The following is the final entry from Ash Stirling’s journal, the last of his family line, and leader of a crew of thirty that died in a mine collapse resulting in the permanent closing of the mine. Recorded by his maid, who believed him insane.
In the first week of eighth grade, my teacher asked my class to research our nationalities. Reinaldo, a seat to my left, said he could track his lineage a hundred years back to his ancestors sailing across Atlantic from Spain. John to my right was half German, and being barely twenty years after the end of world war II, his lineage stopped suspiciously short on his father’s side. Tim was English. Mary, French. Chang, chinese.
Then, after calling upon the rest of the class, Ms. Francisco peered above the lip of her clipboard at me with a frown, “Bring your project forward. It’s time for you to present.” Even after one week of school, Ms. Francisco and I had already found several differences between us. Undoubtedly she had heard of me from my teachers reaching back until kindergarten.
I knew she had waited to call upon me last after seeing my project, a poster board blank save for four black and white photographs super glued on to a bed of dirt.
“This is my father,” I said, pointing at the bottom most picture, which was in color, “Aiden, from the mine.
“And this is his father,” I pointed at a black and white photograph of a man with a scraggling beard reaching down to his waist, “Vulcan, from the mine.
“And this is his father, Fino, from the mine,” I gestured at a still photo, slightly out of focus, of my great grandfather leaning on his pickaxe.
“And his father, Saraph, from the mine,” I finished, pointing to a hand drawn portrait of the earliest ancestor I could find. Despite the years, the age gap, and the errors of the artist’s hand, visitors at my house often remarked on the likeness between myself and him. Perhaps it was the angle of the nose, the set jaw, or his narrow face. But I thought it was his eyes- searching, always searching from it’s place above the mantelpiece, though his body was long buried in our back yard.
“And I am Ash Sterling, a from the mine.”
“No, Ash.” Said Ms. Francisco, her voice taking the tone of a lecturing to one who was slower than the rest of the group, “What nationality are you? What country is your family from?”
Ms. Francisco had moved here the year prior, and she was unfamiliar with the culture of our town. My family was known as one of the mud-walkers, with a line that stretched back to the opening of the mine. Some people even joked behind our backs, saying that us mud-walkers were so dirty that we crawled out of the mine itself. But we were proud of our heritage.
“Here,” I replied, “We’ve been here since the mine began, and no one can remember further.”
“Well it’s not like you just popped out here,” Said John, the German, giggling from the front row, “everyone comes from somewhere.”
“We’ve been here since the beginning of this town. And everyone does come from somewhere, don’t they, John? Even the nazis.”
My foot was in the principal’s office before his giggles subsided, and I took the chair I had claimed as my own by the door. I had been there so often that the cushion had begun to conform to the contour of my ass, and my father no longer put up a show to the principal that he cared when he picked me up.
“You done did right, Ash,” My father said, a cigarette smouldering out the left side of his mouth, “The mine gave us everything we got, and will continue giving. Like father done said, you just got to dig deeper. We done been here longer than anyone. This is our town. It doesn’t belong to these outsiders.” He flicked the cigarette, and an ember fell on his exposed arm, but his face remained still.
A little ember never made us Sterlings flinch.
That was twenty five years ago, and today my father coughed the last of the dirt from his lungs before I immersed him six feet under in it. And on his deathbed, he asked me to look behind the portrait of Saraph on the mantel, where I found a small leather bound notebook. Like all things in our house, dirt fell from the pages as I brought it to his bed.
“Ash, don’t never forget who you are. The mine, the mine is our birthright. This is the journal of the grandfather of my father, Saraph. Many said he went insane in his age, but I think he saw some truth. Keep it, it belongs to you now.”
I took the journal from my father, and he fell away from this world, a cigarette burning to a stub still in his lips. When tried to lift him from the bed, I knocked over an ashtray on his dresser, and it scattered over his sheets and lifeless form. Despite hours of scrubbing, I never could remove the stains that outlined where his body had rested upon the sheets, and the holes remained where the live embers had burned into the cloth. Sometimes, when I walk past his room deep in the night, I can just smell a whiff of smoke from inside.
I had worked in the mine since I was seventeen, and by twenty I was known as one of the best men who had ever set foot in the tunnels. And when my father passed, I took his position as head of our forty member team, known for exploring deeper than the others in search of fresh silver veins.
Each night I built a fire in my fireplace, stared at Saraph’s picture with the same searching eyes that would stare back, and read his notebook. Saraph’s words often wound in circles that could well have contributed to why he was deemed mad. But I was determined, and picked out the passages that seemed to bear the most importance.
