Harrison Kim was a teacher at a Forensic Psychiatric Hospital. He spent vacations hiking in the mountains, checking out ghost towns, and wandering in their graveyards. All these experiences gave him interesting story ideas.

Over the past year his stories have appeared in Blue Lake Review, Spank the Carp, October Hill, Bewildering Stories, Café Lit, and others.

He lives and writes out of Victoria, Canada.

by Harrison Kim


Saint lay in his tent in the Iron Mine Hills, his ear to the cold ground. He heard something crying, high pitched, like a keening.

Could be the wind in the trees, he thought, but he knew better. He knew all the tales of ghost miners crawling through the shafts below him on their bleeding knees, and he’d bought leather to wrap around his own limbs.

Sacrifice, that was his purpose, working between the dream world and the real one, discovering what was real and doing what was right. His goal for nirvana was to release the ghost miners, let go his karma, and fly to the heavens forever.

Saint put his hands over his ears. He remembered the city, where if you didn’t know the subway was there, you’d still hear the rumbling. That was how it felt now as the sounds in his head continued in this wilderness.

He came from the city back to Iron Mine Hills, where he was born. He heard wails of suffering ever since he came here, inside and outside his mind. He couldn’t be certain if these noises came from this or another world. Sirens blew in the city, sure, but in the wild he heard the wails as echoes coming from below, where the long dead souls of miners picked at the tunnel walls of hard rock, beseeching release.

I must reach the source, he thought, and set the shadows free.

In his thick diary he wrote “source” over and over in green and blue pencil and surrounded it with musical notes until he created a pattern resembling the side of a tunnel. The images circled beyond it to the edge of the page.

He looked out the tent window. A branch whipped about not far from the nylon mesh and scraped across it.

Saint had left the city noise to stay in this quiet, empty meadow where he could reflect under arcing skies and jagged mountains, meditate the central question of his life—Why am I so fortunate?

For not only did he know he was born wealthy and handsome, he believed he had inherited special hearing and empathic powers. It was important to his spirituality to share his talents with others, and the more he gave, the more he knew his karma prospered. 

I will stop the miners’ sufferings, he thought. I will give them release.

After he’d changed his name to “Saint,” this need for sacrifice became real, and it didn’t matter that his girlfriend Alisha decided not to go with him.

“Don’t you believe in me?” he asked her and she said, “I don’t want to give myself completely to anything.”

“Just come with me, be my right-hand lady,” he implored.

But she stayed in her safe city with its comforts and pleasures. She has no stomach for adventure, Saint thought. Only the chosen know the truth of their questing, and I am the chosen one.

He knew he’d made the right decision to go alone.

He’d heard from local legend how the ghosts cried for relief, water, a rope, and god’s intervention, anything to free them from the underground. Saint tried to imagine men toiling for copper and silver, heads always down never knowing the natural world, with the cedar trees the mountains and skies soaring above them, searching for the lode, the key to release from poverty and suffering. Many died down there from accidents and exhaustion, and stayed trapped, souls wailing in torment as dusk fell for a hundred years in the hills above.

“You are a lucky boy,” his mother always said, “and you deserve a good life, but remember, others are not so fortunate.”

He imagined her serapes and scarves flying even now, her low insistent voice always in his ear telling him to pay back the world for his positive fortune.

Saint knew he was possessed special hearing powers, and the more hearing he practiced, as he followed the sounds to release the ghosts, the more his positive karma rose.

The wind-blown keening outside the tent sounded like a hundred men crying. Here in the wilderness, no one comes when you call, Saint thought, and pushed his long body out of his sleeping bag. But I have come.

A century ago, copper and silver miners flocked to the area and dug long labyrinthine tunnels below the surface of the valley; tunnels narrowly hacked into the rock. The miners crawled on their knees to dig further, to faster find and consume the ore. All those skeleton bodies buried beneath the surface, wriggling and suffering where they dug.

All that suffering would end today. Rising inside the tent, he dressed himself in the leather outfit he’d bought for going down the mine.

