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The Coyote Valley Railroad by Jess Mowry. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission (aka STOLEN PROPERTY) and in violation of copyright law.
The Coyote Valley Railroad
2016 Jess Mowry
“Come and get it or the vultures will!” called Mike’s dad from the kitchen.
Mike opened his eyes and yawned, lying naked on his bed atop its single blanket. “Okay!” he called, and stretched like a coyote.
It was only around seven o’clock, but the morning air was already hot, the sun blazing in through the open window and just warming up for a broiling day. There was a brand new air conditioner, but Mike hadn’t been using it much because he was acclimating himself to life in the Arizona desert. A month ago he’d have leaped out of bed to perform fifty puffing push-ups, then don gym shorts to sweatily jog his nice suburban neighborhood in Thousand Oaks, California, while telling himself how healthy he was and how good it felt to come panting home to a bowl of granola and non-fat milk, but one of the laws of desert life was never Get Active unless you had to; so despite the beckoning aromas of sausage and eggs with hash-brown potatoes, he lazily pillowed his head on his arms and gazed around his room.
The ramshackle house of sun-blasted boards, hardly more than an old miner’s shack with four small rooms and a rusty tin roof, had undergone a few updates in the weeks since Mike and his three new friends had found a ton of long-lost gold after resurrecting a steam locomotive from deep in an abandoned mine, though most of these home improvements weren’t visible to passers-by... not that there were very many since the town of Coyote Flats was twenty miles away. Mike and his dad, both handy with tools, had installed three air conditioners... one in the living room, one in the kitchen, and the third in Mike’s domicile. Since the power went off a lot, and even more as the summer advanced, they had also bought a generator, enabling Mike’s father to work on his novel -- a tale, not surprisingly, set in the desert about a ghostly train robbery -- without dripping sweat on his keyboard.
But, in spite of his sudden new wealth, Mike’s room hadn’t changed very much: his bed was still an iron skeleton with a starving mattress on rusty springs and a dynamite box for a night stand. Atop the box was a kerosene lantern which served as a reading lamp, and a battered old book with the archaic title, Catechism Of The Locomotive. There was a shabby old chest of drawers, former home to a scorpion, with a darkly de-silvering mirror; and his aging Mac sat on a rough wooden table that Mike had built from the boards of an outhouse. And though they now had a satellite dish providing Internet access -- along with 200 channels -- Mike hadn’t been surfing the Web very much except for business purposes and seldom watched the new flat-screen TV. His many books -- very eclectic, from The Wind In The Willows to Portnoy’s Complaint, along with adventure stories for boys from the early twentieth century -- still filled the weathered board shelves he had made. The main new addition to the room was a four-by-eight foot sheet of plywood on a pair of homemade trestles, where an H.O. scale rendition of the Coyote Valley And Codyville Railroad was currently under construction... though Mike devoted most of his time to working on the real thing.
“The vultures are landing!” called his dad.
“Coming!” called Mike, at last getting up.
His dad didn’t make a juvenile joke because he had also been thirteen; but the house was so small, its walls so thin, and the rusty bedsprings squeaked, so Mike had been serving that call of nature beneath the water tank out back, usually just before going to bed, while the windmill on its forty-foot tower creaked in the gentle night breeze.
Also despite his new riches, Mike hadn’t expanded his wardrobe... in fact, it was steadily shrinking. In the month since arriving in Coyote Valley, he’d never worn a shirt. Nor did the volcanic temperatures encourage a furnished basement. During the last year and starting at twelve, he’d joined the ranks of the ”Healthy” herd and become an obsessive body-builder, abandoning his H.O. train -- for which he’d had a genuine passion -- as a “passive pathway to obesity,” for many pain-provoking hours “Getting Active” pumping iron. He’d also become afraid of food, at least most food that tasted good, or didn’t -- as his dad had joked -- look as if a determined dung beetle had rolled it onto a plate, cautiously counting calories as if each were a poison pill, weighing himself at least three times a day, direfully dissing his mirror image, and constantly worried what others might think about the size and shape of his body. The result was a physically perfect Mike -- at least as dictated by health-nazi Hitlers -- transforming himself from a usually cheerful chubby boy into a lean, mean ebony version of a young Michelangelo’s David. According to all the hype about “Health” -- that word exploited in TV commercials more frequently now than “new and improved” -- he should have been Actively happy.
Yet, the new and improved Mike hadn’t been happy; though he hadn’t discovered why until he’d met Little Coyote, a five-hundred pound Apache boy who, though only thirteen himself, knew what really mattered in life and how to actually live it.
There was also Scooter, a twelve-year-old “out-of-shape gamer,” and unabashedly randy smart-ass, who’d shown him that adding life to your years was better -- and probably healthier -- than trying to only add years to your life.
Then there was Ruff, Mike’s spirit guide, a wryly-humored but kind-hearted coyote who’d not only given Mike earthy reward for trying to do the right thing, but had also shown him that, in the end, souls weren’t judged by BMI or weighed in ounces like gold.
