Dances in the Sun shifted the loose dry dust with the toe of his moccasin. His torch cast writhing shadows on the walls of the cave, adding to the already eerie aura of the stone tomb. His tribe said this cave was a source of great evil and warned all the young men and women to stay away from it. Sun thought that if he could find some tool of this evil, a weapon or magic artifact, he could use it to fight the white people that were moving in to his nation?s ancestral home. His toe tapped against some dry bat bones buried in the dust. He gently sifted them to the top of the dust where his torch could bathe them in yellow light. As he knelt to inspect them, his hairs stood up on the back of his neck and his stomach tightened around a knot. His knee hit the surface layer of dust and all was dark. Not an ember or a spark remained of his torch. As his mind leaped to try and comprehend his situation, his left arm strove to bring the torch in front of his face. It was in that fraction of a moment that the numbness of his left arm registered in his consciousness. The understanding of evil began to settle through the racing thoughts in the absolute void of sound that spread thickly through the cave. That void suddenly filled with the sound of his torch hitting a far wall followed by the wet thud of a piece of flesh striking stone. Burning spread from his left fingertips to his shoulder, his strong legs reversed the downward momentum of kneeling to launch him upright. The smell of blood and dust and smoke filled his nostrils as he breathed in, his heart pounded one strong thud against its cage. The sharp stings in his neck told him he would join his ancestors in a very short time, and he hoped his people would be victorious in honorable battle for their lands.
??????????? Raucharde pulled the leather clad body up into the niche
of the ceiling. He had not fed in near five decades and the warm salty blood
quenched his waking thirst. It had been a long rest, disturbed by this young
Creek warrior. He would have let him go, but this cave held the last few
treasures he had carried with him when he left his beloved
??????????? Raucharde squeezed and sucked the last trickle of blood from the body and stuffed it into a small chamber of stone beside the niche. Taking another stone, he pushed it into the ceiling around the chamber. Stone flowed into stone like soft clay being kneaded together to form one piece. The crunched bones and dry flesh would never be found.
Dannie sat looking at the old gray boards and posts that covered the hole in the bluff. She wondered if it was an old copper mine. This area was known for copper mines, after all. Or maybe it was an Indian cave. They say the Cherokee used to live in these mountains! She lay back on the warm flat rock and let the cool March breeze caress her brown hair. This was her place. A quiet retreat on the mountain side that allowed her to look over the valley stream yet screened her from the prying eyes of family and neighbors. You could look up from the pasture below and see nothing but trees. The narrow bench that ran along the side of the mountain was invisible from below and was hard to spot from above, as well.
??????????? Dannie turned her attention back to the cave. She wondered if the old stories about it being haunted were true. The town kids said that an old farmer boarded it up back in the early nineteen hundreds. They say he saw the ghost of an Indian that told him it was a place of evil. She smiled and shivered. The breeze and the story gave her goose bumps.
??????????? It was time to head back to the house. When she got home it would be time to feed the cows and chickens. Dannie knew she would have more time here tomorrow. Today's thirty minutes had gone by quickly, but tomorrow her brother would be back and he would tend to the chores.
??????????? Dannie found her mind wandering back to her sanctuary on the mountain. The alarmed chickens snapped her back and she killed the feed auger switch. She had overflowed the feed trough a little, but not bad. Dannie turned back to the door to head out to the last of the four chicken houses. As she reached for the door handle, out of the corner of her eye, just briefly, she saw a figure of a man standing in the middle of the chicken house. She turned her head to look straight at the silhouette, but there was nothing there. She stared for a moment as the sea of white chickens flowed in to fill the empty circle that had held that shadowy figure. The goose bumps on her arms slowly flattened back out. She turned her head back to face the door where her right hand hovered over the handle. ''Silly woman'' she mumbled to the nearest chickens. Dannie stepped through the door into the unseasonably warm March sunshine. She shook off the encounter and continued with the daily chores. When she was done she headed home.
??????????? Wayne and Dannie had inherited the farm from their
father. He had passed two and a half years before, September third of
two-thousand-one, from skin cancer. Dannie had been twenty six then and
??????????? Dannie pulled off her boots on the front deck and padded
into her home in her stocking feet. After a quick shower she threw a steak in
the oven and some vegetables on the stove. While dinner cooked she looked out
the kitchen window into the woods. Her eyes pointed to the trees, but her mind
wandered into the night and explored the darkness of the mountain. When the
food was ready she poured a glass of tea and took her plate to the living room
where she sat in front of the fire in her cozy recliner. She ate in silence
watching the flames dance over the remains of once proud trees. It was almost
too warm to have the fire going, but the temperature could drop quickly after
dark. Dannie finished her steak and vegetables and sipped her tea. She set the
plate on the end table and waited. The fire crackled and popped in the brick
confines that housed it, low but still full of heat. That warmth bathed
Dannie's face and hands, filling her eyelids with the weight of restfulness.
