When all of everything fails, and your plans go belly up and while you wait for fortune to turn a friendly eye your way, in the meantime, what you got to concern yourself with is surviving. That’s what I want to talk about: survival. An instinct for survival.
Them boys, them boys is a good example of a difference between a kind of survival and another kind. See, I figure one kind of man he gets trapped down a hole in the dark, by and by he gets to bleating and hollering and shits his self and lo a ladder comes down and pulls him out and he done survived some would say, but what did he lose in the despair of his dignity and manhood? Do you think returning is the same thing as surviving? What if he commences to bleat and holler and shit his self for the rest of his days? That’s them boys. Maybe the ladder come down and carried them back to the light but them are just vacant bodies got nothing in common with the men what come down the hole. I seen it myself. What them boys left down in the deep is too much to where you can say the same man come out. I mean I watched it happen.
Another kind of man, and we’re talking about me here, this kind of a man he composes his self in that hole. He scouts the dimensions, rations, hunkers down some, surveys, he acquaints his self and his mind to the dark but don’t give up to it. He stays near the light, he sees all, and he don’t never venture down into the deep. That is a fools errand. Suicide. Mind suicide. That takes whatever you brought with you and keeps it. Even God don’t know what they got down there. This second kind of man is smart and resourceful and got that instinct for survival. By never losing his self, by never venturing down to the deep, he don’t even have to return from that hole necessarily to survive. He is surviving the whole while. Can you see the difference? He never goes down to the deep and so he never gets lost down there.
Let me explain it to you so you can understand.
Most us boys knew what it was the moment we felt the rumble. See, when a supply line pops or one of them vent shafts, you more hear it than feel it. Them what’s standing near under it might catch a shower of pebbles and dust and whatnot, but I mean to tell you this time it was like a dust storm you see in pictures of the desert. I mean you could not breathe nor see, which it is by God hard enough to see anywhere below the Cathedral any time of day or night. This was not like that. This was dust that caked over a man’s eyes in seconds and not a one among us didn’t fall first to hacking and coughing something fierce. That was the sound you heard right away: 27 men hacking and wheezing and spitting in the dusty dark.
What I’m saying is not a one of us had any illusions right then. That main shaft done popped and we had a hell of a chore digging our way out at a minimum. If even that. Which it turned out we did not. It must be a quarter mile of solid rock and earth pinched shut that shaft once and for all. They haven’t invented a way to un-bury something like that. And that is a thing you know straightaway with a rumble like that and a coming of dust like pea soup down here. So what we done was gathered together in the Cathedral where the dust was more dilute and counted off and sent a few boys uphill for a look see. Skinny Pete and them. Then they had a team head downhill to the point and bring back the lanterns and fuel and sundry supplies. Slim Bill and his fellers. And to our credit we commenced to organize and outfit our confines, which is one way to spend an awful lot of wound up nervousness. There’s men in that group were already pissing down their legs. Can you imagine. Grown men, and hardhats, what knew the score from before they walked down the hole that first time, turned to whimpering and praying and what-all just a minute into some shit. I mean I won’t name any names, but that was a sign clear as day of how easily a man can be lost.
Do you know the worst time for me was the nighttime? Which we only ever have nighttimes half a mile down, it ain’t like the sun rises in the uphill Cathedral door every morning. Silly. Silly to be unnerved when a clock says PM instead of AM. But with the digging on hold we were not inclined to maintain a night shift and so for once come the late PM hours every man together was gathered on the floor shifting and snoring. One or two of us from the night shift we weren’t used to sleeping just then and those were unnatural hours of stillness and quiet where the sense of there being no purpose to our station but a feeling of surrender set in like dread, like a sober threat from a menacing stranger who means it. What I’m saying is that first night was hard and sleepless. I seen Thin Allen making for the downhill door and felt an urgency to stop him, even when he says he’s just going to relieve his self. It seems rightly sick and crazy to send a man uphill to have a leak but that’s what I done. Just then the thought of a man nearing the deep by his self turned my stomach. Which it turns out was prescient. Had I known I would of blowed the door shut with a couple sticks and be done with it and never had cause to ponder more than one meaning of survival. Only where would I be now if I done that then? It’s all confused, figuring that out. Up is down. Which is funny in its own way. Up is down. Up is down. A man could almost laugh at that right about now.
