* * *
Bricker climbed up to look around where heâ€™d seen the mold before. The undergrowth in the area was smashed down though he didnâ€™t see any tracks of any kind. The patch of mold was much smaller than it had been before. Miss Hernandez walked to him and asking if heâ€™d seen it elsewhere. He said he hadnâ€™t.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on with this tree, then?â€ she asked.
â€œYou have an axe?â€ he said.
She looked around at the other pine trees around them but didnâ€™t see anything out of the ordinary.
* * *
â€œVirgil, you got any ideas?â€ Miss Edington asked.
â€œLooked like he walked up to this wall and just disappeared inside,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œI dunno. I donâ€™t, Miss.â€
â€œCanâ€™t really get nothing out of this rock.â€
â€œItâ€™s very strange.â€
â€œNow how would a little boy, a strange little boy, find his way to this rock and just disappear?â€
Virgil Thomas just shook his head.
â€œThatâ€™s whatâ€™s got me bothered,â€ she said.
Miss Hernandez climbed back down and then ran headlong at the cliff, hoping to someone go through. She didnâ€™t, instead slamming into the rock wall.
â€œWhat the hell!?!â€ Miss Edington said.
Miss Hernandez stumbled backwards and fell onto her back on the ground.
â€œNow what did you think you was gonna get out of that!?!â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œOh my goodness,â€ Virgil Thomas said, going to the woman.
â€œI just wanted to try something,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œThat was not the thing to try, Miss,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
He tended to her wounds, staunching her bloody nose.
â€œPlease discuss this with some of your compatriots before you try this again, maâ€™am,â€ he said.
Miss Edington found a small stick and started drawing the symbols in the dirt near the cliff.
* * *
Following behind Miss Greene, Rockefeller, still wondering if the mold or moss was psychedelic, tasted some of it, trying to eat it. It tasted so awful. He tried to force it down but was unable to. He choked on it a little, hoping no one had seen him. Felix trailed behind the two.
* * *
Bricker told them he was going to head off to look elsewhere for the boy. Miss Hernandez went with him, following the contour of Brown Mountain to the southwest. Bricker used a stick to feel around ahead of him for any more tracks while Miss Hernandez looked up into the treetops, worried something might be above them.
They had only traveled perhaps three-quarters of a mile when they found the remains of an old broken and rusted rifle on the ground. It looked like a .22 rifle of somewhat recent manufacture, probably since the Great War, but it was rusted beyond belief. The stock was rotted as if it had been there for decades.
A short while later, they spotted another of the metal bear traps on the ground. It was set and covered with leaves and detritus. The chain led to the stake which was stuck in the ground. Miss Hernandez dropped a rock on it and it snapped shut nastily. They continued on.
* * *
It took Miss Greene and Rockefeller two hours to return to Brown Mountain Beach via the trail. They didnâ€™t find any place where the footprints left the initial path along the easiest route.
â€œWant to go have a swim?â€ Rockefeller said. â€œHave a little swim?â€
â€œWith your infected leg?â€ Miss Greene said.
They crossed Wilson Creek and soon found a Caldwell County Sheriffâ€™s Deputy in the pavilion, talking to several other local men, some of them armed. The deputy seemed to be trying to coordinate some kind of search effort. There were only a few men there, however.
â€œYou should â€¦ you should tell them about the path that you found,â€ Rockefeller said to Miss Greene. â€œTell them that thereâ€™s no branching paths that lead to the rock wall.â€
â€œIâ€™ll do that,â€ she said. â€œYou go get some antiseptic on that wound.â€
Rockefeller headed for the infirmary with Felix.
Miss Greene found the harried deputy standing over a table with several maps. He had made marks on some of them and was discussing with the men where to send them.
â€œWell, I suppose yâ€™all can head up â€¦ I donâ€™t know if we should search Adams Mountain yet â€¦â€ the deputy said to the men.
â€œExcuse me, deputy,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œYes maâ€™am?â€ the man replied.
â€œUh â€¦ so weâ€™ve been following â€¦ uh â€¦ a trail â€¦ that we believe is Tommy Baileyâ€™s.â€
â€œDid you find him?â€
â€œDo you think Iâ€™d be here?â€
â€œShow me on the map. Whereâ€™s his trail?â€
He picked up one of the maps of Brown Mountain and the vicinity.
â€œAre you daft?â€ she asked.
