Men are not the only monsters to be saddled with family.
There were three of them. They had all been here before, and they were here again, at the mouth of the mine. When they were young they used to come here two or three times a week. They would walk in as far as they could, and without light it would not be far. Sometimes they would steal one of their grandparent’s lanterns, dusty and antique, a stretched star wrapped in black. It would be careful walking, tip toeing around the pits, holes, and rusty machines. Each shortcut, each path, was memorized, recited, a near physical reflex. Now, it had been five years since they had gone their separate ways, two years down the livings roads and corridors. One brother had moved away for school, the other stayed to appease their needy parents. Their best friend had changed dramatically, and was rapidly losing interest in them. Not that the Mine had changed as much as them, and any change that did happen was not marked as easily in skin and blood. Change came to it far more intense ways, especially to the one that resided within it.
The mine was outside of Chapel Hill. It was an even mile away from town, which made it a faraway wonderland to those in the small city. At one point it was quite the hubbub of activity, because the pit was rich in iron and it bled metal. Every wall was scraped, every hole and cavern drained, and the mine was left completely sterile, not a glimmer of metal anywhere. Rows of lanterns stretched it into long trails, providing more illumination then in the city. Machines hulked in the open and in the corners, contraptions of all sizes abandoned hastily, because it was too laborious to move them from one hillside to another. The hillside the mine got was favorable spot on the west side of the mountain where there was plenty of short green trees and wild flowers. The outside setting was unnatural for its derelict inner appearance. The sun would hit the mine, and the gaping mouth would disappear into the scene, as if nothing had been so savagely dissected there. To match it the mine’s name was as unceremonious as its purpose: Site Red 39, or Red 39. There are no identities for mines, only locations.
It was winter when they decided to return to it. The air is cold and there had been an abundance of ice storms in December. The leaves along the mountain were motionless and obscene in their icy plates. They crack and break so simply under the three’s ascent that a silent continuous effort to maneuver around them evolves. It was never this difficult to move through the paths, even with the ice; they use to run the entire way there. It took them a few hours to scale the mountain and reach the entrance. Matt was the oldest of them he had escaped away to Virginia Tech and presently was bored out of his young mind with the mundane attractions of his hometown. Chris his younger brother had stayed home to be close to their parents, he worked at the local supermarket. Their best friend Jimmy had gotten vacuumed up by Dartmouth and was too elevated for his hometown, he whined the entire way up to mine. Matt contemplated punching Jim in the face and letting him role back down the mountain. He suppressed this nagging urge. Jimmy was consistently reminding them of this lofty achievement.
They reached the entrance around 4 p.m. It was not how they remembered it, even if it had been that glorious in their memory. Mold ate up the two beams that held the entrance up along with the cross beam that separated the falling earth from the opening. The wood was stained with decay, dark and warped. The entrance used to have a door with a broken lock that would swing back and forth, but it had been removed. Now a half dozen construction pylons and a bunch of chewed up caution tape kept the entrance closed up. Whoever had made the barrier must have been in a hurry since the tape was slightly above hip level but bent and limp enough to allow anyone to go underneath it or over it. They climbed in with no hesitation or false steps. The grey sky splits no sun to guide them, the unsavory beacon from the natural world.
“We never use to go in here when it was this dark did we?” Jim asked. Jim is a thin built twenty year old who looks as if he has not consumed enough food to sustain any body fat his entire life. He is shorter and has a nagging case of acne. His voice struggles to articulate unintelligent sarcasm.
“I don’t think we ever cared how dark it was” Chris replied. He is the oldest of the three by one year and older brother of Matt. He always appears angry at nothing in particular. He is taller and thicker built.
“Sure we did. We never went that far in, especially where that draft started then the light would be too shaky,” Jimmy said.
“I think you were too scared, holding the light all the time. You never wanted to go past where the draft started,” Matt chimed in. Matt is pretty comparable to Chris only taller, laid back in his clothes he is always walking around in grey sweatpants: the same make and model but later year and luxury line.
“News flash, Chris: go screw yourself.”
The tunnel at the entrance is dark, low, and narrow: everyone must crane their neck down to peer down it. There is a row of lanterns in the center are covered in dust and cobwebs. They groan rust and wear in the backwash air of the entrance. Further down, the mine will get narrower, and turn into more of a tunnel. After that they do not know, they have never been further then Grady’s Cart. There is dust everywhere, nice white coats of it covering every inch of sharp and dull stone. The air is stale the further you go in it hangs on everything wet and cold. There is light only in the entrance, white light the rejects of clouds and icy rain. They are dressed for rain, but there is hidden water in the mine. Jimmy and Chris are dressed formally in button down shirts and nice jeans, like they were going to strut around campus. Matt is at home in a leisure suit, he wears it nearly everywhere.
