The Coal Mine
My first year into working at the mine with my father, he passed. A combination of smoking four packs a day, and all the crap he breathed in when he was down in the hole. I was sad, but not surprised. To say I saw it coming was an understatement.
Last week was my fifth year there. The time really flies by when I took back and remember the first time I took the old rickety elevator down. It was exciting the first time, and even a little bit the second. Shaking as it descended deeper and deeper into the dimly lit hole we were carving into the earth.
The problem with mining as opposed to farming is when we find some coal, we have to keep digging to find more. I sometimes wish that we could just plant some more, tend to the coal mines, and wait for it to grow back.
The deeper we go, the more terrifying it becomes. I started to hear things after my second year. By the fourth year I was full blown seeing things. Shadows racing around the corner as I would turn my head to try and catch the figure in the corner of my eye. I’ve given up trying to catch them anymore.
The mine was closed during the holiday to give us some time off. Me and three coworkers took this time to venture it without the peering eyes of supervisors. We all knew how to navigate them well, but without all the lights on, it was a new adventure. Not the best idea we ever had, and not one that I won’t soon forget.
We came to where the tunnel started. It seemed much darker and creepier than when we came in to work. After walking for a mere five minutes, I swear I saw a shadow. We occasionally got animals down there, so I assumed that’s what it was.
The dark didn’t freak me out too much but being in a completely empty mine late at night that was pitch black aside from the small light our flashlights put off, was terrifying. I tried to hide it from my friends and drank a beer to ease my nerves.
It was Jim’s idea to even go down there. He thought it would be an ironically fun way to celebrate being at this hell hole for so long. I thought a night at the bar would have sufficed.
It didn’t take long for us to lose our bearings. The walls of stone all started to look the same. For all I know we could have been walking in a giant circle. After 45 min of walking, we decided on a spot to start our night.
Jim set up the music and handed us all another beer. Things became a little more relaxed then, just four guys hanging out.
Then I heard what sounded like a boulder falling off a cliff. I must have been the only one who noticed as the rest of them just sat there laughing about the new guy at work Carl. I couldn’t focus on anything they were saying, simply put, I was a pussy when it came to anything remotely scary.
I knew that the odds of the mine collapsing and trapping us all in here were minimal with the roof supports in place. What I didn’t know is that Jim would decide to kick it repeatably.
"Jim stop, that’s not funny." I said.
"Oh, hush Randy, I’m just joking, things are solid." he replied as he continued to kick it laughing.
I tried to ignore the noise him kicking the supports made; a loud echo throughout the mine of metal being pounded on.
Jim finally stopped kicking the support when the other two made it clear it wasn’t funny anymore by ignoring him. As he walked back, we all heard the deep rumble coming from above.
We all looked up, then realizing the support he was kicking was for the roof above our heads. I waited for a moment as the noise ended, but another louder rumble forced me to run as fast as I could into any direction that was away from where I was sitting.
I turned around and noticed that the others had only just realized that they needed to move. The roof collapsed as I watched the earth fill its hole with rock and dust burying all but me and Jim alive. I couldn’t help but cry, hoping that somehow, they were alive.
Jim said nothing, he just stared at the pile of rubble. We were both in shock of what happened. I didn’t think it was that easy for the supports to fail, it shouldn’t have been that easy.
"We need to get out of here Randy, who knows if the other supports will hold." Jim said without even giving me a glance. He walked past me headed in the only open direction.
I sat for a moment, unsure of what to do. I wanted to help them, to give my life for theirs. I knew that wasn’t how it worked, but I didn’t want to just leave them there. The rocks made a rumble again, making me jump to my feet to catch up with Jim.
I didn’t have my flashlight, and it was too dark to see more than a foot in front of me. The tunnel was mostly straight, so I held onto the wall to guide me. "Jim, wait up, I can’t see shit!" I got no response from him.
I hadn’t sat there for that long, how he could have been so far ahead. I did my best to catch up. Trying to hold my pace. My lungs were having trouble to catch up. Five years in a mine and growing up with a father who smoked at the dinner table didn’t help much.
I kept pushing forward for what felt like hours. I knew I couldn’t be that far until the exit. No matter the progress I made, my surroundings didn’t seem to change. My eyes had better adjusted to the darkness, but it didn’t help me in anyway.
Finally, I heard something, I was hoping to be Jim but after as the noise became louder and more guttural I doubted it. I didn’t want to get closer to it, but I didn’t have another way out.
The noise pierced into my brain, forcing me to cover my ears as I got closer. It brought me to my knees and I would’ve stabbed myself if I had a knife.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and I froze. The noise stopped as soon as the hand touched me.
"Hey buddy, it’s all right, I found us a way out." The voice familiar but the tone did not match.
I turned around to look. "Jim? what happened to you, you look, look like someone beat the hell out of you."
His face bloody and bruised, but a smile that seemed to light up the room. "Oh, I’m fine, just a little fall. I found the way out let’s go."
He lent his hand out for me to grab. I didn’t take it and helped myself up.
"Why didn’t you wait for me asshole." I was glad I found him, but he was still a dick.
"I couldn’t wait Randall, I found the way out." He said as he briskly walked forward.
Since when did he call me Randall? Since when did anyone other than my mother call me that. I brushed it off and tried to keep up.
It was maybe ten minutes before I saw the light from the sun at the opening. Had it been that long since we been down there?
I watched as Jim climbed up the emergency ladder and then followed. As the outside air hit my lungs and the sun torched me eyes. I was safe, I got out.
Jim disappeared, not much of a surprise, but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to go home and try to forget any of this happened.
I crawled in my bed after a short drive home and fell asleep.
I woke up to the news a few hours later talking about the collapse at the mine. I had hoped it was only a dream, but no rubbing of my eyes made the image on the screen disappear.
I remember to this day what I saw next. The posted the images of those who died in the mine. Frank and Jordan’s faces were shown, but they weren’t the only ones. Jim’s face and name were also listed as one who died. The part that left me stunned was what they showed next.
My face. Under it saying that I perished in the collapse with them. I couldn’t wrap my head around this. Had someone seen us enter and not leave? If they found the bodies they would know only two had died.
I tried to call my work, no answer. I called my mom, no answer. I tried to remain calm. They made a mistake, that was all. I took a shower to relax, and when I was drying off I looked in the mirror. I fell back onto the cold tile; my face wasn’t as I knew it. Bloody and bruised, disfigured beyond recognition. My hands could not feel my own face. I couldn’t feel any of my body.
I turned back to the news and they stated that four bodies were found. If they found my body, how could I be in my house, aware of my surroundings. None of this made any sense.
I’m not sure what happened in the mine, but somehow, I made it out. Even if my body didn’t.