Read an ExcerptTrapped in Death Cave
By Bill Wallace Holiday House
Copyright © 1988 Bill Wallace
All right reserved.
Brian lay on his stomach. The sandbar was low enough to be shielded from the bite of the brisk spring breeze. The bright sun had warmed the sand. It felt good against Brian's bare arms.
It took a long time for Gary to get settled, to finally satisfy himself that there was no one else around. While Brian waited, Gary kicked his grungy tennis shoes off. Dug his toes down into the hot sand.
At last, he eased over next to Brian and pulled a crumpled yellow envelope from his pocket. The paper was brittle -- cracked and colored with age. Inside the envelope was a thin white sheet of paper with lines and a big X on it.
Gary handled it as he would the wings of a butterfly. "It's rice paper," he whispered as he unfolded it. "If you ain't careful, it'll tear."
He spread it out on the sand for Brian to look at. There were lines -- marking a trail. On one side, there were some jagged lines, like the peaks of a mountain. And right in the middle was the big X.
"This is the map overlay that shows where the Snake Dancer's Gold is," he said.
He closed the paper carefully and quickly stuck it back in the envelope. Then he pulled out two more pieces of paper.
"This is the note Grampa left. It tells all about the map and how to use the overlay. Grampa left them for us. See, our names are on the outside of the envelope."
Brian scooted closer. He held hisbreath, listening with excitement. He'd heard Grampa's story about the Snake Dancer's Gold before. But he'd always thought it was just a story. A make believe kind of story that Grampa told them on days when the weather was bad -- and they couldn't go outside.
Gary paused. He frowned as he noticed the look on Brian's face. "I never figured it was a real story, either," he confessed. "But this letter Grampa left says different. Listen."
Brian followed along while Gary read. Grampa's handwriting wasn't too good, so his friend did a lot of frowning and head scratching, trying to figure what the words said.
Gary read in a soft voice. Every now and then, he'd stop and look up at the ridge of rock above them -- like he was still checking to make sure nobody was watching.
As Brian listened, it was almost like Grampa was there with them. Like it was him telling the story, just as he had so many, many times before.
It coulda been as far back as the start of the Civil War. But to the best of my recollection the way I heard the story -- it was more like the time old Fort Sill was opening up and when the first railhead come to a little town called Rush Springs.
Anyhows, the exact time it all happened ain't all that important. Some of the facts has got sorta messed up, what with the passin' of time and all, but there's one fact for sure. A shipment of gold coin was stolen from a wagon some place between the railhead at Rush Springs and the army base at Fort Sill. I looked it up in some of the old records and the missing gold shipment was writ down.
Nobody knows exactly how much was on the wagon. Somehow the shipments had got all messed up. There was six months' pay for the soldiers at the fort. I've figured it out more than once -- and near as I can come, there must have been somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars of gold on that wagon.
I first heard the story about the gold when I was ten. Me and a friend named Chancy Becker snuck down to the Indian meeting grounds and crawled up behind the big meeting tepee. (I know I've told you and Brian about the meeting grounds. They used to be on the ball diamond behind the Medicine Park school. Remember the time we went and found them arrowheads?)
Brian closed his eyes. He could almost see Gary and Grampa and him digging around the middle of the ball diamond with their shovels. He hadn't really believed Grampa when he'd told them Indians used to have their powwows there. But after they dug around a time, they found an arrowhead.. Brian started believing then. With a shrug of his shoulders he chased the memories out of his head and turned back to listen to the rest of Grampa's story.
The Indians got a good way of remembering things. Instead of writing stuff down and taking a chance on getting it lost, they tell it to others. If anything big was going, everybody that heard the story remembered it and told somebody else. Hunters and warriors told other hunters and warriors they ran into on the trails. Squaws told squaws and braves. Grandmothers passed it down to their children and grandkids around camp fires in front of their tepees. The words and the exact things that happen gets changed around some, but it's remembered. Remembered for a long, long time. It's called a legend. The way I heard it, when I was young, went something like this:
"When again life comes, the Brothers of the Snake go to the secret place in the mountains. Some who have not seen many summers have never visited the place for they can only go when the waters fall strong and the land floods. It is at this time that the secret place bursts forth and water sprays from the mountain. At this time, and only at this time, may the Brothers of the Snake visit the secret place."
