I’d been down in the Cheyanna strip pits for so long I’d just about forgotten what the sun looked like, when Cracker pulled me off the sorting line and told me I’d done my time and was free to go. Wondering if he was pulling a funny on me, I followed his fat arse through the dim, winding tunnels where it seemed like I’d spent pretnear my whole life working and eating and sleeping and dreaming of blue sky; then it was up a narrow flight of steps carved into the gray shale of the south wall to the ore platform.
Many a time I’d watched that contraption haul piles of yellow-threaded chunks up the long, dark shaft hacked through the rocks overhead, and had seen it bring down a few unlucky men like me; but the only time I’d set foot on it myself was the long-ago day it’d dropped me smack-dab in the middle of hell.
“Climb on, Dooley,” Cracker said, nudging me none too gently in the back. And I knew then that he weren’t funning me.
I stepped on, Cracker right behind me. He gave a couple of sharp tugs on a rope and the platform lurched, then rose upward into that hollowed-out tunnel barely bigger than the lashed-together timbers under our feet. The four thick cables attached to its corners seemed alive, hissing and vibrating as they roiled up into the darkness. The noise put me in mind of Albo snakes, with their red eyes, and slick white bodies as long and skinny as a whip.
Up we went, on and on. And when at last I saw a pinprick of light overhead, I knew that I wouldn’t have to sleep no more with my arms wrapped around my head to keep the Albos from wriggling into my ears or nose.
The dot of light got bigger and bigger, filling the mouth of the shaft with a white glare that my eyes couldn’t bear. I shielded them with my hand, but that weren’t enough; I had to look away, down at my grimy boots instead of the clean, blue sky above.
“Here,” Cracker said in a voice made gravely by too many years breathing Cheyanna’s dust. “This’ll help.” He pressed a wad of dirt-smudged white cloth into my hands.
It was a kaul, a head covering worn by the traders who traveled the roads between Cheyanna and the outside world: a hood that fit over your head with a narrow slit cut out for your eyes. Without it or something like it, a man could go blind out in the desert staring day in and day out at all that white sand.
I mumbled a “Thanks,” and pulled it over my head. And looked around, having my first drink of daylight in…”How long?” Continue reading