“Darn, no flashlights, guess we can’t go any more in,” Jimmy said.
“We never use to have any flashlights when we were kids, and we went a whole hell of a lot further then just the goddamn entrance,” Matt replied.
“I thought we had agreed to just get to Red 39, not explore it or anything, were not little brats anymore its amazing we can still get up the mountain,” Chris agreed.
“Well, we can’t have come all this way and not go a little ways into the mine. You have your cell phones, don’t you? I have my I-Phone, it’s got this little flashlight thing: how about that?” Matt said.
“No point in going any further when we can’t see anything we’re not little anymore we don’t even know if it is the same as before.”
“You scared Chris? All that bragging bullshit about how you’re doing in school and they didn’t even teach you about that nothing changes in a goddamn shut down mine” Jimmy said.
He bends down and crouches to look down the mine.
“Maybe you ought to have gone to a real school like me”.
“What the hell are you talking about Jimmy you were always scared to go in Red 39. You have been a pansy ass to this point forward. Now you are giving Chris shit about not wanting to go in, like you built the mine” Matt said.
Jimmy begins walking slowly, the mine opens up a little.
“Yah well this is not crap to do in town right now, its gets more and more boring each time we come back here, this mine might be the only interesting thing left around. I am not happy with just hanging out in this city forever Matt, I don’t have no humble and unelaborated plans for myself.”
“You certainly are not interesting anymore Jimmy.” Matt said.
They went in about a hundred yards and the ceiling crept down. There are footprints on it, long ones with narrow toes and claw marks. They didn’t notice naturally; they only look ahead. There are slits ahead on there right and left; they remember and avoid them. Only small spaces, sharp breathes from claustrophobia, and darkness within them. They get to the edge of the low ceiling where the mine widens out and the ceiling rises high enough for them to stand straight. This is where the machines begin, a whole host of them. There are some on the left a pile of metal, wood, and handles. All are covered in webs thick and damp, not unmoved by hidden drafts or breezes. They look like carts, only more oblong and irregular. Strips of metal lay across them, fingers locked across knuckles. The three men continue further walking and similar piles leap out at them. Their light is ridiculous in the tunnel, three phones beaming on and off in a blue halo. If you were inside the mine looking at them, they would look like fire with no sense of confidence.
“The machines have been moved around I don’t remember them looking like this before,” Chris said.
“No, They are in exactly the same place. Nothing has changed here at all. I don’t think even the goddamn dust has moved at all,” Jimmy replied.
They could hear water running now, some old stream untouched by light running under the soil, It rushed unevenly. They passed more carts and lumber piles on their right their shapes eerily captured by the unnatural blue l
“What’re you going to do after Dartmouth, Jimmy? You seem so sure of where the hell you’re going,” Matt said.
Jimmy squinted under the sparse light and contemplated his remark carefully
“Go to law school so I can achieve something better than you two, and get laid by multiple paralegals.”
“I like the second part of your goal better then the first,” Chris said.
“I don’t like any of it. You keep on getting worse every time you come back from that place, Jimbo. Are you having bullshit injected into your veins over there?” Matt replied.
“Ill be rich enough to have whatever I want injected into me, so go screw yourself. Besides I won’t be bagging groceries for old crabby ladies at Kort’s Supermarket either.”
They kept walking, a memento hall. Grady’s Cart was another 100 yards in front of them. The landscape remained unchanged, but there were fewer lanterns on the ceiling. They had fallen to the ground in uneven rows. When they would brush against them, they clatter a thousand sounds. The perfect echoing reminder that all three men were very deep inside Red 39. Still the sound of running water ruled, splashing shadows in the dark. Nothing known moved inside the mine, not a single spider crawled.
“How old is this mine again Matt?” Chris asked.
“It was shut down over a hundred years ago, pretty sure. It ran dry pretty quick.”
“There are abandoned mines all over these mountains; it’s a wasteland” Jimmy said.
“You remember what our parents use to say about this place, about any of the old mines around here the Knocking and shit?” Matt said.
“Yah, yah, all that bullshit about there being two goblins in the mine, and how they rattle against the walls to annoy the miners,” Jimmy said.
“They would not rattle against them; they would knock on the walls all the time in different patterns. They were annoyed by men, and tried to drive them crazy with the sounds” Chris said.
“Kind of a lame revenge method I have to say,” Jimmy said.
