Written by William Wedgwood Hawkesworth

This short story first appeared in the Short Fiction Break publication.


By 1910, Patrick had been working in the mines of Butte, Montana for more than a decade. He was no stranger to the dark and dangerous working conditions deep beneath The Richest Hill on Earth.

Body chiseled by years of hard labor. He was formidable, fearless, and literate. A proud and penniless man, no one dared mess with him. 

Patrick’s pockets were empty. The few copper coins he managed to save every day he gave to his wife to care for their five children. His clothes bore the burden of his life with patches and holes.

During a shift change, the foreman’s brother, Tom “Ironfist” McConnell, a towering man of unmatched strength, jovially ridiculed Patrick’s worn jumper.

 “Looks like dressing to impress isn’t in your job description, Patrick,” Ironfist taunted.

The other men had a good laugh.

Unfazed, Patrick responded with a challenge, proposing a bout. The loser buys the winner a new jumper.

The tension in the room was palpable, the stakes high. This was not a mere brawl. It was Ireland’s son against The Richest Hill’s champion—a match destined to etch itself into Butte’s history.

Would Patrick’s determination, fueled by paternal love and wounded pride, be sufficient to defeat the unbeaten Ironfist?

“Psst, did you hear, Friday night, Patrick knocked out the foreman’s brother in their bareknuckle boxing bout,” the miners whispered. “Yeah, they call him Patrick the Punisher,” adding, “the boss is mad.”

 Monday Patrick showed up in a new jumper with pride intact, he seemed invincible.

But there was one opponent he feared. One name that gave Patrick chills every time he heard it, the Tommyknocker. The legend of these mischievous spirits spooked him.

 The men would gather for lunch in a cutout. Passing the time by telling tall tales about the legends of the past and reminiscing about their homelands. Their stories were laced with myths and superstitions.

“The Tommyknockers are trapped souls. Miners, who were killed without warning. Now… they wander the tunnels… watching over us… seeking redemption,” said the young wide-eyed Cornish miner. Patrick smiled, thinking, “it is best to be quiet.”

He listened, reading a book, neither superstitious nor religious. His faith had been shaken by all the death and suffering he had witnessed over the years. He even stopped going to church. “I do not believe in a benevolent God, gnomes or even spirits roaming the tunnels and watching over us,” he smirked.

 “I will believe it when I see one. I am the Captain of My Soul,” he told his buddies at lunch while eating his “letter from home.”  A beef filled pasty, baked with love by his wife Katie. A religious, devout Irish Catholic.

Year after year, Patrick kept returning home unscathed, while other husbands were killed or injured. Katie would say, “Patrick, you are protected by a guardian angel.”

The legend of the Tommyknockers evolved and grew. And so did the respect and reverence the miners had for these mythical beings. Everyone but Patrick.

 Every knock, every creak within the mine’s walls was seen as a message from the Tommyknocker, a signal to the miners to proceed with caution or to retreat.

The Tommyknocker became an embodiment of the miners’ hopes and fears. A testament to their enduring resilience.

At lunch when Patrick listened to miners talking about mysterious knocking sounds and some claiming to have seen the Tommyknocker himself, he would roll his eyes. He was agnostic, until that fateful day that changed him forever.

Arriving at the mine’s entrance and clocking in, Patrick stood ten feet from the shaft waiting for the cage. Entering the cage, or chippy as it was called, with lunch pail in hand, he complained, “they pack us in, like sardines.”

 The jarring ring of the bell sent his heart racing in anticipation of the dizzying descent into the underworld. Swish, with a rush and stomach lurching, he dropped like a boulder. The shaking and banging of the chippy against the shaft walls sent shivers down his spine. And bam, with boots bouncing off the floor, he stopped.

Patrick left his friends at various levels. Last to depart, he began working in a tunnel where they had just blasted the rock and were putting up wooden roofs. He was not pleased with the treacherous job of prying loose the slabs of unstable rocks. “This work is for greenhorns,” he complained.

The sharp, protruding slabs were called duggans. All seasoned miners knew duggans. “Hell, the funeral parlor is called Duggans because of all the men that got diced upped by those nasty rocks,” he thought. “Jaspers, why me? … ah… the boss’s brother,” he reminded himself.

 Carefully removing the slabs, he heard a faint knocking in the distance.


 At first, he attributed it to the natural settling of the rocks, but the rhythmic tapping persisted.

 And it got louder. KNOCK…KNOCK…KNOCK.

 It was coming from deep within the granite wall, like a metallic heartbeat echoing through the solid stone. A cold shiver ran down his spine as he remembered the tales of the Tommyknockers.

Then he saw an image in the shadows of the tunnel. He squinted his eyes. A flickering light from a lantern revealed a ghostly figure.

Standing two feet tall with a large head, long arms, short legs, wrinkled skin, white whiskers, dressed in miner’s attire, was a ghost, a gnome, and a miner.

“What… is that …,” he gasped.

 “Hey you there? Hey, you, what are you doing?” he shouted.

 Patrick froze, squeezing his pickaxe tightly in his hand, waiting for an answer.

“Hey, stop the knocking,” he yelled. The figure ignored his calls and instead the knockings grew louder and more insistent.

 Patrick began walking toward the ghostly sight.

“Hey, you there, can you hear me?” he shouted louder.

 The ghost stopped knocking, Turning his head he stared into Patrick’s eyes.

 Patrick felt a cold shiver run through his body as the black, hollow eyes of the ghoul made contact. It scared the hell out of him. But there was something odd. “Is that what I think it is,” he thought.

. You can read the conclusion at Short Fiction Break.