, though. We had a purpose for choosing this town, and that was for the abandoned mine just beyond its border. They had no idea we were burning coal for fuel in that still. They believed it was moonshine. I think they hated us for that, too.
Perhaps we should have taught them how to do it too, and maybe that would have won us town favor, but we got along well enough. Our money still held value so the shops never turned us away, despite the whispers that blew up and down the aisles like a summer breeze. Sometimes we would catch some of them—“Why can’t they brew up their own cloth?” or “Do they ever bathe?”—and we’d give them a mysterious smile and continue on our way. They didn’t deserve to know how to make their own fuel.
The mine, like most abandoned mines, came with a legend. Everyone in town had their own version, but they all held the same facts. Forty years ago, the mine was the booming success of the small town. All the men (not working a farm or in the stores) worked in the mine. They found coal easily, and the town became the richest in their county. Then one day, the earth shook violently, caused a cave-in, and trapped more than 120 men inside. None of them survived. They sealed the mine off and wrapped yellow “Restricted” tape around the area, and the people, as they healed, began to forget.
The first time it happened, no one investigated. The second time it happened, twenty years to the date of the cave-in, no one investigated, but whispers of ghosts appearing outside the mine began circulating, adding to the legend of the mine being haunted. Some of the women who lost their husbands swore they’d had a nocturnal visitor, an angry one who swore vengeance on the town for not rescuing him. Because of this fear, our intrusion into the mine further turned the town against us.
For the record, Frankie did try to show them once.
“Don’t be afraid! There’s nothing but tunnels, coal, and a few rats down there. You could be the town you once were if only you’d mine again!” He would tell them at the corner square on Market Day.
“You don’t know what you’re messing with down there in those mines! They are cursed, and so are you! You’ll bring ruin to the town if you don’t stop!” The mayor always warned and his voice joined by countless others crammed in the small space. Rocks hurled by angry people left marks on Frankie’s exposed skin we can still see today. Frankie never tried again. Instead, we kept mining quietly, keeping our secret and turning the coal into fuel.
Every so often, we would catch someone hovering just beyond our property line watching us, as if they wanted to learn. We would exaggerate our movements, careful to move slowly enough for them to learn the process, yet fast enough that they wouldn’t be caught. We did care about the town, even if they didn’t care about us. We showed no emotion over the visitors, pretending we didn’t know they were there, even though they knew we did. Word must have spread because visitors became a daily occurrence, and every once in a while two would appear together.
One day, everyone stopped coming. We couldn’t ask without revealing we knew, so we stayed in town a little longer than usual to catch as many whispers as we could. As we ate lunch, the two women at a table across from us shared a wealth of information.
“The anniversary is coming. How can they still be working the mine?” the blonde one said. She looked younger than the other, and dressed with a bit more fashion.
“If nothing happens this year, my husband is thinking about working the mine again.” The red head said. She could pass for the younger woman’s sister. Her casual dress style matched her casual tone.
“What? How can he even think about that?” the blonde shuddered. “I don’t care if it’s only legend. I won’t let Jeffery or David step foot within 50 feet of the mine! Hell, I don’t even let them join in any football games played on the field beyond the mine. It’s bad luck!”
The red head rolled her eyes. “It’s exactly that attitude that has held this town back the last 40 years. When was the last time any of those boys got sick? Let them play.” She lowered her voice and leaned into the table, as if suddenly noticing we were within earshot. “John has been by the gypsies’ place. He’s watched them turn the coal into fuel. He’s even building his own still. There’s wealth in that mine, Suzanne, and we want a part of it.”
Silence followed the red head’s words as they finished their meals. Suzanne raised her hand to the waitress, who brought their check, before responding. “I’ve lived here longer than you. My grandfather’s buried in that mine along with 119 others. Most of the town was affected when they died. You must keep John out of the mines or he could face the same fate. Then what would you do?” The sound of her heels clicking on the tile signaled that the conversation was over, but we weren’t quite ready to give it up. Frankie, not wanting to be the one to initiate the conversation, looked the red head in the eye, until she grew uncomfortable under his gaze and got up from the table, following her friend out the door.
At least we had answers, but still we determined to continue. What better way to break the curse than to work through the anniversary and show the town there was nothing to fear? That was exactly what we did.
The morning of the anniversary arrived in a splash of pinks and yellow surrounding the big orange sun. Fluffy clouds scattered across the fading night. We ate a quick breakfast and headed for the mine. We took the long way through the town, our desire to have as many of the townsfolk see us as possible. They opened their doors and watched from their windows as we passed. Some of them called us names, others stood in subdued silence, but none offered to join us. We didn’t mind. We had something to prove. Anyone else would just be in our way. When we finally reached the mine, we turned, but no one was there. No one had dared to follow. They were still afraid.
We entered the mine unafraid and fully confident that today would be our most productive day yet.
I gave Eric Storch this prompt: Dolphin Games.
This is also linked up to Bloggy Moms Writer’s Workshop using prompt #2: Use the first line of JoAnne Harris’ Chocolat for inspiration. You have 500 words starting with: “We came on the wind of the carnival.”
As always I welcome constructive criticism. Please feel free to share your honest thoughts on this piece in a comment.
Thanks for stopping in!