Her head sank back in the warm cushion of the chair and her curled legs under
her began to tingle. She forced her eyes open.
??????????? ''Hey, sis. No leftovers?''
??????????? ''Not for you! How was the auction?'' Dannie hoped it had gone better than the February one had. She deftly dipped her tea glass into the not-so-soapy water and washed it out. As she set it in the drying rack with the other dishes, she turned to face her brother.
??????????? '' Pretty good! Sold everything we took over there AND
got fifteen good heifers! Couldn't have wanted better!''
??????????? ''Everything go OK here?'' he finished.
??????????? ''Just fine.'' Dannie didn't even think of her encounter in the third chicken house.
??????????? ''Want something to drink?'' Dannie offered as she scooped up the receipt.
??????????? ''You know where the glasses are.'' Dannie spun on the ball of her foot and headed for the office.
??????????? ''Gee, thanks sis.''
??????????? ''My pleasure! Make sure you wash it when you're done.''
??????????? ''Of course. Wouldn't want you
to burn my pickup or nothing'.''
??????????? ''You might wanna put a pot of water on the stove and start it to boiling.'' Dannie's stocking feet made just the barest of whispers as she sock-skated into the kitchen, ''or I might start something afire.''
??????????? ''There's still some in there!''
??????????? Dannie woke and stretched. She cracked her eyelids to peek at the fire. Nothing but embers. She slowly rose and went to the wood bin. After reloading the fireplace, she headed for her room.
??????????? Morning found Dannie sitting at the kitchen table
savoring her first cup of coffee and waiting for the lazy little winter birds
to rouse from their slumber. Those first pinkish purple rays of sun streaked
the clouds with pastel color. Dannie padded to the coffee pot to pour her
second cup. The little birds were starting their cacophony of warm ups in
preparation for a day of singing. Dannie sat back down to watch and listen for
just a few more minutes. She heard
??????????? Dannie muttered bad words about fords as she torqued the oil pan bolts back down on the ancient grain truck. This time it had been the oil pump. As she finished she scanned up the engine and down the transmission for any upcoming problems.
??????????? ''Crap'' she muttered. The rear u-joint looked like it
was about to fall apart. She spun the creeper around and skated her way down
the drive train to closely inspect it. It would have to be replaced before the
truck was driven again. She slid out from under the old thing and stood up from
the creeper. Stretching, she looked at the parts shelves to see if they had
one. A John Deere u-joint, but that wouldn't fit the old Ford. It appeared that
a trip to town would be the chore for this morning.
and already turning bad. Dannie hated trips to town. She
washed her hands and took of the coveralls, trading them for her jacket on the
coat pegs. Walking to the main house, she looked around to see if
??????????? ''Dannie! Heading to town?'' Sandra always seemed happy to see Dannie.
??????????? ''Yep. Gotta
get a part. If
??????????? ''Sure. Is it bad?'' Sandra's question was as sincere as it gets.
??????????? ''Not if he doesn't drive it. I'll have it done thirty minutes after I get back.'' Dannie turned and stepped back over the big wheel. As she crossed the porch, she heard the door close. She wondered if Sandra was really as simple as she came off. She hopped in her truck and headed down the half mile driveway to the main road. Town was forty minutes away. She turned up the music and drove.
??????????? Town wasn't big, not like going to
??????????? ''Haven't seen you in a minute!'' Vic's smiling face did nothing to make Dannie's mood any better.
??????????? ''Sixty seven Ford seven ton dump, three speed, need a u-joint.'' Dannie's bluntness was lost on Vic.
??????????? ''OK, beautiful!'' He typed the information into the computer. ''We got five.''
??????????? ''I'll take them.'' She dug into her pocket for the cash.
??????????? ?All of them?? Vic tried to make eye contact ?What if someone else needs one??
??????????? ?Then you better get to ordering.? Dannie?s tone stayed flat as she looked up into his eyes rather than at the cash in her hand, her expression one of pure business.
??????????? ?OK. I?ll be right back.? Vic left the counter and entered the stock room. Every time, the same thing. Vic tried to get her attention, and Dannie refused to give it. She waited as Vic retrieved her parts. Just a few minutes and Vic came back with the five small boxes. Dannie's curiosity about the new building was eating at her.
??????????? ''What's the new building, Vic?''
??????????? ''Apartments'' Vic's tone was enthusiastic. ''That'll be forty seven seventy eight.'' He smiled at Dannie. She handed him the money and picked up the stack of five boxes. Vic got her change and receipt and tucked them into the top box.
??????????? ''See you on the next trip, Dannie!'' his smile stretched across his narrow face.
