When the Earth Cries
It was in the fall of last year that with a tired body and empty stomach that I first visited the town of Surwood. I had been travelling the open road for some time now. I drove my little green Honda from town to town, staying in inns or shelters or, sometimes, in the cramped backseat of the car, my trunk full of spare blankets and pillows everywhere I went.
My GPS sounded its robotic voice at me as I turned my car into the dirt parking lot of the local Bed and Breakfast. I stared through my car window at the house's crumbling pale blue walls. Not to say the building wasn’t homely. its wear and tear brought a sense of use, of being lived in. My tires kicked up a small cloud of dirt as I slid my gear to park. A red hen greeted me by pecking at the dirt near my boots as I stepped out of the car, before being startled by my movements and running back to rejoin her flock which was closer to the house.
I brought myself up to the dark grey front door and and stepped inside, a bell ringing as I opened the it. I was greeted by a staircase to the upper floor and a hallway to the side of it, pictures of smiling people hung along the wall.There were no real people in sight. A voice came suddenly from the doorway to my right. "Just come on in here!" It yelled joyfully. Peaking my head into the yellow room, I could see now that the voice belonged to a plump older woman sitting at a desk, her mousey hair done up in a messy bun. She smiled intently at me as I walked over to her.
"Hi, um, do you have any rooms available? I just got into town."
"What's your name, hun?" She asked, smiling before typing something into her computer.
"Jan. Jan Nickleson." I answered. The woman squinted at her screen.
"Hmmm... oh, here we are! Got somethin’ right upstairs." She exclaimed before reaching across the desk to hand me a small silver key.
"What's goin' on in there, Martha?" Came another unseen voice, this time a man's, from the adjacent room. He strolled into the room to join us, his heavy boots stomping hard on the ground as he came. He was of a fuller frame and had a bushy dark brown mustache sitting on his lip.
"Howdy." He said, looking at me and smiling slightly while giving a nod. I nodded once back to him and grabbed my key.
"It's just upstairs, dear, first door on the right." Martha told me kindly as I started walking back to the doorway I had come through.
"Thanks." I replied as I exited the room and started walking up the stairs.
The room was rustic, a large quilt lying centered on the bed with a few floral paintings hanging and what looked like handmade wooden shelves on either wall. With heavy limbs I stalked over the the mattress and threw myself down upon it, worn from my long day of travelling the open road. It was not long before the dark calm of sleep consumed me.
I awoke with a start to the feelings of harsh vibrations in the room around me. The dull hum of the earthquake sounded in my ears and I struggled through my groggy state to get out of the shaking bed. But before I was able to lift the blankets the earthquake stopped just as suddenly as it had started. Dazedly I stumbled out of bed, still in my night clothes, rubbing my eyes as I walked quickly to the door.
“What was that?” I called weakly over the upstairs balcony.
“Oh, don’t you mind the shakin’ dear, that’s just the miners.” Responded Martha from downstairs, coming into view at the bottom of the staircase. “Quakes like that happen all the time ‘round here. Nothin’ to get worried over.” She continued as I descended to meet her. “Come on, let’s get some breakfast in you.”
We made our way into the kitchen, myself trailing behind Martha as I did not actually know where the kitchen was yet. As soon as I sat down at the round table a booming whine sounded outside, seeming to come from everywhere at once. It was so loud that it startled the birds off of the trees and the ground seemed to shake once more. It was like no whine I’d ever heard before.
“Oh,” Martha said as soon as the noise had ceased. “That must be one of Dave’s animals down on the farm. Always howlin’ and whinin’. I don’t know what he gets up to down there.”
Something about this didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was the proximity of the whine to last night’s earthquakes. Perhaps it was the hint of nerves in Martha’s voice as she said this. I stared out of the checkered curtains of the kitchen window, squinting my eyes suspiciously in search for… Something. As I began to feel Martha’s eyes on me I snapped my head away from the window and back to breakfast, which she had now put in front of me on the red tablecloth. French toast and maple syrup.
“Thanks.” I muttered quietly, still a bit distracted, as I picked up my fork and began shoveling food into my mouth.