He stepped outside. He felt he had magnified bat-radar communication from the old mineshaft which lay a hundred and fifty yards from his camp. Saint had perceived white lights darting about from that direction the past few nights, and he thought to himself, those aren’t fireflies, but he hadn’t been ready until this night. He had to feel right to approach the ghost miners, and tonight he’d had just the mix of solitude and dreams to decide on action.

Everything’s the same color after sunset, he thought, pulling on his boots and strapping on his head light. I’m going. It’s not a mine, it’s a brain, and nothing’s going to be discovered without mind exploration.

He stepped slowly across the open meadow towards the edge of the mountain with the crying sounding in his ears.

He thought of Alisha remarking “You don’t have much expression when you’re listening.” Saint had asked her, “When do I have the most expression?” She answered, “When you close your eyes.”

So, he closed his eyes, turned out the headlight and stepped carefully along the ground, and from beneath his boots came a vibration; a shivery calling through the bottoms of his soles.
He felt the love within him that he was about to give. He opened his eyes again to find the mouth of the old mine. Two shadowy rail tracks poked from the entrance. Saint waited until he observed the glint of the moon on the old moss encrusted steel. Then he turned on his headlight and advanced.

He knew this was his life test. He’d been a good person all his thirty years, so he shouldn’t be scared. He had the empathy to hear all suffering; he could free these ghost miners from their torment, and receive positive karma from the Universe. With the karma would come a release of stress—a lessening of the tension built up from the sounds inside his head.

A long wail sounded from down below. Saint felt with his strong fingers to feel the roots of the giant cedars round the entrance holding up the shaft walls. He moved into the tunnel and jagged woody ends dripped icy water. A small black bat flew by his nose startling him. He hesitated, but the wailing rose again from down below, spurring him on.

He refused to feel fear. Saint repeated over and over, “Life is only a dream from which I can awaken.”

As he moved further and further into the tunnel, the walls shrank until he shuffled, bent over. The light from his hard hat penetrated the inky darkness; a single beam. The sides of the tunnel appeared uneven and he knew to avoid the sharp edges of the rocky wall. He crawled upon his thickly clad knees towards the depths and reflected, This is how the ghost miners moved. He felt he became one with the long-dead miners.

He slanted further along the rocks, until water, rippling and cold, appeared on the tunnel floor. A shallow stream moved in a current beneath his crawling. In front of him, the constant wailing sounded closer.

Can I give them perfect quiet? he wondered; for now hollow booms came from below and a rush of water surged behind him, taking his body down. The shaft ended in a drop he never perceived, baffling him because he was sure he knew how this journey would end. He was shocked when his headlamp went out and he plummeted over into darkness, his pack still tight on his back. His body twisted, his headlamp tumbled from his head, and he lost direction, landing in a dark deep pool, with the current swirling around him.

He swam to find the edge and lifted himself up over the rocks. All around him, sounds seemed to come from everywhere. He reached into his deep leather pockets and pulled out his waterproof LED flashlight, and from its beams, he found that the surging underground river cascaded off the end of the mine tunnel above in a waterfall.

He aimed his flashlight past huge shapes of red-tinged rocks and thought he saw something disappear. What was that? It looked like a face without skin; a raw open wound where the features of the face should have been opening. He wanted to retch but instead he looked away to focus on traction so he wouldn’t fall into the water.

He calmed himself by saying out loud, “It is just a ghost-miner. He and the others are why I came. They need my help.”

Then he was ready to continue into the cold, wet tunnel.

He detected a rustling mixed with the whining behind his ears. He groped forward on his knees, scrabbling along, feeling the ground. There are so many layers below the earth, and in this reality, he thought.

He tried to feel meditative and calm, for nothing bad could happen but death—
which is an illusion—then he’d be reborn into the nirvana that he worked so hard to reach.

“I can only be trapped for a certain time,” he said out loud. “Now, hear me, miners: your time here is at an end. I have come to assure your release.”

The water boomed in jagged rhythms as it fell so loudly, and he’d never been in a place so dark. Saint suddenly shouted, “Is anyone listening?”