What am I going on about? Well on that second day Boss say we got to organize anew. He put words to what some of us was already thinking, a bunch of fellers stuck down here sooner or later are bound to give in, at which time they will no longer be much aid to their own rescue. Incapable of survival. If it all looked to be on the made-up side, well that was on account of there wasn’t a whole lot of real work to do. For every man sent to dig the latrine, there was another man assigned to keep a journal or tidy up the living quarters or build a family table, as we took to calling it, for all men to join in supper. Boss said community would keep us in our right minds. Each man doing for the group, the group needing each man each day.
Even just having a job, before the nature of the job set in, even just getting assigned a job, if it’s part of a effort among the group, even just having that job toward the common good, that will invigorate your spirit. Then there’s the doing of the job, and many of them jobs was only good for that first lifting of spirits. I mean a group of men can dig a latrine in minutes. And it don’t take 8 men to fashion a adequate table out of wood. The end of each day saw a lot of spirit dry up once men commenced to setting and waiting with nothing to do. We done gave back much of what was gained in terms of morale before supper. Before long we had ourselves a pattern, fresh made-up work to last half a day and a decline to melancholy and pent-up nerves by supper. What we was trying to avoid was what come after the setting: the toiling, the way a anxious feller’s mind will turn to tedious mindless noodling and what amounts to a lot of fidgeting. We seen it that fourth night, Beanpole setting there tearing little strips out of his shirt. What in tarnation, Bean, and he says hell he don’t need the shirt, ties one of them strips around his finger and says to remember. Didn’t he look sad there, setting by a low candle light with his shirt tasseled around his belly, smiling the smile of satisfaction for how he done gave his self a means to remember. Remember what. What the hell is there to forget.
Come the next night turns out Beanpole got three knots on his left hand and three over on the right and he’s tearing tassels in his trousers even with a shirt full of strings still hanging off his shoulders. We set Lean Lyle to take up a game of rummy with old Bean, just to keep his mind on something. Lyle he’s a wry feller but he plays a solid hand of rummy and this’ll keep Bean off his undergarments for a spell. Hell if Bean didn’t see in that game a dozen needs of a string, he must of had it in mind to remember every card of every hand. I mean who could of predicted it. The man was mostly nude by the time of the third deal and his hands took on the aspect of a cheerleader’s pompom. He couldn’t hardly grip the cards thataway. Old Beanpole was enjoying his game of rummy and laughing his normal laugh and such, but I mean to tell you every hand was a ordeal of tearing a tassel and then another and on and carefully wrapping each on a finger what’s already overburdened with knots of string, each and every new hand of cards good for a half hour or more.
This set the men’s mind on edge, it wasn’t just me. That feeling of we couldn’t help each other but to a certain point. A feller’s shoe or hand or tooth we could mend or set or pull, but if his mind gets going there ain’t no trail of breadcrumbs for retrieval. There’s men stood at a distance and watched Bean dress his fingers and toes and you could watch it take something out of them. Just right out of them.
On the seventh night here goes Thin Allen making for the downhill again, and I says what in the hell are you up to and he commenced to stammering and such as I can tell right away what’s going on here. We done dug ourselves a latrine for waste but that ain’t the only thing a man seeks to deposit in the night. Old Allen was heading for a quiet place to grip his self. Onanism. Which I understand a man will attend to in such times as these but that is no good reason to approach the deep. What if he was going down to the point? Passing that crevice alone and with nary a soul even knowing he’s wandered off? If he was to fall in there and be lost in the deep that would surely be the end of Thin Allen. There is not a sinful urge in history was worth that. Can you not use the latrine I says, and you would have appreciated the look on his face just then. That ain’t much of a turn on, a stank puddle of human waste intruding upon your private thoughts. I suspect the stench alone would curl more than the man’s nose hairs. I enjoyed offering the suggestion and watching Thin Allen squirm. Whatever he did with his urges that night, he didn’t do them downhill. I was not letting a man approach near the deep alone at night, nor was I about to chaperone a man to the shameful act of tugging his self. I figured it was my special job, self-appointed, to guard the downhill and let no man approach the deep alone, and for a stretch I was right proud of my performance at such.