Now, Mike pulled on faded jeans, one of two pairs in his shrinking wardrobe that he could still partly button, and only because they were relics from back in the day of chubby Mike. It was funny that after almost four weeks of hard work under the blazing sun, his body, delighting in real food again -- much of that amply provided by Little Coyote’s master-chef sister, along with the cooking skills of Mike’s dad -- had eagerly reverted to the shape it seemed to want to be. His formerly brick-like high-jutting pecs were once again soft bobby spheres, their nipples regressing from pert onyx buds back into soft little slits, and his formerly rock-hard six-pack belly now again lapping far over his jeans like the cheerfully lolling tongue of a puppy, with an ever-deepening cave of a navel pooched in between its twin scallops, his face once more gently pear-shaped, with rounded cheeks, a wide snubby nose, expressive full lips, and large ebony eyes shadowed by hair like a bushy cap.
“The vultures are at the door, Mike!”
Mike padded barefoot into the kitchen, enjoying the jiggle and bob of his chest and the wobbly bounce and rebound of his belly, sensations he’d once convinced himself were slothful sins to feel guilty about. Likewise, the breakfast his dad had prepared; an old-school kind of morning feast the god of health had thundered to shun. To drink there were glasses of normal milk -- as opposed to the milk-flavored watery whitewash he’d once browbeaten himself to consume -- orange juice, and “cowboy coffee” boiled in a blue enamel pot on the box-like wood-burning stove.
The kitchen was also mostly unchanged: besides the original stove, where Mike’s great-uncle had cooked his meals, the kind now considered “unhealthy” -- and lived to peacefully die in his bed at the impressive age of 107 -- there was a General Electric fridge from the 1930s with motor and cooling coils on top. Of course they could have gotten a new one, but it still worked perfectly. The tin sink now had two faucets -- as did the bathroom shower -- Mike and his father doing the plumbing and installing a water heater; though for most of a desert year the water from the windmill tank would stay sufficiently warm. The new air conditioner hummed on the roof, replacing the rusty swamp cooler, but mainly to counter the heat from the stove.
Mike’s dad was almost as black as his son, thirty-three and muscular, though a little rolly around the waist, and, like Mike, wore only jeans, his customary working attire.
Mike paused to pose like a body-builder, a stance that for most of a year he’d inflicted upon his bedroom mirror, puffing the spherical shapes of his chest, his low-slipping jeans baring most of his bottom -- now again plump midnight moons -- his belly spilling over in front and thereby holding them on. “What do you think?”
His dad, with a towel for an apron, turned from the stove and smiled. “My handsome son, as you always were.”
“You don’t think I looked cooler with muscles?”
The man squeezed one of Mike’s chub-padded biceps. “You’ve still got the muscles, but now you won’t scare away the people who have liked you without them.”
“Yeah. The people... ‘specially girls... who started liking me then weren’t the ones I liked very much.”
His dad touched a finger to Mike’s forehead. “The people who like what’s in here will always be your real friends.”
“How’s the book coming?” asked Mike, plopping down at the table set with blue enamel plates and guzzling half his glass of milk.
“Full throttle,” replied his dad, divesting himself of the towel and taking a chair across from Mike. “Inspired by your last adventure.”
“You really believe it?” asked Mike, sprinkling his over-medium eggs with dollops of Crystal hot sauce. “The ghost part, and Ruff?”
His father sliced a plump sausage. “Are you asking if I believe in ghosts in spite of making a living... of sorts, so far anyway... writing stories about them? ...Someone who was too scared of them to spend a night in a ghost town?”
Mike ate a forkful of crispy hash-browns. “But you were my age then. What about now with your wisdom of years?”
“Somebody once said that ghosts only appear to those foolish enough to believe in them... and to those fool enough not to. And a writer has to believe everything he’s writing about, or no one else will believe it. ...And, how is Ruff these days?”
Mike stabbed a sausage. “Haven’t seen him since we found the gold, but I’m sure he’s watching me.”
“Wish I could get an interview.”
“Little Coyote said it’s rare to see someone else’s guide. He only saw mine and Scooter’s because we weren’t ready to meet them alone. And I can’t even see Ruff unless he wants me to.” Mike smiled. “I’m glad you meant what you said... about how you would always write even if you got rich.”
“As I also said, writers write. Like painters paint and singers sing. It’s something you have to do... profitable or not.”
Mike reached for his coffee cup. “‘And money can’t make you a better writer.’”
“Though it can help you promote your books and get them into readers’ hands... self-publish what you want to write instead of what you’re told will sell, then be able to publicize and get distribution to bookstores right along with the big publishers.”
“Who won’t publish many black books.”
“Or adventure stories for boys... of any color,” added his dad. “I hate to sound chauvinistic or racist, but it seems like most editors of young-adult books are female and white these days. One who rejected my last manuscript said she ‘wasn’t publishing stories for boys.’”
