The Gold Mine
by Zack

Sarah never thought that her devotion to the Earth might cause her death. She was in the mountains of southern Colorado where, she passionately believed, the land had been ravaged by man's greed for gold. She and her fellow members of the Sequoia Club had decided to put a stop to the plundering of Nature. Sarah was on a solo scouting trip to determine the worst offenders; then she and her friends in the club would bring the ravagers to justice. She had left her home in Albuquerque and driven to a trailhead north of Pagosa Springs, and after a few uneventful days on the trail she reached this mine, the first of many on her list.

The mine site was surrounded by a three-strand barbed wire fence. Every fifty feet or so there was sign attached to the fence that said: 'No Trespassing - Ishtar Mining Company'. Sarah ignored the signs. Nature's pillagers had no right to keep their destructive activities secret, and no sign would stop her crusade for environmental justice. She took off her backpack and crawled under the fence and onto a mound of mine tailings that was at least fifty feet high at this point. She scrambled up the steep slope to the flat top of the pile.

There was a lot of scrap metal scattered around up here, and Sarah walked over to investigate a large rusty metal object. It looked to be part of a hoist of some sort, because there was a tangle of wire cables attached to it and going over the edge of the tailings pile and trailing diagonally down the slope. She moved closer to the edge of the mound and stood on a sheet of rusting metal. Just as she leaned out to look down the slope the sheet of metal abruptly tipped under her feet. She fell and started to roll down the slope and into the tangle of cables. She managed to bring up her leg so that the sole of her boot hit the side of another metal object and the impact caused it slide a foot or so downhill.

Sarah was congratulating herself on her clever avoidance of injury when she felt something around her right ankle. A loop of rusty wire cable now circled around the top of her boot. This loop was held closed by another loop that was attached to the metal object that she had kicked; when it slid down the slope it had closed the ankle loop tight. It didn't cut her foot off because there was a corroded clamp still bolted to one side of the loop around her ankle and this had caught the other cable.

At first she was more annoyed than frightened. Sarah couldn't believe that she could really be trapped by just falling into a tangle of cables, but as she unsuccessfully tried to extricate herself she realized that it had actually happened. A loop of cable was tight around her ankle and she couldn't get it loose.

Sarah tried everything she could think of to free herself, but the fundamental problem was that she had to pull the metal object up the slope to release the loop, and there was no way she could do that. It must have weighed several hundred pounds, and she couldn't have moved it even if she wasn't trapped. After several futile attempts to free herself she screamed with frustration, and then continued to scream for help until her throat was sore. No one answered.

Sarah was on the south side of the tailings pile and there was no shade. The sky was clear and likely to remain so; thundershowers usually didn't occur until later in the summer. Luckily, she was wearing her jacket, and she used it to cover her face and hands. Sarah knew that she had to conserve the moisture in her body so she lay quietly on the dirt. She tried to sleep, but as time went by the pain in her ankle increased and it kept her awake. After the sun went down the air quickly cooled, and the ache and the cold prevented all but brief naps. It was a long night.

When the sun rose Sarah tried again to free her leg from the cable that trapped it, but she was no more successful now than she had been yesterday. She struggled all morning, and as the sun reached the zenith Sarah looked at the cloudless sky and finally admitted to herself that she could die right here on this pile of red dirt.

The heat from the direct sunshine was sucking the moisture from her body, and she hadn't had any water since yesterday morning. Her backpack with its precious water bottles was only fifty feet away, but it could have been on the moon for all the help it gave her. Sarah ignored the pain and pulled at the cables that held her right ankle in an implacable clasp. They flexed a little, but still she could not free herself. Despair overwhelmed her and she wept, her eyes squandering fluid that her body couldn't afford to lose. The sun dried her tears.

Sarah knew now that her only chance of survival was to have someone find her before she died of thirst. As the day dragged on she rested quietly, her head covered by her jacket. Late in the afternoon she heard a noise close by. A turkey vulture had landed a few feet away and she stared with horror at its bare red head and its dirty brown feathers. It flew off when she moved, and she watched it as it awkwardly flapped away. She looked up and saw almost a dozen of the hideous birds circling above. When Sarah realized that soon she was going to be nothing but carrion she broke down and sobbed.

* * *

Tom was running the processing plant and getting a better than average yield when the stamp mill ran out of ore. He had blasted this morning and there was a lot of loose ore, but shoveling it into the ore car, pushing it out of the mine, and dumping it into the hopper of the stamp mill was his least favorite task, especially since the main drift was over a half mile long now. Tom remembered that he was going to need some more rails soon, so he decided to go over to the other mine and see what was available for salvage.

It was less than a mile to the other mine and Tom decided to walk. It was a beautiful afternoon and he got outside all too seldom. He ruefully thought how ironic it was that since he started to live up here in the mountains and work the mine he spent less time outside just enjoying himself than he did when he had a job in the city and only came up on weekends.

As Tom got close to the other mine he noticed some buzzards circling over the end of the tailings pile and wondered what was dying. He walked in that direction. If it was a deer and still alive he might be able to salvage some meat. A buzzard landed and then took off again, so the animal was still moving. Tom was really curious now. He climbed through the fence, not bothering to open the gate, and scrambled to the top of the tailings pile. Tom walked out to the end of the tailings and looked down the slope. He saw the body of a woman about half-way down, next to a tangle of cables and some other junk. Tom heard her crying, so she was still alive.

When Tom slid down next to her Sarah removed the jacket that was over her head. She tried to sit up, but couldn't quite make it and fell back on her side. She pleaded, "Please, give me some water. I haven't had any since yesterday."

"Sorry, I don't have any with me. Are you injured?"

Sarah shook her head, and then pointed at her backpack just outside the fence. "Water bottles. In my pack. Over there."

Tom retrieved the water from Sarah's pack and climbed back next to her. He opened a bottle and gave it to her. "Here. Drink slowly, but drink as much as you can."

While she was drinking Tom looked her over. She was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt and appeared to be in her early twenties. She was of medium height and had a chubby body. Her face was dirty and tear-streaked, but Tom thought she might be pretty under better circumstances. She had short black hair and green eyes that were now red-rimmed from crying. There was a loop of half-inch cable around her right ankle.

Tom looked at Sarah's foot and shook his head. "This cable couldn't have caught you any neater if it had been a snare somebody rigged up."

She didn't respond.

Tom decided not to try to move the large steel plate that kept the loop closed around Sarah's ankle. If the cable slipped off of the old clamp it might take her foot off. He would have to cut her loose.

"I'm going back to my camp and get a hacksaw. I'll be back in about a half hour. Will you be OK until then?"

She nodded yes without interrupting her drinking. He scrambled to the ground and unlocked the gate in the fence. Tom jogged back home and got his hacksaw from the toolbox. He decided to drive back in case the girl wasn't able to walk, and for once his old '82 Ford pickup started on the first try. He drove slowly over the rutted road that led to the other mine and parked the truck as close as he could get.

The hacksaw had a new blade and it didn't take Tom long to cut the cable around Sarah's ankle. He pulled the loop open and she extricated her foot. She started crying again. "Oh, thank you. I was sure that I was going to die here; the vultures were just waiting."

Tom helped her to stand up. "Can you walk?"

"I don't think so. My foot is numb."

"I'll carry you to the truck."

He picked her up and walked down to the truck, helped her into the front seat, and then went back and got the saw, the water bottles, and the backpack. The truck started again and he backed it around and got it out onto the road.

Tom drove back to his active mine and stopped outside the derelict Airstream trailer that was now his home. Sarah's foot had recovered enough that she could walk with help. She put her arm around Tom's shoulders and he held her around the waist while she went up the steps and into the trailer. He helped her to sit on the couch in the living area and removed the boot from her injured foot. There were some nasty bruises, but it didn't look like anything was broken.

"Your ankle doesn't look too bad. How long were you trapped?"

"Since yesterday morning. It was terrible. I was sure that I was going to die."

"I'm glad I found you before it was too late. My name is Tom Williams. What's your name?"

"Sarah Jenkins. Thank you for rescuing me."

"You need some food. I made some chili and there's plenty. Would you like some?"

"Oh, yes. I'm so hungry. Er, does it have meat in it?"

