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by L. H. Hall

Chapter 3 - The Cave


by L. H. Hall

Chapter 3

The Cave

To our amazement we found the stream flowing down a shallow trough, coming out of a large mouth cave some fifty or sixty feet back from the top of the waterfall. The stream was at least a dozen feet wide, but only about six inches deep at the center. The apron in front of the cave was like a large smooth platter some forty feet across with one end cut off. Besides the stream there were several boulders from two to six feet in diameter, and one and a half to four feet high. There were two flat rocks about table height and five or six feet across. In the center of the platter, a few feet from the cave entrance was a rock, an island in the stream, that looked as if it had been hollowed out like a shallow basin. It came to about my knees, and was four feet across. I decided that would be our fire rock.

To the north and east was dense jungle. To the west the ledge we had just climbed blended into the mountain and hid our view of the sea. From the top of that ledge we could see the beach and sea to the west. The mountain behind the cave, with its rocks, jungle, and underbrush was our view, or hid our view, in the other directions. The jungle came right to the edge of the rock platter.

"Quick!" I ordered after we had surveyed our new home. "Everybody, help me get some dry grass and sticks. We're already in the shade. We'll have to get up on that ledge to start a fire."

We all rushed to collect fuel for the fire. Sarah chided, "Yeah, I wanna see your magic act. Let's see you bring the sun down to start your fire."

"So do I," Debbie agreed.

"Me too." Julie picked up a dead branch with a lot of dry leaves.

"It ain't nothing," Jamie contended. "He's kidding about magic. Anybody can do it."

"I'll bet you can't," Julie argued.

"I can too! I was there when Daddy showed us how."

That was the first mention of our parents since we left the beach, and it reminded everyone that we did not have dads any more. "Okay, Jamie, I'll let you build our first fire." I laid a small load of fuel on the western ledge.

Jamie put a handful of dry leaves and twigs into a little pile with the rest close by. "Gimme the magnifying glass."

"Here." I handed him the glass. "I'll get some larger wood. Be careful not to get burned. You stay back and watch, Julie."

"I will, Timmy."

The fire was not lit when I returned with the wood. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"I don't know. It just don't work."

"He can't do it. I knew he couldn't," Julie gloated.

"Sure he can," I looked at the quarter-inch spot of light on the tinder. "Your spot's too big, Jamie. Focus the glass until you have a tiny pinpoint of light on the leaves."

Jamie refocused the light, and within a few seconds the leaves began to smoke and burst into flame. "See, I told you I could, Julie."

"You couldn't have if Timmy hadn't told you what to do."

"I just forgot. I can do it next time." He piled a few more leaves and twigs onto his fire.

"So could I now. Can I light the next fire, Timmy?" Julie asked.

"I think maybe you had better wait a little while, Julie. Fire is not something to play with. You might get burned. Maybe someday we'll let you try it, when you're bigger if we're still here."

"I hope we aren't here that long!" Sarah spouted.

"So do I, Sarah," I agreed. "Maybe we will find someone tomorrow."

Soon we had a roaring fire. It was burning fast. It would be out in a few minutes if we did not get some more wood. I started for the edge of the jungle. "Let's get some wood and make a fire on that rock in front of the cave."

When we had a big pile of wood on the fire rock, I lit it with a stick from the fire on the ledge. "Now let's explore the cave," I suggested, "but stay together and don't go too far into it."

We climbed the five broad steps, three to six inches high, from the platter-like apron that we later called the patio, to the cave opening. The light was dim, but after our eyes adjusted, we could clearly see a large room, probably sixty feet wide and forty feet deep.

The ceiling over the entrance was at least forty feet above our heads, but it dropped sharply a few feet to our right to about twenty feet; then, angled downward to roughly seven or eight feet from the floor at the west wall. In the other direction, it arched down to approximately twenty feet at the eastern end and dropped to nearly fifteen feet at the back.

The entrance was some ten feet high and fifteen feet wide. The west side of the entrance was close to the middle of the front cave wall.

The floor was smooth, and fairly level, except near the stream where it sloped downward on both sides to form the stream bed. Had it been full, the stream would have been eight to ten feet across, and over two feet deep in the center. As it was, the cold, clear stream, coming from deep within mountain, was only about three feet wide, and a foot deep. It flowed out of the cave near the east side of the entrance, and immediately spread out to a wide shallow stream out on the patio.

In the front corner to the right was an old broken table, and a chair, or stool of some kind, and a lot of stuff scattered all over the floor. "Somebody's been here," I observed, "but it was a long time ago. Let's see what they left." There was something. Maybe it was an old radio from the war; and a box of something. It had "U.S. ARMY K-Rations" written on it. "Food!" I picked up a package. "My dad told me about the canned biscuits the soldiers had to eat called K-rations. The government had them canned; so, they would keep for years. He said they are hard and dry, and don't taste very good, but they're supposed to have all the vitamins soldiers need to live on. He said it takes a lot of water to soften them enough to get them down. We'll see what they taste like tonight. Here is an old machete. We can sure use that. And here is a--Let's go back outside! Quick!"

