1000ft Under

‘C’mon men, I want at least four feet dug, crushed and cleared by the end of the shift. Now, put your backs into it!’ Marshall loomed over the sweaty men, chipping away at the rock face in the dim light of the mineshaft.

            ‘You’ve gotta be kiddin’? We’ve been diggin’ this seam for weeks, it’s goin’ nowhere.’ Dirty sweat dripped down McEwan’s blackened face leaving rivulets of pale skin underneath.

            ‘There’s money to be had in this tunnel. Mark my words.’ Marshall stepped closer. ‘Now get on with it.’ He had that menacing tone and the glare to match. McEwan turned and got back to hacking at the rock face. ‘Dick,’ he muttered.’

            The old boy next to McEwan nudged him. ‘You should be careful sayin’ things like that to ‘im. He’s got a real nasty streak.’

            ‘Cheers Bowser, think I’ve worked that one out for myself.’ McEwan rolled his eyes.

            ‘Nah, this is nothin’. Just wait till he has a fallin’ out with his missus. You’ll see.’ Bowser smiled and went back to shoveling the smaller chunks.

McEwan let his mind wander to a beach on the south shores, the cool ocean breeze ruffling his hair like a favourite grandma, the lull of the crashing waves, the sand in his toes, the green sun…green sun? He shook himself free of the dream and squinted at the rock face. 

            A glint of green light reflecting like a distant star – feint but visible even in the dimness of the mine. He licked his thumb then wiped it over the sparkling chink. A diamond?

            He drew closer and tilted his head. Funny colour for a diamond. He glanced over his shoulder. No one paid him any attention. He shifted position and chipped a little faster. Sweat mixed with dirt and stung his blistered skin, he licked salty, gritty beads of sweat from his top lip. The mine seemed to close in on him. 

            His eyes widened as he chipped away. This one’s for me ‘n’ you babe. His lips curled at the edges. Marshall’s voice echoed through the shaft, giving some grief further down the line. Nonetheless, McEwan dared another glance over his shoulder as he finally chipped the golf ball-sized beauty free. Heart pounding like a hammer and his fingers trembled as he turned the gem over in his hands. You found me, I’m yours. Nobody else’s.

            McEwan couldn’t take his eyes off it, sucked into a bottomless pit of beauty that called his soul. Don’t let anyone take it. It belongs to me.

            ‘Wotcha got there, young’un?’ Bowser pulled on McEwan’s shoulder.

            ‘Nothin’, old man. Mind your business.’ McEwan’s nostrils flared, heat built up inside him even the diamond seemed to get hotter in his hand as he slipped it into his pocket. 

            ‘Nah, nah, you’ve got somethin’. What is it, let’s see it?’ Bowser hopped about and rested his shovel to one side. ‘You know you can’t keep it. They’ll kill ya if they find ya stealin’. I know, I’ve seen it happen.’ 

             ‘I said, mind your fuckin’ business.’ McEwan shoved the old man, knocking him against the wall and knocking the wind out of him. 

            ‘What’s all this?’ Marshall was over faster than a fat man at a buffet. 

            ‘Now you’ve done it!’ McEwan snarled at the old man. I’m yours, you found me, you deserve me, you keep me.

‘Nothing. Just a small disagreement boss, the old timer here’s not pullin’ his weight.’ McEwan glanced down at the wheezing Bowser slumped on the floor, and then back up at Marshall.

            With one hand clutching his chest, Bowser stretched out a crooked finger and pointed it towards McEwan. ‘Thief.’

            Marshall span to face McEwan. ‘Empty them pockets. Now.’

            McEwan’s body thrummed. He squared up to Marshall, his back as straight and solid as the rock behind him. ‘I ain’t no thief.’ They’re going to take it, they all want it, don’t let them. I’m yours. He looked down at the old man and struck out, kicking the old man. ‘You fucking liar.’ His words echoed down the shaft as Bowsers yelp followed.

            McEwan pulled his leg back for another blow but a flash of skin caught his eye too late. A whoosh of air gushed from his lungs and he doubled over. His vision blurred as Marshall shoved him back into the rock, his head crunched against a jut of rock and a moist trickle ran down his neck. He’s going to take what’s yours.

            Marshall pressed one hand against McEwan’s throat and patted him down with the other. 

            He’s going to find me and take me for himself. Kill him, kill him, kill him…  McEwan raised his arm and swung it down hard on the crease of Marshall’s elbow. Marshall lost his grip and McEwan drove his knee up into Marshall’s groin. The man crumpled and gasped. 

McEwan slid aside and rammed Marshall’s head into the rock face. As he sagged to the ground, McEwan grabbed a ragged jumper he’d been using as a towel, then rolled Marshall onto his front. 

            ‘It’s mine!’ he hissed as he forced the jumper down Marshall’s throat. ‘You can’t have it. I found it. It’s mine.’

Marshall clawed at McEwan’s arms, his face red and his eyes like saucers.

            A scrapping noise pierced the deadly silence. McEwan continued to pile on the pressure, ramming more and more of the jumper into Marshall’s mouth. Marshall’s eyes glazed over, his body twitched then stilled.

            McEwan’s head snapped forward. A loud thud registered. Then everything went black.

Bowser stood upright, his shovel in hand, over the two bodies. He grinned, bent down and riffled McEwan’s pocket. The green gem had the mesmerizing glow of the Northern Lights. ‘It’s mine. Ain’t nobody gonna take it from me.’

© Angela Archer 2020

It’s with thanks to Shelly for the inspiration for this story. Once upon a time, I used to request people send me three random words and I would write a story using them. Shelly’s three words were: smile, diamond, and jumper.

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