My current predicament pretty much was a direct result of my life sucking. I had carefully researched the site I'd found that captured my attention for well over two years. Hell, I'd even learned to read a little ancient Greek to double check a few facts of the spot. The site was relatively lost to the general population due to a few things. Most Americans were firmly stuck believing that Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean blue and discovered America all by his own little self. Those various tribes and bands cluttering the scenery were just accidents of fate, not to mention that a few Nations of Native Americans were further explained away as simply misplaced folks that had either walked across the Bering Sea when it was frozen back in the 'olden days,' or stuck on the soil by aliens bored with playing in Egypt building pyramids, deciding it would be fun to plop a few groups of humanoids onto the fertile landscape and see what happened. Depended on your viewing pleasures -- History Channel or Discovery Channel -- they both ran those shows with 'factoids' offered as utterly complete truths, to tell how the Native Americans 'found' by Columbus on the 'New World' had ended up there.
Not many of the natives had survived the onslaught once word got out that the Americas had land, soil and major amounts of real estate up for grab. Once added in, the fables and legends of unimaginable treasures of gold and gems shot the news across the 'Old World' and the race for country and kings began in earnest.
Most folks completely dismissed any of the records from the various historical data out there, that was from areas of Europe and Scandinavia; those conflicted with their world view, so the general party line preached in grade school, while kids drew turkeys on butcher paper from outlines of their hands in thick black crayon that they later colored brown and red for the refrigerator art at their homes, it was a world discovered by Columbus. The idea that Japanese or Chinese explorers could have touched American soil was dismissed as readily as the concept that the Vikings had made it up to the northern part of the United States long before 1492. Coins, etchings and pottery turned up in sites up along the East Coast from long before that historic year and with it, the buttons and debris spelt out that some sorts of civilizations were making their mark long before Columbus pushed a flag into soil far to the south. All considered to be pure pulp fiction despite their existence and pretty believable explanations.
I was more inclined to read more than stuff from the usual history books sold at the chain bookstores and I would talk with anyone who wanted to chat about their historical interests for hours. I sat sipping bitter over-boiled tea or weak cheap-ass coffee in the parlors and kitchens of professors, researchers and general nut balls while nodding and writing down their ideas. I gleaned what I could from the academia sorts that were disenfranchised, as well as the considerable number of conspiracy theorists who had published anything on the topics that caught my eye. I had learned to keep my features calm while hearing about aliens falling to the earth and sucking out the brains of the locals to create the perfect race, or more believable ideas of Vikings heading over the Atlantic to find better fishing grounds somewhere along the New England coastline and that the mini ice age had stopped the epic journeys. Either way -- crazy or believable -- I wrote the information down and studied the records offered.
Soon I'd found a pattern. It landed my search in Michigan of all places. The Great Lakes were considered to be sacred fishing grounds to some folks as well as horrific death traps to others. It all came down to a point of view. In my view the salt mines beneath the land held possibilities. Little did I know. I could still hear my Uncle Harry reminding me, "Emma, not everything is all about you." I knew he was looking out for my well-being, but he hadn't a clue, I soon discovered.
Once I had shaken off the nightmare qualities of my Indonesian trip, I abandoned the relative comforts of Uncle Harry's vampire lair and ended up driving up to Michigan to investigate some of the salt mines that were beneath the snow-crusted soil of the state. I spent some time first at Wayne State University digging through their libraries, both medical and general, digging for as much as I could find to support my notion. The college had been in the middle of Detroit for decades, and over the years had absorbed many private collections as well as anonymous donations. In fact boxes of books lined the loading docks, waiting for a librarian to take a spare day or three to find what was being gifted. So after my initial diving into the medical library, I found it had some fascinating distractions, but nothing that substantiated the fables I'd been searching for in the various tomes. The basement was as dingy and mold riddled as any older library. The stale air pumped through the furnace only served to scent the stacks with a daunting sort of dingy, earthy, rotten smell. Still I dug. Eventually I wandered over to the Detroit Public Library near the campus and hit pay dirt. The building was impressive but what I discovered even more so.
The Detroit Public Library didn't allow mere humans to walk through their basement stacks. Instead they had carefully crafted spaces with specific areas of study, along with private collections not for the riffraff, carefully kept behind solid doors and heavy locks. The books that were older or out of print were stored out of the public area and had to be specifically requested on little paper call slips. I wasn't fond of that sort of research so I ended up waiting until the majority of the staff was busy to pop in and out of the library. It was risky because the place was wired but I was aided by a rather large group of visiting children who didn't quite know how to follow basic library rules, and were screaming up and down the shiny, slick floors. The guards were busy trying to keep the kids in check and not watching the monitors so I was able to find what I needed.