The old medicine man who told the story that night in the tepee said few know the place, for there are few who can call themselves Brother. These few take the others there to dance and make their magic. They talk with the evil spirits -- the spirits of darkness, death, and pain.
But the spirits are evil. They do not listen. Instead, they spread their evil to all who come. Many of the Brothers never leave the place.
When the dancing and making of magic is done, the ones who live chase the evil spirits into the mountain. Then, they stop the waters from pouring and lock the spirits away so their evil cannot spread to others of the tribes.
Brian tugged at Gary's arm. Gary paused and looked up at him.
Brian frowned. "I don't understand all that stuff."
"About the evil spirits and the Indians chasing them back into the mountain.
What does it mean?"
Gary rattled the note in his hand. "Grampa explains some of it later on. Just listen, will you?" With a shrug, Brian nodded, turning his attention back to Grampa's letter.
It was at a time such as this -- a time just before the waters burst from the mountain -- that the white men discovered the secret cave.
As the Brothers drew near the ending of their ceremony, the white men came to hide the stolen gold. Many of the Brothers were Iying dead from their fight with the evil ones. They had come to make war with the evil spirits -- not the white man's rifles. Most were weak, ready to give their last strength to drive the evil spirits back into the mountain.
Without warning, the white men swooped in and killed the ones who remained. Killed all, save one.
Hisstoska -- Shaman of the Apache -- Brother of the Snake with a bullet near his heart, he alone clung to life.
Wounded and dying, he lay quiet, as though life had already departed for the spirit world. He watched as the whites carried sack after sack of gold into the mountain. Then they left. But in a short time, they returned with more sacks.
Hisstoska heard that they would leave and return once more with the last of their stolen gold. There, they would hide it until they could safely return. They knew nothing of the evil spirits who lived within the mountain, and Hisstoska knew their greed would not let them stay away long before they returned.
He knew also that time was not long for the Brothers of the Snake. Already, many of the evil ones had escaped the mountain. If the others were not driven back and the mountain closed, soon the evil would spread through all the land. Pain and death would come to many. He also knew that if the whites, in their ignorance, were to open the place again, nothing could stop the evil. The Brothers of the Snake were no more. There would be no one to drive the evil back where it lived.
When the whites returned the last time. Hisstoska followed them into the mountain. Many say his magic was strongest of all the shamans. With this great magic, he caused the earth to tremble -- the mountain to close. The evil spirits were again locked in their mountain home. So were the white men and their cursed gold. So also was Hisstoska.
The brave deed of Hisstoska took the courage of a spirit -- not a man. It is true, some say Hisstoska was a spirit -- a soul not of this life. Even the Brothers of the Snake fear the evil which dwells within the mountain. When Hisstoska gave his life to seal the evil inside, he had to seal himself inside also. Close out the light, there to die -- alone -- with the evil spirits all around, the evil of the white man and the evil that comes of the white man's gold, and the evil that dwells inside the mountain.
Me and Chancy Becker were just a couple of kids when we heard the old Indians telling the story. We was getting a little scared what with the spooky story the old medicine man was telling. We was also thinking about what them Indians might do to us if they was to catch us spying on their private meeting. We was just fixing to sneak off from underneath the tepee when we heard the last part of the story -- the part about the curse. The medicine man's eyes got real big and funny -- looking when he told that part.
"It is said that before Hisstoska died' he summoned all his magic and brought forth a curse on the white man and his gold. A curse on all who might find it and try to take it from the sacred place. A curse on all who might live now, and who are not now born -- that if they open the mountain and release the evil spirits, they shall die. Die a slow and painful death. A curse on all that is within the mountain and death to anyone who takes so much as one coin, one rifle, one arrow from it. And a curse on any Indian who breathes the name Hisstoska before the ears of a white man for the white man's greed would not allow him to believe the legend, and he would search out the evil. The name Hisstoska is to be spoken of only by the Indian -- from now until time is no more."
Right about then. me and Chancy Becker got to feeling the chills running up and down our backs. We lit out of there in a hurry, figuring the Indians were liable to see us any second. But we heard the story about the Curse of the Snake Dancer's Gold. We heard the story and we never forgot it.
