Welcome to The Book of Bones a (mostly) weekly adventure serial.
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If you haven’t been reading along, start here with Chapter 1.
The cool air hit Bones like a wave as soon as they descended into the cave. The rocks beneath his feet were smooth and slick, and shifted under his weight. He warned the others to proceed with caution as they worked their way deeper into the darkness.
“I don’t see any bats.” A faint note of hopefulness rang in Jessie’s voice.
“They’ll be a lot deeper in,” Padilla said. “But they’re not going to mess with you. I promise.
Jessie pursed her lips. “Yes, but do they promise?”
They continue to move forward and downward. There headlamps sliced narrow blades of light through the curtain of darkness. Being closed to the public, this cave had no well-worn path to follow. Instead, they made their own way, investigating side passages, many of which were blocked by rock falls, clambering over loose rock piles, and sliding down steep inclines.
Bones soon grew impatient. He liked to move fast, and this slow going did not suit him at all.
“We’d better find something soon,” he muttered.
“What’s that?” Jessie asked.
“Nothing. Just ready to get out of here and have a beer. Or three.”
“Come on. Can you honestly tell me you aren’t having fun?” Thrilled by the prospect of discovery, Padilla was like a kid on Christmas Eve. The old rancher couldn’t keep the bounce from his step or the exhilaration from his voice.
“For me, this falls into the ‘been there, done that’ category,” Bones said.
“Well, don’t spoil it for the rest of us,” Jessie reproved.
“Look out! Bats! Bones shouted.
Jessie shrieked. Her hands clamped down on his arm and she looked around wildly, the beam of her lamp zig-zagging over the ceiling of the cave.
“Where?” she gasped.
Bones chuckled. “Just messing with you.”
“You ass!” Jessie punched him on the arm.
Hey! Don’t spoil my fun,” Bones teased.
“You are pushing it, Bonebrake.” The young woman lapsed into resentful silence as they continued onward.
“How long have we been at this?” Padilla asked when they eventually stopped for a rest.
Bones checked his watch. “Almost two hours.”
“Maybe the treasure is not here,” Jessie said glumly.
Bones placed his hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Don’t give up just yet. Looks like there’s still a lot more cave to explore.”
“I thought you wanted to get out of here.”
“I’ll finish the job first. I always do.”
They hadn’t gone more than two hundred feet when Padilla, who had taken the lead, let out a shout of surprise. He fell, accompanied by the clatter of tumbling rocks. His headlamp bobbed up and down, mostly down, as he fell. Bones made a grab for him, but he was far too late. The following man came to a stop at the bottom of a sharp incline, a good twenty feet below.
“The floor gave way underneath me,” Padilla groaned. “I know. Nothing like stating the obvious.”
“Are you all right?” Bones asked, relieved to hear the old man’s voice.
“I hurt my ankle, but I think my pride is what’s really injured.”
“Don’t even worry about it,” Bones said. “You’re hardly the first to take a fall.”
Carefully, he and Jesse picked their way down the steep, rocky incline, to where the rancher sat checking his ankle.
“It’s not too bad,” Padilla said. “I can keep going.”
“You should stay here and take a rest,” Jessie said. “Bones and I will go on.”
Padilla shook his head “Not a chance. I came this far and I’m going to see it through.” Gritting his teeth, he heaved himself back up onto his feet.
“Really, Mr. Padilla, you should stay here.” Jessie turned Bones. “Tell him.”
Bones looked at Padilla. The rancher narrowed his eyes and slowly shook his head.
“He’s not going to give in on this,” Bones said. “No sense in wasting our time arguing.”
“But if he gets hurt…”
“If he gets hurt, we’ll leave his stubborn old ass here for the vampire bats.”
Jessie’s eyes flashed toward the ceiling and then back to Bones. “You are such a jerk.”
Bones winked. “Yeah, but you love me anyway.”
“If I roll my eyes at you anymore than I already have him afraid I’ll go cross eyed.”
“Nobody appreciates my humor,” Bones said
Jessie put her hands on her hips. “Humor? Is that what you call it?”
“You are not a nice girl.”
“Ouch. That one hurt.” She mimed stabbing herself in the heart.
“I hate to be the grumpy old man here, but how about we get on with it? Unless you two want to get a room and leave me to do this myself.” Limping, Padilla lumbered ahead.
Bones turn to Jessie. “What do you say? Want to get a room?”
For a moment, Jesse stared daggers at him. Then, with a shake of her head, she turned and stalked away after Padilla, muttering something that sounded like “asshat” under her breath. Laughing, Bones followed along behind.
An hour later, Jesse had had enough. She halted in her tracks, folded her arms, and looked up at the ceiling. “How much longer are we going to do this? There’s nothing here but passages and more passages. Well, now just a single passage, and it looks like we won’t be going much farther.”
She was right. Up ahead, the way, which had grown progressively tighter, narrowed to a near-impassible width.
“We go much farther, we’ll need a child to squeeze through some of these passages,” Padilla said.
“Or a trim, athletic gymnast.” Bones raised his eyebrows at Jesse.
It took the young woman a moment to get his meeting.
“Oh, hell no!” She took a step back. “You’re not sending me ahead by myself. The bats are there somewhere.”
“Relax,” Bone said. “I’m only talking a little farther. Slip through there, and see if the way opens up. If it keeps getting narrower, we’ll go back.”
“And what if I get stuck?”
“If it makes you feel any better, I’ll tie a rope around your waist so I can drag you back”
Jesse smirked. “No thanks. If I’m trapped down here forever, you’ll have to settle for me haunting you for the rest of your natural life.”
Jessie turned, took a few deep breaths, steeling herself, and then shot one last glance at Bones. “You suck, you know that?
Bones gave a single nod. “It’s been said.”
Without another word, Jessie moved deeper into the passageway. Bones and Padilla watched until the glow from her headlamp vanished.
“You think she’s okay?” Padilla asked after a few long, silent minutes.
“She hasn’t called for help. That’s a good sign.”
“Yeah, I just worry about what might happen. A dropoff, a collapse, falling stalactites.” He glanced up at the stone spikes that hung above their heads.
“Well aren’t you a ray of sunshine?”
Just then, Jessie’s voice pierced the quiet.
“Bones! Get in here right now!”