“A pile of gold or your friend — Which would you chose when the mine is collapsing around you?”
“ ’ey, Jack! We gotta problem down ‘ere!” Eric’s voice echoed along the mine tunnel. The headlamp of his friend and partner began bobbing towards him in the dull orangey light.
“What’s up, mate?” Jack called. At almost six-and-a-half-feet tall, he had to bend to walk along the tunnel.
“I think we ‘ave to stop chasing this ‘ere seam of gold. Listen,” Eric swung his pick into the quartz. Each blow causing a shower of rock and sparks. More concerning, the impacts seem to foment hollow rumbles and knocks within the strata.
Jack swore, “Yup, sounds like you’re waking up the Tommyknockers and that’s never a good sign.”
Both men stood listening, each well aware of the legend of the Tommyknockers. The impish leprechaun like creatures were supposed to be mischievous with miners equipment. They’d also act as a warning with their knocking telling of imminent cave-ins.
“What you reckon? Stop completely or dynamite it?”
“There’s too much gold to lose here. Get some dyna —” Another series of knocks echoed along the tunnel. The wall holding the gold vein began to split as a rumbling shook the mine.
“Shit!” Eric dropped his pickaxe and backed away. Large chunks of rock began to fall from the ceiling. He made it two feet before a loud bang rocked the underground space.
“That’s it! Get out! We have to let the mine rid itself of pressure!” Jack yelled.
“Just run!” Eric watched him turn and felt his stomach drop. The floor of the tunnel had given way. Both men were slammed onto their backs and sent tumbling into a dark abyss.
The miners had become human rocks in an underground landslide. Both crying out as their bodies were assaulted by falling boulders, hard surfaces and rubble.
Eric heard his partner scream in pain as he plunged into an area of cold air. There is no time to react as he somersaulted into space. His headlamp gave him a fleeting glance of a grey lake as he plunged into icy-cold water. All around him boulders and debris splashed down like the most horrendous hailstorm.
Hitting the bottom of the lake, he instinctively kicked up and away from danger. He swam strongly until his head broke the surface. Gasping for air, he felt his heart racing as his body tried to cope with the sudden icy immersion. Mercifully his helmet light had survived so he could see. “Ja-ck! J-ack wh-ere are ya!” He yelled, his voice echoing around the cavern.
The lake was in a subterranean room with no way out. Its walls made of yellow and brown rock — sandstone or something similar. The ceiling was hanging with hundreds of long thin stalactites giving the feeling of being in the mouth of a giant monster.
“Jack!” Eric saw a flat sandy area and swam for that. It came as a small semblance of relief as he hauled himself out to relative safety.
The echoic voice was shallow and full of fear. “I’m coming mate. ‘old on!” Eric hauled himself to his feet. His limbs chest and back felt as if they’d been pummelled by a world champion kickboxer.
“Over here,” Jack swore through some pain.
Eric spotted a little light coming from the newly formed boulder field. Having no intention of getting in the lake again, he began to pick his way around the shore. The going was treacherous on the slippery rocks. “Jack, there you are. You okay, mate?” He’d mounted a large boulder to discover his friend lying in the rubble.
“No, my arm’s stuck. It’s bloody broken.” Jack was white with pain and trembling.
“Is that all? It’s all right for you. I fell in the bleeding drink. It was bloody freezing, let me tell you!” Eric said with a chuckle.
Jack managed a laugh but it was strangled out by a wave of pain leaving him choking. “You needed a bath anyway,” he wheezed.
“Yup, the missus will be happy,” Eric dropped down beside his friend. His light told him the bad news. The offending boulder had crashed down on his forearm. ‘Shit, this must be five tons,’ he thought while looking about for a way to move it.
“Don’t sugar coat nothing. How bad is it?”
“I’ll get you out, Jack. Don’t worry.”
“Ah, bloody hell … Look, forget me. You try to get out. Maybe you can bring back help. Either way, no sense us both dying —”
“Shut yer face!” Eric took his good hand and grasp it tight. “I’m not leaving yer, mate. I’ll get yer free and we’ll get out of ‘ere together, alright?”
Tears formed and flowed down Jack’s dirty cheeks. “That means more than you know my, friend. Please promise me; if you can’t free me — get out. I need somebody to tell my wife I love her. To ensure she and Daisy are well taken care of.”
