Arizona, June 21st 1982
The burning hot glare of the solstice sun seemed like an eternal Martian star, laying constant in the sky. The desert heat had swept across the barren landscape, and created a glistening mirage effect throughout the surrounding area.
It would have been a calming and tranquil place were it not for the insufferable heat, and the myriad of venomous snakes and scorpions that hid amongst the dry foliage and rocks. But calm and serenity were descriptives that had no place in this rich and ruthless area of the desert. The sound of the insects and wildlife had been drowned out by a surplus of manmade noises, and emotional screams. One of those noises was the high pitch squeal of tyres, that howled throughout the car park as John Pierce’s Cadillac DeVille narrowly avoided hitting a large group that had doubled in size in the last few minutes. Pierce was the new safety officer for a mining company, having wandered through numerous jobs in the last several years. John had served as an Army helicopter pilot and saw combat in South East Asia, before being wounded in action and subsequently discharged. He was thirty-two but looked like he could have been nearer forty-two. He appeared fit, but in the years following his discharge from the Army had let himself go a little. Though he could still pull his weight when the time called for it.
His car pulled into a space outside the M.R.J mining complex, which was now swamped with people rushing in and out of the area. The usual humidity of the desert air now had a burnt and dusty haze to it, that could cause one to suffocate through sheer panic.
He switched off his engine and opened up his door, which introduced him to the screams and shouting that a moment ago had been muted by the chassis of his car. Paramedics and people looking to be useful and help in anyway rushed past him towards an area that was clearly the epicentre of the commotion, as a big cloud of dirty white smoke rose into the sky which then filtered out into the air creating the grey smog the encompassed the area.
He took one last draw on his cigarette, which was now nearly burnt down to the filter, and then threw it to the ground, where it disappeared in the blanket of smoke, its own dying embers submerged in the remnants of the catastrophe that had ripped through the copper mine ten minutes before.
He took off in a run. Following the other people who were running blindly where the smoke was the thickest and most potent. He ran past people who were bloodied and dazed, stumbling through the eye burning mist, unsure of where they were, or what had happened. He ran further into the poisonous fog, and saw people lying in puddles of blood, being tended to by medics and first aiders. Some of them screaming in uncontrollable terror, whilst others were lying still, either unconscious or on the cusp of death.
Amongst the shouting and noise, he heard a man shouting orders in a strained and throaty voice.
‘Where the hell is Bishop?’ Shouted the man.
The wave of noise from people was a blur, but a voice responded to the man.
‘He was in the elevator when the explosion happened. They’re bringing him up now,’ replied a man nearby, his voice raspy and restricted.
A group of people emerged from the ghostly and ethereal mist carrying a man on a stretcher. At first it appeared he was covered in a velvet blanket, but as the struggling group got closer, he was covered in blood. He was in a bad way. There were severe lacerations across his face. It appeared his lips had been torn off, exposing his dirt covered teeth, some of which had been broken. His eyes looked like they had a dead stare as if he had been frozen by whatever terror he’d experienced, but he clung to life, despite his catastrophic injuries.
Pierce ran up to the group.
‘What the hell happened?’
‘There was a cave in at the number two tunnel. We’ve got eight people dead and about fifteen are seriously injured. But there’s still about twenty other guys trapped down there.’
Pierce looked down at the man they were bringing out. A look of puzzlement across his face. He noticed the man at the front left of the stretcher was struggling and he took over as they dragged him away from the carnage through the scalding heat. The sun was desperately trying to burn through the shroud of dust and burning metal, but all it did was create a stifling hot alien atmosphere that started to burn everyone lungs.
‘A cave in caused these injuries?’ He said.
The man behind Pierce, was black from soot. His hair was straggly, and his eyes were reddened from dirt and smoke.
‘That’s the thing. Some of the guys are saying they hit something at about two thousand feet. Some sort of cavern. Then there was an explosion.’
Soon enough the group emerged out of the asphyxiating cloud to an area where numerous other people lay, being tended to, or were being made comfortable. The area had an El Niño feel to it, as the dust and smoke acted as a filter on the afternoon sun, which produced a strange orange glow to the area.
They set the man down and several people began to tend to his injuries, but his chances of survival looked bleak.
Pierce turned to one of the workers and grabbed him by the arm.
‘Where the hell is the foreman?’
