Parson’s Fortune (a serialized story) …part three

This is the third installment of a story that I’m posting in parts, serialized as was once common in newspapers and magazines. The story takes place in a small Kansas mining town in the mid 1930′s. Pull up a crate and read the next installment of–

 
parsons fortune

 

Parson’s Fortune (Part three…)

The flashlight showed the roof to be some twenty feet above them. The walls were rugged, fifteen feet to either side. All they saw in front of them was darkness, and they drifted into it.

Charlie switched on his light and studied the closest side. The flint rock receded into a low ledge that climbed upward. “Over there,” he said to Pete and dipped the paddle into the water to pull for the spot.

“Saints and sinners,” Pete said, borrowing Buck’s favorite oath. “This is really something. Don’t you want to go back and tell Jack, figure out what to do now?”

Charlie kept paddling, gaining speed. “Let’s just take a look over here. Looks like a good landing spot. Shine your light over there while I–”

The canoe checked up with a thump, jumping a bit at the bow. The jolt threw the boys forward. Charlie grabbed for the gunwales to catch himself and dropped the paddle in the water. He heard Pete yell behind him.

“Holy smokes! What was that?”

Charlie reached down to retrieve his flashlight from the bottom of the canoe and pulled his hand away with a cry. “Lordy, Pete we’re sinking.” The water was already over their ankles, pouring in through a rent in the bottom of the old canoe caused by the jagged edge of a submerged rock.

Pete was grunting, yanking on the rope for all his worth. The line tightened, drawing the canoe out into the middle of the cavern toward the opening, but it was sinking fast. Both boys bailed with their hands as the ever heavier vessel slowed and sank.

“It ain’t no good, Charlie,” yelled Pete. We gotta swim for it.”

“I ain’t swimming in this water,” said Charlie, still bailing. “It ain’t safe. There’s bound to be creatures in here. Maybe one hit the boat.”

“We’re going down. We gotta. Make for the side. It ain’t far.” Pete didn’t wait for Charlie’s response. He shoved the flashlight in his pants and lowered himself over the side, splashing his way to the ledge. Charlie followed, slapping the water with his arms to ward off any underwater predators. He felt sharp stings on his legs and arms as he kicked his way after Pete. They pulled themselves onto the ledge and watched the outline of their vessel drifting just below the surface. As the rope tightened and slacked, the boat moved in slow, almost imperceptible jerks and bumps toward the glow that lit the mouth of the cave thirty feet away.

Charlie drew his legs up away from the water and felt his injuries. “I told you. Lord amighty. We could’ve been eaten alive. What do you reckon is in there, giant gar fish?”

Pete shined his light on his own arm. A long cut ran watery red. He winced at the sting and examined Charlie’s legs. “It ain’t nothing but sharp rocks. There must be flint ridges cropping up just under the surface all through here.” He shined his light into the water, but the milky green undulations threw the light back at him.

A faint yell came from outside. The cavern mouth soaked up the sound they knew must be Jack having figured out the boat had sunk. They yelled out for help, but their cries just came back in a chorus of echoes.

“You reckon Jack will go for help?” Charlie said after they stopped to listen.

“Sure he will,” said Pete. “And we’ll have hell to pay when they come get us.”

Charlie said, “Lord amighty. We’re in for it now for sure. My pop will wear me out for a month.”

Pete shined his light up the sloping ledge. “Well, maybe we can get out somehow before they come for us. All these mines and caves around, don’t you reckon maybe there’s a hole somewhere up there we can crawl out of?”

Charlie dragged a wet sleeve across his nose and shifted to follow the beam of Pete’s light. The ledge was a foot wide in most places. It climbed ten or fifteen feet and disappeared around an outcropping. “Worth a try,” Charlie said, getting to his feet.

Charlie took the lead, testing each step and using his free hand to grab at what handholds he could find. His wet clothes clung to him and held the chill of the dark cave. He felt Pete’s hand on his belt and heard the boy’s heavy breathing as he concentrated on the climb.

Charlie reached the outcropping and saw that the ledge narrowed to a few inches. He turned to face the rock and inched forward until he could see around the bend. Pebbles dribbled over the ledge and plinked in the water below as he sought better footing.

“What do you see?” said Pete.

“Looks kinda like a tunnel or cave,” said Charlie. “Come on.” He scooted around the rock and disappeared from Pete’s view.

The opening was narrow but tall enough for a man to walk through upright. Charlie stepped in with caution. He swept the flashlight back and forth like a blind man’s cane as he walked. Pete came up behind him. The beam of his light moved erratically as he brushed cobwebs from his shirt and hair.

They followed the cave inward, up the gently sloping floor to where the passage split. One tunnel went left, the other bent to the right.

“Now what?” said Charlie. He heard Pete banging on the side of his flashlight behind him.

“My light’s played out,” said Pete.

Charlie turned around to see the boy staring into the faint yellow beam as it flickered like a dying candle. “Probably got wet,” said Charlie. “I guess that rules out splitting up.”

Pete shoved the spent flashlight into his back pocket and stepped around Charlie to study the tunnels. “Wish we had us some rope,” he said into the left passage.

“Which one you thinking, Pete?”

The smaller boy rubbed his close cut hair and squatted on his haunches to think. He picked up a stone and tossed it into the left tunnel. It skipped and clattered on the rock floor until the sound faded out beyond the reach of Charlie’s light. He did the same with the right tunnel and got the same result.

“I say go left,” Pete said as he stood up. “The floor looks to slope up some. Up is the way we need to go.”

Charlie wasted no time re-taking the lead and pushing into the left tunnel. They hadn’t gone more than forty feet when the light caught something on the floor. “Look here,” he said, settling the light on a rusty animal trap, the steel jaws clamped shut on a bit of bone. “Somebody’s been through here before.”

“Play your light over there.” Pete nudging Charlie’s arm to the left.

Just beyond the trap was another opening in the side wall. The light showed it to go back only six or eight feet, but in the middle sat a rough wooden crate, and on the crate was a coal oil lantern powdered with dust. Pete shook the lamp, but the reservoir was dry.

“What’s all this, you reckon?” said Charlie.

Pete didn’t answer. He was squatted down again looking at the crate. It was upended, the open side facing them. The slats cast bar-like shadows on the rock walls as Charlie’s light swept over the crate.

“Whoa, hold up. Give me the light.” Pete held out his hand behind but kept his gaze on the crate. As Charlie leaned over him, Pete focused the beam on the slats that rested on the floor. It reflected something shiny, a sliver of something under the crate. “Lift this thing up and set it over a ways,” Pete said.

Charlie shifted the crate and stood back as Pete brushed his hand over the dusty rock beneath. “What are you after?” Charlie said.

“This,” said Pete, turning to Charlie with his hand open.

…..to be continued…

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