A series of grunts and sandy scrapes told Jim that whoever had answered him was coming closer, and fast. Using the phone as a flashlight, he held it up to see his approaching savior. The phone clattered to the stone floor when a one foot tall critter dropped into the tunnel’s entrance, scaring Jim into a girlish scream that bounced through the shaft. He quickly retrieved the phone and pointed it towards the opening. The upright, toadish, creature raised disproportionately long arms to shield its face.
“Mind shutting that off please?” it said politely. Jim continued to stare. He couldn’t stop looking at the thing. It wore no clothes, but it’s skin was mottled grey and brown like camouflage. It’s face was remarkable human, except for the extremely large yellow eyes that squinted at him.
“At least point it away, I’m not used to the light.” it said. Jim snapped out of his stupor and directed the screen up, but not off.
“Thank you. It’s been some time since I’ve seen a man in this mine.” Holding out its hand, he introduced himself. “Name’s Theodore. Like the president.”
Jim hesitated, not sure if the thing was a figment of his imagination or something else. He decided to play along in the hopes that Theodore was real and could actually be of some help. When his hand gripped Theodore’s tiny one he almost squealed and pulled back. The skin was dry and rough on his hand, and his fingers had incredibly long tapered tips. Sheila and he had gone to the zoo for their anniversary last year and he remembered the spider monkey’s hands and feet looking like Theodore’s. Better for climbing, he guessed.
“I’m Jim… I don’t want to be rude, but what are you?”
“Ever heard of a Knocker?”
“No. I’ve heard of a Tommyknocker though. There’s a book by the name.”
“Tommyknocker’s a spirit; I’m no ghost. Can you shake a ghost’s hand like a gentleman?, No you can’t. I’m a knocker, originally came from Wales. My damn Cousin Jack talked me into stowing away with him in some equipment. Ended up here after the gold rush. All the gold you could eat, he says. Bugger got himself blasted six months after we get here. Now there’s nobody and no gold.” Theodore sits against the wall opposite Jim and crosses his arms.
“That sounds incredibly lonely. Theodore, did you know there’s a gold mine about two miles up the road?” he asks with a grimace.
Theodore sighs loudly, “Call me Theo. I’m actually glad I never knew. I would’ve killed myself trying to get there. Nights the only time I can be on the surface, and I can’t walk two miles in one night. Not to mention the coyotes. I’m easy pickings for those quick bastards.” Jim felt bad for bringing it up, but then he had a thought.
“Hey, if you help me get out, I can take you to the other mine. At least you’d have people around and gold to eat. By the way, how much gold do you need to eat?” Jim didn’t want to offer all his riches if he didn’t have to.
“A nugget would hold me a few years. I’ve been shrinking a long while now. Used to be twice as tall. Gold builds my body up, but all that’s left are these disgusting, useless crystals and minerals. With what’s here I slowly lose grains of myself every day. Without gold at my core, I crumble away. Nothing but dust.”
Jim swallowed hard and reached into the front pocket of his overalls. He felt around for the smallest piece he could find. It was still more than he wanted to give up, but gold did him no good if he was dead in a mine. He tossed the nugget at Theo, who caught it and smelled it like it was pure formed heaven. “Really?, I can eat it?”
As much as it pained him, Jim nodded yes, then watched as the Knocker swirled the rock in his mouth, while doing a shuffling dance with the occasional butt wiggle. “Mmm. Mm. Mmm!” he shouted in joy.
Jim stopped smiling when he noticed a green glow that came from Theo’s skin. It was growing stronger, so much that it completely lit the tunnel. Jim turned off his phone and interrupted his little friend. “Um, Theo? You seem to be glowing.”
He blinked his giant eyes that now looked neon green at Jim, “Yes, I’m sure I am.” Jim wasn’t going to be worried if he wasn’t. It was convenient for him at least, now the phone battery wouldn’t get worn down from using the screen’s light.
Feeling like an honest to goodness old man, Jim groaned as he pushed himself up to he feet. His left leg was beginning to swell a lot from the knee down. He was no doctor, but he knew that it wasn’t a good sign.
“What would you suggest we do to get me out of here.” Jim was ready to get moving, before he began to feel worse. Theo looked at him for a second then down to his leg, “Climbing out the shaft’s not going to work, looks like we’ll have to take the long route.” Jim didn’t like the sound of “the long route” but if that was the quickest way then he would do it. Theo motioned for him to follow down the dark tunnel. At least it wouldn’t be hard to keep track of the little guy with him glowing like a nightlight.
Only five minutes went by before Jim got to wondering, “So Theo? Are you some kind of alien?”
Theo looked back and gave him a funny smile. “I’m not a space alien, my species was here long before humans. Didn’t take you long to muck it all up, did it? Ah well, not your doing really. It was fun while it lasted though. There was a time during the gold rush that I stood two and a half feet tall. Can you imagine?.. It was nice.” He looked ahead once more, a little less jovially and Jim thought it may be best to keep his questions to himself. Instead, he told Theo about his wife, and their life in the desert. Theo seemed to love any story that included Gus, Jim’s labrador. Theo told him about how he would ride the miner’s dogs through the tunnels. Racing to see who could make it out the fastest.
Jim had no idea how much time went by while they talked, but eventually they came to a collapsed area of the mine. Theo told him to have a nap and he would clear the rubble away. Jim didn’t put up a fight, he collapsed on the hard tunnel floor, closed his eyes and prayed nothing crawled on him while he slept.