Light at the End of the Tunnel
The earth shook beneath their feet; “cave in, cave in” The miners voices chimed in unison.
Jace Barton, Sam Barrone, and Patrick O’Hara moved quickly toward the middle tunnel where they knew it might be safe. They knew that if they became trapped in the main tunnel they would die. They could hear the cries of the men further down the shaft. Timber braces began to fail. Jace, quickly scrambled into a tunnel further up urging his two friends to follow him.
“Jace, we would be better off trying to reach the shaft.”
“What makes you think that Sam?”
“If we get to the shaft maybe there will be more air.”
“Hell, we don’t have anything to lose but a lot to gain.”
As they debated, once again timbers began to fall; they had no choice but to stay where they were. Fear began to creep into their minds as they sat against the cold stone.
Patrick, the youngest of the three men trapped began to sob:
“I have to get out of here, sweet little Ginny is wanting to get married next year.”
“Patrick, we will get out of here. You have to have a little faith in the other miners.
The signal has by now sounded all three shifts will be here before you know it.”
“That is easy enough for you to be sayin Sam but I have me whole life ahead of me.”
“We are not that much older than you Jace is twenty nine and I am twenty five.”
“Well God love ye both I am only seventeen and I would like to turn eighteen.”
Patrick, hated fear but down deep he was sure there was no one who even knew about the cave in; much less cared about him. His father had made him take a job in the coal mine when he turned sixteen. That was his own fault; he dropped out of high school. Now he was going to pay for his
stupidity. His father had warned him not to drop out of school; why hadn’t he listened? He could not explain that to himself much less the other two men. He was already regretting not listening to his Father. He hated the world of coal mining; the hours were arduous, the always present danger of black lung disease, and of course the danger of cave ins. Here he was Patrick O’Hara trapped underground, not sure if he was going to be alive in the next twenty four hours. He knew cave ins were bad; this one seemed worse than most.
Jace, listened as Patrick ranted about all the mistakes he had made and that his Father was right. Sam, after a few moments:
“Patrick, shut up, we have listened to you for the last half hour. The fact of the matter is we
are trapped here until help arrives. You heard the whistle the same as Sam and me. The three
short whistle blasts will have awakened the second and third shift alerting them there is
a cave in. Patrick, we will get out of here. We are in an air pocket, we have some food.
Once again the earth began to shake. Timbers all around the miners began to give way. Jace and Sam pulled Patrick into the relative safety of a lower shaft. They could hear men the next tier down, one of them was tapping something metal against the rock and fallen timbers. Jace and Sam listened intently:
“HELP , WE ARE TRAPPED DOWN HERE.”
Sam grabbed a small rock and tapped:
“WE ARE IN SHAFT TWO.”
“HOW LONG DO YOU FIGURE WE WILL BE TRAPPED HERE?”
“I HAVE NO IDEA WE ARE HOPING VERY SOON. WHISTLE ALREADY WENT OFF.
“OKAY, GOOD LUCK.”
Sam and Jace glared at Patrick:
“See Patrick we are going to be okay.”
The darkness seemed endless; as the men sat quietly enveloped in their own thoughts. Jace thought about his wife Amy and their small son Steve. He hoped he would survive the disaster; his family needed him. Sam, became pensive, he thought about life and his possible death down here in this shaft. He could not allow himself to think that way; he had to show Patrick that everything would be fine. Patrick, could feel the tears welling up in his eyes as he thought about his Mom and Dad; how he was needed at home otherwise they would starve. Patrick would not allow that to happen.
Patrick crawled up the shaft passage; he thought he saw a ray of sunshine, he could almost smell fresh air. He hoped he wasn’t hallucinating:
“Sam, Jace I found sunshine and I can smell fresh air.”
“Patrick, get back here. There is no shaft of light or smell of fresh air.”
“I tell you two I can smell fresh air.”
“Crawl up here you’ll see.”
Sam gave Jace one of those ‘yeah, he is hallucinating’ looks and ignored him. Patrick persisted. Jace, shaking his head began to crawl up the shaft toward Patrick. He knew it was a wasted effort but if it would keep Patrick from loosing it; then it would be worth the effort. Sam saw the shaft of light, he could barely smell the air but it was there.
“Sam, he is not hallucinating, there is a small shaft of light and the sweet smell of air.
I can’t be sure if it is a way out but we can certainly try.”
“I am crawling up the shaft now.”
They could see the faint glimmer of light and a hope. Sam and Jace crawled back down the shed:
“Hey Sam, we have one pick, the other two were lost when we climbed up into this shaft.”
“Take it up to Patrick, then I will relieve him and then you can relieve me.”
“Sounds good, I’ll take this to Patrick.”
Finally they had formulated what might be a life saving plan. Patrick began to dig as the light began to disappear. This told the men that light was turning into darkness. That meant that all rescue efforts would begin again at dawn. Patrick came back down the shaft:
“I was loosing light from the shaft. Do you think that we might be out of here by tomorrow?”
“Patrick, we may have to get out of here on our own. The rescue parties may be on the
other side of the mine. We will have to be patient.”
Patrick began fitfully turning and talking in his sleep. Jace took the pick crawling back up the shaft. He couldn’t sleep; he began to use the pick one again. Sam joined him about a half hour later. They knew time was not on their side; if they were not rescued within the next twenty four hours, they would be dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. He had been smelling the fumes for the last few hours. The gas was coming up from below; that meant that the miners below were already dead.
Suddenly a gray light appeared through the rock and debris. There was light at the end of the tunnel they had been working on. Air began to surge in. Sam and Jace yelled down to Patrick:
“Come on Patrick, we are almost out of the shaft.”
Patrick crawled up, he could not believe the sweet smell of fresh air. The opening, was still to small for them to crawl through. The three men continued to work. Finally Patrick in the lead crawled out followed by Jace and Sam. The three men stood there taking deep breaths. They found one of the other miners:
“Glad you could make it boys. The entrance to number two shaft...there is no hope.
There are coffee donuts down the mountain. We are going to need help getting
the bodies out of shaft two.”
Jace, Sam and Patrick rejoined the diggers. The miners in shaft two were pulled out one at a time. Tears welled in eyes as friends and family discovered who was dead or missing. Sam, Jace and Patrick turned away one of the miners was Tom Smith, the who tapped out the SOS to them.
Time has a way of healing pain. Jace and Sam are still mining coal. Patrick, decided that even forty dollars an hour was not worth his life, he became a writer.