Which I will have to confess now about my terrible failure. On that thirteenth night I must of settled into something like the rhythm of the other men for I dozed off among all that snoring. I was tired and hungry and I don’t mind saying cooped up and bored and lonely too. Next thing I know I’m acoming to in the quiet from a dreamless sleep. Only it’s not so quiet. I mean the men are snoring and shifting and farting and such as they do, but I done gained sleep amid this din and the passing of gas in the night would not bring me to unless Bones ripped off a foghorn like he’s known to do after a extra helping of beans. Which we didn’t have barely a single helping of beans then among us. And my mind is just going to wondering where old Bones has stashed his secret cache of beans when I hear something different in the night. A forlorn hollow echoing sound like a voice from far away. A call. Someone wailing at intervals. And from downhill. And I know without knowing and straightaway that this is a man in the deep. A feeling like crawling ice ascended my backbone right then.
I gave a good kick to bring Bones out of his slumber and we set to counting off heads, but it don’t take more than half a minute to see there’s a pile of strings of various lengths and colors next to a candle don’t amount to more than a inch of bent wick in a half-dollar puddle of clear wax but no Bean. And I’m up and racing for that downhill before Bones has shook the cobwebs loose and gained his trousers. Which I surely do hate approaching the deep no matter the hour. There is something about finding a dark hole where it ain’t expected. Like a cavity in your eyetooth. Like reaching for a steadying wall when the lights go out and instead finding a yawning open doorway where none should be. Down here we dug a winding unnatural hole might feel big to us but in the whole of the earth our little pigtail don’t amount to nothing. I mean we have barely scratched the surface of the surface. But in the doing we happened upon in all the vastness of the interior of a planet another hole, ancient as time and unknowable. It’s hard to not think such a thing must of been waiting for us, wheezing cool air like it was both dead and living and malevolent. And now we had a man down there. Lured down there, is what I thought then. Beanpole. Maybe he had a string could remind him of the way out. For I will be damned to hell long before I chase a man down such a place.
I made the few hundred yards in no time, just the muffled echo of my running feet and that faraway sound of old Bean calling in the dark. I do hate facing that fissure. I will tell you I walked up on tippy-toes listening to just the last ripples of Bean’s last call come trembling out of the absolute black from what seemed a great distance. Do you ever think about how such a sound is subject to all the contours it climbs from its maker to your ear? Beanpole’s voice ain’t no echo, it’s a man’s voice. But however far away upon my ears it is the sound of many dark surfaces, a voice from a mouth contained within another mouth, like Pinocchio calling out from within the belly of that big old whale. What if Monstro contorts his mouth such to form new words from Pinocchio’s words? What I am saying is I did not trust that sound. Beanpole’s wail like nickels rattling around in a old tin can ascending from down the deep being shaped and repurposed by a mean old hole what gobbled him up in the first place. I stayed well back of the opening.
Bones come thumping down behind me at last, Boss in tow, and while them two caught their breath here come another wordless wail from old Bean. Only this one seems louder than what I was expecting. Not urgent, like the man is shouting louder on account of he heard us whispering Bean you there Bean down that hole. Which I am ashamed to say I was whispering out of fear of that place, like I could get a message to Bean without the deep intercepting. Not urgent, but closer, like old Bean finally did pull on the right string. Up his voice come gushing out of the deep on that cool breath what sets your skin to crawling. Louder still it come with a rasping sound like a hacksaw pulled long and slow across a empty oil drum. Louder. If Old Bean is coming he is coming fast. Let it be Beanpole, I may have said aloud. Louder still. Rushing and pouring out of the deep, a ear-splitting wail echoing unnaturally off the earthen wall of the main shaft. Bones had his hands over his ears, and hand to God each among us took a step back from that hole. Let it be Beanpole.
The sound is still new and strong and hammering off the walls and here come a shape emerging faintly in the lantern light. Bean. Crawling on all fours with his mouth and eyes shut, just his tired bony self dragging his own weight out onto the floor of the shaft and retiring there to a heap of exhaustion, with the sound of his own voice chasing him out and spreading out to the walls like sonar and clamoring invisibly back into the deep and fading therein. Unnatural. It was a man fainted out on the floor asleep to a chorus of his own voice. Bones grabbed him up to a set position and shook him awake. Where did you go Bean, how far down were you, which way do it go, just talking to gain the man’s attention some, and Bean pops his eyes open and there is a redness around his eyes and an emptiness to his pupils that drew the breath out of me, and he catches me with those wild dead eyes and freezes me in place, and he says up. One word. Up. And faints back out again.
