What you do today is important! You trade one day of your life for it!

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Darkness circled Max, thicker here than there. Walls of the mine were near, he guessed. He stretched out to find them. As he moved, his head throbbed. He fought against his sluggish, aching body, crawling until he found the rough hewn, cold, damp rock. He slumped against it.

Tears threatened. He breathed deeply the rank, slick air and whispered the words he had said to his mother, "I'm seventeen. I'm a man. I can do this."

Thoughts of her and how he had failed unleashed the tide, and he cried in sobs and pain. He fought the memory of his mother and how he had left home. The image of his father filled the black void around him. Even though Tomas had been dead for a year, Max could feel the man's disapproval like a heavy arm resting on his shoulder.

Not that Tomas would have said Max was wrong to come to the mines. No, he would have told his son to go, but for a very different reason.

His father, a dark force of determination, would have stormed into the little town with an army of workers, pushing aside the wounded, the dead, and clearing the scene of the miners unfit to work. In a day's time, silver would have again flowed from the mountain, and the cave-in would be unmentionable.

Max had just wanted to help the people whose lives had been crushed by the mountain.

His father was ruthless, but only saw himself as strong; his son, weak. Max wiped tears from his cheeks and his scruff of a beard with the torn sleeve of his shirt. He knew he wasn't as soft as his dad thought. So why had he not been able to show his mother that he could handle himself?

Voices. Low, then louder. He stood slowly, sliding his back along the jagged wall. Light blinded him, and he jerked his head to one side. The sudden movement made him dizzy. His head pounded.

A flash of black, thin and lightning quick, cut across the thick, shadowy air. Max thought "snake" for a moment. Then he heard a piercing snap.

The whip.