“Yah, well if you were always working in the dark and you were hearing knocking all around you all the time, you would probably be less then receptive to it” Chris replied.
“Yah, well luckily I won’t ever be around in the dust of a mine for a living.”
“It might do you some good to be getting your fingers dirty in the earth, Jimbo” Matt said.
“It would not be good for anybody, including the earth. I am not built for physical labor.”
“You are not built for much of anything,” Matt said.
“That’s why I go to school, Chris gets the idea Matthew”.
They reached Gradys Cart, and it was exactly as they remembered it in all its glory. It was a mining cart like the others earlier on the trail, but it was less cluttered, beaten, and it had a large heart carved out of the front of it with “Grady” in the center. When they were younger getting to Gradys Cart was the winning point of the trip, the upper echelon achievement. They touched the cart in a tender way and looked around expecting to see something spectacular in turn for getting here again when they were older and wiser.
“You guys want to keep going? We’ve have never been past Grady’s before, might as well go now?” Jimmy asked.
“I don’t know. I think we have pushed our luck so far, were not as tiny as we used to be we could fall into a pit or something” Chris replied.
The sounds of rushing water had augmented now each one of them had to yell slightly to be heard in the dark.
“Yah, I don’t think going any further in is going to be anymore exciting. Its badass enough that we came in here after so long a time,” Matt chimed in finally. To this point he had been testing Jimmies meddle sense his personality had soured severely since his higher education begin.
“You pansies come on Matt where is your sense of adventure don’t let me think I got bigger balls then you.”
Jimmy was intelligent enough to see that if he wanted to go further in the mine he would have to manipulate Matt with an arrow of machismo. Matt could not stand Jimmy’s arrogance.
“Common Chris, we can leave Matt here to wallow in his mediocrity. Lets go see some stuff we have never seen before, the rest of this shit we got memorized.”
Matt was well baited and took off after Jimmy waving his phone left and right wearily. Chris followed. The mine grew closer, the walls on the left and right closed in. The ceiling angled downward, but the black had started to stretch on as if the mountain wanted to close the void. All three of them were walking closer together nearly in unison, the sounds of their shoes nearly a unified clap.
“Didn’t they find one of those drummer goblins in the mountain here, when there was that mining explosion shortly before they closed the mine?” Chris asked.
“Yah, something like there would be two of those things in the mine they would both knock on the walls back and forth to torture miners. They would talk or something. A family of two of these things, maybe like brothers or something like that” Matt said.
“A family of them? Why would they have a family, seems like being a monster is solo deal,” Jimmy said.
“Yeah, something like that. One of those dudes found an arm of something not human; it was nearly as long as a man. Who knows what the truth was? Anything like that found would be in a museum somewhere, or under a microscope. It was probably just fifteen minutes of fame type of guy. People around here are all desperate for attention for anything” Chris said.
“Even so, if one of them was killed the other would still be alive, right? It’d be somewhere in here” Matt said.
“It’d probably move on if it lost its brother, if it even knew what that relationship was even,” Chris said
“I don’t think so it probably moved on to another mine if anything, if it existed, if you two girls weren’t so imaginative. Oh and by the way Chris even insects have really fucking elaborate social interactions, you ought to pay attention at that technical school,” Jimmy said.
“Screw you Jimmy. That story was burned into our memory when we were kids. Now we’re further in the mine then ever before and I just want to know what the hell we are doing walking to the end of a 100 year old mine” Chris said.
“You want monsters, I give you monsters” Jimmy said and he slammed his fist against the wall on his right. He hit it multiple times and the near hollow wall with absences and empty veins echoed a hollow thunder up and down the mine. The sound carried on forever; they were all silent listening for the echoes.
“You suck Jimmy. Its bad enough you made us go past Gradys cart. Now we’re scared,” Matt yelled.
“Yah, don’t be pulling crap like that, especially hitting the wall. Who knows how strong the foundation is in a place like this anymore,” Chris said.
For a glimmer of a second it looked like Jimmy had regretted his decision.
“Hey, I did that to calm you guys down, to show you that anything can make knocking sounds down here. Calm down.”
Matt wanted to punch Jimmy in the face but he held off because they were in too tight a hallway. That little stunt marked the end of their journey. Neither brother would go any further.
“Common just a little further you guys we are probably almost to the end of it by now, don’t you want to see the end or anything?” Jimmy asked.
“I don’t care about the end, I can’t breathe in this place we have to get out of here,” Chris said.
“Yah lets get the hell of here,” Matt concurred.