I might of fainted too if I’m being honest, just fell out right there from the shock of it all if I didn’t see Boss leaning his head into the opening. I was stricken then with the certainty of black hands of shadow reaching out and grabbing him away to wherever they took hold of Bean’s mind down there, but Bones says Boss do it go up and Boss says hell no were you expecting a staircase it goes down. Mostly down. Steeply down and from the look of it only a hundred feet or so. Which didn’t make no sense at all to me then, if it goes only a hundred feet how the hell was Bean calling from so far away, and how did he rise so long, and how did he rise so fast at all if he weren’t in fact falling? Which it would take that thing extending up in order for him to fall. Then Boss said he don’t know what us men were so afraid of with this thing, it ain’t nothing but a shallow hole what any man can climb in and out of. And he spared a particular glance at me while he said it, as if I’m the only man what’s been cautious around the cursed hole.
And hence from here we can outline the true difference in survival instincts between them boys and me. In the following days them fellers got mighty curious about that hole. Bean took his self a few days of recuperating but before too long he’s back on his feet. And he stopped with the strings. He did not remove the strings, and he was still therefore mighty useless at holding a hand of cards, but he was no longer shredding his few garments, which you might look on as a improvement except the men said and I seen it myself he weren’t right in a number of other ways. He wouldn’t sleep much at all, and he never did talk again as I know of, and he was given over at times to sudden explosions of senseless gibbering and laughter, just out of the blue. But did this deter them other fellers from venturing into the deep? It did not.
It was on our nineteenth day, I was keeping count, that a bean can with a hand radio slipped out of the number four vent shaft on a thin cable and lowered like a magic trick to the floor of the Cathedral. Boss grabbed it up and stared at if for a long moment before speaking into it. And hell if a voice on the other end didn’t squawk forth in a fury of incoherent syllables. This was when we learned there was a host of people working on locating what they were calling The Lost 31, which this is also when we learned of four fellers, including Strongman and Big Otis, what got crushed into jelly when the main shaft pinched. We weren’t but 27 down here, 26 if you’re inclined to consider how Beanpole done give up all but his meat and bones in the deep. That was a shame to learn. First we thought we could of used them big boys down here, before we remembered what the hell for we ain’t dug or tunneled for a single minute since we felt the rumble. But it was a shame all the same. Big Otis was a good man what told a good funny story when the mood struck. The voice on that there radio assured us they had a team from the government and scientists working on digging us a new hole, straight down, what would fit a elevator of sorts to whisk us on out of there. Now they knew we was still breathing down there, anyway. Hang tight, they said, which there wasn’t a whole lot else we were gonna do. I mean did they think we were gonna pack a knapsack and take up a shovel and make for China. I mean think about it.
That was strange news for me. Who was it was up there looking for us? How come they to wait 19 days before they dropped a radio down? What’s all this talk of building a elevator? If they could make a elevator down into the mine, why in hell didn’t they make this elevator before the damn thing collapsed? Everything was strange and confusing then, but I was occupied by the rigors of survival. Not just living and breathing, but surviving. Keeping my mind and instincts sharp and my whole self whole. This set me apart, because even by then more and more of them boys had already ventured down to the deep. And they was coming back unwhole.
Boss went down there. I seen him setting on his bedding crying into a old shirt one night. Bones said he weren’t right for days and at length he come to mention Boss his self explored the fissure. Did you get a look at his eyes, I said, but Bones just looked at me funny. He ain’t observant the way I always been, I suppose. I had not forgotten and still have not the moral desolation of old Bean’s eyes on that fateful night. I mean you know I have not because I done just told you in explicit detail all about it. But sure enough, I stole a glance at Boss’s eyes and there it is, there is the ghost in there. That deep done poisoned him. They got that redness to them, and that shifty cold hostility, like he is watching you to learn how to eat you whole. Fear and aggression. The eyes of a stranger. More and more of the men had that look every day, got to be where you could tell a man been down to the deep just by looking him face to face.