??????????? ''Yep, see ya Vic.'' Dannie's face had no smile as she headed back to her truck.
??????????? ''Apartments'' she mumbled as she set the boxes on the seat. ''Just what we need, more people.'' She started the truck and headed for home. She had already been in town too long today.
Dannie sat down on the flat rock, facing away from the barricaded cave entrance. She serenely gazed over the small valley. The thin fog gave the fields a grayish color, obscuring the lush green of the grass. The early morning sun was muted by thin clouds. She poured a lid of coffee from the thermos and recapped the vessel. As she set it down on the dry leaves at the base of the rock, she felt a chill over her neck. Goose bumps rose on her arm and chills chased down her spine. Dannie smiled. That feeling stirred in her something thrilling and she loved it. She slowly turned her head toward the cave, the smile still tugging her lips as her eyes peered at the old wood straining to see beyond it. For just a heartbeat she thought she saw something move. A glimpse of darker darkness between the old slats. Her thrill heightened. She slowly drew her feet off the leaves and coiled them beneath her body, raising herself with her arms and turning to square her shoulders with the cave mouth. The movement happened again. The darker darkness moved to her left and drew away from the dry, gray wood. She rose slowly and stalked to the edge of the boards, trying to see deeper past the gap. Her ears strained to hear into the cave. As her hand lightly touched the wood she knew... There was something in there. Dannie stood frozen at that closed cave for what felt like eternity. She finally remembered to breath. Nothing moved in there for the span of fifteen slow deep breathes. The excitement began to fade. She took a slow step back, letting her left hand part from the boards and drop slowly to her side. She knew it was more than imagination. She felt something there. She backed away another slow step. Perhaps the ghost or maybe something even more fantastic! She took one more, slow step backwards. The stories might be true, or maybe just the tip of an even greater legend. Dannie turned on her heal to face her coffee. The thermos lid sat on the edge of the stone where she had left it. She took the last step to it and squatted down. As she took her first sip, she heard the birds, crickets and frogs suddenly burst into song all around her. It was at that moment she realized that the forest on the mountainside had been completely silent during the fifteen minutes or so that she had been locked in focus with the shadow on the other side of the barricade. She decided that she was going in there. After she finished her coffee she would go back to her house and get her tire iron out of the truck. She could use it as a pry bar rather than go all the way to the farm to get a real pry bar. She had a heavy duty spot light in her closet. She would get that as well. Dannie had to know what was in that cave, today. She slugged down the rest of the coffee and reached down for the thermos. It was gone. Dannie looked down at the dry leaves. There was no thermos. She looked all around at the forest floor. Nothing. The thermos was missing. She turned her head back toward the closed cave. Surely not. There were no gaps big enough for a finger, much less a full sized steel thermos. She tried to dismiss the idea, but it just wouldn't go away. Her thermos was inside that cave! She was sure of it! She set the lid back down on the rock. Turning slowly away from the cave she stepped down and began walking for home.
???????????As Dannie came down the path to her back porch, another eerie feeling overcame her. Her skin tingled and her excitement rose. There on the porch next to the back door sat her capped thermos, cup that she had left on the rock just a few minutes before included! She froze in her tracks when she saw it. Her eyes panned from the door across the back of the house to the garage, then back the other way to the forest, twenty feet from the left corner of the house. No sign of anyone or anything that may have moved the thermos. No tracks in the dewy grass other than her own from leaving earlier. No wet prints on the porch. The goose bumps began to rise again. She remained still. Alert to even the slightest movements around her. All seemed normal. Birds, squirrels, bugs and rodents all carried on their normal, noisy morning activities. Dannie began walking toward the porch again. Still cautious she walked up the stairs and across the deck to stand in front of the back door. Looking down at the thermos she tried to reason in her mind that this happened in a normal fashion. She could not come up with anything that seemed even remotely reasonable. Dannie squatted and lifted the thermos to her eye level. She inspected it carefully for any sign that an animal had moved it. There were none. No teeth marks or saliva, no animal prints on the porch. She decided that the ghost was real and had brought her thermos home. She hoped as she looked at the doorknob that he had not taken up residence in her little home. She stood and reached for the doorknob, thermos gripped in her left hand. She trembled slightly just before gripping the knob. She turned it and pushed open the door. Standing for a moment, almost not breathing, she listened for any sounds in her house. Silence to her ears, but the morning sounds of the wildlife could easily drown or mask anything from within. She stepped in and closed the door. Taking a deep breath, she listened again. No sounds out of the ordinary. She moved through the house slowly, checking each room as she came to it. Nothing, no shadows and nothing was out of place. Dannie gathered her spotlight and pry bar. At the last moment she decided on a cap and visor light as well. Carrying the bar and light and wearing the cap fitted with the visor light she headed back for the cave.