Silver and White

The entrance to the Alluvial Mine is smaller than I expected; heavy timbers brace the earthen walls and ceiling. Earth under, above and on both sides of me, I walk down the sloping road carrying a pick and a bucket, while stowed in my backpack, are the small items, water bottle, flashlight, whistle and a shallow pan. A mining hat illuminates the way and every fifty feet or so a dim lantern hangs from a spike hammered into the wall and flings shivering shadows out to startle me.

All this talk about finding treasure and discovering El Dorado amuses me–no, that’s not quite it, I suppose embarrasses is the better word. Maybe age has something to do with it, I’m sure I’m the oldest one here. I know I’m too old to be dropping down manholes and mineshafts and charging off on romantic quests.

I’ve set a smaller goal for myself.

It’s colder than I thought it would be, a still, eerily silent cold, and I’m a bit out of breath from the long walk. The ground begins to level out–and the narrow corridor I’ve been following opens into a circular area. I take the rubbing I made of the manhole cover with the compass rose from my pocket and study it. Eight points surround a circle. Seven passages lead out from this location, one for each miner, plus the entrance passage. I hear the sound of digging from two of the passages. I would like company, but this is solitary work–there will be time to talk if I meet someone in the chamber or topside, but not here.

I choose one of the quiet ways and follow until it comes to an abrupt end. I suppose I should continue to lengthen the passageway and wonder if I can dig in a straight line. Lifting my pick, I aim it dead ahead. Dirt rains down and scatters at my feet. I strike again and again until I’m standing in a huge mound. Soon I’ll be swimming in dirt and blocking my own exit. I’ve seen nothing that even hints at gold and I’ve been digging for hours.

It’s time to go. I fill my bucket and gather my equipment.

I return to the chamber and look towards each point, listening intently but I don’t hear what I’m seaching for. It must be along the entrance passageway. I wander back, the way I came in and carefully play my flashlight along both walls. All the writing advice I’ve ever heard has said: use your five senses, see, hear, touch, smell, taste. There’s nothing to taste and I am already looking and listening. Wait. The cold feels suddenly less intense–a minute difference, but something has changed. I stop and sniff the air. Nothing can grow down here but I smell the scent of green things. Vegetation. There is a barely discernible movement of air, warm air, and the far-off sound of running water. I find the branch-off I’ve been seeking deep in the shadow between lanterns, a black hole easily over-looked when following the light from a miner’s hat.

The less traveled path is narrower and cramped, the dirt ceiling brushes my hair and pebbles trickle down onto my shoulders and back. I struggle not to turn an ankle on the stones and slippery gravel. There is no light except from my miner’s hat and the instant I’m aware of it, it blinks out. I freeze in the blackness, afraid to move and overwhelmed with despair.

Nothing but faith will sustain me now and after a murmured prayer, I stumble ahead feeling the way with my hands, heading for the light that will always exist even in the darkest night. The way narrows again forcing me to crawl and drag the heavy bucket after me until I finally sense, more than see a glimmer of light ahead.

Have I traveled an hour, a lifetime or an eternity? Without a way to measure time or distance I can’t tell, but the ground beneath me begins to smooth, the walls widen and I find I can stand again. Warm, soothing air with a sweetness to it I can’t identify surrounds me and, with deep gratitude, I pray again, knowing how unworthy I am for what lies ahead.

The gate is rusty but the compass rose design is unmistakable, and after a major push the hinges creak open. Dappled sunlight pours through tall trees and the stream I’ve been searching for beckons a short distance from where I stand. I had hoped to find Memory’s Molten Stream and surely this must be it. I sit down on the bank and dip my hand in the clear, bubbling water. A school of minnows reroute themselves around my fingers and then reform instantly into a tight knot once they have passed. When I remove my hand it is clean and healed.

A white butterfly with silver markings brushes my cheek and I hear the whisper of a question. Mnemosyne!

“What is it you wish?”

“The gift of words,” my voice trembles as I answer.

“But you have that already, in your thoughts, in your memory.” Her voice is mellow and soft as a summer breeze. She sits, now in her human form, just across the narrow stream and she smiles at me. Dark hair tumbles onto her shoulders and her white and silver gown shimmers in the sunlight.

Her laughters ripples toward me, as she asks, ” Too easy? So, shall I set you a task? Would that suit you?”

My heart nearly skips a beat. I know I’ll do anything she asks.

“Relax and rest here, by my stream. Let the dreams come and remember them. When you leave, visit the Lemuria garden and take from it what you need. It is all there.”

“May I return here?”

“Any time you wish.”

“I was digging for gold,” I tell her, “to wash in your stream, but there’s nothing here to pan.” I hold up the empty bucket I struggled so hard to bring.

“Nothing? Are you sure?” Her voice quiets again to the whisper I’d first heard and wings again touch my cheek as she flutters off.

A single grain of pure gold gleams in the bottom of my empty bucket

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