[The Black Opal, 1,812 words, Genre: Horror]
* Image courtesy of Dirk de Bruyn
There is a legend of a gemstone so hypnotizing that it is said the devil himself sent it up to Earth in an effort to torture mankind with its beauty.
It all begun in Australia, in New South Wales, Lightning Ridge. It was in the year of 1929 when the Great Depression had begun. Those who were attempting to carry on throughout all the calamity that was occurring across the country, were mining. Mining for opals and as was unique to the town of Lightning Ridge; black opals.
A wealthy German had established a mining camp and had hired several miners to work underneath him as they all fossicked through the area that the German had bought. The German had already surveyed the land and had made some minor discoveries of black opals in the area. But as the camp wore on, day after day, they were always looking for more. The German man was cruel. He was a figure of greed and opulence. He paid his workers below what was average and provided them no refreshments as they worked underneath the blistering hot sun in the forty degree weather. He was fat, not morbidly obese, just fat and did not fit underneath any such stereotype as the jolly old fat man. As he walked through the camp, he yelled at his workers.
“If you don’t bloody well find something soon, I’ll dock all of your pay and you can all starve to death!”
The miners, dehydrated in the hot sun, were making all sorts of mistakes. The sun and their dehydration seemed to play an effect on the mind. Creating a mirage in everything they saw. They would see some spot of land and rocks up ahead, thinking that they had discovered something, but only upon approach did it reveal that they were hallucinating under the hot weather.
That is when the devil decided to do it. The devil, the great beast that lay beneath the surface of the land, torturing and punishing souls. The devil, in his reflection, thought to himself that the souls that he was torturing down in the depths of hell needn’t be the only ones who suffer. He saw all mankind as guilty of sin, so he reached up into the world and placed a single gem upon the Earth. It was not of this world. It had been created in the fires of hell and it was of his own design. And this gem, this black opal had a will of its own.
One of the miners chased another mirage and despite previous failures was surprised to find it. The gemstone. The black opal. He called out to the German, “I’ve found something! I’ve found something! By the Gods of heaven, I’ve finally found something!” The worker thought it was a miracle, but it was anything but.
As he bent over to pick up the stone another miner came in and ran into him, knocking the other miner off of his feet. The original miner fell over, head first down a slope and began rolling down the terrain on the rocky surface. The miner was descending down into the crevice of the rocky terrain and when he reached the bottom, he came to an end and smashed his head open up against a much larger rock. When the German saw this, there was an inner pronouncement of glee as he realized that it meant that this was another worker that he didn’t have to pay.
Instead of going to his aid, the miner who had knocked him down, picked up the black opal and marveled over the gem with absolute curiosity. “It’s… It’s… It’s beautiful.” He stated as the miner at the bottom of the crevice breathed his last breaths.
“Let me see. Let me see.” The German waddled over to the latest discovery. Everyone, the other miners included, seemed to ignore the dead man at the bottom of the crevice who had made the initial discovery. Everyone had come to gather and marvel at the gemstone, delivered straight from the fires of hell and into the world.
All of the men stared at the stone. The rainbow of colours in their dazzling array played a kaleidoscope into their souls. And as each of the men stared at all the different colours something happened to every single one of them. The greed that lay within all men’s hearts ached and contorted, expanding to an excessive degree.
“Blimey! I’ve never seen one like that before!”
“Give it to me…” One of the miners called.
The German, quick and able despite his large stature snatched it out of the miner’s hand who held it. “It’s mine.” He stated simply and went back to the tents set up in the area to rest under the shade.
As the German walked away the miners talked amongst themselves, “One like that must be worth a fortune.”
“We’re all contracted on site here. All of the produce belongs to the fat bugger.” They all mumbled and then went back to their duties fossicking amongst the landscape.
Later that evening as the German slept in his tent, one of the miners snuck in and light as a feather on his feet spied the black opal. It lay just next to the German’s bed, resting on a table. The miner made no sound and plucked the black opal from its resting place. Then went off into the night, never to return to the encampment.