â€œNo maâ€™am,â€ the man said. â€œThereâ€™s a lot going on. We got most of these men out there searching for Broadus Miller and now we gotta find a boy? Maybe Broadus Millerâ€™s found him.â€
â€œHey!â€ she said.
She slapped the man solidly on the face. He glared at her.
â€œMaâ€™am, donâ€™t do that again,â€ he growled. â€œThe hellâ€™s wrong with you?â€
â€œListen, I need you to go get the parents â€¦â€ she said, feeling in her pockets.
She remembered Miss Fairfield still had the piece of fabric.
â€œAsk the parents what he was wearing,â€ she said. â€œWe found a scrap ofâ”€â€
â€œHe had a white shirt and brown pants and he had sneakers,â€ the deputy said. â€œHeâ€™s a little blonde boy.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ve met him.â€
â€œAnd you havenâ€™t seen him?â€
â€œThen why are you wasting my time?â€
The two glared at each other.
â€œIf you hit me again, so help me God, Iâ€™ll throw your ass in jail,â€ the deputy growled.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m talking to you because we found a white piece of fabric about kid-height on a tree,â€ she said. â€œWe followed that trail.â€
â€œWe found footprints that were kid-sized.â€
â€œOkay, whereâ€™d you lose the trail?â€
â€œAt a rock wall.â€
She pointed out about the spot on the map. He marked it.
â€œThereâ€™s some weird symbol,â€ she went on. â€œWe donâ€™t know what it is. Thereâ€™s some tracks going around it.â€
â€œOkay,â€ he interrupted again. â€œNobody hereâ€™s good at tracking but we can send some men up here to look at it.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m telling you what area weâ€™ve covered.â€
â€œCan you show Clem and Bobby here? Theyâ€™re hunters.â€
He pointed out two men, neither of whom were armed but both wearing rugged clothing. Miss Greene also related that others had walked to the top of the mountain.
â€œI will show them, but I also want to know if anyoneâ€™s been doing any hunting up here,â€ she said. â€œWe found an unusual trap.â€
â€œNo maâ€™am,â€ the deputy said. â€œAinâ€™t no huntinâ€™ up here.â€
â€œWell, we found a trap so look out for that.â€
â€œAll right. Iâ€™ll tell people as best I can. But like I said, I donâ€™t have many men here and weâ€™re having to deal with the fact that people are looking for Broadus Miller. Thereâ€™s a fifteen hundred dollar reward for him.â€
â€œIs that the one that one that killed the white girl?â€
â€œYes maâ€™am, he murdered the white girl. Well â€¦ allegedly.â€
â€œDid that happen around here?â€
â€œIt happened in Morganton, maâ€™am. He could be anywhere in Burke or Caldwell County so weâ€™re trying to keep a lookout.â€
â€œWell, maybe itâ€™s related.â€
â€œIt might be. Like I said, you take these boys.â€
He turned to the two men.
â€œLook and see if you can find the tracks sheâ€™s talking about,â€ he said to the men.
â€œAll right,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œThank you, maâ€™am,â€ the deputy said.
She headed out with the two men. Clem was very skinny while Bobby was heavyset. She grabbed a sandwich wrapped in wax paper in case she found the child.
* * *
Rockefeller had the nurse at the infirmary look at his leg, treat it with antiseptic, and bind it again. Then he and Felix went to the cabin and got their Springfield rifles and extra stripper clips. Rockefeller also picked up a lantern from the cabin and took it with them as well.
They headed to the pavilion where the deputy and two other men were. They talked to him briefly and learned he was not sending people up Brown Mountain yet because the slope was rugged and he didnâ€™t think a child would go up there. He was sending what few volunteers he had south of Brown Mountain, north of Brown Mountain, and was thinking about sending men up to Adams Mountain, which was the opposite direction.
