Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Prospector

Logan whimpered as he entered the vacant cave.

“What’re you wuss’n about, lardy?” Andy hissed.

“We shouldn’t b-be here,” Logan stammered, pointing at small, decomposed animals on the ground.

Jake turned and peered at the other two, his black hair stiff as if his mother had starched it. “Knock it off, you guys. This could be an old pirate’s hideout for all we know. Maybe we’ll find some loot!”

“We’d better,” said Jake. “How'd this cave pop up in the middle of our park anyway?”

Logan raised his short nose into the air and sniffed. “You guys smell a pig?”

“You’re a pig,” Andy mumbled.

“Was that a fat joke?”
You’re a fat joke, lardy!”

“Shh!” Jake shushed.

Something shuffled in the distance, an echo of someone walking ahead of them.

“You hear that?”

“Sounds like a dog.”

“Or a wolf,” Logan added.

“There’re no wolves here. Coyotes, maybe?”

“Oh, that makes me feel better.”

A footstep tromped. Another followed. All three boys stalled in their tracks, listening to a low moaning sound that was too much like a zombie from a horror game they had just finished.

Andy jumped. “It’s a monster!”

Before they could run, the passage behind them sealed up. A shadow grew along the wall, filling the boys with fear as the figure of a man raised his arms.

“Oye, there!”

The dark image shrunk. Within a moment, an old guy rounded the bend, holding a lantern in one hand and a dinged-up shovel in the other. His clothes were old, tattered, and dirty, and he had a wide gray beard that concealed most of his face. A rimmed hat covered his head while a pair of tan slacks hiked above his waistline, supported by leather shoulder straps.

“Kid folk?” he gruffed. “Bout time some snot-nosed whelps come sneak'n after ma'claim.”

Jake trembled. “Uh—what claim, sir?”

“Come on,” the man invited. “If it’s what yer look’n for, it’s down this-a-way. Mind yer heads.”
The fellow turned back the way he had come.

“What's he doing down here?” Logan whispered.

“He’s a miner,” Andy broke in. “Weird guy.”

“You shouldn't talk about yourself like that.”

“Don’t make me fatten your lip more than it is!”

Jake sighed. “Let’s see what he’s showing us.”

They followed the man’s lantern light as the tunnel began to lack the luster it once had. Stone spikes hung over their heads. Others stuck out of the ground, covered with crystal specks and silver flakes. As they entered a hollow chamber, they stared with wonder at a tall hill of gold coins.

The old miner’s lantern sat in the center, but he was nowhere in sight.

“Good glory and Mother Teresa!” Andy cried. “Gold! You know how rich we are now?”

“But ... where’s that old guy?” asked Logan.

“Who cares? Let’s just take some and get!”

Jake sprinted up the hill first, gathering coins, but he paused at the sight of a metal glove, smothered with jewels on its untarnished plating.

“This could be a king’s gauntlet,” he said, pulling on it. “It’ll look great in my room, but it won’t budge.”

“I don’t like it here,” Logan whined. “Something’s wrong about all this.”

“Shut it,” Andy hissed. He climbed up to help Jake, but the glove would not move from the pile of gold. “You’re the only one who’d wuss out on a chance like this. Why. Won’t. This. Come. OUT?”

Suddenly, the glove gave way, along with the skeletal remains of a human corpse.

Jake and Andy screamed as its bones crumbled to bits. A skull rolled down the hill of gold and stopped at Logan’s feet, its empty sockets staring back at him.

Logan froze, kicking it away like a soccer ball.

“What was that?” Andy panicked.

Jake stood beside them, pointing an unsteady finger. Among the bones were tattered clothes, a rusted shovel, and a dusty rimmed hat. There was no way out.

The miner, who they had met, was this guy.

“But—that's impossible!”

“Was he—a ghost?” asked Logan.

“I don’t wanna hang around to find out,” said Andy, just as sunlight spilled into the cave from where they had entered. “Let’s tell our folks. We’ll be rich!”

Andy and Jake took off. Logan straggled behind.

*     *     *

That very night, news of the boy's discovery swept through the town like a tidal wave. The police went to investigate the cave in the park, but there was nothing but grass. The boy’s claim did not exist. Every speck of their precious gold was gone. For stirring the whole town with such an outlandish story, the boy’s parents grabbed their sons, one by one, by the ear.

Andy winced. “How’d it all disappear?"

No one would ever know, but Logan managed a smile through it all ... with a jingle in his pocket.

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