From Entry 1 Thirty of us escaped from that wretched place, and earth has closed behind us. We escaped like none ever had, but left behind treasure, a treasure too heavy to carry. Here we shall build our town.
*From Entry 24 The brightest gems are found the deepest. This we know. This we have known, and have seen with our own eyes. And we shall take them. *
From Entry 39 Silver from the mine, connect to the silver in us. The pure belongs to us.
From Entry 47 The tunnels collapsed overnight with my hope. They seal us off.
The Last Entry We have failed. Soon age will take me. Alas, I am reclaimed.
And as the years passed, I drove my team deeper into the mine. I had dreams that filled my mind at night. Dreams of silver below, stretching farther than I could ever reach, to the core of the earth that burned hotter that I could even stand.
I had explored all of the deepest regions of the mine but could find no new silver. All the regions but one.
“Today we investigate the softer tunnels,” I said, staring out at my team. The majority of the members had families stretching back as long as mine, though there was a click of outsiders who had only been on the team for a generation or two. At my statement, one of them spoke up, his voice crumbling like fresh dirt.
“The soft tunnels? The one’s prone to collapsing, without enough stone to hold them steady?”
“Those are the ones. The last time they were touched was a hundred years ago, at the opening of the mine. Technology has advanced since then, and we can reach what our fathers could not.”
“It’s too dangerous, even now.” He said, and the other outsiders murmured around him in agreement.
“We press on, whether you come or not.”
Five of the outsiders left our team that day, and our numbers dropped to thirty five. We began carving into the soft tunnels.
Progress was fast as the rock here was already broken apart from tunnels that had fallen in years before. And as we dug deeper, we found bones in the rock, bones that looked far too much like my own and were accompanied by mining helmets and tools. On the hard walls I could see where pick axes had once bored into the stone, until even those fell away and the hard rock returned. But then, five weeks into digging, we broke into soft rock again.
On these walls I could see the marks of digging utensils unlike I had ever seen. They looked like five prongs rakes, and it took me a day to realize they matched the contours of my own fingernails, and appeared as if they dug up, not down.
Then we found more bones, though these were accompanied by no mining gear. Their ends were scorched, burned into ash that flaked away as we removed them.
Dissent grew among the outsiders, and two more quit.
“I don’t like it,” Said one of the remaining three, “How’d these bones get here? Ain’t nobody been this deep. Maybe fell through in an earthquake?”
“I dunno,” Said the other, his headlamp flickering, “Maybe they ain’t human. Maybe something else lives down here. Some other creature.”
The the third whispered, in a voice that echoed down the cave walls and caused even my best men to stir in their boots.
“Maybe we should stop digging. Maybe we weren’t meant to dig this far.”
Then the writing on the walls began, and though I locked the gates each night, I knew one of the outsiders snuck down into the tunnels after dark to try to scare us away. The first appeared, written in charcoal at most recently unearthed portion of tunnel.
Return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. And the first of the three outsiders quit, cursing his way up the tunnels and back to daylight. We were thirty two.
Another week passed, and I found myself sweating so much from the heat that puddles formed in my boots. Then the second message appeared chiseled into the wall.
Punishment to the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
“It’s Exodus,” breathed the second of the outsiders, before he too departed. We were thirty one.
Then the last message appeared in silver writing.
Greed brought you down here, and greed will bring you back.
The last outsider left, and we were thirty.
But even as the air grew thinner, the tunnels warmer, and the earth looser, I commanded my men to dig deeper. Today I struck iron, and we dug about it, revealing an archway embedded into the rock. There was no writing on it, and I cannot be certain it was human made, but I have never seen something so well formed in nature.
Tomorrow we mine through the archway, and we find silver. I feel it in my bones.
I’ve always liked buying things. As a teenager I bought broken cars, fixed them up, and sold them back for nearly double the price. By the end of college in the eighties, I had enough to buy my first house, flipped in in three months, and made enough cash to pay for a year’s worth of student loans, if I had any. My tastes turned to businesses as I matured, and I collected profitable endeavors like postage stamps. Among colleagues I earned the nickname of Midas, due to the inordinately low amount of my ventures that failed to turn a profit.
But now I’m getting older. The safe plays, the low risk situations, and even the luster of money have lost their appeal. Now I’m in it for the adrenaline. For the game. To be known as a maverick in the economic playing field, whose hands really could and would turn anything to gold.
And now, I was buying a mine.
