First day on the job

First day on the job

Yeah, the first day in the bit mines is always the hardest.

You get up hours before dawn and only the hint of morning light is breathing in the eastern sky. The air is crisp and cold – burning the lungs and numbing the fingers.  As each person shuffles in from their homes through the main gates – each one carrying the hardened skin, dull eyes, and protective gruff in their voice earned over years of watching friends and relatives hurt, broken or buried alive in these mines.

The new kid joins the others with wild eyes of expectation flashing. The older guys try not to pay any attention – but they knew their first days too – so many days ago. Now hardened by the forge of this brutal work, they mutter quiet words of ‘greenhorn’, ‘kid’, and ‘rookie’ under their breath, but don’t make eye contact.

The kid gets squeezed by the crowd of men into a group that has formed an indistinguishable line waiting at the entrance of a scrap-metal elevator.  Twenty get on the post-apocalyptic cage at a time.  The doors scrape and smash shut, and the tired machinery jolts them down through a hole brutally dynamited and violated through bare bit walls.

Nobody talks. You only hear the shuffling of worn shoes speaking to the gravel and the odd cough as that morning cigarette kicks in.  The men disappear into darkened hole with the scrape of metal; the cables popping and grinding as they work like teeth gnashing at bread. The grinding stops, and the process reverses.  The empty elevator crashes to a stop back at the top from the darkness below only minutes later.  It’s like a horrible machine that carries groups of men to be chewed up, and then comes back for more like some sick, demonic conveyor belt.

As the kid gets closer to the elevator, the men push in and he sees their tattered, layered clothes. He sees flannel colors through the holes in their jackets – sometimes all the way down to overalls.  Original colors can barely be discerned by even the most careful observation.  Everything is covered in bit ash, machine grease, sweat and blood wiped from foreheads, fingers, and friends. These are the clothes that have been singed by hell and then brought the occupant back from some Dantian voyage through the 7 circles.

He is pushed forward by the mob of men closest to the rusty cage when it returns from the depths, fresh from dumping its cargo of flesh into the hole.  He smells the electric brine of the raw ore flowing up from the square chasm. He can see through the weld cracks that the shaft disappears unknown hundreds of feet into the sightless depths below. When the doors of the elevator scrape and smash closed, the helmets of the coughing, snorting men sway in unison as they jolt to a start. The kid realizes the gravity of where he is and shudders. This is all blood, sweat, and tears. Blood, sweat and tears…

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