The lower hillside was covered with a thick growth of oak, hickory and maple, with a liberal scattering of cedars. As the hill grew steeper the dicidious trees tapered off, leaving only stubblorn cedars clinging to life among the rocks. I knew one of those patches of cedar hid the the entrance to the cave, but as I walked up the trail, I began to wonder if I would be able to find it again. The trees had grown and there were so many cedars.
I started up Grandpa’s stairs, finding the flat stone steps familiar and smooth beneath my feet. When I came to the spot where I needed to leave the steps and make my way across the steep hillside to the cave entrance, there was no doubt. My feet seemed to know the way better than my mind did, and I stepped off into the brushy undergrowth confidently. Within a few steps, the stone staircase was lost behind me as I slipped through the prickley, fragrant cedars, going deeper and closer to the base of the bluff. Even when I knew I had to be right in front of the narrow entrance, I could see no sign of it. But I pushed my way around the last tree, a much larger cedar than I remembered, and there it was: a dark shadow in the broken rock face of the mighty Missouri River bluff.
Inside the entrance, I stopped to let my eyes adjust. The darkness wasn’t complete, although it seemed so after the bright sunlight outside. Small openings high up let in little points of light, illuminating the interior of the cave like small far away skylights, creating a dimly lit interior that allowed this first room to be used without a lantern or a fire. As I moved toward the back of the cave, I fumbled my penlight out of my pocket and clicked it on, creating a bright little circle that made the surrounding dimness even darker. All the way at the back the cave seemed to end in a high blank wall of stone, but I moved to the right, knowing I would find another narrow cleft by the far right wall. After I slipped through that, the penlight would mean everything, because there were no tiny “skylights” in the second room.
My goal was cleverly hidden at the back of the second room, a door leading to the cellar of the cabin. I was almost there when my toe stubbed against something soft. The flashlight showed me a face looking up from beside the toe of my scuffed sneaker. Brown eyes, framed by thick dark lashes, stared blankly up at the light. The mouth hung slackly open, one hand flung up beside a cheek, long fingers curled as if in a half wave.
I jumped back, dropping the flashlight with a loud clatter. It bounced and rolled, but didn’t go out. Instead it landed with the beam once again pointed at the still profile of the woman on the floor. I heard a whimper rising up from my chest, swelling on its way to becoming a full blown scream, but I managed to swallow it back
No. No screaming.
They might hear me