In the coming days the man on the radio he sent through the vent shaft a tarp wrapped like a tube and what’s in it but cooked corn and wieners and toothbrushes plus water they packed in thin tubes what supposedly has fluoride in it. On account of our mouths by that time were in a sorry state, not a one of us having had a means of cleaning our teeth except to rub across with a dirty fingertip. I don’t mind telling you my gums were took to bleeding and I was put off by the scent of my own breath to where it would wake me from sleep if my head fell into the crook of my elbow. That was a welcome delivery of supplies, but something told me not to trust that voice. They were talking to Boss almost exclusive and that was a man who’d changed. Before they sent down them provisions I seen Boss wipe a handful of cave mud into his mouth and move it around like food. Just staring off into empty space with them red-rimmed crazy man’s eyes. I seen Skinny Pete shoot a hungry look at Thin Allen’s finger when Bones had to lop it off after he took a tumble coming back from the latrine. Bones tossed that thing into the waste but I already knew what old Pete was thinking and that is not something any feller in his right mind will consider. Pete too had the eyes. Them boys is lost, I knew it then. I already knew it then. What I’m saying is I knew it by then what it was, men was giving up one by one and out of hopeless recklessness venturing where no man has business and coming back unwhole. They had took on the meanness of whatever grabbed ahold of Bean’s voice that night and come back hungry for them what were still a man.
Those days were uncertain to say the least. There was a instinct to take heart and hope from a voice in a radio and a steady supply of provisions, but there was another instinct for self-preservation what made a sane man get ever clearer of his former cohorts. They had a erratic volatility to them, they had quick triggers to turn on one another in anger and squabble. Every long dark day and every fragile night one by one I watched the men change over. I didn’t always see the men headed downhill and I saw very few enter the deep with my own eyes on account of I was not going anywhere near there myself, but once you seen the despair deepen and the morals shed with naught but a husk left to mask the meanness and had a look at their eyes, red and fast and hungry, once you knew the signs it was a thing you knew.
I learned I was in deepest danger when I seen Boss leaned into the radio close and private one night, the fortieth night, by my count, when most of the other men were long asleep, speaking to the voice in a low rumble what’s not meant to be heard by any but who is on the other end. And I did not hear it. But I seen a scheme and a secret in his attitude and then he stole me a glance, out of all those bodies reclined upon that stone floor in every direction, he turned his head fully and no mistake and looked right into me for a long several moments. Out of everyone. And then he commenced to leaning back into his radio with his whispering. But in those moments I beheld on his face an otherness, there was in his aspect a look of deepest division, a strangeness toward me as if he hardly recognized who I was, and we knew of each other right then that we were no longer each working for the other’s best interests. Whoever Boss was then and now and whoever he was confiding to on that radio, they saw in me an impediment. Or an enemy. Which maybe I already was, because I was not giving over to their master in the deep and I would not be taken. I would claw to the last and kill everyone before then.
What rattled through my mind then, which was strange when you consider what I just admitted to about never going to the deep and murdering however justifiably all my former comrades, was how I was to gain true escape if the men and their voice and this so-called elevator led maybe not to the surface but to some evil trap, and then on the heels of that what old Beanpole said in what must of been his final moments of lucidity before he collapsed in front of that evil fissure. The man said up. When asked which way that fissure led. Which came after he sure seemed to fall a great distance from a great height. Which seemed to take an awful lot out of him, as he was seen crawling out and collapsing on the main shaft floor. There was something to that.
I should not have tried to cross the latrine. I mean such a act was borne out of a need to be clear of a cluster of men was quickly devolving into a mob of lunatics, which you could see was by then a imperative. I thought about recruiting old Bones, I wanted to bring him clear as well but he ain’t got the disposition for keeping secrets and with a need of greatest caution I’m afraid I had no choice but to move without him just then. It was the night after I witnessed Boss’s midnight treachery, I waited until after bedtime and sat a spell watching them what was the greatest threat for signs of sleep. Boss. Skinny Pete. Rawbone Dale, what pulled a hand-fashioned knife on Bones over a pinch of terbacky. I peered off to Beanpole’s station but the man’s irrepressible candle what hadn’t been more than a defiant nub of wick in a sheen of wax for weeks seemed to have finally burned its last and all was dark. I assumed then the man was sleeping and made off for the uphill quiet as a pantrymouse.
