The Abyss Stretching Below Jason's Feet Seems Endless

October 23, 2007
By Travis Ratcliff, Plano, TX

The abyss stretching below Jason’s feet seems endless, the darkness everywhere, only a small lamp attached to his helmet, illuminating the pitch-black, earthy, walls that confine him in. His essential tools of the trade in hand, he is working both against the rock and to simultaneously balance himself on it. Surrounding him is only the moist, wet, cool, air chilling him to the bone. Jason supports himself on a single black ledge of stone, so loosely separating him between the chasm and life outside of it.
Suddenly the sound of rock crumbling hits him, sending a frigid feeling up his spine much worse then the air could ever create and he slowly begins to feel himself sliding away into the darkness. First it was his utensils that slid off of the over turning stone, then his helmet leaving him immersed in total and complete emptiness, hanging by a thread. He struggles to let loose a scream but there is only silence. Panic and internal chaos overcomes him, trying only to release through his last available means, a burst of sound, yet once more continuing silence is the only thing that finds his ears, piercing him like a knife. The rock very quickly breaks away from the pillar that once supported it and falling, the emptiness devours him.
Jason awoke to a very different darkness then the nightmare he had just visited, the darkness of the early morning, it was time to journey once more into the hell he had just returned from, the earthy grave he knew as the mine. It was a job Jason despised but born into this life as his father was before him, it was the only way he could ever support his family, something the company reminded all the miners frequently. This nightmare however disturbed him more then any other dream before it, touching him deeply to the core, something that frightened him almost as much as the vision itself.
However nothing could be done about fantasies and the entertaining of them only gave more power to the inner demons which plagued him, he simply had to face what was haunting him and go to work as all the other men of the morning shift must do alongside him.
Other then how he had started it, the morning was fairly routine, the workers rode the metal caged elevator into the crust of the earth saying goodbye to the moon and stars above them just as the men of the night returned to the surface. It was a cruel beast, the cage. It alone had the power to give you your freedom from the day’s labor and yet at the same time it was your ball and chain dragging you down below with an equal speed, an uncaring, rusted, foreman.
Entering into the dark he began his work and for several hours all was “well” or at least usual, perhaps not ideal but expected. The men worked away at a deposit of coal that was quickly shrinking, they tear at it with their picks mindlessly, ripping apart at their limbs as they work. Jason had been assigned a special task, one that he dreaded the most and that often prompted nightmares such as the one that had awoken him. Jason was used by the company to test the ground in the most dangerous areas of the cavern. While not his official job it was the purpose he was used for, along with several other men who took turns drawing lots to decide who would go next, Jason had lost. It was made clear to the men that they were certainly not being used for this task, they were instead simply being asked to check for cracks in the designated areas, but all the men knew this was a lie, a lie they could do nothing about without losing their jobs.
It was while carrying out this task that a life changing event happened for Jason, slowly, he crept along the rocky floor, prodding with his foot at the unstable areas in need of man made support, then he felt something gut wrenchingly familiar and horrible, the floor below him was giving way.
Suddenly confused and terrified, he slowly felt himself falling back, and as he did he found himself thinking, or perhaps, convincing himself to believe, for at least one moment he was in his dream once again, he closed his eyes hoping he would find himself, awake, and in his bed warm and haunted by the surreal happenings when he opened them.
Opening them once again however he found himself no place he would have ever expected to have been. Sitting on a bench in a park on a green spring day, where in front of him on a stone table a chessboard rested, set for a game, and a bench across from it. Jason began studying the board. He had learned to play at an early age, taught by his father, it was a rare game to find in the small mining town as the other men preferred a simpler set of rules, such as checkers, but his father was not one of them, games like checkers bored him and so he had taught his son the game his father before him had taught him, chess.
Looking up from the board, as if summoned up by his memory, Jason saw the ragged figure of his father now sitting calmly across from him.
“Hello son, bump your head?”
Jason sat there for a moment too shocked to speak, his father had been killed fifteen years ago in a mining accident.

“Dad? Am I..?” Jason trailed off unable to bring himself to complete his thought, even though his heart was pounding, he was not convinced he still had a heart.

“Dead? Not yet no, we don’t have much time however so lets get started.” Confused Jason looked up at his father for some explanation of what was going on here, his father only responded with moving one of the pieces on the board a few squares.

“How did I get here? How did you get here? What is going on?” Jason was now filled with anger at the raw confusion he felt regarding the entire situation. He couldn’t stand this, he either wanted death and release from his enslavement or a simple return to life and to the godforsaken path he had been walking, but not to be trapped with the man who had loved the very thing Jason now woke up to with hatred and pain every morning. His father had loved the mines, it was a job he had been very good at, and one he didn’t mind dieing for.

“You fell and hit your head, now you’re here, and it’s your move.”
That patient and familiar voice angered Jason even more, and he wasn’t even certain why, he had missed his father for a very long time. Jason made a move on the board. For a while they moved the pieces in silence then Jason began to speak.

“You loved that mine, what did you see in it, I hate it now.”

“I suppose it takes a certain type of person to…”

“To walk into their grave every day, to give up seeing the sunlight except on weekends?” Jason’s anger was starting to emerge as he spoke.

“Well obviously its not the type of job for you then.” He let out a sigh, continuing to play the game. This little comment only angered Jason more.

“What other choice do I have? No one ever leaves the company, where else could I go, how else could I provide for my family?” Jason’s father looked up from the board and straight into his son’s eyes.

“In life, there are always other roads to walk down, sometimes they are just buried by the brush and you have to look a little bit harder to see them, you don’t always have to keep moving in the same direction.” In that moment Jason’s father moved one more piece, smiled, and simply said: “Checkmate.”

Jason awoke to find himself in a hospital room, the warmest and happiest he had felt in a long time. His heart was beating quickly as he reached for the pad and pencil beside his bed, the tools he would use to sketch out a plan, the new plan for his life.

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