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The Mountain MAG
John stared out the window. The sun was trying with all its might to rise, like a drunk stuck between slumber and the cruel reality of waking. It was 4:47 a.m.; he would be on time today.
His decrepit truck bounced up the mountain pass as so many had before him. The mine was beginning to peek over the incline and a feeling of dread passed over him as it always did when he approached his place of work.
He was born here in Sodom, West Virginia, another quiet mountain town destroyed by the discovery of that precious ore in its heart. It was all he had ever known. As a child he had played on the hillside, digging through the plundered land for arrowheads or whatever else appeared. He grew up, played baseball, found and lost love and lived his life the best he knew how. Now he was 39 and stuck in the same excruciating rhythm his father had once been.
He pulled into his spot and stepped out, heading for the door. Inside, he grabbed his hard hat and stepped into the elevator in one fluid motion. He had learned to enjoy the ride down, the layers of earth passing upward like a flock of birds rising with the breeze. When the elevator reached the bottom, he stepped out, ducking to avoid the overhanging rock wall, and began another day. He worked his hours and when the bell rang, he headed back to the elevator. When he reached the top, he replaced his hat on the rack and walked out the door.
Stepping into his truck, he sat, exhausted. He looked at his black hands, covered in the same soot as the rest of the town and his life, and screamed. He could not live like this anymore, controlled by bells and timers, living from paycheck to paycheck and never changing. He had no money but decided then and there that he would not be returning to Powder River Coal.
Starting his truck, he took off for home. He watched the land flow underneath him, the tired houses and stores passing in a blur. He saw a woman in a red apron standing outside the gas station, smoking and having what appeared to be a fantastic conversation with another woman dressed in an identical outfit. He slowed almost to a stop across the street and watched them. He wondered how they could be so content, enjoying themselves while their lives slipped away. He felt disgusted by them - they became the avatar for everything he hated about his life and Sodom. Death, he thought, had to be better than contentment with this town. He passed, watching them until the strain on his fatigued neck became too great.
When he got home, he placed his keys with the Powder River insignia on the table. He dug through his closet until he found what he was looking for - a revolver his father had given him. I could pawn it, he thought. It should be worth enough to get some and a hotel room. He tucked it in the back of his pants and began packing.
When he threw his bag in the bed of the truck, he realized he had no idea where he was headed. He had a cousin who worked as a janitor for a middle school up in Richmond, that seemed his only choice. It won’t be much, he thought, but it must be better than this. He started his truck and pulled away, watching as the life he knew disappeared.
Approaching town, he realized he wouldn’t make it to Richmond, so he filled his tank and was reminded by his growling stomach that he had not eaten since breakfast. He stepped inside and spotted some powdered doughnuts. He grabbed them, then headed to the fridge for milk. He noticed that the woman behind the counter was the same one he had watched on his way home from work. From this distance he could see her tar-stained teeth and mustache over her lip. He was even more repulsed than before.
“That’ll be $27.76, sir,” her voice squawked like a goose. He pulled out two crumpled bills, a twenty and a five. He glanced up to see the cashier’s lips pulled tight against her teeth; she too had realized that his funds were inadequate.
“Do you think maybe I could just pay for the rest of this later?”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to put something back.”
“Ma’am, please, I’m very hungry,
“Sir, you’ll have to put something back.”
“Son of a b--ch.” He grabbed the doughnuts and threw them behind him.
The cashier crouched behind the counter, whimpering, “Look, I’m sorry.”
He turned to pick up the doughnuts and at the same time, the cashier saw the gun protruding from the back of his pants.
“Oh, my God!”
As the cashier recoiled, John realized why she was screaming. She reached for the phone, then for something else. He pulled the gun out of his pants, cocked the trigger, and placed it directly in line with her temple.
“Stop, quit moving, ” John said.
“Please. Please, no, ” the cashier was hysterical with fear.
“Aw, s---. Okay, just, just quit crying, okay?”
“Oh God, oh Lord, please, please, no.” Her hysteria was increasing.
“I said stop. Quit crying.” John’s head began to hurt; he never handled stress well. He rubbed his temple with his left hand, while his right struggled to keep the pistol focused on her. “I just need some time to figure out what I’m going to do, okay? What the hell am I going to do?” John was becoming increasingly angry with the cashier’s moaning and begging.
Then, he heard the door swing open and turned. The shotgun’s blast caught him in the chest and he was knocked back. He twisted and landed flat on his front. His face slapped as it hit the cold tile, and he wondered how much he would make working in Richmond.