I hated the mine. I hated my parents for living in the mining town and most of all I hated my father, who loved the mine. From as long as I can remember he would be gone before dawn and return, a blackened ghoul in the evening. He would stomp about the(more) house, a cloud of coal dust in his wake talking loudly about the men, and the pullys and the yield. He loved the mine. He could not understand why I could not. I felt a wave of sorrow for my poor mother. He never stopped to think, never considered taking off his boots and hat and coat before bursting into her newly polished sitting room. My happiest days were when I was a small, small boy, too young to be expected to row in in any significant way with the household chores, and definitely too young to be considered a runner for the mine. I remember sitting cross-legged behind the couch as my mother did her daily cleaning. I would take the feather duster, flatten it's down and pretend it was another little boy like me. Sometimes I would dance about the sitting room with the duster until my older sisters started calling me "twinkle toes". As I grew up, I envied them and their dollys. They were not expected to play ball come rain, hail or shine. They could stay in doors with mother, where as I was shunted out to the street to play cops and robbers with the other boys from the terrace. They were tougher than me and had no interest in my made up stories and all they wanted to do when they turned sixteen was to work in the mines. To go down the dark hole that was slowly suffocating me.(less)
He saw Evelyn in passing, a ghost in the distance, his love and his biggest regret.
They used to sit on the tailgate of his pickup truck in front of the abandoned coal mine, drinking cheap beer and talking about all the places they would rather be. Their town(more) was too small, too boring. It had nothing to offer but meagerness, a depressed and constricting smallness that crushed all hopes to dust.
He would kiss her neck, tasting the salt of her skin in the dusty evening, and fall back with her on the blanket. He was liquid under her touch, under the stars.
She wanted to move to Santa Fe and open a pottery shop. He hated the heat, preferring Canada and the cold mountain peaks. He hated her art and the way her skillful fingers molded the clay into perfect forms. She was as hard and unforgiving as diamond, always trying to perfect things. She poked and prodded at his faults and then focused all her attention on her craft, leaving him to seethe in self-loathing.
He was coal in her hand, and for all her squeezing and pressing he had become nothing more than coal dust. Evelyn always had diamonds in her eyes. (less)
They were rarely seen at first. Black figures, not the brown-black of skin but the black of coal dust, covering their skin, clothes and boots.
As the weeks passed they were seen more often. There were men, women, even a few children. They were of many different heights,(more) but always stick-thin, with hollow cheeks. They roamed the landscape and watched, sticking to the shadows where they could. They watched the cattle graze on the moorlands; they watched ground being prepared and crops sown; they watched the children play in the village.
They did not act. Nothing was stolen, no-one attacked. They just watched. But people become awfully nervous when watched.
When approached or challenged, the figures simply stared, unblinking, before turning and walking briskly away. A few times, someone followed one onto the moors, where they seemed to vanish, generally near some old mine workings.
Summer approached, and there was no change. A meeting was held in the village.
The next day, men waited at the old workings on the moors. We watched all day, but no-one came out. Then, as the sun was setting, we were surrounded.
They closed in, herding us towards the workings with no weapons but their stares. Where before rubble had blocked the passages, there were now only marks of coal dust. We were taken in, and downwards. The black ones lit torches, bringing us to a large chamber unlike any made by the old miners.
Many black figures inhabited it. All turned to watch us.
The earth shook. Coal dust drifted down around us and formed a fog. Suddenly, our torches went out. The chamber went dark, only to be lit by flashes from the many shafts. Moments later, the sound of explosions reached our ears. The whites of eyes shone in the dark.