Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Scoop" by Al Miller (chapter 6)

2001
It was early morning before I arrived in Charleston. I looked at my pocket calendar. It was Wednesday, October 18th. The morning rush-hour traffic was beginning to build. At the hospital, I went directly to the nurses’ station. "Where is Mrs. Sutherland?" I enquired.
"Are you Mr. Wilson?" I nodded. "The paramedics said you would be coming. We've got some forms for you to fill out so we can start procedures on Mrs. Sutherland." The nurse set me at a small desk in her office. "Just call if you need something."
"Is there any further word on the situation in the mine?" I enquired.
"The last I heard," she said, "there is still several hours of air left. They've been talking to them over some kind of old telephone line. Said it was left over from some mining operations back in the fifties. Some reporter was apparently on the scene at the time. They were having live coverage a couple of hours ago. I'll see if it's still on the TV."
The nurse went off to find a television set while I finished filling out the papers. I found it very difficult to keep my mind focused on paperwork, but I finally managed to finish the job.
The nurse came back to get me. "They're still carrying the story. If you want, you can catch the latest news in the waiting room."


As I entered the waiting room, Dan Rather was talking. "We have been in communication with the miners for some time now. Bob Orr is at the scene near Charleston right now. Bob, do you have anything new on the condition of the miners?"
"Dan, I've been talking to one of the local newspaper reporters who was in the mine at the time of the accident. Tom, what is the situation as far as the air down there? Do you have enough air to hold on for a while?"
“Well, Bob, the area where the cave-in occurred is in an old section of the mine. It was abandoned back in 1958 when the new section was opened up. This area was recently re-opened as a rest area for the miners. The cave-in was in the connecting tunnels, and that cut us off from the main entrance. One of the older men said he thought there was another entrance over here somewhere, but he was too young at the time to remember where. Said his father used to tell him about it. We are in a rather cavernous section, so the air seems to be holding for the moment. However, some of the men, in fact most of them, are experiencing headaches and nausea, and there have been a few flare-ups from irritability. Of course those are some of the first signs of too much carbon dioxide. One of the men found a small stream of water; a trickle really. That should help if it holds out, but fifty-seven men are gonna need more than that to survive for very long. We're holding on for now, but we could sure stand a little good news from topside."
"Tom, you told me earlier you had a message for someone."
"Right. This is for George Wilson. If you're out there listening, go to plan 'B.' That's all. He'll know what I mean."
*
1961


"You're gonna make a great reporter someday. Don't do away with yourself before your time."
Tommy looked at me and grinned. "Hey! Wouldn't it be weird if someday some of these stories really did come true? What would we do about that?"
"I guess we'd have to go to Plan B," I answered.
"So what's plan B?"
"Beats me. But when things go wrong, they always say 'go to plan B.' Right?"
We sat there looking at that Underwood, on the brink of finishing the manuscript. "What would you do," said Tommy finally, a new serious expression on his face, "if you saw one of these stories actually happening? How would you stop it?"
I looked at Tommy and shrugged. "What could I do? If they're gonna happen, they're gonna happen. That's all there is to it."
"Well," said Tommy, "I'd try something. Even if it didn't work, I'd try something."
"I don't believe we're even talking about this. D'you have any idea how far out in left field that is? This is impossible. Sounds more like the Twilight Zone."
"Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo," sang Tommy, repeating that famous opening music. "You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."
"Boy! You got that right. So what would you do? Re-write the story? Make the ending different?"


Tommy looked at me with a gleam in his eye. "Yeah! That's it! You re-write the story. Only you have to do it on the same kinda paper. . ."
"And you gotta use the same kind of typewriter. No! No, wait. You gotta use the same typewriter, and the same paper."
"Yeah," added Tommy. "Only you can't find the typewriter, so you hafta go all over the place lookin' for it."
"And you go lookin' in the old high school, and run into old man Sharpe."
"And he helps you find it."
"Whoa! Back up the truck. What if it's a long time from now and old man Sharpe is dead?"
"Then you run into his ghost."
*
2001
I walked out to the nurses’ station. “Is Mrs. Sutherland awake?”
“No. I’m sorry, Mr. Wilson. She’s under sedation right now and the doctor wants her kept that way until they can operate. Why? Is there something you need to tell her?”
“No, I guess not. But if she wakes up, tell her I was here and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Fine, Mr. Wilson. I’ll be sure to tell her.”
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