Second Place, Writing Contest
"Lament of a Miner's Slumber" by Meagan Blackford
Lament of a Miner’s Slumber
Descend once more to Gaia’s recesses,
Her temper is fickle,
Again it is you who trespasses,
Faintly you hear water trickle,
This is the place where fears are answered.
Black, black is the coal,
Break you back,
Strain your soul,
Unsettling, was that a crack?
Shadow envelopes you once again,
The familiar terror provides comfort,
Heaving ore leads your body to strain,
Carry on, Push Forward, Assert,
Another day waits beyond the portal.
Move, attack the stone,
Fear it not,
When the void comes—it comes for you alone
Only you have this battle to be fought
Flee, run from our fate,
The stone calls to you,
Do you answer with hate?
Have you paid what was due?
Are you prepared for what awaits ahead?
Do not tarry,
Accept the stone.
Let pain be wary
Now there is no time to atone.
January 24, 1884
Tick, tick, tick; dop, dop, dop—crack. Darkness, dankness, silence at last—where did the light go? The air is thin. A deathly chill lingers in the pitch-black chasm. Where are the others? Which chamber was I in? Was it in chamber two or three we weren’t supposed to go in? Damn! That DAMN FOOL! That foreign bastard! How did I end up here? I was educated, I had a life in the city and I gave it up for what? A bank job? Is that why I came to this decadently gorgeous mountain snare? My…my body is paralyzed? Why?
5 Years Earlier
The train had left me in a town trapped between towering peaks pressed against one another as sentinels barring the path to their precious treasure. Indeed, these fields of red, blues, purples and various hues of green around me resembled gems and stones of value. The town itself was constantly shadowed by the sharpest of blades by which the town received its name—Crested Butte.
From the town, in any direction you turned a prospect or claim could be found, enriched with solid black gold. Coal poured from almost every portal and the town resonated with a cacophony of sound. At the feet of a peak whose basin was called Red Lady, I found the main avenue. Earthen streets were worn from buggies and foot traffic to and from the mine. The bank was a magnificent sight. The two-story building was trimmed with a golden metal. Dark stained wood with flawless glass windows beckoning to be peered through by all. My gleaming tower of hope and the beginning of my new life was here. I straightened my black suit, though a crease along the hem was a permanent feature that no amount of tailoring could fix.
I was overwhelmed upon entering the bank. The black and red pattern flowed from corner to corner, undaunted by the golden tin ceiling. From the reflective surface above dangled a monstrous golden beast with strong arms its delicate crystal, serene amongst the gnarled metal illuminated the room. Offices were complete with dark polished shelves and desks accompanied by equally dark and lavish chairs. The teller’s box was lined with brass and wood of different hues.
An older man stepped up beside me. He was well dressed in a tailored black suit.
“You must be Blythe. Welcome to Crested Butte. I trust your journey here was pleasant enough,” the man said in a deep baritone that did not match his appearance.
“Yes, sir. I am Randal Blythe. Are you Mr. Radshaw?” I replied shaking the man’s narrow hand.
“Mr. Blythe, the position is no longer available.”
“What do you mean?”
“The position was advertised widely. You are the second person I have turned away. The position was given to a fellow from New York. He arrived two days ago. I’m sorry, but there is no work for you here. I trust you have enough money to return home.”
“I have no money sir. What am I to do?”
“Mr. Blythe look around you. This is a mining town. The coal mine is always hiring.”
Blasted fool! Damn fiend! Who the hell had that fool-hearted idea to come to this Siren’s den? I’m that damned fool, and now I’m trapped by my stupidity. Somehow, I had moved from the bank to the dirt, from carpet to muck and horse droppings. Soon my feet would carry a burdened back, but now they bore my weighted heart. As if the shackles were already tightened around my wrists, I was pulled by the chains of poverty to the office of the Jokerville Mine foreman. I will never leave this new corner of hell. Be merciful if this is my fate.
January 24, 1884
My mistress called to me on this dark morning, but she was no woman of silky skin or throbbing life in her veins. No, my mistress is one of many that miners despised with such depth and unforgiving loathing. Her name was Winter. She desired to wake me this day with her frozen breath against my skin. The chill wisped beneath the scant cloth I called my blanket and the scarce long underwear ruined with years of use.
Stiff, numb, my life, unbearable but my body shifted from the damp straw filled box that was my bed. My lungs heaved and writhed as they spewed the black remnants of my hell. I lit the single candle I couldn’t afford, enjoying the searing flame that licked my fingertips as it devoured the wooden stick. Bare feet no longer felt the frozen earth floor, nor the last scraps of food scraped from the bottom of the container in hope of filling that constantly deprived void which constantly gripped my stomach. Even those scraps were beyond my miner’s salary, those squatters credits were worth less than the dirt forever painted into my feet. The drafty shack I lived in was not my own. Not even the clothes on my back belonged to me. My only possession that no one would ever take away from me was a single piece of clothing, a black suit with a crease along the hem.
I rubbed my fingers along the fabric, savoring the once familiar feeling. Winter swept a chilled reminder of what awaited me through the shack. One last longing stare was all I could afford before bundling myself in my last fragments of clothing. I threw myself against a wood fragment, shoving the snow barred door. It flew from the hinge, sinking into the powder. Damn door. It figures on one of the coldest days of the year you fall off. It will have to wait. My place was vacated in the line of weary ragged troops, dragging our heals to hell again.
“Chamber three is off limits. No open flames. Methane levels in chamber three are too high.” Damn that foreman. Suck on anthracite. Again, we weary soldiers descended into pitch-black, determined to defeat the cold, the timbered monster looming above us and the walls that promised to consume us, all to claim our prize. The jester’s deep laughter echoed in my ears, the sound carried a sinister note. Clink, clink, clink—silence.
“NO!” I turned. Two men, one open flame, too late… BOOM!
Tick, tick, tick; dop, dop, dop—CRACK. Paralyzed? Move! You Must! My arms strained, my palms pressed the grainy black coal dust I knew dispersed beneath my hand. Nothing. Nothing! NOTHING! Darkness, dankness, death. I hear it now. Nothing. Silence. WHY? Do I deserve it? What did I do? Oh but what did I do? Damn you! Damn YOU!
Chirp, chirp chirp—silence. That sound, that beautiful sound! An ANGEL! Oh an angel with wings of yellow! A canary, a canary! Someone is looking for survivors! Chirp, Chirp…Chirp…Chirp…silence. Taciturnity. Nothing. Ode to a miner’s grave, forever buried. The bowels of this earth won’t release me now, trapped, snared, gone. Gone like the canary’s song and the black suit that would not adorn my empty husk. My eyes are heavy, my lungs labored, numbness. Blink, blink…
Gunnison Chronicle-January 25, 1884
Tragedy struck Crested Butte yesterday as the famed Jokerville Coal Mine blew sky-high. Effort to search for survivors has been abandoned. Now the recovery of the bodies is in progress. It is believed between 59-69 workers were inside the mine at the time of the explosion. Cause for the incident is still unknown.