That is when they heard it. They knew what it was right away. They knew what was making it right away. It began quietly, caged thunder in the stones. The slamming began at the entrance then echoed its way back into the deep of tunnel. It shivered the dust in whimsical clouds, and rattled the metal on the old machines. It got louder and more intricate, a spreading bell in the midst of the mine. They could feel it in the roots of their teeth burning down into their jaws. The knocking in the mine.
“Did you do that Matt?” Jimmy screamed.
“No way, I was already scared.”
“We have to run out of here. Stick to the center don’t hit the edges.”
The knocking continued.
“No, let’s calm down now; it could be just an echo.”
“That It’s not that. Let’s run stick to the center.”
“You fool Jimmy, what have you done?”
The knocking continued.
“Just run you guys I am tired of this, run.”
They were shoulder to shoulder in the tunnel; it was not anything more then a narrow four foot corridor which made turning around pure chaos. They run together and in one moment the ground they just crossed splits and they are falling. The knocking continues.
Matt could not remember the last time he had fallen. One time when he was young he jumped from the old wooden bridge on the playground. He landed awkwardly and broke his arm. Besides that sensation, the only thing he can remember is the air moving fast enough that it felt cold, very cold. The feeling in his stomach was one of complete sickness; his innards were trying to move up his ribs something soft rubbing against the bone. He scraped against something which tore through his coat and shirt. A spot on his ribs felt cold then stretched, as if someone was prying his skin apart with a fantastic scissor. His lip split open. Some stone flew by as he fell. The blood burned beneath his mouth but above his tongue. All air moving by quickly, no specific image sprang out from the blurring black stone. A sudden stop then that pushed his ribs towards his neck and ate the air from his chest. Cold beneath his feet something damp all around him, then only darkness. Things, shadows, crawled up his eyes in tiny circles, “Do not go into shock,” he told himself.
“Do not go into shock.”
He woke up panting. His left hand was beneath cold grey water. He pulled it away shocked and mildly embarrassed. He was on top of some sand a small hill that angled downward into a pool. Chris was in the pool on his back. Matt tried to move but could not lift his chest up. There was something in his ribs, some object rubbing against them; it dulled enough to not paralyze him. After a few moments the pain dulled to an ache and stood up slowly. He could not differentiate the feelings in his body. A tooth was loose hanging back towards the roof of his mouth. He panicked and swallowed it. There is a little light in the pit. The minerals in the sand illuminate slightly, a dull yellow glow enough for him to squint a little visibility. He cannot see how high the pit is, no edges are distinct, no forms. Chris groans in the pool on his back, he staggers over to him. He is mildly intact, a portion of his skin is missing beneath his eye, his lip is torn, and his coat shredded.
“What the hell happened to us?” Chris asked.
Despite the dire circumstances Matt found this question mildly humorous.
“I am pretty sure, though not positive, we fell in the pit.”
The water was stinging his heels, it had gone through his shoes. It was far lost water deep inside the mine, unmoving and soaked with stagnant black sediment.
“We got to get you outta this water its freezing,” Matt said.
He reaches down to pick up his brother, putting his hands underneath his arms. When he bends down he see’s Jimmy’s hand turned upside down in the water. He will grab him next. He starts to pull his brother, but something pulls within his ribs, blood runs down its side, its nice and warm in comparison to all else. His brother is covered in blood beneath his waist. Something cut him above his pelvis, and his left leg was turned backwards with a nice stretch of blood marking it. The water he laid in had numbed any pain that would induce shock for him. Matt dragged him to the sand slowly and painfully. A strange rattling came from his brother, and it scared him slightly considering the circumstances. His brother’s teeth were chattering he was shivering violently.
“I am going to get Jim I’ll be right back.”
He tested the pool, it was very shallow. It stretched for about ten feet, to what looked like a wall but it was too dark to be able to judge its texture. It appeared to go back many feet towards the adjacent wall. Jimmy was also prone on his back. There is an object stuck through the middle of him. It is stone oblong and dull, not enough to pierce the skin of his chest. Hbody was covered in the water though not all of it his eyes went wildly side to side.
“I can’t move, for god’s sake, I can’t feel anything”.
“Don’t talk, man, just calm down. I’m going to move you over there. You can’t stay in this water”.
“Man how are we going to get outta here?”
“Just be quiet for a second.”
