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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2057607
When Plus or Minus counts
(word count 300)

Two hours after supper his parents reported him missing. Boys in West Virginia are often late for supper. But, when Derek's hound came home alone, it was time to call the sheriff.

Forty-five minutes after the deputy arrived at the Powell place, Bubba Powell, Derek's best friend, confessed that they had been prowling the Cromwell Coal property. The Cromwell mines were abandoned, closed since the 1993 collapse. When Bubba left him, Derek was fine.

Four hours later, bloodhounds had located the shaft where Derek entered. The dogs, their handlers, and the deputies milled around outside the black hole in the side of the mountain. Protocol forbids entering the mine. They must wait for the rescue team. The men, all coal country natives, knew the survival window without contact is sixteen hours -- plus or minus.

Three hours was a good response time for my team. We practice for this.

One hour of preparation and the team was suited up. As dawn broke, we headed into the dark. Four hundred yards in, we hit the collapse. I checked the maps for a way around. One of the men started tapping. A contact would change everything. Nothing.


Two hours of detour later, my team is roped up and rappelling. We'll get to the bottom of this shaft and backtrack the maze to Derek's suspected location. Time is against us. We're into the minus margin. Our pace quickens.

Seventeen hours have elapsed since Derek's last known contact. My team is walking toward the collapse from the deep side. It's a wide, easy tunnel. I'm filled with dread and adrenaline. There he is! He's half covered with dirt and still clutching his tapping rock. He's a miner's son. We get to work.

Seventeen hours trapped, as the plus margin expires, Derek's eyes flutter open..
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