DawningMature

A short story I've entered for a contest, full of action.

              The air was bathed in heat, hanging down damp, trapped from the light of the day. Here underground, the only remnants of the day pushed forth from dingy, dangerous lamps, flames springing up from the oil in a dance unquenchable. Only the rhythms of the pickaxe, to settle the dark of the mind, to spring the hope of future wealth, echoed in the caverns.  In a faraway corner, laboriously, and with intent, one of the workers heaved the pick forward to meet the rock. Each motion brought the whole body forward in a lurch. All but a red bandana cut across his mouth and nose, his eyes dull and brown, worn from continual years of single beaten days.

                Another noise echoed, back from the dwelling of dark constantly consuming the ever eager lamp. The small patter of footsteps progressed towards him. The piercing clang halted suddenly, the worker turning and pulling the bandana from his face. His eyes gave no flicker of encouragement or any excitement as a child, no more than seven, tiredly crept around the corner. Nothing but a small candle on a tin plate illuminated him. Cast in the play of shadow and light resounding on the wall, was a child’s elongated shadow, hovering over the much larger man’s.

                “It’s Andy,” His small feet took a few more steps, “I can’t get him up.”

                Both their faces were casted by the creep of the dark, cutting angles in their dimly lit features. His tiny frame and light blue eyes were questioning the much larger apelike man before him. His sturdy, short body was much like that of a beaten juniper. A juniper cursed, by place and time, to be deformed by the pushing of the wind. His hunched body swelled as he sighed deeply. His large, worked hands reached to the black dirt crusting his forehead and gave it a gentle rub. His other one dug idly into his draped stained overalls, and pulled out a small dark glass bottle with a small amount of clear liquid in it. In a solemn tone, he instructed the child as he placed the bottle in his small palm.

                “Take this to him, pour a tablespoon into his mouth. Hold it open if you have to.” His blue eyes, bright in the lamp, cut through the child, making his moon shaped face drift to the floor. “Elijah, he needs to see this. We’re really close.”

                His round face nodded, cut in odd shapes by the light of his wavering candle. His small bare feet turned towards the light of day, and pattered off nearly silently, his tin plate held with fervor. The man stopped for a moment to pull the sweat ridden bandana back across his large lips and nose, then continued wholeheartedly on the task set before him in the dark.

                Soon, outside the cavern, across the valley, the sun had started to turn the visible world to morning. A woolen layer of gray spread out, fog thick across the valleys, trees just black shadows in the early morning. The wind had never stopped from the week before, and it continued its hard push. By now the ground was a layer of frozen needles, crisped white in the light frost, cursed to the plight of all living things. The dark knew the battle was lost, and retreated, slowly, cautiously. It sensed another chance to fight later, and hid in far gone gullies, deep in mountains. As the light pushed past the treetops into the floor of the woods, it threw itself into hundreds of lightened and shadowed lines constantly in motion. Birds started their daily activities with their individual songs. A chipmunk scurried the floors of stumps and downfallen logs, chattering madly at the entrance of a shoed foot near its home. 

                Andy hobbled over the deadfall in reckless abandonment, his mind on nothing else but his goal. In the early morning mist, he looked unnaturally skinny. His middle aged face creased with wrinkles, a beaver hat pulled low on his small bony head. A ragged beard randomly spewed hairs from his chin. His right arm was clutched against the side of his overalls, gripping a large burlap sack. A few feet behind him the small child followed sheepishly, his dirt brown pajamas loose on his frame. His small eyes flashed with fear, both hands gripped unflinchingly to a small cross adorning his neck. The tin tray with a candle was now nowhere in sight. Following with speed, his small steps and actions spoke of promise. Andy’s hair went astray wildly, an obvious symptom of too much drink. He had deliberate action to his steps, his eyes deep ahead, pursuing the mountain, which was now starting to dominate their view. Every footstep was heavy, his legs reaching, throwing forward in an uneven fashion. The trees started to get less thick, stumps became more predominant. His hands rested on every one still standing along the way, his lungs wheezing intensely. Both their feet crunched loudly with every light step they took. After a few short miles of walking soon the black square of a mine cut into view. The child looked with horror at the mine. Wrinkles cut deeper into Andy’s face.

The End

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