The Digging Hole

Young boys should all experience the pleasures of having a place to dig in the earth to their hearts content.

Here, two lads find much more than a mere hole in the back yard.

(This is the beginning of a novel that might appeal to either young people or adults)

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The Digging Hole

         So what if it is an old house, thought Ernie, as he rounded the fence at the edge of the school playground. His friend Jason had been bugging him all day about living in a creaky old house, saying that it was way out of style and not as nice as all the other houses in town. Ernie didn't like to be teased anyway and to have your best friend say you lived in a cruddy house made him a little mad. He walked along kicking a large chestnut out in front of him and thinking about his old house. Jason was right about it being old, Ernie's dad had told him that it was built sometime in the 1890's. Jason was also right about it being creaky, but that just meant that no one could sneak up on you even in the dark. Out of style --- maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. Anyway Jason didn't know the difference between style and a floppy eared mutt dog. About his house being as nice as any of the other houses in town, Ernie felt that his big old house was maybe nicer than most and for sure nicer than that ticky-tacky, half plastic house that Jason lived in near the school. And besides, at least his old house didn't look like all the other houses on the block like Jason's did.
          Well that pretty much settled it, Ernie felt better about his house and he really didn't care what anyone said about it. He wasn't even mad at Jason anymore. Ernie turned the corner in front of Jason's new pink house and gave the chestnut a hard kick that sent it bouncing wildly out of control up into Mrs. Wilson's immaculate flower garden. Ernie smiled and thought how glad he was that it was just a chestnut and not his favorite ball or something else of real value, because once anything hits Mrs. Wilson's yard you better leave it there if you know what's good for you, boy could she get on a guy for dumb stuff like just mashing one flower or something. Only just last week Jason and he had cut across her back yard on their way over to his house and she came running out of her house yelling something about how they had better not step on her begonias.
          "Hi Ernie" called a voice. Ernie looked around but didn't see a thing. Then he heard a muffled giggle and a rustle of leaves. He looked up just in time to see Jason coming right down at him from a large oak tree that grew at the edge of Mrs. Wilson's driveway. Thump! Jason landed half on top of Ernie and they both hit the ground rolling and wrestling and laughing. Ernie's books had scattered half in the driveway and half in Mrs. Wilson's ever precious garden. In fact Ernie's math book had landed right on top of her prize late blooming rose knocking off most of the petals and bringing her quickly to the edge of her porch.
          She could have nearly woke the dead with the shriek of utter dissatisfaction at the boy's latest stunt of unintentional vandalism. "What will you two think of next." she wailed, "Why can't you just carry on your childish pranks somewhere else."
          The two of them untangled and jumped up. "Lets get out of here" whispered Jason.
          "Yeah," said Ernie "Where's my books".
          Jason picked up a notebook and a library book from the driveway and Ernie quickly grabbed his math book from amidst the small pile of rose petals, and the two of them made a run for it on down the street toward Ernie's house. "Sorry Mrs. Wilson" called Ernie as he fled the scene.
          "That boy doesn't know what sorry is." mumbled Mrs. Wilson as she stepped toward her ailing rose bush. "Don't you two ever . . . " she started to call after them as they disappeared around the corner at the end of the block, but instead she stopped and returned her attention to the rose bush and the deep foot print Ernie had made when he grabbed his book.
          "Whew" said Ernie as they made it to the safety of the trees at the edge of the vacant lot. They half stood half hung on the lower branches panting and laughing. "I wonder what she would do to us if she ever caught us?" said Ernie, now only half laughing at the prospect of actually being caught by Mrs. Wilson.
          "In some ways we are caught" Jason said "she always tells my mom and then I get yelled at, at home, sometimes even by my dad. In fact this time will probably be one of those because of the flower you broke . . ."
          "I broke?" Ernie interrupted abruptly "What do you mean? You jumped out of the tree on me and knocked my books all over the place. It wasn't my fault her dumb flower got all ruined.
          "Yeah, I suppose your right, but it doesn't really matter because my mom will probably call your mom and you'll get yelled at too" Jason said with an ironic smile.
          Ernie kind of laughed and admitted that it didn't matter how it happened. The flower had been broken and they were both bound to be yelled at, it was just a matter of when. "Boy what a bummer" said Ernie. "All this over just one flower, a dumb flower."
          "Ah, no big deal" shrugged Jason, "I get yelled at all the time anyway"
          "Yeah parents must always have a sore throat from so much yelling" laughed Ernie as he took his books from Jason. The vacant lot that they were standing in was actually a steep hill with two or three lots partly full of trees and weeds, but also right in the center was Mr. Hodges large vegetable garden with a fine row of carrots right next to the many thick young poplar trees that seemed to be there just for the kids to hide in. Little did the boys know that Mr. Hodges had actually planted that row of carrots just for them on their way home from school. He rarely missed seeing them sneak not so carefully out from the cover of the poplars to pull up a carrot or two. Today was no different, and he chuckled to himself watching them through a small knot hole in the side of his tool shed.
          "Boy old man Hodges sure knows how to grow carrots" said Ernie as they walked on down the steep hill through the trees.
          "Yeah he sure does" agreed Jason," our carrots never taste this good."
          "Ours either" mumbled Ernie as they both crunched away on the sweet orange roots that only moments ago had lain quietly in the cool ground.
          The boys meandered out of the trees and onto the narrow trail that led down the hill to the hi-way below. They stopped at the edge of the road, looked for cars, and each picked out a good rock to kick up Ernie's street that ascended the hill across the hi-way. Jason kicked first, and his rock flew nearly across the road and then bounced and rolled to where Ernie's street started up steeply. "Good one" admitted Ernie as he brought his leg way back and let go a whopper of a kick that sent his rock way high and off coarse into the pasture across the hi-way.
          Jason laughed "It'll be fun trying to get it out of there. I'll beat you to the top for sure now."
          "Yeah," grumbled Ernie as they crossed the road, "you have to wait for me to get over the fence before you kick again."
