Excerpt from The Desert Gods
Between 1955 and 1960 there were over a thousand uranium claims filed in the four corners region. There were several songs with
uranium in the title, like Uranium Rock, and a movie, Uranium Fever. There were magazine articles, television programs, stories, tales,
rumors and gossip about America’s uranium rush.
West of Cortez, Colorado, AJ and Vera thought they had a good prospect until they rented a pneumatic drill and cored a grid. The core
samples didn’t turn up enough ore to make it worthwhile to dig. Most of their claims didn’t make it past the second assay.
Sometimes in the tent at night, AJ would look at Vera lying on top of a jumble of sleeping bags, glistening in the moonlight, hot,
radioactive, glowing in the dark, radiating beauty, emitting sexual energy in ebbs and flows that surged around her -- and he would feel
After almost a year of using government supplied anomaly maps without much success, AJ and Vera started going farther and farther
afield into unexplored territory hoping to make an original find.
One night they parked the Jeep and hiked up into some barren rock strewn mountains with a mineralight. They were looking for
radioactive minerals that would glow in the dark under the black light. It was forty degrees cooler than it had been in the middle of the
day, and a full moon lit this other-worldly, bone dry, rock garden as coyotes howled and yipped in the background.
When they reached the ridge, Vera sat on a rock, took her backpack off, drank from a canteen, and watched AJ walk around sweeping
the light over boulders.
“AJ, you know next week will be our first anniversary. This two week honeymoon spent prospecting on the Plateau has turned into a
year and we don’t have anything to show for it. Don’t get me wrong, I love it out here as much as you do, but we’re about broke, and
“Yeah, I know. We’re like Tantalus."
“Yeah, in Greek mythology Tantalus was confined in a well with water up to his neck, but when he tried to drink, the water drained away.
Fruit hung overhead but when he reached for it, it receded out of reach. I always feel like we’re close, on the brink, but…”
She thought about that for a few seconds before saying, “You know we can always do this on weekends like my Dad. But I think we
should start thinking about going back to Vegas or Henderson, getting jobs, maybe paying down on a house and…”
AJ had continued to walk around sweeping the light while they talked - suddenly one of the boulders lit up with a yellowish-green
phosphorescence. Vera jumped up and ran to AJ as he swung the light frantically from boulder to boulder.
His eyes blazed, “Get the counter, get the counter.”
She ran to her backpack, jerked the Geiger Counter out, turned it on, and started toward AJ. The closer she got to the glowing
boulders the faster the counter clicked. The faster the counter clicked the faster their hearts beat. When she reached AJ, the clicks
became indecipherable, like static.
The coyotes got quiet when AJ and Vera started whooping and hollering. They hugged each other and danced around with tears of joy
while talking overly loud.
“This is huge, there’s no end to it, look.” He ran along a bluff holding the light over his head illuminating a waving ghostly
“We’re gonna be rich baby, rich.”
“Where’s the claim forms?”
“In the truck let’s go get one.”
They ran down to the truck talking and laughing all the way, filled out a claim form, rolled it up and slid it into an empty RC Cola bottle,
then started back up. At the site they stacked rocks about three feet high, wedged the RC bottle into the top, then piled more rocks
around the bottle.
Back in the truck, uranium fever broke and left them on a uranium high. AJ drove and Vera sat close beside him with one foot under her
and her arm around his neck as they made plans for the future. Suddenly there was a clunk, then a loud scraping noise under the
truck, the engine revved up for a second, then the truck rolled to a stop. AJ turned the engine off and they got out, looked under the
truck, and saw one end of the drive shaft lying on the ground.
Later, they sat in the Jeep with the dome light on and studied a map. AJ pointed, “We’re here and the nearest water is here, the Green
River. We can follow the river to the town of Green River. It’s about fifty miles to the river, and we have a little more than a gallon of
Vera tried to sound calm, “We can walk at night when it’s cooler, and if we average fifteen miles a night…”
AJ interrupted, “Fifteen miles at night over this terrain – I doubt it.”
Excerpt from Spitfire Canyon
Max Chill arrives in Spitfire at sunset, and the first thing he sees in the distance, back lit by the setting sun, is a windmill the Atlantic and
Pacific Railroad built. It is an Eclipse windmill atop a thirty-foot wooden tower with a water tank full of water beneath it. The one narrow
rocky lane, Hell Street, is littered with green lumber buildings without floors, tent buildings with floors, adobe hovels, shacks, shanties,
canvas tarps for roofs stretched between buildings, stick corrals, and horses. Horses that are hitched, or tethered, or in make shift
corrals, and a few unclaimed and wandering loose. Max ambles down the street to where it ends at the edge of the canyon. Small
campfires on both walls of the canyon mark where men have dug little caves for shelter. At the bottom of the canyon is a trickle of a
stream, and some greenery.
The street, the desert around it, and the canyon are lit by torches, lanterns, campfires, candles, the moon and stars. It is beautiful in an
awful kind of way; beauty inspired by devils, and full of danger.
Known outlaws and wanted men go there because there is no law enforcement. The nearest law is thirty miles away in Flagstaff, and
Spitfire Canyon scares the hell out of Flagstaff. There is horse-trading, and horse racing almost every day. The races take place on a
level stretch at the canyon rim, south around a prominent boulder, and back. Max is standing at the start and finish line with a large
group of men who are looking over a couple of horses and making bets when he notices a character known as Atlas. Atlas is about
forty years old, barrel-chested, rawboned, with wide wrists, red hair, and a deep booming voice. It is rumored he is wanted in three
states for hanging offenses, and he is the most notorious man in Spitfire at that time. Most men cut him a wide path.
He is checking the teeth of a sleek Paint when Max says, “You think this horse can win?”
Atlas looks down at Max as if he is a bug, “That’s right boy, and I’ll bet you ten dollars he wins.”
Max smiles, “That's a bet."
The owner of the other horse, a Dun, is covering a lot of bets.
When the Paint streaks across the finish line fifty yards ahead of the Dun, you can hear the owner of the Dun cussing as he spurs and
whips his mount. Everyone is laughing at him when he finally crosses the finish line. He reins back hard, jumps off red-faced and
furious, and shoots the Dun in the head. The Dun falls dead, and the laughter increases.
Atlas swaggers up to Max, and laughs, “You owe me ten dollars, boy.”
Max steps back and squares off, “I ain’t paying you squat, old man.”
Atlas is shocked, he swells up, and turns redder, “What do yew mean you ain’t payin me?”
Max is alert, but calm, “It’d be easier for me to kill your ass than to pay you that ten dollars.”
Atlas looks as if he was about to explode, “Try it boy.”
|Western Progeny: Short Stories