It was all moving in slow motion, which was particularly odd because ever since Walter had returned, walking in the door, bringing them to the mine, it had all seemed to be moving too fast, out of control, speeding away from Jonathan like a receding train. He had a plan, which had not just gone wrong, but worse, somehow gone right in a very weird way. How a could a mine he made up be real? How could a story he invented have actually happened? Try as he might he could remember no instance of having heard the story, no evidence of having borrowed from reality for his story. His mind had raced to keep up with the unfolding events before him while he tried at the same time to understand how they could have even ended up here. Clang clang, chug chug, the train raced on.
Kati, dear loved-like-a-sister Kati had raced toward the mine shaft. Jonathan thought about calling out, maybe even did (he could never quite remember) but things were still moving very quickly…until,
Jonathan felt as if he were stuck in a dream, or mired behind oceans of water. Rocks were falling, hiding Kati from view, but so slowly, so incredibly slowly. And yet, Jonathan stood. His mind said run, indeed his heart was halfway there already, but his feet just didn’t seem to follow. For a brief moment he saw, no he felt, what Walter lived with day after day. None of this made sense but all lead to this moment, to Kati’s crushing death (or so it appeared at this moment to Jonathan). How could Jonathan’s gag, a stupid story, how could it lead to this? It couldn’t unless God were playing an even stupider gag, taking Jonathan’s made up story and using it to destroy Kati.
The feeling passed almost as quickly as it landed. God was not cruel; this was no gag or dream or game. The confusion fled as Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. Just move, Jonathan, just move. Finally, his feet loosened and Jonathan ran towards the mine. He tried to help Walter (Jonathan felt a little surprise to find Walter already there…he hadn’t truly wasted that much time, had he?), but Walter was like a mad man, shoveling without regard. Half of the rocks he cleared landed on Jonathan and the other half fell back on Walter himself. Jonathan shouted at Walter, trying to calm him, to bring him back, but Walter ignored him and then it no longer mattered, because he was through.
Jonathan checked to make sure the entry looked at least reasonably stable this time and then followed Walter in. Jonathan looked in wonder…Katherine and Walter were kissing.
They were all back at Walter’s place, even Oscar had been allowed in the house and he nuzzled against Kati’s hand until she scratched the top of his head. Her other hand rested comfortably in Walter’s who kept turning to look at her, even as Jonathan talked as if he wanted to be sure she was really here. As if his eyes weren’t enough proof on their own, every so often his hand would squeeze Kati’s.
“And that’s why I think I win.” Jonathan concluded
“Jonathan, now you’re really stretching it. Really this seems a bit far fetched. You’re saying that God engineered this whole thing and then gave you the story like some prophet in the Bible just so that Walter and I would meet? You can’t really believe that?”
“Absolutely. I set out to experiment with which of our philosophies make the most sense and when you consider that only God could have made something completely made up turn out to be real…Well it’s the only possible answer.”
Actually Jonathan had figured out a different answer, the real one he was pretty sure, but he had to be completely sure. The problem was, Walter wasn’t paying enough attention, focused as he was on Kati. He’d have to be more direct.
“So, you see Walter, your doom and gloom stance can’t possibly be right. God made all this happen, just so you could be happy. Kati lived. You, my friend, solved a puzzle which didn’t exist, but which had to be solved in order for destiny to bring you two together. How else do you explain it? “
Walter looked up, a rueful smile.
Jonathan waited. This was it. It had to be.
“No sir, I just lied.”
So he was right then.
Kati looked up in surprise, “What?”
“I hope you won’t be too terribly mad at me, but I figured out pretty early Jonathan had made the whole thing up. You forgot my father founded this place, I grew up here. A legend like that wouldn’t have been wholly unknown to me. So he made it up first, I just made it up second. I took you to a mine I already knew about.”
Kati looked stunned, “But why? Why would you do that?”
“I’m not entirely sure. The way you goaded me. I felt like I had to do something, like being passive was no longer going to work. I felt like I had to make something happen…so I did…and it almost killed you.” Walter looked miserable and worried at Kati’s reaction.
Kati shook her head, but not apparently displeased. She looked seriously but not unhappily at Walter, “Good for you. And almost doesn’t count, you know.”
Jonathan laughed, “I thought so. It was the only thing that made sense. I understand why, but how? How did you know about the mine, and how did you get access.”
Walter looked embarrassed and mumbled something.
Kati, closer to him, heard and laughed.
Jonathan smiled, ready to laugh and asked, “What?”
Walter looked up impatient and annoyed in his embarassment, “I own it. I signed the inheriatance papers. Papers, which I might add, list every known mine in the areas, at least half of which belong to me. That was just one of them.”
Jonathan did laugh, “You, my friend, are now the richest man in California!”
Walter looked miserable, “I know. And that means I have the most to lose of anyone. But you see Jonathan. You do not win. I win, which means I lose. No matter how much I tried I could not avoid my fate. “
“But Walter, Kati lived. You acted and Kati lived. All I can see is fate gave you riches and a good woman. If that’s a curse, I’ll take it anyday.”
“Indeed, Katherine is perhaps the greatest curse of all.”
Katherine drew her hand aside and looked in shocked anger at Walter who was looking at the floor.
“It is my curse to be blessed with much only to always lose it.” He looked now at Katherine who was softening,” I know you well enough already, dear Katherine to know that you are no one’s “good woman” You belong to yourself and would not tie yourself down for the likes of me.”
Kati took Walter’ s hand in hers again, “You say you lose by winning, well I’ll admit that I won by losing. I would have been lost in that mine without your help. You were there when I needed you. I don’t belong to you, but perhaps we need each other. I feel somehow as if being with you will not tie me down, but rather free me for the first time, perhaps.”
“You’ve finally come out of the steamer trunk, have you Kati?” said Jonathan softly.
Kati looked at him in surprise, but then nodded slowly, “Sometimes, Jonny, you are a wonder. “
Walter sat silently for a moment and then turned to Katherine, “Perhaps I am falling into fate’s trap, perhaps I will regret this, but you give me hope, Katherine, dear. Would you consent to marry the world’s most wealthy cursed man.”
Katherine looked at Walter and said quite seriously, “As God is my witness, I will never leave you Walter Newhall.”
Katherine kissed Walter.