Apache Junction

by Jim Farrar (1986)

Dear Wolf,

I bet you're wondering why I wrote you. Well this is to let you and everyone else at the Buttonwillow know how I'm getting along. But there's also something of a favor I'd like you to do for me, just in case something happens. I'm saying that, Wolf, because things seem to be pointing in a kind of ominous direction right now.

You guys probably didn't know I'd left until quite a spell after I was gone, did you? That ain't no matter, because that's mainly why I run off in the first place. But you see, you and everyone else that hangs out at the Buttonwillow is really the only friends I got. And anyway, I got a story to tell you and a favor to ask you, and I hope you hear me out because the whole thing is kind of weird, and I ain't sure I figured it out yet. Maybe it means something and maybe it don't, but I guess I ain't smart enough to make heads or tails of it. So I guess I'll just tell it to you and let you make your own conclusions from it. That sounds fair, don't it? I know you're a good guy Wolf, and I know you'll do the right thing no matter what.

I never thought that the person I admire most would be a bartender. But you know Wolf, you was always something of a hero to me. I always liked your name if nothing else, because it kind of stood for something I thought was good and honorable but I wasn't up to being. Does that make sense, Wolf? Maybe that sounds kind of goofy to you or maybe you just don't care, but the point is I grew up there in Tonopah and I don't think I can never escape it. I mean here I am about a million miles from home and from my own personal history, and I don't feel no different than I did the day before Christmas.

I guess I better tell you where I'm living now. See, I didn't really run away. Maybe that's what everybody is saying, but it ain't true.

I was following something, Wolf. I followed it from one desert to another, right here to Apache Junction. I left on Christmas day. Maybe that was symbolic or something, but I didn't mean it to be. See, you have to know about my family to understand what I did, and I guess I'm telling you about it in a kind of circular fashion.

I was tired, Wolf. I was tired of living in Tonopah. And I was tired of myself, if that makes any sense. But mostly I was tired of driving truck for Coca Cola and pissing away my check every Friday night down at the Buttonwillow. I hope that don't make you mad, because it ain't meant as no reflection on anybody but me. But when you get right down to it, there ain't nothing in Tonopah. I ain't saying I know what I need, but whatever it is I know it ain't in Tonopah. I ain't never found it anywhere in Nevada. Hell Wolf, the nearest thing of any consequence is Death Valley and that's in California. And I been there. I don't need to go back.

I think it was just kind of natural for me to move on. My old man did, and so did his old man before him. They was following something, just like me. Maybe it's a curse of some sort, Wolf. Maybe we was all destined to crawl around the desert looking for something we knew we'd never be able to find. You see, I believe in ghosts, Wolf. I believe in them because I been living with them all my life. And they ain't that bad, except that they make things a little lonely and a little sad from time to time. But what the hell, Wolf, nobody never said life was going to be perfect.

But that ain't the point. That ain't what this is all about. See I grew up in Tonopah, just like you did. But there's a difference between me and you, Wolf. You probably never felt like you had to run. You never had no identity crisis. You always had a good grasp of what you was all about. What I'm thinking is I ain't too certain I ever did.

They called me Rancher when we was growing up, remember? But I wasn't no rancher. They called me Rancher because my grandpappy on my mama's side had that ranch the other side of Rock Creek Canyon. But I never worked on it or nothing. The only thing I ever did was watch my granddad and some of the hired men feed the cattle. I'd see them knee deep in shit out in the corral and I knew right then and there it wasn't for me. It ain't a good life and I didn't want nothing to do with it.

But you know what I really remember about that ranch, Wolf? It's kind of weird, but I remember one of the hired men losing his thumb. He'd roped a big steer and got the thumb caught between the rope and saddle horn when he took another dally. Popped it clean off. But that ain't what's weird about the whole thing. What's weird is that this rooster come trotting out and picked up this guy's thumb and then run under the chicken house with it.

Was nothing we could do about it. In a way it was kind of funny, but I didn't have no idea what I would have done if we'd got it. Would I put it in something? But what would I have put it in? Would I even want to touch it? Was I man enough to carry it? Or would I just let it sit there and not say nothing? I mean, what do you do with a thumb that ain't attached to no hand?

See, there's a point to all this, Wolf. I ain't no Shakespeare or nothing, but there was a kind of poetry about that guy getting his thumb yanked off. That guy was me in a way. I had my thumb pulled off a long time ago, and now I can't grab onto nothing. But I still have all my fingers. There ain't no scars. And that's what don't make no sense.

