The third night in the historic log cabin, I awoke with a jolt. Creaking. Tapping.
“Just the old logs settling,” I told myself, but in the next beat, thought, “This place was built in 1873–shouldn’t it be settled by now?!”
(The ground shifts imperceptibly beneath our beds . An unsettling, and resettling…a dance between the earth and the manmade)
The past two nights had been peaceful, with all of us sleeping soundly in the wooded darkness and the freedom from traffic, train horns, and neighbors.
Scratching. Scraping. I froze, all my senses on edge. A jingling of the dog’s collar, and then absolute silence.
(Sometimes the unsettling releases long-buried creatures from the deep)
“The dog would bark if someone were trying to break in,” I reassured myself, turning over and trying to fall back asleep.
A knock on wood, sharp. My husband sat up straight in bed next to me, and not realizing I was awake, quietly got out of bed and felt his way down the pitch-dark, steep wooden steps leading from the loft to the living area below.
“He’ll check it out,” I felt reassured but was poised to grab my phone just in case (there was no reception this deep in the woods). Nothing. The minutes ticked by without any noise at all, and my husband did not return to bed.
I tried not to drift back off to sleep in the silence and inky darkness, straining my ears for sounds of my husband coming back to bed, but my eyes and limbs were so heavy. With a sense of growing dread, I finally forced myself to get out of bed as quietly as I could. I crept down the steep wooden stairs, but how many were there?! Surely by now, I should be at the bottom of the staircase.
I descended for an eternity, and the growing dampness and chill around me became palpable. Putting my hand out to touch the wall, I felt clammy, slippery mud instead of firm wall. My knees went weak and I began to tremble, my brain shutting down but for the most basic of survival functions. Ahead, flickering lights and the sounds of digging and hammering–lanterns and shovels and pick-axes, I now saw, being wielded by transparent workmen whose clothes and faces were covered in grime. Digging, digging, digging, prying, prising, throwing lumpy black rocks into carts on old wooden tracks.
Ahead, the dog wagging his tail near an open pit roughly the size of a grave, and my husband, smiling and beckoning to it. The transparent men surrounding it were digging, digging….
Finding my voice at last, I screamed, but the mud absorbed my cries like a sponge before all went, again, silent.
(The sheriff’s press release notes read, “There were no signs of struggle. The couple and their dog were found as if peacefully asleep. At this time, we believe there was a tragic hydrogen sulfide leak from the long-abandoned lead mine that tunneled underneath the structure. Law enforcement responding to the scene detected a characteristic sulfur odor. For now, the property is strictly quarantined until the hazmat team can ensure there’s no further danger to human life or health. I have no more information at this time.”
Reporter 1: “How do you think this gas entered the home from underground?”
Sheriff: “Possibly from a crack in the stone foundation near the structure of the chimney. Once the site is cleared, our forensics team will make a formal investigation of exactly how this accident occurred. As I’m sure you know, there are abandoned mines all over this area. In spite of the efforts made to find them all, sometimes in the case of these heavily-wooded, remote areas…well, they still turn up and surprise us.”
Reporter 2: “Do you think recent fracking in the area may have released the gas trapped in this old mine?”
Sheriff: At this time, we have no reason to believe that is the case. Black Zephyr Corporation is the only one fracking in the area right now, and they have assured us they’ve had no reports of accidents.
Reporter 3: “Many believe that the sulfur odor also indicates the manifestation of a ghost or spirit. Is this a possibility you and your department would consider?”
Sheriff: “Who is this woman? How did she get press credentials? Excuse me, I’m finished taking questions for now.”)
(The ground shifts beneath our feet, unsettling and resettling. A dance between damp earth and the built environment. Sometimes, the dance is fractured, and an old mine is disturbed, releasing long-buried creatures from the deep…)
Margaret King is a Wisconsin author who enjoys penning poetry, short stories, and novellas. Her recent work has appeared in Ghost City Press, Bombus Press, and Mojave He(art) Review. She is also the author of the novella Fire Under Water.