â€œMe and my man Felix are going back up on the mountain, following the childâ€™s trail that we found,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œRight, some lady here said that too,â€ the deputy said. â€œShe found his trail. You with her?â€
â€œYou want to follow us up there and see what weâ€™ve got.â€
â€œI have to stay here, sir. Iâ€™m trying to coordinate the search effort. How many people you got up there on the mountain?â€
â€œI would say â€¦ six, maybe seven.â€
â€œOkay, good, if you yâ€™all can search as much of Brown Mountain as you can for now, and come back, report back if you find anything. Iâ€™ll be here. Iâ€™m coordinating.â€
â€œThere is something that I do think someone of authority should see.â€
â€œWhat is that?â€
â€œSome sort of symbols on a rock. I know it sounds crazy, but this something that the boy went to and stopped and we have no idea where he went from there.â€
â€œAll right, well, heâ€™s retarded so he couldâ€™ve seen anything and said â€˜Thatâ€™s fun to look at.â€™ and moved on.â€
â€œAnybody that looks at these rocks will be retarded, sir. Nobody can makeâ”€â€
â€œI have to stay here. Any more men that come in - we got word up to Mortimer, we got word down to Adako and to Collettsville to send menâ”€â€
â€œYou get more men, send â€˜em where Iâ€™m at.â€
â€œI will - okay, I will send â€˜em up on Brown Mountain. If you and your men can scour Brown Mountain â€¦ here, show me where youâ€™ve already looked.â€
He took out a map and had Rockefeller mark on it where they had been, roughly.
â€œYou bring me back information on the places that you searched,â€ the deputy said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to get as many people to help as we can, but we got other things going on. I think this is the biggest manhunt Iâ€™ve ever seen in North Carolina.â€
â€œChild hunt,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œNo, the other one. Broadus Miller. That murderer.â€
â€œThis is a child hunt, not a man hunt.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a manhunt. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m talkinâ€™ about. Most men are being coordinated down in Morganton and theyâ€™re trying to find this nigger that killed this kid. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m having trouble. Thatâ€™s why I got these two men here and Iâ€™m going to send them out in a minute.â€
â€œIâ€™ve got a negro up there too.â€
The deputy looked at him carefully.
â€œYou ainâ€™t got Broadus Miller up there, do you?â€ he said.
â€œI donâ€™t know his name,â€ Rockefeller said.
The deputy gave him a description of Broadus Miller as a black man in his 20s who was clean shaven. It didnâ€™t sound like Virgil Thomas to Rockefeller.
â€œWe got a different one,â€ he said.
â€œIf you see anyone like that, you let us know,â€ the deputy said. â€œThere is a $1,500 reward for the man.â€
â€œWould I be famous?â€
â€œYouâ€™d probably get your name in the paper.â€
Rockefeller and Felix headed back to Brown Mountain. Felix had prepared a few sandwiches, which they ate along the way.
* * *
Bricker and Miss Hernandez continued around the south side of Brown Mountain, keeping to roughly the same height as the hollow they had found earlier. They crossed a few creeks and streams but found nothing else by around 1 p.m. Miss Hernandez had a few browning apple slices in her pocket she shared with the man.
* * *
â€œVirgil, I ainâ€™t making no head nor tail of this,â€ Miss Edington said after studying the strange carvings for some time. â€œHead nor tail.â€
â€œHead nor tail is the term, Miss Suzanna,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
She threw the stick down and started to follow the trail the others had taken back to Brown Mountain Beach and then noticed Cooper standing nearby.
â€œAre you still here?â€ she said. â€œYou been real quiet.â€
â€œYes maâ€™am,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m just trying to figure out where to go. Those other folks went off lookinâ€™ and I thought you were going to go lookinâ€™ too. I thought Iâ€™d stay with the ladies, since that other lady had that gentleman with her - that funny-speakinâ€™ man.â€
â€œI canâ€™t understand word he says. Is he French?â€
â€œNo. I think he said heâ€™s British.â€
â€œAw. I donâ€™t know nothinâ€™ about them.â€
â€œAnyway, Iâ€™m going down for some food. Iâ€™m gettingâ€™ hungry.â€
She and Virgil Thomas both headed out of the hollow, followed by Miss Fairfield. Miss Edington looked back as they went and saw Cooper just watching them.
â€œYou all right?â€ she called to him.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m okay, maâ€™am,â€ he said.
â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œYou gonna come with us?â€
â€œNo â€¦ Iâ€™m gonna stay up here.â€
â€œHm. All right then.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t you go back and help with the search effort?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œI guess I could come back if you want me to,â€ he said. â€œCan I help you carry anything?â€
â€œHuh-uh,â€ Miss Edington said.
She moved closer to Virgil Thomas.
â€œKeep a close watch on him,â€ she said.
â€œYes miss,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œThat another boy youâ€™re interested in?â€
They headed back, taking a more direct route towards Brown Mountain Beach.
* * *
Miss Greene returned to the hollow to find everyone else gone. Clem and Bobby looked around a little and then started searching for more tracks of the boy, heading off into the woods together. That left Miss Greene alone in the woods. She meticulously searched the area for the next hour. She found a few scrapes of dirt on the rocky ground before the carved circle but was unsure if they might have been left by Tommy Bailey or one of the numerous other people who had been tramping through the hollow.