"Yeah, it's meat. Don't ask too many questions about where it came from."

"I don't eat meat. I believe it is wrong to sacrifice our fellow creatures just for their protein. Do you have anything else to eat?"

Tom was annoyed. Did she think he was running a restaurant? He rummaged through the cupboard. "Here's a can of beans. Vegetable protein OK?"

"Yes, that would be all right if there isn't anything better. Can you take me back to my car after we've eaten? It's parked at the Pioneer trailhead."

"Not tonight. The road out of here is kind of bad and I don't like to drive it in the dark. Besides, that trailhead is quite a distance from here by road. Let's wait until morning. Maybe your foot will be in good enough shape that you can continue your hike."

Tom put the beans and the chili on the propane stove to heat. "I'll get your gear from the truck. The toilet is right through that door. You can wash at the sink."

When Tom got back with Sarah's pack she had cleaned up, and with the dirt washed off her face he decided that she was pretty. When the food was hot Tom brought the pans to the table. He helped Sarah sit in one of the two chairs. Tom gave her a spoon. "Dig in. This is as elegant as it gets. Do you want some coffee? It's brewed fresh this morning and all I have to do is heat it up."

"No thanks." She yawned. "I'm very tired. Is there someplace I can sleep?"

"Yeah, you can use the couch over there. I haven't got any clean sheets, so you'll have to use your sleeping bag."

When Tom finished eating he put his pan in the sink. "I'm going to be working outside for a while. We can talk some more in the morning, and if your foot isn't better I'll drive you back to your car."

Tom entered the mine and walked all the way to the end of the tracks, pushing the ore car ahead of him. A big pile of ore had been blasted loose and he needed to move it out of the mine. Tom shoveled until the car was full and pushed it out of the mine and dumped the ore into the hopper. This job was harder than it should have been because most of the track went slightly uphill going out; the original prospectors hadn't been too careful with their leveling.

Tom shoveled and shoved for several hours and then quit for the night. When he got back to the trailer Sarah was already asleep.

* * *

The smell of coffee woke Sarah the next morning. She looked around the cramped trailer and felt a wave of relief that she wasn't trapped and waiting to die. It was kind of squalid in here, but anything was better than the cable on her ankle and the vultures patiently waiting.

Tom was standing by the stove cooking something. This was the first time Sarah had a good look at him. He wasn't tall, but he looked strong, with thick arms and big hands. He had short brown hair flecked with gray and a neatly trimmed brown beard. The part of his face not covered by his beard looked pale for somebody who lived out here in the mountains. Sarah tried to estimate his age. Her father was fifty, and Tom looked like he was a bit younger.

"Good morning, Tom."

"Good morning to you. How does your foot feel this morning?"

Sarah got out of her sleeping bag and stood up. Her ankle hurt, but it wasn't too bad and she could walk normally. "It's much better. There are some ugly bruises but nothing seems to be broken. I can walk OK."

"I'm glad. That means that you can keep hiking."

"I would, except that I want to get back to Albuquerque as soon as I can so I can get the lawsuit started."

"What do you mean, lawsuit? Who do you plan to sue?"

"The Ishtar Mining Company. According to the signs, it's the owner of the mine where I was trapped. We can sue for negligence, distress, anything we can think of."

"Who is 'we'?" You're the only one that got hurt."

"I'm a member of the Sequoia Club, and we plan to eliminate all of the mines in this area. We can use this incident as a pretext to put Ishtar out of business, and that will put pressure on the other mining companies."

"But you were trespassing! The mine was fenced off and posted. You don't have a chance of winning your case."

"I don't expect that the case will ever get to court. We'll make it so expensive and inconvenient for Ishtar that they'll be glad to settle just so they won't go bankrupt paying their lawyers. The Sequoia Club has all the money it needs, because it gets tax exempt donations and doesn't have to worry about making a profit."

Sarah explained, "My fiance is a lawyer with a law firm that specializes in class action lawsuits. In most of his cases they get paid big money just to go away. The executives of a corporation really hate it when they get dragged away from their work for depositions and such. We'll file this case in Federal Court in New Mexico so they'll have to go out of town. That just adds to the aggravation."

"Don't you think it's immoral to use the courts like this to ruin innocent people? You know that it was your own fault that you got trapped."

"The ends justify the means. Ishtar has no right to rape the Earth like this. If some stockholders lose some money, too bad."

"You're looking at the Ishtar stockholders."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm the Ishtar Mining Company. I'm a geologist. I studied this area and I believe there is a lot of gold still to be found here. Five years ago some friends and I used all our savings and bought these two old mines. This mine is the most promising, and I've been working it ever since we bought it. I can recover enough gold to just about pay expenses, but so far I haven't found commercial quantities of ore."

"You mean you operate this mine by yourself?"

"Yes. For the first few years my friends helped, but they had to quit so they could find jobs to support their families. I work here alone from late spring until the snow shuts me down. I don't make any money here, so in the winter I go to Arizona or California and work in construction. It's been slow going working by myself, but I can't afford to hire anyone, let alone pay a lawyer."

This was awkward. Sarah was grateful to Tom for rescuing her, but she felt morally obligated to eliminate mining, and what he said told her how easy it would be to make an example of Ishtar. She decided to put aside personal feelings. The Earth was more important!

She apologized, "I'm sorry. I don't want you to be hurt, but I have to do what is right. When can we leave for the trailhead?"

Tom slammed a pan full of oatmeal down on the table. "Here's your breakfast. I have to do some things in the mine. I'll be back soon."

Sarah looked at the gray lump in the pan. She didn't like oatmeal, but it was probably all he had. "Do you have milk and sugar?"

"No. Put some salt on it." Tom stormed out and slammed the door behind him. Sarah found a spoon and a bowl and started to eat some oatmeal. Tom was right. It did taste better with some salt on it.

He was back about a half hour later. Sarah asked, "Can we leave now?"

"In a little while. I want to show you what I've done here and maybe you'll decide not to take away what took me five years to build."

Sarah hesitated, but then she decided she owed him that much since he did save her life. She put on her boots and they left the trailer. She followed Tom to a large metal building located between what looked like an old tailings pile and a newer pile.

Tom said, "The processing plant is in here. It's not very efficient, but I can run it by myself."

He unlocked the door and she followed him inside. Sarah had expected to see fancy equipment, but everything looked crude and homemade.

She asked, "What is that machine? It looks like it was made from an old truck."

"That's the stamp mill. It pounds the ore to a powder. It was built on the chassis of an old truck and uses the truck engine for power. All of this equipment was built by me and my friends from plans, using salvaged parts mostly."

He showed her the rest of the machinery and explained what it was for, but Sarah didn't understand what it did and didn't pay much attention. They left the building and climbed some stairs to the top of the old tailings pile. There was a long, narrow building up here that led from the side of the mountain to the processing building. Tom unlocked a door and they went inside. Running down the middle of the building were what looked like the tracks of a small railroad.

Tom said, "I built this cover so I wouldn't get rained on while I was moving the ore from the mine to the processing plant." He pointed at the track. "Those rails and that ore car are nearly a hundred years old."

They followed the track to the mine entrance, where a massive steel door was standing open. When they entered the mine Sarah was surprised by the small size of the tunnel. She could walk upright, but Tom had to duck under the beams supporting the roof. They walked a long way along the tunnel, which was dimly lit by widely spaced light bulbs. Sarah was glad she never had a problem with claustrophobia.

Every so often there was a side tunnel, and one of these had a door closing it off. "What's behind the door?" Sarah asked.

"Storage. I keep mining supplies in there, especially the explosives."

They kept walking. Sarah finally asked, "How much farther does this shaft go?"

"We're almost to the end. And this is a drift, not a shaft. Shafts are vertical."

Suddenly the tunnel got much bigger. Tom explained, "I found a rich pocket of ore here, and I made this cavern digging it out. The vein of ore went up there."

He pointed to the end of the cavern and she could see the end of a tunnel about six feet above the floor. A short wooden chute sloped from above and ended over the end of the track.

He said, "I shovel the ore into a wheelbarrow and dump it down the chute into the ore car."

