First: An' the gobble-uns 'll git you ef'n you don't Watch Out!
Previous: Gobble-uns: beyond the pale
Now, let us take a closer look at a Gobble-un community.
My former residence, prior to my imprisonment, is a place called Big Iron, in Arizona. It's a little place near the human town of Apache Junction, in the Superstition Mountains -- one might even say it's even located in Apache Junction, but really it's in the mountains, not really in the territory of the human town.
Let me elaborate.
These are the red mountains, the Superstition Mountains, where sunlight falls on bare, jagged slopes, and you'd think only shadows grow there. But there are plants -- sun-baked, gnarled, tenacious, vicious things, crabby and cruel from a lifetime of struggle. Teddy Bear Cholla has mercy for no-one.
Now, on one of these mountains (I won't telly ou which one) there is a crag (I can't tell you where) and if you step into a gap in this crag (I won't tell you how) you will enter Big Iron, Arizona. I won't tell you the password -- there is none. There need be none. The people of Big Iron believe that if you're brave enough to get past all the Teddy Bear Cholla at the entrance, you've earned a visit. If you've packed enough water and sunscreen to actually reach the crag, you're probably competent -- as well as exhausted, therefore no threat. Occasional young ruffians make sport of hikers in the area, which accounts for a few of the mysterious deaths in the region, but the town elders are trying to end this behavior. They're wary of the hype.
Anyway, you've entered the crag, so you're in Big Iron, Arizona. It doesn't look like iron at first, though -- there's veins of gold in the walls, lit up all shiny in the glow of luminescent crystals. Don't touch the crystals, because you don't want them to hatch. But you can look at all the engravings between the veins. Every bit of rock is covered in carvings of giant carnivorous lizards (though none have ever lived north of Matamoras), all of which are eating gobble-uns. The Gobble-uns are running all over the place, only to be snatched up by thunderbirds and Bunyip. At least I think Bunyip. The Gobble-uns alone know what the Bunyip actually looks like. I won't tell you.
Anyway, the tunnel leads down, down, down, through darkness and dankness and despair, until you reach the great chamber --
And the great chamber, well --
It's hard to reach the chamber. Because at some point in the tunnel, never the same place twice, gravity flips and disorients you. You'll know it when you find yourself sprawled on what was the ceiling. You'd think you'de be able to tell where it might reverse by the direction of the carvings, but it always happens in a place not lit by crystals. In the darkness and the confusion, you wind up getting turned around, and heading back the way you came. Then you realize the mistake, and you turn around and make for the chamber, and you get flipped again and again, and again, and soon enough you have no idea which way was up originally, nor where you're going. If you don't keep a level head, it's easy to run out of water and supplies attempting to cross this barrier. If you don't keep track of gravity, you'll reach the chamber and wind up falling into the sky. (This accounts for some of the other mysterious disappearances in the Apache Junction area.)
For the chamber is, in fact, open to the sky. It is a bowl, composed mostly of volcanic rock, half a mile deep and twenty miles in diameter. That is what I mean by "the other side of the world." The earth is round, but the world has another side, and if you dig deep enough, you'll reach it. This is where the Gobble-uns hid during the advance of the white settlers -- they knew few humans could master the trick of finding the Other Side. The Iroquois origin story tells of how the people of the sky world found ours by uprooting a tree and falling into the hole -- it's kind of like that, only with a thicker barrier and it's the same world, bust the other side of it. Like, you have paintings on both sides of commemorative plate. And nobody every looks at the bottom side of the plate, right? That's what this world is like.
The Iroquois never thought they could actually reach the Other Side (as far as I know, who knows, they may be here in small numbers), but the Gobble-uns have known for a long time.
The chamber is mostly volcanic rock. In a mile-wide band around the edge is lush greenery -- high cacti, Joshua trees, desert flowers. But Big Iron is at the center, where the rock is most fertile. Big Iron gains its property from this volcanic rock, full of metals and minerals; their cheif export is the iron from the mine in the town's very center. There is enough left over to turn the town into its namesake -- most of the structures in town are curving, twisting latticeworks of metal, steel and copper and gold, reaching and twining together, so that nearly the entire town is a tangled sculpture, gleaming in the sun. The only roofed structure is the foundry, a donut-shaped building surrounding the mine hole, and even that building is gleaming metal, flowing upward to the iron canopy.
The residents of Big Iron are extremely proud of this structure, which is why they allow the occasional human tourist; they boast about it wherever they go. Children in town are taught, from an early age, how to tend the steel, to bend and extend it, to keep the sculpture ever-changing, ever-growing, as if it were a living thing. Perhaps, on the time scale of the town, it is living. Certainly its roots are deep in the earth and it catches the light as much as it can.
And its roots, the veins of ore running deep under and throughout the town, are extensive. Three hundred years has not been enough to exhaust the mine.
Some resent the metal twining, and the mine, because the town elders are greedy for ore and for the continued extention of the canopy, as well as materials for growing more food to support a greater population. Today's miners are worked much harder than even ten years ago; the elders have forgotten that the canopy was the work of slow work over centuries, and cannot be rushed. Those who dissent --
The dissenters are sent to live where I stationed myself, on the edge of town. There the rock is poor for growing crystals, leaving the exiles starving; they are forced to steal food from town, which only increases their sentences when they are taught. I could never give them my food -- I survive on cactus fruit and Joshua Tree seeds -- but I often helped their food raids, which led the town elders to almost throw me off the edge of town. My sentence was talked down to being hung from the highest spar for a day. I almost went mad with thirst.
I could see beyond the edge of the bowl, for the first time. There were far-flung forests of scrub, and craggy mountains, and deep river -canyons. I fancied I could see smoke on the horizon. There were large animals moving in the foreground -- I coldn't tell if they were the giant lizards, or something else entirely.
I could also see down through the twisting metal, down to the secret places in the iron jungle, where amethyst was still grown. That was surprising. Elder Brughel told me everyone stopped growing Amethyst after the war. That was the cause of the war, after all. Had Big Iron not had places to hide, the raids might have been devestating; as it was, the war was enough to sever formal relations between humans and gobble-uns forever. And yet, here was amethyst -- it was even being tended. There was Violet the Younger among the spires. Were we about to turn Amethyst into our luxury export, as it had been of old? Or was it simply for the secret pleasure of a few?
When I was let down at last, I resolved to quit the town, and discover what lay beyond, on this Other Side.
I regret that I refused to aid my hometown, to reform its character, but I feared anything I did would only cause more pain. The elders would stiffen and turn to stone soon anyway. I needed time to gather my wits.
Next: The Amethyst War