          "OK" said Jason standing near his rock watching Ernie climb between the hog wire and the first row of barbed wire that surrounded the field where Ernie's two donkeys grazed and lurked sluggishly waiting for the boys to come home with a carrot for them in trade for a ride up the hill. Today however Ernie had eaten both carrots and when the donkeys realized that there was to be no treat they whirled around and dashed off briskly.
          "Sorry" Ernie called out at them as they went, but they paid no attention to him and kept right on running clear to the top of the hill. "There goes our ride" Ernie yelled at Jason. "Go ahead and kick"
          Jason wound up and kicked his rock again straight up the steep gravel road leading to Ernie's driveway at the top. Ernie gave his rock a kick as well, and the boys worked their way slowly up the hill one kick at a time. Eight or ten kicks latter the boys neared the top and Jason, somewhat ahead of Ernie, aimed what he thought to be his last kick at the entrance to the driveway. It was his last kick all right, but it didn't get to the driveway. Instead the rock veered off and went right into big Blacky's pen. Blacky was the big ram sheep that lived in the pen at the corner of the driveway. Jason stood staring at his rock for a moment and then said in a kind of whiny voice, "That's not fair, you have to go get my rock out of there, he's your dumb sheep." Ernie laughed "I can take as long as I want now. You'll never get that rock back, at least not alive." Ernie laughed again and gave his rock another kick as big Blacky wandered over to give Jason's rock a sniff, and possibly guard against the remote chance that Jason may try to retrieve his rock.
          "I quit" called Jason "I'm tired of kicking that dumb rock anyway. Let's do something else."
          Ernie climbed over the fence and out of the pasture. He and Jason walked along the driveway toward the house. "You know what I said about your house being dumb?" Jason started in.
          "Yeah, so what" mumbled Ernie.
          "Well its kind of neat actually." Jason continued, "Its sort of spooky looking sometimes, like there might be old spirits or something hanging around. Maybe up there by that little round window . . ."
          "Hey yeah," interrupted Ernie "I gotta think up something to wear on Halloween. Lets go up in the attic and look through some old junk."
          "What's behind that round window?" asked Jason. "What do you mean, What's behind it?"
          "I mean where does it go? Who's room is it?
          "Oh I don't know." answered Ernie, "Its just a window up in the attic. You can look out of it in a minute. Its kind of neat like looking out of those little port holes on a ship."
          "Why's it round?" asked Jason as they walked by the flower garden where Ernie's mother was planting fall bulbs. "I don't know." he said to Jason as he turned toward his mother, "Hi mom. How are you?"
          "Oh!" she exclaimed looking up "You boys startled me. You shouldn't sneak up on your old mother like that."
          "Heck mom your not old." said Ernie, Can we go up in the attic and look at junk?"
          "I'm not old huh, well I sure feel like it sometimes." she said straightening up with a sigh. "I suppose you can go up there. Don't leave the light on when your done . . . and don't make a mess."
          "OK mom, we just want to look for Halloween stuff." said Ernie as he opened the front door and they went in. "Your mom likes flowers too, just like Mrs. Wilson." said Jason.
          "Yeah" Ernie scowled.
          "So does my mom." continued Jason "I think all moms do. I wonder why."
          "Oh I don't know," replied Ernie "I think its just part of being a mom. Its like yelling, they all like to yell, and they all like flowers, and probably a bunch of other stuff too."
          "Yeah like kissing, and baths, and combing our hair, and . . Hey look at that." said Jason pointing at the cat, who sat crouched in the middle of the rug with a small mouse sitting up on it's hind legs as if to defend itself against it's captor. Ernie looked just in time to see the mouse make a break for it, hoping maybe that their entrance might distract the cat enough to get away. The mouse was wrong, and the cat must have had enough of playing for the afternoon, because it had gone no more than a few steps when the cat reached out with a quick paw pulling the helpless little mouse right back to in front of him where he snatched it up in his mouth and moments later put the poor tortured thing out of it's misery with a little crunch. "Gross!" said Jason.
          "Really!" laughed Ernie as he walked toward the sliding door out onto the deck "Good kitty Tabby. That's the way to get them." He met the cat at the door and opening the door Tabby walked proudly out onto the deck. "Good boy!" exclaimed Ernie once more as he shut the door and turned back around to Jason. "Lets go up to the attic and you can look through the little round window, the spirit window or whatever you called it."
          They both laughed and headed for the stairs. Ernie laid his books on the kitchen table on the way by and in moments they were bumping each other and giggling as they went up the stairs to where Ernie's room was. They hit the top of the stairs and instead of turning right toward Ernie's room they turned left and went toward Ernie's folks room. Just before they got there they came to a smaller narrower door with a real old fancy door knob. "This is it." said Ernie, opening the door a little and peeking up the stairs. "Doesn't look like there are any ghosts waiting to get us." he laughed throwing the door open and offering for Jason to go up first. Jason gave him a funny look and Ernie laughed again starting up the stairs.
          The stairs were steep and creaky under their feet as they went up holding onto the hand rail. "I was right about your house being creaky though." said Jason about half way up.
          "Yeah I know," agreed Ernie "you can't even sneak up on a ghost."
          "Who'd want too?" said Jason stumbling a little as he thought about how silly it was to even think about things like ghosts in his friend Ernie's attic.
          Ernie realized, as he reached the top of the stairs, that the only light was coming from the little round window and that he had forgotten to turn on the light. "Here Jason," Ernie said, giving Jason a push toward the window "you go look out the window. I forgot to turn on the light." He turned and disappeared down the stairs. Jason, who didn't like being left alone in the near darkness, felt a sudden chill as he froze momentarily between the window and the stairs.

Chapter Two

          It seemed like a very long moment for Jason, frozen in the middle of the cluttered attic. He felt as though he had time to completely inventory the contents of the room even though he could only make out the various items as soft dark shapes in the low light from the small window. Suddenly the room lit up from three bare electric bulbs stuck into the ceiling and seemingly held in place by thousands of cob webs. The sudden burst of light seemed to release Jason from his paralysis, and he continued on to the window, expecting some sort of magical vision. Instead, he walked into a wall of spider webs that had been carefully built in front of the window just for the purpose of clinging to those that approached it.