* * *
Bricker and Miss Hernandez were getting hungry as they had walked for over an hour. He suggested turning around and going back.
* * *
Rockefeller led Felix up the mountain again, taking about an hour to get to the place where the crevasse with the water flowing through it had been. They looked more carefully at the stream, which seemed to be fairly shallow from the look of it. Rockefeller wanted to get down in the crevasse and told Felix to go first. The butler nodded and slid roughly down the side of the crevasse, obviously hurting himself when he hit the bottom.
â€œFelix!â€ Rockefeller called. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œI slipped sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œAre you all right?â€
â€œI think so. I hurt my ankle.â€
â€œAll right, get ready to catch me if I fall.â€
Felix waited at the bottom as the dilettante climbed carefully down.
â€œThatâ€™s how you do it, Felix,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œI suppose, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œFelix, let me take a look at that,â€ Rockefeller said.
He examined the manâ€™s ankle but was unsure how to help.
â€œI donâ€™t know what to do, Felix,â€ he said.
The water was very cold but shallow. The stream ran roughly from the northwest to the southeast.
â€œYou check downstream, Iâ€™ll check upstream,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œWeâ€™ll meet back here in about five minutes.â€
â€œIt may take longer than that sir,â€ Felix pointed out. â€œIt was a longer walk than that just following it from above.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good idea, Felix. Letâ€™s both go upstream and then weâ€™ll go downstream.â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said.
They followed the stream to a spot where it came out from a low cave. They could get through but got soaking wet, Rockefeller taking the lead with the lit lantern. The water was very cold and it got deep in a few places.
* * *
Miss Greene headed up the mountain to continue searching for Tommy Bailey. She climbed up around to the left of the hollow, curving obliquely towards the peak. She had traversed perhaps another thousand feet in elevation and possibly another mile before she found a good-sized cave entrance on the south face, surrounded by trees. She crept in and saw that about 15 into the cave, just where it was almost too dark to see, there had been a cave-in.
â€œTommy!â€ she called. â€œYou in here?â€
There was no reply.
* * *
Miss Edington, Miss Fairfield, Virgil Thomas, and Cooper returned to Brown Mountain Beach. The deputy in the pavilion was talking to a single man when they arrived. Cooper had been asking if there was anything he could carry as he felt useless throughout the walk.
Miss Fairfield went to the pavilion and showed the deputy the fabric theyâ€™d found. The man told her heâ€™d sent a couple of men up the mountain with a lady.
â€œSome brown-haired lady,â€ he said. â€œWas very aggressive. I donâ€™t like her. She told us about that. Thatâ€™s the cloth. Weâ€™ll ask the parents. Were you with that group with that other gentleman - man who talks real fast and loud?â€
â€œRockefeller?â€ she said.
â€œI donâ€™t know his name. I never got his name.â€
â€œThat sounds like Mr. Rockefeller to me,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œYou with him because he said he had a bunch oâ€™ men up there,â€ the deputy said.
â€œIf you want to consider us men â€¦â€ Miss Edington said.
The deputy looked very closely at Virgil Thomas. Miss Fairfield told him what she knew but the deputy stopped her, noting the other woman had told him everything. He said he sent a couple boys up with her.
They decided to get some food before searching more of the mountain. The deputy showed them the map and told them if they wanted to look on the north side, that would be a good place. He asked once they had searched an area to return so they could mark it off the map.
â€œHis parents donâ€™t think heâ€™ll live if heâ€™s up there more than a day or two,â€ the deputy said. â€œBecause he doesnâ€™t know anything about getting food or nothing. And we appreciate it.â€
They went to get some lunch.
â€œNow Jebediah, I donâ€™t want to keep you around if you donâ€™t want to be here,â€ Miss Edington said to the man.
â€œI want to help find this child,â€ Cooper said.
â€œAll right, then. You got any ideas?â€
â€œAfter all we seen, I donâ€™t know what to think of it.â€
â€œMe neither but we can find that boy. We keep looking â€˜til we find him, right?â€
â€œI wanted to ask: why were you so reluctant to leave that rock?â€
â€œYou just kind of stood there.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m not a leader, Iâ€™m just a follower. Iâ€™m just trying to help.â€
â€œThen why didnâ€™t you follow us?â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œI did!â€ he replied.
He seemed confused at the direction of the inquiries.
