Hank Reese was so mad that he could hardly see straight. What was Tobe Turner doing sneaking into Sand Cave that way? He knew Tobe had been ordered to stay out of the cave, so Tobe must be up to mischief.
Hank watched the entrance of the cave for a minute; he was pretty sure Tobe hadn’t seen him. Then he wheeled his bicycle around and headed for Perkins’ store as fast as he could go.
The combination country store and gas station sat on the corner at a quiet neglected crossroads, but it did have a telephone. Hank was relieved when his friend’s drawling voice came slowly over the line.
“What’s up, Hank? Sounds like you’re upset.”
That’s Bill Todd, thought Hank, never in a hurry. But he’s got to hurry this time!
Hank quickly explained about seeing Tobe. Then he added, “Don’t forget a thing. Extra candles and our rope and jackets and both flashlights. We’re going to find out what Tobe’s up to!”
“He’s probably going to steal some mineral specimens to sell to the souvenir shop over at Big Cave,” Bill said slowly. “Well, hang up, Hank. I’m on my way. Meet you at the cave entrance.”
All the way back to the cave Hank’s thoughts whirled as fast as his bicycle wheels. I’ve tried often enough, he thought, really tried to make a friend out of Tobe. Hank had even invited him to church. But he’d finally given up. Then when Tobe Turner and his gang had ambushed them after the teen meeting–well, that had done it for Hank and the other guys, too.
Some people you just can’t help. It’s no wonder the Reeses and Turners have always been bitter enemies, if all the Turners have been like Tobe, Hank thought resentfully. The rivalry between the two families went back all the way to the Civil War, when the Reeses had belonged to the Kentucky Cavalry and the Turners had belonged to the Home Guard. Kentucky had been mostly on the side of the North, but many of its people had fought for the South.
Hank and Bill belonged to a spelunking club and were proud to be cavers. They had explored Sand Cave many times and had never destroyed any of its natural beauties. But Tobe Turner and his friends had taken specimens and littered the tunnels so much that Mr. Randall, who owned the land the cave was on, had told Tobe never to go into the cave again.
Hank parked his bicycle at the entrance to the cave, a gaping maw beneath a limestone ledge. He studied the cracks in the soft sand and was pretty sure Tobe was still in there. We’ll find out what he’s up to and catch him at it! Hank thought. We owe him something, anyway, for the dirty tricks he’s played on us so often.
Bill was panting heavily when he finally bicycled up the hill to the opening. The basket on his bicycle was full of the gear the teens always carried when they went into any cave.
“Hurry up, Bill,” Hank hissed. “He’s still in there, and I think he’s alone. I didn’t see anyone else go in with him.”
“OK, OK. Let’s check everything first.” Bill portioned out the candles, flashlights, and jackets, and slung their nylon rope over his shoulder.
The two young men advanced carefully. Once inside they flashed their lights downward, watching for Tobe’s tracks in the sand. There would be only one way for them to go for a while, through the main tunnel.
“This jacket sure feels good,” Hank whispered.
“It sure does,” Bill answered. “It’s only 56 degrees in here, winter and summer.” Then he exclaimed, “Hey, look at what Tobe’s doing. He’s been chipping samples of gypsum.” His words trailed off in disgust.
“Up to his old tricks. He’s a thief and a sneak!” Hank muttered. “Everyone knows we’re only allowed to take pictures, never to destroy the natural growths.”
“This is as far as I’ve ever been,” said Bill after they’d been walking quite a while.
They had reached a place where the tunnel became considerably narrower, and they had to stoop sometimes to keep from banging their heads.
Hank knelt down and studied the floor. The sand had disappeared, and the surface was hard. He couldn’t spot any footprints.
“I’ve been down this passage once, and it ends in a stream,” he said slowly.
Bill was carefully studying a low horizontal fissure, or large crack, at floor level in the side of the tunnel. “This is only a crawlway, but it looks as if someone’s moved this rubble around a bit. Maybe Tobe. Here’s a large boulder that might have been pushed to one side.”
“We’ll try this way.” Suppressed excitement made Hank’s voice unsteady. Exploring a new place in a cave was always challenging.
The teens crawled into the narrow opening. The floor was solid travertine, and the roof was so low that Hank couldn’t raise himself on his elbows without bumping his head.
“If we were any larger, this sure would be a tight squeeze,” Bill complained as he wriggled along on his stomach.
“Be quiet and crawl,” Hank ordered as he slowly pushed himself along.
The tight passageway sloped gently downward, then curved to the right. Soon the two of them squirmed through an opening into a larger tunnel. Bill flopped over on his back, sighing in exhaustion.
“Aw, come on,” Hank urged. “We can walk now.”
Hank and Bill kept their voices down as they walked, pausing occasionally to listen, hoping to hear Tobe’s chipping hammer. They were descending all the time, and the floor of the cave became damp under their feet.
Suddenly Hank stopped and held up his hand. “Listen!”
He swiveled around just in time to see two small pebbles come slithering, rolling, bounding down the incline. The sound of raucous, hooting laughter echoed through the tunnel. Then dead silence.
Bill didn’t need to be told what had happened. He turned, and the teens ran back to the tight passageway. Hank crawled into it first. One behind the other they wriggled through as fast as they could.
When Hank reached the end of the crawlway, however, his worst fears were realized. He lay there panting, suddenly warm in the coolness of the cave.
“Well, go on,” Bill said impatiently from behind him.
“We can’t.” Hank’s voice was dull, flat. “The entrance is blocked, probably by that boulder we saw. Our ‘friend’ Tobe”–he swallowed and took a deep breath–”has walled us in here. We’re trapped!”
(Be sure to read the conclusion in next week’s Guide.)
Illustrated by Mark Texiera