He perceived dancing firefly sparks from the mineshaft above, like he’d seen out in the wild the night before.

“I am the first to be here in a century,” he said out loud, “it is a great privilege to be with you now.”

A voice wailed at him from out of the black.

“We will take your skin!” it screamed from above the boom of the night waterfall, “We need your skin.”

This was the source of the suffering. He saw more faces. All had raw, gaping wounds where the features should have been.

He found a moment of doubt. How could the ghost miners crawl out of this hole without their skin? They’d been worn to skeletons all these years. The bones would be crawling. He knew he’d be asked to sacrifice; but he hadn’t imagined this.

He felt resigned to do their bidding.

“The best thing is I still have my packsack,” he said, and opened it, reached inside, pulled out a six-inch-long knife. He ran his fingers along the edge and aimed the flashlight on its silvery blade.

Saint placed the blade on his cheek. He tried to find the resolve to push it in, and felt ashamed that he could not. 

“You must cut yourself away,” wailed the voice from somewhere above the falls. “Separate your soul and throw us the skin.”

He closed his eyes and pushed down and felt the blade go in.

This was the pain that awakened him, with blood streaming down the side of his neck. He stuck his tongue through the open wound through the side of his cheek and the knife dropped into the dark pool beyond him.

The firefly flickers swirled his way. He aimed his flashlight and pointed it upward to show white bones falling from the waterfall, then reforming in the water. The movements of swimming skeletons clattered as they stroked towards him. Before they reached his rocky ledge, he turned out the light and closed his eyes.

“This is how Alisha would want me,” he said to himself. “Living with expression—being true to my purpose.”

He knew he could’ve been with her, in the city at this very moment, laughing and driving along the streets, but he’d never been one for joy. It always seemed like selfish privilege, and then came the thoughts of his mother with her scarves whipping and whirling as she stood on the flat roof of their house overlooking the lake. “This place is all yours,” she had told him, as she turned and smiled, “and you must share it.” Her teeth had been a white-boned rictus in her face, like the bones he felt now coming from the darkness searing his skin with their edges, and the wailing all about.

“We will take you from the ledge,” they called, pulling him into the water. He was with them in that place, as he’d wished, flailing in the dark channel.

First his leather outfit, then his epidermal surface was stripped by the sharp bones of the skeletons scraping and yanking. They pulled just like he did, when he drew the knife down his cheek, and again he tried to slip his tongue through the hole, could not find it and knew then he did not possess a tongue anymore.

“I will reach nirvana,” he tried to scream, but without a tongue to form the words, his shout was simply a loud gurgle. After a time, he felt no more pain as his ears rang and the water flowed around him.

He found himself crawling with many others through a narrow space that shrank smaller and smaller until he could only pull with one arm, and he knew now that arm was only bone. He experienced a short silence, then the rustling and scraping of other struggling skeletons sounded through the darkness around him.

It was then he noticed that the ringing in his ears had ceased.

Saint journeyed with the ghost miners now, moving on his bony knees towards the firefly light. He knew he no longer needed to close his eyes, for he had no eyes for closing.

He heard a cry which broke the silence, and he did not know whether he wailed alone in a dark cavern underground, or if he wailed with the others, connected in sound and struggle within this dark, narrow place, alongside the ghosts to whom he sacrificed his soul and his flesh. Saint knew now the loss of privilege and place. He knew the source of suffering, and the struggle for release.

“I am with you,” he tried again to shout, but he was only able to wail from somewhere in the impenetrable darkness.

“Please Saint, show us to the light,” the miners cried, and their shouts echoed through the catacombs and along the labyrinthine shafts under the meadow and mountain wilderness. “Please, Saint, take us away with your karma and your love.”

The thought that they called his name came and went within him.

Their voices were all he heard from that moment, as he and his bones moved ahead towards what he hoped would be nirvana.

Instead, he became one with the other ghosts, doomed to spend eternity without a face in the mines, waiting for the next victim who imagined himself to be a saint.