Time passed swiftly in the mines. Darkness filled the tunnels, broken only by the faint light thrown off by his team's lantern. It offered them just enough light to work by and little more. The passage of time was marked only by the whistles of the work bells. They echoed faintly through the tunnels, barely audible this deep, but he always recognized them. His entire life seemed to be defined by whistles.
The rumbling started seconds after the midday whistle. At first he thought it was just his stomach, but then it grew louder.
One of his fellow miners, Tomas, looked up toward the ceiling as loose stones clattered to the floor. First just one or two, and then more, falling like rain around them.
Someone shouted. The men dropped their pickaxes.
A falling stone knocked the lantern over. It flared once, brightly, before going out, enough to illuminate the cracks crawling up the tunnel walls.
Screams echoed through the mine. More and more voices rose to join the chorus, but not Eli's. He was too afraid to scream.
Darkness engulfed them. He knew, logically, that he should move. He should be running, like the others, toward the surface, toward air and safety, but his feet wouldn't move. His head hurt. There was a buzzing in his head, like a thousand bees. It drowned out the sound of the earth trembling around them.
The tunnels were crumbling. Every miner dreaded the day it would happen to them, but Eli had been fortunate enough that it'd never happened in the five years he'd been working the mines. Until now. Men would die.
Eli was going to die in the mines, just like his father had, and then his family would be left alone with no one to look out for them. His mother wouldn't take it well. There was a good chance the shock would kill her.
He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't die.