Contest #129 shortlist ⭐️

The Iron Door

Submitted into Contest #129 in response to: Write about a skier who accidentally strays off-piste.... view prompt

50 comments

Adventure Historical Fiction Contemporary

December 12th, 1692

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

The Cañada del Oro is rightly named, glory be to God. The placer has pointed our direction and we begin our journey up and into the belly of the mountain. The burros complain terribly, but not so loudly as the novitiates. The Papago peoples, of whom our apostolate counts some small number, are silent and strong in their ascent. They are possessed of a God-given sure-footedness that is the envy of burro and novitiate alike. Perhaps they are part bighorn sheep.

We have made camp along a ridge that juts some thousands of feet above the great river. Light digging is begun in earnest, but our guide, Alférez Juan Bautista de Escalante, tells us we must practice patience. He believes the lode is still many thousands of feet above the canyon, and we approach snowline. That snow may exist above the shimmering desert of Pimería Alta – is it not proof that our Lord is an artist? Watching the sun set upon the river, scattering golden reflections off its surface, I feel certain this is a whispering of God that our works will be rewarded.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Driving through the twists and turns of Sky Island Scenic Byway, I feel like I'm being consumed by the folds of the mountains. Who could imagine finding such comfort in becoming a landform's lunch? I've watched myself become and come undone a thousand times this year, Cass. But here, in the mountain's entrails, is where my pieces reside. Gathered as if by some metaphysical magnetism.

No, it isn't magnetism, it's longing. For the bite of a true winter – the one I left you in and find often promised, but never arriving, in the valley below. I'm still awestruck that any appreciable amount of snow, nevermind a ski mountain, can exist above Tucson – even at ten thousand feet.

I know you hate when I get flowery. I know you hate that I still text. I'm sorry. But skiing always makes me think of you.

Read 11:31 AM

***

October 29th, 1695

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

On the credit of the mine we have erected a number of suitably humble buildings atop the mountain, a small chapel with three gilt bells among them. Escalante tells us he has never seen a lode its equal. Even a Godly man, one whose gaze is forever turned heavanward, can see how thickly the quartz is veined in gold. I tell you, Father Kino, that San Xavier del Bac is only the beginning of our ministry in Pimería Alta. With this gift, we will spread the Word across the continent.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

The lift here reminds me of the old double at Pat's Peak – do you remember? Being here, on this lift, with the wind like a song and the shimmy of ponderosas humming out the harmony... it feels like a gift. I'm telling you, Cass, this place – this mountain – is a treasure.

Read 1:54 PM

***

March 8th, 1698

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

With rumors of our claim's riches now flowing down the mountain like snowmelt, it has become necessary to secure the mine. I have commissioned a fine iron door, for which I shall have the only key, to span its mouth. There is no other entry.

A strange formation in the rocks which the novitiates call “the eyes of Saint Ramon” looks upon us as we work. I find his gaze a holy comfort but a number of our party find it unsettling. I have condemned such worry as heathen superstition, but it has not stopped some of the Papago from fleeing our site. They say it portends evil things.

The only evil I fear is that of which Timothy spoke: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” It is for this reason the location of the mine must remain secret. The novitiates have sworn themselves to God and in this confer my unbidden trust. But Escalante gives me pause. His god lives in the veins in the quartz in the tunnels in the mountain. Much has been spent to secure his discretion, but I fear still more will be required.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

It just snowed here two days ago, and it's almost like being at Steamboat. Not quite champagne powder; maybe prosecco? The north boundary is studded with stands of aspen and pine, not a single track laid. Just begging to be breached.

Cass, I can see you toeing the out-of-bounds, looking over your shoulder to make sure your illicit descent remains undiscovered. There's a hoodoo that looks like an Easter Island head, all sharp nose and pensive brow. It's looking straight down a perfect line, and I'm watching you now, winking at it as you lift the rope and shove off. If a skier goes off-piste and no one is around to see it, do they still leave tracks?

Wish you were here.

Read 2:12 PM

Sorry again for the texts.

Read 2:13 PM

***

July 26th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

We have had a small cave-in at the mine. Thanks be to God nobody was lost, but Escalante pushes too hard. The men are unnerved. The Papago blame Saint Ramon, the novitiates blame Escalante, and Escalante blames the dikes in the granite that spill open like wounds into the drift. The vein is still rich, he says, and work is begun to block fresh timbers.

Is it his pride, Father Kino, or ours that sustains us on this path? I pray for him. I pray for us.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Cass. Help. Please. I don't know what the hell happened. The ground fell out from under me. I'm in some sort of tunnel.

