Winter made another push inside the small house I was renting in the suburbs of Detroit. The blanket on my lap was doing little to keep me warm as I continued to dig through the documents and diagrams I had for the salt mines beneath Michigan. I tugged on a lock of my hair as I continued to read through the information I'd collected.
The salt veins didn't run just beneath Michigan; the mines worked around a very large geographical area. Long before humans walked the earth, over four hundred million years ago during something called the Devonian Period, there was an ocean across the area. I flipped a few more pages and found out that that was when fish were starting to grow legs and the seed-bearing plants were making their way on top of the soil. Like all good things, that sea basin came to an end and further weather evaporated the water, leaving behind large salt deposits. In turn those salt deposits were buried when glacial activity began slowly moving the dirt. The glaciers covered so much of the northern region, and with time, there shifted tons of earth that went over the salt basins inch by inch at times, and for miles at others. Time passed and more land continued to shift, burying the huge salt deposit with layers and layers of earth.
I kept reading, fascinated by all the new bits of information I found in the public library. The extensive maps were necessary as were the varying diagrams of the local tunnels, but the slices of human life during the heyday and afterwards were spellbinding to me. I needed to weigh the information carefully, as I knew it all tied into that letter I'd rediscovered a week or so ago.
The pages that I'd copied from the diary of one of the older miners was extremely descriptive. His words sketched a time in the mid nineteen twenties when the company was booming and the solid veins of nearly thirty-five feet of sparkling salt crystals were amazing and extremely profitable. There were crystalline layers of salt that shaped his world beneath the soil. He hated the journey down to the tunnels but found tranquility in his job blasting away at the vein. The cool rooms afforded him a sense of wonder. He mentioned how he looked time and time again for any signs of life in the white walls. There were no bits of fossils or plants imbedded in the mines. He did mention that there also was a clean feeling to the tunnels because there weren't any rats or bugs seeking food -- the salt wasn't a destination for bugs and vermin, to his relief. He'd done a stint down in the copper mines of Jerome, and watched men lose their feet to accidents; he told of the horrible tight spaces in which the miners were forced to carve out bits of copper. The bugs and vermin were a constant threat and a source of worry. The idea of being bitten by a rat helped drive him out of the copper mines. The winter snow that covered Michigan above him was not noticeable so far beneath the dirt. But he also mentioned that there was no difference between day and night so far down.
Another miner in the late seventies liked that they were allowed to smoke in the tunnels as long as they weren't next to the dynamite or other dangerous areas. His missive was little more than a letter home to his mother that had been saved in a book I'd come across, in one of the donated books that had diagrams of the Michigan mines. One of his comments really resonated with me. He said that the tunnels were dark and cavernous. Which made sense given that they were mine tunnels. But then he went on to say at times they seemed haunted and disturbingly eerie lit only by the trucks lights or single bare bulbs that ran along the sides. He too commented on the fact, much like his predecessor had nearly fifty years before on, how he couldn't tell night from day and at times felt lost by the shadows. The comment that resonated with me the most was when he said to his mother in the letter that it was always twilight time in the mines, and he feared that his soul was being eaten by the edges of the unseen. He closed his letter with comments of his love and asked for her to pray for his immortal soul. I doubted that was his usual signature.
Later I saw a picture that showed the miners created a small grotto deep in the center of the tunnels that was devoted to Saint Barbara the patroness of miners and illuminated with a few votive candles flickering on the shelf beneath the saint's figure. The workers didn't rely on their religion alone to save them, but on their helmets, rebreather oxygen belts, earplugs and goggles. Nothing that impressed me as sufficient, but as there weren't many deaths recorded, I could only shrug.
To my shock, my cell phone rang, breaking my concentration. A gust of wind slammed the living room and I jumped slightly as the pane of glass rattled, and more icy tendrils of wind made it into the house. Putting a hand over my racing heart, I picked up my cell phone and glanced at the phone, puzzled.
The number on my screen was unknown, so I answered cautiously with, "Hello?"
A grumble of sound then, "Emma, what the fuck do you mean by telling Harry that I am fucking claustrophobic?"
I knew the voice and the monster.
"Oh, hi Riley. How things hanging?" I smiled and sat back grinning at the growl from the other side. My evening was definitely looking up. My pulse dropped back to normal and I grinned as I pushed aside the notes and copies and waited to see why Riley had called. I didn't even know he had my phone number. Uncle Harry must have given it to him.
"Things are going east." He said with another snarl.