That is naught but a four five foot ditch stretches across the main shaft floor a short walk from the Cathedral and still a ways off of the collapse site. This is a hole you could leap across with but a short run-up in most circumstances. I accounted for the effects of hunger and sleeplessness and such, infection and restlessness and whatever else, and figured at worst I’d be climbing out of a stew pot of human waste with nary a drop of clean water to wash off the stank. I mean I was not eager to swim in the melted stewing turds of the men what had by then near to two months of accumulation. But I figured then in my condition compared to the condition of the men at large if I made the opposite bank I was good as home free. I brought along a shovel and I would dig my way to fresh air before any supposed elevator ever appeared. If it ever appeared.
Ultimately what done me in was overestimating my diminishment. See, I have always been a good leaper. I reckon I could of dunked a basketball long before I was ever motivated by an instinct for survival such as I was in that moment. I took me a short run-up and a strong leap and hell if I hadn’t forgotten all about that ceiling and the crossbeams. Which I did find with the crown of my head. I do not recall splashing down in the turd pile but I will not soon forget the sound and feel of my skull against that goddamn beam. I come to in some kind of tarp lean-to with the unholy scent of rotten plop rich in my nose. I mean it near to put me back out again. That and my head was just ringing, like you could almost hear it. That was a disoriented moment or two I had there. What brung me back to my senses and fast was several pairs of shadowed red-rimmed eyes looming down over me, resolving out of the dark and floating there among it as if disembodied and illuminated dimly and terribly from within. And I seen then as my eyes become accustomed to the dark that a set of them eyes belonged to who else but old Bones his self. Loose and wide and wild and with his open mouth blowing rank putrid breath down over me he swooped down low as if to swallow my air. Or my nose.
That’s when I sat up and seen a pair of legs stuck out of another little tarp lean-to here in the darkest corner of the Cathedral, bare still legs with feet festooned busily with bursts of tattered ribbons. But now ribbons and feet and legs alike soaked and caked in a dark, dry, congealed liquid. And it all clicked together through the banging ear-splitting headache and overwhelming reek of poo. They have taken to eating human flesh. They set upon old Beanpole, and they had his body trussed up and stored there in the dark under a improvised pantry.
Do you see now what has been lost? It don’t matter whether them boys got hauled up in some magic elevator. How could any right-minded person take Skinny Pete, what came down to the mine a family man and church deacon and now ain’t nothing but a crazed cannibalistic automaton, and say of him he done survived the ordeal? His mind guided a skin-bag of meat and bones and viscera down here step by step, and the same skin-bag might get yanked out of the hole, less a few pounds of muscle and a handful of good teeth, but do we not account for the mind what’s been lost? If Skinny Pete had of lost both feet, both hands, both legs, both his arms, a nose, ears, eyes, any part of his corporeal self, you could of said there’s Skinny Pete if he talked and thought the same and had the same morals and loved the same and all that, but that just ain’t what happened. That ain’t Skinny Pete any more than Thin Allen resides in that finger down in the depths of the latrine. There is more to a man that his red-blooded scaffolding.
Not me. Having failed to cross the latrine I did the next best thing and made for the downhill to the point that very night, even as it meant passing the deep alone for the first time since gathering the poor doomed Beanpole, beset upon by his own crazed horde by God don’t even know what horrible criteria. I brought me a knife and a shovel and a handful of dynamite, and I kept them boys long at bay with sincere threats and oaths of the greatest violence should they come for me any time of day or night. And hell if I didn’t so much as doze for a straight 17 days. I withstood every conceivable kind of overture intended to lure me back to their clutches, but not a one of them ever approached nearer than that hateful fissure since I busted up Bones’s hand with a swung shovel when he made a grab for my arm. Boss, or whatever mean spirit resides inside Boss’s body, went so far as to assure me even that old Beanpole is just resting up back there under that lean-to since they said he collapsed coming out of the latrine. Which Boss he’s either confused or just not even trying to hide his lies. Lying for fun. Lying to lie. It was me went into the latrine, and no sign of Beanpole, and besides he was in his grisly butcher pantry by the time I come out of my episode. Unless he went in after me and came out before there is no way it could make sense. And they never did tell me who even pulled me out of the muck. Intended to confuse me, I suppose, but I cannot be confused. That is the difference between me and them. I ain’t confused about nothing.