The old diagrams of the salt mines beneath the Detroit area were quickly copied on a machine behind the public area in one of the offices that wasn't as locked as they thought, and I took the time to also copy a few other tidbits of information I thought might come in handy. I returned all my borrowed materials to their proper places on the shelves and headed to the main section of the library. Once I finished glancing through a local book about the glorious age of Motown, I watched a pre-teen decide that pulling the fire alarm after running from one of the supposed guidance counselors from the school was a great idea. The blaring alarm helped me exit gratefully with my notes.
Snow crunched under my feet as I headed towards my car. I was half a block from the plowed roads and rewarded with the sight of my car completely covered in snow. The city plow had done a lovely job of edging the snow from the center of the road covering all the cars and most of the side roads rather effectively. I cursed my luck but was thankful to see a teenager shoveling a storefront walkway near my car.
"Hey," I called out, watching the frost travel with my words. The temperature had dipped well below thirty, closer to twenty degrees. The snow wasn't currently falling, but looking at the rather gray sky overhead I doubted it would hold off for too much longer.
The young man grunted back while continuing to shovel the wet snow off the main walkway. He had a steady rhythm and easily moved the white stuff. I saw he had an iPod plugged into one ear and I could hear the faint beat of bass and drums keeping tempo with his labor.
"When you're done, do you have time to make a quick twenty bucks?" I figured it would take the kid maybe ten minutes to dig my car out if the snow didn't start.
The kid stopped and looked at me with flat eyes, "Doing what?"
The hostility surprised me, but then I remembered I was in a major city with some recognized tensions all the time between the kids and the adults. It wasn't racial, but age related. They were worlds apart with their ideas and cravings. Being a visitor, I also tended to forget the dynamics of cops, and kids could create issues. He could have figured me for a cop or an uptight parent. Either way I knew I'd have to tread carefully.
I laughed and said, "Rescuing me from digging out my car right there," I pointed to the car not ten feet from the boy. I wasn't offering him 'services' or drugs, he quickly figured, and shook his head at seeing my boxy Blazer with none of the usual Detroit upgrades other than good snow tires. He laughed and then said, "Hell, why not?"
It took him less than ten minutes, and he grinned with boyish pleasure as I handed him not just the promised twenty, but that and another ten for his enthusiasm. I knew perfectly well that I'd still be digging my car out with my bare hands had I not seen the kid. Once he was gone back to his iPod and scraping the sidewalks free of the snow next to my car, I slowly headed out over the ice- and snow-slick roads. The stop signs were pretty much ignored by most travelers and the actual traffic lights were little more the vague suggestions as cars slip-slided through them. I stayed on alert and made it back to the house I'd rented downriver. I didn't need any nosy hotel maids rummaging through my things while I was otherwise engaged. There wasn't much call for rentals during the winter months, but my cover story as a writer kept the skepticism to a low roar. Okay, that and that I paid upfront: first, last and the next two months. I really hated to be bothered and it wasn't like I didn't have the money. My little talent kept me in Cheerios and soda pop, at least.
Once I was back at the small one bedroom rental I took my ill-gotten gains inside to the living room. Over the past week I'd begun to diagram and chart the known variances from the different accounts of the salt mines. I had found that some personal tales of what miners recalled, coupled with the basic public service announcements put out by the mining company after a fatality to be pretty informative. The little girl in the yellow slicker didn't make any appearances, but her publicity team was damn good. Reading between the lines was important, but extremely necessary, I'd long discovered while doing my research.
The various libraries had revealed to me that the hard-working miners had kept diaries, or their wives had, and at times I'd stumbled upon the missives. That wasn't really what pushed me to research the mines. It was the bits and pieces I'd found in writings over in Europe. There was a treasure trove from the early Viking journeys lost to time. In the chests of gold and gems, there were supposed to be some books telling about the trips across the Atlantic, and with them, details about the New World finds. In there I thought there might be a clue to my type of creature. I'd spent countless months digging through bits and pieces of words and phrases that seemed somehow related to me.
Usually nothing I found seemed to describe my various 'talents' precisely. But there were other supernatural creatures that did make appearances in the pages I read over the years. And a few years back I'd heard about the salt mine treasures, and some descriptions of those 'disappearing' humans. That was what interested me far more than silver and gold.