The first flash threw stark shadows across the foothills. He counted under his breath, waiting for the rifle crack of the thunder to reach him. Seven seconds, so only a mile behind, too close for comfort. Another flash froze the scene ahead. Six seconds. The storm was gaining on him fast.
His horse was feeling skittish beneath him, wanting to move faster, but this was no country to take at speed. Broken rocks, potholes and dry washes could bring his horse down too easily. He patted his horse's neck and tried to reassure him, even though he was scared himself. He knew what these storms coming down from the mountains could be like. Even from inside the dude ranch the power of the storm a few days ago had shaken him. Now he was lost and alone, a tenderfoot, separated from the rest of the group when he went off exploring while the others ate their picnic lunches.
Flash! Count. Bang! Four seconds!
The wind was picking up now, raising dust and grit from the ground ahead and throwing it in his face. The warm air feeding the monster behind him with more energy. He pulled the cowboy bandana up over his face. How the others had laughed at him for wearing it, but it worked well and there was no more dust in his throat making him cough,
Flash! What was that? In the shadows ahead a glint of metal. Bang! He had forgotten to count, Not long though between flash and bang. As his eyes recovered from the brightness he looked for where he had seen the reflection. There! A rock slab jutted out over a dry stream bed. He urged his horse on. Perhaps he could shelter there?
As he reached the slab, he tried to dismount, but another flash spooked his horse and he fell in a heap in the stoney stream bed. Cursing he made a grab for the reins. Too late! The horse bolted and in seconds was gone from sight.
No time to worry about that. He had shelter, the stupid horse could take care of itself for all he cared. The space under the rock slab was not all that large. He had to get down on all fours to get under the overhang.
Inside, away from the wind and the threat of a lightning strike he took a few moments to relax.
Flash! Bang! The cave lit up around him. “I'm struck”, he thought. Bright ribbons of light encircled him, a tracery of silver light all around. Then it was gone. He felt no pain, only panic. What had just happened? Surely he had been hit?
Feeling through his pockets he found his lighter. Click! The small flame flickered and he looked round the cave. The lighter was starting to burn his thumb. He saw some dry brushwood in one corner, and dragged it into the centre of the cave. It took a couple of tries, but eventually he got it to light. Now he could take a better look round.
Like a spiderweb, pure wire silver threaded its way through the walls of the cave, glistening in the firelight. He recalled the talk back at the ranch about the history of Arizona and the huge silver finds of long ago. This time he had struck gold, or rather silver. He felt round in his pockets again, where was that knife? A few minutes of scratching and gouging and he had a good length of the wire silver in his hands. How much was it worth? No where near as much as gold, but there was a lot of it here, and easy to get at. Could you still stake claims for mines like you did in the old days, or did you have to own the land? If nobody else knew it was here did that matter? He could come back again and again and make it worth while.
Outside the rain had started and the lightning was subsiding. It was fully dark now. Time enough to work out where he was in the morning. They were sure to be looking for him then. He would want to be well away from the cave. Why share this with anyone else?
The cave floor was stony and not very comfortable, at least it was dry. The rain outside was falling steadily and the fire was almost burnt out.. Best get some sleep. He took off his jacket and rolled it up for a pillow, then wound the silver round his wrist, a good weight. He would get some more out of the walls in the morning. It might even pay for his holiday.
He woke with a start. He was wet. From outside the cave he could hear a rush of running water. It was still pitch black in the cave but he could feel the water rising. Where was the way out? There was no dry area in the cave at all. His hands could reach the cave roof and he felt his way round, it was lower near the entrance, but the water was deeper. He was going to have to dive under the overhang to get out.
The water was cold, the thunderstorm had dropped most of its rain on the mountains. Trickles had turned to rivulets, then to fast flowing streams, then torrents, picking up debris then pebbles and then rocks from the dry stream beds as it came. The rock that hit his head had already traveled miles as the flood gained strength. There was a moment of pain, then blackness.
The search party found him the next day, where the flood had spread out into lower foothills. The buzzards had found him first though. Nobody was going to recognize his face but the tattered clothing matched the description of the rider that had strayed from the party in the mountains.
As one of the old timers slid the corpse into the body bag the glint of silver round the wrist caught his eye. Old tales from the area surfaced into his memory. Over the years several bodies had been found in this valley, caught out by flash floods from the mountains above. Quite a number had been found with wire silver on them. Nobody knew exactly where the silver came from, there were many feeder streams into the valley. The old timer recalled what he had heard his grandfather say about it.
“The valley of the Four Horsemen is jealous of its silver, it gives with one hand then takes with the other.”