I been trying to find that thumb down here in Arizona, Wolf. I seen it in a few places and that's what this letter is about, I suppose. I already told you I left on Christmas morning. Just split. Didn't tell nobody, not even Coca Cola. You know, it was like screw them. I guess I'm fired from Coca Cola now, but big deal. I guess my name is mud at Coca Colas all over the country and I'll probably never get my last check from them, but I don't care about them kind of things no more.

I left on Christmas morning and I drove all day. I would have made it that day except my pickup broke down just the other side of Indian Springs. Thing just up and quit on me. So you know what I did? I left it there. Dumped the damn thing right in the middle of the Spring Mountains.

Ain't that something, Wolf? Ain't it just like a man to cut off his legs when he wants to run somewhere?

So there I was about twenty five miles on the wrong side of Vegas without no truck. But I didn't mind. I didn't mind because I knew I was headed in the right direction. I was smiling inside as I hitchhiked into Vegas and hopped on a Greyhound. I guess I was just happy to be out of Tonopah.

I just realized I better tell you where I was going. I guess I forgot. I told you I wasn't no writer, so it's kind of hard for me to organize these things. See, I was going to a little town called Wickenburg, kind of another Sun City about fifty miles north of Phoenix. But before all of them snowbirds started moving in, Wolf, Wickenburg was one of them boom towns. Gold, Wolf. Big time gold. And that's where my daddy and my granddaddy run off to so long ago. They was searching for their fortune. I guess it was just kind of natural for me to follow on behind to see if they found anything.

So that's where I was going. I was going to Wickenburg. I was going for a stroll with all them ghosts I was telling you about earlier. I was looking for gold, same as they was. And I was kind of looking for myself. Just like the guys you was always telling me about in all them fancy books you was always reading, Wolf. Just like that guy in Moby Dick. Looking for a whale and running into himself instead. Except I was looking for what you might call the missing part of myself instead of the whole fish. I guess you might say I was still looking for that thumb, trying to latch onto something. I wanted to latch onto something so bad I probably would have strangled it. Maybe it's a good thing I never found nothing.

See, I was half crazy, Wolf. My brain wasn't working right. When I got on that bus in Vegas I was all beat to hell. I was so tired I couldn't sleep. That ever happen to you? When you get that tired your head starts doing weird things and playing little tricks on you. I was seeing stuff. I mean I was looking out the window of that bus and here it was nighttime and I was seeing faces out in the desert. They was all people I didn't know, but I felt like I did. Ever get that feeling? Total strangers. And dogs, I saw dogs out there. Why was there dogs out there?

It wasn't no dream because I was wide awake. It all had a kind of familiarity about it, though I couldn't put my finger on it. It was kind of like what you would call a deja vu type of thing. It was all wrong, but it felt right somehow.

And then they all started talking to me, even the dogs. They was saying things like where are you going and go back home, you don't belong here. They was telling me to break the cycle and not go up there. Weird shit like that. And then this big Indian guy comes rising up out of desert and says that the Thunder God don't tolerate no intruders and to stay away from the mountain. That was when I kind of blew it, Wolf. I didn't know what mountain this old Indian was referring to, so I started talking back to him, asking him all these wild-ass questions. Asking him if he knew where my pap was and junk like that. And then I started yelling at him, telling him to leave me alone and let me sleep. And you know what happened? I got kicked off the bus. They dumped me on my nose right there in Kingman, while we was having coffee at Denny's. Give me my suitcase and a refund right there in the middle of nowhere.

But that didn't stop me. I was undaunted and indefatigable, just like time itself. I learned them words when I was in junior high, Wolf. I bet you didn't know I knew them, but I do.

Mrs. Atkinson made us write a sentence using them words when I was in seventh grade. And I wrote "I am like time. I am undaunted and indefatigable, and so I am unstoppable." I thought that was pretty heavy for a twelve-year-old and so did Mrs. Atkinson, because she made me enter that stupid "Why I Love America" essay contest. I never won it or nothing, but that was the only time I felt like I had a chance to be top dog in something. I been on the leeward side of things ever since. But that ain't no matter. Leastways I got plenty of company, and a man can't have too much of that, Wolf.

So anyway, there I was in Kingman. Dead tired at three in the morning and not knowing what to do. No truck anymore. Kicked off the bus. And not a soul on the highway at three in the a.m. I was kind of thinking of turning back when it hit me. Kind of come like a blind flash out of nowhere. I'd walk. I'd hoof it to Wickenburg and to hell with the Greyhound bus company. I didn't know it was over a hundred miles to Wickenburg. If I'd known that I probably would've waited for the next bus to come along. But I was tired and crazy and feeling brave, so I lit out.