“Think nothin’ of it.” She replied, smiling at me before walking out of the room. I ate my french toast in silence but, although Martha did not come back in the room, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I cleaned my plate.
I decided to go down to Dave’s farm and investigate for myself, that day. I just couldn’t seem to let the incident this morning go, and though there was nothing to disprove what Martha had said, something about the whole situation just didn’t feel right.
I arrived at the farm that afternoon and parked my car in a dirt lot similar to the one from the bed and breakfast. I watched who I presumed to be Dave saunter slowly over to me in a way only a farmer could. I stepped out of my car, meeting his gaze across the metal roof.
“What’s your business?” He said, slow and somber through his southern drawl, his facial expression unchanging and his features old and worn. A lone toothpick was protruding from his wrinkled mouth, moving along with his lips as he spoke to me. “You from the city? Look it,” He said as his eyes roved over me and landed on my short curly brown hair.
“No.” I replied, my face kept as expressionless as his and my voice steady and unwavering. “I have to ask you about your animals.”
“What about em’?” Dave responded with the same dispassionate voice he spoke in the first time.
“Last night,” I started, walking around the front of my car to face him as I spoke. “Did any of them make a loud whining noise?”
“Not that I heard,” He said slowly. Something about his demeanor seemed to change ever so slightly, his manners suddenly somehow even more distant and suspicious than before. “Everythin’ was quiet last night. I think you’re hearin’ thing, city girl.” He continued after a moment.
I looked briefly to my left as I heard the soft bleat of sheep in the distance. I could feel Dave’s eyes on me still, dully piercing into me as I watched the lambs run after their mothers in the green pasture.
“Mm.” I muttered lowly before turning my head back to face Dave. “Guess I’ll be going then.”
I walked back around my car to the driver’s side and opened the door. Looking back up at Dave one more time, our eyes met and a flash of fear flowed through me as Dave starred, unwavering and silent. My hands shook only faintly when I turned the keys in my ignition.
I did not want to go back to the Bed and Breakfast.
Once I left Dave’s farm I drove around town for a while, looking for anything to distract my wandering mind. At one point I drove past the mine that Martha must have been talking about. Construction equipment rose like castles above the bare earth around them, although everything was made hard to see by the tall fences around the property. I pondered the sight as I drove mindlessly down the long forested streets of Surwood. Once the sun began to go down I decided to stop at a gas station for water and cigarettes.
“Howdy!” Said the strangely cheerful teenager behind the register as I walked up to her, two large water bottles and a pack of Newports in my arms. Dumping everything onto the grimey countertop, I went to pull my wallet out of my pocket. As I sifted through my cash looking fervently for a twenty, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the lottery ticket machines mounted on either side of the register had began to vibrate slightly. Within seconds the whole store was rumbling along with them. One of my water bottles fell over and rolled off the counter.
The shaking began to fade and I opened my mouth to speak to the clerk but was cut off by a deafening howl before I could get any words out. It was louder than the whine this morning, bellowing from everywhere at once and digging completely into my head. I watched the cashier's face as the noise drew on, her expression changing from the friendly face of before to something much more somber and anxious.
"My, all that minin' they're doin' down there must be disturbin' the coyotes." She drawled, her voice now sounding just a bit too rushed to be nonchalant. "I swear, those little buggers have the loudest howl you've ever heard. Oh," She said as she looked at my water bottles and remembered our transaction, her demeanor going immediately back to the overly-friendly sales clerk I had met just minutes ago. "That'll be $7.25 please."
She handed me back my change before I walked stiffly out of the store. My suspicions had been raised even higher and I could no longer deny that something was going on. I got in my car and drove back to where I had passed by the mines earlier that day.
It was a short drive from the convenience store. Everything in this town was a short drive from everything else. The entrance to the place was a large gate lined with green plastic strips to keep visitors from seeing through. To the side of the gate was a windowed box with a security guard sitting in it. Seeing no parking lot, I drove onto the dirt in front of the gate and parked near the trees where the gate became fence and disappeared into the woods. I got out of the car and walked up to the box, the guard not bothering to look in my direction in favor of looking at the book in his lap.
