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Jeremiah packed the last of the ore into the pickup's bed. He lifted a chunk of the shiny, rust-colored mineral to eye level. It had broken off from the rock in a dozen jagged angles, each one of them a shimmering mirror that distorted his face into a thousand stretched grimaces.

Jeremiah didn't worry about the mine being found. By the time he finished loading, the edges of the open vein had already begun to pull together, closing over the gleaming substance within like skin knitting itself together around a wound. He was the only person, alive or dead, who knew its location.

He placed the rock back on top of the pile in the truck bed, then covered the pile with burlap. He took extra care to cushion the edges from the side of the truck. The ore wasn't terribly reactive—at least not without explicit intent—but the potential was there, and it was better to be safe than sorry. Magic, even natural magic, was unpredictable, and it was good to be cautious. The last thing he needed was an incident on the way back to Kingman.

One last thing. He pulled a vase of flowers from the passenger seat. He'd purchased them that morning, and they'd already wilted inside the scorching truck. Not that it mattered. They would be dust in a few hours more, anyway. He wasn't sure why people left flowers on graves, but there were a lot of things like that that he didn't understand. He placed the flowers near the donkey-shaped rock, trying to get them in the shade as much as possible.

Duke whined, drawing his attention away from his father's grave. Jeremiah patted one of her metal doors, the powdery blue paint still pristine after all these years, not a spot of rust on her.

"It's ok, girl. We'll be out of this place and back with the others soon enough." There was no way they could stay mad at him, not with this load of ore in the back of his truck. They must be running low by now; even Lance would be glad to see him pull up.

He had just closed the tail gate when the truck whined again. The whine was even higher pitched, ending in a firm growl.

Jeremiah's ears perked up. The Superstitions were a dangerous place, but Duke wasn't yellow-bellied. As a dog, she'd been brave and fierce. Now that she was a truck—and a rather sturdy one, at that—she had even less to fear from the world. In any case, her canine instincts had survived through the transmogrification, and Jeremiah trusted them.

Duke's growl deepened and grew louder. Her wheels turned slightly to the right, pointing.

A figure, eight feet tall if it was an inch, stood off in the distance. It stood like a man, but its shoulders hunched over into a stoop. Its body was entirely black, covered in feathers, or maybe fur—it was difficult to tell from this far away.

The being turned slightly so that its head was in profile, revealing a long beak that curved, ending in a point just above its belly. The most terrible thing was its eyes, if you could call them that. They were more like the absence of eyes, the empty sockets of a dead bird left to fester on a sidewalk. Even so, Jeremiah could tell that the creature was looking at him.

Without speaking, he extended his arm and dropped his compass. He noted absently that his skin had taken on a reddish gleam. The dust seeped from his pores. Not enough to be worried about, not yet. Still, he needed to keep calm. He breathed in as deeply as possible, holding the air in his chest a few seconds before slowly releasing it.

The bird-man cocked its head slowly to the right. Once the compass stilled, Jeremiah watched the dial closely. "Safety," he said to it.

The needle, which had been slowly rotating, ambivalent of the earth's magnetic poles, stopped suddenly, and jerked to the right, pointing away from the being in the direction of the road. It jerked back and forth emphatically.

Jeremiah turned quickly. "Duke!" he shouted, but the truck had already begun driving away.

"Sugar," he muttered under his breath, before whistling. The truck stopped reluctantly twenty feet away, and he ran towards it, the driver's side door flinging open a second before he reached it.

He let Duke steer as they drove away from the base of the mountain. He watched the bird-man in his rear-view mirror until they reached the gravel road. It did not move. Its head remained cocked to the side. From this far away, it wavered in the heat.

Jeremiah looked away when they reached the road, and when he glanced back at the mirror, the thing was gone. 

~~~

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