512 Words

Anything Was Better than That

M. Stanley Bubien

Anything was better than that.

"Any damn thing," I said, pausing for nerve before bursting through the doors...


The lift ride had been long. And I'd figured we'd be crammed together like lemmings, herded into the mine below, but it was just four of us, my Daddy included.

"No worries, boy." The tool pusher had said, triggering the lantern on his hard-hat. "First time down's the worse." His light beamed across my clenched fists.

"You'll be gettin' used to it right soon," my Daddy told me.

I grinned and tried to believe him, but he sounded muffled and distant.


I plugged my nose and equalized. They'd warned me, but I didn't believe that either.

The lift whined and screeched, and we shuddered to a halt. The tool pusher swung the gate open. I dug my fingers into my hands with excitement, but instead of stiff pain stabbing my palms, I felt four soft tips. I'd cut my nails the night before on the advice of my Daddy. "That black dust gets in everything. It's impossible to get out."

I peered out of the lift with a nod. This deep below the surface, the air reeked of earth, and the sour taste of coal settled on the tongue. It was cold, too, but motionless, except for the gang of miners just beyond the gate, waiting for us to unload so they could return topside. They swayed, leaning upon each other as though each man alone lacked the strength to hold himself upright.

The sight made me open my hands. Black dirt clouded their faces and overalls. Their eyes, though, that's what got me. Was it the light? I couldn't tell. But as I searched, nothing gazed back except the purest, emptiest blackness.

"Let's go, son." My Daddy's voice. He'd stepped off the lift and stood with the others.

And I saw his eyes too.

"It's okay." He gestured down the tunnel. "I'll show you the ropes. Like I promised."

I shook my head.

He stepped forward, but I backed against the lift's wall. "No way in hell."

"You need this job, son."

He was right; I did need it---me and High School just never got along.

But I refused to budge.

"C'mon out," the tool pusher growled and grasped my wrist. "They're waitin' on you."

I pulled against him, but he held fast.

My Daddy reached for me. I looked him dead in the eye. And I made my decision.

I kicked the tool pusher in the groin. When he hit the ground, I buried another boot in his ribs. That got him out of the lift. I slammed the gate and punched the button, sending the cables whining.

"I got you this job!" My Daddy hollered after me. "What're you gonna do for work?"


That was the last I ever heard from him, but to this day, I still think of him staring upward through the darkness.

And anything was better than that...

"Any damn thing," I growled and burst through the doors, rushing the nearest teller with shotgun raised.

Thanks to Johnny Cash.

Copyright ©2003 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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October, 2003
Issue #84

512 Words