Gather ’round, you ghouls and goblins. It’s storytelling night!
The woods between Moreland Drive and Foothills Drive have been hiked, explored and charted by almost every preteen living west of Fort Henry Drive. But only a few brave explorers have crawled into the dark hole called Cricket Cave.
One such lucky boy was Bobby Kirby. For Bobby’s 10th birthday, his parents gave him a flashlight with a built-in compass and magnifying glass. Bobby called his friend Jeff Brooks to join him on a hike so Bobby could show off his new toy.
The two boys climbed Slaughter Hill and made a hidden treasure map showing the location of an old tree stump where they kept special rocks they found on Slaughter Farm. Bobby drew a likeness of his compass on the map to make the map look real.
“What we need now is a backup place to hide our treasure in case we’re invaded by pirates,” Bobby exclaimed proudly, thinking it was the best plan he had ever devised.
Jeff thought about it for a moment. “Well, when I went swimming with my sister yesterday, one of the lifeguards stopped by to talk to her. He bragged about a cave just over the hill here. Maybe we could hide our jewels there.”
Bobby and Jeff stuffed their pockets with the rocks, checked to make sure no one was following them and moved into the seclusion of the trees on the top of Slaughter Hill.
Jeff led the way while Bobby held out his compass to keep track of their changing direction so he could mark it on the map later on.
The woods were full of well-worn paths leading from one landmark to another. The boy’s stump was not a landmark so they had to trailblaze their way through honeysuckle thickets and briar patches to get to the nearest path. The particular path they found led from a wet-weather spring to a rock ledge on the back of the hill. Jeff stopped at the spring. He dipped his hand into the water to clean off the blood of scratches from a bramble vine he’s scraped up against. Bobby used the magnifying glass to focus on a patch of moss, hoping to see some tiny new undiscovered world but all he found was a moth that flew away.
Before they set out on the trail, Bobby drew a few lines on the map to show the path they’d made from the stump to the spring. Bobby drew a waterfall to give the spring more important meaning on the map and to fool someone who might steal the map into thinking the spring was not the turning point to the cave. Instead, Bobby hoped the thief would keep on walking down the hill to the creek.
The dirt trail meandered over fallen trees and around large solitary rocks. At each rock, Bobby jumped on top and scouted the woods for pirates, Indians or highway robbers who might be trying to secretly track their trek to the cave.
“Coast is clear,” Bobby would whisper and jump off the rock.
After 20 minutes of steady hiking, Jeff and Bobby arrived at the rock ledge.
“Is this where the cave is?” Bobby asked, ready to update his map.
“No. Hang on a second,” Jeff demanded while scanning the trees below them.
“There it is!” Jeff shouted and pointed to a tree several feet down the slope. An old piece of barbed wire stuck out of the trunk of the tree about 20 feet off the ground.
Jeff walked around the side of the rock ledge and slid down the hill on his butt until he got to the tree.
Bobby put the map in his pocket and slid down the hill, too.
Jeff hung on to the tree and carefully let himself swing around to the bottom side of the base of the tree. From that angle, Jeff saw that the tree appeared to grow on top of a rock which couldn’t be seen from above, just as the lifeguard had described it.
Bobby stepped onto the lip of the rock with Jeff. They both crouched down and leaned back against the tree.
Jeff pointed at his feet. “The cave’s under this rock. You’re supposed to be able to hold onto this rock and put your feet into the cave.”
Bobby pulled out the map and drew an arrow from the rock ledge to a fence. He drew a dark circle under the fence and put the map in his pocket.
“Okay, I’ve got the map done. Only you and I know about it, right?”
Bobby grabbed Jeff’s knee and swung himself off the rock, blindly pushing his feet into the cave. He could feel cold air on his ankles. He pushed his feet in further and by stretching his arms, he was able to sit on the lip of the cave entrance. He let go of Jeff and took the flashlight out of his pocket.
“I’ll go in the entrance and let you know when I’m inside.”
Jeff nodded and gulped, “Okay.”
As Bobby scooted in, the map fell out of his pocket and tumbled down the hill. Unaware of the lost map, Bobby held the flashlight in one hand and crabwalked about five feet into the cave.
“Okay, I’m inside!”
As Jeff slid in behind Bobby, he completely blocked out the light, leaving only the flashlight to illuminate the cave.
Bobby’s eyes slowly adjusted to darkness so that he could see the cave was only about two feet tall. Once past the entrance, the cave was about six or eight feet wide. A few cave crickets hung from the ceiling.
Jeff scooted in until he kicked Bobby in the head.
“Hey, watch it!”
“Sorry, I can’t see you.”
Bobby turned the flashlight around and shone it Jeff’s face. “There, is that better?”
“Yeah, sure. Now I’m completely blind.”
Bobby laughed and pointed the flashlight back ahead of him. He scooted a few more feet until his heels slipped and hung off the edge of something. “Don’t move,” he told Jeff.
Bobby rolled onto his stomach and folded his body around to face forward into the cave.
He shone the flashlight over the edge and saw a floor about six feet below him.
“Hey! The cave’s bigger!”
“Wanna keep going?”
Bobby handed the flashlight to Jeff and instructed him to shine the light on the cave floor while Bobby hung over the edge and dropped off.
“Okay, now throw me the flashlight.”
Jeff looked down at Bobby and wondered how they were going to get out. To test how high he was, he stretched out and was barely able to hand the flashlight to Bobby.
Bobby stood on his toes to grab the flashlight from Jeff but just couldn’t get it. Jeff stretched a little further but lost his balance, falling on top of Bobby.
– – – – –
When Bobby didn’t come home for supper, his parents called Jeff’s parents. Neither one had seen the kids nor had invited the other’s boy to spend the night. The two fathers knew about the trails through the woods and walked the trails until dark looking for the boys. The mothers contacted the local constable, Ulysses Slaughter, whose family owned the farm and woods where kids often trespassed. Because the weather was warm, the constable assured the mothers the boys would be fine and waited until the next morning to put together a search party.
A light rain fell throughout the day while the search party walked the farm. Meanwhile, Bobby’s map got caught in a small trickle which carried the map down the hill to the creek. One of the searchers found the map and took it back to the constable’s farmhouse where Bobby’s mother identified Bobby’s handwriting. Based on where the map was found and the icons drawn on the map, the constable estimated the boys had probably been playing along the fenceline where the creek flowed under a roadway, forming a waterfall from the outfall pipe on the other side of the road. When the boys had not shown up after a few days, the constable told the parents that his best guess was the boys had been picked up along the highway. He suggested they post MISSING signs and hope for the best.
= = = = =
No one has been to the cave since then, not because of what happened to Jeff and Bobby but because whoever takes the trail from the wet weather spring to the rock ledge is scared away by the ghostly images of two boys carrying handfuls of rocks back and forth in the woods.