It was darker than dark out there, Wolf. Couldn't see nothing because there wasn't no moon. There was just me and the sound of my boots clapping on the blacktop. Except the crickets was chirping. They was chirping so loud they was making a kind of song that was rhyming with the sound of my boots. It was like they was blending together or something. My boots was providing a drumbeat for them.

I walked and I walked. Walked all night and into the next day. I walked until it turned dark again. Just me, Wolf. Never saw no cars or nothing. I must've left the road sometime during that first night but I can't remember when. Couldn't see the road no how, it was so dark. All I remember is getting tired and laying down.

When I woke up it was broad daylight and the sun was shining down cold on me. I was lost, Wolf. I didn't know where I was. I knew I must've gone the wrong way because there was red rocks all around me. Wickenburg ain't nowhere near red-rock country.

Well it turns out I was right on the edge of Sedona. I was smack dab in the middle of the Santa Maria mountains, ninety degrees and about a hundred miles off center. And I was hungry. I hadn't had nothing in my stomach since that cup of coffee at Denny's.

I managed to find a road and after about two hours I flagged down this old pickup that was all beat to shit. Looked like it'd been built before World War Two. And that was giving it the benefit of the doubt. This old Indian was driving. He pulled to the side of the road and smiled at me kind of spooky-like. He looked familiar but I couldn't place him. It didn't make no sense because I ain't never known no Indians, not a single one. But this guy looked real familiar. And what was really weird was that he knew my name and said where are you going. Like he was accusing me of something. When I asked him how he knew my name he pointed at my belt, the one that's got my name beveled into it. The only place where you can see the name on that belt is right above my ass, Wolf. He said he'd seen that, but I don't recall ever having my ass toward him. At least not before he started calling me by my name. And I'm sure I was wearing my jacket over it anyway. There was no way he could have seen it. Maybe I'd already said my name and forgot I done it and he was just playing a trick on me, but I don't think so.

I didn't think about it too awful long, though, because I was just thankful to see another person out there. I climb into the front seat with him and he handed me this tortilla or something that was made out of corn. Corn and some other stuff that looked really shitty. I mean, I didn't have no idea what them Indians ate. It could have been rattlesnake for all I knew. I heard they eat that kind of shit. So I guess I was kind of taking a chance in that respect. But I was so hungry I didn't care. It was like he read my mind or something, the way he knew I was hungry. I guess I must've looked hungry.

He didn't say nothing until I'd finished eating. Then he says we was quite a ways from Wickenburg and that anyway he was going to Prescott. I told him that that was the wrong way for me but that maybe I could catch a bus or something when we got into town. When I said that he just kind of coughed. Actually it was more like a choke. It wasn't like no laugh I ever heard. He said there wasn't no buses going that way but that he had a friend who was headed down towards Apache Junction tomorrow. That is, if I could wait. I said sure, I wasn't in no hurry. And anyhow I could use the rest.

So I spent the night at this Indian's house. He lived in a Winnebago on the outside of town. No neighbors or nothing. Just him and the sagebrush. And all them red rocks. I asked him if he didn't have no family or nothing and he said yes, he had a very big family. But he said it kind of mysterious-like, Wolf. I told him I didn't have nobody left, they was all dead or run away. He looked at me strange-like and said that every man has a family, even if they're just ghosts. Ain't that the truth I says, and he just kind of nodded his head and smiled this dumb little smile. Kind of like he wasn't smiling as much as he was trying to hide something. Or maybe protect something. But I was too tired to really care. I was too beat to try to get the full scoop on him. And besides, I didn't think it was all that important. But now I'm thinking that maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe him knowing my name and all that stuff about ghosts and his family was kind of like a preview of all that is going to happen. But I'm getting ahead of myself, Wolf. You got to hear the rest of the story for any of this to make sense. And I ain't too sure it makes sense anyway.

I went to bed before sundown that night. But I got woke up in the middle of the night. I could've sworn I heard voices. Like the old Indian was talking to someone. I heard him say he's here and he's your flesh and blood, you have to take him with you. Like he was arguing with someone. Except I didn't hear no one answering. It was real creepy, Wolf. I didn't know if someone was out there with him or if the old Indian was just crazy or taking peyote or what. Or maybe I was dreaming. You know how your mind works when it's half asleep, Wolf. Things get blown out of proportion and it's easy to panic. But I didn't. I held tight. I never fell back asleep or nothing and after awhile I thought I heard a door slam and a car start, but I ain't sure about that.

