Gayle flicked the lever in the other direction, and the Wedge danced accordingly. Slamming her fist down on a black button, the large drill protruding from the front like an upturned raven’s beak sparked to life. Seconds later the whole contraption collided with the cave wall, belching gases from its sides as sparks rained down on the backs of their necks.
For the second time that day she prayed to an invisible god whom she didn’t know. Crouching on the platform behind Serge, she prayed the inert gases pumping from the machine’s base would flush enough of the oxygen and methane from the surrounding atmosphere to prevent the machine from creating a firestorm. As rocks pinged off the Wedge’s metallic surface, pelting down from the newly created ceiling, she added another prayer to the growing list.
Her eyes jumped in their sockets. Her ears filled with ringing as the metal teeth lining the raven’s beak chewed the rock and coal, spitting gravel out beneath them and pulverizing it into road base. She spent a furtive glance behind them, searching for a pair of twitching monsters thirsty for blood.
Finally the Wedge burst from the newly formed tunnel and spun wildly in the open space of mine #4, its carbide light a whirling dervish amongst the swirling black dust. Her mind snapped back to the dangers in front of them. Gayle reached for the shut off, but with a neck-snapping jolt the Wedge lurched, tossing her into a pile of rock. Sparks burst from the vibrating sled of the machine as it collided with the rails running along the tailgate road.
With a whoof, the sound of the Wedge was consumed by the ignition of the air surrounding them. Her hair frizzled, her eyes popping with bright white spirals. Her skin tightened on her frame, pounding her with jolts of pain. She tried to stand, but a heavy blanket followed by a solid mass enveloped her. Crashing to the floor of the mine, her ribs cracked as she rolled, the weight now fully on top of her. The suffocating fabric ushered her mind further down a darkening funnel, the last of her consciousness about to wink out for good.
Then, like rushing serf at the beach the blanket receded. Stale air washed over her. Finally a coughing fit racked her with fresh pain. In between fits she focused on a familiar face hovering over her. “Serge?”
“That’s a first. A beautiful young thing wakes up asking for my brother.”
Serge’s welcome voice filled her ears, but it didn’t match the lips in front of her.
“Brother, you found us.”
Brother? Of course. On their knees, the two men embraced above her, forming a sheltering tent.
“Gayle. Are you alright?”
“Your lady friend here was about to poke her head into a hot pocket. Singed a bit, but I think she’ll be alright.” Dino grinned, coal dust crinkling around the edges of his eyes.
“Dino.” Serge gripped his brother’s shoulder. “The rest?”
“Ay.” He nodded. “We’re all here. They’re weak. Hell, I’m—”
The air around them split with Eve’s blood-curdling cry as Gayle watched both brothers ripped away from her by the pale, pulpy flesh of the monster she had helped create. The beast whisked over her, and with a sickening thud their bodies collided with the pillar wall. Rebounding from the shadows, Eve’s ghostly figure flailed backwards directly toward her. Gayle rocked onto her shoulder as Eve’s body crashed down beside her.
In bone-chilling slow motion Gayle turned her head and met the monster, eye to exhausted eye. In that instant the two shared a mutual understanding. Clinging to human life by a thread, both were fighting a losing battle. Eve’s upper lip slowly curled, revealing her sharp, yellow teeth. With a low, guttural growl the pallid monster leapt to all fours and darted into the darkness of #4.
The ground shook beneath Gayle, fragments of rock dropping from the mine’s ceiling.
“What the hell—” Dino started, but Serge cut him off.
“We’ve got to go.” Serge gripped Gayle by the wrists, heaving her to her feet.
Her vision swam and popped. “You lead them out. I’ll bring up the—”
She protested, “But—”
“They need your eyes. There’s no time.” Serge nodded to a clump of black, spectral beings while still supporting her weight. The shaft shook again as larger portions of ceiling gave way. “Go.”