Sarah wasn't very interested, and she hadn't changed her mind. She declared, "I've seen enough. Can we go now?"

Tom led the way back out. He stopped at the side tunnel with the door. "Let's go in here. I want to show you the vault." He unlocked the door and they went into the side tunnel, which was fitted out as a storeroom. Tom went to some shelves on the end wall and reached inside. The shelves were mounted on and concealed a door, which swung aside to reveal a small, empty chamber, about six feet wide by ten feet deep.

"My friends insisted that we build this secret vault to store all of the gold. Actually, all of the gold we recovered so far would fit into your backpack." He pleaded, "Now you've seen what it's taken me five years to build. If I lose this I'll have nothing. Please don't file your lawsuit."

"I'm sorry, but I have to do it. These mines have to be eliminated and personal feelings don't matter." Sarah did feel sorry for Tom. He was getting old, and she didn't think it was likely that he had any savings to retire on.

"I was afraid you'd say that."

Tom shoved Sarah into the vault. He pushed her against the back wall and held her there with his body while he picked up a chain and wrapped it around her waist. Sarah heard the click of a lock and Tom stepped back. She tried to follow but was stopped by the chain. It was bolted to one of the support timbers and gave her only about five feet of slack.

He said, "I'm sorry about this, but I can't let you take all I have. Maybe we can work something out, because I don't want to hurt you."

Sarah tried to reason with him. "Let me go now and I won't say anything about this. You can't get away with keeping me here. I told my friends that I would be back Friday, and they'll be looking for me if I don't return."

"I'm going to give you time to think about what your abstract crusade will do to real people. You should live in the real world for a while."

As Tom moved the secret door back into position Sarah cried, "No, please don't leave me in the dark!"

He didn't listen. With the opening closed off all she could see was a line of light around the door, and when Tom turned off the storeroom light that disappeared too and Sarah was left in the dark.

After the secret door was back in place Tom just stood there, stunned by what he had done. He thought, 'Yesterday I was a poor but honest miner, and now I'm a criminal, guilty of kidnapping, assault, and probably much more besides. How did this happen?'

He turned out the light, locked the storeroom door, and walked back to the trailer on autopilot. The pan containing cold oatmeal was still on the table and he ate automatically while he thought about what had happened and what he could do to get himself out of this fix.

As Tom got over the initial shock he got mad. He said to himself, "The arrogance of that ungrateful twit! I saved her life and she casually decides to take away everything I've worked for just because mining offends her sensibilities." He briefly considered dropping Sarah down a mine shaft, but he knew he could never casually murder her. Tom decided not to decide. If Sarah wasn't due back until Friday he had a few days before she would be missed.

Tom spent the next few hours working in the mine. There was still a lot of loose ore near the face, and he had to clear it away to make enough room so he could start drilling new blast holes. He worked steadily until he got so hungry that he had to stop for lunch.

When Tom reached the side tunnel with the storeroom where he had put Sarah he unlocked the door and went inside. He bumped his head on a support beam and let out a yelp. Sarah heard this and started screaming for help. When Tom moved the secret door aside and she recognized him she shut up abruptly and her expression changed from joy to anger.

"Let me out of here!" she demanded. "You have no right to do this to me!"

"That's true. I'm an outlaw now, thanks to you. Another thing; I want you to stop screaming like that. If you keep it up I'll have to punish you."

Sarah didn't say anything, but the look of defiance on her face told Tom without words that she intended to do as she pleased.

Tom ordered, "Take off your clothes. I've got to be sure you don't have any concealed tools, and you aren't as likely to run down the mountain if you're naked. Besides, I like to look at bare female bodies."

"What! You can't be serious!" Sarah didn't know which shocked her more, being chained up or being ordered to strip.

"I am serious. Take 'em off, or I'll do it for you."

Sarah knew he could do it, so she decided to avoid an undignified struggle. She turned her back to Tom and removed her boots, socks, shirt, and jeans.

She tossed them towards him and said scornfully, "There. Are you happy now?"

"No. Take off the bra and panties, too."

Sarah glared at Tom but he ignored it. When he moved towards her she squeaked in alarm and quickly removed her underwear. Tom smirked, and Sarah blushed from the humiliation. He collected the clothes and backed out of the vault.

Once back in the trailer Tom heated up leftover chili for his lunch and cooked some oatmeal for Sarah. When he finished eating he went back into the mine. This time Sarah didn't scream when Tom entered the storeroom. He was glad she decided to obey him until he realized he hadn't bumped his head this time, so she may not have known he was there.

When the secret door was open the first thing Sarah said was, "Have you decided to let me go? The longer you keep me here the worse it will be for you."

"Does that mean that you're no longer willing to forget all this if I just let you go? That will make a difference in what I decide to do."

"All right, I won't press charges. Will you let me go now? I'm cold, and sitting on the floor is uncomfortable."

"Not just yet. You still don't understand what's real. But there's no reason for you to suffer, so I brought you some stuff. Here's a shirt you can wear."

Sarah was standing and covering herself with her hands. She dithered between reaching out with her left hand and exposing her breasts or with her right, which was covering her pubes.

Tom smirked. "I'll make it easy for you. Clasp your hands behind your head and keep them there."

"I will not!"

He shrugged. "OK, if you don't want to. But you won't get anything if you don't."

She hesitated, but then put her hands behind her head. Even in the dim light Tom could see her blush. He made a show of leisurely inspecting her body. She had large, firm breasts, and her pubic hair had been trimmed into the shape of a heart.

He pointed at it and said with admiration, "That's very artistic, Sarah. I never would have guessed that you'd do something like that."

Her blush deepened and she muttered, "My fiance wanted me to do it."

"He has good taste, and you must taste good."

Tom gave her one of his old woolen shirts and she quickly put it on. It was too big for her, of course; the shirttail covered her to mid-thigh and the sleeves hid her hands.

"Here's your sleeping bag and foam pad, the water bottles, and a bucket with a lid. You can probably guess what that's for."

He handed her a plastic bowl containing the oatmeal and a plastic spoon. "This is your lunch. I don't have any more canned beans." She took the food without saying anything and started eating.

Tom said, "I'm going to make a rule about talking. You don't talk unless I'm next to you. I don't talk to myself, so if you hear voices it means somebody else is in the mine. If you do hear anybody what I want you to do is close your eyes and press both of your hands over your mouth. This will remind you that you are not to make a sound. I'm serious about this. If you disobey me you'll be sorry."

As Tom spoke he watched Sarah's face betray her thoughts. First outrage, then cunning, then an attempt at a blank mask. She certainly wasn't an actress, and he didn't think she had ever played poker, either. What he didn't see was any indication that she understood that he meant what he said. Tom was afraid that she was going to have to learn the hard way.

When Sarah finished eating Tom took the bowl and spoon and left the vault. She cried, "Wait! It's so dark in here. Can't I have a light?"

"Sorry, there isn't any electricity and the ventilation is too poor in here to let you have a candle or a lantern. I don't have a flashlight I can spare, either."

"Then wait until I get everything arranged."

"OK." He waited while she spread the pad and unrolled her sleeping bag. "Anything else?"

"I need my toothbrush, and a pillow would be nice."

"Fine. I'll bring them the next time I'm out this way." He closed the secret door and left the storeroom before she could demand a featherbed.

When the door closed Sarah was once again in the dark, both literally and figuratively. She couldn't understand why Tom didn't realize that this was no way to resolve their problems. Surely he understood that she wasn't acting out of malice towards him personally, but only for the greater good of the Earth. Sarah was still willing to forgive Tom for humiliating her and making her his prisoner, but she decided she couldn't abandon her principles and stop working to end the destruction caused by mining.

* * *

Sarah wasn't feeling so forgiving after she had been confined in the dark for several more days. The boredom was excruciating. Desperate for something to do, she found that she could generate static electricity by rubbing the nylon cover on her sleeping bag, and she watched the sparks for hours at a time. It was the only light she had.

The only time that Sarah saw any bright light was when Tom brought her food and water (and an empty bucket). He watched her while she ate the oatmeal, and it was always oatmeal. Sarah got so tired of it that she asked him for something else.

