The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #59418 Message #2899959
Posted By: Rapparee
04-May-10 - 02:26 PM
Thread Name: BS: The Mother of all BS threads
Subject: RE: BS: The Mother of all BS threads
Eiseley doesn't know the half of it.
"I dunno," said Uncle Mathias. "I've seen a heap of strange things in my time. Some of 'em you might call magic, I guess. Some of 'em I'd just call unexplained -- might be an explanation comin' someday."
We'd paused for rest in one of our rabbit hunts, those wonderful hunting trips when Uncle Mathias and I would roam the woods and fields for hours searching for the elusive rabbit. Mind you, we never shot one -- at least, Uncle Mathias never shot a rabbit when I was with him on these hikes. "If we was to shoot somethin'," he'd say, "they'd have to call it somethin' besides huntin'."
I suppose that I'd started the conversation by asking Uncle Mathias what he thought about the current flying saucer craze. Saucers had been reported over several towns in our vicinity, and I wondered what Uncle Mathias thought about it all.
"A heap of strange things, yes, I'd say. I ever tell you about the strangest thing I ever experienced?" Uncle said.
I allowed that he had not. Even it he had told the story before, I would have allowed that he had not. No matter that you had heard the story before; Uncle Mathias' stories were like the stars: each time you beheld them they were different and wonderful.
Uncle Mathias scrunched around, breaking his Parker double open and ejecting the shells. He leaned the shotgun up against the tree, poured a cup of coffee from the Thermos, filled and lit his pipe and in general made himself comfortable for a long stay.
"It was up in Alaska, when I was workin' at the mine up near Juneau -- the Treadwell it was. I was a tad then, 'cause I left school before I finished the eighth grade you know. Must have been in, oh, let's see -- 1917, I guess it was. I was 16 at the time.
"Now I come up to Alaska on a freighter; worked my way up from Seattle the year before. Thought that I'd try gold minin' in the Yukon or somewheres -- I didn't know that the gold rush up there was pretty much over.
"I'd crossed the White Pass from Skagway. Only I took the train instead of hoofin' it over the mountains like the original folks did. Dawson and the rest was pretty dead when I saw 'em, though if you had an imagination you could picture what they'd been like just a twenty years or so before.
"Anyway, I was muckin' out in the Treadwell. It wasn't much pay, and the work was outrageously hard, but I'd been schooled in some hard times since I'd left town here some few years before, and I had muscles and stamina on me then that I don't have now that I'm an old man."
At this I objected, and I think rightly so. Uncle Mathias could better my time at running any distance you cared to name, lift a three hundred pound granite tombstone onto a truck without a hoist (I'd seen him do it), and shoot straighter at a target five hundred yards away than anyone I knew of.
He scoffed at my objections, and repeated that he was an
"Anyway, this fella named Rowdy (I never knew any other name for him) and me were muckin' out at number 17 pithead. Somebody'd blast loose the face of the pithead, and we'd shovel the resultin' gravel into ore cars. Them ore cars would be taken to the crusher, and the whole process of extractin' the gold from the rock would start.
"I guess, though, that it really started with us miners underground.
"Anyway, Rowdy and me was muckin' out that day when there was these three knocks which seemed to come out of the face of the pithead. Ol' Rowdy, he looked at me and asked me what I thought I was up to. I told him that I was shovelin' rock, just like him.
"Then we heard these three knocks again.
"Ol' Rowdy, he turned pale. I could see it by the light of the carbide lamp on my cap. Rowdy just turned pale and then he started up the slope to the lift.
"Well, we couldn't leave like that. We'd get docked, surein' heck. And the way the pay was set up, I wouldn't make anything if Rowdy left.
"So I yelled at him, an' grabbed him, and asked him what he was doin'. He just shrugged off my hand and kept on goin'.
"I clamped onto him hard, then. He whirled around and looked at me, and what was in his eyes I hope never to see again.
"His eyes were kinda, you know, blank. He was lookin' right at me and not seein' me. What we called in the War the thousand yard stare, what guys who had seen too much had in their eyes.