â€œDid you?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œI donâ€™t know what you want, maâ€™am,â€ Cooper said.
â€œJebediah, I think you might want to go home and take a rest if you donâ€™t remember standing there,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œI was just trying to figure out what to do.â€
â€œI suppose, but â€¦ you sure youâ€™re not tired?â€
* * *
Bricker and Miss Hernandez got back to Brown Mountain Beach just as others were heading back out. Miss Hernandez told the others they were going to get some food and asked where they were heading. Miss Fairfield told them they were going to the north side of the mountain to continue the search. They decided to wait for them.
Both Bricker and Miss Hernandez were very hungry and went to get some food and water. Bricker put the strange bear trap in his cabin, tucking it under his bed.
Miss Edington decided to stay in her cabin but had Virgil Thomas join the search party. They all headed back up, angling towards the north end of the mountain.
They had climbed well up the north side of the mountain an hour or so later when several rocks slid down onto their group. They rolled down towards Miss Hernandez and Virgil Thomas as Miss Fairfield tried to desperately take a photograph of the slide and Cooper scampered out of the way. Virgil leapt out of the way of the rockslide but several rocks and debris struck Miss Hernandez, knocking her down the slope. She was badly bruised and injured. The others ran to her.
â€œDonâ€™t touch me!â€ she cried out, pushing away from them.
Bricker, Miss Fairfield, and Virgil Thomas had noticed a strange mass briefly near the spot where the rocks had fallen from. The shape had been a low mound with some kind of nodules sticking out of it though neither of them got a good look at the figure. It didnâ€™t appear to be a person. It was gone by the time the rock fall was over.
They pulled Miss Hernadez out of the fallen rocks.
â€œAnybody see that?â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œIt was â€¦â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œThere was something up there,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œIt definitely wasnâ€™t a bear,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œThereâ€™s rockslides all the time up here,â€ Cooper said. â€œItâ€™s real dangerous up here, I tell you what. You okay?â€
â€œIâ€™ll â€¦ live,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
Virgil Thomas started to look over the woman to see if she had any broken bones. He didnâ€™t find any and offered to help bind the womanâ€™s wounds. Miss Hernandez just lay there so he went ahead and tried to help her as best he could. She felt better after his ministrations though she was badly cut and bruised.
â€œYâ€™all see that?â€ he asked again. â€œUp there?â€
â€œYes,â€ Bricker said.
â€œThat thing up there?â€ Virgil Thomas asked again. â€œSomething pushed them rocks.â€
â€œNah, rocks fall all the time,â€ Cooper said.
â€œDo you think they were trying to hurt us?â€ Miss Fairfield asked.
â€œDid you see that thing?â€ Virgil Thomas asked. â€œWhat the hell was that? Yeah?â€
He seemed a bit disturbed at what heâ€™d seen.
â€œI certainly hope Miss Suzanna donâ€™t come up here any time soon,â€ he muttered.
* * *
Rockefeller and Felix followed the water upstream as the cave roof got lower and lower and lower. Then it opened up into what appeared to be a cut tunnel. The hexagonal tunnel that ran away from where the water came up in the natural cave was about 10 feet in diameter, the walls, floor, and ceiling being perfectly cut and as smooth as glass. It disappeared out of sight of the light of his lantern. Neither he nor Felix had ever seen anything quite like it.
As they stepped up out of the water into the corridor, a strange formation of some kind of mold or fungus set into the ceiling above started to glow, filling the area with a sickly green light. Rockefeller reached into his pocket for the red mold heâ€™d found before but it was completely gone. Then he reached up towards the growth on the ceiling but couldnâ€™t quite reach it.
The corridor curved off to the right.
â€œFelix!â€ he said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix replied, looking around wide-eyed.
â€œFelix, Iâ€™m going to boost you up and I want you to touch that bright thing up there.â€
â€œUh â€¦ yes sir.â€
Felix put down his rifle and Rockefeller gave him a leg up. He touched the thing with his hand but it didnâ€™t move. He looked at his hand as his feet hit the floor again.
â€œItâ€™s â€¦ some kind of plant?â€ he said, obviously unsure. â€œOr â€¦ some kind of mold or something. It didnâ€™t come off in my hand.â€
â€œYou think it was like that stuff I found?â€ Rockefeller said. â€œThe red moss that disappeared?â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t appear to be the same thing, sir.â€
â€œHuh. But the plants are weird around here.â€
Felix picked up his rifle and looked past him down the strange corridor.
â€œWe should be careful, here, Felix,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œThis is very strange, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œWhat do you think? Should we get the rest of the group over here or should we investigate?â€
â€œThere is safety in numbers.â€
Rockefeller thought on that.
â€œI think â€¦ Felix,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m going to stay here. I want you to bring the group to me.â€
â€œI would advise against it, sir,â€ Felix said. â€œI think that perhaps I should stay here while you bring the rest if weâ€™re going to go that route. Though I donâ€™t think that this will disappear, if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re worried about.â€
â€œThis mountain is very mysterious and I do not want to lose this room.â€
â€œIâ€™ll go back if you want, but I think you should go back, sir.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to turn off the lights and Iâ€™m going to sit in the corner and hide.â€
â€œWell, that that light is lit for some reason.â€
He indicated the growth on the ceiling.
â€œCan you see me if Iâ€™m in the corner?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œYes, I can,â€ Felix said. â€œYou might want to get back in the stream if you insist on waiting.â€
Both of the men were soaking wet and quite chilly.
â€œWell, letâ€™s hurry,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œLetâ€™s double back.â€
They climbed back into the stream and followed it back as quickly as they could.
* * *
Miss Fairfield suggested they move up to where the rockslide had started and they carefully climbed the slope.
â€œThere was something up there and I think it pushed the rocks on us,â€ she told the others. â€œI think we should go see what it was.â€
â€œI want to go punch it!â€ Miss Hernandez said.
They reached the spot and searched around. Miss Hernandez found some strange markings on the ground, almost like the markings a giant spider might make. They were no more than strange divots in the ground.
â€œYou see these little spider divots?â€ she said.
The others examined the strange tracks. Virgil looked at them suspiciously.
â€œThatâ€™s just some kind of erosion, ainâ€™t it?â€ Cooper said.
â€œHuh-uh,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œMaybe someone was walking on stilts?â€ Miss Fairfield guessed.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of - yeah!â€ Cooper said. â€œThat could be. Wait - what? I guess? You think itâ€™s somebody walking on â€¦ stilts?â€
â€œI like it,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
Bricker tried to follow the strange tracks but they didnâ€™t go anywhere. It was almost as if the thing had simply disappeared.
Miss Fairfield suggested Cooper take Miss Hernandez back as she was badly hurt. Bricker looked at the man and wondered to himself if he trusted him enough to do so. Then they heard someone yelling their names. Fairfield called back, thinking she recognized Rockefellerâ€™s voice and they headed in the direction of the yelling.
â€œUp here!â€ they heard Rockefeller call. â€œCome to the sound of my voice.â€
After about 15 minutes, they found Rockefeller and Felix, both of them soaking wet. He told them he had something to show them and they returned to the crevasse. Rockefeller climbed down first, assisted by Bricker, who volunteered to help everyone down. He was still at the top of the crevasse himself when he heard someone call his name and saw Miss Greene and Miss Edington coming through the woods.
â€œOi!â€ he called.
They looked down and saw the rest. Bricker helped the other women down as well, slipping and letting Miss Edington fall to the bottom. Except for her pride, she was unhurt. He more carefully helped Miss Greene down.
The water was very cold and Rockefeller led them into the low cave where it came out. Both Rockefeller and Felix had their rifles at ready as they entered the place, Rockefeller holding a small kerosene lantern.
â€œWhat have you found?â€ Miss Greene asked as they slogged through the water.
â€œOh â€¦ I canâ€™t explain it,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œItâ€™s very strange, actually,â€ Felix said.
â€œOh,â€ she said.
â€œI donâ€™t like this water thing â€¦â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œThereâ€™s a tunnel,â€ Felix went on. â€œOf sorts.â€
â€œWell, thereâ€™s going to be more of it up ahead,â€ Rockefeller said to Miss Edington.
â€œOh, well â€¦â€ she said.
â€œIt gets rather deep, too,â€ Felix said.
â€œâ€¦ I guess I can get new clothes,â€ she finished.
She turned to Virgil.
â€œVirgil dear, I hate to ask â€¦â€ she said.
She ended up having the man carry her through most of the cold, soaking caves. It took them maybe 20 minutes to work their way through the flooded caves and when they finally came out at the end, the tunnel was only a few feet above the water but then opened into the strange, hexagonal corridor. When Rockefeller stepped into the tunnel, the strange growth on the ceiling started to glow.
â€œWelcome to Rockefeller Caves,â€ he said.
â€œMr. Rockefeller, what is this?â€ Miss Edington asked as they pulled themselves from the water.
â€œThis is my cave.â€
â€œWhat do you mean itâ€™s your cave?â€
â€œWell, me and Felix discovered it, so itâ€™s my cave.â€
â€œWhat are you going to name it?â€ Miss Greene asked.
â€œRockefeller Cave,â€ he replied.
â€œWhat is that?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t look natural, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œOf course it doesnâ€™t,â€ he replied. â€œBut itâ€™s our cave now.â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œWell Mr. Rockefeller, if I say so, maybe you can explain that light above you,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œI have absolutely no idea what that is,â€ Rockefeller said.
Cooper looked nervous and scared. Virgil Thomas looked around carefully, his hand in his jacket pocket.
â€œI need you all to help me investigate this cave,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œAs soon as we stepped in, we decided to bring you all here because I think something weird is going on here.â€
â€œOh, you think?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œItâ€™s very strange,â€ Felix admitted.
â€œVery odd, Miss Suzanna,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
When asked, Rockefeller noted the two men had not going further than they were standing right at that moment. Miss Greene was anxious to go further and so they did.
As they moved down the corridor, another small patch of green fungus or moss began to glow just ahead of them as the one behind them faded and went out. This continued as they went down the strange corridor with a new patch every 30 feet or so beginning to glow as they got close and the one behind them fading. The green glow was very strange and unnatural.
The tunnel stretched for possibly an eighth of a mile before it came to a place where it met with another tunnel on the right and, a little further down, yet another tunnel on the left. The tunnel they walked down continued on into the darkness. On the side of each of the other tunnels, they saw a horizontal, metallic trapezoidal conduit of some kind. It ran alongside each of the corridors in the niche created by two sides of the hexagon that made it up, the top angled slightly down and the bottom angled slightly up, forming an isosceles triangle of sorts. The metal was a greenish gold that was not unpleasant to look at, though strange in the green light. On the right-hand side of the tunnel, just after the intersection corridor, the wall was set back and vertical for about six feet at a place about a foot above the tunnel floor. Centered in that six-foot high alcove was a circular iris valve five feet in diameter with a small, spindle-shaped lever mounted next to it in a five-sided panel.
The conduits all went into the wall near the iris valve.
Miss Fairfield hoped it was bright enough for photographs but was unsure. She took a few shots. Miss Greene looked more closely at the moss but was unsure of what it was.
Rockefeller went to the iris valve and manipulated the spindle. As he did so, the iris valve slowly opened, the plates slowly retracting like the iris of a camera. The more he turned it, the more they opened until the door was completely unobstructed. A strange, purplish light glowed from within the room beyond. They peeked in, Miss Fairfield taking a photograph she hoped would turn out.
As they looked into the room, a green glow came from the ceiling over 25 feet above. More of the odd moss grew there. It gave everything a sickly cast. The five-sized room held, along three walls, large quartz columns, strangely formed and sheathed in clear tubes of what looked like glass. Purple energy coalesced and cascaded up and down the columns, sometimes bursting strangely against the glass in odd patterns. Cords or cables ran from the wall where the conduit ran through the room and connected them to the quartz. More strange, organic-looking cables snaked from the bottom of each column to one of three large, box-like metal cabinets, each with a large open front. Within each cabinet were several crystalline and metal devices that looked something like vacuum tube with metal caps at each end and smaller, strange-shaped quartz crystals within.
Miss Edington moved to the quartz columns, fascinated. She reached out and touched the glass tube. It had a strange feel. Rockefeller didnâ€™t think the strange things in the room were manmade and it made him uncomfortable.
â€œSuzanna, get out of there,â€ he called.
He started to manipulate the spindle and the iris valve very slowly started to close. She turned, saw it, and then quickly crossed the room and slipped out of the door as he closed it completely.
â€œThis is all very strange,â€ he said.
Virgil Thomas looked at Rockefeller very carefully.
â€œVirgil, are you all right?â€ she asked.
â€œI donâ€™t like him locking you in there,â€ Virgil Thomas muttered.
She didnâ€™t really hear what he said.
Rockefeller led them through the tunnel to the left and the others followed. The hexagonal tunnel went for some ways, perhaps an eighth of a mile, curving strangely instead of going in a straight line. It ended in a place where natural rock walls had not been cut or meddled with. In that place were layers of minerals and quartz and they could hear running water somewhere. Large columns of quartz humming with energy seemed to be connected to the rock walls along with strange biological pieces of flesh or fungus, which moved as if alive around the quartz columns. A short column of stone stood in front of the strange items with a rectangular flat top, various lights and colors atop it. The metal conduit that ran down the side of the corridor seemed to start at the strange rectangular board where several of the cables met it.
