“Fire them up, Lidia!”
I gripped the rope with my metal proof gloves and used all of my body weight to pull downwards. The rumbling of gears filled my ears and shook the exterior of the metal shaft I was in.
Jeremy’s voiced echoed as he cheered, “That’s my girl!”
I wiped my brow with the back of my hand, a grin spreading across my face. “How’s she holding up?” I called. My boots clanked against the ladder as I hosted myself towards the opening. Jeremy grabbed my hand and lifted me up effortlessly and closed the shaft. Jeremy’s muscles were the size of my head, making me realize just how strong he was.
Jeremy looked up at the stage lights casting over the town. “They look fine for now. They’re getting a little dim… But I think it’s safe to say we’ll be fine.”
I nodded, squinting up at the blinding radiant lights that over casted the town. Sometimes I forgot how important it is to keep these lights working properly, one mistake could cost us a couple days without being able to see. It would delay everyone’s jobs in town and people would panic. If I really thought about it, this whole town was a lot more fragile than people would think. Gears could get jammed at any moment, ropes could snap, the lights could shatter, this whole town could fall apart without careful supervision.
I sighed as I viewed the scenery. It was… rustic, this town. The smell of smoke always clung to the air. Sometimes the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see the tops of people’s houses. There was never a day when smoke wasn’t being produced from the stone tower and from people’s homes. Always heating up coal and sending them to various houses throughout the town. Without coal, people wouldn’t have anything to put in the fires to keep everyone’s homes warm. It was always cold in the cave.
This town was set up like a stone dome inside this cave. There was no way in or way out of here. I have walked every square inch of this town millions of times, grazing the rocks of the case as I did so. I loved this town, really I did. I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. But sometimes I couldn’t help but feel… trapped.
I peered down, “Hey there, Trent.” I made my way down the ladder and onto the cold cave’s floor.
“Having fun?” He said with one of his famous smiles, he leaned in close and gave me quick peck on the cheek.
I smiled. Trent and I had known each other since we were little kids, like most people in town. But Trent and I were particularly close. Along the way we eventually realized we were in love and that was that. Trent was my one and only, and I felt like I was luckiest person in the cave.
“You bet! Hey how much time do we have before work?” I asked.
Trent glanced at his wrist watch, tapping it slightly. “Err… about an hour. But remember, we’re tutoring the kids about the coal minds.”
I lightly pounded my fist into my palm, “Right! Then I want to head to the library really quick if we have some time.”
Trent smirked, “You’ve already read every book in that beat up library, what could you possibly need in there?”
I was already tugging him along, laughing. “I want to reread the biography of the elders who found this place. And I also want to ask Mr. Fancher if I can check out some books for the kids.”
Mr. Fancher had been the librarian since Trent’s grandparent’s had been alive. He was probably older then the stones in this cave.
“Hello!” I shouted as we entered the library. I was the one of the few visitors of this poor library. There were only about 60 books in this library, mainly about mining and the history of this town. I had officially read all of them last year on my 14th birthday. This library was like my home, I felt safe here. There were so many times I had snuck in here late at night, just to sleep. It was like all of these books were watching over me.
“Mr. Fancher?” I called again.
“Maybe he’s asleep-“Trent started.
I jumped as I heard a door creak, “Hmm?” I heard someone moan. Mr. Fancher.
“Hi there!” I ran up the steel steps to the second floor, approaching the founders of the books cheerfully. His eyes slowly looked at me, his raison skin crinkling as he smiled.
“Ah, Lidia… Welcome back.” He croaked, “What do I owe this pleasure?”
Mr. Fancher was considerably 112 years olds. He had lived to see it all and knew more than all of the minds of the people in town combined. He was the smartest and most interesting man alive, even though he was slowly being reduced to big crinkly raison.
I smiled warmly to him, “Hi there. Trent and I are teaching the kids about the history of the town today and I was wondering if you could recommend any books for us to give them. Oh, and I also want to check out the Biography of the elders again.”
Mr. Fancher nodded and gestured for us to follow him. “Follow me, children.”
