My great-grandfather, Bill, told me this story and tonight I want to tell you it.
In his time, the mines were all over Cornwall and almost all the men worked in one. They did long hard shifts, digging underground in small, dimly light tunnels. The sounds of pickaxes, shovels and carts filled the air so loudly they could hardly hear each other. And the coal dust! It got everywhere and clogged the air right up. They said if you cut a miner up the only thing inside of him would be black coal dust.
Now one day, great-grandfather Bill was down in a new tunnel having a quick walk through to make sure the wooden support beams had been put in place before any real digging started. He had with him an old friend called Tom and as they stood in the middle of the tunnel, they heard a loud sharp knock.
Puzzled they listened harder. They were far from the other miners and the noise couldn’t have travelled that long and clear as it had been. They looked at each other and listened again. There was another knock then no more.
‘It’s the Knockers,’ Tom whispered.
Bill shot Tom a look and replied, ‘it’s just the echos of someone digging. This beam is fine. On to the next.’
The moved on and inspected a few more beams before they heard another knock. The sound travelled through the tunnel and it was much like heavy knuckles rapping at a wooden door. No way could that have been the sound of someone mining coal.
‘Hello!’ Bill shouted.
His voice echoed but there was no reply. He flashed his lantern round and the candle flame flickered then became still. Bill couldn’t make anything out and it didn’t help that the light was only a small pool.
‘Let’s go,’ Tom muttered and started to head back.
‘No. We need to finish this…’
‘I’m going back! When a Knocker starts a knocking you get out!’ Tom stated.
Bill watched him walk away in the glow of the candle light. My great-granddad wasn’t afraid of the little folk who lived underground. He carried on with his work, taking the time to check each beam would hold the tunnel roof up.
A shuffling of footsteps drew his attention and he shone his light down. There was nothing in front or behind him on the solid rock ground he could see. A chuckling noise snapped Bill’s head right up and he spun around, knowing now he wasn’t alone.
‘Tom that you! Come on, show yourself!’ Bill shouted.
A spot of light glowed against the tunnel wall and Bill started to track it. The flames was ahead of him. Thinking that his men were playing a trick on him, Bill decided to ignore it. They weren’t going to get the satisfaction from scaring him.
Bill walked towards the light, but it seemed to fade and move away the closer he got. Growling, he stopped and wiped the sweat from his head. He was tried, hot and wanting to go home to his wife.
He swore and turned around to head back.
The tinkling of metal and the sound of someone hammering with a pickaxe made Bill turn back. He saw there before him, in the gloomy light, a small figure no bigger then a very small child. The figure, appeared to be a male and wearing a miner’s clothes. His face was that of an old man with wrinkles and a long grey beard. He had a lantern in one hand and pickaxe in the other.
‘Are you a Knocker?’ Bill asked in shock.
The figure nodded, ‘aye.’
‘What do you want?’ Bill demanded.
‘You didn’t seem to get our warning about this tunnel. It’s not safe. So I thought I’d come and tell you myself. Since you are alone now,’ the Knocker replied in a gravelly voice.
Now, Bill wasn’t sure what else to say and he was trying hard to remember what people said about Knockers. They were little folk who liked to cause mischief, steal tools and food. Some of the men tossed their pasty crusts to them in the hopes it would keep them away.
‘You should go,’ the Knocker said sharply.
Bill nodded and turned around, he walked a few steps then twisted about again. The tunnel before him was empty. He walked out and a few moments later a giant rumble echoed through the tunnel. Bill turned and saw the entrance clouded in thick smoke. When it cleared, the tunnel had collapsed.
When he came up from the mine that evening, Bill went straight home and didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
It was only when I was a kid and he liked telling tales that one day that story slipped out of him. I asked him many times to tell me about it, but he only told it one other time and that was right before he died.
You see, it was just too unbelievable for him to deal with what he saw and now he’s taken the full story to his grave.
(Inspired from a prompt by; https://scvincent.com/2017/06/01/thursday-photo-prompt-knock-writephoto/ with thanks).