! Not Delivered

Cold is leaching my battery. Don't know how long the flashlight will last.

! Not Delivered

***

August 12th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

A major roof fall last night. The cost of our pride can be counted in lives. Two novitiates and a Papago. A third novitiate, Tomás, is badly injured and not expected to wake. Still more unaccounted for. We sift through the ore not for gold, but for bodies. This is not a mine, it is a tomb.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Jesus. I think it's some sort of mine. Should never have gone off trail. Please Cass. Help.

! Not Delivered

***

August 16th, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

Escalante is gripped with a sickness. I have heard of this thing where gold is concerned. He is mad with lust of riches and digs through the mine in a fever, even as the mountain belches and rumbles and spits out timbers, even as the bodies of two more novitiates lie entombed within. The men fear him.

He demands the transfer of our claim, but I cannot conscience another life. The iron door will be sealed by week's end and the mine left to God.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Phone dying. There's an iron door. Sealed. Please god, help.

! Not Delivered

Jesus. There's a body. Bones. I'm going to die down here.

! Not Delivered

***

August 21st, 1702

To Father Eusebio Francisco Kino:

We begin our descent from this accursed mountain. The mine has collapsed, with Escalante within. There was nothing to be done. The key is buried, the door is sealed, and we have done what we can to obscure it with large boulders hefted in front of the entrance.

May God wipe the memory of this place from the earth.

Ad majórem Dei glóriam,

Father Alonso Bartolomé Calvo

***

Cass. I'm sorry.

! Not Delivered

January 20, 2022 02:33

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50 comments

Benny Regalbuto
17:19 Jan 25, 2022

Aside from the two time periods themselves, what really sold this for me was how you differentiated the language in each. Both characters are flowery, but not in the same way—or for the same reason. Bravo.

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Anna Nonymous
17:23 Jan 25, 2022

Thanks so much, Benny. Toying with voice is my favorite. I'm not always so successful, so I'm glad this worked for you!

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Jessie Chapman
15:38 Jan 27, 2022

I was already so invested in your present day character, that I felt a thud in my stomach when I realised he wasn't going to make it. It's a great skill to make a reader care in so few (beautifully written) words. Be proud!

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Anna Nonymous
16:30 Jan 27, 2022

Thank you so much, Jessie! What a kind comment! I actually had an extended discussion with a friend about the character's fate, and we both worked REALLY hard to find a happy ending. Or at least not a horrible one. But the more and more we thought on it, the worse and worse it got. So we decided to leave this one on the page, and hope for some unwritten deus ex machina. Can't tell you how much I appreciate your comment. Again, thank you!

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Erin Olig
16:56 Jan 25, 2022

Beautifully crafted story Hannah! I loved the contrast between "Ad majórem Dei glóriam," and simply "read". The voice of Father Alonso was so well done and I was impressed at your intellect and understanding of this peice of history. It adds such a unique quality to your work!

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Anna Nonymous
17:22 Jan 25, 2022

Wow! Thanks so much, Erin! Is it weird to admit that in my head, Father Alonso's parts were narrated by Antonio Banderas? Or that I imaginary cast all my main characters when I write (Escalante would be played by Javier Bardem 😂)? I can't possibly be the only one who does that. Again, thank you for reading and glad you enjoyed it!

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Sarah Winston
12:51 Jan 28, 2022

@ Hannah: Antonio Banderas is perfect for just about any part that requires an accent, in my book. I seldom have an actor in mind for an MC part when I write, but occasionally, odd or quirky side characters - I cast those all the time with lesser known actors.

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Fjc Montenegro
05:12 Jan 24, 2022

The switching between the two time periods worked so well, nice work! It started a bit slow for me but it got more and more interesting at each passage. Loved the style. Again, well done.

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Anna Nonymous
12:09 Jan 24, 2022

Thanks for reading, Splinter! I really appreciate your feedback. Started a bit slow for me, too! Sometimes getting the plane off the ground, so to speak, is the hardest part for me. I'll keep that in mind for the next prompt and try to take off a little more expediently.