He replied, "Cooking is something I try to avoid, so I make a pot of chili or stew and I eat it at just about every meal for the next few days. I'll give you some, but it all has meat in it."

"Can't you make some without meat just for me?" Sarah couldn't understand why he didn't answer; he just shook his head and closed her up in the dark.

After a few more days Sarah noticed that Tom was beginning to ignore her. His meal visits had decreased from three a day to two a day, and he didn't want to talk. She feared that he might completely forget about her and leave her alone to die. And what if something happened to him? Sarah had felt the explosion that meant Tom was blasting. What if he made a mistake and killed himself? She knew that she had to get him to release her or at least let her out of the mine. Sarah thought of all the ways that Tom might be manipulated and decided that sex was the only one that was practical. He had certainly shown that he was immune to logic and reason.

Sarah reasoned that since Tom was an older man it was unlikely that he could find a woman on his own, and certainly not a woman as young and attractive as herself. She knew that she could seduce him, and once he needed her for sex she could get him to do what she wanted. This was the way it worked with Bob, her fiance, and Bob had a lot more opportunities for sex than Tom could ever hope for. The sex act itself would be unpleasant, but Sarah could fake it like she did with Bob.

The next time Tom brought food Sarah acted on her plan. When he opened the secret door she was kneeling on the sleeping bag. She kept her shirt on, but opened it down to her waist. When Tom got close enough she grabbed the belt on his jeans.

He joked, "If you hope to overpower me and escape it won't work. I left the padlock key outside."

Sarah purred, "I wasn't thinking about that kind of escape." She unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his jeans and opened the zipper. He was wearing boxer shorts, and Sarah pulled them down and put his penis in her mouth. Nothing happened. All of the other men she had done this to got instant erections, but Tom stayed limp. He wasn't that old, there should be some response. She kept licking and sucking until he pushed her head away.

He turned so his belly was illuminated by the dim light from the door and placed his finger near his navel. "Do you see this scar?" he demanded.

Sarah looked closely and she could see a scar that started just below Tom's navel and ended just above the base of his penis. "Yes, I see it. What caused it?"

"A few years ago a test determined that I had prostate cancer. It's unusual for it to appear in somebody as young as I was, so by the time it was discovered it had spread so far that the surgeon had to gut me like a fish. This included removing the nerves that control an erection. I'm now totally and permanently impotent. Your plan to seduce me into letting you go didn't have a chance of succeeding."

He handed Sarah a bowl of oatmeal and left the vault. She ate it in the dark.

Sarah was very disappointed over the failure of her plan, but it's failure had one good effect on her; it made her realize the danger she was in. In spite of everything, she had been thinking that her captivity was just a misunderstanding, and that Tom would soon regret what he was doing and release her. Now she knew better. The cable around her ankle had been replaced by the chain around her waist, and the vulture had been replaced by Tom.

A few hours later Sarah heard a yelp and then Tom's voice. It said, "Watch your head, Sheriff. It's a low ceiling. This is an old tunnel I use as a storeroom. Do you want to search it?"

A rescuer had arrived at last! Sarah screamed, "Help! Help! I'm in a secret room behind the shelves. Please, get me out of here!"

The secret door opened and Tom was standing there alone. Sarah was confused. She asked, "Where's the Sheriff?"

"There's nobody here except for you and me, Sarah. This was a test, and you failed it."

Sarah was crushed. She exclaimed, "That was so mean, Tom. It was cruel to raise my hopes and then say it was just a trick. Please, let me out of here."

He tossed Sarah's camp moccasins to her. "Put these on. We're going for a walk."

She put them on, and then Tom produced a coil of white nylon rope and ordered, "Stand up and hold out your hands."

Sarah reluctantly stood up. "Why are you going to tie me up?"

"I'm going to unchain you and I don't want any escape attempts. Now hold out your hands. It will be easier on both of us if you do as I say."

Sarah knew that she wouldn't have a chance in a fight, so she put her hands together and held them out. Tom wrapped a half-dozen turns of rope around her wrists and knotted it. Then he cinched the loops with a few tight turns between the wrists and made a final knot where Sarah couldn't reach it with her teeth. He unlocked the padlock and she was free of the chain at last.

Tom held the free end of the rope close to Sarah's wrists and gave a tug. She followed him through the storeroom and into the tunnel. He turned away from the mine entrance and headed in the other direction. Sarah stopped walking and exclaimed, "You're going the wrong way. The entrance is the other way."

"I know. We're going to the cavern at the end of the drift."

"Why are we going there?"

"You'll find out. Now come along." He tugged on the rope and she followed him into the mountain.

They stopped when they got to the cavern. Sarah asked, "Now will you tell me why we're here?"

"I told you not to talk unless you were with me and you disobeyed me. Now I'm going to punish you, and this cavern is the only place in the mine where there's enough room to swing the whip."

"Whip! You can't mean that. I don't want to be whipped!"

"What should I do to punish you, lock you in a closet? I want to be sure that you understand how serious I am about the no talking rule. That means that I have to punish you harshly, and whipping you is the only way to do it."

Sarah couldn't believe that Tom would really whip her. He wasn't even carrying a whip. Even when he ran the rope on her wrists through an eyebolt high on a timber support post and pulled until she was standing on her toes Sarah was sure he was just trying to scare her. Her wrists were starting to hurt, and she looked up at them and wondered how long it would be before Tom decided she was frightened enough.

Tom had forgotten to take off Sarah's shirt before he tied her up. Obviously, one did not become an expert torturer without some practice. It still left her butt and legs as available targets. He tied the shirttail around her waist to keep it out of the way.

Tom had made a whip out of an old flat rubber belt that had been used to drive some pulleys in the processing plant. He cut a piece of the belt about three feet long and fastened one end to a short wooden handle. He didn't know how effective it would be, but he thought it would at least sting.

Sarah didn't see Tom swing the whip, so the excruciating pain in her bottom took her by surprise. Once she had been paddled as part of a sorority initiation, but that was nothing compared to the deep thudding pain caused by the blow from Tom's whip. There was a red and swollen welt across her bottom. She gasped and jerked and tried to pull her hands loose from the rope.

The next blow hit her across the back of her thighs and amplified the pain. She groaned and twisted, dancing at the end of the rope.

The third stroke was between the first two, and Tom hit her harder. She screamed, and he got into a rhythm then, with each blow followed by another scream. Tom didn't count the number of strokes, he just kept hitting Sarah until he noticed that she had stopped screaming and was hanging from her wrists.

Tom was shocked. He hadn't intended to damage Sarah, and now he was afraid that he'd killed her. He was relieved when he saw that she was still breathing. He released the rope and lowered her to the floor. The whip had caused a lot more damage than he had expected; Sarah's backside from her waist to her knees was red and swollen.

Tom was just glad there wasn't any blood. Judging by her screams, he had inflicted a lot of pain. He thought about what he had done, and then he realized that he had enjoyed it. Tom decided to postpone any analysis of his inner being until he had taken care of Sarah. Her hands were dark red so he untied them. It was obvious that she wasn't going to be able to walk any time soon, but Tom wanted to get her back in the vault.

There were a couple of planks left over from the construction of the ore chute; Tom put them on top of the ore car and balanced Sarah on the planks. Then he pushed the car to the storeroom and carried her into the vault. He put her on top of her sleeping bag and locked the chain around her neck; he didn't want it to touch the welts. Sarah had moaned a few times, but she was still unconscious.

Tom made a quick trip to the trailer and returned with a blanket and an assortment of medicine. He covered Sarah with the blanket and waited for her to regain consciousness by herself. It was about ten minutes before she started to stir. She moaned and then cried out when she tried to move. "It hurts. It hurts so bad," she moaned.

He helped her raise her head enough to swallow a sleeping pill and a cup of water and waited a few minutes until she was asleep. As Tom watched Sarah he thought about what he had felt during the whipping. He had experienced a sense of power and control that was so intense it shocked him. He knew it would be very easy to let that feeling overwhelm him, and if it did he might whip her until she was dead. Tom resolved to be careful the next time he punished her.

Tom looked in on Sarah every few hours and gave her more pills, but it was the next day before he talked to her. On his previous visits she had been asleep or unresponsive, so when he saw that she was awake he asked her if she would like some food. She replied in a subdued voice, "Yes, please."

There was no trace of her former arrogance. Tom went to the trailer and returned with a bowl of stew. He had picked out all of the chunks of meat, and she took it without comment. She ate it standing up, because her backside was a massive purple bruise that went from her waist to her knees. When Sarah finished eating she handed Tom the bowl and lay back down on her belly and covered herself with the blanket. He had expected her to complain or demand something, but she closed her eyes without saying a word.

* * *

The next morning Tom was working in the processing plant when the gate alarm started flashing; he had rigged up a detector so he would know whenever the gate in the fence was opened. He looked out the window and tensed up when he saw a pickup truck painted Forest Service green stop outside. Tom shut down the plant and went outside to greet the visitor.

The Ranger had gotten out of his truck and was looking around. He was wearing the Forest Service uniform and a pistol in a holster on his belt, so Tom knew he was a law enforcement officer. The Ranger said, "Hi, I'm Bill Sherwood. Is this your mine?"

"It belongs to the Ishtar Mining Company, but I'm the manager. My name is Tom Williams."

"We're looking for a missing hiker. Have you seen this woman?" He showed Tom a picture of Sarah.

Tom pretended to study it while calling upon the skill learned during a lifetime of poker playing to keep his face blank. "No, I haven't seen her. What makes you think she came this way?"

"She told people that she planned to visit old mines in this area."

Tom shook his head. "She's probably at the bottom of some mine shaft or buried in a tunnel cave-in. Old mines are incredibly dangerous."

"Yes, I know. I don't think there's much chance of finding her alive, but we have to do all we can. Say, could you show me your mine? I've never been in one before."

Tom wondered if Sherwood was really interested in mining or if this was a pretext for a search. Either way, if he refused it was going to look bad. With no more that an instant of delay he said, "Sure, I can give you the tour. I'm ready for a coffee break, so let's start at my trailer. Would you like some coffee?"

They entered the trailer and while Tom was pouring the coffee Sherwood unobtrusively examined any place big enough to contain a person. Now Tom knew this was going to be a search.

After they finished the coffee Tom gave Sherwood a tour of the mine. He was several inches taller than Tom, so he had to hunch way over in the tunnel. When they reached the cavern Tom saw that the eyebolt he'd used to tie up Sarah was still in place, but Sherwood didn't appear to notice it.

On the way back out Sherwood stopped by the door to the storeroom. "What's in here?" he asked.

"Mining supplies. I keep explosives in here, among other things."

"I'd like to take a look."

"Sure." Tom opened the door, turned on the light, and warned, "Watch your head. The ceiling is low in here." This was it. If Sarah started screaming now it was all over. Tom momentarily considered attacking Sherwood if that happened, but that would be futile. He had twenty years and forty pounds on Tom, and a pistol as well.

Sarah had slept as much as she could, so she didn't know how long she was alone in the dark with her pain before she heard Tom's voice coming from the storeroom. He made it sound like there was somebody with him, but he couldn't fool her again. She remembered what he told her. She closed her eyes and put her hands over her mouth.

Sherwood visually inspected the room, but he didn't open any of the cupboards or boxes. That was good for Tom, because he'd hidden Sarah's backpack in an empty box. Sherwood looked around, but as there wasn't any visible place for a person to be hidden they left the storeroom and went out to the mine entrance.

Tom took Sherwood to the processing plant, but he just looked it over from the doorway. Tom walked with Sherwood to the truck and waved goodbye as it drove off. He waited until it was out of sight before he gave a sigh of relief.

* * *

After a while Sarah could move without too much pain and things returned to normal, if spending nearly 24 hours a day alone in the dark was the norm. The chain was still locked around her neck. This made her feel like an animal, but it didn't interfere with her movement any more than the chain around her waist had done. She still couldn't reach the door even when she stretched to the end of her tether.

Sarah had reached the end of her tether mentally, too. She had given up any hope that Tom would release her, and she couldn't take many more days alone in the dark. Sarah was willing to do anything he asked if he would just take her out of the vault. Since sex wasn't of any use to Tom the only other thing she could do was work. When Tom brought her food Sarah begged, "Please, please, let me out of here. I'll do whatever you ask, but I can't stand being shut up alone in the dark. Please!"

"All right. I can let you out of the vault. I need some time to get ready though."

Sarah had expected a refusal, and his agreement was a surprise. She knew Tom wouldn't release her, but she figured there might be a chance to escape if she were outside.

Several hours later Tom returned. He gave Sarah her socks and boots and told her to put them on. Then he tied Sarah's hands in front with the same rope he'd used before and unlocked the chain on her neck. He pulled her towards the door. The memory of the whipping was so strong that Sarah panicked and resisted. He tugged on the rope and ordered, "Move it. You're the one who wants out of here."

"Are you going to whip me? Please don't whip me again! I'll do anything you want."

"I'm not going to whip you. Not now anyhow. Let's go! If you can't obey better than this I'm going to keep you in the vault."

This threat was enough to get Sarah into the tunnel. She was still afraid of the whip, but she couldn't stand any more time in the vault. Sarah didn't resist as Tom led her back to the cavern. The ore car was there and Tom had bolted a chain to its side. He padlocked the free end of the chain around Sarah's neck and untied her hands.

He explained, "You're going to be a mine pony. When the ore car is full you'll push it to the processing plant, dump it, and bring it back for another load."

He pointed to the ore chute. "I built that bin on top of the chute so I have a place to put the ore while you're dumping the car. I'll show you. Push the car under the end of the chute."

Sarah got behind the car and pushed. It moved easily on the track. When it was in place Tom opened the end of the bin and ore fell down the chute and filled the car. She closed her eyes, put her fingers in her ears, and stopped breathing until the dust settled. Tom climbed down the chute and moved Sarah in back of the car and put her hands on the rim.

He commanded, "Push!"

The ore was heavy, and Sarah had to strain to get the car moving. Once it was rolling she kept it moving until the track started to go slightly uphill. Sarah kept pushing for a hundred feet or so and then she stopped to rest. She was bent over, resting her head on the rim of the car. Tom walked up behind her. He hit her bottom with a strap and she screamed and straightened up.

"Get moving! Put your hands on the car and push."

The command was followed by another blow. Sarah screamed again and frantically struggled to get the car moving. Tom followed close behind her as she pushed the car along the track, and every time she slowed he hit her with the strap. When they finally reached the end of the track Sarah fell to her hands and knees and gasped for air.

Tom let her rest for a few minutes before he commanded, "Get up. Watch how I dump the load." He moved a lever on the side of the car and the ore fell out the bottom and into the hopper of the processing plant. He had Sarah move the lever until he was sure she knew how it worked.

The shed they were in now was just a metal roof over the track, with corrugated steel side walls that were about eight feet high. There was a two foot gap between the roof and the top of the walls and Sarah could see the sky. She started to cry. Seeing the sky after all those days in the dark made her loss of freedom so painful she couldn't help it. But Sarah felt a glimmer of hope. If she was going to be on her own when she moved the ore car there might be a chance to escape. If someone happened to be outside they could hear her if she called for help.

Another blow from the strap brought Sarah back to the bleak reality of her present existence. Tom pushed her to the other end of the ore car and told her to move. He walked back into the mine and she followed. Pushing the empty car was much easier.

When they got back in the cavern Tom explained Sarah's new life as a pony. "While you're dumping the ore I'll be loading the bin. When I was doing both jobs it took me about the same amount of time for each, so when the bin is full I expect you to have the car back here."

He held up his watch. "If you're not here I'll start timing you. For every minute or part of a minute you're late you'll get one lash with the whip. But I'm fair. If you're back before the bin is full I'll subtract a lash. The whipping won't happen until all of the loose ore is moved."

Tom continued, "Every pony needs a bit. Open your mouth." He had made a bit by bolting perforated metal straps to the ends of a wooden dowel, and he forced it into Sarah's mouth and padlocked the straps together behind her head. "This will keep you from shouting at anybody who might pass by outside the mine."

The dowel was almost an inch in diameter and it kept Sarah's mouth wedged open. She could breathe and make noises, but she couldn't talk. Sarah tried to plead with Tom to take out the bit, but she couldn't make words and he ignored her.

Sarah sat down and waited until Tom had filled the bin, and then moved the car under the chute. When the ore was in the car she moved behind it and started to push it out of the mine. She quickly tired and really wanted to stop and rest, but she was so afraid of the whip that she kept moving. She finally reached the end of the track and dumped the ore.

As soon as the car was empty Sarah pushed it back into the mine. She moved as fast as she could, but when she got back into the cavern Tom was leaning on his shovel.

He said, "You're over two minutes late, so you've earned three lashes. At this rate I'll have to whip you front and back to have room for them all." He took an piece of chalk and made three lines on the wall.

When Sarah heard this her stomach lurched with fear. She had to fight not to throw up. Sarah was so shaky that she could barely push the car under the chute, but once the ore had been loaded she managed to get the car moving down the track. Sarah walked as fast as she could, but she was still tired from the previous trip and had to slow down before she reached the end of the track. She dumped the ore and ran back into the mine.

When Sarah reached the cavern she was so tired that she dropped to her hands and knees and gasped for breath. Tom said something but Sarah didn't listen, so she was shocked when she looked up and found he had marked up four more lashes. When Sarah saw this she put her face in her hands and sobbed. Tom climbed down the chute and patted her on the back. He unlocked the bit and offered her a cup of water. Sarah's jaw was sore, but she was able to drink.

Tom pushed the car under the end of the chute and loaded the ore. Then he locked the bit back into Sarah's mouth and helped her to stand up. He led her to the ore car, slapped her bottom, and said "Giddy-up". Sarah pushed the car into motion and started another agonizing trip.

Hours later when the last load of ore was dumped there were a total of thirty nine lines chalked up on the cavern wall. Sarah was sick with fear, trembling and shaking. When Tom tied her hands and took out the bit she knelt and begged him not to whip her. Sarah was crying so hard she could barely speak "Please, please don't whip me. I went as fast as I could."

Tom was merciless. "I'm sorry I have to whip you, but I told you what the rules were. Now you have to suffer the consequences." He unchained Sarah and half-carried her to the support timber and tied her hands up over her head.

"I'll go easy on you. Instead of the whip I'll use the strap." He immediately hit Sarah across her right hip. The strap didn't have the thudding impact of the whip, but the pain was just about as bad. Sarah screamed.

She screamed after each blow. Sarah didn't know if he gave her thirty nine lashes or not, because the pain drove everything else out of her mind. She didn't faint this time. Tom left her tied up for a while after the whipping was over. When he finally let her down Sarah's hands were numb and she couldn't walk. Tom loaded Sarah onto the ore car, wheeled her back to the storeroom door, and carried her into the vault. He put her onto the sleeping bag and locked the chain around her neck before he untied her. Sarah lay on her stomach and sobbed in the dark.

After Tom closed the vault door he thought about what he had done. He knew that he had lied to Sarah. He wasn't sorry that he whipped her. The animal part of him enjoyed every stroke, enjoyed seeing every red line spring up on her body, enjoyed hearing her scream. And the human part felt sick.

He said to himself, "What have I become, or was I always like this? I knew that she wouldn't be able to move fast enough to keep up with me. The pretense that she was being punished was just a rationalization to allow me to pretend I'm not a monster."

* * *

Sarah remained on her stomach and tried not to move, and eventually the pain started to ebb. It was a struggle, but she was able to remove her boots and crawl into the sleeping bag, and eventually she managed to sleep.

It was some time before Tom visited the vault. He brought Sarah some food and water, but there wasn't any conversation. He went away and she stayed there in the dark.

It was a long time before Tom returned. He asked, "How are you doing?"

Sarah bit back the comment that immediately came to her mind and instead replied, "I'm really dirty. Can I have a shower? Or at least some soap and warm water?"

"OK, I'll take you to the trailer as soon as it gets dark, in about an hour."

"Oh, thank you! I feel so grubby."

Sarah was so pathetically grateful for this small kindness that she felt humiliated, but that didn't mean she was going to miss the chance to leave the mine for the first time in weeks. When Tom returned she was out of the sleeping bag by the time he had the secret door open. He tossed Sarah her camp moccasins, and she put them on. When he brought out the rope she obediently clasped her hands and held them out, but he shook his head and ordered, "Take off your shirt, and then turn around and cross your wrists behind your back."

She did as she was told, shivering a little in the cool air. Tom tied Sarah's hands and shoved the bit into her mouth and padlocked the straps behind her head. He put the shirt over her shoulders and buttoned the top button. Then he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the chain around her neck. He passed the free end of the rope tied to her wrists between her legs and used this as a leash to lead her out of the mine.

It was night outside, and the stars were shining brightly.

Once in the trailer, Tom led Sarah to the tiny shower and removed the gag and took off her shirt. He said, "Get in."

"I can't wash myself with my hands tied behind my back!"

"I'll wash you. Get in, or we can go back into the mine."

She got into the shower. The shower head was on the end of a hose, and Tom sprayed her down with warm water and rubbed soap all over her body. He paid special attention to Sarah's breasts and crotch, and the welts on her bottom. She noticed that his breathing had quickened and he was flushed. "Why does feeling me up turn you on? I thought you couldn't have sex."

"I'm not a eunuch. I still have normal reactions when I touch a woman's body. Except for the one reaction that counts." He turned the water back on and rinsed Sarah off until all of the hot water was gone.

He toweled her dry. She saw her naked body in the mirror and noticed that the hair in her armpits was showing. She was going to ask if she could shave, but then thought, 'Why bother?'

Tom took Sarah into the living area and sat her in a chair; he ignored her gasp as her bruised bottom touched down. He wrapped the rope attached to her wrists around her waist and the chair back and tied it off.

He heated up some stew on the propane stove, and when it was warm he brought it to the table and fed both of them out of the pan. When they were finished he released Sarah from the chair and put her shirt back on her shoulders. "Time for you to go back in the mine."

"Please, can't I stay out here with you? I hate being shut up alone in the dark."

"Sorry, I can't have you out here. That Forest Ranger might return, or somebody else might come along."

He put the rope between her legs and gave it a yank and Sarah had to follow him back to the mine and then down the tunnel to her cell. Tom asked, "Do you want the chain around your neck or around your waist?"

"My neck. That's more humiliating, but it's easier to get into the sleeping bag."

"Anything to oblige." Tom locked the chain around Sarah's neck and untied her hands. "I've got to do some drilling and blasting, so it will be a while before there's more ore to haul."

"I've changed my mind about working. I'd rather stay in here than push that ore car and then be whipped."

"Too bad. Having you push the car saves me a lot of time, so you don't have a choice."

After Tom left the vault and Sarah was alone in the dark again she thought back to what he had said: 'the Forest Ranger might return'. Did that mean that if she had yelled for help she would have been rescued? Or was Tom playing with her mind?

All the time Tom was working in the mine, drilling blast holes, he thought about Sarah, and the feel of her body in the shower. Now Tom was sorry that he had touched her, because even though he could still become aroused there was no way that he could satisfy that arousal. Tom hadn't realized how important sex was, even for a man nearing fifty, until it was no longer possible.

* * *

The welts on Sarah's body were almost gone when she felt the explosion that meant more ore had been blasted loose. By this time she was so bored that she considered pushing the ore car to be the lesser evil. Sarah knew she was in better shape than the last time, and she hoped she could move fast enough to avoid a whipping.

It wasn't long before Tom opened the vault door, and they went through the familiar ritual of tying Sarah's hands and unchaining her neck. They marched down the tunnel to the cavern and Tom chained her neck to the ore car. He locked the bit in place and untied her hands. He had already loaded the ore, so he slapped Sarah's butt and she started pushing.

Sarah moved as fast as she could, and by the time she had dumped the ore and returned to the cavern she was panting for breath and her legs were weak. But Tom was still shoveling ore into the bin. When he finished filling the bin he checked his watch. "Good work, Sarah! You have a four minute credit." He marked four dashes on the wall.

Tom dumped the ore into the car and Sarah was off on another run. She was tired now, but she was still able to get back before Tom had filled the bin, but not by much. As load followed load Sarah moved slower and slower, and her body hurt more and more. She was constantly trading off the pain felt now with the possible pain to be felt later.

When the last load of ore was dumped there were seventeen un-dashed vertical lines marked on the cavern wall, and Sarah was whimpering with dread. When Tom approached with the rope she hid her hands and cowered. She begged, "Please don't whip me. I worked as fast as I could."

"That's obviously not true, Sarah. If you had, you would have collapsed when you were finished. You would have worked a lot harder if I had been following you with the strap, but that's not possible. You have to drive yourself, and you're slacking off."

That speech made Sarah realize how much she hated Tom. He was enjoying her pain so much. She decided to kill him if she got the chance.

"Take off your shirt and hold your hands out, Sarah. If you make me use force I'll add another dozen lashes."

Sarah knew she couldn't win a fight now. She decided to be as meek as possible, so Tom wouldn't expect her attack when the time came. She removed her shirt and held out her hands, and Tom tied them together, with a half-dozen windings around her wrists and then a cinch between them.

He unchained Sarah from the ore car and pulled her the short distance across the cavern to the support post, and again tied her so she was on tip-toe.

"I'm going to spread out the lashes this time."

Sarah didn't know what he meant until the first blow cut across her back. The pain was so bad that she could only gasp. The next time Tom hit her Sarah screamed, and she didn't stop screaming until he untied the rope and she collapsed on the ground and fainted.

When Sarah woke up she was back in the vault. Tom had untied her and chained her neck to the wall, and he was removing her boots. She pretended she was still unconscious while he put her in the sleeping bag and zipped it closed.

The next time Tom visited Sarah he was carrying a plastic five gallon container. She asked, "What's that for?"

"This is some extra water. I've got to go to Pueblo, and this is an emergency supply in case I'm delayed."

"You're going to leave me here alone? What if something happens to you? I would die here!"

"Don't worry. I've got a note in my wallet that explains about you. If I have a heart attack or an accident the police would be here before your water ran out. I've left you some extra food, too."

"How long will you be gone?"

"I should be back late tonight. Have fun."

Once Tom had gone Sarah decided that this would be a good time to prepare for her escape attempt. She had noticed that Tom no longer bothered to leave the key to her chain outside until he had her tied up. If she could knock him out she could get the key and free herself. The only way she could hope to do this would be to take him by surprise and hit him with something heavy.

Sand and small chips of rock were scattered on the floor of Sarah's cell, and she started to fill one of her socks with this debris. It was slow going, because she had to locate everything by touch and then pick it up with her fingers, a pinch at a time. It took a while, but eventually Sarah had collected enough to make a lump the size of her fist, and she tied a knot in the sock to hold it in place. She poured some water over the sock, and this both increased the weight and held everything together. Sarah practiced swinging her sandbag, and imagined it crashing into Tom's skull.

She waited for a long time before she heard the door to the storeroom open. Sarah got out of her sleeping bag and stood up. She put the sandbag between her legs, up high where it was hidden by her shirt, and the loose end of the sock was between her buttocks behind her.

Tom opened the door. "Hello again, Sarah. Are you glad to see me?"

"Actually, I am. I've got a pain in my foot, like I've got splinter or something. Can you look at it?"

Sarah slid her left foot forward, and when Tom looked down at it she reached behind her back with her right hand and gripped the end of the sock. Tom was carrying a flashlight, and he knelt and directed the light onto her foot. She swung the sandbag in an overhand loop and it hit the back of his head. Tom crumpled to the floor without a sound. Sarah dropped the sandbag and rolled Tom on his side so she could dig into the pocket of his jeans where he usually kept the key. Yes! She found it and even though her hands were trembling she managed to fit it into the padlock that held the chain closed around her neck.

Sarah wrapped the chain around Tom's neck and padlocked it. Then she ran out of the storeroom and into the tunnel. She was so euphoric over her escape that she was almost at the entrance to the mine before she noticed that she was barefoot and clad only in a shirt. Sarah knew she wouldn't get far without her boots and some clothes, and she would need her water bottles, too.

Tom was never unconscious, but he had been stunned and couldn't move. In a few minutes he had recovered enough to get the truck keys out of his pocket. He had another key to the padlock with them, and used it to remove the chain. He was about to go after Sarah when he heard her in the tunnel; she was making little yelps, apparently because it was rough walking with bare feet. He lay on the floor and put the chain over his neck.

Sarah dreaded going back into the vault, but she had to do it. She walked gingerly down the tunnel, this time feeling every pebble that she stepped on. She entered the storeroom, and could see Tom sprawled in the same position he was in before. Sarah entered the vault. Her boots were near Tom's head. Did she dare risk getting that close? She realized she still had the padlock key in her hand, and she tossed it through the door. Now even if Tom recovered and grabbed her he would still be trapped, and he'd have to let her go.

Sarah crept across the vault and snatched up her boots. Suddenly Tom raised up and wrapped his arms around her waist. She screamed and beat at him with her fists, but he forced her down on her stomach and used his weight to hold her there. She felt the chain being wrapped around her neck and when she heard the lock click she knew she was again a prisoner.

Tom got to his feet and left the vault, but soon he returned with rope and a roll of duct tape. He had decided that Sarah was too dangerous the way she was. He didn't know where the key had gotten to, but if he hogtied her she couldn't escape even if she had it. Sarah fought desperately, but Tom pulled her hands behind her back and wrapped tape around her wrists, and then around her elbows. More tape went around her ankles and just above her knees. Sarah was now helpless, but Tom hadn't finished with her. He cinched the tape around her wrists with rope, and then forced her feet close to her hands and tied it around her ankles. When he finished her back was bent in a painful arch and she couldn't move.

Tom left the vault and Sarah was again locked in the dark. She struggled to free herself, but the tape held and as the hours went by discomfort changed to pain and pain changed to agony. Worse yet was her fear that Tom would seal the door and forget about her forever.

Tom had a terrible headache. He closed the vault door and then locked the storeroom. When he got to the trailer he fell on his bed and passed out.

Tom didn't wake up until the next morning. He still had a bad headache, but other than that he seemed to be OK. He got something to eat and then went into the mine to deal with Sarah. He had expected her to be able to at least get the rope undone, but she was still as he had left her. Tom could hear her moaning before he got the vault door open, but she shut up when she saw him. Her face displayed a combination of fear, pain, and uncertainty.

"Hello, Sarah."

"What are you going to do to me?"

"First, I'm going to untie that rope."

When the rope was off Sarah's ankles she moaned and cried as her legs straightened. She didn't appear to have any control over them. Tom took the tape off of her ankles and knees, but he left her wrists and elbows fastened, and the rope still tied to her wrists. Her hands and arms were a bad color, so he was going to have to untie her soon.

After a few minutes Sarah requested, "Please, can I use the bucket?"

"Of course. Let me help you." Tom brought the bucket over to her and steadied her while she squatted over it. When she finished he asked, "Where is the key to the padlock?"

"I threw it out the door. It's in the storeroom somewhere."

Tom found it after a few minutes searching, and used it to release Sarah's neck from the chain. "Stand up. We're going for a walk."

He helped her up and put the rope from her wrists between her legs. When he yanked on it she gasped and followed him out into the tunnel. "You're going to whip me, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am."

"You really get off on it, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. Very perceptive of you to notice, when you have so much to distract you."

She didn't say anything else, but she cried quietly, with tears flowing freely down her face. Tom ignored them; he couldn't try to cheer her up and then whip her.

When they got to the cavern Tom tied Sarah's leash to the eyebolt while he installed another eyebolt in a roof support timber. He wanted the whip to have access to all parts of Sarah's body, and that couldn't be done when she was against the wall. Once the eyebolt was in place he tied Sarah to it, pulling up her bound hands until she was bent over with her arms almost vertical. He thought she looked very erotic, with her breasts hanging down and her hair forming a curtain around her face.

Then he started whipping her with the strap, and she screamed and danced around her tether. Tom gave her thirty lashes, spread out over her butt, back, and thighs.

When he finished Sarah was crying, but she was able to walk back to the vault. Tom locked the chain around her neck and removed the tape from her arms. She moaned as they fell to her sides. He told her, "It'll be a while before I have more ore to move, so you can have a chance to rest."

