The sun started to slip behind Mount Gold, and Jan dismounted his horse, his eyes brimming with tears of awe and longing. As the last few rays splayed over the summit, the crest of the mountain glowed a brilliant gold. Jan draped his arm around his horse’s neck, and he squinted at the fiery crescent. “That there is what I’m after, girl,” he whispered in the animal’s ear. “It may be just the sun playing tricks, but it may be gold after all. So rest up tonight, ’cause tomorrow I’m gonna be the first man brave enough to reach the-”
A movement at the base of the mountain caught Jan’s eyes, and he quickly focused his attention on an out-of-place shadow about twenty feet away. As the last of the sun’s rays blinked out, the shadow grew larger and darker, solidifying into the shape of a goat. The side of the goat swung open, as if on a hinge, and a man dressed in a black bodysuit rolled out and fell to the ground. He untucked his limbs, stretched, and stood on wobbly legs.
Jan gasped. “What in tarnation-”
The man in black politely waved. “I’m a goatboy,” he called out. “In a steel goat I ride.”
Jan and his horse slowly walked toward the man. “What in tarnation is that contraption?” He pointed at the goat.
“It’s new-fangled machinery. This here goat can instantaneously take me anywhen I wanna go.”
“Anywhen? What’s that supposed to-” Jan stopped talking when he stood face-to-face with the man in black. “Say, you look like that fella in the wanted poster I saw in town.” Jan hovered his hand above the handle of his holstered six-shooter.
“I likely am that fella,” the man nodded. “But don’t get too excited, not just yet. Whatever reward they have posted for my head, I can double it.”
“How do I know that?” Jan said, his trigger finger twitching.
The man gestured to his mechanical goat. “As you can see, I’m a man of means. I’m here to liberate a fortune in gold with the help of my goat. Back home, there’s a gold shortage. I figured I’d procure an investment here, so I can cash in. For the future. So to speak.” The man grinned. “But I need a partner to navigate me up the side of this here mountain. I tend to close my eyes when I get more than a couple hundred feet up. I’m acrophobic.”
“-phobic. Irrationally afraid of heights. As many times as I’ve transported myself to this mountain, I’ve yet to actually reach the summit. That’s why I- er- my goat keeps havin’ to jump claims.”
“Yer a claim jumper?”
“No better animal than a goat fer jumpin’. Claim-jumpin’, that is. An’ that’s why I’m wanted, dead or alive.”
Jan relaxed his trigger finger. “So you’ve heard of the legend of Mount Gold.”
The man nodded. “Well, ‘cause the name – Mount Gold. Makes it kinda obvious.”
“Yep. Folks say she’s capped in pure gold.” Jan gazed up the side of the dark mountain and sighed. “But don’t worry ‘bout me. The sheriff is crooked. He’d never make good on that reward anyway.” Jan extended his hand. “Name’s ‘Jan Rains.’ Pleased to meet ya.”
The man shook Jan’s hand. “Ya say yer name’s ‘John Wayne’?”
“Nah, I didn’t say that.” Jan cocked his head.
“Sorry. I’m a bit hard of hearin’. Nearly got trampled by a herd of wild goats as a young’un. ‘Bout blew out my ear drums.” The man laughed. “What kind of a name is ‘John Wayne,’ anyways?” Sounds like some high-falutin’ Hollywood name.”
Jan raised his brow. “Hollywood?”
“Nevermind. I’m getting’ a little ahead of myself. Anyway, people call me ‘Winky Rivers.’ ”
“Now that’s a cowboy’s name if I ever did hear one.”
“Cowboy? Try ‘goatboy.’ There’s no way a cow’s gonna make it up the side of Mount Gold. It’s dang near a sheer cliff.”
“Cow? Try ‘horse.’ No way I’d be caught ridin’ a cow.” Jan patted the shoulder of his stallion.
Winky shrugged. “Same difference.”
“Say, how ‘bout we team up an’ get us some gold? Bein’ as yer an outlaw, I figure you can use my help.”
“I thought you’d never ask. We’ll start fresh in the mornin.’ Me an’ you an’ this here goat.”
