Mining Blues…A short story…

I sit and wait for a sign that never comes. To rise above my station that I’ve been assigned is no simple task. My future appears to be as bleak as my present or as nondescript as my past. Train cars filled with people pull into the docking station. Miners are off loaded and led to the infirmary for a quick check-up.  Hope is vacant in the eyes of the miners. There is nothing in the mine but coal, and eventually, death. My pick leans against the wall, and I wait for the announcement that my shift is about to begin. 

“Shift 3, report to the mine. Understand comrades, if you do not meet your quota, there will be no time off for you. It behooves you to put forth maximum effort in achieving your quota.” I stand and secure my pick. The walk to our section of the mine is just a small jaunt from where I was sitting. Our passage is dimly lit, and I find a nice part of the wall to work on.

Swinging the pick, I slam it into the wall. Over and over, I punish the wall with merciless blows. Chunks of coal fall to the ground and I continue my assault. As my shift and I continue to work, carts are filled with coal and taken out of the mine. I glance down the line of workers and they appear to be carbon copies of me. I am thin, some would say gaunt. My skin appears to be sickly because of the unnatural paleness of it. The brutishness of light hurts my eyes, a symptom of living in the dark for too long. 

“Break time. Shift 3, you have ten minutes to eat and use the latrine.” Our supervisor, Maxine Walcott, is relentless in her pursuit to appease the state. The state gives its workers 15 minutes for a break, but Maxine shortens it to increase our productivity. Between my shift mates, we call her Mad Maxine. Her skin is darkened by the sunlight, she once explained her station in life is elitist. “You are all drones. When you die, we bring in more and they continue your work. The state could care less if you pass away, you’re replaceable. I’m not.”

 I don’t like Mad Maxine.   

“Break time’s over, drones. Get back to work. The state needs it’s coal, and you animals have nothing else to live for, so get to it.” She turns and walks away. We continue to bust coal. As we work, slamming picks and loading carts, one of the workers passes out from exhaustion. He is an older man, but the state doesn’t care about your age. “What does this layabout think he is doing? Cheating the state, eh?” Mad Maxine grabs the pick and slams it down into his skull. We all stop working and look at the corpse lying at the feet of Mad Maxine. “Oh no, it looks like Shift 3 has lost a member of its team. Keep going, drones!” Wordlessly, we continue to chip away at the coal. Due to the mortal wound our fellow slave attained, some of us now do double duty. To help the cart pushers out, I pick up the coal I have broken and carry it to the cart. A dirty woman nods her head at me and sighs. “You’re a good one, Jay. Thanks for helping.”  I grab my pick and continue chipping away at the wall. At the end of the line, Maxine watches me. 

“Come here, drone.” The clank, clank, clank, of the picks covers my sigh. I walk down the line to where Maxine is waiting. “Why are you helping the other drones?” I shrug my thin shoulders. “Ma’am, I’m trying to keep the line productive. We are down a man; someone must pick up the slack.” With the flip of her wrist, Maxine whips out a baton and slams it into my jaw, and I crumble to the floor. Towering over me, Maxine shouts, “You are not an elitist, I am. You do not think, I do.”  She stomps on my ribs until I black out from the pain.

I awaken in the infirmary. My ribs have been taped up, and my jaw wired shut. “Your supervisor, Maxine Walcott, said you were in a horrible accident, comrade. She brought you in and possibly saved your life. You should thank her when you’re able to speak again.” I force a smile and after signing the appropriate documentation, I am released. Shuffling through the dimly lit mine, I secure my pick.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the thinking drone. How’s your ribs, comrade?” Maxine walks out of the shadows. I look at her, and she glares back. “There will be no time off for you to heal. You will work until you die, and then I will nail your corpse to the wall as a reminder of why drones shouldn’t think about rising above their station.”

Smirking, she turns to walk away. I lift the pick and swing it in a wide arc. It slams into her spine and she crumbles to the ground. I pull the pick out and swing it overhead, burying it into her chest. Shift 4 watches as I crumble to the ground. I lean against the wall and dip my finger in Maxine’s blood and write for all to see, “you’re not drones but free men. Remember who you are.” Shouting, the shifts grab their picks and run out of the tunnels. 

My eyes slowly shut as the revolution begins.

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