Majestic chimneys rose high above the factory roofs, casting long shadows over the buildings here in the lower districts. Sivan looked up in awe at the size of it all. The numerous factory halls, the large chains reaching high along the cliff towards the Water Engine. This was a place where prosperity was created.
Sivan turned towards the mining office building at the end of the road. He took a deep breath, then walked towards the large black entrance doors. A large banner loomed above the doorway, depicting a factory skyline. Rich, golden script letters marked the office part of Aldridge mgf. A proud, idyllic family with a daughter towered above the skyline, promising Your family’s future begins today! With a nod, Sivan opened the office doors. Here is to our new feature Emma, Sivan encouraged himself.
He gasped at the large, luxurious entrance hall. The floor was a sturdy polished wood. The walls were lined with mahogany panels rich with intricate flowing lines and carvings. Instead of candles or a hearth, numerous brass gas lamps with stylish glass coverings lit the place in a soft, warm light.
“Get out of the doorway,” a burly man in an apron huffed in annoyance and roughly shoved Sivan aside. He recollected himself and walked into the front waiting room. A large reception desk stood in the middle of the room. Beyond that, he could make out rows of clerk desks. At the far end, large decorated windows flanked a cast iron balcony, connecting to an office of sorts. The place was alive in a hushed kind of way. The scratching sounds of pens and the occasional soft whispers filled the room. It smelled of paper and ink instead of the regular scents of people, food, or steam so present in the rest of the city.
“Ahem, how can I help you?” The voice came from the reception desk. A prim, middle-aged man in a stiff black jacket and waistcoat looked expectantly at him.
Sivan suddenly became awkwardly aware he was still gawking at the room. He shook his head and approached the desk. “Eh, yes. I wanted to apply for a position as a miner.”
The man briefly checked a ledger of sorts. “Ah yes, we are always hiring hewers for the deep coal veins.” He placed a little paper booklet on the reception desk.
Hesitantly, Sivan picked up the booklet and looked it over. I know so little about this, yet if it brings us a better life.
“Take that with you to the changing building,” the man interrupted his thoughts, “it will be your personal ledger used for wage payout.” The man checked his pocket watch. “If you hurry on outside, you might be able to still join the evening shift. The changing building is to the left at the end of the street.”
With a sudden sense of urgency, Sivan hurried outside and made his way to the changing building. The building, it turned out, was little more than a storage room near a mine shaft terrain at the edge of the city’s cliff. As Sivan approached, a group of around ten burly men dressed in patched blue dungarees over loose gray shirts just exited the building. A grizzled man with a thick salt and pepper beard and worn leathery skin turned around as Sivan approached.
“You’re our new recruit, boy?” the man asked with a deep voice.
Boy? Sivan thought annoyed, he suppressed a quip.
“Am I still in time to join the evening shift?” he replied.
“Hmmph, I’ll take any hand they throw at us I suppose,” the man grumbled, “If you’re quick enough. Get an outfit from Agnes.” He pointed with his thumb at the changing building behind him.
Sivan gave a polite nod and went into the changing room. The inside was simple and utilitarian. Lockers lined the walls and wooden benches stood in the center. There were coal stains and rock dust everywhere.
From around the corner came a loud noise, like an engine of sorts. A small woman with disheveled chestnut hair wearing a long brown coat walked into the room. She was cleaning the floor with some kind of brass contraption. It could best be described as a very loud and noisy clockwork-powered spinning broom. What an odd machine, Sivan thought in amazement
“Excuse me, I’m here to get my mining outfit.” Sivan raised his voice to be heard over the racket the broom was producing.
The woman looked up surprised, manipulating a gear clutch, and stopped the clockwork mechanisms. “What was that? A new recruit? Ah yes, I suppose the evening shift can use all the help they can get. What’s your specialty? Putter? No, they already have two of those. Loader perhaps? No. Ah, of course, hewer! Excellent. After the last disaster, I had to fabricate a new steam driller and I’m eager to hear how she performs down below!” The woman eagerly put her broom aside and went to one of the doors on the side of the room.
Sivan stared a bit befuddled at the energetic woman. With one hand on the door, she turned around. “Well, don’t just stand there dear. Grab one of the counters from the shift board behind you and take an outfit from one of the open lockers. The clock doesn’t stop ticking for any of us.”
Sivan shook his head confused and did as instructed. He took a brass triangular counter from the shift board and checked out the lockers. After a few tries he found an open locker with dungarees and a shirt that was roughly his size.
A moment later the woman returned with a black steel cylindrical apparatus. Attached was a leather board with leather bands. A flexible steel cable as thick as his wrist connected the apparatus to a large drill head with brass handles. She eyed Sivan and adjusted the leather bands a bit before handing it over.
“Here, this should make your job a tad easier dear. As a hewer, you need all the help you can get to loosen the rocks for the rest of the crew.”
Befuddled, Sivan donned the apparatus on his back. It was heavier than he anticipated. “What was that about the last disaster?” he asked.
“No time to worry about that now, dear,” the woman tweaked the left band a bit, then turned a valve somewhere on the back of the apparatus.
”Here, this should keep you going for at least eight hours. I just need to note the equipment on your ledger if you please.”
Sivan handed over the little booklet the office gave him. He felt the cylinder on his back slowly warming up. After making a few quick scribbles the woman handed the ledger back.
“Off you go now dear, lest you delay the evening shift any further.”
Sivan hurriedly put the booklet away, grabbed the drill head, and went outside. Behind him, he heard a click followed by the loud noise of the clockwork broom.
At the far side of the terrain, he saw the grizzled bearded man waving at him to hurry. The man held open the steel barred door of a mining shaft cage set inside the cliff wall. The rest of the shift crew was waiting inside, a small cloud of cigarette smoke clinging to the top of the cage. Sivan hastened towards the cage. God this drilling apparatus is heavy, he cursed to himself.
“I see Agnes took care of your outfit,” the old man grumbled. The man quickly closed the cage door behind Sivan. With the turn of a lever, the cage rattled and started to descend down the mineshaft. In moments, the remaining lights of the setting sun disappeared and they were engulfed in a musty, all-encompassing darkness.
“Ready to face the Knockers, boy?”
Behind the Story
Word count: 1317
This is a rewrite/edit of a story I wrote for the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2020. In this second viewpoint, I wanted to further explore the steampunk world from a "regular man's perspective". It is a practice to combine fiction with a bit of background research.