"What?" I didn't have a clue what he meant. Going south meant life was heading down the drain and crappy, but going east was a new one on me.
"That means I am currently sitting in a hard plastic seat at Lindberg Field in San Diego, and I am about ten minutes from getting on a fucking flight to Michigan. Not first class or business class but fucking Southwest." I gulped and searched for a comment that would appease him and not piss off Uncle Harry. I knew perfectly well why Riley was flying to Michigan. He was to be on tap for me if I needed rescuing.
Going for the ditzy chick I said, "I didn't know you have family in Michigan."
He growled even louder, and I wondered how the fellow passengers waiting for the flight were looking at him. I somehow doubted that he'd gone unnoticed. Even in human form, Riley was huge. His werewolf form had to be horrific, not that I'd seen him as a werewolf, but I had my own mental picture.
"Well, your Uncle Harry said to me that if I didn't get my damned ass out to see you soon I wouldn't have to worry about my family or anything else. Understood?" His voice hadn't dropped the snarky anger, but then I gathered he didn't get any more of a choice than I did when it came to Uncle Harry. My vampire Uncle Harry wasn't exactly quiet about his commands, and since I pretty much had figured out years ago he was very well connected on more than just the vampire levels, but also with humans and other supernaturals, I didn't think that Riley got to turn him down any more than I could, to the torment of us both.
"Okay, so like do you need me to pick you up at the airport?" I offered trying to keep from giggling. I knew from the Internet site where I'd found the gossip about Riley that not only was he claustrophobic, but he hated snow with a red hot passion and the snow had been falling for two days solid here.
Not waiting to hear his reply, I grabbed the television remote and turned on the weather channel. I immediately muted the sound and clicked the button for closed caption. I grinned widely as I saw that the snowstorm currently freezing my ass inside the house was the edge of an even larger weather front heading straight for Detroit. This had all the earmarks of keeping me entertained while I figured out the best way to land inside the salt mines without being seen or stuck in the layers between the salt mines and the surface.
A louder growl then Riley admitted, "Yeah, actually you do. Harry figured it would give us time to 'bond' and keep you out of trouble for a change."
I couldn't argue, because I had intended on popping down to see what I could find sometime tomorrow. If I had to go find Riley at the airport, I was committed to staying topside for now.
"Sweet. So what time does your red-eye flight arrive?" I asked with a little bite in my voice.
He snarled again and said, "I'll text you my flight. I have to change planes in either Phoenix or St. Louis." I found it amusing but kept my thoughts to myself.
"Sounds good." I clicked the call off and grinned. After hanging up, I swear that I could hear Riley grinding his teeth even across the states. I didn't fault my Uncle Harry for sending Riley, but wondered how the local Michigan werewolves would take to his showing up without doing all the werewolf protocol. Even though I wasn't a normal supernatural -- I shook my head at my own confused station in the world -- I knew that vampires and werewolves couldn't just show up on others' territory without serious repercussions. Vampires also had some sort of protocol, but I wasn't as aware of them. They tended to retaliate late in the middle of the darkest hours of the night and nobody ever found a body -- vampires were funny that way. While the deaths of werewolves ended up being rather spectacularly spattered all over the news -- not furred out but pretty horrifically murdered.
It took at least a week or two for werewolves or any werebeasts to arrive on another pack's territory if they were following the rules and protocol. There was an elaborate set of steps they had to do. The lunar cycle figured into the mix, but they also needed to basically go belly up to the alpha and ask permission merely to visit. There was no way that Riley had even started that process.
I contemplated the various supplies I had around the house to ward off weres and wasn't happy with my available selection. I was heading into mine tunnels, not taking on possible hostile werewolves. I'd need to pop into either Wal-Mart or a hardware store, depending on when Riley's flight landed, to get a few things. I had garlic and blessed holy water -- both came in handy when I phased in and out of spots -- but my silver bullets were still in Florida, as post-Twin Towers decimation had made traveling with ammo a tad difficult. But weres didn't much care for a few other items commonly found in hardware stores and some larger Wal-Mart stores.
To my surprise my phone rang again. This time the call was identified as Uncle Harry.
"Hello?" I said softly, waiting for his explanation.
"Emma, sorry, I had to." Were the first words out of his mouth.
"Yeah, I figured," I couldn't fault him for wanting to protect me. Uncle Harry had been getting my back since I was little. He actually cared if I lived or died, and didn't seem to be on the list of folks ready to free my head from my body.