The mine had been closed as the result of collapse two decades ago. There had been little opposition to the shutting of its gates- even without the collapse and subsequent death of thirty miners, experts predicted that the mine was all but dry and the little silver that remained would have been excavated within the next year. Fighting the lawsuits would have cost much more than that silver.
But I had brought my own expert to survey the land. Mining techniques had changed much in the last twenty years, and to my dismay he arrived at the same conclusion as the original experts. There was little silver left, and it was not worth the expense.
But, after examining a stock room filled with dirt samples from each of the branches of tunnels, he discovered something else. In a jar marked with the date the day before the collapse, and signed by an Ash Sterling, we found something past generations would have discarded as trash.
In that final tunnel there was a concentration of rare metals with percentages that made my expert’s eyebrows raise higher than their significance on the charts.
“Sir,” He said, punching numbers into a laptop computer with pudgy fingers, “This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Highly unusual. The levels of Neodymium, Europium, and others are unreal. I’ll have to recalibrate my equipment to be sure.”
“Neodymium. Elemental rarities. Only made valuable in the past few years, with the advent of computers. But extremely profitable. To say you are sitting on a gold mine would be an understatement.”
“So what does that entail, exactly? Do I mine it like silver?”
“Oh no, no. You’ll have to mine it, then process it. Real nasty stuff, but well worth the while. And you’ll have to purchase the land first, then obtain the mineral rights, then a slew of other legal obstacles due to the accident.”
“Won’t be a problem.” I said, feeling the weight of my wallet deep in my pocket as I rolled my shoulders, “I can afford the land. And, more importantly, I can afford the signatures.”
“I’d like to bring my first witness to the stand,” I said, standing up.
“This is a town hall meeting, not a court case, Mr. ….”
“Lawrence,” I said, flashing a smile, “And I ask that you give my representative a moment to speak.”
“Granted,” The town representative said, grudgingly, looking down at me from her thick glasses, “Though the mine was closed permanently due to its danger.”
“I wish to change your mind,” I said, and she huffed in disapproval, the air turbulence disturbing the fine hairs on her upper lip, “The mine itself is and was no danger. The catastrophe was caused by a lunatic, and I have proof.”
I flourished a leather bound notebook in my hand, flipping through the pages until I arrived at the last one.
“Mr. Lawrence, this is a office of law, not a dramatic television series.”
“Hear my out,” I said, and read the final journal entry of Ash Sterling.
“Those very words are from the mouth of a man clearly insane. And now, from a man on his team until the day of the collapse.”
I pointed into the assembly behind me, and a man with greying hair stood among their ranks. He wore a tattered flannel shirt, and his face was marked with deep wrinkles premature for his age.
“And who are you?” Intoned the representative, as the bags under her eyes grew deeper. Her patience was wearing thin, while I had enough material for hours of presentation.
“Leroy Burgesson,” Said the man, in a gruff voice and a tip of his hat, “And
I testify that Ash Sterling, my former employer, acted in a manner dangerous to both himself and his crew, and was not right in the head.”
He recited the words almost perfectly, just as I had rehearsed with him an hour before, and shifted in his position. His hands were in his pockets, where he clenched a fresh wad of twenties adding up to five hundred dollars.
Leroy recounted his story, leaving out the superstitious bits from Ash’s journal as I had instructed. The representative did not bother to question him, so I did myself, extending the amount of time he took the floor.
“Enough,” She said, “We’ll put the matter to a vote.”
“Excellent.” I responded, “but before you do, how long is it before I can call for a revote?”
“A year, Mr. Lawrence.”
“At this location?”
“Yes.” She frowned, and I could see her reaching the conclusion that if she did not allow me the right to purchase the mine as well as the town’s approval to seek further action in development, that I would be back next year with an even longer and more painful case.
The representatives left for a back room, and when they returned, the vote was unanimous in my favor. I flashed her my bright smile, packed my briefcase, and departed.
For most people it would take years to obtain the necessary permits to open the mine, plus another year to prepare. But I knew where to put my money to use, and the signatures dropped onto paper faster than the bills slid behind counters.
Then the groundbreaking ceremony began, a small celebration over the boarded up entrance to the mine. Drafts from the the tunnels wafted upwards as I popped the first bottle of champagne, and I could catch a hint of sulfur in the air. The first boards were pried loose, creaking against the nails that held them in place as spiders fled the gaps, and I peered down the tunnel. It was dark, save for a single pin prick of red light in the distance that had continued operation after we switched the electricity back on.
