The ship docked on the sandy shores.
Waves lapping at its barnacled belly
the anchor digging deep into the earth.
Hundreds swarmed the grounds,
scouring for fresh water.
They readily gulped it down.
With quenched sighs,
the cheerful banter crescendoed from a buzz to a roar.
For gold awaited them in California,
if they could survive the bouts of scurvy that ravaged the crew,
if they could make it ‘round the horn.
A miner drifted astray.
He stumbled upon an old man,
a cloaked figure,
a deserted soul.
His bony finger pointed deep into the lush abyss.
Raspily whispered “do not undertake the long trip,
cross the isthmus and catch the following ship.”
Gripping his sluice box ever so tightly,
his knuckles whitened at the sight of the darkening jungle,
until he reminded himself of the wealth that awaited him.
He pushed forward.
Feet sinking into the murky bottom as he held in his gasps,
for willowy whispers transfigured from hums to
restless voices warning him to turn back.
Starting from beneath, they rose up until they enveloped his entire body.
He killed the warnings with one swift motion to his ears.
Thoughts of California’s luxuries raced through his panicked mind.
He pushed forward.
Vines silently coiled around his leg.
Reaching to brush them off, they snaked up his arm as
hundreds more slithered down the trees.
Thorny bodies pierced his flesh,
with agonizing screams, the miner was dragged to the ground.
Layer after layer they entwined him.
And it was now that they started to squeeze.
The pain in his chest grew with the lengthening gap between each ragged breath.
A fire was lit.
Starting in his lungs,
it ravaged his chest cavity and the flames attacked his throat.
His face was painted with terror for standing above him was a motionless figure.
Crouching down, the familiar raspy voice hissed
“Was the gold worth it?”
The old man’s mouth curled into a sneer as he lifted his tattered hood.
The vines had taken over, hijacked his mind, he was one of them.
Now the miner saw through his watery lenses:
corpses, those around him who had let avarice steal their last breath.
Consumed by his guilt,
straining for a single gasp,
the flames slithered up into his skull…
And turned to ice.