          "Oh ick" said Jason backing up a bit and pulling hunks of cob web off his nose and ears.
          Ernie had made it to the top of the stairs again and chuckled a little to see Jason struggling with the web. "Sorry, I should have warned you about the spider webs, they're everywhere."
          "I found them." said Jason "Where's the spider." "Oh, I don't know," answered Ernie " you never see them . . until they jump on you."
          "Sure" returned Jason, making another attempt to get to the little round window. Upon getting to the window, he noticed that he could barely see out of it at all. Dust and age had combined to leave the window hazy and clouded. Jason rubbed the window several times with the heel of his hand, cleaning off his hand each time on his pants. Finally he could see out well enough to make out the various trees and out buildings that cluttered Ernie's yard. Still everything was distorted by the waviness of the old glass.
          "Boy, everything really looks weird through this window." Jason remarked, thinking about how he had imagined the window might be kind of magic.
          "Yeah, my dad says that glass is kind of like ice that doesn't melt until it gets to around two thousand degrees or something. "Ernie said "And what makes it look funny, is that it kind of slumps down from gravity all the time pulling on it."
          "How's he know?" asked Jason, doubting Ernie.
          "How would I know?" Ernie came back "He just knows junk like that."
          Jason continued to look out the window for some time, imagining that he was a rich merchant held captive by pirates. The wavy glass of the attic window was easy to imagine as a port hole and the several out buildings in Ernie's yard made a good fleet of the kings ships coming to rescue him. he even thought that he could feel the swaying of the pirates ship in what must of been a rough sea.
          "Hey, look at this." called Ernie, who had gone over to the far wall where a bunch of old traps hung along with a wooden framework connected to wide leather straps.
          Jason glanced over at Ernie and then back out the window. He was about to be rescued by the kings personal war ship, and he couldn't be bothered by Ernie's old back pack or even a bunch of old bear traps. They probably weren't even real bear traps anyway. The more he tried to forget whatever Ernie had said to him, the less clearly he could see the kings fleet, they seemed to fade away until they turned back into old out buildings, and the port hole splashed with water returned to the mundane attic window. He turned to join Ernie and could see that the traps were clearly not bear traps, but only coyote traps. "Your dad sure has a bunch of those old traps" he said finally.
          "Those were my grand-pa's." said Ernie pointing at the wooden frame "I don't think my dad ever did any trapping. Look at this."
          "Yeah, its just an old backpack" grunted Jason.
          "I know that." Ernie said quickly "Its actually a pack-frame, but its made of wood. You don't see many wood pack-frames."
          "That's true" said Jason "it is kind of neat, lets see it." He took the frame off the nail that it hung from. Dust fell from it as he handled it and several cob webs stretched away from the wall, broke and fell toward Jason clinging to his arm and leg. He blew a large cloud of dust from the frame which hung in the air for some time and then slowly began to settle on the many varied contents of the attic. "Wow, this is a neat pack frame." he said "Its really light, and it feels good too." He put his arms through the straps and snugged the frame on to his shoulders.
          "Here let me try it." Ernie said tugging at the frame. "I think that it used to be my dads when he was in the Boy Scouts."
          Jason slipped off the light frame and handed it to Ernie, saying. "I think you should use it, or else you can give it to me."
          Ernie ignored Jason's last remarks, but he put on the pack, cinched up the shoulder straps to fit him and even snapped the waist strap. "Boy this does feel good." he said "I'll bet it even feels better when you have a bunch of junk tied to it."
          While Ernie stood there imagining himself climbing high in the Himalayas with this new pack-frame, Jason looked around the dim, cluttered room. There was a lot of furniture, chairs stacked together with their legs sticking up in the air, and several tables piled with cardboard boxes. On the far wall opposite the window was a long book shelf filled with old dusty books of all sizes. There were three or four old trunks with leather handles and big metal latches, boxes full and overflowing with fabric and old clothes stacked up clear to the ceiling in one corner. Half buried in a deep pile of old magazines that seemed to drip out of the book shelf, was a large table lamp that looked like a real goose with a lamp shade on it's head. There were so many things in the attic that Jason had trouble looking at any one of them because there was always something else catching him out of the corner of his eye.
          Ernie had put back the pack and was now examining the contents of a small wooden box about the size of a cigar box. There was a handful of small pins. Several of them Ernie recognized to be Boy Scout pins. Others looked as if they were army pins or something. They were all dull and crusty. "Wow, look at this one." he said holding out a large red and blue ribbon with a round brass coin hanging from it. There was a rifle on the coin along with the words "First Marksman". "This must be my dad's, for good shooting. He's a real good shot."
          "Oh ya" mumbled Jason, "What's this?" he said taking what appeared to be a brass can, about three inches in diameter and an inch or so high, from the box. He twisted the top and bottom of the can in opposite directions and it came apart in two pieces. "Wow" he said looking at the compass in his hand.
          "Hey I haven't seen that for a long time." said Ernie "It used to be my grandfather's surveyors compass."
          "What's a surveyor's compass?" asked Jason.
          "Surveyors go around measuring the land and making maps and stuff like that." answered Ernie "Sometimes they take a place on a map and then find that same exact spot on the earth. My grand-pa went around finding silver mines and then figured out where to dig, and junk like that. A compass helped him know where he was or something.
          "I'll bet he didn't find any silver mines." said Jason with disbelief.
          "He did so." assured Ernie "He found lots of them."
          "Why aren't you guys rich then if he found all that silver?" asked Jason.
          "Oh I don't know but he did find a bunch of mines somewhere up in Idaho. But anyway this was his compass, and its a real good one. See how if you hold it up like this - -" Ernie said taking the compass from Jason, holding it up, and looking through two sights that flipped up from it's sides, and then turning himself a quarter of the way around to the right. "See" he began again, pointing toward the books "That red book there in the middle is exactly south. You can sight in on any direction you want."
