Silent world …
Erin was born without a voice. Since she can remember there was no speech from her, but thoughts were always active. She had the uncanny ability to hear people’s thoughts and she understood the words, but loved her silent world. She lost both parents when they were shot during a bank robbery. Her father was one of the bank clerks and her mother was in the bank at the time. Two years later, at the age of sixteen, she traveled west with some friends in a wagon train.
The wagon train stopped in a large town in western Nevada. It was well populated and active. Miners from a camp not far away were often in town to be with family and replenish their supplies before returning to work a week at a time. One of the lead men of the mining camp, Garth Langley, posted a notice that they were in desperate need of two cooks. One of the single women from the wagon train, a prostitute named Zelda, saw an opportunity to earn a lot of money at the camp. She told Garth she wanted the job and was hired.
Garth motioned to Erin and asked if she was interested. Zelda spoke up, “She can’t speak, but can hear and is an excellent cook.” Garth admired Erin. She was alert and very attractive. Zelda showed Erin the notice and asked “Do you want the job, honey?” Erin nodded yes, for it was her opportunity to save enough money to travel on to California near the ocean. The hot, dry desert was not her type of climate. They both settled in the back of Garth’s buckboard wagon with their belongings.
It did not take Garth long to take possession of Erin for his own use. She had never been with a man and learned quickly what hate was. He treated her roughly and watched her closely when she was on duty and not locked in his cabin. In private he constantly threatened to kill her like he did a previous cook when she kept trying to escape. “You understand me, girl?” He would shake her roughly then beat her. Erin understood alright and tried not to anger him in any way. But, when she had endured all she could, she did escape one night when he was passed out from too much whiskey. She felt death would be better than living as his slave.
Erin knew he was still in the cabin and had no idea yet that she was gone. She was at least three miles away now and stopped to listen for his thoughts. She sat down and ate a little of the dried meat and berries she had tied in one corner of her shawl. She relaxed a little and as she ate gained some renewed energy. Then his thoughts began coming in and she listened closely. He just found out she was gone and was cussing.
Quickly Erin re-wrapped what food she had left and got up to continue fleeing. Something was wrong. She did not feel right with the direction she had chosen. She had felt it would be quicker and easier to get to the town for help, which should be about another eight miles away. But, Garth would be saddled up soon and ready to hunt her down.
More thoughts were coming in and she stopped to listen. No, it was not Garth! She was hearing new thoughts, someone she did not know and tried to shut it out. “Do not shut me out. Listen to me for your own good.” Erin was startled and started walking again.
“You are going the wrong way. He will find you before you get to that town. Go east, up the mountain!” The message was stronger now and sounded urgent. The pitch was different, much different than Garth’s. She turned and looked up at the mountains to her right. “Good Lord! I cannot climb that mountain. It is too steep.” His voice came in again. “Yes, you can. It will be hard but will not take you long to be up high enough to where he will not see you. He will continue on to that town you were heading to. Go!”
Now she was really frightened. She knew once Garth was on horseback he would catch up before she reached the town. Then her thoughts turned to the stranger. How could this man connect with her thoughts? Well ! the same way I connect to Garth. This stranger is like me. “Yes, I am,” he said. “Now go!” She headed towards the mountain. As she hurried he continued to direct her. “You will see some large boulders. Get up behind them quickly. You will find a cave that is hidden from the view below. Go into the cave and follow the tunnel.” She felt there was really nothing to lose by doing as he said.
Erin was glad she was dressed in men’s clothes and boots. She stole them from the wash house and packed her shoes and two dresses in a satchel and left camp. Wise choice, for she was able to travel faster and now climb the mountain much easier than if she had on her dress and lady shoes. Before long she was up behind the boulders and looked for the cave. She rested her hands on hips and wondered why she was following directions from someone she did not know. “Because you want to live,” he said. He was right. After Garth was through with her he would kill her, not just for running away, but for stealing the money she rightfully earned and never gave her.
She walked back and forth looking for the cave and finally found it behind a very large boulder up close to where the incline was getting steeper. The opening was much smaller than she thought it would be. Thinking it was not the cave, she started to turn away. “That is it,” he said.
She had to get on her hands and knees to crawl in. After crawling for a few minutes she saw the little tunnel was a dead end. She thought it was a trap. “Keep going and turn left behind that first large rock. It hides the rest of the tunnel.” Great, how long do I have to crawl. My knees and hands are hurting bad. “Just go through.” She did what he told her and got through the opening, but it was very dark. He told her to light the lantern to her right. She carefully felt around and found the lantern and matches. With light she saw it was a real cave and quite large, but was so sore she could barely get up.
Erin looked around at what was a huge cave. There was evidence of recent as well as very old use. There were several openings. She felt the urgency to get to what she hoped was safety from Garth. He was a good tracker who often hunted for game and may even study the mountain for hiding places.
She was trying to decide which way to go. “The one on the far left,” her guide answered. She took a few bites of her dried meat and headed left. It was a short tunnel that led to another large room. From then on it was easy to find her way, for each room had only one exit. The fourth room had a bridge across a pit. She hated bridges. Picking up a large rock, she tossed it into the pit and waited to hear it hit bottom. There was no sound at all and fear rose in her, she had no choice but to cross. The pit opening stretched out wide on both sides, but the bridge was not too long across. It looked sturdy so she started out slowly, holding on to a railing.
Erin was halfway across when there was a low growl. She had been watching her feet, taking careful steps. Now she looked up to the other side and saw a large mountain lion. Her guide’s thoughts came to her, “Peace Brother Lion.” The lion turned and disappeared into a small tunnel on the side. “He will not harm you. He knows you are welcome. There are many far below you who were not welcome. Your enemy will be with them in a few days time.”
By now Erin trusted her guide. With courage she got to the other side and followed a well-worn path through another tunnel. There was faint light coming from around a bend. As she followed the light it became brighter and soon she stepped out into the sunny light of day.
When her eyes adjusted to the light she saw an old Indian man sitting on a large rock, smoking a long pipe. He lowered the pipe and nodded to her. He slid down off the rock and approached. “Well done, Traveler. I am Lucas. Welcome to our world. You are?” She returned his thoughts. “Erin. What is this place?” She gazed down the hill to a large village with some small cabins and several odd huts made of branches and twigs. A large beautiful lake of blue water filled most the valley. A young woman came up the hill.
“We call our home Silent World, for many here cannot speak or choose not to use their voices. All of us communicate with thoughts. You may stay as long as you like. This is Joy. She will take you to a cabin. There is a meal waiting for you. Feel free to make the cabin your own home.”
Free From Garth
After almost a week Erin was happy in her new home and could not imagine ever leaving. One afternoon thoughts from Garth came to her. He was in the cave and it frightened her. She knew when he had crossed the bridge and saw Brother Lion. She knew when she was finally free from him.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns