At the same time on the other side of the lake Nanette and Nathan were also smiling. They were dirty, tired, and thirsty, but they were sitting at the top of the pit smiling.
A few hours earlier things had looked bleak when they sat trapped in a pit by the abandoned mine. When the sun reached its peak, the two of them hollered and yelled and hoped that Tim or their family would hear them when they met at the cabin. Nanette even let loose a haunting yet ridiculous sound that startled Nathan and set him laughing.
“It’s called yodeling,” Nanette said. “I learned it the time I was in the Alps investigating what we like to refer to as The Mystery of the Abandoned Ski Resort. It’s supposed to carry over long distances.”
“Maybe down a mountain, but up from a pit?” Nathan remarked. “How about this?” Then Nathan whistled loudly in a way that the Jamesons had taught him a few days ago in Utah. He whistled both with and without putting his fingers in his mouth.
“Nice job,” Nanette said.
“Laurie taught me how to do it with my fingers in my mouth,” Nathan said. “Then Harry said that on a ranch, your fingers are always covered in—animal poo—he used a different word—and that I should learn without fingers.”
“I know,” Nanette said. “When we were teens investigating the Mystery of the Circle J Brand Harry’s Uncle Rich taught us to whistle like that. Or rather, Dad, Harry and Laurie learned to whistle, but I never mastered it. It’s still one of my few regrets.”
Nanette and Nathan continued to raise a ruckus with whistles, yells and yodels, but after a while they decided it was no use.
“We must be too far away,” Nanette said. “Although I would have thought they’d be looking around for us.”
“Maybe they went the other direction,” Nathan said. “My throat is starting to hurt. I feel like we spent a day at Spivey’s Corner,”
It took Nanette a moment to get the reference concerning a town near their home in North Carolina. She chuckled. “We should go there for the National Hollering Contest next year. Maybe we could learn some new tricks.”
“Hey, I could try to teach you to whistle again, Mom. Maybe now you’ll get it.”
They spent some time trying to get Nanette to whistle loudly, but still with no success. Instead of producing a sharp “train whistle” sound like Nathan, she only managed to sound like a squeaky hamster wheel. “Perfect for calling someone who is no more than six inches away from you, Mom,” Nathan remarked.
Every fifteen minutes or so, Nathan would also try to walk on his injured ankle. He said it was getting better and was certain it was just a bruise and not a fracture or sprain.
They finished up the water and snacks that remained in Nathan’s day pack and watched the shadows lengthen as the sun continued past the midday mark. As they chewed their granola bars, both of them looked around intently at their surroundings and looked for anything that would help them escape.
Nathan stood up one more time and limped a few feet. “It’s definitely better, but I’m not running in any races today,” he said. “I think we should have a peek in that tunnel, though.”
When he saw Nanette’s face, Nathan quickly added, “Not go in! Just a peek.”
Nanette jumped up. “If anyone is going to ‘peek in’ it needs to be someone who can run away from danger like me. Not you. Sit back down and I’ll have a look.”
Nanette walked over to the black gaping hole. She stood at the entrance and cupped her hands around her eyes trying to get them accustomed to the dark. “It’s smooth and clear for as far as I can see. It goes down pretty steeply and turns a corner. There’s just one thing on the ground in here.” Nanette knelt down and reached into the tunnel.
“You sure it’s not a snake!?” Nathan said, a little alarmed by seeing his mom do what she told him not to do.
“No, not a snake. It’s not alive, and it’s shiny.”
Visions of gold and silver passed in front of Nathan’s eyes. He then rolled those same eyes as if to indicate to an invisible watcher that he would never actually believe something stupid like that. That in 2003 he would actually find gold in an abandoned mine?! Nevertheless, he was hopeful as Nanette pulled the thing out of the darkness.
She brought it over and the two of them inspected it. It was a wrought piece of iron a little thinner than a pinky finger and shaped like a hook. The entire piece fit in the palm of Nanette’s hand. The opposite end from the hook was jagged and obviously had broken off from some larger tool.
“That’s nothing,” Nathan said, trying not to sound disappointed.
“Actually it is something,” Nanette said. Before Nathan could roll his eyes she quickly added, “Something we can use, I mean.” She smiled slowly as she thought about what she would do next.
Nathan wasn’t going to give his mom the satisfaction of asking what was on her mind. He decided to just wait and watch.
Nanette walked around feeling the walls of the pit and looking up. Eventually she chose a spot, knelt down, and started using the sharp broken end of the piece of metal to chip out some of the rocky wall a little below knee level. It was slow going, but the rock was mixed with dirt and was soft enough that she succeeded in making a little indentation about the size of half a piece of soap. Once she accomplished whatever-it-was she wanted, she moved up and repeated the procedure a little higher and a few inches to the left. Moving up some more, she made more holes above the first two.
