A Christmas Myth
At the turn of the 20th century the Leben brothers, though in their corporate infancy, had already begun down the enchanting road of profit. Their first modicum of success had swelled from a mine not far from the industrial district in which they resided. A little hill in the near distance with twenty or so workers producing enough to warrant a weekly train visit from the district. Though the mine did not produce hand over fist, it produced enough. Enough to give them a taste of success, a flavor they could not spit or rinse from their mouths.
But with success there comes a fall, and after a year of prosperity atop the hill their success had dried up, all the valuable mineral extracted from it in a sort of prodigious frenzy. The Leben brothers, enterprising as they were, sought to expand their exploits into the distant country. Into places other outfits deemed too much work on the front end to reap profit from on the backend. They disagreed and subsequently disregarded this practice, for they knew with hard work and a sort of prescient discontent for other’s assuredness that the wild hills would someday be profitable. No if about it, only when. The land would prove prosperous enough to build a company around, to build an empire around. The necessities required to get an operation up and running in the mountains would not be much at all. They would need provisions and tools. Workers to pull material from the mine. A town which the workers could call their home. A railway to haul it back to the industrial district. Money and time upfront, yes. But profit in the future.
They purchased the land from an aging farmer who spoke of the mountain above as though it were a deity. They’d approached him on foot and inquired if they could stay for an evening. The night was cold and long. Business should never be talked of first. But by the time dinner had come around they’d already convinced the man to give up the only land he’d ever known. Each possessed a salesman’s cunning and the sort of ruthlessness required to do so without remorse.
Not long after they’d inked the papers they unleashed a swarm of man and blade upon the hillside. Within a month it had been cleared of its timber. It took even less time to build a town, the old growth trees they’d felled providing more than enough lumber to erect numerous homes. They would call it Lost Leben, the city in the mountains. At the town’s inauguration, a snow swept day in the early fall, there would be over three hundred residents gathered in the main square to watch the two brother’s cut the red tape, one hand on either side of the scissor’s massive handles. The snipped ribbon billowing in the wind and between it all the two brothers’ hollow smiles.
By the end of that long and cold winter, no soul would remain.
It had started off so well for the brothers. The mine produced at a rate they could hardly keep pace with, let alone quantify. They paid their employees handsomely. Soon a brothel had been erected in town and filled to the cedar rafters with the finest women the country and distant city had to offer. Girls of all shapes and sizes to satisfy whatever perverse wants their employees may have. And men in the ground, so they would all say around a table topped with tall, frosty mugs of beer, knew their way intimately around holes. As a sort of testimony to these claims, the ladies each man would go to bed with would often gossip with each other of the men and their talents. The brothers themselves had a handful of women they kept from the brothel, ones not be shared with their employees, and each night and morning they woke and went to bed with a smile on their face. It was what they’d dreamt of.
By mid-December The Leben brother’s mine had stirred an excitable interest in the business world, and not long after that the Brother’s would be asked by most all the business journals of the day how they’d known the hills would hold so much within. To ask them of how’d they done it.
On December 21st it would all change. A group of 24 miners from the morning shift would walk down into the cold and dark earth and never come from it again. At 12:25 AM an earthquake would crack out across the darkened land. Old growths fell in the great faraway and quarries crumbled. And the solid wood rails holding up the entrance to the deep mine would snap and the rock would topple and the miners were left standing in the cold and dark of the mine, the earth trembling as they so did as well. The oil lit lamps atop their heads their lone source of light, a diminishing flame choking in the vacuum of the earth.
By mid-morning the Leben brother’s would know of the collapse. And not long after they’d received word did they know that there would be no way to extract the workers. The collapse had been too catastrophic. The twenty four miners would die within two weeks. If they were lucky, they’d only last a week.
A halfhearted extraction plan was devised and soon it went into action, but most the other workers energies shifted to creating another hole in the backside of the hill.
All the ruckus from above provided the trapped minors with a shred of hope, a prayer that they may actually be saved from a cold and darkness they knew all too well. Soon enough, when they could no longer rise from the floor, their eyes black to the world, they began feasting on the corpse of the first passed miner. Survival their rite.
Within three weeks a new slope had been carved in the mountain and attached to a pre-existing chamber. Each worker aware of the fates of those before them, but still they went back into the hill and pulled from the earth all they could.
On a morning in mid-January a brothel girl would find the corpses of the Leben brother’s in a darkened room strewn across the floor. The flickering light of a mining helmet illuminating it all in horrific detail. Innards strewn about, hearts ripped from their chest. A trail of blood out the window and leading up to the entrance of the mine where a section of small intestines lay coiled up like some fetid serpent.
And each morning after the city woke to more mutilated bodies, more hearts missing and blood trails and entrails. Mining helmets with a dying, flickering light which would not extinguish despite the absence of kerosene.
After four days of dead mornings a local leader called for a meeting to be held in the great Leben brother’s house. In the main room a cluster of frightened people circled around each other and told of what they thought and saw. A few people claimed to have seen something in the late night. Something had crawled out of the mine, a shadow, a scream. One of the miner’s had survived and escaped the mine, body more primal than civilized again, they theorized. A religious man in the crowd stood up and spoke with thundering conviction, swearing that the entrance to the mine was no entrance to a mountain at all but instead a mouth to the edge of hell. That the man was no longer a man but a beast, and the beast wielded the hearts of the corrupt and gave them to Lucifer himself so he in turn could further his powers. The land atop the mountain was a profane territory and any who chose to stay had chosen to die in the one place God would not answer to.
By the meetings end the man had convinced the town of this. A group marched to the summit and tethered dynamite to each pillar of the entrance. Everyone watching the deep to make sure no beast came from its depths. And then they all backed up and strung the fuse down the path and blew it down. A puff of black erupted from the side of the mountain, the air shrieking not like that of an explosion but a sort of haunted scream in the night.
In the years to pass, the story of the haunted hill with hell’s mouth spread wide and far. Soon it would be used as instruction by parents, who would tell the tale to their children on December 21st, warning them of a terrible month long span that may come if they became too greedy around the holidays. If they only took but did not give. And if they did so, on Christmas morning they’d wake to see a mining helmet with a wick and a licking flame that could not be extinguished by any method. Once the flame had died, the Ghoul would crawl out from Hell’s mountain and take their beating heart from them and return it to Lucifer, where they would live within him for the rest of time.
Indeed, it is better to give than receive. To share a heart and not hold it as one’s own. And is that not the warmest of gifts.