They built a campfire, laid out some blankets, and retired for the night.
After a breakfast of coffee and crackers, Winky showed Jan how to maneuver the goat’s ears to steer, accelerate, and brake.
Jan tapped the side of the goat. “So you’ll be ridin’ inside this contraption?” he asked.
“Ridin’ inside is for… quicker trips, so to speak.” Winky smiled. “It gets kinda stuffy in there. There’s room enough fer both of us in the saddle, an’ she’s sure-footed.”
Jan shrugged and they mounted the mechanical goat. “We’ll follow Chaos Creek upstream until we git to the summit.”
“Good idea,” Winky said, his hands gripping the sides of the saddle.” Gotta keep ourselves hydrated. And clean.”
“Yer right,” Jan replied, chuckling.” Nothin’ worse than dried up, dust-covered goatboys.”
Winky fastened his saddle belt and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, Jan saw that the trail up the side of the mountain had faded out, and they continued making their way up the sheer cliff face. The goat precariously jumped from jutting rock to jutting rock.
Half-way up, they came to a plateau and dismounted. Chaos Creek was now a miniature waterfall flowing into a shallow pond bordering the cliff face. After a thirst-slaking drink and refreshing dip, they mounted the goat and continued up the side of the mountain.
Nearing sunset, the goat finally jumped onto the gleaming summit of Mount Gold. “Open yer eyes if you can stand it, Winky – we made it!” Jan whooped and hollered. “An’ it looks like real gold, no foolin’!”
Winky peeked through his fingers and slid off the goat. He kept his eyes on the glinting gold ground. Jan jumped off the goat and fell to his knees, kissing the golden summit.
“Just one question – how we gonna divvy up this here gold?” Jan said, rising to his feet. “I figure I’ve done most of the work, steering the goat all the way up here.
“If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be up here, you doltish cowboy!”
Jan frowned and kicked a gold pebble off the side of the plateau. “I’m no cowboy, not anymore. I’m a goatboy, Winky. You taught me. I thought you’d do right by me after all we’ve been through.”
“Doesn’t matter. Watch this.” Winky led the goat to an outcropping and pulled the goat’s tail.
The goat’s eyes shot brilliant red laser beams from its rectangular pupils, slicing a dozen neat gold bars from the summit. Winky moseyed up to the bars, grabbed one, and held it up. The last of the sun’s rays illuminated the bar in a warm golden glow.
“How in tarnation did yer goat do that?” Jan took a staggering step toward the stack of gold bars.
“Like I told ya yesterday, it’s new-fangled machinery. This here goat can carve standard-issue gold bars from a gold boulder, an’ inscribe my name on each one of ‘em. I aim to carve up this entire mountain top.” He ran his finger over the inscribed bar. “Well, gotta cash in. Good luck gettin’ down the mountain. After I load my gold, I’ll be on my way.” He twisted his goat’s horn, and the side panel swung open. He put the gold bar into the goat.
“You can’t take all the gold, Winky! If you do, I’ll tell this story to my children, and they’ll tell it to their children, and on down the line until a whole army of my future kin hunt you down! I know yer one of them time travelers.”
Winky giggled. “Or I could just blast ya with my goat eye lasers. I think I’ll do that.” He grabbed his goat’s ear and swung the head around to face Jan. Before he could aim, Jan dived at the stack of gold bars, grabbed one, and ran for the edge of the summit. He leapt off, still clutching the bar, screaming all the way down.
“Say, is this here Mount Winky Rivers?” the man in black said.
The goatboy nodded. “Sure is.”
“I heard there’s gold bars on top of the summit. Used to belong to an outlaw named ‘Winky Rivers.’ ”
“So you’ve heard of the legend of Winky Rivers.” The goatboy dismounted his goat.
“Yep. That’s why I’m here.” The man patted the side of his own goat.
The goatboy extended his hand. “Name’s ‘Jan Rains, the Third.’ ”
“Yeah, I reckon,” the man said, sliding on a pair of farsighted glasses.
Thanks to Tony Southcotte of Human Echoes Podcast for this short story challenge!