What Lurks Below
What appeared to be room enough for twenty more researchers quickly became a suffocating entombment to Professor Neudahl when their hired guide closed the steel door of the hundred year old elevator shaft and the only light of day disappeared as they descended.
She turned and gripped the only loose material she could gather from the form fitting shirt of her assistant, Daniel, and closed her eyes as tight as shutters.
She held back the urge to scream as the infinite darkness became filled with the screeching sound of metal meeting rock, because if there was one thing Professor Neudahl hated more than descending over two thousand feet into the earth it was admitting to her student’s her fear of the dark.
The guide unlatched the safety bar and slid the door to the left. “Watch ya step folks.” He stepped out first into the damp and odorless void, letting the three researchers exit one at a time.
“It doesn’t look so bad down here.” Professor Neudahl said, relieved to see the mine brightly lit.
The guide pointed to the right and then the left. “When the excavations started about a year ago they started installing lights, but they never got to finish."
“Why’s that?” Daniel asked.
The guide stepped back into the elevator, smiled and said, “Don't really know. Maybe the dark got to them.” He pulled down the safety bar.
“You’re leaving!” Professor Neudahl said.
“For now. Don't worry, I'll be coming back." He slammed the door and the elevator started its screeching ascend.
The research team decided to separate to gather samples of the rare rocks, minerals and crystals the mine was famous for keeping buried.
“Quickly, over here, I’ve found something!” One of the interns shouted.
Professor Neudahl shouted back, “Patricia, where are you?” Their echoes becoming one.
The intern’s screams suddenly filled every opened crevice, drowning out the Professor’s pleads to find her. Professor Neudahl waited for her echoes to silence before shouting out again. “Daniel! Greg!”
What the hell is going on?
She turned on the light to her helmet, grabbed two glow sticks and slowly made her way to where the end of the spot lights met the beginning of utter darkness.
Far in the distance, she could hear footsteps approaching, but her helmet's light only bounced off the blackened emptiness. She tossed both glow sticks into the dark, casting a shadow against the dimly lit figure.
“Daniel . . . Greg . . . is that you?”
The only response was shallow breathing from the figure and echoing screams from Daniel and Greg from somewhere in the darkness.
“Oh my God, we’re not alone down here!”
The faster Professor Neudahl ran the faster each spot light went out one by one. Before the last one turned off she spotted a small opening and darted inside to hide. Afraid to look, she stood listening to her frantic breathing.
I need to calm down.
She took her helmet off and shined the dim light around. There were three chairs, two wooden crates and a withered table with a framed picture in the middle. She picked up the faded black and white photo and screamed in horror when she saw the handwritten date of a hundred years ago and their hired guide, looking just like he did today.
The Coal Miner's Ghost
Hank hated having to deal with the drifters who wandered through town looking for work. They never stayed long enough to see the job done and then he had to start all over again.
But he felt differently about the new guy he hired named William. Even though the rest of the men thought he was strange and gave him the nickname, Willie the loner, Hank thought him to be someone who seemed they were going to stick around for a while.
Today began the same as every other day for William. He arose at four in the morning, graciously accepted a cold cup of coffee and a stale cheese sandwich from his boarder before heading out to the coal mines to begin his fourteen hour shift. The only hope he had was the promise of tomorrow being the same.
The rail car descended its way deeper and deeper into the mine, the air becoming denser and colder as the men found other things to think about besides the harshness of their reality.
“Hey Willie, why you’s still hanging around here?” Delbert, one of the miners, shouted over the screeching echoes.
Willie shrugged, keeping his distance from the men.
Each man stepped out of the rail car and headed in opposite directions to spend the next fourteen hours pounding and grinding and digging their way to their next meal, and if they were lucky, a cold beer and a smoke.
Needing a break, Delbert reached into his pocket and pulled out the small remnants of a smoke and a match. He flicked his nail across the match and nothing happened. He flicked it again and this time he heard and felt someone’s breath blow across his face.
“Who’s there? Are you’s too afraid to show yourself?”
“You are the one who should be afraid.” Willie stepped out of the darkness, "For forty years I’ve been protecting coal miners from a fool like you who killed me and thirty other men. But today, only one will have to die.”
Today began the same as every other day for William. The only hope he had was the promise of tomorrow being the same.
Total word count: 912
What Lurks Below - 551
The Coal Miner's Ghost - 361