Bones come back eventually with his busted hand wrapped up in a filthy rag and says that elevator shaft is near to the cathedral ceiling and it’s a matter of days before we’ll all be headed home. Which I knew a hell of a lot better than that. I told him take his elevator straight to hell and boil in oil for eternity. Boss come round the corner too then and says come just on up the hill son and have a look at Beanpole, he’s setting up now to where you can see him, but I knew them fellers then were just luring me up to the fissure so’s they can ambush me and toss me in. I said who else you all got with you no matter who it is I don’t mind braining every last one if it come to it. That about discouraged them. I was not thinking then about how long this could go on, I was simply living moment to moment. It come to a point where I mostly hoped they would ambush me and we could get it over with and after them boys were every one of them dead and cold I could roll them one by one into the latrine until it’s bridged and then waltz on across and get to hacking and digging and blasting my way to the surface.
It was quiet for what must of been at least a day before I had an idea something was up. I waited it out what felt like another couple days in case it was a ambush of some sort. I felt weak and hungry and tired and my mouth was worse than ever on account of I did not bring my toothbrush down here in my haste to escape the feast, but I had every reason to believe those madmen in their unnatural state could be just inside the deep, just waiting for a hungry, desperate, confused feller to tippy-toe his way back uphill to the Cathedral and the food stores. I have never been such a man and I was not about to be. I crawled my way up near to the fissure, near enough to where I could see just around the corner up the main shaft a ways but where no one hiding in that breathing hole could grab me up nor see me. And there, just on the other side, there’s an arrangement of small tin plates of assorted rations. Beans and wieners and a handful of corn, a blob of wheat gruel and a few thin sardines in oil laid temptingly just in front of the deep, where the men were no doubt laying in wait. I waited and listened. Them boys were unnaturally quiet down in that hole, but you know as I said whatever sound come out of that place is known to be manipulated by that place’s intent. Which is a dark, evil intent. Hell, they could of been dancing the Charleston down in there and if the deep don’t want me to know I sure as hell won’t until it’s too late.
I figured I could lay off that food for the time being, but there was sure to come a time when the temptation would be too much. Days or weeks down the line I would come hungrily for all that grub and be got. So what I done at last was, I run a trail of wick from my sticks, which I set quiet as can be just to the front of the fissure, down to the very point itself, where the men last blasted and dug their way down into the earth when we was still miners and not man-eating devils bespoiled by hell’s own mouth. And from a perch atop the last beam set against our forward progress I said a prayer and chipped flint on flint and watched that spark climb the shaft along the wall and the gentle curve and inch its way toward my ultimate victory. And when that prayer was finished I yelled up I’ll see you fellers in hell someday if’n you ever do ride your unholy elevator. Which they have no doubt done by now. I mean that was at least two weeks ago.
The dynamite brought the ceiling down as intended and sealed my chamber shut from the main shaft, which you might think at first was a problem, what with a certain set amount of air to breathe and such, but hell if that dynamite didn’t also carve out a new, wider opening into the deep. Which I cannot see it at all, it is dark as can be down here, there is not the tiniest bit of light outside of the diminishing halo of my last little inch of candlewick. I can’t see beyond my hands, and them only as they’re what’s clutching the flame when it’s lit. But I am set for air. It comes whistling quietly out of the deep, cool and dry and stale. I hear it ebbing behind the sound of my shovel in the earth. And that ain’t all I hear. There is a voice down there, by God. Wailing in the dark, a wild ragged sound that comes whenever the flame flickers out. It echoes all around my chamber by its own unknowable whims, and no matter how hard and fast I dig, I cannot make it diminish. Only by striking flint on flint and burning the last of my candle can I scare it back into the soundless shadows. But I suspect I will be fine in the end. I have a tremendous instinct for survival. And I alone divined the true meaning of Beanpole’s last uttered word, the key to my salvation. Up. Down is up. Up is survival, and down is up. And so I dig.