          "Yeah that could be handy I suppose." Jason remarked looking around the room again. His eyes skipped from one item to another without hardly even registering what he had looked at. Everything had a strangeness about it in the low light of the attic. Some things were covered with old sheets to keep the dust off, and they had an especially eerie quality to them Jason thought as his eyes met with a very old looking baseball sitting along with a baseball mitt on the corner of a large trunk across the room. He walked directly over to the trunk and picked up both the mitt and ball and threw the ball into the mitt several times. "I suppose that these were Babe Ruth's or something like that." He finally said.
          Ernie laughed a little holding up his hands as if to catch the ball. "No" he said "they were just my dad's from when he played baseball."
          Jason threw the ball across the attic to Ernie, saying. "I suppose your dad was some kind of big time baseball player or something."
          Ernie caught the ball and threw it back to Jason. "I don't know" he said "I just remember he played on Sundays sometimes a long time ago." Jason threw the ball again a bit harder and it stung Ernie's bare hand. "Hey" he said throwing back the ball "not so hard."
          "What's the matter, too hot for you?" laughed Jason throwing the ball harder yet. This time the ball bounced off Ernie's hand, glanced off the chimney, and hit the bookshelf knocking a small thin book out onto the floor, where it fell open and several pages tore lose scattering out among the magazines.
          "Now you've done it" cried Ernie shaking his hand from where the ball had bent back one of his fingers, and walking over to where the book lay broken on the floor. He picked up the lose pages along with the book and tried to replace them in such a way that one couldn't tell they had ever come out. He closed the book and walked over to where there was more light. He looked closely at the edges of the book, but he could still see where the pages had come out. He opened the book again to try once more to straighten the lose pages. This time as he handled the old book he could tell that it was written by hand and not only old, but it was very old. The cover was made of leather that at one time was black, but now seemed to be faded and stained to the point that only a little of the original blackness remained. He could tell the pages were yellowed and very brittle as he carefully turned them a few at a time. As careful as he was, some small bits of the pages still flaked off falling to the floor.
          "Wow Jason this is a really old book and it's written by hand with some kind of crude ink pen." He held the book out to Jason who had come over to see the damage he had done by throwing the ball so hard. Jason reached out to take the book, but Ernie pulled it away and then held it out again, as if to say "look, but don't touch". Jason put his hands behind him and took another step forward. This time Ernie left the book in front of him to see.
          "Boy it sure is old." agreed Jason "Who do you think wrote it? Maybe it was written by someone famous and its worth a fortune or something."
          Ernie laughed and pulled the book back away from Jason trying to read some of the words on the yellowed page. As Ernie slowly read in the old book, Jason went over to the magazines, squatted down on the floor, and began to thumb through one of them. Neither of the boys spoke for some time. Jason was engrossed, looking at pictures of wild animals and natives in the jungles of Malaya. Ernie had sat down under the dim light and had started over at the beginning of the old book. There was no table of contents, no forward or publishers note, there wasn't even a title. The book just started with the date; May 3, 1873, and then went right on with the writing. The author had used some kind of crude fountain pen to write with, and what ever it was, it made a fairly wide line on the vertical strokes and narrow lines when moved horizontally. Although the writing was difficult to read, it was rather attractive as it flowed gracefully across the pages.
          "Hey listen to this." said Ernie reading a description of several sentences from the book. "What does that sound like to you?"
          "Wow! That sounds like he's describing the bolder in the river right below your house." Jason said jumping up and coming over to look at the book as well. "Wow what's the cave he's talking about?"
          "I don't know." replied Ernie "Its the first time he mentioned it. He couldn't be talking about around here though because we don't have any caves, at least that I have ever heard about."
          "Yeah I know, but listen to this." Jason read several more sentences aloud from the book. "Doesn't that sound just like the little creek running down through your pasture?" "Yeah really" agreed Ernie "and it runs into the river right by the big dog head rock, just like it says here in the book. He must be talking about my back yard."
          "Sure he is" said Jason reading further "and the cave must be somewhere right down by the river. Yeah look at this. It says that the cave opened out from the side of a water well used by some farmer around here."
          "My mom says this used to be a farm house in the old days." Ernie said excitedly "I'll bet he's talking about the old well for this place, before they started getting water from the city."
          "But where could it be? I've never seen anything like that around here." Jason said walking over and looking out the little round window.
          As Jason looked out the window of the attic, his previous vision of pirates came back. Once again he was the captive of these merciless rouges, and his only chance was that the king and his navy could over power the pirates and free him. While Jason dreamed of adventures, Ernie read on in the old book. He was looking for some hint of where to find the old well that must have been somewhere close. The book however said nothing more about the well, it only spoke of how the tunnel took off from the side of the well and went for a long way at a slight slope before turning and then continuing straight for another long ways. Ernie read on for sometime as the author described the inside of the tunnel, how it was dark, and the rough walls had water dripping from them, and the spooky sounds of his own foot steps echoing throughout as he walked cautiously down the slight incline.
          Suddenly Ernie jumped up. "I know" he said "I know where the well is. Or at least I think I do."
          Jason's dream ended like a light being turned off, and he looked at Ernie with an expression of excitement. "Where?" he said "let's go see right now."
          "OK" Ernie replied "but we're going to have to dig some to find it. There's a place down by the rock quarry where my dad says he thinks must have been an old well. He has been filling it in with junk that he doesn't know where else to dump, like the old burn pile full of melted aluminum cans and glass and burnt up rusty nails and stuff." "Ick" said Jason "That sounds like real fun to dig through if you ask me."
          "Yeah I know, but there isn't too much of it I don't think." Ernie continued "He only dumped that kind of junk in there once or twice, and it seems like the other stuff is just dirt and rocks. I think we can do it if we really work, but it won't be easy."
          "OK let's get started." Jason said starting for the stairs. Ernie followed still holding the book, and the two of them descended the steep stairway in leaps and bounds. "Where are you going?" asked Jason as Ernie headed for his room.
          "I think I'll put this book in my room for now. We can look at it later, but I don't want to take it out with us now." Ernie answered "It might get ruined or worse yet lost."