“‘Cause she figures boys don’t read?”
“I’d like to believe that’s her only reason... and they won’t if there’s nothing to read.”
Mike got down to serious eating, “How rich are we?” he asked around a busy mouthful.
His father added sauce to his eggs. “We won’t know until we unload all the bars and weigh them one at a time. They cast them rough in Codyville, so some weigh a little more than others... there were eight ounces of variance in the three I sold. Gold was twenty dollars an ounce in 1897, but now it’s over a thousand, and we still don’t know how many there are in the engine’s water tank.”
“That seemed like the best place to leave ‘em,” said Mike, pouncing on another sausage.
His father took a sip of milk. “We’re not billionaires like Trump, but even split three ways between you, Scooter, and Little Coyote...”
“Us, dad, not just me.”
“Your share is rightfully yours, Mike. Of course I’ll help you manage it and put some away for your college, and I’m grateful you’re letting me use some to promote my books. But, as Little Coyote said, it’s another test of your spiritual strength as to how wisely you use it. Money is like fertilizer; it doesn’t do any good in this world unless you spread it around where it’s needed.”
Mike finished his eggs and attacked his hash-browns like a miner shoveling rich gold ore. “How am I doing so far?”
His dad spread prickly-pear jelly -- a gift from Little Coyote’s sister -- on a slab of buttered toast. “I’d say buying the railroad was good, and especially hiring local kids to clear and repair the tracks.”
“Only a third of the railroad ; and how’s the deal going to buy the rest?”
“So far it’s been pretty simple... probably thanks to that pow-wow we had with Little Coyote and his sister, and Scooter and his mom.”
Mike drank his OJ. “You mean about staying on the down-low? Not telling anybody we found it, only selling a few of the bars, and no conspicuous consumption. ...Kinda seems like we stole the gold.”
His father sipped coffee. “Legally it’s yours, Mike. Yours, Little Coyote’s and Scooter’s. I had my attorney do research, which confirmed what Uncle Joe always said: the insurance company covered the original loss from the train robbery in 1898, so the mining company was paid. And the insurance company folded during the Great Depression. But, while there’s no legal question the gold belongs to you and your friends, we live in a greedy culture where too many people, from common thieves... like those ghosts you met... to more despicable white-collar crooks, live by the philosophy of ‘you’ve got money and I want it.’”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Mike.
“There are more good people than bad in this world, though it might not seem that way, since...” except mostly in books... we seldom hear about them.”
“How did you get to be so good without a spirit guide?”
“I’ve had one for thirteen years.” His dad drank OJ and continued, “Because we’ve kept a low-profile, none of the bad ones are smelling money and trying to get their claws on it. As to the deal, the Coyote Valley Copper Company bought the railroad right-of-way in 1917 to haul ore into Coyote Flats. It became a division of Anaconda in 1923, which closed the mine last year after they’d dug out all the copper. They were glad to sell the property because it’s a worthless hole in the ground, which included the track to Coyote Flats, so you own it from the mine into town, including the old railroad station.”
Mike finished his breakfast. “Yeah, a third.”
His father drank the last of his coffee. “According to the attorney, there still might be a question of who owns the track up to Codyville. And, there’s Codyville itself... or whatever’s left after all these years. He’s searching old records and deeds to see if the company also owned that... though, back in those days, with the gold played out and the land up there worth nothing, it’s probable the copper company did acquire the whole line, and maybe Codyville, too. Which was only a ghost town by then.”
“That would be cool,” said Mike. “But, at least for now, it’s just the Coyote Valley Railroad.”
His father laughed. “You, Scooter, and Little Coyote have a working steam locomotive and twenty-three miles of track. That should keep you ‘active’ awhile.”
Mike drank his coffee. “And the healthiest kind of active is doing what you like to do instead of what health-nazis tell you to do. But, there’s not much to see in this valley, unless you like cactus and sagebrush. But, if we had the whole line going up in the mountains... and maybe Codyville, too... people would come to ride on it. And they’d spend money in town: eat at the Coyote Cafe... which Dancing Fox is going to buy. And go to the Rattlesnake saloon... which Scooter’s mother is going to buy. They’ll stay at the Silver Stallion hotel, buy stuff in the stores and gas at the station, which would help everybody.”
His father nodded. ”It’s been tough on the town since the copper mine closed and the miners and their families left.”
“Like spreading fertilizer,” said Mike. “So things can grow again. ...But, we need cars to make a train so people can ride on our railroad. The copper mine only had ore cars, and those were shipped out in 1920 before the Santa Fe pulled up its spur. But, we know the old railroad had freight cars. And there must have been a few passenger cars, and maybe they’re still in Codyville.”
His father glanced out the window at the distant narrow-gauge track that angled north-east toward the old copper mine to switch-back up the stark desert mountains. “I’m expecting a call from the lawyer today, so maybe your next adventure is going up to Codyville.”
Mike laughed. “Maybe we’ll meet some more ghosts and you can write another book.”