Jim awoke slowly, causing his mind to intermix dreams with reality. There was a glowing gremlin sitting on his stomach, while his chest was spread wide open and the gremlin dug around, searching for his heart. Jim pulled himself away from the gremlin with a shout and was able to wake enough to perceive that his chest was not actually flayed open. The monster he had imagined was only Theo.
Realization struck. Theo had been digging his pointy little fingers around in the front pocket of his overalls. Where the gold was.
“You little shit. You were stealing from me!” Jim held a hand protectively over his pocket. He looked at Theo’s face. He was brighter and honestly looked a bit high. There was no remorse in his eyes.
“Your all strung out. What do you have to say for yourself?” Jim asked while counting his remaining nuggets. Three! The little bugger had eaten three large pieces of gold.
Theo shrugged a mottled gray shoulder, “I could smell the gold, it was too.. Mmm… It smells so delicious.” His tiny button nose kept twitching towards Jim’s chest. In response, Jim crossed his arms over the gold.
Theo walked to the tunnel opening that he had fully cleared, showing all his hard work. “I get hungry when I work. There was a lot for me to move, I went dim and didn’t think you would mind if I had just a nibble.”
“A nibble! You ate three of my biggest nuggets.” Jim waited to hear a sorry.
“Not at first.” The small guy walked slowly away, leaving Jim in the dark if he didn’t follow.
“Guess that’s all then. Nice! ” he grumbled and pulled himself up onto his good leg. Jim was scared to put his full weight on it. The radiating heat and swelling in his calf meant that infection had surely set in. The stiffness went all the way up to his hip. Ignoring the agony the best he could, he used the rough wall for support and hobbled along. Time was of the essence for Jim, sepsis was no laughing matter.
“Theo come back…Please. I can barely see your glow.” Panic set in. “Theo!” Jim continued feeling his way toward the green light, hoping that Theo hadn’t changed his mind. That he still wanted help getting to the other mine. If Theo decided he wanted him dead, all he needed to do was abandon him to wander the tunnels in the paralyzing dark.
Coming around the bend, Jim spotted Theo waiting at a fork in the path.
“Thank you.. for not leaving me and for clearing the way.” Jim said sincerely. Theo only gave him a funny look and pointed to the left tunnel. “The way out is over there. By any chance, can you swim?”
Jim nodded yes, “I’m not winning any competitions right now, but I can do well enough to not drown.”
Theo clapped his tiny hands together, “Good, because I can’t. I sink like..well, a stone.”
Skittering close, Theo used his long fingers to grip Jim’s overalls and swing up to his shoulder. The initial swing almost toppled his old body over because for such a small creature, the knocker weighed a lot. Between his wounded leg, exhaustion and Theo’s added weight, Jim wasn’t sure if his doggy paddling was going to cut it.
It was impossible to tell the depth of the water, years of monsoons could have washed the tunnel floor away and made it ten feet deep, or it could be only four. No telling without a long pole or a rope, both of which they didn’t have. It was roughly forty feet across to the exit. Jim cheered at the daylight he saw creeping its way around the corner. Freedom was so damn close.
“Yes! yes, yes, I have an idea.” Jim shouted out suddenly, frightening Theo a bit. He then began striping off his overalls. Leaving him in nothing but his threadbare boxers and shirt.
“Whoa, Jim. It was lonely down here, but I’ll never be that lonely mate.” Theo jump off his shoulder to cling to the wall.
“Ha. Ha. No, I saw a guy do this on a show once.” Jim carefully removed the gold that remained and wrapped it up in his handkerchief then buttoned it all in his pocket, along with his wallet. There was no getting around it all being soaked, but a least it wouldn’t float away. He clamped the phone in his mouth and went about making a raft from his pants. Wetting them first, he tied the bottoms of the legs together. Removing the phone from the safety of his mouth, Jim explained. “See, I’m going to inflate these pants. You ride on it and I’ll push it across. That way you won’t drag me down.”
Knockers weren’t fond of water, but Theo agreed anyway and did as Jim instructed. It went well, at least until something brushed past Jim’s bare leg. His surprised scream was muffled by the cell in his mouth, but the problem came when he instinctively reached down to rub where he had been touched. The air in the flotation pants escaped in a whoosh and Theo plopped into the water, instantly he was headed for the bottom. He hadn’t been exaggerating his level of buoyancy.
Jim had the luck to catch him under the water with his good leg. Unfortunately, Theo began frantically climbing up his body to reach air. The closer to the surface the little guy got, the farther in Jim sunk. The phone was going to be ruined if he didn’t get the pants inflated to balance out Theo’s weight. Three hard kicks brought Jim out of the water enough to toss the waterlogged pants high and fill them with air. It was done and Theo plopped himself on top, wheezing and coughing.
The coolness of the water was soothing to Jim’s wounded leg but after what he’d just done, it was torturing him. Letting go of the damn pants again would be the end. He didn’t have the strength to survive another blip in the plan. Huffing and puffing past the bulk of the phone wasn’t helping him either.
Four feet from dry land he was able to touch bottom and walk. Theo crawled back up to his perch on Jim’s shoulder.
Two feet from blessed land he walked knee first into a jagged rock.
It just so happened to be his injured leg and out of reflex Jim opened his mouth to shout out some of the pain. “Aghhh!”
‘Plunk’. The cell phone was gone.
More to come……