"Suddenly, his eyes focused on me.
"'Mathias,' he said. "'Mathias, get out of here. Those knocks were warnings. There's something bad, real bad goin' to happen here, and if you don't clear out you could get killed.
"'Pshaw!'" I said. "'Them noises were something hittin' on an ore car somewhere around here. Echoes do funny things down here, we both know.'"
"'Mathias,'" he said, "'Come with me and get out. I ain't stayin' down here any longer.'"
"Well, you just don't let your partner walk out like that. You depend on him and he depends on you down there. Your pay depends on his work, just like his depends on yours. Some ways, you're closer than if you were married.
"I drew back to sock him and bring him to his senses, but he grabbed by arm and twisted it behind me. Just then, the pit boss ran up -- I guess we was kinda loud -- and separated Rowdy and me.
"'All right,' he said, 'get your stuff and off we go. You're both finished here. You know the penalty for fightin' in the pit.'"
"Rowdy started to say somethin', but clamped his mouth shut, picked up his stuff, gave me mine, and we walked off to the lift behind the pit boss.
"The boss rang for the lift, none of us sayin' anything and the other muckers pretendin' that nothin' had happened, like people do when something unpleasant has occurred and they're just dyin' to know all about it.
"We got into the lift and rode up to the next level. We got off to change and suddenly I was smacked down by blast of air smellin' of the sea.
"Rowdy and the pit boss grabbed me and threw me into the lift car -- thank goodness it was there! -- and the pit boss rammed the control so hard I thought it would break off.
"Those lifts didn't move very fast, and we'd barely made the next level when we could see water climbin' up the shaft below us. We knew that the lift'd never get us out in time.
"It's strange what you can do when you have to. The three of us left the lift stage and yanked open the damp door to the shaft. We scrambled up, runnin' as hard and as fast as we could, sometimes stumblin' and the other two helpin' you get up and keep runnin'. I don't remember bein' out of breath, all I remember about that climb out of Hell is bein' afraid that my carbide lamp would go out. That and thinkin' that I was goin' to get docked for the shovel and the other gear I'd left behind.
"After most of an eternity we busted out the topside doorframe and into the clean air of Douglas Island. We ran about ten more steps and the three of us collapsed on the ground, just like somebody'd knocked the legs out from under us.
"There was a lot of commotion up there. That blast of air had knocked the door off the frame, just pushed it out like a man had set off a powder charge behind it. It was near to shift change, and most of the next shift was there, millin' around, and the clerks and bosses from the office, and the whistles hootin' and alarm bells clangin' -- I wish I'd been in shape to enjoy the excitement.
"A man in a suit came up to us and asked in an officious voice, 'What has happened? Has there been an explosion? Has there been a collapse?'
"He was askin' the pit boss, who just looked up at him, and I noticed that he was black -- his face, all of his skin was just black, and I guessed then that I was too.
"It was Rowdy who answered. 'Gastineau Channel's knocked in the head. Water's fillin' the works, if it ain't already.'"
"That man turned pale, swallowed a couple of times, turned and ran off to report to his boss, I guess. There was a bunch of other shift miners around us, and they helped us up and gave us some water -- I didn't know I was thirsty, or how very good water could taste, 'til then.
"Those miners were askin' us questions, but with their eyes. Everyone had friends down there.
"We sat down, our heads between our legs, tryin' to get our thoughts in order. Pretty quick the Chief Engineer came up and started to question us. We told him what we knew, what had
happened as we saw it, and how we'd managed to get out.
"'Knocks, huh?' he asked Rowdy.
"'Yeh. You know what that means. I didn't have time to explain to the kid here or the pit boss. I hoped we get to the light and then I'd explain. Didn't have time for explainin' after the air hit us.
"'First time I heard of them up here,' said the CE.
"'First time for everythin',' said Rowdy.
"The CE left us, then, and went off to plan what rescue efforts could be made. Pretty soon some of the other men handed us coffee in tin cups, coffee with whiskey in it.
"We drank it, and then we were taken to the Company doctor, who pronounced us fit but exhausted. I thought the diagnosis was accurate.
