Welcome to The Book of Bones, a weekly adventure story. If you’re just joining the story, click here for Chapter 1.
Bones worked his way across the chasm, his thoughts focused on nothing but the next handhold or foothold. In the deep recesses of his mind he was aware of the precipitous fall that would result from a single mistake, but if he did what he was supposed to do, it wouldn’t matter. All he had to do was remain focused on the task at hand.
Adrenaline coursed through him, all his senses alive. What was it about putting himself in mortal peril that excited him so? It was just the way he was wired and that wasn’t going to change. Plenty of people had tried to break him of it and all had failed.
When he stepped onto solid ground again, he took a moment to look back at the way he’d come, making a mental note of the path he’d taken so he could reverse it on the way back. Finally satisfied he had it down, he hurried along the passageway.
He rounded a sharp turn and stopped short. Twenty paces ahead, beyond a floor strews with debris and set in a wall covered in pictographs, a gleaming metal door barred the way. He saw no hinge or doorframe. It was as if the metal was part of the wall. He took a few steps closer, running his light up and down its length. It was flawless, not a single scratch or spot of rust marring its surface.
“What the hell is this made of?” he muttered. “Titanium?” He moved closer, picking his way through the debris that he now recognized as signs of sacrifice—shriveled ears of corn, dried flowers twisted into wreaths, fetishes crafted from sticks and yucca fibers, and the bones of small animals. Some time, most likely in the distant past, the native peoples had known of this place and had apparently sought to appease whoever or whatever lived behind the door.
Bones extended a hand to touch the door but hesitated. Should he touch it? What if it was electrified or something? He reached out and tapped the door with his MagLite. Nothing. The door seemed to absorb sound. He repeated the procedure with the blade of his knife. Still nothing.
“Oh, what the hell? You didn’t come all this way to wuss out now.” He took a deep breath and pressed his palm to the surface of the door. The icy cold metal grew warm at his touch, and then went cold again. “That’s it?” He tried it with his other hand. Same result.
Disappointed, he banged on the door a few times, then tried pushing it, but to no avail. He looked for a handle, a controller, or even a seam around the edges, but even up close it looked to be a part of the natural rock. He could no longer keep the thoughts of aliens out of his mind. All the stories he’d ever read about extraterrestrials in New Mexico began to scroll through his mind. Could this be proof? It was certainly something, but it wouldn’t mean much if he couldn’t get to the other side.
He took a few steps back and shone his light over the cave walls, inspecting the pictographs. Many were common sights to the Southwest: spirals, suns, and animals, but he saw several variations on the same theme—people bowing down to starry-eyed men who were climbing up long staircases.
“Well, they aren’t coming down from the sky, that’s for sure.” He took out his phone and snapped pictures of the cavern, recording the door and all the surrounding pictographs in as much detail as he could. He gave the door one more try to see if it would budge, but again he felt only the brief flash of warmth, as if the door were trying to recognize him. Finally, he accepted there was nothing more he could do at the moment. He’d go back to the motel, get some sleep, and make a plan on how to further investigate. He could think of worse ways to kill a few days.
The climb back over the chasm took a little longer than it had on the way in. No longer buoyed by the thrill of anticipation, he slogged across, trying not to let his thoughts drift to what lay beyond the door. Once he missed a step and let out a curse as he held on tight, his toe searching to rediscover its hold. Just as he found it, he heard a low, muffled sound drifting through the cavern. An echo of his cry?
And then he heard it again. The sound of voices.
Someone was coming.
“It’s gotta be Matthew. Crap.” He completed the climb across, hurried over to the pile of building materials where he ducked down to listen. The voices were still indistinct but coming closer. He could tell there were two different speakers. Perhaps Matthew and the deputy?
He considered his options. He had as much right to be here as they did, so he could simply walk out and take his chances that they’d leave him unmolested. He discarded that thought as patently absurd. He wasn’t wanted here, and if the deputy was armed, what would stop him from shooting Bones and dropping his body into the pit or covering it in rocks and leaving it? No one would ever find him down here, of that he was certain.
That left stealth or main force as his avenues for escape.
The voices became clearer. He could tell for certain that two men were talking. He could make out a few stray words.
“…not in his hotel room…”
“…no way he found…”
“…somebody moved the rocks…”
They were talking about him. Time for action.
He picked up a short length of 2×4 from the pile of building materials, moved off to the side, and turned out his light.
Inky darkness enveloped him. The best night vision in the world was no good without at least a sliver of light. Fortunately, he was comfortable in the darkness and in confined spaces. He’d spent enough time in both over the years.
Soon, a faint glow announced the approach of someone carrying a light of some sort. Bones gripped the 2×4 like a baseball bat and tensed.
“The pit’s up here.” The voice sounded like the deputy, though Bones couldn’t be sure. “I don’t see anyone.”
“Maybe he’s lost in one of the tunnels.” A note of hopefulness rang in Matthew’s voice.
“Probably. I’ll take a look in here just to be sure.” The deputy was looking back over his shoulder at Matthew when he stepped into the chamber and Bones took full advantage. He forewent the 2×4 and drove the heel of his palm into the man’s temple with all his might. The deputy’s knees buckled and Bones caught him and eased him to the ground. He hastily dragged the deputy off to the side, removed his boots, stuffed a sock into his mouth, and bound his wrists and ankles with his laces, and then extinguished the man’s flashlight and laid it on the stack of lumber.
“Hector? You okay in there?” Matthew called a few moments later.
“Tripped and hit my head,” Bones groaned, trying to add a touch of the deputy’s accent to the words.
He heard hasty footsteps coming down the passageway. He resumed his position and when Matthew strode into the chamber, Bones was ready. He cracked Matthew in the back of the head with the 2×4. Matthew cried out and staggered forward a few steps. Bones struck again, baseball style, knocking Matthew’s flashlight out of his hand and sending it spinning down into the pit.
The light vanished as the flashlight disappeared from sight.
“What the hell?” Matthew wailed.
Bones backed away from the sound of the man’s voice, feeling for the passageway that would lead him out of the cavern. He’d love to stay and give Matthew the kind of beatdown a man who hits women so richly deserved, but decided against it. He’d assaulted a police officer, and a fight with Matthew, however brief, could leave marks on Bones that might identify him. Best to get while the getting was good.
He found the open passageway and moved quickly and silently until Matthew’s curses faded away and he felt safe turning on his MagLite. He made the climb back to the surface as quickly as he could. It felt like an eternity, and when he finally emerged atop Halcon Rock, he fell to his knees, lungs heaving, clothing drenched with sweat. He spared only a few moments to rest before he pushed the slab of rock back over the hole that led into the pit.
He wondered how long it had taken Matthew to feel around in the dark until he found the deputy’s flashlight. He hoped the idiot had crawled off the edge of the pit by accident. He doubted he could be that lucky, but at least he’d made their lives difficult.
“Score one for the good guys.”