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Coal Dust

Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

So, here I am. Laying down on my stomach helpless, darkness stifling both my thoughts and cries for help. I was too deep underground now, all sound drowned out by the earth, with my last moments ahead of me I began to reflect on how the hell I ended up in this position.

I had recently received a tip-off to investigate a small town in northern England. It was a minute, silent town that hardly manifested on any map I could get my hands on, the history of this place was as obscure as itself; the only background information I had received about the location was the construction of the power plant that was finalised in the early 80’s, before then the town had heavily relied on coal from its coal mines in order to keep residents warm during hard gruelling winters.

However, the most striking news that seemed to plague the town was the various reports of missing people and the supposed continued operation of the coal mines despite its long ago shut-down. Accounts of thick, black smoke slithering from behind the grey ridges that tore along the horizon from across the fields that surrounded the town. Although, I could not fathom a connection between the missing persons and these reports of the redundant coal mines operations.


I needed the money, desperately, so I ventured into this town with the intent to investigate these suspicions of missing people thoroughly. I started with the most appropriate place my mind could conjure up; the fields. These fields stretched for miles, scarred with snaking paths that cut straight through the tall grass and marshland, all extended towards the ridges. I had also been warned beforehand of the marshes that were highly prevalent in the fields, with this in mind I set off on my investigation on one of the paths that had been mulched into a slick mud by various people, probably hikers.

This seems like it would be an idyllic, scenic place. With the right weather of course. At this moment in time, the skies were overcast and grey, a miserable blanket draped over the sun that had seemed to have disappeared. The majority of my journey was uneventful. The same images of tall grass, gangly trees and rising hills crossed my vision for hours. That was until, through random chance, I had somehow wandered onto a path that seemed to be untouched, only a subtle one -meter wide line that I considered to be a path. I had probably wandered onto this trail whilst my mind was also wandering. With a heavy sigh, I scolded myself for not being attentive reminding myself of the warning of the marshes the locals had given me. With a new-found caution, I prepared to turn back, which was when something very…odd struck my peripheral vision. It was a splash of colour that prominently stood out from the generic green grass. It was…sky blue?

Whipping my head around to focus on the out of place object I saw it was a long-sleeved shirt, the colour hadn’t been as vibrant as I first thought, the blue was darkened and made dull from what I predicted as years of exposure to the elements. Why was this here? It looked like it belonged to an adult and had also looked like it had been here for a while with streaks of grime soiling the wool material it was made out of.

I didn’t touch it, I just stared with curiosity slowly building inside my mind. I simply lifted the lens of my camera and snapped a quick photo. The faded trail beckoned me onwards; perhaps there were more items of interest further down this path? I continued onwards and discovered more carelessly strewn about clothing, but they did not seem to belong to the same person. All were of different sizes some seeming to belong to younger children and others to larger individuals. I took a photo of all I came across.

I suddenly became aware of the rapidly setting sun around me. It was getting late and I needed to turn back. I found nothing else and began to return to my starting point. Speaking of which, where was I? I was perplexed as I glanced behind me only to notice that there was no longer a path behind me, only tall grass and line of trees appeared. Perplexed I began to walk aimlessly, attempting to find some noticeable feature that would allow me to make my way back but there was nothing. Around me appeared the same mundane pattern of trees, grass and hill. Panic began to swell as the encroaching darkness crept in, with the sun dipping below the evening clouds I decided to climb upwards to try and gain an idea of where I was. I reached the top of a grassy knoll and searched around me, scanning for a route out of these fields. I did find something. It wasn’t a route.

My eyes fell upon dark columns of smoke rising towards the murky heavens. With disbelief infesting my mind I began to ponder; was it really true? It couldn’t be. I dismissed the thought, I had to focus on getting back. Then again, the columns seemed to intrigue me, and like I said. I REALLY needed the money. My feet began to stagger towards the columns, sluggish with fatigue. Now I was no more than a fish caught on a fishing hook; I had taken the bait.


