This short story is very loosely based on the discovery of copper at Kapunda in 1842 and the reputation of Kapunda as one of the most haunted towns in Australia. It was written with a historical perspective, with a touch of the horror genre thrown in. Charles Bagot and Francis Dutton did in fact discover copper, and Johann Menge was a government geologist. O’Malley is completely fictional, however. The image was created by feeding the story into ChatGPT4 and DALL-E. I hope you enjoy the story…
Morning light is peeking through the open window, the cool breeze disturbing the dust and causing it to swirl like smoke from a pipe. Australian winters bring a chill that cuts to the bone, but life feels good, and we have everything we need. Today, we open the mine.
It seems so long ago that our youngest son found an outcrop of copper on the nearby hillside. Perhaps the copper ore might help our province escape the depths of spending by our governor.
Mary placed a dish of freshly baked damper with golden syrup on the table before me, “Eat, Charles. Today will be a long day; you’ll need your strength.”
The table is long and sturdy, decorated with floral napkins that Mary brought with her from Ireland. I cannot imagine my life without her now. A fire is already burning in the fireplace, the flames flickering and bringing warmth to the cold room.
“Charles,” Mary starts, “who is our guest? Is he here to help at the mine?”
“A Mr O’Malley. He came to us late last night in a drunken state, and I offered a room to spare him the cold ground.”
Mary placed a large china teapot on the table just as the door opened. Mr O’Malley stood in the doorway. He stopped and looked at Mary, his eyes red. Mary beckoned him with her open hand, “Come, Mr O’Malley. Eat. I heard you arrive last night. It was late.”
“Apologies, ma’am. I imbibed too much ale and found myself at your home. Your husband kindly took me in for the night. I trust I wasn’t too loud,” he said, looking down at the floor.
Mary looked up at the embarrassed expression on O’Malley’s face, “No… you are most welcome. Please, eat.” Mary set another place at the table, and O’Malley took his seat and began to eat his damper and syrup.
I watched as O’Malley ate like he had not eaten for days. He finished his food, and Mary poured him a cup of tea. Strong and black. He added a small quantity of maple syrup for sweetness, then peered across the table. There was something about him I didn’t quite understand. He seemed of respectable character, save for his over-indulgence in ale, but there was still a feeling of unease in me.
“Thank you, Captain Bagot. It was fortunate that I found your home last night. I’m in your debt, sir.” O’Malley continued to look at me as I pondered how he could repay us for his room and breakfast.
“I have a proposition, Mr O’Malley. In payment for our hospitality, I would like you to help at an opening ceremony today. If you agree and do your job well, there may well be further employ if you so desire.” As the words slipped from my mouth, I questioned what I had said. The words had just flowed as easily as water running down a hill, yet I didn’t know why.
O’Malley looked at me. His eyes were returning to a normal colour, and a smile appeared on his face, his lips curled up slightly at their ends. A sly smile? Perhaps. I had not met the man before last night and did not know if he had gainful employment. I supposed he must have the means to buy ale, but I knew nothing else about his affairs.
“Anything, Captain. I owe you a great debt, and it would be an honour to help you however you see fit.” His words were soft as he bowed his head towards me. He seemed to choose his words thoughtfully.
“Finish up your breakfast and meet me at the stable when you’re done. We need to prepare the horses and wagons”. With that, I stood and left the house, still questioning my own words. It was as if someone else had spoken them through my mouth.
O’Malley, myself, and two of my labourers hitched horses to a couple of wagons and saddled the remaining animals. We moved the wagons to the house as Mary and our two girls brought food from the kitchen to be placed on them.
We set off on the six-mile journey to the mine. O’Malley was quiet, as it seemed the effects of yesterday’s ale were still heavy in his head.
“How are you feeling, Mr O’Malley?” I asked.
“Much better, Captain, much better.” O’Malley smiled.
The morning sun was at our backs, and the day was becoming warm for this time of the year. June is normally cold, but today the temperature continues to rise. The ground was still wet but firm. The grasses were green, and the trees were full of life. Perhaps a good omen if one believed in such things.
We arrived at the mine site, and Mr Johann Menge, the Government Geologist, was standing among a group of men. I greeted Menge as I dismounted from my horse. “Good morning Mr Menge. A pleasure to see you this morning.”
“And to you, Captain Bagot. I look forward with anticipation to speaking at the opening. A momentous occasion if ever there was one,” Menge replied.
“And good morning to you, Francis”, I continue as I turned my attention to my good friend Francis Dutton, the mine’s co-founder.
“Good morning, gentlemen, a great day indeed. Who is this new chap you’ve brought with you, Charles?” Francis Dutton was looking towards O’Malley, who had busied himself helping Mary and the girls unload the food.
“You have a keen eye, Francis.” I beckoned O’Malley to come to us. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to where we were standing. “Yes, Captain?”
“O’Malley, these two gentlemen are my friends, Mr Francis Dutton and Mr Johann Menge. Gentlemen, meet Mr O’Malley, our first employee.” Looking at O’Malley, I continued. “That is, of course, if you’d like to work the mine with us?”
I had just offered O’Malley a job, yet I knew nothing about him and had consulted no one else on the matter. Looking at him, my own words once again bewildered me.
Wide-eyed, O’Malley answered without hesitation, “Yes, Captain. Yes, I would.” The smile stretched across his face, his teeth visible as he grinned and grasped my right hand in his. We shook hands, and the deal was done. O’Malley was our first employee. But why?
As the day ended, I looked around and wondered what we were about to achieve. Would the promise of large copper deposits bear fruit, or would the mine fail? It was then I noticed O’Malley, off in the distance some 100 yards. He was digging frantically. I’d never seen a man digging with such strength. Shovel after shovel was being moved, and then I saw them. Apparitions appearing from the ground, demons being released from their prison. They were climbing and then running, shrieking so loud they caused my ears pain even from this great distance. O’Malley continued to dig as if his life depended on releasing them all. Then he stopped. He looked at me, his face twisted in pain, and then he fell to the ground.
I ran to O’Malley and found him lifeless. The colour drained from him, and his limp body lying among the piles of rubble he had dug from the ground. The sounds of the demons were far distant now, and their shrieks turned to laughter. They were free once more to walk the earth.