Dear Mr. O’Malley,
I have been a faithful reader of the Tombstone Epitaph for many years. Although many see the stories it contains as the fabrications of a fanciful mind, I believe that there is a great deal of truth to what is found in those pages.
Below is a submission I would like to make to the Tombstone Epitaph. It recounts the events, fantastic though they seem, of a group of people who I am traveling with. You have my permission to publish it should you find it fit to print. I do not wish to be paid for sharing the truth and I request that you donate any money you would have given me to the local church.
The Reverend Elijah Jacobson and his companions were spotted on the horizon shortly after sunrise. They looked not like weary travelers, but like soldiers who were returning home. As they approached Jaggerty Gulch, we saw that they were dirty, bruised, and battered, but still standing strong. By this point, a large crowd had gathered to see these people returning. Reverend Jacobson slowly walked up to the town well and turned to face the crowd. What he said was as follows:
“I see you’re surprised to see me. Before I went to Jaggerty Gulch Mine, I was told that nobody who went there had ever returned. I suppose that I should be proud to say then that myself and my companions are the first who go and safely return. But I am more proud to say this: by the grace of God, we have brought safety to your town. An unspeakable horror has been defeated and you no longer have reason to fear for your lives!
“Before I went, I was told rumors that there were banditos hiding amongst these mines. Even more disturbing were the rumors that some wretched creature lived within the mine and preyed on innocents within the town. You all knew the beloved Ricky Garcez, who disappeared one week ago. The last time I stood at this well, his daughter, Maria, had asked me to save her father. I did not know if I would be able to do so, but my conscience required me to help, lest this young girl might never see her father again.
“My fellow travelers whom I had met on the way to this town agreed to help in whatever way that we could. They too could not bear the thought of this town continuing to deal with such sufferings. So we set out for the mines at the edge of Jaggerty Gulch.
“I must admit that I was afraid for my life standing outside of the entrance. I heard the low moan of a man in pain as the piercing wind passed by the black mouth of the cave. I saw a gallows ready for its next victim as the dim twilight cast shadows upon a gnarled tree. These fears were only in the minds’ eye, but I could not help but think that perhaps greater horrors of real substance lay within the mines. Yet despite these fears, whether real or imagined, I found comfort through the word of the Lord: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
“We gathered our courage and took tentative steps into the mine. With each cautious step we traveled further and further into the bowels of the earth and further and further away from the surface and the reassuring light it promised. But as the Psalmist proclaims: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The Lord provided us light and comfort throughout these dark times.
“After several agonizing minutes of travel through the tunnel into the earth and found that the mine had caved in at certain points. At first I feared that some miners might have been trapped within, but we found mining equipment laying on the ground. Lanterns, pickaxes, helmets, and even dynamite were laying about as if the miners at simply taken a break and planned to return in a few moments to resume their work.
“As we were wondering at this strange sight, a creature with no form, no face, and perhaps no soul attacked us, intending to devour us whole. Imagine a slug large enough to kill a man and you have a small inkling of what this horrible creature looked like. But through the grace of God, we were able to kill this foul beast, preventing it from ever murdering another resident of Jaggerty Gulch.
“When we were at last safe, we continued our search through the mine. We discovered the half-devoured corpses of what could only have been the banditos who were preying on the town. The savage creature we had fought no doubt killed them. The monsters of course had no desire for their money and so we were able to recover their stolen coins, which we wish to return to the rightful owners here in the town.
“It is with my greatest condolences that I must inform you that the banditos were not the only victims. We found the remains of Ricky Garcez and buried his body. But even as he approached his death, this great man hung on to the important things in his life. He had with him his locket with his daughter’s picture inside of it. Ricky’s example is one that we should all follow. Even in these troubled times, even when everything is at its darkest point, we should cling dearly to the people in our lives, the people for whom life is worth living.
“No sooner had we found Ricky’s body did we hear an eerie sound. We thought that there was only one horrific creature in these mines. But there were more. Dozens more. They ambushed us and in a fierce battle, the same fate of the banditos and Ricky Garcez nearly became our own. You can see that we are battered and bruised from the fight, but God’s strength became our own and we were able to kill each and every one of these foul creatures so that they will never prey upon you again.
“Although I cannot guarantee that your town will never have troubles again, I can guarantee that it is safe now. Take heart in the fact that for now you no longer need to live in fear.”
As soon as the Reverend was done, he returned the locket to Sonya Garcez. Although she had many emotions, peace was the one that emerged in the end. The town was indeed safe and, although her husband’s life had been part of that price, she knew that it was a price he would gladly have paid for her and for their daughter.
Like a ripple in a pond, Sonya’s peace seemed to spread to the others in the crowd. Some believed the Reverend’s tale about formless monsters being in the mines, others did not, but all knew that their unknown fears no longer had any power over them. Even the land itself seemed to be affected by the Reverend’s tale. The sun emerged from behind the clouds as if it too was no longer afraid to share its beauty and warmth. The whole world seemed to be a better place.
Did the Reverend’s words have that powerful an effect? Or was there something more? Whatever the reason, I think we all felt that seeing these people smile once again was more than enough of a reward for what we had done.