          "Yeah good idea. Lets go. I can hardly wait." Jason said full of excitement "I hope you have two shovels, so we can both dig."
          "We do." said Ernie as he rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs with Jason right on his heels. The two of them went directly to the tool shed, grabbed shovels, and cut down through the garden to the open field that bordered the rock quarry. Ernie threw his shovel over the fence into the pasture and crawled between the wires. Jason followed him without a word. The pasture was very dry and offered little nourishment to the half dozen sheep that wandered around in search of the few tufts of bunch grass that poked up out of the fragile soil. Finally they came to the other side of the pasture, crossed the fence and walked the several yards to the depression that Ernie's father had thought was once a well.
          "Is this it?" asked Jason, walking around what seemed to him as nothing more than a shallow dip in the ground. "Sure is" replied Ernie "Let's get started. I can hardly wait to find the tunnel."
          "I hope you know what you're talking about." whined Jason "I don't want to dig to China or anything, and that stuff looks like its more junk than dirt."
          "It is for a couple of feet at least, and then there's dirt." assured Ernie.
          "A couple of feet." Jason whined again "Gee, how far do you think it is to the tunnel?"
          "Oh I don't know" said Ernie " Let's figure on a hundred feet or something, so we don't get discouraged too soon. We might as well get started. We can put the dirt over there." he said pointing to the far edge of the depression. Jason groaned as they went to work. He knew that it was going to be a difficult task. Shovels were not really the right tool at least yet. There was barbed wire poking out in several places which had to be pulled out first, and then an assortment of burnt rusty old hunks of angle iron and other junk that made shoveling impossible. Finally they could use their shovels and they began to dig, quickly at first, but soon they slowed to a steady pace. They dug quietly for nearly an hour, talking only now and then, saving their energy for the long job ahead of them. Ernie thought of what he had said about digging a hundred feet. He sure hoped that they came across the tunnel before that. They had dug through the ashes and junk that his dad had put in there and were now about a foot or so down into the dirt that had been there for many years. The hole was nearly four feet in diameter and almost four feet deep. It had solid rock walls that were straight up and down.
          "Boy we're getting pretty deep." Jason said throwing a shovel full of dirt way up and over the pile that was now beginning to look like a mountain.
          "Yeah we sure are." agreed Ernie stopping to take a rest "We're going to have to move that pile of dirt a little or start putting it somewhere else. We also had better go get a ladder before we get the hole so deep we can't get out."
          Jason laughed at the thought and then looked around to see that they had already made a hole that either one of them needed help to get out of. "You're right" he said "you better go get one right now. I'll give you a boost up out of here." He cupped his hands together and held them out for Ernie to step in, which Ernie did and crawled out of the hole.
          "By" called Ernie with a grin. "See you sometime, if you ever get out."
          "Hey you better come back here with a ladder" Jason called as Ernie disappeared. He wondered for a moment if Ernie might leave him there, and then went back to digging. Shovel after shovel full of dirt was lifted from the bottom of the hole and re deposited on the edge. As Jason dug, he thought again of how he hoped that they were digging in the right place. It wouldn't do at all to put this much work into the wrong spot and then maybe even have to fill the hole back in again after they gave up. That last thought gave him kind of a weak feeling in the knees, and he quickly tried to think of something else. As he dug he banged his shovel hard against the rock that formed the straight wall of the hole. Stopping to rest, Jason leaned against the rock wall, and in doing so he became more aware of it's significance. This nearly round solid rock wall full of dirt was really a hole someone had dug in the past and then filled in later. Now he and Ernie were digging it out again. Then it really hit him. They were digging in an old well, right where they wanted to be. He was for the first time excited about the whole thing, the book, the story, tunnel, even the digging. The hole had meaning, and his efforts had meaning. He felt good about digging and picking up his shovel, he went back to pitching dirt up and out of the ever deepening hole.
          As Ernie returned with the ladder he could see the growing pile of dirt and the steady shovel fills of dirt flying up out of the hole. "Hi" he called as he poked his head over the edge of the hole. "Here's the ladder. I'm going to scuff the dirt pile down some so we don't have to throw the dirt so far." He slid the ladder into the hole with Jason an went to work on the pile. Once the dirt had been slid away from the hole, Ernie went to the ladder and crawled down beside Jason. The ladder took up a lot of space in the hole making it harder to dig. Finally Ernie dug two little holes for the legs of the ladder right next to the edge and stood it nearly straight up almost out of their way.
          "Good thinking," said Jason "that gives us a lot more room. Hey! You know what I just figured out?"
          "What?" asked Ernie.
          "Look at the walls. We're digging where someone else dug before, like a well. I think your dad is right and we're in the right place."
          "Your right," said Ernie "this hole does look like its been dug in before. Those rocks must have been blasted out of here with dynamite or something." He looked around at the straight rock walls. It was like being in a small room with no door or ceiling. He could look up and see the sky, but only the sky. They had dug the hole deep enough that with the pile of dirt they had thrown out, they could no longer see over the edge. It was like they had created their own private little world. Little was right, thought Ernie as Jason, still digging, poked him in the leg with the handle of a shovel.
          "This is it." said Ernie "I'm sure it is. This sure is a well all right, or at least it sure looks like one." He went back to digging. It wasn't easy for the two of them to both work in the small space offered by the four foot ring of solid rock, but they managed fairly well and the dirt flew, a shovel full at a time, up and out of the hole. They dug steadily and quietly for most of another hour. Ernie couldn't help from thinking about the book, and the tunnel, and where it led, if any place. Maybe it was a gold mine or better yet a diamond mine, and they would be very rich. He shuddered to think that there might be monsters or aliens at the end of the tunnel, like in a movie he had seen on television several days ago. He dismissed the idea of aliens and went back to some kind of mine or maybe a treasure hidden there by pirates or someone. Pirates seemed a bit out of the question, because they were three hundred miles or more from the ocean, but maybe it was Indians or outlaws. There were lots of those around a hundred years ago. That must be it, he thought, its a hidden treasure. Digging was easy as he thought about stacks of silver or gold ingots stacked up like bricks clear to the ceiling of the tunnel. His imagination ran away with him. He could see torches stuck into cracks in the wall, and the tunnel had widened out to form a large room. On one side of the room were the stacks of silver ingots. Some had fallen from the pile and lay on the ground. In another spot there was a pile of old muskets leaning up against the wall of the cave. There were trunks full of shiny coins, and behind one of them was a skeleton, a human skeleton. Ernie shivered as he thought of this, and he threw a shovel full of dirt clear to the top of the pile.
