Alone: The End

After a bit of a delay I'm now able to finish this little tale. I hope you've enjoyed it so far and again my apologies for last week's delay. So without further interruption let's get into it. Here's the link for the full story if you'd like to start from the beginning. 


 The dead miner stirring from his ageless sleep?

He felt the presence on a purely instinctive level,  something massive yet insubstantial. A yawning emptiness that slowly opened to consume everything in its path.  He moved away, scrabbling across that rocky surface, coming up hard against the wall as the emptiness opened behind him.

As it came closer he reached out with one hand, feeling for the floor that was no longer there. The mine had vanished, replaced by that all consuming void as a single thought whispered through his mind.

Am I dead?

It elicited a sense of sadness, a deepening sorrow as he came to understand that he would never see his daughter again. She would grow up without him to watch over her, maybe she would fall in love, and have children of her own. His wife  Renee might move on, find another not as foolish as himself to stand by her side until death parted them.

But most of all he would miss the warm feeling of the sun on his face. The gentle touch of an errant breeze carrying the scent of the pine trees covering the hillside behind his house. The hard bite of winter’s chill as the snow crunched beneath his feet.

The emptiness grew behind him, expanding to encompass everything his world had become, replacing the mine with its frozen caress. The sweat on his brow chilled his flesh as the cold slowly wrapped him in its embrace.  He was thankful he’d kept his heavy coat as it now served to protect him from the encroaching cold.

It made no sense, yet at the same time it was perfectly logical. This deep, on the devil’s doorstep, the temperature should be over a hundred degrees. But it had changed as that emptiness opened behind him, and the cold loneliness of the grave wrapped him in its mournful embrace.

He felt its touch on a purely instinctive level, coming as a  faint tickle at the base of his neck. Slowly it climbed the back of his skull, numbing his flesh at its chilled touch, and he became aware of another presence.

Something as old as time itself that regarded him with a frigid indifference. As the numbness of its touch spread across his body his memories stirred as this essence rifled through the files of his past with calloused indifference. He saw his life flashing before his eyes, and knew then that death had come to take its due.

He saw himself as a child sitting upon his grandfather’s knee as he wove the tales of miners of old, who viewed the world around them as one filled with the creatures of legend, and the magic of unlimited possibilities. Then he was a young man, focused on his studies, having shed the wonder of childhood and all the beliefs it entailed, as cold hard facts replaced the myths and folklore of his early days.

He saw his bride to be once again as she walked down the aisle towards him, surrounded by family and friends as two loves were joined into one. He saw the birth of his daughter and his heart filled with sadness when he realized he would never see her again.

Light filled the chamber behind him as his memories cascaded through his thoughts. His shadow was long against the loose stone and blasted walls of his grave. He saw his tool bag lying next to the boot protruding from the ground and crawled towards it.

With every step more details came into focus. He recognized the pattern on the bottom of the boot, it was a red wing just like he wore and that spark of recognition set off a chain reaction that washed through him like the rushing waters of a dam suddenly released from its prison.

He recognized the coveralls as well, they were similar to what every other miner wore, but with one small difference. The tiny plastic butterfly attached to the zipper tang that opened the bottom of the pants leg.

“They’ll protect you daddy,” his daughter whispered in his mind as a chilly tear traced a wet path down his cheek. She had attached one to every zipper tang on his coveralls, a talisman of her own making to protect the one she loved.

The guys had ribbed him about them when they first saw them, but the kidding died down shortly after, when he explained what they meant. The atmosphere becoming somber as they waited for the cage to take them down into the bowels of the earth.

Into an eternal darkness where no one’s future was assured.

As the light grew he came to understand what love truly meant when more of those tiny plastic butterflies came to light. Behind him death waited as it waited for everyone, it had all the time in the world, but his had run short and when he felt that chilled touch on his shoulder he knew it had run out.

Upon your birth a voucher was issued, a chit, a token much like the ones the miners of old used to mark their loads. It was something we all carried our entire lives, slowly counting down the seconds, the moments, until death lay claim to our soul. For some that timer was short, while for others it was long.

His had wound down to the end and the sorrow that overwhelmed him at the sight of those sparkling butterflies filled him with a bitter remorse. He’d always promised to come home to her, now he was going to break that promise.

The hand on his shoulder tightened as it pulled him back towards the light that now filled the mine around him and painted his long shadow upon the shattered wall. Other shadows appeared around him as a babble of voices intruded upon his consciousness. Other hands grabbed him and he expected to find his grandfather and two of his uncles who had passed away when he turned towards the light.

Instead the bright light of a work lantern blinded him, and he held his hand up to cover his eyes.

“Are you okay, Pete?”

“Yeah,” he answered, startled to find his crew around him, “yeah. I’m okay.”

“Can you walk?”

Pete nodded silently as his eyes adjusted to the light and he looked around for his tool bag. It sat on the ground to his right, the boot that had been next to it now gone.

“Let’s get you out of here,” Arnold said as he pulled him towards the opened shaft, “make way people,” he shouted to the others who stepped back to clear a path.

As he was led from the mine he looked down at his coveralls, noticing that the small plastic butterflies were gone. A child’s talisman used in exchange for his life and for the first time in his life he came to understand that sometimes magic did exist, and the power of love, and belief could be enough to defeat even death. 


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