The trail that led from our tent complex to the diggings across the canyon was more than just a path–it was an experience. Through dust, mud, snow, and darkness my feet carried me many times down its length.
By now we’d found a hole in the ground that Dad and the others suspected of being one of the mine’s old hidden air vents. Our current digging plan was based on something the old Indian had told Mr. Brently.
“Dad,” I said thoughtfully one day shortly after we started working the hole, “aren’t we below the level of the canyon bed here?” I was a bit apprehensive.
“Yes, son, we are, but this is a good tunnel, and the material is solid enough that we don’t need to be afraid of a cave-in.” Probably he’d noted the concern in my voice. “We’re about 10 feet lower than the dry creekbed, but far enough from it so that flash flooding won’t affect us at all.”
“So we won’t have to deal with unwanted water here?” I was remembering other holes we had dug where seepage had been a problem.
“Not from the creek,” broke in Mike Johnson, who had been measuring the length of the tunnel. “And,” he went on, “if we play it right, we’ll miss the water seams that the old miners had to put up with.”
We calculated that we were above and a bit down the canyon from the lost mine. Now we were ready to dig downward toward fabulous wealth . . . and dead men.
Day after day we drilled, blasted, and dug. At first it was exciting, but it quickly turned into plain old work, and finally drudgery.
One day while Dad was drilling holes for a new round of dynamite blasting, my eyes were attracted to a glittering pair of calcite crystals. In the dim flickering light from a carbide lamp, the crystals seemed to be eyes looking at me! The illusion was heightened by shadows that provided long flowing hair, a nose, and a mouth set in an expression of grim horror. I shuddered!
I was so caught up in this strange sight that I didn’t notice that my father had shut off his thunder-chattering air drill.
“Winston,” Dad called from a few feet below me, “send down a bucket to take this stuff out. I’m ready to start loading the holes.”
I usually helped get the dynamite ready for blasting and kept it nearby. This time Dad hadn’t yet come up to make the primer sets, so he came up along with the drilling equipment. The activity broke the spell the face seemed to have cast over me, and I pointed it out to him.
“Look out, Dad, you’re being watched!”
“Well,” responded my quick-witted parent, “if it isn’t old Padre LaRue keeping his eye on us.”
That was the wrong thing to have said to me. From that moment on those crystals and shadows became a constant reminder to me of the dead priest who’d been burrowing with the miners somewhere below us. I had a good imagination, and during those tedious moments while Dad was drilling or installing timbers far below me, I would stare at that face and relive those terrible days that marked the closing of the mine we were so determinedly trying to find. In the flickering of the yellow-flaring carbide lamps, the face seemed alive.
One night my feelings all came out.
“Winston,” Dad called to me, “take the flashlight and go over to the mine. I think I left my pocketknife where we made up that last set of dynamite primers.”
“Uh, can’t it wait until morning?” I said weakly. “It’ll be safe until then.”
“No, I’ve got a splinter here in my hand that’s got to come out. Go on now.” His tone was firm.
Trembling, I crept across the canyon and along the path. With breath-stealing thumps my heart made itself felt. The night was as dark as the inside of a pocket, and my mind was just as black with terror. Down the first ladders I inched, breathing a prayer. Through the tunnel I went, my senses on edge, my muscles and nerves tight for instant flight. Suddenly the tomblike stillness was shattered by a loud crash!
Immediately the face on the wall filled the screen of my mind. Mind-numbing panic engulfed me, and I fled. My screams couldn’t be heard outside the mine, but still I hoped that halfway across the canyon every person in the camp would meet me, with Dad in the lead. Reaching camp in record time, I paused outside the tent door just long enough to restart my breathing. Sauntering in, I mumbled a story about not seeing the knife anywhere.
The next morning I awoke to find Dad by my bedside. Somehow during the night I must have mumbled enough of the story for my dad to figure out what was bothering me.
“Sonny boy,” he said in a comforting tone, “there are no ghosts or living things of any kind in that mine. The Bible tells us that when people die, their thoughts perish–they don’t know anything until Jesus brings them back to life at the resurrection. I know you trust God’s Word, Winston.”
With a long, drawn-out sigh, I nodded my head, then asked, “But don’t the good people go to heaven when they die?”
Dad shifted, then spoke. “Son, I know the church we go to believes that. But that Adventist radio preacher H.M.S. Richards has convinced me that the Bible teaches otherwise.”
“I remember you and Mr. Johnson looking up some verses in the Bible,” I pointed out. “Does Mr. Johnson believe the same as the radio preacher?” Somehow my fears were beginning to seem ridiculous.
“Well,” Dad replied, “Mike is a deacon in his church, and he’s a bit stubborn. But he had to admit that Richards backs up everything he says with plain Bible verses.”
We talked on for a while, and Dad convinced me that God’s love for me and the Bible teachings about death could both be trusted. After prayer I asked another question: “What can I do about that face on the wall?”
Dad didn’t smile at the fact that my faith still needed a bit of help. He responded seriously, “We ought to dig it out of there.” And that’s just what we did.