When the German woke to the sun rising the next day and found that the black opal had gone missing he called out in a terrible rage, “Where’s my black opal! You bastards, give me back what is mine!”
All of the miners left on site heard him, but they did not understand what he was talking about. They all gathered outside for inspection and when it was found that one amongst their number was missing, it was easy enough for the German to figure out what had happened.
The German went back into town to try and find the man and when he couldn’t, he hired a bounty hunter to track the man down, kill him and return the black opal.
Meanwhile, the miner who had stolen the black opal had made away from the town a long time ago and hit the road. In two days course, travelling by horse and cart, he found himself on the streets of Sydney attempting to sell the thing so that he could sell it for what he thought it was worth.
When the miner demanded the high price of a thousand pounds for the gem no jeweller would agree to that price. And so the miner decided to attempt to sell the jewel privately. He found a wealthy gentleman in the more expensive districts of the city taking refuge in one of the men’s clubs.
When the miner showed the wealthy gentlemen the gem, the wealthy man could not believe his eyes. As he stared into the kaleidoscope of colours the entrancing effect of the jewel once again reached into his heart and brought out the worst of him. The wealthy man told the miner that if he were to bring back the item to his estate he would gladly hand over a thousand pounds for the exquisite item.
But as soon as the miner had reached the wealthy man’s estate, he was struck over the head by the wealthy man and his throat slit. His body would be disposed of by the help, tied with weights and sunk to the bottom of the harbour.
The wealthy man had other plans for the legendary black opal. He would gift the item to the mayor’s daughter on an offer of marriage to win her heart.
And so the wealthy gentlemen went to win the heart of the mayor’s daughter with the black opal in hand. He sent an invitation to the young woman to dine with him that night at one of the finer eateries in the city.
The mayor’s daughter, knowing that this man had a good reputation accepted the offer.
That night as they dined on delicacies known in the area; oysters, crab meat and lobster. He opened up a small box and showed the young lady the black opal. She gazed into the gem, even she was not immune to the rock’s entrancing effect.
Later that evening as they sat in private quarters in the mayor’s own estate, the mayor’s daughter snuck in a small portion of poison in amongst the wealthy man’s cups. The wealthy man collapsed face down with a blue face. The black opal sat in a box, now in the mayor’s daughter’s possession.
By that time the bounty hunter had tracked down the black opal and followed the wake of bodies that had been left strewn in its path. He had entered the mayor’s estate and with gun pointed at the mayor’s daughter asked, “Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” The mayor’s daughter attempted to play coy.
“The rock. The black opal. Where is it?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
The bounty hunter cocked the piston of his pistol, “Don’t play games with me.”
The mayor’s daughter, afraid at this point, pointed to the box where the black opal lay.
The bounty hunter did not bother to open the box and stare at the thing, he was under a great deal of pressure, entering the mayor’s estate such as he was. He grabbed the box where the black opal lay and made off into the night.
When the bounty hunter returned to the mining camp of Lightning Ridge, the German had come down with some form of illness. He coughed up blood and asked for the return of his precious stone.
The bounty hunter kept it in the box and stated thus, “You can have the bloody thing. Don’t bother paying me. The body trail on this thing was bad, and it looks like you’re next in line, I think it’s cursed or something.”
The bounty hunter handed over the box and the German opened the box and took out the stone to look at the multitude of colours once more. As the German stared, the bounty hunter made off and disappeared.
The German looked at the thing. Marvelled at it and then began coughing. He coughed up blood and his lungs felt as if they were on fire. Then in a moment of clarity, went outside of his tent and threw the rock out and back in amongst the fossicking area.
The black opal was lost that day. Some say the devil once again returned his hand to pluck it from the Earth and take it back into the pits of hell. Others say it’s still out there, waiting to be found once more and torture mankind with its marvellous beauty.