          "Boy this is getting hard to do." Jason said heaving a shovel full up onto the side of the pile, and having most of it slide back into the hole. "I think that its time to scuff off the top of the pile again."
          "Yeah I'll clime out and do it." said Ernie.
          "I'll help you." Jason said following Ernie up the ladder. "I haven't been out of this hole for nearly two hours." Just as he reached the top of the ladder, Ernie heard his mother calling him to do the chores come in and wash up for dinner.
          "OK!" yelled Ernie at the top of his voice. "Goll- did you have to yell right in my ear" Jason whined rubbing his ear.
          "Sorry." said Ernie looking down into the hole they had dug. He was actually surprised at how much progress they had made in the first day.
          "Boy if its time for dinner, I had better get home or I'll be grounded for a week." Jason said turning to go. "Hey wait." Ernie said "We have to keep this a complete secret. You can't tell anyone, I mean anyone. Promise you won't."
          "OK I promise." Jason called back over his shoulder as he headed down over the hill to the short cut home.
          "Promise- - Not a word." Ernie called after him again. "Yeah, Yeah" Jason grunted in return "I'll see you tomorrow."
          Ernie turned, took one more look into the hole, and headed up through the pasture to the house. It was past time to feed the sheep and they were already standing over by the gate to be let back over to the barn. He unlatched the gate and ran through leaving it open for the sheep to follow him. They did and he had to run as fast as he could to keep from being trampled. When he reached the barn he hopped over the short fence and opened the gate to let the sheep into the small area where they were fed their grain and spent the night. When they were all in, he closed the gate and went into the barn to get their feed. He removed the lids from the several barrels that they kept grain in and began to measure out the different grains for the different animals. Oats for the donkeys, wheat and corn for the sheep, a handful of anything thrown on the floor for the chickens, and a very special mix of wheat corn and molasses for the goat. He had to wait for the goat however, because he couldn't feed her until his mother got there to milk her. Usually if his mother wasn't there right when he did the rest of the chores, he would close up all the grain barrels and the leave the goat loose in the main barn to eat hay while he went to feed the geese. This was the case tonight, and as he let the barn door swing shut behind him he could see his mother coming out of the house.
          "Hi mom." He called to her "I have already brought the sheep over."
          "Good boy" She called back "don't forget to give the geese fresh water."
          "OK" he called as he headed for the goose pen with a bucket swinging in one hand and a stout switch in the other. Without the switch it could be dangerous for him to go into the goose pen. When both he and the geese were quite young he had chased them around with a stick for some time before being discovered and stopped. The geese have always remembered this incident and they attack him any time he goes into their pen without a stick.
          "And don't tease the geese either." His mother called to him as he opened the gate into their pen.
          As Ernie turned to shut the gate the bigger of the two ganders reached out and nipped him behind the knee. "Ouch!" he yelped bringing his switch around and landing it on the goose's neck. The gander squawked, let go of his leg and backed up with it's wings spread way out. Ernie waved his stick at the goose and walked over to where there food dish lay on the ground. He poured the grain into the dish and stood back allowing the five geese to crowd around the dish and wolf in big mouthfuls of grain. "What pigs" he thought as he headed for the gate. He finished watering the geese and went to the house.
          "Hi pop" he said as he opened the front door and set the feed bucket down where it lived when not being used. "Hi buddy " called his father looking up from the sink where he was cleaning the fish he had caught that afternoon. "How was school? Mrs. Nelson called and said that you and Jason had been terrorizing that pour old Mrs. Wilson again. Why can't you two just stay completely away from her place." "But dad - - I didn't do anything. Jason jumped on me from the tree - - and my books went into her garden - - and then her dumb flower got broken and all - - . I was just walking by on my way home from school and this all just sort of happened. I didn't know Jason was going to jump on me or anything."
          "That sounds about normal." his father said "let's just not have any more incidents with Mrs. Wilson, OK. You've had about three and I think that should be enough. Maybe you had better walk home from school a different way. I tried to get Mrs. Wilson to agree to have you rake her yard or something for the damage you did to her flowers, but she is really upset and she wouldn't allow you in her yard under any condition."
          "OK, I'll stay completely away from her place." said Ernie walking into the kitchen and thinking how glad he was that he wouldn't have to rake her yard or anything. "Wow you caught some big fish, and a bunch of them too."
          "Yeah look at this one." Ernie's dad held up a big ugly catfish from the sink. It was longer than his arm and had whiskers nearly six inches long.
          "Boy that is a big one" said Ernie in amazement "That's the biggest one you've ever caught. He went to the sink reaching out to touch the big fish.
          "Uh" his dad grunted letting the fish back down into the sink "I can't hold it up any longer. I think its about fifteen pounds. He sure was fun to catch."
          "I'll bet. What were you fishing with?" asked Ernie. "I'd just caught a big sucker, so I cut it into strips and was using a long strip of it." answered his dad. "Did he fight? I'll bet he really fought." Ernie was still reaching out trying to touch the big fish.
          "Yeah he fought, I didn't think I was going to get him at first." said his dad moving the fish closer to Ernie and stepping out of the way so he could take a good look at the it.
          "Boy its really slippery, and solid." said Ernie "Its like a big muscle with a head." The catfish was big enough that it took up both halves of the kitchens double sink and some of the counter. As Ernie stroked the large fish, it gave one last flip, sending it up and out of the sink and onto the floor, slapping Ernie in the face with it's tail on the way down. "Wow!" Ernie jumped back wiping the fish slime off with his sleeve. "That thing's still alive!"