“ ’ey, I met your wife remember. I ain’t telling ‘er nothing. If I leave you down ‘ere she’ll kill me anyway.” Eric stood up. “No, you can tell ‘er yourself later. ‘old on a minute. I’ll see if I can find my pickaxe.”
“Thanks, Eric. You’re a good, Pal.”
“Only doing what you’d do for me.” Eric mantled another boulder and scanned the debris field. It took him ten minutes to find his pickaxe and make another discovery. “’oly Midas, Jack!” he yelled causing his voice echo in the cavern.
“Gah, did you have to bloody shout!” Jack called back from beneath his boulder.
“You bet I did.” Eric chiselled at the wall beneath the rockfall for a moment. “Look at this!” he said once back by Jack’s side. In his hand was a sizeable chunk of quartz sparkling with heavy gold deposits. “There’s a shitload of this over there.”
Jack’s eyes went wide. “Haha! Jackpot. Hurry up and get me out of this so we can get rich.”
“Might ‘ave to leave you down ‘ere after all,” Eric replied with a sinister look on his face.
Jack gulped turning greyer as a moribund feeling of fear descended upon him.
Eric burst into laughter, “Just kidding, mate. All this gold would be no fun if I couldn’t share it with you.”
“Arsehole! You scared the shit out of me. I’ll belt you when I get up!” Jack grumbled as a wave of pain twisted his features.
“Speaking of which.” Eric began chopping away at the rock and debris around his friend’s trapped arm. He knew we couldn’t move the boulder and so wasn’t going to try. Instead, he methodically worked a free him from below.
Almost an hour passed before Jack was able to sit up. His hand and arm were purple from being trapped for so long. His forearm bones and wrist without doubt broken. “Looks like I’ll be a silent partner from here on out. I can’t work a pickaxe with this hand anymore,” he said overcome by sadness.
“You silent. Ha, no chance. You never shut up!” Eric chuckled as he withdrew a folding knife from his jacket pocket. He levered the business end from his pickaxe. Next, he used the blade to carve long strips from the handle.
“I don’t know what you’re doing. But I’m glad, I’m trapped down here with you. I couldn’t have survived with anybody else,” Eric said cradling his arm against his chest.
“Likewise, partner. Let’s see that arm.” Eric had pulled his bootlaces out. He placed the strips of wood along Jack’s shattered forearm and secured them with the laces. Every time he applied pressure the poor man screamed in pain. “This is only a makeshift splinting but it might help save your arm until we can get you to hospital.”
“That … was … genius,” Jack panted his body close to collapse through the pain. “Now, how do we get out? I don’t think I can climb back up there.”
Eric eyed the hole they’d fallen through. “No, we can’t go that way.” He put his head under Jack’s good arm and helped him stand. “We’ll try down there and hope our luck holds.”
Alongside the gold vein, a crack in the wall opened into the hidden passage. The miners knew by the smooth walls it had been made by running water. Probably that which once fed the lake. They were forced to stop at short intervals to allow Jack to catch his breath. Finding a smaller underground room with a sandy floor, they lay down to sleep. Both overcome with exhaustion from the crazy day.
Hours later, neither man knew whether it was day or night in the dark caverns, Eric woke with a determination to get his friend to the hospital soon. By then both their lamps had run out of oil.
“We’re done for. We can’t get out in the dark,” Jack groaned.
“You can still get your arse up. Come on!” Eric hauled him to his feet and marched him forward. Using his hands on the walls to guide them down the tunnel.
Immeasurable time vanished in the darkness. The greatest sight for any miner appeared ahead — daylight. The miners broke free of the tunnels, entering into a rocky valley below the mine.
“We did it! You saved me, Eric!” Jack said tearfully as they hugged awkwardly on account of his arm.
“Any time, my friend. Let’s get you healing and us rich!” Eric beamed as they began to walk around to their vehicles. It would take Jack months to heal. Even then he’d never get full mobility of his hand back. The two friends enlisted a young lad from the village. Between the three, they were soon the owners a substantial pile of gold. Something, I’m sure the Tommyknockers were not very pleased about.
Have a great day!