"We went back to the pay shack, where they were startin' the rescue efforts. We were asked to stick around, but that we wouldn't be goin' back down as part of the rescue team. We went into the back room and sacked out on the floor; I guess we were asleep inside of seconds.
"Sleep's a great tonic, you know. We only slept maybe a couple of hours, but when we woke up it was like everything that had happened had happened a long time ago, or to somebody else and you had just read about it. It was when we went into the next room that everything that had happened came back to us.
"They got almost everybody out okay except those other
fellas who had been workin' down on our level, right at the minehead. When the water came in, they went out. I heard later that some of their bodies floated out of the mine and were found as much as a year after the collapse.
"Some of the boys who got out were in bad shape, both in their bodies and their minds. Some tried to go back down, down to get out their friends who had been workin' at the head. They had to tie some of them up and give 'em a shot to quiet them down.
"Some of the boys were brought up pretty well broken up. There were broken arms and legs, some skull fractures, one or two broken backs when that blast of air had thrown them against the timberin'. Not all of them made it, and some others were crippled for life.
"There weren't any pensions, then. You got hurt, you were out of luck. Some said you were better off if you got killed. They were probably right.
"Anyway, the pit boss told his story, and then said that he had misunderstood what we were doin' -- that we were not fightin', but that we had been workin' to free a shovel that had gotten jammed from under the ore car.
"The big boss looked like he didn't believe the story, but there was nobody to contradict it -- Rowdy and me would have had the pay due us docked for the tools we'd dropped if the fightin' charges had been brought. And after what Rowdy'd told the Chief
Engineer, the pit boss hadn't said anything much to us about fightin'.
"So I got out okay, and so did Rowdy and the pit boss. The three of us got a bonus of five hundred dollars from the company, and it was sort of understood that the money was so that we wouldn't mention the knockin's. You see, the Ready Bullion hadn't collapsed and if the word of the knockin's got around it would have been hard to find miners to work it.
"Miners are a superstitious lot, you see."
Uncle Mathias stopped and emptied the dottle from his cold pipe. He refilled it and patiently coaxed it alight, using two matches as he always did.
"And then what happened?" I asked.
"I went back to the States. I'd had more than my fill of gold minin'. I had my pay, that five hundred in bonus money and a share of the subscription raised by local citizens, all in all I had a little over a thousand dollars. More than that, I was still alive. So I took the boat outside, and one of these days I'd like to go back up to Juneau -- I hear that it's a right pretty place now, and Alaska's a state and all these days.
"I lost track of Rowdy; 'course, I never knew his right name so it's not surprisin'. The pit boss, man name of Olaf Hannsen, took the money he got and bought a bar in Haines -- told me that I had free drink, food and diggin's whenever I was there. Last I knew, he was still alive and still runnin' that bar. 'Course, that was twenty years back."
I thought over what Uncle Mathias had just told me. It was
an exciting story, but I failed to see what relevance it had to unexplained things.
"The knockings!" I exclaimed. "The knockings you heard, which warned you about the coming collapse! That must have been spooky."
"Tosh! Those knockin's were caused by water pressure -- what the engineers call 'hydrostatic pressure'. 'Weren't nothing mysterious about them at all. Only superstitious fools would think otherwise.
"No, when I said I had seen a strange thing, it had nothin' to do with the knockin's. What I saw was one of the bodies brought up out of the mine. A little fella, about five feet tall. Only his eyes were different from ours -- sort of slanted, but not like an oriental's. Slanted in his head, like his skull was different. He had a sort of silvery skin, and was wearin' a blue, one peice suit -- his boots were part of it. And he had six fingers -- two thumbs with four fingers between 'em -- on each hand.
"He (I guess it was a he) was dead. Nobody knew where he came from, though some thought he'd been sucked into the mine when the head collapsed. Anyway, everybody was too full of grief for their friends and loved ones to give much thought to this critter. We buried him in the cemetery along with everyone else. Just put 'unidentified' on the death certificate.
"It's gettin' too late in the day to hunt any more rabbits.
Pick up your truck and let's head on home."