â€œI donâ€™t like this room either,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œTommy!â€ Miss Greene cried out.
â€œShh!â€ Rockefeller hushed her.
Many of them gasped or jumped, including Virgil Thomas, who muttered â€œGod damn itâ€ and Miss Edington, who yelped in surprise. Felixâ€™s eyes went wide. Miss Hernandez was shocked as well. Bricker reached for the shotgun slung on his back. Miss Fairfield spun around, camera ready, expecting Miss Greene had seen the boy.
â€œIs that not why weâ€™re here?â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œYou could have at least warned us,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œThis place is â€¦ a little strange.â€
â€œA little strange is a bit of an understatement,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
Rockefeller, still uncomfortable in the strange rooms, was ready to double back.
They headed back to the place where several corridors met and then discussed which way to go. They eventually chose to go to the corridor that had been on the right when they had entered the place. It curved strangely, never seemingly going in directly a straight line. It was odd and unsettling. After about another eighth of a mile, they found another of the strange iris doors on the left side of the corridor, which continued on beyond it. The conduit went by the iris door, bypassing it.
Rockefeller opened up the door. Another pentagonal room stood beyond, this one with a ceiling some 10 feet above. When they stepped in, the green substance on the ceiling began to glow, as it had done in the other rooms and corridors. In this case, it revealed a strange circular pattern carved with figures, mathematical-looking formulae, and unsettling and horrible symbols, similar but much more complex than the one they had seen in the cliff face. It was carved deeply and with great precision.
â€œWhat if this leads outside to that other one?â€ Miss Edington said. â€œJust a thought.â€
Miss Greene started to inspect the design, putting her hand against the wall and touching it. Her hand seemed to go right through the wall and she felt momentarily weakened and light-headed. She also felt quite unsettled by the entire occurrence. It felt very cold on the other side.
Miss Edington ran over.
â€œWhat!?!â€ she said, looking at the woman but not touching her or the wall.
Miss Fairfield took a photograph of the strange incident. She hoped it would turn out though the room felt dim.
â€œCan you pull back?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œHey,â€ Miss Greene said.
Everyone stared at the woman.
â€œIt feels cold here,â€ Miss Greene said slowly. â€œI want to go through. Will someone hold my hand?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to go through,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œCan you pull it back?â€ Miss Edington asked again. â€œHold on. Hold on. Hold on.â€
â€œWill someone hold my hand while I go through?â€ Miss Greene said again.
â€œMake sure you can at least come back,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œPull your hand out.â€
Miss Hernandez quickly crossed the room and leaned into the wall, putting her head seemingly through it.
â€œWhat are you doing!?!â€ Rockefeller said.
* * *
On the other side of the strange wall, Miss Hernandez saw a dark room wherein the green moss glowed, much like the room she had just left. Everything seemed crystal clear for a moment and she noticed the room was pentagonal and had an iris valve, much as the room she had just left. Then her vision blurred and she blinked rapidly. Her eyes stung terribly. She tried to take a breath and found she could not inhale =. There was no sound except for a louder and louder, high-pitched ringing filling her ears. The pain was terrible and intense and she felt as if she was dying.
* * *
It was only two seconds before Miss Hernandez jerked her head back out of wherever it had been, stumbling backwards, gasping for breath. Blood came out of her eyes, nose, and ears. She gasped and choked. Her eyes were bloodshot. Bruises began to form on her face.
â€œDamn!â€ Miss Edington said. â€œItâ€™s space!â€
â€œPull your hand out!â€ Rockefeller said to Miss Greene.
Miss Greene pulled her hand out and they saw it was bruised all over up to the point where her hand had been in the strange portal. She was unsure what might have caused it. The others looked on in horror.
Bricker was terrified. He had once read a strange theoretical medicinal book. He vividly remembered that if a person was exposed to vacuum, like the theoretical vacuum of space, the capillaries near the surface of the skin tended to burst, creating bruises under the skin. He realized Miss Hernandezâ€™s reaction was similar to what he had read as well. It was as if there were a vacuum behind the portal. No air whatsoever.
Miss Greene made Miss Hernandez comfortable but the woman was in a bad way after even only the two seconds of exposure to the terrible medium.