Settle down son. Put tha pickaxe down, and lemme get a looksee at that gash on ya arm. No, I ain’t one of them, but ya might end up one if ya don’t put down tha pick. Good. Here, have a nip of this and sit down so I can get a betta ganda.
Shit. Give me that bottle back. This is gonna burn some, but it does tha trick, as long as tha blood is still flowin. So ya part of a chain gang? No, ya don’t look like a con. A ‘lil young, sure. Ya duds and ankles son, dead giveaway. Ya well, beggas can’t be choosas, ‘specially not down here.
Me? Six weeks now. Ya, I haven’t had a cold beer in more than a goddamned month.
Oh, them? Ya, well, whatcha know about it? Whoa, slow down son! Just sip, then pass it back. We can talk while I get some rags on ya arm. If tha pus is clear in tha mornin, we won’t have ta cut it off.
I’m just a mina. Been workin down here ten years, maybe twelve. Nah, neva a foreman; wasn’t cut out fer all tha chapped brown lips. I ‘m a mina like my fatha was. That’s why they call it Pittsburgh son.
So, ya, it’s been what, a month and a half since tha earthquake, when lights went out topside? Ya, I know, they are back on now. Down here though, once ya get used ta it, tha dark can help ya more than hurt ya. Nea as I can tell, they can’t hear, or smell. They can see just fine though, even tha ones without eyes, which still keeps me up sometimes.
They started showin up afta tha lights went out. We lost a half a crew in a cave-in afta tha big shake, includin my oldest friend, Ernie Stanwick. Ya, fuckin Ernie. He could get tha widow laughin at her husband’s funeral.
Anywhoo, like I said, things was a mite confused. No one knew what was goin on. Tha main line was collapsed. Anyone alive was damn lucky, so we thought back then. Afta about three shifts, we was low on kit and drink. Nobody could sleep right, and a couple guys started talkin crazy. Ya know how it is. Too long without bein able ta get topside was wearin us all out. Lucky tha foreman made it through tha collapse, cuz he kept crews togetha with fea, and damn if everyone wasn’t shittin their shorts.
It was a damn kid who really let us in on how bad things were. Marty Butla, a college boy from Scranton, was workin a summa stint. He nearly died in tha collapse - we drug him out tha rubble by his boots. He gave up tha “nearly” part two days lata, when people were really startin ta get scared that no help was comin. Coal is important shit, y’know? We figured tha bosses topside would be buggad all tryin ta get tha main line back open. Ya, I guess they did have other shit goin on, but we didn’t know that.
Anyhow, Marty had broken more ribs than his lungs allowed for. He passed on durin a sleep shift. We buried him down by tha collapse with all tha rest of tha boys, next day. tha foreman said some words, and we all went back ta our card games and tellin stories. Everyone was sweatin like a whore in church. Worse than runnin outta food or wata, we was runnin outta lamp oil, and between tha lot of us, we didn’t have a day’s worth of candles.
I’ll be damned if three hours afta we planted him, Marty didn’t come shufflin back inta tha camp. He looked a mess! He was stumbling along, draggin a pickaxe behind him. I was more surprised than scared ta see him. I couldn’t figure out how he got out from unda tha good pile of rocks we had set up ova him. Karl Noggle jumped right up from his card game an ran towards Marty, screamin “Sweet Jayzuz” tha way he always did. I think he wanted ta apologize or somethin. I dunno.
Marty made short work of him. One punch ta tha gut, and a whack ta tha back of tha skull with a pick, and Karl was on tha ground. It happened so damn fast. One minute he was shoutin and runnin, and tha next Karl was down and sprayin from tha back of his brain box. Rick Lesta started hollerin at Marty, then stopped, and started hollerin for tha foreman when Marty set about chewin off his Karl’s nose.
They like tha noses. Can’t rightly say why. I only eva seen one of ‘em with a nose, but he was missin an arm, so maybe they ate that first instead.
Anyhow, tha foreman runs up with his piece locked and loaded. Not all tha foreman carried revolvas, but Mr.Driza always had his.. It was a surefire way ta keep tha peace, since a bullet hole don’t matta much when ya go missin half a mile down from tha nearest constable.
Rick was kinda shout-cryin, and pointin at Marty, who was hunkerin ova Karl. Tha foreman grunted when he pulled back tha hamma on his gun. Everythin else in tha main tunnel was quiet, except for Marty smackin on his snack.
Tha foreman was a lousy shot. He plugged two inta tha wall, then two inta Marty’s chest. Marty looked up from Karl’s body. He made tha fuck nastiest face I eva seen, then gurgled like a backed up shitta. Afta that, he just went back ta tryin ta worry Karl’s right ear off.
Tha foreman, like tha rest of us, just shit his pants. Ernie Fickens started up-chuckin, and I rememba Ray Santos, who couldn’t speak ten words in English, started sayin tha Hail Mary in his mexi-can chatta.
Things went fast from there. There are sixteen feeda tunnels ta tha cart turnaround. Men ran every which way, myself included. Tha foreman stood there, frozen, still holdin his gun up. Before I cleared tha main chamba, I heard a pop that sounded like someone blowin a bubble with their gum. Last thing I saw ova my shoulda, when I turned tha corna down this tunnel, was Marty stumblin ta his feet, chewin on Karl’s ear like a kid with a jawbreaka. Tha foreman shot himself in tha head as Marty shambled by him. Guess he had seen enough. I kept runnin.
That was three rescue parties ago. I‘ll be damned if Mr.Driza didn’t have things figured out. This tunnel ended where they kept tha explosives, and he had a heluva cache of shit down here. I found that bottle in tha bottom drawa of his desk. Half ton of TNT, Three fifty gallon barrels of wata, a backup barrel of lamp oil, a rifle, anotha revolva, and sixteen boxes of shells. He spent a lot of time in here I guess, he even had a stack of nudie books and a gramophone. Door padlocks from tha outside, but there is a drop bar on tha inside. I don’t let no one in that can’t talk. They can’t talk.
Phew, but they do stink. We are gonna have ta move them bodies outside tha door before long. No, I ain’t gonna go lookin for others. If they are out there, and smart enough, they’ll find their way, like ya did, and tha guy before ya.
Ya, some of tha ones we’ll doubtless have ta put back ta bed tomorrow will be ya chums from tha gang. This is tha second time they sent cons down. Guess ya guys don’t have much ta lose eh? Are things as crazy topside as they are down here? I’m antsy ta move on and all, but I am afraid things will be even more turned around up there then they are down here.
Guess we’ll have ta find out togetha when tha food runs out. That’ll be twice as soon as I was plannin, providin ya make it past mornin. If not, well son, ya just bought me anotha week of good eats. It’s a surprisin simple change ya know, goin from Spam ta man. They both fry up just fine on that litte stove yonder.
Oh, don’t go pale on me kid. If I don’t eat ya, someone else will. I’ll be nice enough ta leave ya nose alone too. I tried one tha last time, they taste like snot.