It had taken Gary a long time to read Grampa's story. Brian had been sitting very still. Now he noticed his back was hurting a bit from being so stiff. His elbows were getting raw from propping them under his head in the sand. He stretched and got to his feet.
"I remember Grampa telling us the story," Brian said. "Once, when we were studying about Indians in school, I told my teacher about the legend. '
"And?" Gary urged him on.
"And my teacher said that only the Navajo and the Hopi Indians did that snake dancing stuff. She said that they never lived in Oklahoma not even when it was mostly an Indian reservation."
Gary smiled. "My teacher said that the Kiowa Indians were the only ones who lived in Oklahoma a long time ago. She said about the same thing your teacher did. I told Grampa about it."
Brian leaned closer. "So what did he say?"
"Grampa says there's a lot the white man thinks he knows about the Indians. But there's more that only the Indians know, that they won't never tell about."
"Yep! He said only the shamans or medicine men knew about the secret place. He said there's lots of stuff the Indian tribes keep secret, but there's stuff that the shamans even kept secret from their own tribes -- you know, special medicines, things about the spirits, and stuff they didn't even tell the chief about."
Brian felt a tingle at the back of his neck.
"I'm glad Grampa wrote the story down for us," he told Gary. "But what about that other piece of paper? The real thin stuff. What did you say it was?"
'Yeah. What's that for?"
There was another piece of paper under the one Grampa had written his story on. Gary unfolded it. Brian frowned.
They had been Iying on the sandbar for a long time. Brian didn't like being that still. And he didn't really want to listen to another story.
"What's that?" he asked.
Gary held the paper out to him. "It's the rest of Grampa's story. Want to hear it?"
Brian scratched at his nose. "I'm kinda tired of sittin'. Why don't you just tell me what it says?"
"Okay." Gary shrugged.
He stuffed the paper back in his pocket and pulled his shoes on. Then he got up, stretching as Brian had done. Real slow. they started walking toward the narrow gorge that led out of the Pit, back the way they came. Gary paused. He picked up a little rock and tossed it into the pool of water.
"Grampa said in that letter that he had a big black folder with maps in it. He said that he and Chancy Becker decided they'd find the gold and get rich. So every place they looked, they kept a map of it. When they were through searching one spot, they'd mark it off the maps so they wouldn't look there again. He said that about ten years ago, he and Chancy found out that somebody had been following them. So they made two sets of maps and split up. That way, whoever was watching them couldn't follow so easy."
Gary pitched another rock at the pool of water, then started up the narrow split in the rock. He talked over his shoulder as he climbed. "He said that he knew for a fact that the curse was true. A fella named McAimly stumbled on the place where the gold was hid, about nine years back. He even brought a handful of it into town, showing it around.
But before he could ever get back there for the rest or tell anybody where it was, he got killed by a hit -- and -- run driver. Eight years ago, Grampa's friend, Chancy Becker, got killed in a hunting accident. Nobody knew who shot him, but when they found him and brought him back to town, there were some gold coins in his pocket. Grampa said that Chancy's wife knew where the gold was, but she was so afraid of the curse, she'd never tell nobody."
Gary groaned as he pulled himself over the top of the cliff. Brian followed him. At the top of the Pit, they both looked around.
"What about that thin piece of paper you showed me?" Brian asked.
"It's an overlay."
"What's that mean?"
"Well..." Gary frowned, not knowing quite how to explain. "The paper's so thin, you can see clear through it. Up at the very top, it says 'page 59.' I figure that Grampa found the gold and made that overlay. If we look on page 59 of Grampa's maps and put the overlay on top of it, we'll know exactly where the Snake Dancer's Gold is buried."
Brian felt his eyes bug out. "You mean all that gold -- " He broke off because a big knot came up in his throat.
"Yep," Gary answered.
"Well...er...let's..." Brian was stuttering so hard he could barely get the words out. "Let's go get the maps and -- "
"We can't," Gary cut him off.
Brian frowned. "Why not?"
"They're not there."
"What do you mean, not there?"
Gary shrugged. "Somebody stole 'em."
Copyright © 1984 by Bill Wallace
Excerpted from Trapped in Death Cave by Bill Wallace Copyright © 1988 by Bill Wallace. Excerpted by permission.
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