Jimmy starts to spit up blood; it spills down his lips onto his neck, mixing in the water. There is something on the bottom of his ankle, it is smeared by the pool. The texture of it moves to the water its tissue is unsteady. Jimmy looked at him curiously and they both stared at the wall. There was a hissing coming from the wall, it shuttered and rolled. A ripple went across the water in a thin even batch of waves. Jim’s eyes roll completely to his left. In a watery burst he is in the air five or six feet. A hand is wrapped around his ankle. It is not a human hand. It is grey skin, thick and course, a combination of fleshes mixed together. There are long sharp nails with etchings of some old symbol completely lost to men. He is upside down in the air blood is dripping off of him in long trails, thick enough to look fake or phony. He is screaming, wild and angry, his arms writhing. It is like an animal scream, a pig being butchered. Then as quickly the hand lifted him clear in the air, it receded into the shadow with him screaming. Matt fell back towards the wall screaming. Chris had fainted from just observing the experience. He lifted his brother onto his lap and against the wall. There was no where to go, not a single corner. Jimmy screamed and wailed, there were shudders of skin and hisses. There was tearing sound similar to soft plastic, which grew louder and his screams more garbled and choked. Eventually the tearing stopped and there was visceral pop and the scream abruptly ended, they could hear his limbs still flailing around against it. They stopped too eventually.
It fed on him for two hours. It had not eaten a man for years, and normally it did not, but it was starving. It had problems with the skin and vein tissue; its teeth were nearly rotted away. If you were to dissect it you would find something similar to a man only taller, longer, and covered in thick grey skin to blend in soil. It choked on some of the hair and the nails, Matt could hear it coughing a long sinewy cough. The body was consumed too quickly, and it leaned down to the water to drink in huge exhausting gulps. It did not want the men to see it entirely, it did not want to be described to some group of ridiculous adventurers. It reached over the water quickly its arms made the stale air rush in wild circles. The pool rippled back to its mouth perfectly so it could lean its jaws down to capture each wave. It was a perfected procedure, well rehearsed. The man had been salty and chewy.
Matt could not keep conscious. The pit was cold and his brother had passed out in his arms. His body shivered even as he slept, his mouth bled from biting his tongue. There was blood mixed in with the water, an uneven cloud to it. The final time Matt woke to see the other edge of the pit he saw something very curious. The head of something comparable to a man only bald, very thin, and with no hair. It was peeking out from the shadows across the water. It had dark slit eyes a curved mouth, and short nose. Only its head was visible and it was high up in the air. Matt could barely will away the shock. The face looked at him, and looked at him. If Matt could have thought of a good term to describe what he was seeing, it would be solemn beast, or a reflective monster. It looked at both of them until neither could be awake and or barely alive.
They were found on the hillside outside the entrance. They were airlifted to the hospital in Chapel Hill. Both men survived but barely. Matt was first to wake up in his hospital room, surrounded by family and flowers. The color white everywhere nearly blinded him. He wanted to explain things, but he thought better to wait since it might mean a hasty admittance to the Psych Ward. Eventually a doctor came into the room to talk to him about his condition. The doctor is an old grumpy man, bent over his clipboard; the presence of so much family nearly agitates him. He takes a quick cut to Matt and dismisses everyone else rudely.
“You took quite a spill in there, young man, but you don’t seem too bad. I could nearly see your lungs when you came inside, but other then that you will be okay.”
“What about Chris? How was he? Is he alright?” Matt said.
“Broken leg, pelvis, collar bone, and severe hypothermia, but he will live not comfortably though.”
The doctor got up and paced around a little looking out the window which shot out onto the highway where a McDonalds hummed.
“It’s curious that he survived after his exposure to all that cold down there. You both nearly died of hypothermia but he was far worse for the wear.”
He sighed again like he was annoyed by having to explain so many things in so many details.
“If you had not been holding your brother the entire time he would have died. Pretty incredible, actually.”
He sighed again.
“What made you hold on to him so tight?”
It was tired from the ascent of the pit. It had not moved that much in nearly an age. They had slept soundly the entire way, not that the trek took long. It knew every inch of Red 39. It could not get far out into the entrance where it laid them, the sun was splitting through it small beams. Its eyes were not built for that type of light. It did see the edges of the other mountains, and the dark lines of green trees crisscrossing. Its other had enjoyed looking out the entrance in the night, where it would not squint or be driving back by the unpredictable sun. It had never had that sense of romanticism that Its other did. Now it was back into It’s pit sitting against a throne of uneven black stone and sand. None of its meal was left, only the femur of Jimmy which was too large and awkward to digest. It gnawed on it peacefully in the gloom. Somewhere, up through the black pit with uneven stone; past Grady’s Cart and the rusty lanterns. Out the entrance of the mine down into Chapel Hill, someone wondered why it did its lovely good deed.