Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chapter 143: And Silence Sounds No Worse Than Cheers

“Saint!” Lily felt the strain of the scream in her throat, her breath an explosive shockwave across her vocal cords, but the sound of it in her own ears was soft, muffled. “Saint! Pete!” She whimpered in terror against his heaving chest as the two of them lay tangled amid the tumbled chaos of the collapsed tunnel. He’d dragged her with him as he dove past the cave-in, and they’d landed hard on the gravel-scattered floor still locked in a desperate embrace.

It was dark, darker than anything Lily had ever experienced and she wondered if she’d gone blind. Her ears ached, and the only sound she could hear was the far-away sobbing of her own voice. She felt Saint’s arms around her, one of his hands curled around her skull in a protective embrace as he lay partially on top of her, shielding her from the debris still crumbling from the roof.  His heart pounded wildly beneath her cheek, reminding her that they were both still alive.

She thought she heard his voice, far away and filtered through the incessant ringing in her ears, which felt like they were full of hard-packed wool and ten penny nails. His fingers were tangled in her hair, frantically searching her face. She felt him roll over onto his elbow above her, and she could feel him shaking, his ribs heaving against her body.  “Little Miss... you alright?”

He’s moving and talking...oh, thank God.

She straightened her uncomfortably askew spectacles, nodding, then realized that he couldn’t see her. “Yes!” She shouted at him in the strange, faraway yell that she barely recognized as her own voice. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” He sat up, pulling her clumsily with him, still holding her close. A thin gout of pebble-filled dirt poured from the ceiling and spattered across his shoulder, softly peppering her face. He jerked instinctively, shielding her and pulling her closer. She could feel his breath in her ear. “C’mon, Little Miss.” He got shakily to his feet, lifting her by her arms and keeping her close. “We can’t stay here, sweetheart. It ain’t safe.”

“Where’s Jon?” Her legs were trembling so badly she wasn’t sure she could walk. What if he got caught in all that? She leaned against Saint, steadying her feet on the uneven surface beneath them. She was terrified to let go of him in the darkness, afraid if she did they might lose each other. She wrapped her arm around his waist, her hand unconsciously twisting  into the fabric of his coat. “Saint, where’s Jon? We have to find him!”

“Little Miss...let’s hope he got himself out the other side before it all came down.”

“What if he didn’t?” She felt new panic rising in her chest. “What... what if he’s trapped...what if...” She stopped, her voice fading with the echoes that disappeared down the far end of the shaft. The last thing she wanted to hear was her own voice bouncing and crashing around the tunnel asking over and over if Jon was dead.

There was an excruciating pause in the inky blackness, a tightening of Saint’s arm around her. “If he’s trapped...Lily.... Saint’s voice was sober and careful. “There could be fifty feet of rubble behind us. If he’s under it...we can’t help him.”

Lily put a hand to her mouth, stifling a sob. The thought was too much. “Jon!” She shouted. “Are you there?” Her eardrums were recovering a bit, and she could hear her voice bouncing away in the dark silence that answered.  Images of the farrier lying injured or worse beneath the rockfall crowded her thoughts, driving the breath from her lungs. Although I don’t know if being crushed to death by rock is worse than being buried alive by it. How are we going to get out ourselves? Jon! Where are you?”

“Hungerford!” Saint shouted, his voice hoarse. “Call out if you can hear us! Hungerford!” He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and then slid his arm slid from around her. “Don’t go anywhere, Little Miss.” He mumbled, fumbling with something Lily couldn’t see. A trembling yellow light flared in the darkness. Lily caught a dim glimpse of Saint puffing on another quirly before the light died back down to a glowing red ember. “I lost the other one when the roof came down.” He muttered around the smoke, holding it in his teeth. “Look here. I want you to look around when I get a light going that we can see by. There might be some candles stuck to the walls.”

“Candles?" She cocked her head, puzzled. "In here?” She squinted at the red glow of the quirly, clearly visible in the surrounding blackness as the tiny flame died back down.

“You don’t think people work in this kinda dark, do you? It's a coal mine, there might be candles. Keep calling just in case he can hear us. If he ain’t dead, he probably thinks we are.”

1 comment:

Jesse said...

Well, that would explain the rumble I felt.