Storytime – The Missing Miners

coalmine1The newspaper article was buried on page seven, just beyond the obituaries. It could hardly have drawn much attention, and it was only a fluke that I saw it. The newspaper had come apart on the subway, and that torn page happened to be at my feet. I picked it up, just something to kill the time while I traveled mile after mile under the city. The first thing on the page that pulled me in was the big ad for winter coats, and boy did I need one of those. After I read the fine print on the ad, I moved on to other things, and it was then that I saw the headline, “Miner Disappears in Infamous Coal Mine”. Well, you never know, I say, so I started reading the account of the disappearance.
Apparently this particular coal mine had achieved a certain level of notoriety after it was revealed that a number of miners had disappeared there over the years, and this latest one brought the total to eight. Now, this was becoming interesting. If the headline had said something like, “Miner Falls to Death in Coal Mine”, or maybe, “Miner Crushed When Mine Collapses”, it just couldn’t be termed ‘news’. But, a disappearance, now this had the seeds of a mystery in it. Were there hidden holes or passages in that mine? Not likely, since the place had been in operation for over seventy years – it had to be well-mapped. What could account for a disappearance? Or eight of them?
A few things about myself: I’m just an average Joe, as they say. I work in an office downtown, helping put together boring city directories. I live in the suburbs with my wife and 2.3 children – got one on the way, you know. I have the usual hobbies: fishing, camping, bare-handed wolf strangling, all that mundane stuff. But, I do have one other thing that consumes a lot of my ‘daydream time’.
I like to think about travel to other times, or perhaps to other dimensions. And, since I have never read about anyone producing an actual time machine, or a machine that allows us to travel between dimensions, I have been thinking that maybe there are ‘doorways’ to these other places, and all we had to do was locate one, and we could step into…… hmmm, I wonder where or maybe ‘when’, we might wind up, beyond the doorway.
So, as I wander through my ordinary life, I like to keep my eyes open for unusual things, unusual events, anything that might be waving a little flag my way that says, “Hey, something ODD is going on here. Maybe it’s one of those DOORWAY things!”
And, this is what the missing miner article did for me. I had a mental picture of a fellow down in the earth, swinging a pick, driving a tram, doing any of the various things that miners do, and all at once he stumbles at the right point or leans on the wall at the right place, and BINGO, he’s ‘elsewhere’. It could happen, as they say. Maybe there is a ‘time nexus’ or a ‘dimensional nexus’ down there. Maybe I could find it. Maybe.
Of course, now we have to wonder, “How can Joe Average go exploring in a coal mine?” I decided to check it out, see what the possibilities might be. The mine location wasn’t terribly far away, just a three hour drive from home. I’d concoct a story for the wife, something about needing to go to check out one of our company printing locations, and I’d be gone for a few days. I think she’d buy it, I mean wives aren’t suspicious, right?
A few days later, I was in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, and I started hanging out in a few of the blue-collar bars, checking out the miners who frequented the places. I started engaging some of them in conversation, telling them I was writing a story for my local newspaper, and trying to find out exactly where the disappearances were taking place, as near as they could tell. It wasn’t long before I found an agreeable foreman who had knowledge of the location, and who could get me a visitor’s pass. All I had to do was show up at the mine entrance with that pass, and he’d meet me there tomorrow morning. This was going great!
Next day, there I was, hundreds of feet underground, feeling very claustrophobic and very dirty. I already had coal dust smeared on me, I mean the stuff was just naturally everywhere, and I could even taste it. I wondered if you could get black lung disease after only one day of inhaling the stuff.
The foreman, Ed Turley, explained that he’d have to leave me there alone for awhile because he had things he had to do, and he’d be back for me in a few hours. Sounded good to me! I was near the tunnel that was gobbling up miners, so maybe I’d hit my own kind of paydirt.
I was somewhat unsure how I might pursue this, but as he left I steeled myself and started walking slowly down the tunnel, following the small illuminated patch ahead of me that was created by my helmet lamp. How do you recognize a nexus, anyway?
After walking for maybe one hundred fifty yards, or possibly eighteen miles, hard to tell in the dark, I noticed a shimmering patch on the tunnel wall ahead, maybe five feet off the floor, on my right side. I slowly approached, testing my footing every bit of the way and shining my flashlight at every bit of the tunnel wall as I got closer.
I reached the area of the shimmering patch and leaned in toward it, peering, trying to see if it was some kind of a window, as well as a doorway. There were indistinct shapes there, slowly moving around, but I couldn’t make out anything that was familiar. Slowly, I extended my hand, hoping I could touch it safely, and still withdraw without committing. My fingers made contact.
A hand came through the patch and grabbed my wrist, pulling me in with tremendous strength. It was a dirty hand, appearing to be smeared with coal dust, just as mine were. It happened in slow motion, with the hand pulling, and me pulling against it, but losing ground, sliding across the gritty floor of the tunnel, feeling myself being dragged into the shimmer. A brief moment of bright light, then….
I was face to face with the owner of the hand, and he was shouting into my face, trying to be heard over the roaring and clanging of the monster machines that towered over me. It appeared to be a long row of boilers, with countless sweating men shoveling coal into those ravenous, roaring maws.
He was shouting at me again, and this time I was able to hear him say, “Here, you lazy Irish scum, take this shovel and get back to work. I’ll not be having you sneaking off again, I guarantee you that, me bucko!”
I opened my mouth to answer him, and was immediately knocked to the floor by his massive fist. He leaned over me, glowering, and said, “There, does that answer your question? Now, get to work or you’ll be getting no water for the next three hours, by God!”
I struggled to my feet and took the scoop shovel he thrust my way. I quickly stripped off my shirt and jacket, grabbed the shovel and started moving the chunks of coal, feeding the inferno in front of me. In short order I was exhausted, with rivers of sweat coming off my body. I kept at it as long as I could, then I apparently collapsed, because everything became dim and confused and I fell to the floor.
I woke up, sitting against the hard steel wall, just back from my assigned work station, and a fellow in a grimy white jacket was pouring more water into my mouth. I gasped and choked, then sat up and shook my head, trying to understand what was going on. My angel of mercy leaned in close, then said, “You better get back at it, laddie. This ship, this ‘unsinkable Titanic’, has a mighty hunger for coal, and we need everyone to do his duty!”

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5 responses to “Storytime – The Missing Miners

  1. So much about coalmines lately, that’s really timely!. It’s gotten political too. I think KY has to have coal, but they ought to shut up arguing about it and work to make mines safer, and then safer ways to use the coal when they get it out. I had pneumonia, pretty serious because it was before modern drugs, when I was in Kindergarten. That house heated with coal. I had it again in grade 2, not as serious since we had sulfa sp? drugs by then. I missed a lot of school.l Then my father had gas heat installed, and I seldom missed anymore school from then on till grown. Rosina and I heated our first house with wood, being sure to have water on the stove, and then the house we built also had wood heat until electric wall heaters came out, and then later the heat and air from the outside thing, and our kids seldom had colds, and none as serious as i’d had. Jon Whitfield
    PS: Just read today the worst coal (western KY?) is being sent over seas where the president is trying to help improve their atmosphere also. JAW

  2. Wow. Love this blog. You are a very good writer with a wild imagination.

  3. Norma Murphy

    love it the way you gave it that little swish now went can i read the rest

  4. Very realistic story! Especially the part about you pitching coal after the strawboss socked you and you got to work! Very humorous! Just like you Jim!Another great story!RandySent from XFINITY Connect Mobile App

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