Trent and I followed Mr. Fancher downstairs into the library’s cellar. Mr. Fancher walked slowly over to the pile of books and nodded towards them, “Any of those will be good for the children-” Mr. Fancher abruptly burst into a series of wretched sounding coughs.
I softly patted Mr. Fancher’s back and signaled for Trent to get him some water. Trent nodded and hurried over and grabbed a steel cup from Mr. Fancher’s desk and filled it up from the water faucet attached to the stone wall.
“Thank you…” Mr. Fancher croaked as Trent handed him his water.
“No problem, sir.”
Mr. Fancher gulped down his water and pointed to the pile of books. “Like I was saying, any of those will be fine for the children. And of course, you know where the Biography of the elders is. I’ll be upstairs if you need me.”
I nodded a brief thank you, “Of course.” I smiled.
After Mr. Fancher had left, Trent and I sat down by the pile of books and began to look through them.
“Pictures book will work best.” Trent stated.
“Okay, well then we’ll take these three and...” My sentenced trailed off as I noticed a small steel handle sticking out from under Mr. Fancher’s desk.
“Lidia, what is it?” Trent asked.
I crawled over to Mr. Fancher’s desk and examined the handle. “Trent… It looks like a little door under here…”
I heard Trent lift himself onto his feet and hurry over. “Well open it then!”
I smiled and rolled my eyes at Trent’s enthusiasm, “I’m getting to it.” I curled my hand around the handle and pushed the thin steel door open.
“Well?” Trent asked impatiently.
I stuck my hand into the small opening in the floor and managed to pull out a neatly folded piece of paper. I handed it to Trent and tried to dig for more items.
“This is it?” Trent asked.
“I guess so…” I said as I closed the steel door.
Trent unfolded the piece of paper and gazed at its contents. “Holy… Lidia, look at this!” I hurried over to Trent’s side as he kept unfolding the piece of paper.
“It’s a map!” I exclaimed.
Trent handed me one side of the map and we viewed it together.
“What are you two doing?”
Trent and I gasped as we saw Mr. Fancher standing there. A wave of guilt suddenly washed over me.
“We uh…” Trent started.
“I found this hidden under your desk. I saw the small compartment under your desk. I’m very sorry I was snooping.” I folded up the map neatly and handed it back to Mr. Fancher. I looked down at my feet. “I’m sorry.” I repeated quietly.
Mr. Fancher’s face filled with sorrow as he looked at the map. “Do both of you know where this map leads to?”
We both shook our heads. “No sir.”
Mr. Fancher rubbed his eyes with his palm and took a seat. “This map leads up to the surface.”
I frowned. “The surface…?”
“The world above us, children,”
My heart began to pound, “Are you telling us… that there are people and other towns like this?”
He nodded. “Many different towns and cities and-”
“Cities?” Trent questioned.
Mr. Fancher nodded once more. “There is a whole universe above us that I cannot even begin to describe in detail.”
I practically jumped on Mr. Fancher. “But you have too! Mr. Fancher, if there is another town I need to know about it. Are there more people? Different tools? Better water? Mr. Fancher, please!”
Mr. Fancher cupped his raw, cracked hands around my face. “It’s forbidden for me to tell you, my poor girl. And I deeply apologize that you have to live in such a small world, cut off by civilization and sunlight.” Mr. Fancher removed his hands from me and ran them over the maps contents. “But even though I am not allowed to speak of the world above… That does not mean I cannot guide you to discover it yourselves.”
Trent and I looked at Mr. Fancher, confusion filling us.
“We were not designed to live like this…” Mr. Fancher muttered. He shook his head slowly and handed me the map. “You cannot tell a soul about what I have told you today. Understand? This is our secret. Telling others about the surface will get you in very big trouble, my girl.”
I nodded quickly and hugged the map to my chest. “Yes, yes I understand.”
“Good. Come back tomorrow and tell me your decision.”
“Our decision?” Trent said.
Mr. Fancher nodded. “You will understand once you read the map more carefully, now go. You both have a lot of decisions to make.”
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