She repeated the process until eventually there were about 14 of these little holes. The last ones were as far above her head as she could make them. Nathan watched and thought about what she was doing. Several times he opened and closed his mouth, about to ask a question, but decided to try and figure it out for himself.
Finally, she stopped and put the tool in the pocket of her jeans. Then she stared intently at her handiwork and the wall. After a few minutes she turned to Nathan and said, “Well, here goes nothing.” Using the little holes as handholds and footholds, she slowly started to climb.
Nathan was jealous. He didn’t think his sore foot would allow him to climb like that. Was she just going to leave him here alone while she went to get help?
“Mom, be careful, you don’t want to fall,” he said without thinking.
“I’ve done this before,” she replied. “And it’s not really that high.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” Nathan said, getting up. He was going to climb after her if it killed him.
“No, you stay there!” Nanette paused in her climb. “I have another plan.”
“You’re going to leave me here alone?”
“No, you’re coming with me. I’m going to get you out an easier way. I think you’ll be able to manage it.”
“Wait and see. See if you can figure it out before I get to the top.”
Nanette started climbing again, concentrating on each move and testing each hold carefully before moving on. She really had climbed like this before, but it was a long time ago and she didn’t relish the thought of falling like Nathan had. The pit was only 10 feet deep, but she didn’t want to be reckless and end up stuck here for longer than necessary.
As Nanette neared the top, climbing was more difficult because she had fewer handholds. She had chosen this side of the pit because one lone root from a nearby tree had broken through the rock and dirt and hung about a foot below the top. She reached up and grabbed it with both hands. Slowly, she moved her feet up to the highest footholds, and then reached up to the top of the pit, scrambling to pull herself out.
She stood up and brushed off her clothes. “Figure it out yet?” she called down to Nathan.
“No. Yes. Wait.” Nathan wanted to get the answer himself. He thought furiously. Then the answer came to him in a flash of memory from earlier in the day.
“The ladder? Did they leave the ladder?” He asked. As an answer, Nanette smiled and gave a thumbs up. Then she slowly lowered the ladder the BGs had left next to the pit.
“This is why we always put away our tools when we’re finished,” Nathan said in a prim voice.
“You beat me to saying it,” Nanette joked. Then she added, “Do you think you can climb this? Can you pull yourself up with your two hands and your good leg?”
“No problem!” Nathan answered, with more confidence than he felt. Climbing the ladder turned out to be harder than he expected, but not impossible. He held onto the rungs tightly with both hands and put as little weight on his sore foot as possible. Once he got to the top, he flopped down and grinned. “I didn’t know it was possible to limp up.”
After a rest, the two started back towards Tim’s cabin. At first Nathan leaned on Nanette as he limped along, but soon he picked up a piece of wood that worked as a walking stick.
When they finally reached the cabin, Nathan flopped onto the pine needles under a nearby tree and Nanette started calling for Tim. There was no answer.
The cabin looked much as it had before. Run down. One wall fallen in. A stool and table inside. Nanette walked around to see if Tim had left any messages or clues that he had been here a few hours before.
“Any signs that Tim was here?” Nathan asked.
“Not that I can tell. It’s such a wreck it would be hard to tell if anything was very different. “
“Mom, was that barrel here before?” Nathan asked pointing to a barrel leaning against the outside of one of the cabin’s good walls. “It looks so clean compared to everything else. No pine needles or junk on top of it. Maybe a hiker sat on it and brushed it off?”
Nanette walked over to the barrel and looked at it closely. She touched the side and gasped. “It’s plastic! It looks so realistic, but it’s not. And I agree, I don’t think it was here before or we would have checked it out this morning.”
Nathan got up and hobbled over to the barrel. “Tim must have left it! What’s inside?”
The lid lifted easily. At the bottom of the barrel the two of them could see a cotton drawstring bag. Nanette reached in and lifted it out.
Inside were a note and a bunch of yellowish rocks. Nanette read the note aloud while Nathan examined the rocks. “Sorry to miss you today. Will find you soon with locator. Found these in my cabin. Souvenirs for you. Not real gold. Tim.”
“That doesn’t sound like Tim. Sounds more like your friend Liz,” Nathan observed.
“Lots of people write differently than they speak,” Nanette said. “He wanted to be brief and maybe not give away too much information if this note was found by the BGs. But this note is really, really troubling.”
Nathan looked at Nanette with raised eyebrows.
“It means Dad, Peter and Ashley never made it here either!”
Nathan was quiet for a moment letting that thought sink in. “The BGs must have found them at the resort before they left to meet us! What do you think happened to them? Do you think they’re all right?” Nathan’s voice rose in pitch with each word as he became more panicky.
“There could be lots of reasons they weren’t here on time,” Nanette said, trying to calm her own emotions as well. “Let’s not borrow trouble. They could be fine. But one thing is certain—we need to get back to the resort as soon possible!”
End of Chapter 34
Chapter 35 can be found here: Chapter 35: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)