Mining in January has always been a difficult proposition. For one, the weather is against you. There are cold winds blowing and the world outside the mines is freezing cold. Inside the mines, 100s of feet below the level of the earth, the temperature is much below freezing. For another, it always seems as though there is less air to breathe below than usual. There is a lot of coal dust hanging in the air during these days and it becomes difficult to breathe the coal ridden air. Life does become tougher for a miner during winter.
The miner, whom we will call Joe, had managed to come out of the shaft of his mine with difficulty. He had managed to come up the chute,the mine cage, holding onto its sides with freezing hands. The thaw in the weather outside had mildly affected the rock walls. He had fixed the mine cage to his highest speed though there was a warning against accelerating it during winter. He couldn’t help it; he needed to get out fast.
He had come on the night shift, last night, groggy and tired. This always happened to him when he was on the night shift. He couldn’t sleep in the day time because his body wanted to sleep at night. And so he had come fuzzy headed to work.
As he went down the mine cage with a few of his friends, he managed to say a hello to each of them, though he didn’t want to. He wanted to go home and sleep. Its always night in a miner’s life. Day or night outside, it is always darkness around him deep in the mine.
Today his eyes struggled to adjust to the bright sunshine outside. They were so unused to natural sunlight. How good the warm sunshine felt on his bare arms and his face ? His pale face had started to flush with the exertion and the heat of the sun.
But he couldn’t wait today to enjoy the sunshine. He needed to get to the volcano as fast as possible. The frost on the road made his boots ring. He looked back to see if anyone had followed him up the mine. He needed to get to the volcano as fast as he could.
It was early morning still. The town was just waking up. Most of the town folks preferred to sleep in late these days in January. So he was safe. But he needed to be careful about making too loud a noise on the tarmac.
It was while he was in the mine that he had noted the unusual glow in the rock wall of the subshaft where he had been working last night. The rock walls had looked more phosphorescent than usual when he had walked into it. There was only one miner assigned to each sub shaft.
Sleepy and groggy he had started his work, he had used his pickaxe to pick the rockwalls and get the coal out.About two hours into the shift he has started to feel hot, which he didn’t mind at all this cold January day. He removed his coat and left it on his workdesk. He had built a small room underground. After all he had to spend most of his life here. It made sense to make a home with all the things he liked including a bed there.
After hanging his coat on the makeshift hook on the rock wall, he had returned to his shaft. He still felt hot and the air had started to feel stifling. Nothing unusual about that. In winter the air was often heavy with coal dust and it could be difficult to breathe but he hadn’t felt uneasy as yet.
Just as he had started chipping at the rock wall after his short break, he had noticed an unusual glow from the walls. He wondered what is was. He was too deep underground to see calcium deposits here. What could it be ?
While he was musing over the glow, he noticed the air smelt sulfuric. It was not the smell of coal, which he liked. It smelt like rotten eggs and it had gotten much hotter. He decided to bring his thermometer to check. So he walked back to his room to get his thermometer. It recorded a temperture of 30º C, which was unusual for the depth he was working at. No wonder he had started sweating.
Suddenly he felt the floor below him shift. He felt he was moving. No, dear God,no, he thought , not an earthquake now. Not on this day of all the days. The day when he felt all his faculties were not working. He was so tired and needed badly to sleep. Maybe it was the air down.
He went to the rest room where the ventilation was better. There was no one there. But even the rest room felt hot. What was up with the mine tonight ?
The whole mine felt hot now. It seemed as if it was getting hotter. Just then, he noticed the glow had spread from his shaft even to the wall of the rest room.
Suddenly it struck him, there was some unusual activity underground. May be an earthquake but that wouldn’t explain the glow. Could it be ?Could it be lava ?
Recently there had been reports of some unusual activities from the site of the volcano outside town.
Could it be the heat from the volcano had penetrated the walls of the mine to cause the intense heat that he was feeling ?
He felt sure that that was what it was. He needed to talk to his colleagues in other shafts or sub shafts. He walked to Tom’s shaft towards the right of the rest room. He couldn’t find Tom there.
Then he went to Joe ‘s shaft but there was no one there either. Where was everyone ?
He went back to the rest room to the telephone. He wanted to call the people in the surface mine and let them know. And they needed to evacuate every one fast if indeed it was volcanic activity.
No one picked up at the other end. Just my luck, he thought.
Well, there is no two ways about it. I need to go up. He walked to the mine cage as fast as he could , hoping it wasn’t damaged. With frantic hands he opened it and let himself in. It started moving. Slowly. Too slow for him. Thats why he had increased its speed.
Now he was outside and the town folk still didn’t know. As he was getting outside the mine, the police guard on duty stopped him. He wanted to see his ID. Luckily he had brought it with him. But the police officer had logged his name on his system and found out that he was on the night shift. The next question he asked was, why he was outside when the shift did not get over for another two hours. Was he evading his duty ?
The miner told the police officer, there was an emergency underground. The officer looked at him skeptically and asked , what emergency ?
He had said that it looked like lava was flowing down the shafts. The police officer had laughed at him and asked him to go down and complete the shift. That was when he had taken the law in his own hands and run outside as fast as he could.
The world outside was getting warm. There was no one on the streets as yet. But his feet kept pounding hard. The officer was running after him. He had had a head start. The officer probably had to call in a standby before giving chase. Anyway it seemed like no one would believe him, if an officer who worked near the mines did not. So he needed to go the volcano and see for himself if he was right.
He had reached the foot of the volcano and started running up it, the police office, following him, like a dog. He panted up the hill. The air around the mount was hot, unusual for this time of the year. Something seemed unusual. Everything was quiet. There were no bird noises.
So it was true- there was something going on inside the volcano and the birds and animals had sensed it.
He reached the summit of the volcano, each step more difficult than the next. He hadn’t run this much even when he was a child.
Fearfully he reached the edge of the crater and peered over, just as the police officer reached there too. Before he could arrest him, a huge roar came from inside the crater.
Both men peeped inside. They were shocked out of their lives to see many scared beings inside the crater, looking up at them, with round and glossy eyes. Each of them was iridescent, emanating a glow, akin to the glow in his shaft. Who were these people ? Some of them were climbing out of a big metallic structure and some were on the floor of the crater. All of them looked similar. They were green, a radiating green, like they had all fallen into glittery paint. Some of them had horn like growths on their head and some had stumps of horns. But all of them were peering at the pair of eyes looking down at them from over the crater.
They didn’t look like anything he had seen before.
The police officer and he looked at each other before peering inside. Suddenly it struck them, these were extra terrestrial creatures and that funny looking object was an UFO. It looked like the UFO carrying these beings on some extra terrestrial flight had landed in their town’s volcanic crater and the force of the impact of their landing had been felt in his mine shaft.
What was to be done now ? That is another story.