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Sarah Winston
06:28 Jan 29, 2022

😬lol Hannah, you receive a critique so gracefully! It was a, shall we say, 'gentle glide' toward take-off, but I was so enthralled by the voice of the Priests' writing, curious about the timeline, wanting to know what was going to happen next... elements of good story telling! I am appalled this didn't win😠 Pardon my emoji rant, but I've never had emoji options in comments before, and I'm as giddy as a toddler about having them now😋

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Anna Nonymous
12:17 Jan 29, 2022

Haha you are so kind Sarah! Between you and me and whoever makes it this far down the comment thread (and being as objective as possible where one's own writing is concerned), I DID like mine best this week. And I say that with all the humility of someone who absolutely knows when they have NOT written a winner. But that said, I am just so grateful for the shortlist, and grateful for your support and pursuant rant 😂

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09:00 Jan 22, 2022

So interesting and effective with the time flip-flop. The arc of the monks going from optimism to greed and finally disaster foreshadows with a creeping claustrophobia the journey of the woman texting Cass with whom she obviously has a complicated history. Great job with the monk's ye-old Spanish type language and way of speaking. Quite devastating at the end with the string of undelivered texts. A stimulating, unusual read. Good job.

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Anna Nonymous
12:48 Jan 22, 2022

Thanks so much, Scoop! We have a weird and wild history here in the southwest, and I've been wanting for a while now to riff off the many "lost Spanish gold" narratives that have literally lured treasure hunters to their deaths over the centuries. The fact that we've got that history AND a ski mountain perched only 45 minutes above the desert seemed like a good opportunity to weave the treasure and the prompt together in a (maybe? hopefully?) unexpected way. I'm so glad you enjoyed this!

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04:10 Jan 23, 2022

Wow, a unique kind of topography and history for sure!

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Emma Lynn
14:46 Feb 02, 2022

OMG! So good I loved how you developed this short story in such an interesting and comprehensive way when it could have taken up a whole book. Love it!

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Anna Nonymous
15:31 Feb 02, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind words, Emma! I'm actually toying with the idea of expanding this story - there's a LOT I didn't write, and I think I'd like to explore further!

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Elle Boyd
12:50 Feb 01, 2022

What a wonderful story. Definitely deserved to be shortlisted. Original, fluid, engaging ... I was sucked right in and truly cared about the characters. Love your use of 17th-century language. A joy to read!

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Anna Nonymous
13:56 Feb 01, 2022

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Elle! I had a lot of fun with voice on this one, and I'm so glad it worked for you!

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Laura Jarosz
05:14 Jan 31, 2022

I have to apologize, I started reading this TWICE last week, and both times wound up getting interrupted and never finished. Now that I finally have--so much about this is brilliant! I love epistolary formats to begin with, and the gradual progression of each parallel story was beautifully crafted. (And I don't know what it's formally called, but the whole 'repeating the mistakes of a doomed expedition long in the past' trope never fails to give me chills.) This might be one of my favorites on the site so far!

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Anna Nonymous
15:36 Feb 02, 2022

Wow, Laura! Thanks so much for the kind words and high praise. I'm fairly new to the Tucson area, and the history here is WILD. Like fill dozens of volumes wild. So I'm really glad my small, Wild West contribution to the 'repeating the mistakes of a doomed expedition long in the past' genre struck a chord with you. ;)

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Kevin Broccoli
00:29 Jan 30, 2022

I love the side-by-side narratives and tone shifts. Just fantastic.

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Anna Nonymous
00:30 Jan 30, 2022

Thanks so much for reading, Kevin! I'm so grateful and so pleased you enjoyed it.

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22:38 Jan 29, 2022

Holy cow was this intelligently written. The epistolary form is a challenge for me, but you nailed this in two different eras while maintaining a driving momentum. AWESOME

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Anna Nonymous
15:38 Feb 02, 2022

Thank you so much for your kind words, Deidra, and for taking the time to read! Looking forward to the podcast!

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Alex Sultan
09:51 Jan 29, 2022

Great story - a well-deserved shortlist. I really think you nailed the voice here, and I like how different the back and forward perspectives are(clever use of italics). My favourite part is the last line, emphasizing the '!Not Delivered' - it portrays a good sense of dread. He'll never be found. Well done!

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Anna Nonymous
12:20 Jan 29, 2022

Thanks so much, Alex! I really appreciate your kind words. I think this story is probably proof positive that a little struggle is good for us - it was an absolute bear to write and I considered shelving it permanently more than once along the way. I'm glad it worked for you. And yeah. Poor guy's just gonna be more bones in the pile.

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21:41 Jan 28, 2022

I really like this. You got that subtle feeling of dread as the story progressed just right.

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Anna Nonymous
03:28 Jan 29, 2022

Thanks so much, Eleanor! I don't think I've ever torn apart and reassembled a story as many times as this one, so I'm glad I got the pieces back together okay :)

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Kendall Defoe
22:43 Jan 23, 2022

Okay you got me. Stephen King, call your office... ;)

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Anna Nonymous
23:11 Jan 23, 2022

Thanks for reading, Kendall! It did go a bit dark, didn't it!