This friend of his was waiting for me when I got up in the morning. We was introduced and the Indian told me this guy's name was Jack. I said ain't that a coincidence, so's mine. And so was my daddy's and my granddaddy's. Pretty weird I thought, but he didn't seem to be bothered by it none. It was kind of like he already knew.

So Jack says we better get going if we want to get into Apache Junction at a decent hour. I told him I wasn't going to Apache Junction, just to Wickenburg. But it just went right through him, like he didn't hear me or nothing. I thanked the Indian and we left. I never did bother to find out his name. And you know what else? Jack doesn't know his name either. I thought they was friends and I told him so. But Jack says no, he was just happening along. So I guess he wasn't no friend.

Jack was driving this old Chevy Nova that was painted bright yellow. The thing looked terrible and it was rusting out all over the place. It didn't have no back seat. Jack had taken it out. And the whole car smelled like piss and kerosene. It smelled like piss because he had these two dogs named Senator and Fortuna and I think that's why he took out that back seat, to let them dogs run around while he was driving.

Jack didn't look much better than his car. He was old but he looked young. But he seems old anyway. But then he seems young too, come to think of it. Kind of like he's ageless or something. I know that don't make no sense, Wolf, but that's the only way I can describe him.

But it's them damn dogs I remember most. They was obnoxious as hell. Jack just lets them run all over, like they was top dick or something. They're always barking and breathing and eating and farting and stuff, all the time. All the time we was in the car one of them dogs was either on my lap or licking me or humping my leg.

We stopped at this liquor store on the way out of town and bought some booze. Or Jack bought it, that is. He bought us a twelve pack of Coors and a half gallon of Wild Turkey. We was going to have boilermakers, which suited me fine after two days out on the desert. I was thirsty and could have drunk anything. I could've drunk wine even.

After awhile we got to talking. I think we was around Yarnell when the hootch finally took hold and I started feeling sociable. We was coming over this pass, out of the mountains and into this valley where Wickenburg is. It looked desolate as hell, Wolf. Looked just like Death Valley.

We was coming down the hill when Jack asks me why I was going to Wickenburg. Well, I tells him, Wickenburg is where my daddy and granddaddy run off to a long time ago. Last I heard they was working for the Vulture Mine Company. I thought maybe I'd find out what come of them and, also, maybe I could get on there. And then he tells me that he used to work at Vulture Mine too. And that it ain't running no more. So he asks me who my daddy and granddaddy was. So I tells him. Well ain't that something, he says. Ain't it a small world. And then he tells me that he was pretty chummy with my pap and especially my grandpap, and that they didn't stay in Wickenburg too awful long. When I asked him where they went he says they ended up at the same place he was going.

He was going to Apache Junction. Down outside of Phoenix. Actually, he was already there. He had a trailer down there. I asked him why my dad and granddad went down there and he says don't you know? I says no, what's the big deal about Apache Junction? And he says haven't you never heard of the Lost Dutchman Mine or Superstition Mountain? I told him no, I was from Tonopah.

And then he told me the story of Superstition Mountain. See, this mountain is supposed to be haunted, Wolf. But it's also got gold in it. And this gold and the mountain itself is protected by this Apache Thunder God, and there ain't nobody that's ever got out alive with its treasure. Except for this old Dutchman. He did it. I don't know, maybe the Thunder God give him special privileges or something. But he was the only one who ever found gold up there and lived to tell about it.

But that never stopped people from trying. When the Dutchman was alive, all these people would try to follow him and find out where his mother lode was. But they never did find out because he was always able to trick them. He'd circle around behind them and he'd be back in town drinking and whoring and having a good time while all these guys that followed him was still up there. Nine times out of ten they'd end up dead.

See, that's another thing, Wolf. People keep getting killed up there. The Apaches say that the mountain claims them, that they're intruders and they get killed for sticking their noses where they don't belong. It still happens. They keep finding bodies up there with their heads cut off and bullet holes in them. And there was one guy who was roasted to death over his campfire. The Indians say the evil spirits is doing it. They say it's the work of the Thunder God. But I ain't never heard of no evil spirit who carried a gun.

So anyway, Wolf, that's the story of Superstition Mountain. And, according to Jack, that's where my daddy and granddaddy went. They went up into that mountain. Maybe they found gold and maybe they didn't. Maybe they're dead. Or maybe they're living high on the hog somewhere in Mexico and nobody's the wiser for it.