We started drilling immediately. The earth was soft, and I followed the directions in Ash’s mining journal. My equipment was top of the line, taking a fifth of the time his crew had needed to reach the same depths. Each day I waited in my office as John, the leader of the mining team, brought me samples from the depths. Then my expert analyzed them, shaking his head silently as each proved inadequate.
After a week there was a knock on my door, and John poked his head inside my office. He was in his middle thirties, with a kind face and broad shoulders that made him shuffle sideways through the narrow door frame.
“John,” I said, twirling a gold pen in my fingers, “It’s just barely after lunch. Shouldn’t you still be down in the shafts?”
“Well yes, sir. But we’ve been having some, er, problems.”
“Yes, you see, the drill bits on our machine have broken five times already this morning. They’re each supposed to last several hours, but none lasted longer than minutes. It seems we hit a wall.”
“As in tough rocks?”
“Well, er, no sir. A literal wall. There’s some metal formation down there. A sheet of it, if you will. There’s a gap in the middle, an archway, if you will, large enough for my men to get through but not the machines. And each time we try to break through, well each time the bit snaps.”
“You do have explosives, correct?”
“You have my permission to use them. Carry on, and keep me notified of the status.”
Several hours later my phone rang, and I answered it to John’s voice.
“Well, er, sir, we tried using the explosives.”
“And it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The explosives barely put a dent in it. It’s large enough for one machine to pass through now, though, but it will bottleneck progress.”
“Drill through, and report anything you might find.” I drummed my fingers on my desk, and when the sample was brought up at the end of the day, my expert nodded his head.
“We’ve struck it,” He said, “Absolutely ridiculous it even exists. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was man made. Doesn’t seem natural.”
“Doesn’t matter what it seems like,” I said, “It’ll sell for the same price.” With that success I began planning for a refinery on top of the mine. The season had turned to winter, and though the region was notoriously known for its blizzards and ice storms, no snow fell that year. It was the warmest year in a century, and the only other one that even compared was the year the town had been founded.
And it must have been the inordinately good weather, but an influx of homeless people started gathering in the town. Typically they would freeze at this time of year, keeping the streets clear, but with each month their presence grew.
Most of them were older, with silvery hair, and dirt that clung about them like blankets and left trails in the streets. They stood in the shadows, in groups of five of six, and barely acknowledged passerbies. I never saw one beg, and someone must have been feeding them, because they were bringing in no income on their own.
The town representative called me, accusing me for the presence due to the influx of jobs from the mide.
“We don’t know where they come from, and they certainly have not been here before.” She said.
“Well I did not bring them.”
“Then how did they get here? There isn’t a proper city for a hundred miles. There’s no bus route here. Are you saying they walked here? Don’t you think we would have noticed such a migration?”
“I don’t know, miss, and frankly I don’t care.” I said, and slammed down the receiver. We continued work, and soon the refinery was finished, and the true meaning could begin.
“Sir,” said John, rapping on my door, “In order to mine deeper, I need more bodies. I sent out some inquiries, but there’s no responses here, minus some of the, er, the homeless people.”
“John, I don’t wish to have homeless people on my staff.”
“Well, sir, well they came to me actually. A few of them. With years of mining experience, mind you. They’ve been out of work for some time, so their concepts are somewhat older, but they seem to know what they’re talking about. A few of them even seem to be experts, if you will.”
“Do as you will, John. However you think you can be most effective, do it.” And so a handful of the homeless men joined John’s team. And, after some time, a handful began working in the refinery. And, in the town, their numbers grew a handful at a time. And when I walked past in the streets, their eyes followed me.
We ramped up production, and I began touring the refinery to overlook my supervisors.
Removing the metals from earth called for a slew of chemicals, each increasing in hostility to the human form. And one day, in a particularly nasty segment of the refinery, as I let my eyes wander while a supervisor explained why efficiencies had been low that month, I saw the impossible.
There was a woman working a chemical bench, wearing elbow length gloves and a facemask as she poured liquid from a larger jar to several smaller ones. I recognized the chemical, an acid, and one that would eat straight through skin as if it were wet paper. And as she poured the last bottle, I saw something drop from her mouth.
It was pink, and it bobbed in the acid for an instant before her gloved hands scooped it out. Then she lifted her facemask, and I blinked as I saw her pop the piece of gum back into her mouth. Gum that should have corroded her mouth, burned holes in her tongue, and sent her screaming.
But instead she met my gaze, her chilling eyes staring at me, and she cracked a knowing smile meant only for me before returning to work. In the days after I noticed more incidents, always out of the corner of my eye on the refining floor. People reaching into chemicals with their bare hands, then continuing their jobs as if nothing had happened. A report of a man falling down four flights of stairs, then standing up and resuming work as if nothing had happened.
And then there were the anonymous surveys, the ones that asked about the job environment and were answered by employees. Most seemed normal, bubbled in with satisfactory answers about the quality of work. Even the answers to the obligatory “Why do you want to be a contributing part of Lawrence Refining?” seemed normal, except for the handful that answered, “To help us go deeper.”
I grew uneasy touring the factory, and instead turned my attention to the mines, where John showed me operations. We walked deep into the caves, and as I passed a few of the previously homeless people I felt their gaze follow me down the corridor, followed by whispers. Around a curve, I thought I could barely just make out a single sentence. “Thank you, Lawrence.”
“Almost there,” Said John, as the air around me grew hotter. The tunnel narrowed, and we passed through the archway he had described. Grooves covered its surface, and as I walked underneath it I heard the sounds behind me die away as if muffled. The screaming of three drills echoed ahead in the distance, making its way up to us. One of them sounded different than the others, more of a screeching, and the bit must have been wearing down.
“It’s strange,” Said John, “Those new men, they’re the best workers I’ve ever had. Would work all night if I let them. Even caught a few here after hours, digging with old pick axes they found among the rubble.”
“Strange indeed,” I said.
“They like you a lot Mr. Lawrence. Always talking about how you freed them, from homelessness and financial chains, I suppose. And Hell, they have a nose for where this metal deposit goes deeper. Almost as if they know, I swear, they could be hunting dogs.” I remained silent, and we reached the deepest part of the tunnel, where a machine was waiting for an operator.
“All three of our drills have been working splendidly.” Continued John, “No more broken bits.” Before I had a chance to reply, my foot caught on a depression in the ground, and I stumbled forward. John caught me with a hand, and cursed.
“Somebody must’ve left a tool on the ground. I’m sorry sir. Here, let me get some light.” He produced a flashlight, and scanned the ground. My heart stopped when I saw what had caused my stumble.
There, melted into the bare rock, was a footprint. Slag crept up along its edges, and it as if the rock had turned to liquid lava and rapidly solidified.
“The Hell?” Said John, and swept his light across the floor. Behind the first, there was a second that went even deeper into the rock. Then a third. And a fourth, tracing back to the wall at the deepest part, where they disappeared into the barrier. But rather from walking downhill, to the wall, they walked away from it, each step decreasing in heat and depth into the rock.
“Stop, give me that light,” I said, and took the flashlight from John. I examined the ground closer, where there were hundreds of small ridges that I had not noticed in the dim conditions. But now, bending over, I saw they too were melted footprints, just shallower that the one I had stumbled on. At least a hundred pairs led from the wall, and back up the tunnel, back towards daylight and decreasing in depth as they went until the stone became smooth.
I shivered, placing my hand on the drilling machine for balance. My breaths the only noise besides the screeching of the three drills down the tunnel, and the third one continued wailing in and out of tune, the echoes distorting it to sound like many sounds instead of one.
“John,” I said, “How many drilling machines did you say we had down here?”
“Is one not right here?”
“Why yes sir.”
“Tell your men to turn the two running off,” I said, starting towards the exit, my feet following the melted footsteps, and the screaming chorus following me until I passed back through the arch.
It takes a copious amount of money to build a mine. It takes even more to build a refinery, and it takes more past that to rebuild a mine. And despite my nickname of Midas, my wealth had limits when dealing with such expensive ventures. So to raise the money to liberate the rare earth metals deep in the mine, I sold stock of my company, an action that became my greatest mistake.
After that day deep in the mine with Mike, I took a week long vacation. But even a sunny beach thousands of miles away could not erase the memories of what I had seen. I still shook in my bed after sundown, and before boarding the returning flight I knew what I had to do.
I had to close the mine.
I scheduled a meeting with the board for the day I would arrive back, and the three members gathered around the oak table of our meeting room.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “After reviewing safety conditions in the mine, I believe in order to preserve the human life of our employees we should call for an immediate closing of the mine. Already, we have made enough to break even on our investment, so no money will be lost. In fact, we have made a small profit, which will be split among us. I will forfeit my share to be split among you on good faith that you will make the responsible decision of voting for the mine’s closure. As you remember, my vote counts for one and a half.”
Across the table, the other three board members studied me with intense stares.
