If you read my review of the short story Appleseed: A Founder Effect Legend, you know this is my opening effort in taking a closer look at the literary products of Baen Books.
I’ve written enough (more than enough) about the Baen’s Bar kerfuffle, but I’m convinced that the worst Baen editor Toni Weisskopf is guilty of is neglect. I’m also, if not convinced, at least deeply concerned, that this entire mess was orchestrated (with the original “catalyst” either deliberately crafting the hit piece, or unwittingly serving the purposes of others) to muffle or even mute a publisher who is politically agnostic as far as selecting authors and books (apparently this can be a bad thing if you want to promote an industry serving only a single perspective, excluding all others).
I’m writing these reviews, in part, because I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog, and having been bullied as a kid, I don’t like the adult bullies, either.
Today, I’m going to review the second short story that is part of the 2021 edition I downloaded from Baen’s free library. It’s called “Latuda’s Lady in White” written by Aaron Michael Ritchey.
The bio on his Amazon Author’s page states:
Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of a bunch of novels and his short fiction has appeared in various anthologies and online magazines. In 2019, ARMAGEDDON GIRLS (The Juniper Wars Book 1) was a Dragon Award Finalist.
He’s spoken at writing conferences and sci-fi/fantasy conventions across the U.S., including the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, the RMFW Gold Conference, and the Colorado Teen Lit Conference. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses posing as his daughters.
“Latuda’s Lady in White” is told within the context of The Cunning Man and The Jupiter Knife.
Of course, this is my first introduction to the old mystic Hiram Woolley and his adopted son Michael, which may explain why I felt so disconnected from their world. I really needed to be involved in those books to get a better sense of them and the universe they inhabit.
These stories all take place in rural Utah based on what I’ve read about the novels I mentioned. “Latuda”, which actually appears to be a small mining area, is located west of the small town of Helper, Utah. That’s nowhere near of the various places I’ve visited in the Beehive State.
Hiram is an old man, and at least in “Latuda”, he was experiencing recurring dreams of a beautiful lady in white appearing in front of a black shack. While Hiram calls himself a Mormon, he uses plenty of magical objects such as a “Saturn ring” and a “bloodstone.” He speaks as if he’s a Christian but that’s usually in contradiction with mystic talisman and astrology (Mormon mysticism?).
Hiram and Michael take a trip to this isolated community to discover the source of Hiram’s dreams and maybe to help whoever the lady is. So much attention is placed on Michael in the first few pages, I thought he’d be an integral, even though minor, character, but he was rather irrelevant (except for fetching cake and making the occasional joke).
Then there was a mention of the year ’27 and later the “Great War,” so I had no idea of when the action was taking place.
They didn’t meet any lady, but Hiram encountered a disabled Cornish miner named Austol Teague. Teague had lost his wife and son in an avalanche sometime back and while the body of his wife was recovered, the boy’s never was. The old man swore that his son was buried under the house, knocking on the floorboards by day and whispering to him at night.
Except Hiram’s dreams had nothing to do with a boy. They also had nothing to do with the tommyknocker living in a small mine shaft right under the cabin.
After a struggle with Teague involving a sawed-off shotgun and a pickax, Hiram managed to feed the “knocker” some cake borrowed from a neighbor, which resulted in it leaving.
That was apparently the end of it. No more dreams for Hiram…well there was one, months later. He had it when Teague was reported to have committed suicide, first lighting the cabin on fire, and then shooting himself with the shotgun.
It was a rather disappointing end to a story seemingly in search for a motive. The “lady” really had nothing to do with the resolution except to lure Hiram to the location. She had been unhappy in her marriage, and unloved by Teague, who actually did love his son.
Why the tommyknocker was under his house was something of a mystery except that they sometimes visit those who are suffering. The knocking serves as a warning, and according to lore, they manifest in mines right before cave ins.
History further details that:
In the 1820s, immigrant Welsh and Cornish miners brought tales of the tommyknockers and their theft of unwatched items and warning knocks to western Pennsylvania, when they migrated there to work in the mines. Cornish miners, much sought after in the years following the gold and silver rushes, brought them to Colorado, Nevada, and California. When asked if they had relatives who would come to work the mines, the Cornish miners always said something along the lines of “Well, me cousin Jack over in Cornwall wouldst come, could ye pay ’is boat ride”, and so came to be called Cousin Jacks. The Cousin Jacks, as notorious for losing tools as they were for diving out of shafts just before they collapsed, attributed this to their diminutive friends and refused to enter new mines until assured by the management that the knockers were already on duty. Even non-Cornish miners, who worked deep in the earth where the noisy support timbers creaked and groaned, came to believe in the Tommyknockers. The American interpretation of knockers seemed to be more ghostly than elvish.
Belief in tommyknockers persisted into the 20th century, but I still don’t know in which part of that century this story occurred.
Ritchey definitely did his research, and I suspect that “The Lady in White” will be haunting that burned down shack in Latuda for quite some time.
I also have a feeling I may have enjoyed Ritchey’s story a lot better if I had more of a background into the legends upon which it’s based.
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