By K. Ferrin
At the edge of a small town deep in the mining country of the upper peninsula of Michigan is a place called The Pits. At least that’s what everyone under four feet tall called it.
The Pits looked like two lakes on either side of an earthen road, cupped gently in the arms of two hillsides. Anyone from outside would look at the steep tree-lined hillsides and the steely grey water and find it beautiful. But those of us who lived there knew otherwise. They were not natural lakes, you see. At least not completely. They were the collapsed water filled remains of what is reported to have been the greatest iron mine in Michigan.
Everyone under four feet tall knew the dark history of the mines.
100s 1,000s 10,000s of miners gave their lives in service to the mine, and untold more died in the numerous collapses that eventually turned underground tunnels into the deep water filled pits that exist today. In 1940 it collapsed again taking a 150-foot section of heavily used roadway with it, killing no one at least a hundred people as it went.
None of the bodies were ever recovered.
The Pits, you see, were bottomless. No one had ever been able to determine their depths, though researchers tried for ages. The earth around them was pitted with miles and miles of abandoned and now underwater mines. And there were creatures that lived there. They were the reason children drowned in the Pits every year, and why their bodies were never recovered. We all knew someone who’d seen them, flitting shadows just below the surface of the water, or a glimpse of movement out of the corner of an eye. Mermaids, of a sort, but with mouths full of razor sharp teeth and a thirst for human flesh. Preferably those under four feet tall. That or ghosts. Also with a preference for eight year olds.
It turns out the history of the mines, for those of us over four feet tall, is not nearly as exciting. While almost certainly some miners lost their lives on the job, there is no history of these mines being any more dangerous than any others. By the time the mines began collapsing they had been long abandoned, and while one car did indeed plummet into the Pits when the road collapsed, there were no fatalities. There are still flooded tunnels beneath all that water, but The Pits are only about ninety feet deep. Not exactly fathomless.
But those stories stuck with me all these years, locked away in the vault of a writers’ mind, only to emerge decades later in the pages of a novel. Feral mermaid type creatures with mouths full of jagged teeth waiting for the fateful misstep of a careless sailor.
As adults we are terrified less by the monsters under the bed and more by the monsters that walk amongst us and seek to do us harm. But as writers, it is worth plumbing the depths of these childhood terrors for our writing. At some point the innocent and terrifying ‘what if’ of childhood is replaced with the adult certainty of ‘not real’. But deep down inside, all of us are still terrified of the dark unknown. Reaching back into stories from our childhood can help us tap into those things that most deeply frighten and disturb us. Excellent fodder, I think, for shady writers such as us.