This story could have happened in any place where the old ways of industry vanished, places where the stream of prosperity had dried. This story could have happened in any of these places. This story could have, but did not.
Wednesday 11th November 1987. Cold and grey, there was the touch of frost and the ghostly fingers of white reflected jaundiced light coming from streetlamps. Hucknall was a town in mourning. The previous year had seen the final closure of pit K33, the Black Shale seam had, seemingly, run its course. Industry had closed and the once proud buildings were already starting to look frayed at the edges. Houses had not been repainted; fences not mended nor gardens tended.
The last of the coal was burning in old fireplaces and some inhabitants settled down to watch the television. At 8.30 something struck a chord with the population of the small English town. ‘Fourteen Days in May’ a documentary following the last weeks of a young man, boy really, on death row in America. Small screens reflected in glassy eyes. They watched and hardened hearts felt a connection, the sense of doom, their own lives never to be the same again.
Men sat, withering into nothing, feeling no self-worth, the fight gone out of them. More than anything they felt powerless. Their women trying to make the best of it, ashamedly working longer hours to bring in a few needed but meagre pounds. The place was dying slowly.
The young man on the television was absent at the end. Life choked out of him by poisonous gas, a fate not too unfamiliar to some of the older ex miners.
The frost was creeping further into the ground, even until the break of the dawn. Winter flexed its fingers, waiting to bite fully into the landscape tapping at the edges of single paned windows. The clear day was brief but warm.
All too soon the day withered. School children raced home to beat the darkness, wanting to be safe behind doors when the light finally failed. It was peculiar, none of the children arranged to see one another in the evenings. Staying with family, sitting with the men: the fathers, uncles and older brothers who were now morose and waiting for something to happen that would allow them to earn an honest living again. At least some kind of redemption.
Despite the mine closing, sealing off their work, there had been tragedies and whole families and livelihoods had been made and some lost in that dark pit. Tunnelling beneath the earth, lives going on above the ground. Each clang of metal on rock the heartbeat of the town. The fires that burned from the coal was an irony. These men and families fed countless lives into the maw, some cut short. Descending on rope and pulley into the bowels of the earth.
The bus drivers continued on their routes, the stops for the town noticeably empty of people. No one got on or off within a few miles, they might as well not bother going through that route. That dead route. The mine, the lifeblood of the town, had spawned a living death amongst the inhabitants. The inaction of compliance and acceptance of fate palpable. There was not change in attitude even with the explosion.
Windows shattered as the dark missile hit the eponymous Thieves Wood. The local place of spirits and goblins and horrors that made sure children did not go with strangers in the night, ensured they stayed home with their families. The bolt hit the ground with such an impact that nearby windows splintered into vicious spider webs of cutting, spinning design. Catching and eviscerating the thoughts of those inside. Those who were older and remembered a time of war, thought about ducking, now unable to make it all the way down to the floor. Old age and lack of mobility prevented joints from acting on instinct.
In the town there was little reaction. The strange numbness behind the eyes, meant that nothing registered. No panic, like pictures in a burning building unaware, rigid. Not even pets stirred in the wake of the noise and the light. The sky that had been clear turned to electric thunder and the rain fell.
Deep under the streets, at the face of the devil, a select few people hid. Amongst the coal and the dust. They made noises and undulated in unison. Sacrifice would be something they all had in common. They had talked they had pleaded and begged. They had done things that not one of them was proud of. They had taken action. The talk of missing animals and other things missing attested to that. Things had escalated.
The men sat not worried about work and worthlessness, they were relieved K33 had closed. They needed to shut the whole area down. Something primeval had been summoned. No summoned was the wrong word, something had awoken. The loss of prosperity was nothing compared to their souls.
The clouds and pregnant cracks of the heavens had birthed their answers. It had come too late. The Bevin Boys had found it back in the 1940s. Coal faced and blackened. The seam that reached out into eternity.
Subsequent reports were easily dismissed by the papers and local radio stations as a UFO landing. The truth was much less alien than that. Not for the last time, did the proud residents of that town wish for an ending like the American in the documentary. Like a Pandora their curiosity burned too deep. The barren earth had forced truths to the surface. There was more than one reason children ran home from the dark and stayed with strong male relatives.
Some sacrifices are hard. They had taken more than they bargained for. The woods crackled with energy, eldritch and blue; cold and light. Trees stretched and roots moved. Something without a name clawing its way free. They wanted to attribute it to some devilry, the need to blame something. They did not name it couldn’t, the introspection was too much. The name of the beasts were guilt and shame.
Actions had been taken that had grown, from the seemingly insignificant to something far worse. The earth hid their sins. The transients and the outcasts. The ones no one missed, the ones who, now cold and alone and gone were finally sealed in their echoing caverns and graves.
There were reports of officials on the road that night. Stopping people from leaving and entering the area. K33 closed for ever in conjunction with that bolt of black. There had been no UFO, there had been an explosion. Men talked to the older generation, the spark had been lit, from seeing the black teenager talk about his execution – the use of gas. They knew that they could use the Coalbed methane, what their fathers and those who first descended into the shallow earth as Firedamp. It would be sealed. A small newspaper column would say the thing from the sky was a UFO that hovered and crashed. Some thought it was their sins grown full and black, burying itself into the cool womb of the earth.
The town moved forward and new families grew up as the tight-lipped generation went the way of all mortals and stories passed into legend. A way of making children behave and not go with strangers.
Some things are not destined to die as we know it. The echoes of pain and guilt are never truly gone. Sometimes the earth births that which is buried. Sometimes not. Sometimes they are reborn with strange names, the mythos of old brought into a new generation. As with this entire story. No one said a word.