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.
Padilla took the lead while bones brought up the rear. They move swiftly, the marvels of this, the lower cave flashing by too quickly for them to admire. Padilla, who seemed to know everything about Carlsbad, pointed out some of the sites. In the Rookery, marble shaped formations called cave pearls covered many of the services and seemed to glow with an ethereal light under themes of their headlamps. Among the many stalactites and stalagmites were hollow tubes called soda straws.
“Tourists use to snap these off and take them as souvenirs,” Padilla grumbled. “Morons.”
They squeeze through narrow passages barely wide enough for bones to fit through, crawled through low tunnels, and slid down steep inclines. Finally, they came to a halt. Bones felt rather than saw a large open space in front of them.
“This is the largest chamber of the lower cave,” Padilla said. “We’re going to have to be careful on his next stretch.”
“Why?” Jessie asked. “We are far below ground in total darkness.”
“True, but right up there,” Padilla pointed to a spot hundreds of feet above them, “is a place where people can look down into this cave from up in the main chamber.”
All eyes moved to the opening far above, where a faint yellow light shone. As they watched, a pair of tourists, at least bones assumed they were tourists, moved to the rail and looked down into the chamber. They stayed for only a moment, unable to see anything in the darkness below, and moved on.
“What do we do?” Amanda asked. “We can’t cover that much space in the dark. We’d get lost.”
“We’ll use one light,” bones said. “I’ll go first. We’ll make a chain. If anyone see someone up above, just say “freeze”. We’ll all stop, and I’ll turn out the light until they’re gone.”
“Sounds like a game you play at a slumber party,” Jessie said.
“You got a better idea?”
“Touchy, touchy. I wasn’t criticizing, just saying.”
“Fine. Let’s get a move on.” Instead of turning on his headlamp, bones took out his Maglite with the red filter. It would not afford nearly as much light, but neither was it likely to be seen from a distance. “Everybody stay together and take small steps. I’ll warn you of any obstructions.”
Feeling like a mother goose trying to herd her goslings across a street, he led the group out into the cavern.
They moved slowly and steadily, periodically halting when they saw movement above. It was an odd feeling, standing frozen in place in the pitch black. Bones found his already-sharp sense of hearing heightened. At least, it seemed that way. He heard the out-of-shape Krueger panting, Padilla’s stomach rumbling, and Amanda muttering about how much time they were losing. Jesse remained silent, standing close to him and squeezing his hand tightly in hers. She was so close he even caught a whiff of her shampoo — coconut. Perhaps his sense of smell had grown stronger in the darkness too.
Along the way, they examine formations that were noted in the Book of Bones. These, of course, did not bear the modern names, but those assigned to them by Native Americans so long ago. The spot where twin stalactites and stalactites met, known as Col. Bowles formation, was called the Fangs of the Viper. The large, rounded formation was the Great Turtle. They went on like that, slowly finding landmarks, and picking their way across the cold, slick rock. Finally, they came to a halt on the far side of the chamber, where a mass of bat skeletons they embedded in the stone.
“If these are the stone bats,” Amanda began, “the last clue is the mouth of the demon.”
“I think we’re going to have to turn on our headlamps and hope we aren’t spotted,” Krueger said.
“Let me.” Bones took another look up at the opening to the main cave, scarcely visible at this angle. He thought someone up above would be hard-pressed to see them unless they were hanging out of the opening. Nonetheless, he would only take a quick look. He switched on his headlamp and looked up.
“That’s it!” Padilla pounded him on the back.
Directly above the mound of bat skeletons, a curtain of stalactites hung across a low, wide opening. Still higher on the wall, a boldest outcropping formed the nose, and two shallow caves, perfectly spaced, the eyes.
“Do you think there’s anything back there?” Jessie asked.
“Only one way to find out.” Bones knelt laced his fingers together, and she stepped into his hand. He lifted her with ease, and she hoisted herself up and over the ledge and squeezed her life form into the largest of the openings.
“What you see?” Bones asked.
“Come on up,” her voice answered. “You’ve got to see this.”