          The fish lay motionless on the floor. "No. That was just a reflex, probably from your touching it. The fish is dead all right." said his father as he bent over to pick it up. "You're lucky that it hit you with it's tail and not one of it's spines." he continued holding the fish out to Ernie and pointing to two large sharp spikes that stuck out straight from each side of the fishes body and one more that stuck out of the top. "If you get poked by one of those, you'll sure know it. They have some kind of poison in them that makes it hurt a lot worse than just the poke, and I've never been stuck by one that didn't get all infected no matter what I did." He set the fish carefully back into the sink and continued to clean the smaller one he had been working on when Ernie came in.
          "Can I skip getting fire wood tonight?" Ernie asked "I have a bunch of home work, and there is lots of wood out there for both stoves."
          "I suppose it would be OK, as long as there is plenty out there," his dad replied "but don't get in the habit of putting off your wood hauling chores.
          Ernie's family burned wood to cook all their meals as well as to heat their house, and it was Ernie's job to bring all the wood from the wood pile to the house. Here he would re stack it next to the door, heater wood in one stack, and kitchen wood in another. Of all his chores, he disliked hauling wood the most. There was something about it that he just hated, even though he could never put it into words, or at least not to his father's satisfaction.
          Ernie grabbed his books from the table and headed up the stairs to his room. He walked in, closed the door, threw his books onto his cluttered desk, and jumped high in the air, landing on his well made bed. That was another of his chores, making his bed. In fact, making his bed might be even worse than hauling wood, he thought looking out the window. His bedroom window looked out toward the South. He could see the sheep pasture and beyond he could see the small river that was nearly dried up as usual this late in the season. It was the first week of October, and the trees that grew on the edge of the river had turned their various fall colors which, when combined with the brilliant red-orange of the sunset, gave a false sense of warmth to the chill that had come with the setting of the sun. Ernie's mind wandered as he looked lazily off across the country side. He had often sat and dreamed of being on the mountain that loomed up in the distance. In fact, he had actually been on the mountain quite a few times. It wouldn't be long he thought before his family would be driving up there to go skiing. The thought of speeding down the hill with his mother always yelling at him to slow down, made him smile. His eyes moved from the mountain, surveyed the rolling hills, and finally settled on the edge of the rock quarry, where they had been digging.
          Seeing the pile of dirt made him think of the book they had found in the attic. He jumped up off his bed and went to his desk. There it was sticking out from under his math book. He carefully took it from the desk and returned to the bed. This time he half lay down, leaning on his pillow, and opening the book began to read where he had left off earlier. It continued to describe the tunnel. The description was very detailed, right down to the color of the rocks. The author mentioned several sharp corners in the tunnel, as he turned one of them he could see a light far off in the distance. Ernie was glued to the book. Not only was the story exciting, but he was convinced that very soon he and Jason would be seeing the same colored rocks, turning the same corners, and seeing the same light in the distance of that very same tunnel. He came to the end of the page and turned it. Nothing was written on the back of it, and the next several pages had been torn out of the book. He was horrified. He brought the book up closer to his eyes and looked again. He counted the missing pages. There were six pages gone, and they had definitely been torn out. He could see the part of the pages that had been left in the book. One of them even had part of a letter on it. He went on to where the writing started again, but he couldn't read it. There was something different about it. The letters didn't seem to make words, or at least words that he knew. In fact, some of the letters didn't even look like anything he would call a letter. "It must be some kind of foreign language." he thought turning the pages looking for something he could read. He thumbed through the pages one at a time for a while, then several at a time, stopping now and then to check for words that he might be able to read. About half way through the book he came to blank pages. He quickly thumbed the rest of the pages, but found no more writing. Ernie slowly closed the book, not knowing what to think. Why had who ever wrote it changed languages? Why had six pages been ripped out? Had the author torn out the pages, or had someone else found the book and removed them? There were a lot of questions to be asked, but Ernie couldn't think of who to ask. He first thought of finding someone that could read the strange language, but he didn't want anyone to know about the well and the secret tunnel.
          "Ernie!" his mother called, "Its time for dinner. You better get your hands washed, or we'll feed your dinner to the hogs."
          He smiled to himself, as he got up and headed for the bathroom, thinking that they didn't have any hogs. He was back to thinking about the book when he turned on the bathroom light and began washing his hands. He was so busy wondering about the missing pages, that he had his hands completely soaped up before he even thought about whether he could get away without using the soap or not. "Soap's not so bad if you don't think about it." he thought, as he scrubbed his hands together.
          "Dinner's on!" his mother called from down stairs. Ernie didn't say a word, but he quickly rinsed and dried his hands and headed down the stairs.
          "Did you turn off the light?" called his dad from the kitchen.
          Ernie stopped in mid-step about a quarter of the way down. "How did he know I didn't turn that off?" he thought heading back up for the light. When he finally got to the kitchen, the table was set and both his mom and dad were sitting down. His plate sat steaming in front of his empty chair. They were having his favorite, pancakes and fish and hash browns and eggs.
          "Have you figured out a new way home from school, one that doesn't include Mrs. Wilson?" His dad said as he sat down to the table.
          "No." Ernie answered sounding tired. "She's to grumpy. I think she hopes we'll walk on her yard so she can yell at us. And if we actually goof something up, then she gets a chance to really yell."
          "That doesn't matter Ernie," his dad began "she can be as grumpy as she likes, and if she doesn't want you boys in her yard then you stay out of her yard. Its just like when you were little and you had to walk way out around the cat, because you just couldn't help from tormenting him if you got too close. Mrs. Wilson's just like the cat. If you can't walk by her house without tormenting her, then you better stay completely away from her."
          "You know" Ernie's mother said slowly "I'm not so sure that Mrs. Wilson isn't kind of lonely. - - "
          "No wonder, she's so grumpy, who'd want to go visit her." Ernie interrupted.
          "Yeah I know" his mother continued "but some people have funny ways, and I think that she's kind of shy. She seems real nice when I see her at the grocery store, and I think that maybe the boys should try to make friends with her instead of just annoying her."
