A Wishology Storycoin
Action & Adventure
“Stop that boy!”
Hands blackened by layers of coal dust grabbed at him as he shoved his way through a group of workers. It was pouring rain, and the normally dusty path had transformed into a muddy mess, making it nearly impossible to run. Several powerful lights on generators glared down, gleaming off the men’s hardhats and casting hard shadows from every object. He tried to stay in the dark, but it wasn’t working.
“Stop him!” the man chasing him shouted.
He was nearly free of the grasping hands when a foot tripped him. He slid across the ground, mud filling his clenched fist. Somehow, he managed to keep hold of the black wooden box in his right arm. When he flipped over, an oversized coal miner was sneering down at him.
“End of the line, young Houston,” he growled.
The man wrapped his shirt collar in both fists and effortlessly lifted him right off the ground and into the air. The miner was at least two heads taller than any of the other workers gathered behind him. His face was covered in coal dust so that his only visible facial features were the whites of his eyes and what few yellow teeth he had left.
Struggling was pointless. Young Houston squirmed, but the man was too big and powerful.
“Stand aside! Out of my way!” his pursuer shouted as he pushed through the crowd.
Out of desperation, Houston raised his fist, taking every bit of the gritty mud he had scooped up, and smeared it into those big white targets. The man screamed in agony and scraped at his eyes, dropping the boy.
He wasted no time in continuing his escape. Now, everyone was chasing after him.
At the end of the path, a metal cage sat like an open mouth waiting to devour its prey. Steam rose from the ground in front of the cage, curling around a rack of hardhats hanging beside it. Without slowing down, he grabbed one of the hats and slammed into the back wall of the cage, dropping it onto the floor. He was barely able to shut the cage’s sliding door and secure its latch before the shouting man reached it.
The group of workers slid to a halt a few feet behind him. The man chasing him was the only other person not wearing a hardhat. Water dripped from his hair and ran down his face as they stared at each other through the chain link cage.
“Don’t do this, Mitchell,” the man pleaded.
“It’s the right thing to do!” Mitchell Houston was yelling, not to be heard but because he was angrier than he’d ever been in his life.
“No, you only think it is. You don’t know everything, Mitchell. You don’t have all the facts.”
“The facts? You mean your lies!”
The man’s expression turned sad, as if Mitchell’s words had wounded him, and he put his head down. For a moment Mitchell felt a pang of guilt, but he was too angry to let it change his mind. Besides, he still believed he was doing the right thing.
Mitchell grabbed a lever inside the cage. The clanging noise it made recaptured the man’s attention.
“Mitchell, think about this. All this rain… If you go down there, you won’t be coming out.”
Torrential rains and coal mines are a dangerous combination, and Mitchell knew he was probably right. But what Mitchell was doing was bigger than his own life because there were other lives at stake. It was worth the risk, and he was willing to take that risk.
“Sorry, Dad,” Mitchell said as he shoved the lever into a new position.
“No!” his father screamed, pulling at the cage as it lowered into the ground. “Mitchell, stop! Mitch! Mitchell!”
His father’s screams echoed after him as the cage traveled deeper and deeper into the earth. In a short distance, there wasn’t enough light for Mitchell to see anything, even his own hands. He bent down and ran his hand across the floor, searching for the helmet he had snatched and praying it hadn’t bounced out of the cage when he threw it down.
When he found it, he breathed a sigh of relief and set it on his head. Fumbling his hand across the top, he realized he had it on backwards. When he turned it around, he followed the contour of a round metal object attached to the front and flipped a switch on the back of it. A beam of light illuminated the wall in front of him just in time for water to burst through it, knocking him down.
The cage sank below the stream of water, and the torrent became a waterfall pouring onto his head through the top of the cage. It jolted as its wheels slipped on the cable, and Mitchell wondered if he’d even reach the mine’s tunnels alive. He was only seventeen, and the coal mine his father managed was the one place on Earth Mitchell swore he would never go. It was certainly the last place he wanted to die.
Slipping and catching on the cable in spurts, the cage shook Michell violently and threw him to the floor. He stayed there until a corner of the cage finally struck the floor of the shaft. Getting to his feet, he threw the cage’s door open and dove out.
The cage hung there, vibrating and pulsing with water pounding its top, until its other side crashed to the ground with a loud snap. The metal cable it used to hoist itself to the surface fell into a coiled pile on top of it. There would be no going back up. Mitchell was now trapped in the coal mine.