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Okashi Kashi
02:30 Jan 23, 2022

This read certainly was interesting. Are the italicized pieces real letters in history or...?

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Anna Nonymous
03:07 Jan 23, 2022

The letters are fictional, but some of the characters - Father Kino, Escalante - are real, historical figures. There's a huge mythology of lost mines and cities and treasures in Tucson, all tightly tied up with the Spanish Jesuits and Franciscans of the time.

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Danie Nikole
14:46 Feb 03, 2022

I was paired up to critique with you but quickly found I have nothing to offer. It was powerfully and beautifully written. I look forward to reading more of your submissions! This was seriously so well done.

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Anna Nonymous
15:42 Feb 03, 2022

You are so kind, Danie! And if you want to offer up some critique, just scroll back a few stories. Yikes! But seriously... maybe don't *cringe*

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Danie Nikole
18:01 Feb 03, 2022

I don't think you are being fair to yourself. Lol, I do get it though, I think writers have a tendency to be one of their harshest critiques.

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Jamie Gregory
02:09 Feb 02, 2022

Wow, I loved this! You did a fantastic job weaving these two storylines together. I loved the juxtaposition of the 17th-century letters (which were so well written by the way which wasn't easy I'm sure) and the modern-day text messages. When I realized that the skier was trapped in the same mine that Escalante died in it gave me goosebumps.

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Anna Nonymous
15:34 Feb 02, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind words, Jamie! I actually LOVED writing the 17th-century letters. Playing with voice is my favorite, and for once I appear to have pulled it off! I'm so glad you enjoyed this, and so appreciative of you taking the time to read.

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P.J. Byrd
14:30 Jan 29, 2022

To be honest, this made me lose faith in the discretion of Reedsy. This is the clear and obvious winner! This was carefully eloquent (heavily descriptive without ever feeling like too much) and pulled you through from beginning to end. Really loved the subtle paradox like the the Father securing the mine to protect others from the traps of greed while clearly not being impervious themselves. I could go off on how great this story is and the poor choice by Reedsy of this being “runner up.” You won Hannah. You just didn’t get paid for it. ...

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Anna Nonymous
15:37 Jan 29, 2022

Thanks so much for the high praise, P.J.! I had a lot of fun writing this and am honestly just so glad people enjoyed reading it too. So grateful for acknowledgment generally - shortlist, win, whatever! The awesome (and yes, sometimes frustrating) thing about writing is once you've corrected for decent, basic mechanics, it pretty much comes down to taste. This is where a zen sense of detachment from results comes in real handy. Again, thanks so much for reading, and I am so glad you enjoyed it.

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Sarah Winston
13:04 Jan 28, 2022

This is quite the contender! I love the overlay of past with present, and so foreboding. Beautifully written. Of course, now I'm forced to sit here and twist my brain cells together, collapsing dendrites, trying to erect the ideal deus ex machina, which, by my nature, would end up being a ridiculously happy ending. ie: he lands atop a stash of humongous gold nuggets worth millions, prays really hard and a mine rat carries off his phone full of messages to the nearest ski lodge. A search party is convened, he's rescued, and after a long recov...

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Anna Nonymous
03:26 Jan 29, 2022

LOL I love this resolution, Sarah! Especially the mine rats. But (and I've thought about this a LOT) I think he ultimately starves to death over the course of weeks 😬 It never gets particularly cold on Mount Lemmon and he's dressed for the weather, so a peaceful death by exposure is out. There's probably lots of snow spilling into the hole he punched in the mine, so water shouldn't be an issue. So he's also denied that relatively quick death. The mine doesnt have any vertical shafts, so he won't be falling down one of those to his death. Tha...

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Graham Kinross
05:43 Jan 24, 2022

That was really good. Brutal ending but I don’t think a happy ending would have suited it. Great story.

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Anna Nonymous
12:06 Jan 24, 2022

I dunno - maybe drunk death could have swooped in at the last minute, tendered his resignation, and saved the day? Thanks for reading, Graham. Glad it worked for you, even if it didn't work out for any of my characters!

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Graham Kinross
12:33 Jan 24, 2022

If death took a break he would just be stuck there wasting away as basically a zombie I imagine. He might have had enough time to get out though. Awkward call for Father Alonso to have to make, basically killing Escalate. The right call perhaps, but a tough one.

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Coffee Mc Cann
04:28 Jan 24, 2022

I love the way the stories come together. Great job! -Coffee

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Anna Nonymous
12:12 Jan 24, 2022

Thanks so much, Coffee!

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