"What's the matter? What's in there?" Sarah asked for everyone.

"The guy who owns all that stuff."

"I didn't see him. Maybe he can help us." Julie contended.

"I don't think so, Julie."

"Why not? Did he say anything?"

"No, He didn't say anything?" I looked at Sarah, not knowing what to do.

"How . . ."

"Come on, Julie," Sarah put her arm around her. "Let's go see how the fire is doing up on the ledge. You come too, Debbie."

"But I wanna . . ."

"Come on, Julie, I'll tell you about him."

"What are we gonna do?" Jamie wanted to know.

"Are you afraid?"

"No! He's either in heaven or hell. He can't hurt me here."

"We can't leave him there if we want to stay in the cave. We don't have anything to bury him with."

"Maybe we could move him into one of the other rooms."

"Are you sure you're not scared?" I wasn't scared, but I really felt kind of queasy about touching him.

"No. I'll help you."

"First, we'll need some light. Let's get some sticks burning, and see what's in the other rooms."

When the sticks were burning, we went into the opening at the far right, closest to the skeleton. We found a short, level, narrow passage leading to another large room, smaller, dimmer and cooler than the main cave with an exit the size of a low door, to the west side of the mountain.

The next opening in the back of the main cave was a long shaft dropping steeply into the darkness. I dropped my burning stick and watched it go down, and down, and down. It was still falling when it went out after several seconds. "This is a good place. I don't think we'll ever want to go down there."

Jamie did not seem to mind picking up the bones. He showed no respect for the person who had once used them. He acted like he was picking up fire wood. He threw his first load down the shaft, and went back for a second load, while the first was still rattling. "C'mon!" He picked up the skull, sticking his fingers in the eye sockets, "I'm not gonna do it all."

"Yuk! Have some respect for the dead."

"Why? He don't care. He don't know what I am doing."

"I guess you're right." I picked up a double hand full of ribs, and laid them on the incline. They did not slide like I thought they would.

"Just throw'em in there. They'll slide better."

I gave them a little shove, and they slid on down out of sight. A few more trips and the skeleton was gone, but we would have needed a broom to have gotten all the little bones. "Maybe the girls won't mind a few little bones."

"You can come on back now, girls," I called from the entrance. "He's gone."

"What did you do with him?" Sarah asked.

"We threw him down a deep shaft, clear to the center of the earth," Jamie boasted.

"I hope he won't come back to haunt you."

"Oh, Sarah! You don't believe in ghosts, do you?" Jamie asked.

"No, I guess not." They started back toward the cave.

"While you were gone we found more boxes. There are some books, and old pots and pans and buckets. One pot's big enough to turn upside down and sit on. I wonder what he had that for. There's a lotta old junk like that. They're old and dirty, but maybe we can get'em clean with sand. We'll take some of'em down to the beach tomorrow and scrub them, but now let's see what these K-Rations taste like." I suggested.

"Look what else we found," Jamie motioned them to follow him into the other room. "C'mere."

"No! Sarah balked. "Timmy said not to go in there."

"It's okay to go into that one. It's just another big room that leads outside, but it's kind of dark. C'mon." I followed Jamie. "However, don't go into the next one, or you might slide all the way to the center of the earth."

"And land on a bunch of dead man's bones." Debbie finished the sentence, shuddering.

"Not me!" Julie exclaimed. "I ain't gonna touch no dead man's bones."

"No, not you, Julie, nor any of us," I agreed. "We need to put something in front of that hole to make sure none of us get to playing around and fall into it."

"It's starting to get dark," Sarah observed when we returned to the main room. "The fire is almost out."

"C'mon. Let's get some more wood before it gets too dark." I picked up the machete. "Then, we can eat."

"Can we build a fire in the cave?" Sarah asked. "And what are we going to sleep on?"

"On the floor of the cave I guess." I began to cut the underbrush at the edge of the patio. "Sure, we can build a fire in the cave if it doesn't get too smoky."

"I gotta go potty," Julie declared, "an' I need toilet paper this time."

"Will you help her, Sarah?" I pointed to an animal trail leading into the eastern jungle. "Take her a little way down that trail. We'll have to use leaves and grass for toilet paper, Julie. I know it isn't the same, but you'll get used to it. It's all we have. The rest of you help me get enough wood so we can have a fire."

By the time the girls got back we had enough wood in the cave for the night, and I had the one on the fire rock burning brightly again. "If anyone else has to go to the bathroom, you'd better go before it gets dark." Sarah twisted flowering vines into leis for herself and Julie. "You won't want to go down there in the dark."

"I'm going." Jamie ran toward the trail.

"So am I." Debbie followed him. "An' I want some flowers for my neck too."

I started to stop them, but then I decided not to. It would be safer for them to go together. Probably we all should have gone at the same time. I turned my attention to building a fire in the cave, and took care of my personal needs when they returned.

The others were sitting by the fire when I came out of the jungle. Now that they had time to sit down and relax, their thoughts and conversations had turned to our parents. Everyone was crying for them. I wanted to cry too, but I could not in front of them. I had to be the grownup. I was responsible for them.