"Excuse me," I uttered, rapping my knuckles against the plexiglass window of the security stand. The guard looked lazily up from his book but didn't say anything as he stared blankly at me. "Is there any way I could get in there? Or speak to the manager? I'm, um..." I found myself lost for words as my brain tried desperately to think of some plausible excuse as to why I might want to go inside the mining site, besides that I had a funny feeling about it. "I'm new to town, and I just want to make sure that everything you're doing here is safe. I've got a little girl, you know, and I, uh, don't want her growing up next to some mysterious mining site that may or may not be dangerous."
Even as I said it I knew it was so unconvincing that I wanted to call bullshit on myself. But the guard just stared at me for a moment before moving his hand slowly to his radio. Pressing down a red button, he muttered idly into it, "Mr. Jervich, I've got a lady out here asking to see you. Says something about her kid’s in danger." He then nodded at me once before returning his attention back down to his book.
After about a minute I heard a buzzer sound as the gate began to whirl into motion. Out of it stepped a short stocky middle aged man, with slicked back hair and a blazer worn over his collared shirt and khakis.
"Hello," He said stiffly, holding his hand out. I reached out to meet him and we shook hands as he muttered "Joe Jervich."
He looked me dead in the eye when he introduced himself and, caught slightly off guard, I stuttered out "Jane Nickleson."
Our hands left each other and he folded his arms over his chest. "So, what’s the problem?" He said seriously as my brain struggled to remember my made up story from a few minutes ago. "Yes, uh, you see I just moved here, and I've got a kid, and I just wanted to make sure this whole operation is, y'know, safe. For my kid." I was a horrible liar. And the unwavering gaze of Mr. Jervich certainly didn't help ease my nerves as I told my story.
"I can assure you, ma'am that everything we're doing here is safe. We've been inspected by the town and I promise you we're taking every safety precaution possible. You're child is one hundred percent safe as long as they don't somehow wander in."
I took in his statement before noticing that the gate was still slightly ajar. I tilted my body slightly in an attempt to see inside but Jervich was not happy with this, as he quickly pushed the gate fully shut behind him.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I really can't let you in there. Lots of dangerous equipment and such, and I really can't have anything distracting my miners, we're doing some important work tonight. Now, if everything is in order, I have a lot of work to do." He nodded towards me in parting and turned around to walk back inside the gate. He stood there for a moment, waiting for the gate to open, and when it didn't he let out a loud cough which caused the security guard to look up from his book and then press a button on the inside of his box. The buzzer rang again and Jervich was gone.
I stared for a minute at the plastic lined gate before turning and walking back towards my car. Jervich's behavior had only made me more curious. What was in there that he didn't want me to see? Why was he so quick to close the gate? Questions plagued my mind as I got into the driver's seat, sitting for a moment before inserting my keys and turning my car on.
I had to know what was over those tall fences. I decided that I would wait until Jervich left for the night, if he even left for the night, and attempt to sneak in after that. I pulled out of the dirt lot and drove my car a bit down the road, then turned around in another parking lot and headed back towards the mining base. This time I pulled my car over on the side of the road farther away from the site, but close enough so that I could see if anyone left. I was decently sure that the guard would not notice me.
I sat in my car like that for a long time, eating stale Pringles I had in the back. I watched as all the miners left the site, one by one, but none of the drivers were Jervich. I tried to duck down as they passed my car on the side of the road, but I didn't think any of them were all that concerned with me.
I sat like that, waiting, for hours. Finally I watched as another car pulled out of the gate. Jervich. The car thankfully turned out of the entrance in the direction opposite me. I waited a few more minutes after Jervich left to make sure the coast was truly clear.
I crept up to the colossal gate as quietly as I could manage. The gate was still as locked as it had been before. The guard was still there, but now he was asleep, his book still open in his lap. Walking over to the security box, I opened the door slowly, carefully, until I was able to stick my head in and inspect just how asleep the guard was. I opened the door the rest of the way, but the guard didn't budge.
I stepped fully into the small room, spotting the button to open the gate. Still cautious, I leaned slowly over the guard to reach the button on the other side. I held my breath as I stretched carefully over his sleeping body. Finally my fingers brushed the bright red button and pushed it down before standing back up straight.