I began to draw closer to the smoke as they loomed larger in the sky as I gradually made my way towards them.

Just a little closer, not long now.

That was when I just noticed the noise that had been hiding amongst the background chorus of chirping birds and rustling autumn leaves. It was subtle yet it grew louder and louder as my weary steps came ever closer to the smoke. It was a low rumble, my mind immediately jumped to the idea that this was the mines in operation, yet I knew this was impossible for they had been shut down for a long time. Tucking this thought in the back of my head I continued going towards the black smoke.

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I had been traversing the fields for hours, with no change of scenery to bless my eyes. It was the same grass everywhere. That was until I clicked onto an abrupt change in the land, the green terrain withered away into an asphalt coloured landscape. I had reached my destination; the former coal pits. A flat land stretched out in front of me, I jogged to the edge of this flat wasteland only to observe a large crater with openings in the side. It was obvious what this was. I had also just realised that the smoke had ceased as did the rumble.

Bizarrely I had the idea of searching one of the mine shafts. Looking back on it now, it was a foolish idea, yet I still followed through with my idiotic plan.

Cautiously I made my way down the side of this crater, towards one of the openings. It was obscured by thorns and vegetation and barely visible. I decided to crawl through a barely noticeable gap in this wall of vegetation. With great effort, I pushed my body through and came out the other side in pitch blackness covered in scratches and dirt. Tapping into my resourceful side I illuminated the place with my camera flash. At the very least it would give me a concept of where I was.


Raising my camera I clicked the button and the bright flash covered every inch of the shaft it was now in. It revealed to me ashen grey walls, supported by wooden beams that had, surprisingly for their age, not been rotted. In fact, they appeared…new.
As if somebody was still maintaining them.
But how could this be possible?

Searching the walls with my hands I clawed my way around the tunnel, clumsily finding my way deeper and deeper.

As I got deeper a smell began to intestate the area, becoming more pungent as I descended. It became so strong that I began to gag. Heavily. Almost vomiting I realised that it smelled like…something dead. My feet reached a level ground and the descent had abruptly come to an end. Raising my camera once more I activated the flash.

I could’ve turned back then, and now I dearly wished I did.

I had discovered where the missing people went. I saw piles of corpses, stacked on top of one another, their clothes were torn and shredded. They were dragged down here, this was made evident by the scratches and cuts visible on their skin. An incinerator was next to this horrifying sight. Reaching out with reluctant hands I touched its surface. I immediately leapt backwards as I discovered it was hot. The source of the smell had also been discovered along with the bodies. Tears welled up in my eyes and stung as the smell intensified; the smell of rot.

The coal dust my fingers made contact with countless times…it wasn’t coal dust. Glaring at my shaking hands I found that they were covered in not coal, but ashes from burnt bodies.


I always found it odd how I discovered not a single lump of coal. Sure it was abandoned long ago but surely that doesn’t mean the coal source had run dry, there should be at least some trace of coal here, but no there was nothing, only “coal dust” lay here. That was when the realisation struck me like a hammer to anvil sending sparks of horror in my mind.

There was never any coal.

I now knew how the town was kept warm during the winter and the thought sickened me, the locals were all deceived and given power meanwhile their own kind burned down here.
Now I moved onto the next thought that occupied my head; it was still in operation. It was too late when I came to this revelation and blinded by my shock I had not heard the creeping footsteps behind me, however, I did hear the words that froze the blood in my veins.

“More fuel for the fire, eh?”

Credit: Anonymous

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5 thoughts on “Coal Dust”

  1. Would have been fantastic if I didn’t happen to know how difficult human bodies are to burn. Not a viable energy source in the least.

  2. You could had at least stalled the ending a little more, and never write “burnt bodies”, or “there was never any coal” kind of stuff, or it’ll be too premature an ending. But the idea was kinda cool.

  3. A little obvious where this would end, since focus is put on the pillars of smoke at the same time we hear about the missing people. But still a good read.


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