She didn't say anything; she just moaned with pain. He shut the door and left her to herself.

Sarah was surprised that she was still alive. The whipping was bad, but she had suffered worse when she was slow moving the ore; she had expected Tom to whip her to death. Sarah spent the next few days in the dark, but Tom brought her food as usual and he never mentioned what had happened. When Tom had blasted more ore Sarah was once again a mine pony, hurrying as fast as she could, but never fast enough to avoid a whipping.

To have come so close to freedom and then fail crushed Sarah's spirit. She sank into despair so deep that she no longer thought about anything; she just endured the boredom and loneliness of the vault, the exhaustion of pushing the ore car, and the agony of the whipping.

As the weeks went by her life fell into a pattern: five or six days in the darkness of the vault, a day or so moving ore, a whipping, and then the cycle repeated. The summer passed by and then the fall. Winter would be here soon. Tom had told Sarah that he closed down the mine once snow fell. She avoided thinking about what would happen then.

One day Tom was very excited when he had finished blasting. He came to get Sarah to move the ore, and excited or not he was still careful to tie her hands before he got the key to unchain her. He was bubbling with excitement. "I've struck a body of really rich ore. I don't know yet if it's just a pocket or the start of a vein. Let's get the ore out, I'm really anxious to see what kind of yield I'll get."

"That's wonderful news, Tom. I'm so happy for you." Tom took Sarah to the end of the drift and chained her to the ore car. He locked the bit into her mouth and slapped her bare bottom, and she was a pony again.

It was very cold outside of the mine. The sky was gray and Sarah could hear rain pounding on the roof. The gap between the top of the shed's walls and the roof had provided welcome ventilation in the heat of the summer, but now it allowed the cold wind to blow rain mixed with sleet inside and onto her chilled body. Sarah dumped the ore as fast as possible so she could return to the shelter of the mine.

It was after dark when Sarah pushed the last load of ore out of the mine. She had worked hard, and if she could return the car inside the allotted time she wouldn't be whipped. Sarah was in much better shape now so she could go faster, and as the tunnel deepened Tom had farther to go when he wheeled the ore to the bin. She had expected him to change the rules so that he would always have an excuse to whip her, but he hadn't done it yet.

Sarah was halfway between the mine entrance and the hopper when the ore car came to a sudden stop. The car had derailed when a piece of ore next to the track caused the wheel flange to climb over the rail. The loaded car was stuck, and she couldn't move it.

Sarah waited quite a while before Tom appeared. He removed her bit and accused, "What have you been doing, Sarah? Is this another escape attempt?"

Her teeth were chattering so much that she could barely reply. "The car derailed and I can't move it. Please, take me back inside, I'm freezing out here."

Tom agreed, and Sarah waited until he fetched the rope from the mine and tied her hands. He led her back inside and once she was chained in the vault she crawled into her sleeping bag and tried to get warm.

Two days later Sarah felt terrible. She was coughing and had a fever. Tom visited her. "You don't sound too good, Sarah. What's the matter?"

"I think I have bronchitis. Could I have some aspirin?"

"I'll bring you some. I'll also bring the large water container and some granola bars. The processing plant broke down and I've got to go to Pueblo for some parts. I should be back tomorrow."

Tom brought Sarah the aspirin and another blanket. After he left she lay there in the dark, coughing.

Sarah was getting pretty good at estimating how much time had gone by, so she knew that Tom had been gone much longer than a day. She wished he were here, because her chest hurt and she was having a hard time breathing. Sarah knew now that she had pneumonia; she had it once before. Then she had been in the hospital. Now she was on her own.

The fever was worse. It was so cold in the vault, and each breath was a struggle. Sarah begged, "Please hurry, Tom. I need you."

* * *

While Tom was driving to Pueblo he considered what he should do about Sarah. It was getting close to winter, and he was going to have to shut down the mine in a few weeks at most. Tom had three possible alternatives: kill her, let her go, or keep her captive.

There was no way he could keep her captive for the whole winter, while he moved around from one construction job to another. If he was a young stud, who gave Sarah such good sex that she couldn't live without him, he might have had a chance of keeping her, but that wasn't reality.

If he let her go he was going to be a fugitive for the rest of his life, and the chances of evading capture were slim, since he didn't have much money to run away on. All of the work he had put in on the mine would be lost, and the best he could look forward to would be a life of poverty in some obscure part of the world. If he did decide to let to Sarah go it might be best if he turned himself in to the police at the same time.

Killing her would be the most practical action. Tom knew of several abandoned mines where he could put Sarah in a tunnel and then collapse it. Her body would probably never be found, and even if it was discovered there would be no way to trace her back to him.

Tom brooded about the options as the miles went by, and by the time he reached the outskirts of Pueblo he had decided what to do. He was going to let her go. Once Tom had made this decision he felt his spirits lift, and his planning turned to the best way to release Sarah. He would have to keep her for a while longer, because he wanted to finish processing the ore; he needed the gold for getaway money.

The trouble started when Tom reached the mining supply company. The parts he needed to get the processing plant running weren't in stock, and a new shipment wouldn't be in until tomorrow, which was Friday. He was pissed, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. Tom couldn't afford to rent a motel room, so he was going to have to spend the night in his truck. This was tolerable, because the truck had a shell covering the back and Tom had brought a sleeping bag and a foam pad. He drove to the Wal-Mart and found a space in the RV section of the parking lot.

The next morning he was at the mining supply company, but the parts weren't. Tom hung around there all day, and still no parts. This meant that he was going to have to wait in Pueblo until Monday. Tom was not happy, but the weekend wasn't a total loss. Tom found a used book store and bought some paperbacks to read, and spent Saturday and Sunday nights in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Sarah would be hungry when he got back, but she had enough water, so Tom wasn't too worried about her.

The parts finally arrived Monday afternoon and he headed back to the mine, but fate wasn't through with him yet. About ten miles west of Walsenburg the truck's right front wheel bearing froze up. By the time Tom got a ride into town and found a tow truck it was so late that all of the mechanics had quit for the day. He spent another night in the truck.

About noon on Tuesday the truck was repaired and Tom was on his way at last. It was late afternoon when he finally arrived home. He went into the mine before he did anything else; Sarah would be wondering what happened to him. Tom decided to bring her into the trailer while he prepared some dinner for them, and he'd tell her then that he was going to let her go.

Tom unlocked the storeroom and then opened the vault door. He called out, but Sarah didn't answer. He touched her face and it was cold.

Sarah was dead.

Tom never knew how long he knelt next to her body, as waves of guilt, remorse, and loss surged through his mind.

Eventually he recovered enough to attend to the mundane tasks that had to be done. It was a struggle, but he managed to dress Sarah's body in the clothes she had worn when they met so many weeks ago, and he collected all of her belongings and put them in her backpack. He used the wheelbarrow to move the body out to the truck.

Once the body and everything else Tom was going to need was loaded into the truck he drove for about an hour until he was close to an abandoned mine. He loaded the wheelbarrow and walked about a quarter mile to the mine entrance. It was closed by a wooden door, but he pried it open and wheeled Sarah's body inside and about a hundred yards down the tunnel.

This mine was a scary place. The roof of the tunnel had partially collapsed in places, and the rest might follow at any time. Tom put the body and the backpack on the floor and moved back towards the entrance, scuffing out the wheel tracks as he went along. Then he went back into the mine about fifty yards and dug a hole over a roof support. He put explosives into the cavity, lit the fuse, and ran for the entrance.

The explosion was not nearly as loud as Tom had expected, and as soon as most of the dust had settled he went into the mine far enough to see that the tunnel roof had collapsed. Sarah's tomb was sealed.

Tom drove back to the mine and returned the equipment to where it belonged, and then went into the trailer and fell on his bed. He wept for a long time before he slept.

The next day Tom fixed the processing plant and extracted the gold from all the ore that was on hand. The weather wasn't too bad, but he decided to quit now. He closed up the mine, packed his gear, and drove away. He didn't look back, and he knew that he'd never return to the gold mine.

The End

Story copyright© 2002 by Zack. All rights reserved. I welcome your comments. Email me at zack_writer@hotmail. com