Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
Aside from the view, the top of Halcon Rock had little to recommend it. Rocky spikes and spikier clumps of yucca dotted the flat top of the rock formation. To the south, a few faint lights marked Quemadura where it dozed beneath the starry sky. He took a moment to savor the cool, late-night desert breeze that swept over him, letting it reinvigorate his tired body. After a few minutes soaking up the tranquility he was ready to search.
“All right, Matthew, let’s see what big secret you’re hiding up here.” He made a circuit of the top of the rock, relying on his keen night vision. No sense breaking out his Maglite and possibly drawing attention to himself unless absolutely necessary. He picked his way carefully along the uneven surface, keeping an eye out for anything unusual.
His turn around the rock took about twenty minutes, and nothing leaped out at him. He supposed it was possible that it wasn’t the top of the rock per se, but the rock in general that Matthew and the deputy were keeping outsiders clear of. After all, the article had said the so-called aliens might have come up from underground. But, he had gone to the trouble of climbing up here so he might as well make a thorough inspection.
He took out his Maglite and replaced the clear lens with a red one, which would better preserve his night vision and be harder to spot from a distance. Cupping the flashlight to hide the beam, he began working a grid back across the rock. Maddock, his best friend and business partner, would be proud of him. Whenever they searched for a sunken ship, Maddock preferred the orderly, painstaking approach to searches while Bones would prefer to wing it. In fairness, winging it didn’t often work out, but when it did it saved them a great deal of time and spared Bones a wealth of boredom.
This search proved equally fruitless. Ten yards away, a tall stone spire marked the west end of the rock, with nothing but coarse stone to fill the intervening space.
“I guess it’s back down again. At least I got to do some more climbing.” More out of a sense of obligation than purpose he completed his search. When he reached the spire, he let out a whistle. “What have we got here?”
Footprints scuffed the sunbaked patch of dirt at the foot of the spire, and off to the side lay a deep scrape where something heavy had been dragged a short distance. Someone had been busy in this very spot.
A manhole-sized slab of rock lay at an angle against the base of the spire. Bones heaved against it and slid it to the side.
“Jackpot!” A dark shaft dropped down about five feet to a narrow passageway that disappeared into the darkness. By the looks of it, it was just wide enough to accommodate his bulk. “Dark creepy tunnel heading down into who knows where? This is totally my jam.” Heart racing, he slid feet-first into the passageway.
Once inside, he exchanged his red lens for the standard clear one. Down here his night vision would be useless and there was no danger of anyone seeing him so he might as well have as much light as possible.
The way down was steep and irregular, a natural fissure exacerbated over time by the heating and cooling of the rock and washed clean by occasional rainfalls. He slipped, slid, and clambered deeper into the darkness until he finally came down in a low chamber about twenty feet across. He shone his light all around. A few stalactites dangled from the ceiling and while cave pearls glinted on the floor. Multiple passageways led off in various directions. He’d found his way into a cavern system.
“Holy crap. I don’t have time to explore every freaking one of these.”
He didn’t have to explore at all. A quick inspection revealed that someone, Matthew, he assumed, had marked all but one of the openings with an X in yellow chalk.
“I wonder how long it took him to explore and eliminate all these other passageways?” Grinning at the thought of benefitting from what likely represented months, if not years, of Matthew’s efforts, Bones headed down the unmarked passageway.
Like most caverns, the way twisted and turned, rose and fell, but gradually descended. He lost all sense of how far he’d traveled in this dark, unrelenting stone tube. He kept a sure grip on his Maglite, knowing he’d be in trouble if he should lose it.
After traveling for a good fifteen minutes, bypassing several caves and passages marked with an X, he came to a halt at the edge of a yawing pit. Smooth-sized and twenty feet across, it dropped fifty feet or more to a rock-choked bottom. The passageway continued on the other side.
Bones shone his light around, and the beam fell on a pile of lumber, all short lengths of two-by-fours, a box of nails, and a hammer. He chuckled. Was Matthew going to try and build a bridge out of three-foot long boards?
“I’ll bet that idiot tried to carry standard length lumber down here and couldn’t make it through the tight curves. Wish I’d been there to see it.” Smiling, he played his light around the cavern, wondering how he might make it across. One option was to climb down into the pit and then climb back up the other side, but he’d need gear and a partner for that. Perhaps there was another way.
He carefully inspected the chamber and realized that the walls weren’t smooth at all. Deep, jagged clefts split the surface, running horizontally from one side of the defile to the other. A spark of an idea kindled his adventurous spirit. His friends called it “reckless” but Bones knew his capabilities.
“I can do this.” His eyes flashlight beam dropped to the bottom of the pit far below. “I’d better do this or else I’m screwed.”
He took a minute to try and talk himself out of this course of action. There was no need, he thought, to investigate any further. What did he care if Matthew was looking for underworld aliens. It wasn’t his problem. Why risk falling, maybe to his death, just to beat the man to the other side?
But the truth was, this wasn’t about besting Matthew. This was about Bones’ innate curiosity and his fascination with all things strange and mysterious. It was the sort of legend he and Maddock were always chasing down, and usually doing it in much more perilous circumstances than this. Bones wasn’t a fearful man and he wasn’t about to be deterred by a challenging climb.
His mind made up, he took time to plan his route. He wished he had a helmet lamp, and helmet to put it on, but his Maglite would have to do. His eyes traced the cracks in the rock, picking out handholds and footholds. When he was satisfied he’d chosen the best path, he clamped his flashlight in his teeth, slid his foot into a crevasse, and began to climb.