The Race – Chapter 16

Angie ran. Her headlamp swung wildly as she bounced between the narrow tunnel walls with her hands in front of her. She stumbled over a dry, dusty wooden beam jutting out of a pile of rubble and almost fell. The thought of whatever Dave had become reaching out of the darkness and sinking his fingers into her back saved her from sprawling. Her arms wheeled and she almost kneed herself in the mouth, but she stayed up and kept going.

Rob was somewhere ahead. This part of the mine was mostly straight, but the walls and ceiling were reinforced with beams and cross-braces that hadn’t been in the  tunnels before the wooden door. They cut into the narrow space and limited how far Angie could see. Her legs burned. She ran toward one of the reinforcements and had to turn sideways to fit through because of how bowed the wood was. Tight nests of stone and dirt pushed in against the beams.

“Rob! Did you find her?”

The image of her sister being dragged away by the man in the mechanic’s shirt was burned into her mind. It was like a billboard plastered to the inside of her skull, and no matter what Angie saw in front of her, Lara’s bulging eyes and purple face stared from the edges.

“Rob!”

She tried to listen for any response from him and any sound from Dave, somewhere behind her. All she heard was her own rasping breath.

“Hannah. Hannah, sweetie. Baby, I’m coming. Mommy’s coming.”

She repeated it to herself, unwilling to think any other outcome was possible. She would find Rob and Lara. She would get them out. She would see her daughter again. She ducked beneath a wooden beam, turned a slight corner and hit a dead end.

The solid wall of rock was so sudden Angie’s hands hit it before she could stop. Her chest and a knee bounced off the stone. The wind grunted out of her and she staggered back a few steps. She spun around, searching for another door or tunnel.

There was nothing.

Her headlamp only showed dust floating toward the floor. The corner she’d just turned was a dark mouth. Dave was back that way, coming closer. Angie had an overwhelming urge to wait for him, whatever he was now, and when he came for her they would sit together with their heads touching, like they’d done when they were younger, and talk until…until what? Her battery died and Dave was back in the dark.

She would tell him she was sorry. For leaving him behind, for wanting him to disappear. But he would understand. Hannah needed her mother.

“Oh, sweetie,” Angie moaned. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry baby.”

She slumped against the rock wall and slid down. The dark tunnel beyond the beams seemed huge now, wide enough for ten people to flood over her.

Hurry up, she pleaded. I can’t take this.

She closed her eyes and tried to think only of herself, the fear she felt, because that was better than thinking about Hannah alone in her hospital bed.

She couldn’t do it.

Living didn’t matter.

Being alive for her daughter did.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

The stone was cold against her back. Points dug in between her shoulder blades and above her kidneys. The dust and dirt beneath her shifted and pushed her away from the wall a little, which made things better.

Angie opened her eyes. She turned onto her hands and knees and stared at the ground. It moved. The dirt rose into a mound, then settled again. The top layer of grit danced from the vibrations.

Angie plunged her hands into the dirt. It was loose and fine, like a gray sand dune. She pulled it away from the wall, stuck her hands in and dragged more between her knees. Again. It came away easily. The bottom of the wall stopped a few inches below the dirt. Angie pulled more out, and as she did something pushed from beneath the wall. A wave of fine dirt and dust welled into the hole she was making. Angie dragged it away and saw the bottom of Rob’s shoe.

It disappeared under the wall.

“Rob!”

More dirt flew out. Rob was crawling beneath the wall, pushing the grit and dust behind him as he went. Angie dug frantically, throwing handfuls behind her and scraping her knuckles. The gap beneath the wall grew.

Rob’s shoes churned and pushed more dirt into the space. Angie flung it out and leaned into the hole.

“Can you see her? Can you see Lara?”

Rob shouted something, then his shoes were gone. Angie kept digging. Her headlamp showed the dirt tumbling down from the other side of the tiny gap beneath the wall, refilling the hole every time she emptied it. She reached further in, scooping, dragging, throwing, until her hands were in darkness. She pressed her face against the wall and kept digging.

The pile between her knees wasn’t letting any more dirt out. She backed away and swept the entire heap behind her, crawled into the hole and reached forward. She dragged as much dirt as she could into her hands and pulled.

Then she screamed. Something fell across her hands and she screamed uncontrollably, crying and laughing.

Daylight.

And then you said: