I wheel my dirt bike out of its shelter. Wolf and I restored it from the ground up after he surprised me with an old, broken down motorcycle for my sixteenth birthday. It’s a beauty, even when it’s covered in mud from one of our adventures. Right now, I just want to feel the wind in my hair and the earth under my wheels. I start the engine, kick it into gear, open the throttle, and head up to Black Bluff and the ceremonial stomping grounds. Lord, I’ll never get tired of this.
I feel close to God when the North Carolina woods surround me; as close as anyone who’s furious with the Creator can feel, I imagine. I rein in my thoughts and concentrate on the narrow path. There are roads that lead up to the site, but I’m an off-road kind of guy.
The path takes me past the stomping grounds and pushes farther into the woods. It ends at a cave the Cherokee have kept secret for centuries. The opening is small and hidden behind ferns and shrubs. I dismount, hide the bike behind a large rock and cover it with branches before heading into the cave with my flashlight ready.
I’m not alone. Voices echo in the hollow space, and I recognize them. Great. My least-favorite people in the world have invaded my space.
“Well, well,” Max’s gravelly voice never ceases to irritate me. “Hiding from the world again?”
I say nothing. He isn’t worth the wasted breath.
“Storm,” Marla hisses. Every time she says a word with an ‘s’ in it, she hisses. It’s disturbing. I turn to leave.
“Oh, don’t go,” Marla says. “Let us show you what we’ve discovered. You’re going to love it.”
Curiosity killed the cat, they say, but I’m no cat. I want to know what it is. I turn and follow them behind a large stalagmite with its top half broken off and see Max’s head disappear down a hole not much wider than his shoulders. He’s wearing a miner’s cap and turns the headlamp on. Marla climbs down a ladder and, as soon as she clears the way, I follow. The hole leads into a narrow passageway that slants downward.
We walk single file, careful not to slip down the steep path. I turn my flashlight off to conserve the batteries. Max’s headlamp illuminates faint markings along the left wall.
“This is far enough,” I say. “We don’t have any equipment in case we run into trouble.”
“Scared, freak?” Max taunts. “If we fall down a hole, you can levitate us right out of it. What are you worried about?”
Marla laughs and I cringe. I can’t stand her voice.
“In case you’ve forgotten, Max, this is a sacred cavern, and this passage could be leading to something we aren’t supposed to see.”
“Exactly my point,” he retorts. “We found something really strange a little farther on. You in or out?”
He has a point. I can use my abilities if we get into trouble. There’s no way anyone else is down here, unless they got here first, and if that’s the case, I’ll gladly leave.
I lose Max’s light for a moment when the passage makes a sharp turn to the right. By the time I round the corner, Max and Marla are standing in a cavern filled with lights. The walls, embedded with countless tiny crystals, reflect and magnify the little bit of light coming off the headlamp, and the result is magnificent, like a million stars underground.
“Didn’t I tell you you’d love it?” Marla did a little dance. I swear I caught a glimpse of scales on her arms when she spun around, but that’s crazy, right?
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