The man didn’t say anything, he just pointed in the direction from which they came.
Pierce turned and dove back into the toxic cloud. He could feel his lungs struggling to keep him going. It felt like someone was pushing down at his chest with every step he took.
He was wearing a plaid shirt, which he took off to cover his nose and mouth from the venomous fumes, leaving him in a sweat soaked white shirt, which was beginning to stain from the fumes and dirt. The shirt helped him to move, but the air was burning his eyes. Tears streaked down his face as he fought through the scalding heat. People stumbled past him, panic in the voices as they were starting to drown in the grey waterless ocean that was spreading out in all directions. Several people were huddled on the ground. He pulled them from their crouched foetal position and shouted at them to keep moving. Like ghosts appearing from the fog Pierce came upon two men. One was young, maybe only in his early twenties, he was speaking to an older looking man, who was bald and dressed like an executive. Both men had covered their faces from the choking vapours.
The foreman, Pierce thought.
He heard the man shout something to the younger man.
‘Get someone who knows what the hell is going on and see if we can get a count of who’s here and who’s still down there.’
The younger man nodded and ran off into the grey dense smoke.
Pierce ran up to the foreman.
‘What the hell happened? Said Pierce.
The old man’s eyes were so strained from the fumes, that he couldn’t see who was talking to him.
Pierce walked a little closer to the man.
‘The name’s Pierce, I’m the new safety officer. Some of the guys are saying there’s been a cave in at the number two tunnel.’
‘The name’s Burton, and I’ve got no fucking clue what’s happened, and some of the guys they’ve pulled out are talking crazy.’
Burton walked away and Pierce followed.
‘What do you mean crazy?’
‘We just pulled a guy who was half buried under some rocks, screaming about something being down there.’
Burton was starting to walk away from Pierce looking to see if he could find his way out of the blinding fog, but Pierce grabbed his arm.
‘What do you mean something?’
The man shrugged Pierce’s hand off his arm, unhappy with the way he’d been grabbed.
‘Screaming that something down in the mines had attacked him and his crew. But he was talking crazy.’
An uneasy feeling started to build up in Pierce. Clearly something bad had happened. It didn’t seem like a normal cave in. The injuries the man on the stretcher had sustained and a man screaming about something being down in the mines.
Burton was looking around. He shouted over to another worker, said something to him and they went off to do whatever they’d been told.
‘How many are still trapped down there?’ Said Pierce.
‘At least twenty men, but we don’t know for sure.’
Pierce looked around. The area was still grey from the smoke, but it was beginning to fade slightly as the wind had started to take it away. He could see some people limping away. Blood was dotted around in all directions. The heat from the sun was drying the ground a crimson colour.
‘Have we got a rescue party ready to go down?’ Said Pierce.
Burton seemed confused at what Pierce was saying. He seemed to stumble over a few words.
‘Have we got people ready to go down and get those guys out?’ Pierce repeated.
Pierce turned away from the man and took off, squinting as he navigated around the compound in near blindness. He eventually found his way back to the car park. People were screaming. Family members were collapsed to the ground in hysterics, but more shockingly there were bodies of people who had died, covered in drapes and tarps and anything that would hide them from the prying eyes and the growing frenzied mob of wives and families, hoping their loved ones hadn’t fallen victim to the incident.
Pierce clocked five men who were kitted out to go down, or maybe they’d been fortunate enough to get out before the collapse. They were helping to lift a man into an ambulance. He ran up to them at full pelt.
‘We need people ready to go back down and rescue the one’s that are trapped down there.’
A young man, who appeared to be no older than eighteen or nineteen looked shocked at the request.
‘Er, I don’t think……’
‘Listen,’ said Pierce cutting the boy off, ‘there are at least twenty men trapped down there and they’re running out of time.’
No one said anything for a moment, then one of the group stood forward. He was bald and about forty, his face black from the soot and his eyes were red and raw from the fumes. He took off his hard hat and threw it to the ground.
‘I’m not going back down there. Men are saying that something is down there. Something that’s killed over a dozen men so far.’
He then took off the rest of his gear and threw it next to his hard hat.
‘The men down there are already dead. We should get the Army to bomb the hell out of the mine and close it up.’