We was pretty well gone by the time we got to Wickenburg. We'd drunk all the beer and half the Wild Turkey, so neither one of us was what you'd call sober. We was going by this sign that said Wickenburg was the friendliest town in the West when he hit me with it. He said this ain't where you want to be going. He said if I was really truly following my dad and granddad I'd go to Apache Junction with him. He said there wasn't nothing for me in Wickenburg, I'd end up the same as I was in Tonopah.

I said I didn't know what else to do and he said he had a suggestion. I said what do you mean and he got all serious-like and told me that he had a proposition for me. We was both flying high. He said he was going to find that mine, no matter what. He said he knew where it was and all that was left to do now was go get the gold. He said it was fate that we met. He said we was destined to be partners. I was being realistic even though I was pretty messed up because I asked him what made him think he knew where that gold was.

He pulled an old yellow piece of paper out of the glove box. It was a map. He said he'd had it for a long time but he never knew what it was. He said he was drunk down in Tijuana one weekend and he was talking to this Mexican and the Mexican got to talking about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. He started describing stuff and then everything started sounding real familiar to him. He realized that this Mexican was describing what was on this map that he'd found in a bar in Sonora. Every landmark was there, everything was the same as what the Mexican was saying.

So that was when he started forming his plan. He moved to Phoenix. And then to Apache Junction. And now he was living at the base of the mountain, in the Lost Dutchman Trailer Park. Inching closer and closer. He said he'd already tried once. He'd had a partner but the guy tried to double-cross him. His partner stole the map and xeroxed it and then went up there alone. Jack said he never came back. He said what probably happened was he got lost. He said the directions on the map was confusing, that the S actually meant North instead of South because it was in Latin, that S stood for septentionalis. So the guy probably went the wrong way and got lost in the desert.

So I told him sure, I'd be his partner. I didn't have nothing to lose. He told me it'd take awhile for him to get everything worked out and that it'd probably be summer before we'd be able to go. I told him I'd find a job so as to be able to help with expenses and he said not to worry about it. He said he had money and that I could just consider it as part of my wages. That sounded real weird, Wolf, but what the hell, I was drunk. So I told him yes.

I've spent the last six months doing nothing, Wolf. Just getting ready to go up into that mountain. Jack spends all his time drinking Wild Turkey. He says we'll have to wait until the middle of summer to go, maybe even another month. Two weeks if we're lucky. He says there's no people up there then because it's so hot. That way we'll have plenty of privacy. No one will know what we're up to, he says.

I went to the library the other day and looked up some stuff about the Lost Dutchman and Superstition Mountain. It was pretty much the same as what Jack told me except they had a picture of this Dutchman. I never knew his last name was Walzer. And this Dutchman had two mules. They was called Senator and Fortuna. Kind of strange, isn't it? I could almost swear that Dutchman looked like Jack. Jack with a beard. But that's silly. It's got to be silly, Wolf.

I got a strange feeling about all this, Wolf. It's July and it's hotter than hell and I been having these dreams about snow. I keep seeing snow. In my dream it covers everything down here, even the cactus. It don't never snow in southern Arizona, Wolf. I don't know what it means. All I know is I wake up cold. And scared.

There's one other thing. It's really the reason I wrote and I'd appreciate it if you'd kind of keep it secret. You see, I'm going to be a father, Wolf.

You remember Rebecca McGill, don't you? She and I kind of had a thing, if you remember. Well, she told me she was going to have a baby a few days before I left. That was another one of the reasons why I split. But I been having second thoughts the last few months. I been thinking that maybe I should go back and do the right thing by her. If nothing else the kid's going to need a daddy. Ain't fair for his daddy to run off before he's even born. Or at least I hope it's a he. I hope it's a little boy. I'd like to have a son, Wolf.

So I been thinking that once I get down out of the mountain I'm going back to her. Back to Tonopah. Back with money, with gold in my pocket. Money enough to thumb my nose at Coca Cola.

But I got a weird feeling, Wolf. There's more than just ghosts down here. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure that my daddy and granddaddy run across it too, especially if they was looking for that mine like Jack says they was.

So I guess that's my favor, Wolf. I want you to look after Rebecca in case no one never hears from me again. At least you got my letter, so people will know it wasn't intentional that I deserted my own flesh and blood.

But I got to sign off now. We leave early next morning. Jack and I are driving into Phoenix tomorrow to get mining supplies. Jack wants to get an early start. I want to get a few hours sleep before we go.

But it's so hot down here, Wolf. I don't know if I can sleep. A man could go crazy in this heat.

Jack Walz

Back to Jim's Writing