After that day deep in the mine with Mike, I took a week long vacation. But even a sunny beach thousands of miles away could not erase the memories of what I had seen. I still shook in my bed after sundown, and before boarding the returning flight I knew what I had to do.
I had to close the mine.
I scheduled a meeting with the board for the day I would arrive back, and the three members gathered around the oak table of our meeting room.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “After reviewing safety conditions in the mine, I believe in order to preserve the human life of our employees we should call for an immediate closing of the mine. Already, we have made enough to break even on our investment, so no money will be lost. In fact, we have made a small profit, which will be split among us. I will forfeit my share to be split among you on good faith that you will make the responsible decision of voting for the mine’s closure. As you remember, my vote counts for one and a half.”
Across the table, the other three board members studied me with intense stares.
“My vote,” Said Gary, the main investor in the mine, “Is no, to resume operations as normal, and to continue reaping in the benefits of the minerals. There is much untapped potential beneath the earth.”
“As is mine,” Said the second board member, his palm slapping flat on the table.
I looked to my right, where the last member of the board sat in a leather office chair.
He was Keith, a man with thick bushy eyebrows, who owned just enough stock to be on the board. He had slowly sold over half of his original stock investment due to his doubts about the mine’s performance.
“I wish to pull out my chips. My vote is yes, to close.”
“Alright, the vote is two and a half to two,” I said, “Meaning the mine will-”
Just then there was a knock at the door, and all three board members turned in their seats.
“Come in,” I said, irritated at the interruption. I would be having a word with my personal secretary, who I instructed to allow no one but board members to attend the meeting.
The door creaked open, and a man stepped into the room. I frowned, looking over his features. The man was dirty, from his boots to the inside of his fingernails, and I had seen him just the week before working in the deeper tunnels of the mine. He had been one of the homeless men before we hired him.
“Excuse me,” I said, “You have the wrong door.”
“No.” He said, putting a folder on the table.
“No.” He repeated, “My answer is no. Good day.” He then turned and left, slamming the door behind him.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Said Gary, reaching across the table and opening the folder.
“Does it matter? I’d fire him, but as the vote stands, the mine will be closed anyway.
As I was saying, two and a half to two, the mine is closed.”
I pushed back my chair, standing to signify the end of the meeting and turning to follow the miner out the door. My hand touched the knob when I heard Gary’s voice behind me.
“No so fast, Lawrence.”
I froze, and turned.
“Lawrence,” He continued, flourishing the folder, “According to this documentation, the vote is three to two and a half. Our miner friend here appears to have bought all of Keith’s shares, effectively placing him on the board.”
I don’t know how the miner knew about the meeting. I don’t know how he bought Keith’s shares. And I don’t know why.
All I knew was my new name for him.
The mine continued operation, but with each week became less profitable. The rare earth metals appeared to dissolve back into the earth, falling away from our grasp. The mine became not only a curse, but a loss on my financial record. A black tarnish on my streak of wins that caused my colleagues to laugh behind my back.
And I began having dreams. Nightmares that always came when my finances were in danger of turning sour. But these were more real than any dreams I had in the past.
These dreams always started with me walking into the mouth of the mine, its gaping maw swallowing me whole as I slid down the throat-like tunnels. Always I was following the miner, who turned back to smile at me as we passed through the archway deep underground. Still we went deeper, walking until we reached the bottom and there was only a stone wall before us and the melted footprints underneath.
“They’re here,” The miner whispered, putting his hand against the wall, “Treasures more than you have ever earned. You will be the richest man on earth. All you have to do is come with us.”
“Come with you where?”
“Here. Down. Through the wall,” He said, and slid a hand through the rock as if it was water.
Then the dream would cease, and I would wake in a sweat, my skin burning hot. A week would pass, and the dream would recur, until one day I stood against the wall and it failed to terminate.
“All you have to do is come with me. Place your hand through the wall. Walk through. Just make a small trade, a small trade with us. And we’ll make you rich forever.”
I mumbled, then outstretched my hand. The rock felt like jacuzzi water, bubbling beneath my fingers, then elbow, then shoulders and torso until I was entirely submerged. And I swam through the rock, deeper and deeper, until I broke through the other side and could not remember anything more.
But I remembered one thing. I had made a deal.
I awoke that night hotter and with a greater fever than ever before. My sheets felt grainy with dirt particles strewn throughout, and I realized I was still wearing my clothes from the day prior. I groaned, my mouth parched, and rose to retrieve get a drink. But the bottom of my feet were blistery, as if burned, and they must have rubbed up against my boots the previous day.
When I went to work, I saw the miner waiting by my office.
“It’s been a pleasure, Lawrence. I’m quitting today. I have to go back home. You see, I've inherited quite a large sum of money.” He said, shaking my hand.
“Oh, you have?"
“Yes. But don’t worry, Lawrence. I’ll see you again. Sooner than you think.”
He left, and to this day he has not returned. The nightmares too retreated, and I no longer recall any dreams when I sleep.
The mine struck a new vein of metals, and became my greatest investment yet. I never went down there anymore though.
Whenever I come too near the tunnels, my feet burn. And no matter how hard I scrub, there’s always dirt under my nails.
The mine was waiting.