I picked up five K-Rations and opened them with little fold-up can opener included with each ration. It hurt my fingers, but I got the cans open. The bread was as hard as a rock. There was no way Debbie and Julie could bite it, with half their front teeth missing. After cleaning the machete the best I could, I tried to cut them. When I hit them with the machete, they shattered. Sarah had filled the cans with water to soak the pieces to soften them. Finally, we were ready. I asked the blessing on the food, asking God to help us find more before that ran out. It was not very appetizing, but we were hungry. No one complained, and our nagging hunger was satisfied. When we were finished, I threw the cans down the shaft with the skeleton. They rattled and banged for a long time before they finally stopped.

"I guess you meant it, when you said we would slide to the center of the earth," Sarah commented.

"Yeah, I guess I did," I laughed. "It's a long way down there. We couldn't see the bottom."

"It should make a good garbage can then."

"That's what I thought."

Suddenly a strange racket came from the mountain over our heads. It sounded a little like gravel rolling down an incline when it's dumped out of a truck. There were other high pitched sounds that I could not describe mixed with it. We huddled together just inside the entrance. We were afraid something might fall from the ceiling, but we were more afraid to go outside in case it might be wild animals outside on the mountains. The noise continued for a half hour or more, and nothing fell on us. Then, it stopped almost as suddenly as it had started.

We sat around another half hour to see if it was going to repeat. When it did not, we began to relax a little. Finally, I said, "If nobody wants anything from me, I'm going to bed. I hurt so bad, and I'm so tired; I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Can I sleep with you, Timmy?" Julie asked.

"No! Sarah has to!" Debbie objected. "Mommys and daddys are supposed to sleep together."

"Well, I can sleep with them! I sleep with our momma and daddy."

"I don't think this momma and daddy need to sleep together," I declared. "I got a better idea. Why don't we all sleep together? The floor is a big bed. Momma can sleep on one side; Daddy on the other side: and all the little children can sleep in the middle. That way if the boogie man comes, we can protect you."

"There ain't no boogie man, silly. That's just make believe," Julie laughed, "but I get to sleep beside you. Okay, Timmy?"

"Sure it's okay." I looked at Sarah. "I think Sarah and I will get a big stick just in case." I picked two solid sticks a couple inches in diameter and about three feet long, from the wood pile and gave one to Sarah. "Here, Sarah, if there is a boogie man, and he comes tonight, you help me protect our children."

"Oh, you're being silly," Debbie chided.

"Maybe I am, but just in case." I looked at Sarah, and she nodded. She had gotten the message, and so had Jamie.

"I'm the big brother. Maybe I need a big stick too."

"If you want one, it might be a good idea," Sarah agreed.

"We gotta say our prayers," Debbie reminded us.

"Let's kneel in a circle and hold hands. You can say your prayers; then I'll pray for all of us." One by one they said their nighttime prayers, each asking for the one thing we all wanted most, our parents. When they were finished, I prayed, "Lord God Almighty, we do thank you for saving us from the ocean and helping us find water and food and this cave to live in. Please keep on helping us until we find some grownups to take care of us. Help me and Sarah to know what to do to take care of the others, and help us to find more food. Please, God, let our mammas and daddys be alive. Take care of them and save them like you saved us, and help them to find us. In Jesus' name, Amen."

"Will you kiss us good-night, Timmy? You're our daddy, now."

"Sure, Julie, and you too, Debbie, and Jamie." I gave them each a kiss on the cheek, remembering the admonition of my own parents not to forget the other one. "Now don't forget to kiss Momma."

"You gotta kiss Momma, too," Debbie reminded me. "Mommas and daddys always hug and kiss good-night."

"Okay, I'll kiss Sarah too."

When I reached over to peck Sarah on the cheek, she put her arms around me and whispered, "I'm so glad you're here. I don't know what we would do with out you."

"We need you just as much," I whispered as I gave her a hug and another kiss on the cheek.

We all settled down for the night, Julie lying next to me, then Jamie, Debbie and Sarah. Jamie really wanted to sleep by Momma, but he decided that since he was the big brother he ought to sleep in the middle to help protect both of his sisters.

We were all exhausted, so it did not take long for the others to get to sleep, but I hurt so badly, and the floor was hard. I lay awake for a long time. Finally, just as I started to doze off, "Grrrrrrrrr, Grrrrrrrrrr." I sat straight up! So did Sarah! The others had not heard it. I looked around. There in the back of the cave on the other side of the stream was a big black dog with a white ring around his neck, a spot on his chest, three white boots and other white markings. He looked like a border collie but larger, much larger. We sat motionless, watching him. He, which turned out to be she, watched us for several minutes. Then she picked her way along the far side of the cave and went out onto the patio, got a drink, and trotted out into the darkness.

Sarah and I lay back down, but I could not sleep after that. I lay there awake a long time. Finally, I got up and went out onto the patio with my club and sat on a rock, waiting for the dog to come back. Apparently, the cave was her home, too.

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Copyright 1995
Leonard H. Hall, Sr.

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