He then walked past Pierce and disappeared into the burning white fog. Pierce turned back to the group of men that he was talking to. Two of the men were closing the doors of the ambulance and one of them slammed his hand on the door and it took off with its sirens blasting into the air.
The four men looked at Pierce, three of them were just as young as the one who had spoken, the other was somewhere near Pierce’s age. The name tag on his overall said McCaffrey and he spoke.
‘You wanting to go down and get those men out?’
‘We can’t sit around up here and leave them to die, no matter what people are saying. I was in a crash in Nam and people came to get me out, these men are counting on someone coming to get them out.’
The man shrugged.
‘What about these boys?’ He turned to the group of youngsters beside him. Pierce looked at them.
‘I’m not going to force you to come with me, but would you want someone to come get you, if you were trapped down there?’
The boys looked caught off guard, unsure what to say. They looked at each other. They had the look of fear in their eyes, from what they’d been hearing from people being brought up. The boys looked at each other and then the boy who had briefly spoke, looked at Pierce and just nodded.
McCaffrey spoke. ‘I guess we’re going back in then.’
Pierce nodded a sign of approval and to save time he grabbed the gear that the man had dumped on the floor and put them on.
‘Come on,’ said Pierce.
The group took off running into the scalding blanket of dust and smoke, they had their arms raised to their faces to try and block out the fumes. If they were to be down in a compromised mine for god knows how long, they were going to need all the oxygen from their gas masks that they could spare.
‘Where’s the shaft?’ Said Pierce.
‘Over here,’ said McCaffrey.
He could barely see, but he was knowledgeable on the layout of the mine despite its current condition. The group ran through the white haze and out of the gloom they came upon a wooden gate. Smoke was bellowing up from beneath it and the smell of burning wood, oil and other toxic chemicals filled the air creating the strangulating alien atmosphere.
’Let’s hope this still works,’ said McCaffrey.
He lifted up the gate and the five walked into the shaft. He then pulled down the gate and locked it into place. He then walked over to a box that had two buttons on it. It was grey and worn from use and covered in dirt.
McCaffrey looked at Pierce.
‘Moment of truth.’
He pressed one of the buttons and an electrical whir sounded and the lift jolted and slowly began to descend. The man called McCaffrey put his mask on, then Pierce and the three boys followed suit. Despite this their eyes were still burning from earlier, and tears were streaming down their faces. The group flicked some switches on their packs and the head torches on their hard hats flicked on. All they could do now was wait. Wait for the inevitable clunk of the lift reaching the bottom. The torches did little to see through the thickness of the smoke as they descended lowered into the depths. The fumes were hissing up the sides of the lift, as the pressure from the descent forced the smoke to fire up towards the surface, like a geyser. It seemed the smoke was desperate to escape what horror lay deep within the blackness of the earth.
The darkness that now engulfed the group was in stark contrast to the seemingly endless daylight they had left behind on the surface.
Despite the masks all five of the men were breathing heavy. The anxiety of the situation was bearing down on them. What was down there and what had got all the workers scared to come back down? Pierce looked at one of the young boys next to him. His hand was shaking. He gently tapped him on the shoulder. The boy turned sharply, as if he’d been caught off guard. Neither could really see each other through their visors, but Pierce lifted his hand in a thumb’s up manner and the young man replied with a thumb’s up of his own, even though he was probably far from okay. The smoke got thicker with each foot, but the stone sides of the shaft were just about visible. Then the wall in front of the group went from a stony black to a dirty white, that covered an empty darkness beyond it. A second later the lift shuddered as it hit the bottom. They’d reached the entrance to the mine. Smoke and fumes crept through the gaps of the gate. It was acting like some malicious animal trying to claw at the men but was prevented from doing so. McCaffrey went to unlatch the gate. He turned to look at Pierce, who responded with a nod. He unlatched the gate and swung it up. It was like a strong wind tried to blow the group away. Some had to adjust their footing. It felt like they were at the gates of hell, and beyond the white toxic veil of smoke, lay an evil waiting to greet them. Whether that be the cruelty of the earth, or something else. Their head torches illuminated the hot white smoke, everywhere else was black. Pierce looked around. The group were still stood in the same spots they’d been for the journey down. Frozen in fear and anxiety. He looked ahead at the entrance and the uncertainty that lay before him. He then put one foot in front of the other and stepped off the lift into the domain of darkness and malevolence.