Light from his hardhat shone wherever he turned his head to look. And he chose to look into the tunnel because it was now the only direction he could go. It was so long and dark that his light was unable to reach its end. The light seemed to stop at a curtain of darkness that hung only a few meters ahead but retreated as he walked.
The ceiling was so low that he had to bend down a bit. The giant that had yanked him off the ground probably had to walk on his knees down here and still hunch over. Water dripped from cracks in the ceiling, and every now and then, he spotted a trickle of water running down the wall. He tried not to think about the river that could gush through the wall at any moment, drowning him and making the coal mine his tomb.
Stepping carefully so as not to bump into any columns of coal used to keep the mine stable — there wasn’t really any such thing as a stable coal mine — Mitchell shuffled along until he reached the end of the main tunnel. But there was a problem.
The main tunnel dead ended into seven other shafts, and he had no idea which one to take. Closing his eyes, he tried to picture the map of the mine’s tunnels that hung in his dad’s office. If he could remember which tunnel was 2-C, he might be able to find his way to them. If he could find his way to them, he would return the box he carried. And if he returned the box, there was a chance they might spare his life and everyone else’s.
His concentration was interrupted by a subtle breeze of frigid air. Goosebumps rose up from his skin. He knew it was them, and he wished he could keep his eyes shut forever. But curiosity would never allow that, so they crept open. As they did, his fear was confirmed.
In front of him stood a horrifyingly mangled corpse. It was a greyish blue where it still had skin. Its rib cage was exposed on its left side, and it couldn’t quite stand straight as its head was cocked to its right side. It had nothing but bones from the knee down for a right leg. Tattered clothing barely clung to it.
From what he had heard, most of them were merely skeletons. And at the sight of the hideous creature before him, he considered himself unlucky.
“Death,” it said, only moving its mouth. Its voice strained to achieve more than a whisper, as though speaking required a huge effort of will.
“Wh… What?” Mitchell was trembling so violently he could hardly talk.
“Date of death,” it demanded.
“I’m, uh… I’m not dead.”
Its head slowly straightened up until the low ceiling stopped it. The corpse stepped closer, dragging its head across the rocky ceiling, but it didn’t seem to notice.
“Then, today,” it said, reaching for Mitchell.
“I brought the black box!” Mitchell cried, holding the box out in front of him.
The corpse paused and shifted its eyes to the box in Mitchell’s hands.
“Worthless without thief,” it said, reaching again.
The deadly tips of its fingers were inches from Mitchell’s face, but they stopped when Mitchell shouted his last words.
“I’m Mitch Houston!”
The corpse’s jaw dropped open, a little too far to be normal.
“Oh,” the corpse said in a drawn out whisper. “Yes… Yes, today.”
Closing the last inch of distance, it touched an icy finger to Mitchell’s forehead. An intense drowsiness overcame Mitchell. He was too sleepy to keep his eyes open, too tired to stand. His eyes shut, and he didn’t care that he was falling or that the black box had been taken from his hands.
When he awoke, he had trouble moving with any speed. He felt his forehead where the corpse’s cold finger had touched him but realized in horror that he couldn’t feel a thing.
Corpses and skeletons surrounded him. He got to his feet, unable to feel them underneath him. Surprised as he was, his eyelids drooped. As hard as he tried, his body wouldn’t move fast. He had never been so tired, like he could sleep forever, and the fatigue threatened to overwhelm him.
The crowd of corpses parted and a woman corpse with a cane hobbled through them. She wore a blue dress, sparkling with diamonds woven into the lace accents, but the bottom of it was shredded to bits. Her left collarbone was completely exposed, and the hand gripping her cane was nothing but bones. A tiara sat atop her full head of hair, which might have made her look less terrifying were her nose not missing. And tucked securely under her other arm was Mitchell’s black box.
“Welcome, Thief,” she said, speaking more fluidly than the corpse he had spoken with earlier.
A question came to Mitch’s mind. As much as he wanted an answer to this question, he struggled to find the strength to ask it, but he didn’t have to. She answered it for him.
“You’re neither alive nor dead,” she answered, “which means, you have a chance.” She hobbled closer to him and grinned. “But fall asleep, and you’ll truly die.”
She pressed down on his eyelids, and Mitchell jerked his head away. Astonished by how fast he had just moved, he wondered if he might be able to duplicate it with practice.
Her grin faded, and she took a step back as if she needed to be cautious of him.
“Good luck,” she sneered.
After she hobbled away, the remaining corpses dispersed, leaving Mitchell alone… Alone and very tired.
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Featured illustration by Ryan Rehnborg