Moving closer he traced the outline of the object with his hand as it curved upward, the Cris-crossed object terminating at a scarred flat surface. The scarred surface curved down to another flat section and as his fingers traced the pattern embedded in its face he realized what it was.
Just like the one he wore and as the realization filled his mine he came to understand that the Cris-crossed patter had been the laces. Someone had lost or discarded a boot in the mine, and it had lain there ignored until he came across it while searching for his tool bag. It wasn’t uncommon for miners to bring spare footwear with them when they ventured into the mines so the presence of the boot was not uncommon
Relieved by the sheer innocence of the object he tried to pull it from the ground, only to find it was securely held in place by the stony earth. And as he pulled he came to realize the boot was occupied by a foot.
Who was it?
With fingers shaking at the revelation and the implications it contained he followed the outline of the boot in the opposite direction. Slipping his finger beneath the hem of that coarse fabric he came to a softer fabric bunched around a solid object. Beyond that his fingers came into contact with flesh as cold as the ground in which it had been buried.
An uncontrollable flash of panic drove him back and he scrabbled through the loose stone, loosing all sense of direction as a single thought blossomed in his mind like a poisonous flower.
There was a body with him.
He looked left, and then right, the emptiness pressing in on all sides as he focused on that singular notion. There was a body in the mine with him. It was followed by another that came with an ominous clarity. It was not where it should be to have been affected by the cave in.
Unless, he tried to convince himself, he had gotten turned around when he was crawling through the dark, and instead of being near the face of the mine, he had unknowingly returned to the collapsed section.
Who was it?
The others had gotten out, he was sure of it, he’d left them at the bottom of the vertical shaft leading to section 16B. Unless one of them had followed him back without him knowing about it, and had become buried by the falling stone.
It made sense, it was logical, and if anything was to be said about him, he was logical. Four years of college had made him that way. His time in school had also severed to distance him from his roots, but the roots of a boy raised in the West Virginia coal fields ran strong and deep. Roots that ran as far back as the late seventeen hundred when the first settlers ventured west, finding the rolling hills of the Appalachians that reminded them so much of the homelands they had left behind. These roots might be weakened, but they could never be removed.
Reaching this conclusion helped to quell the panic simmering in the pit of his stomach, and he stopped moving so he could work out where he’d left his bag. The section he occupied was not very big, no more than thirty by forty feet. If he took his time, and approached his problem logically, he’d find his tool bag.
It was just a matter of remaining focused as he carefully worked his way back and forth across the open space. It wasn’t going to be quick, but it was preferable to running around in a blind panic. Calmly he crawled forward until he reached the wall of the mine. Turning to his right he crawled two steps, then turned right again and crawled across the open space towards what he hoped was the other side of the mine.
As he worked, slow and careful, he became conscious of the sound of a steady pounding that came from his left. Turning his head in that direction he peered into the emptiness as a slow chill crawled the length of his mine when he realized it was the steady sound of a pick working the wall.
It was believed that when a miner died in the mine, his ghost returned to finish his shift.
To be continued!
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