The buzzer rang and the gate began to move. I flinched at the loudness of it, and I froze as the guard began to shift a bit. Then he stopped. I let out the breath I’d been holding and left the box, closing the door softly behind me as I walked up to the now open gate. I made sure not to let the gate door close as I stepped inside the site.
It didn't look too different from any other mining site. It was large, expansive, and construction equipment littered the land. Before I had seen tall floodlights lighting up the place but now it was almost completely dark save for a few dim lights hanging close to the gate. I walked farther in and noticed that the mine itself was a bit farther back. All I could see of it was a giant black hole in the ground, surrounded by mechanical equipment.
I looked over my shoulder quickly to make sure no one was there before setting off to get a closer look. As I neared the giant hole the air began to smell foul, like something rotting. Anxiety began to build up in my chest. I couldn't for the life of my tell why, but I scrunched up my nose and continued on. The rotting stench hung around me.
My boots were dirtied when I finally arrived at the edge of the hole. The smell was the worst here, so horrid that I had to pinch my nose shut as I took one final step forward to peek over into the abyss.
I heard a squishing sound come from under my boot as soon as I planted my foot on the ground. Dread filled me suddenly as I pointed my flashlight down to see what I had stepped in. It was fleshy, it appeared to be some kind of tube-like organ. I quickly withdrew my foot and took a step back. I had a horrible feeling now, something terrible was happening here. Something terrible was happening and I didn’t know what. But I knew I had to see what was in that hole.
Stepping around the organ this time, I made my way back to the very edge. I paused for a moment before sucking in one large breath and holding it while I held out my flashlight over the mine.
The horrible anxious feeling that had gripped me in the previous moments multiplied tenfold as I gazed into that dreaded hole. I finally knew where the rotting flesh smell was coming from. It went down farther than I could see, its walls appearing to be coated in flesh. Red, putrid, veiny, rotting flesh. The only part that was not flesh was a layer at the top of the mine made of dirt and then what I could only assume was a layer of bone. Not of various bones buried beneath the earth, but one solid wall of bone.
I almost dropped the phone from my hand in my haste to step back from the edge of the mine. I felt a wave of nausea course through my body as I emptied the contents of my stomach onto the cold, dry dirt, made only worse by the rancid smell. My mind was racing a million miles a minute trying to comprehend the sight I had just seen. I knelt over as I felt more bile fall from my lips.
As I knelt I suddenly heard the crunch of rocks under a shoe behind me. I swung my head around, my heart racing all the while. Above me stood Jervich, holding a shiny metal pipe above his head, ready to swing. I swiftly rolled out of the way but the pipe caught me on the calf as it came down. Jervich was terrifying, his face expressionless as he brutally slammed the rod down onto the hard earth.
My stomach still lurching, I lifted myself off of the ground and took off running towards the gate, Jervich running unwaveringly after me. I was running so fast that I tripped over my own feet, but I was able to pick myself back up before he caught up to me. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me until I reached the entrance. Once there I slowed to a stop only to have my stomach drop as I beheld the closed gate.
I whipped my head around to see Jervich was almost upon me. As I looked desperately around my eyes landed on the fence to my right and I made a mad dash in that direction. I scanned wildly along the perimeter of the fence until I spotted an opening, a bending of the chainlink that I could squeeze my frame through. I dropped down with a thud and started to push myself through the opening, metal scraping my sides in the process.
Jervich hit the fence just as I pulled the last of my legs out and stood up on the other side. I immediately took off for my car, dodging trees and snapping twigs as I bolted through the dark woods. My breath pounded against my lungs as I struggled to inhale. After what felt like hours I finally came out of the trees, my car just a few yards down the road. I ran for it, slamming the driver side door behind me as I fell into my seat. My hands shook madly as I tried to jam the keys in, eventually working after a few attempts.
As soon as I heard the engine kick into life I slammed my foot on the gas and sped out of there, kicking up a cloud of dirt in my wake. As I passed by the gate I saw Jervich, pipe in hand, just standing there in the dirt lot. His head followed me as I sped off into the distance.
I didn’t stop driving for a long time after that.