Real or Not?
Real or Not?
I was working on the Long and Nasty Railroad, installing ribbon-rail, that's rail in long continuous sections—down around Beattyville, Kentucky. Everybody went home on the weekend, except me. I stayed in the camp cars, 'cause it was a long drive home and I preferred to rest.
Well I had two .45 Autos back then—both 70 series Colts. One was a blued Government Model, the other a satin nickel Combat Commander. Both of them had their grip safeties pinned—something all good pistoleros do. I seldom went very far without one or the other of my companions.
I got the urge to go exercise my trigger fingers. I have one on each hand and they used to get real cranky, if they didn't get to go shooting two or three times a week. So I took my guns and a rucksack containing two or three hundred rounds of hardball and went walking east down the tracks, looking for a likely place to shoot. I went a mile—or two—or five—outside of town—don't remember.
I found an interesting small stone bridge—a natural formation, I'm talking about—about thirty foot up—a stone wall. I stood there and fired most of my appointed practice rounds at the little stone doo-hicky, hoping that I could make it fall.
I hadn't started reloading yet but I fully intended to soon yet I left my brass laying all on the tracks—looking all shiny, like a bunch of lost Krugerrands.
Some chucklehead had told me that you couldn't reload S&W brass and I believed him—how was I to know any different? I left beaucoup good brass lying around 'cause of that peckerwood.
I reloaded my guns. Now this is a pivotal detail of my story—or it matters not at all—you'll have to decide. Back then I still believed in the hollow point placebo for handguns and I thought that Winchester Silvertip Hollow Points were the most potent placebo, by far. I knew that they weren't really silver—nonetheless, the term "Silvertip" was prominent in my mind.
My pistols reloaded; I started back. Part way, a small trail caught my eye. It was wonderment to be sure. It was steep and strewn with jagged rocks. It looked like a dried up streambed but it'd have to be a powerful stream to carry such big rocks down.
I followed the streambed some indeterminate distance into the woods. It seemed real hard to walk on with all those sharp stone surfaces lying slightly catawampus to the ground that way. It felt like trying to walk in an antigravity house.
Of course it was choked with a charming assortment of poison ivy, blackberry, and wild rose and chigger weeds on every side. At the end of the trail was a big ole cave.
Time out for a Public Service Announcement:
I'll try to put this as delicately as I can but your friend and humble narrator used to alter his state of consciousness by chemical means—O yes! Now I've said it.
I used to take speed like M&Ms. I'd layer them for effect. I’d take two yellow phentermine tablets in the morning, along with two or three caffeine tablets to fly fighter support.
Then exactly two hours later, I’d take two white crosses—and maybe one or two black RJS, pink ladies, speckled pups, butterfly speed that also contained phenobarbital—and made my ears ring.
I once quoted Skeeter Skelton's remark about the good old days, "Back when Gila monsters were six-stories tall" to a friend.
"Remember them well, " quoth he. " That was back when blotter acid was fifty cents a pop. Now that I think about it: I believe that’s why the Gila monsters were six stories tall back then!"
Well the cave's entrance was over twice as tall as me (six foot). It was wide enough to drive at least four cars into it abreast—assuming that you had some way to get the cars there in the first place.
I went inside. It was relatively shallow—maybe thirty feet or so and the roof fell rapidly towards the back. It was one big room and not particularly interesting. But it was nice and cool on a blazing hot summer day. There was a big rock in about the center—nice and dry- and just the right height to sit on. I sat down on the rock and decided to rest awhile.
I was sitting on the rock, wishing that I'd thought to bring a cooler. A cold Coke and a cool ham sandwich would have been good about then.
Speaking of coolers—there wasn't a single beer can or cigarette butt on the floor of the cave—no trash at all. Odd. The cave wasn't that far from town. I'd have thought the local teens would have used it for a party spot...
Just as I was thinking this and starting to get drowsy, a cold chill went up and down my spine and all my hair—including body hair—tried to stand on end. I leaped to my feet and drew my Government Model.
I distinctly remember thinking that whatever it was my Silvertip Hollow Points could handle it. Whatever was scaring me seemed to be in the cave—so I backed slowly toward the entrance.
Now here’s where the story starts to get weird. I've told you how tall the entrance was. Well, I had to bend way over to get out—and the lip of the entrance seemed to be all slime coated—and believe you me, I wouldn't have been up for limbo dancing under a slimy rock to get in. It simply wasn't that important to me.
Walking back down that path was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I was all drowsy. I kept thinking that surely it wouldn't hurt to sit down on a rock to rest a moment.
Damned if it didn't seem like that trail was being drawn into the cave like a chameleon’s tongue—albeit with almost glacial slowness. 'Course, with my newfound sluggishness and disorientation, I was only marginally faster—but I was fast enough.
When I got back to the railroad tracks, my strength seemed to come back—a little at first, then more rapidly. When I got back to the camp cars I did some serious thinking.
Everyone knows that haints—as a general rule—don't like silver. It seemed like when I drew my .45 that it hesitated—lost focus somehow—loosened its grip enough—long enough—for me to get away—just barely.
'Course Silvertips aren't really silver but if it was reading my mind at that point, I wasn't real focused on metallurgy. Maybe it just picked up on the word "Silver".
'Course maybe I just imagined the whole thing. All the locals swore that there weren't any caves for miles around- but if you travel much, you know how locals are—pretty much the same the world over.
I was spooked enough that I was more than happy to stay away and let whatever either was—or was not—in that cave well enough alone.
Years later I read about something similar, in a story by Manly Wade Wellman—fiction, of course—but maybe based on some olde-tyme tales he might have heard—Tales based on facts.
Couldn't tell you. I'd like to go back now, after all these years—just to see if there's even a cave there or not. Over the years I've never had enough gas money to travel that far on a whim. Even if I had the money now, my legs aren't in shape to take me that far into the woods. I do well to walk from my car to the grocery and when I shop, I lean heavily on the shopping basket.
I have hopes of getting into shape again some day but you know how it is. Even if I do get back into shape, odds are that I won't get back to Beattyville. I'll probably never be sure—and now, neither will you.
Be cautious in the woods and always try to have at least one magazine full of Silvertips—real Silver Silvertips.