|Image credit: bleedinsilence.net|
Here's my story for the second round of NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.
The assignment was:
Place: a gold mine
Object: an hourglass
And here is what I came up with:
Time after time Mica would fill his pan with water and sediment from the riverbank and transfer small like granulated sugar gold particles into his clear plastic jar. It was his first day on the job, and his findings, half of which would go to the mine’s owner, barely covered the bottom of the container. Mica sighed and turned around to look at the giant, twice his height hourglass. As soon as he put his pan on the ground, the sand stopped moving. It only trickled down when Mica was working; it measured the time he was allowed to spend in the mine.
“Remember,” said the foreman who hired Mica and gave him his equipment, “you have to stop before the hourglass stops; otherwise, you’ll suffer the sad fate of others who also could not quit it.”
“What happened to them?”
“That I can’t tell you. But I hope you won’t see it for yourself.”
Taking a break from panning, Mica sat down on one of the rocks scattered all over the riverbank. They had small, barely visible pores, and they varied in color from cloudlike white to charcoal black. The one Mica sat on was, like his skin, olive-colored, so his ankles, if one looked from a distance, blended in with the stone. Having picked up a smaller than his fist and smooth like a piece of marble rock, Mica rubbed it in his palm and threw it into the river.
I should move to the right. Maybe I’ll find more gold there, he thought, imagining the large, gallon-size jar full with the precious metal. With the money he would make by selling it Mica could repair the tacky old house, where he lived with his parents and his sister, Reeva. He would put up a new roof and insulate the windows in time for the winter. He could also, perhaps, build a new house for himself and ask the neighbor’s daughter, Loula, whom he liked since childhood, to marry him. The thought of Loula, with small ringlets of black hair framing her pale face and a round mole in the left corner of her plump crimson lips, made Mica feel the pulsation of his increased heartbeat. And, of course, he would also get a couple of new dresses for fourteen-year-old Reeva. In a few years she would become a fine young woman and attract many suitors.
As he dreamed thus, the sun began shining brighter, and the water, just like the air, became warmer. Mica’s hands, in and out of the water, were no longer clumsy icicles; they moved around the pan like tentacles, searching for the metal, which could make all of Mica’s dreams come true in a heartbeat. Moreover, to his delight, the pieces he found got bigger, and as he was extracting them, the sun, reflected in the metal, made it glisten in his palm.
From time to time Mica would turn around and look at the hourglass. When roughly a third of his time ran out, the pile in the bottom half of the sand clock resembled a hill of gold dust, sparkling in the sunrays. That hill was much bigger than the one in Mica’s jar, and he continued working without lifting his head. He managed to find a couple of nuggets as big as his fingernails, and he kissed each one of them with the passion and trepidation of a lover. For him, they were not merely pieces of gold, but Loula’s lips, joined with his in their nuptial kiss.
Around midday the sun began blinding Mica. Gold pieces seemed to him bigger than they actually were, and the rocks took upon them human shapes. There, right by his left foot, lay a finger, and a few feet away he saw something resembling a skull with two circles for eye sockets. At first it disturbed him, but after a while he became annoyed that the foot was a piece of stone, not gold. With a piece of gold like that he could have wooed not only Loula, but maybe even a town girl, a daughter of some well-to-do merchant. Never again in his life would Mica and his family have to live in the village or grow their own food. He would even get servants, oh, yes! He would never let his wife scrub the floors or lean over kitchen pots, like his mother. With a piece of gold like this, he could be the king, and she would be his queen… But the jar was only half-full, and Mica fingered the sediment feverishly, desperately, trying to beat the speed of the sand inside the hourglass.
Thus, absorbed in the thoughts of future luxuries, he stood on his knees, stooping over the water and panning, panning the precious metal until the last grain of sand entered the bottom of the hourglass, and Mica, slouching, turned into stone, a silent monument on the river. Shortly after that the foreman came to pick up the jar. He smiled, breaking Mica’s petrified figure into pieces with a rock hammer. In a little bit over five hundred years, during which he had been managing the mine, no worker had ever prevailed over his own greed.