“My vote,” Said Gary, the main investor in the mine, “Is no, to resume operations as normal, and to continue reaping in the benefits of the minerals. There is much untapped potential beneath the earth.”
“As is mine,” Said the second board member, his palm slapping flat on the table.
I looked to my right, where the last member of the board sat in a leather office chair.
He was Keith, a man with thick bushy eyebrows, who owned just enough stock to be on the board. He had slowly sold over half of his original stock investment due to his doubts about the mine’s performance.
“I wish to pull out my chips. My vote is yes, to close.”
“Alright, the vote is two and a half to two,” I said, “Meaning the mine will-”
Just then there was a knock at the door, and all three board members turned in their seats.
“Come in,” I said, irritated at the interruption. I would be having a word with my personal secretary, who I instructed to allow no one but board members to attend the meeting.
The door creaked open, and a man stepped into the room. I frowned, looking over his features. The man was dirty, from his boots to the inside of his fingernails, and I had seen him just the week before working in the deeper tunnels of the mine. He had been one of the homeless men before we hired him.
“Excuse me,” I said, “You have the wrong door.”
“No.” He said, putting a folder on the table.
“No.” He repeated, “My answer is no. Good day.” He then turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Said Gary, reaching across the table and opening the folder.
“Does it matter? I’d fire him, but as the vote stands, the mine will be closed anyway.
As I was saying, two and a half to two, the mine is closed.”
I pushed back my chair, standing to signify the end of the meeting and turning to follow the miner out the door. My hand touched the knob when I heard Gary’s voice behind me.
“No so fast, Lawrence.”
I froze, and turned.
“Lawrence,” He continued, flourishing the folder, “According to this documentation, the vote is three to two and a half. Our miner friend here appears to have bought all of Keith’s shares, effectively placing him on the board.”
I don’t know how the miner knew about the meeting. I don’t know how he bought Keith’s shares. And I don’t know why.
All I knew was my new name for him.
The mine continued operation, but with each week became less profitable. The rare earth metals appeared to dissolve back into the earth, falling away from our grasp. The mine became not only a curse, but a loss on my financial record. A black tarnish on my streak of wins that caused my colleagues to laugh behind my back.
And I began having dreams. Nightmares that always came when my finances were in danger of turning sour. But these were more real than any dreams I had in the past.
These dreams always started with me walking into the mouth of the mine, its gaping maw swallowing me whole as I slid down the throat-like tunnels. Always I was following the miner, who turned back to smile at me as we passed through the archway deep underground. Still we went deeper, walking until we reached the bottom and there was only a stone wall before us and the melted footprints underneath.
“They’re here,” The miner whispered, putting his hand against the wall, “Treasures more than you have ever earned. You will be the richest man on earth. All you have to do is come with us.”
“Come with you where?”
“Here. Down. Through the wall,” He said, and slid a hand through the rock as if it was water.
Then the dream would cease, and I would wake in a sweat, my skin burning hot. A week would pass, and the dream would recur, until one day I stood against the wall and it failed to terminate.
“All you have to do is come with me. Place your hand through the wall. Walk through. Just make a small trade, a small trade with us. And we’ll make you rich forever.”
I mumbled, then outstretched my hand. The rock felt like jacuzzi water, bubbling beneath my fingers, then elbow, then shoulders and torso until I was entirely submerged. And I swam through the rock, deeper and deeper, until I broke through the other side and could not remember anything more.
But I remembered one thing. I had made a deal.
I awoke that night hotter and with a greater fever than ever before. My sheets felt grainy with dirt particles strewn throughout, and I realized I was still wearing my clothes from the day prior. I groaned, my mouth parched, and rose to retrieve get a drink. But the bottom of my feet were blistery, as if burned, and they must have rubbed up against my boots the previous day.
When I went to work, I saw the miner waiting by my office.
“It’s been a pleasure, Lawrence. I’m quitting today. I have to go back home. You see, I’ve inherited quite a large sum of money.” He said, shaking my hand.
“Oh, you have?”
“Yes. But don’t worry, Lawrence. I’ll see you again. Sooner than you think.”
He left, and to this day he has not returned. The nightmares too retreated, and I no longer recall any dreams when I sleep.
The mine struck a new vein of metals, and became my greatest investment yet. I never went down there anymore though.
Whenever I come too near the tunnels, my feet burn. And no matter how hard I scrub, there’s always dirt under my nails.
The mine was waiting.
I hope you enjoyed this story! Be sure to check around to my other stories, especially Eden’s Eye!
This story also read by MrCreepyPasta on youtube!