11 February 2013

Thirty-Seven Hours

11. February 2013

            Today’s story is because of a request for something a bit more… uplifting than implied suicide or broken-hearted teenagers.  So here’s a short thriller with a happy ending(?) or so I claim.  Anyway, hopefully you get some chills out of it at the very least. 
            This is partly inspired by the Gothic tradition of ETA Hoffman.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Gothic tradition, it doesn't mean that his stories only wore black or painted their faces with make-up.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, science had explained enough of the world to sort of debunk fairy tales, so a few writers decided to re-instill the fear of fairy tales.  ETA Hoffman was one of the foremost, setting stories in Germanic regions that tended to be heavily wooded and have long histories of mysticism and barbarism (werewolves and shamans).  Edgar Allan Poe was credited with transposing this new form to the New World (American Gothic). Cheers and thanks for reading. 

Thirty-Seven Hours
by Heydon Hensley

That was what they said: thirty-seven hours and ten tons of rock.  But it was longer – it must have been.  Or time doesn’t exist in Hell.  Trapped beneath an entire mountain, the smell of coal climbing into his nostrils and burrowing into his skin.  Occasionally, another miner would moan somewhere – out there – away from him, away from his wall of stone, or they’d claw towards him, nails scratching, scratching against the stone like skeletal fingers.  Then the rubble would shift, and everyone would scream, and the coal would carry the cry halfway to hell, before the cry was too exhausted to continue and just stopped – before he got too exhausted. 
            It wasn’t so bad, not really.  Just the scratching, the scratching like some servant of the Metal Queen, clawing up from the deeps to pull him down, to drag him into the deep, broken leg dangling behind.  He wasn’t sure his leg would come with him.  It burned like a coal fire, slow and hot enough to melt steel.  The pain was good, he told himself, it meant he’d keep the leg.  If he didn’t move then no one would be able to find him, he’d be safe – and closed his eyes so the darkness couldn’t crawl in, take him over, spread out over his skin like the coal –
            He screamed.  Monitors and nurses sang a chorus of expletives like a refrain.  The white room, sterile light, white sheets sank beneath a cloud of smoke – then he was back. 

            Back, with the scratching, always scratching further down the tunnel, clawing its way closer in the pitch, like a dragging pick or hungry fingers.  He couldn’t scream – had to stay still – had to hide, the slightest whisper of noise, and it would find him – drag him away to forget the sun.  Sweat slid down his nose, dripped off and hit his belt buckle.  Plop. It echoed down the long throat, he could almost see it.  The walls coruscating to force him down into the stomach – into the deep, to the cold, to forget – to forget the warmth of his wife, the sun –

            A warm hand touched his cheek.  Warm and soft.  The sweat seemed to disappear.  For a moment his fears eased, the scratching paused, held back by this soft hand.  Murmurs drifted through the coal smoke.  “He’s going to… not uncommon… post-traumatic stress… keep him sedated…”
            “His leg?” A voice touched with sunlight. 
            His leg felt light, it almost didn’t hurt – almost.  So it was there, it had to be there.  This warm hand and sunlit voice kept his leg attached, kept the scratching at bay.  He just needed to hear that voice, to let it crawl into him and chase out the black, the scratching deep.  

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