“The Foolish Enter…None Return”

A full moon and flickering fire made reading the map feel even more like a long-kept secret was about to be revealed. They studied it while whispering their thoughts as if someone were listening through the wall in another room. Not a one of them reached for their flashlight. Somehow, they knew it would spoil the adventure.

The directional line continued straight north; little arrows centered on the line pointing the way. The straight part of the line ended where it intersected a jagged line running east and west. This had to be the other side of the plateau. Then it continued in a series of twists and turns, like the switchbacks they had hiked in the Colorado mountains. The markings at the end of the switchback trail looked like an attempt to draw trees and a stream.

“Maybe we’ll find some water tomorrow,” said Ben.

At sunrise all that remained of their fire was a few smoking embers. Bandit licked Jold’s face to wake him. Everyone else had their backpacks loaded and strapped on. “Come on lazy bones,” said Kate. “It’s time to go.”

They walked due north across the plateau, shedding jackets as the temperature rose. They were rationing the water but most of their bottles were empty. “We have got to find water,” said Kate.

“For sure,” said Tali.

When they reached the north edge, they discovered it was not as steep as the climb up had been. From their vantage point they could see an old trail with a series of switchbacks. “This is it, exactly what the map shows,” said Ben.

“Going to be a lot easier going down than it was coming up.” said Willy.

“Watch for snakes,” said Tali. “You go first Ben.”

Ben, then Willy, followed by Kate and Tali with Jold bringing up the rear. It was a trail too narrow to walk side by side, except for Bandit. He was darting every which way, stopping to sniff the ground and mark his territory at every bush in sight; at least until he ran dry.

Twenty minutes later they reached the bottom. “Can you believe this?” said Ben. What they found amazed them. It was like an oasis in the desert. There were three very green oak trees alongside a crystal-clear pool. A stream of water flowed out of the rocks embedded in the plateau and like a tiny waterfall poured into the pool. It was about the size of a backyard swimming pool but only a foot deep. The water then trickled over smooth moss covered rocks at the other end, disappearing into a crevice.

“An underground spring out here in the middle of nowhere, wow!” said Kate. “Thank you Jesus,” said Tali. “I was praying we would find water.”

“Wait,” said Ben. He knelt next to the pool, cupped his hands, and scooped up enough water for one big sip. He swished it around in his mouth, waited a second, then grinned and swallowed. “Tastes ok to me.”

Thirst satisfied and bottles full, they laid out the map for another look. Scribbled in tiny faded letters at the beginning of what appeared to be a narrow canyon, were the words, death lives in the thunder.

“What do you think that means?” asked Jold.

“Well, the last time we ignored the words we went the wrong direction,” said Tali.

“Yeah, maybe it means to watch out for falling rocks, that kind of sounds like thunder,” said Kate.

“No worries, Bandit will let us know if somethin’ is wrong, he’s telepathic ya know,” answered Jold.

“That looks like the entrance to the canyon over there,” said Willy. “Let’s go.”

Ben strapped on his backpack and the gang followed him as they entered a very narrow canyon. The walls of the canyon were about ten feet apart and appeared to be about thirty feet high. They were worn smooth, nothing to grab if you had to climb out. The walking was easy, the rocky ground of the plateau had given way to soft sand, like you would find on a beach. The sun was not directly overhead so for a while the walls of the canyon would provide shade while they walked.

An hour later they exited the canyon into very rugged and hilly terrain. From there, the map showed a short climb up the side of a hill where it ended with a big X. The words above the X said: the foolish enter, none return.

A few minutes later all became obvious. They had reached the entrance of an old mine shaft. A rotting wood frame made of giant beams was all that was keeping the earth above from collapsing and sealing the entrance forever. Nailed to the beam was a weathered plank with these roughly carved words of warning: the foolish enter, none return.

“Wow!” said Ben. “We found it!”

“We haven’t found anything yet,” said Kate. “We don’t know if there is a treasure in there or not. And if there ever was one, it could be long gone.”

“Like you said Kate, Grandpa Jimmy wouldn’t send us on a wild goose chase, I think it’s in there. But do you think it’s safe to go in?” asked Tali.

“Probably not,” said Ben. “But I’m going in anyway.”

“Me too, yeah, for sure, it’s all of us or none of us.”

“I’ve got about 100 feet of cordage in my backpack,” said Willy. “Let’s tie one end off out here and then go until we run out of cord.”

As usual, Ben led the way. Willy spoke up. “Hey guys, we don’t need all five flashlights burning up batteries. Ben use yours to lead, Tali, leave your light off and follow close behind Ben. Kate, use your flashlight to light the way behind Tali, I’ll follow you. Then Jold, use your light to bring up the rear. Is that okay with everyone?”

“Good plan,” said Ben.

They entered the cool darkness of the mine. The entrance grew smaller and the shaft darker with every step. As they plodded ahead, every few steps Ben stopped to listen. He figured if the mine was about to collapse it might just give them an early warning. Bandit growled that familiar low growl, then barked. “Eeek!” squealed Tali. “What was that?” Ben shined the light up. Above their heads were hundreds of bats hanging upside down. “I don’t like this!” said Jold. Bandit barked again and again. The bats had enough, they dropped from the ceiling in perfect unison and flew for the entrance, not touching any of the gang. Their radar was working perfectly.  A few seconds later all was quiet and Bandit seemed content.

“Awesome,” said Willy. “Let’s keep going.”

“We’re at the end of the rope, anybody see anything.”

They all turned on their light and shined them ahead. “Is that a body over there?” asked Kate.

Bandit darted ahead and started sniffing, then barked. The gang inched along, all eyes fixed on what looked like a body. The closer they got, the more it became apparent that the body had been there a very long time. It was nothing more than a skeleton wearing ragged clothing. A western hat tilted to one side of the skull looked like it had been gnawed on by rats and both boots had holes in the leather soles. A holster with a colt 44 was still strapped to his waist. One of his arms was draped over a large handmade pottery bowl.

They looked at each other. Willy was the first to say it. “The treasure has to be in that bowl, this guy must have been protecting it when he died. Who wants to move his arm?”

Kate stepped forward, “I’ll do it,” she said. She pulled the arm away and let it drop to the side of the corpse. She leaned forward, shining her light into the bowl. Then she looked back at the gang, “nothing!”

“It’s got to be here somewhere, everyone looked around,” said Ben.

But it was all to no avail. No treasure there. Someone had beat them to the loot.

Tears ran down Tali’s cheeks, she knew this meant they would lose their home for sure. Kate put her arm around Tali, “It will be okay, we’ll figure something else out. Let’s get out of here.”

They turned to walk out, all but Tali. She went back to the corpse, unstrapped the belt and holster with the 44 and placed it in the pottery bowl. Then picked up the bowl up and headed out. “Not sure why I’m doing this, but if it’s okay with all of you, I would like to take these back with us.” “No problem,” said Ben. “We’ll take turns carrying it.”

The disappointment made the walk back feel like it was ten times as far. When they reached the entrance to the canyon, they could hear thunder in the distance. Again and again it roared. Ben looked up but continued walking. “Wait, wait,” hollered Kate. “Don’t you remember what the map said?”

“Yeah, something about thunder.”

“My dad told me that when it’s raining miles away in a desert, don’t be fooled, a dry riverbed can become a raging river within minutes. We better make camp right here and stay the night.”

“Good idea, Kate,” said Willy.

The old pottery bowl and Colt 44 stirred their imaginations as they huddled around the campfire. Each took a turn, making up a story about the dead guy and what became of the missing loot.

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