          "Goll mom don't make us do anything dumb." Ernie whined through a mouthful of hash browns. "I'd a lot rather go the long way home than try to make friends with old Mrs. Wilson."
          "Well I think it would be good for both of you." his mother said softly.
          Ernie groaned as she said this. He knew that if they really decided that something was good for a guy, then you were stuck with it. Besides, how could anyone ever make friends with Mrs. Wilson. Ernie had never heard her talk in a normal voice, he had only heard her yell. It just seemed like it would be a waist of time. Time that could be spent digging for the tunnel in the dry well. He had just started to imagine the light in the far distance of the tunnel when his father spoke up bringing him back to the problem at hand.
          "I wonder if your mom might be right about her being lonely, Mrs. Wilson I mean." Maybe your right too Ernie,          she might just lay for you boys to get into her yard so she can have someone to talk to."
"Well why doesn't she talk then instead of yell?" Ernie asked "She has never been nice to us either."
          "Have you boys ever given her a reason to be nice?" asked Ernie's mother. I mean have you ever done anything besides bother her?"
"Well no," replied Ernie "I guess we haven't really done anything except stuff that would make her mad. In fact sometimes we even do things just to get her excited. "That does it." Ernie's dad broke in "I think that something has got to be done to change the coarse of things here. You guys tease Mrs. Wilson just to get her to yell at you, and she's all the time waiting for you to step across the line so she can yell at you. What we have here looks simple enough to me, she wants your attention and you boys want to give it to her, and visa-versa."
          "I agree." said his mother smiling at his father in a way that always meant trouble for Ernie. "I think if the boys were to do something nice for Mrs. Wilson she would be nice in return."
          "Huh!" grunted Ernie "She doesn't know what nice is."
          "I know," began Ernie's father "remember that apple jelly we bought at the church bazaar last year? Mrs. Wilson made that jelly. What do you think would happen if the boys were to take her a box of those nice little crab apples from out by the garden?"
          "That might be a good start." his mother agreed. "I think that its a terrible idea." said Ernie "she probably wouldn't even take them. Can't we just stay away from her?"
          "No Ernie. I think that your father has a good idea." To just stay away from Mrs. Wilson wouldn't solve anything. She's a nice, lonely, old lady, and you boys don't show enough respect for older people anyway, so I think that a box of apples is in order for Mrs. Wilson.
          "Goll mom I've got lots of home work, and Jason and I just started a big project down by the rock quarry, and its just not fair to make us work for Mrs. Wilson. What are we, slaves or something?"
          Both Ernie's mother and father laughed at that, but didn't say a word and continued to eat their dinner. Ernie didn't say anything either, he too eat quietly for a while trying to think of a way to get out of picking apples. Crab apples were even worse, he thought, it takes a million of them to fill a box and he didn't have time for dumb stuff like that anyway. Who cared whether old Mrs. Wilson liked you or not, it wasn't going to be the end of the world or anything. Besides, he and Jason did have something way more important than picking apples for some old lady. He wondered if his dad might let them off the hook if he told him about the tunnel and the book. Anybody could see that getting to the tunnel was way more important than worrying about how Mrs. Wilson felt. He knew however, that his dad wouldn't look at it that way, so he said nothing.
          Ernie cut open his fried egg with his fork, allowing the yoke to pour out and surround a piece of pancake. He poked at it several times with his fork, scooting it around in the mixture of egg yoke and maple syrup. When it appeared to be thoroughly saturated, he popped it into his mouth. His folks had finished their dinner and were talking about the weather or something else that didn't interest him. He easily slipped back into his dreams about the book and the dry well.
          Dinner was over, his folks had left the room and Ernie was still sitting at the table in the midst of his dream, when his mother returned to remind him that he had homework to do before bed and that he had better get at it. "I guess I'll go do my math now. I'll see you before bed." he called to his dad in the other room as he picked up his plate and milk glass, and set them on the edge of the sink. He headed through the parlor and up the stairs to his room. He took the stairs slowly, almost pausing at each one to think about another possibility for what could be at the end of the tunnel. One thought he had was that there wasn't any end at all. He found it hard to imagine something that just went on for ever. It kind of didn't allow you to go on to something else so he decided that it must go somewhere. He just couldn't settle on where the tunnel could possibly go. He closed the door to his room, pulled back his chair, and cleared away an area with his arm. He pulled up his chair, sat down, and dug his math and note book out from the mess he had shoved up on the left end of the built in desk, that took up half the wall next to the door. The other half was a large set of shelves that contained everything from books and teddy bears to wooden machine guns and a little brass canon that actually fired. He thumbed through his math book to chapter four and ran his hand hard over the center of the book to help hold it open. He reread the description of long division and looked at the many examples. He turned the page to the study problems, opened his note book, and began to work them. It wasn't easy to keep his mind on the problems, and he had to constantly jerk himself away from thoughts of the tunnel.
          The evening seemed to take for ever, but before long Ernie's mom had come to the foot of the stairs and called to him.
          "Its getting late Ernie, you had better wrap it up for the night." she said "how's your studying going?"
          "Kind of slow," he called back "but I only have two more problems to do and I'll be done."
          "OK you finish them and get ready for bed." she returned "Are you coming down to say good night."
          "Sure, I'll be down in a few minutes." he called back. His mother shut the door, and Ernie went back to the last two division problems. He finished them fairly quickly, closed his books, and set them out ready to take to school the next day. Kicking off his shoes, he sat down on the edge of the bed thinking of the tunnel and wondering how far he and Jason might have to dig. He remembered that his grandfather had told him that when had been a miner, that he had worked in a tunnel that was nearly two miles under ground. He hoped that they didn't have to go that far. He unbuttoned his shirt and pants, stood back up and took his pants off, and threw them on the chair to his desk. Grabbing his pajamas from under his pillow, he put them on, and headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he finally reached the living room, his mother was sitting in her chair by the fire, finishing up a sock she had knit earlier on her knitting machine. His father was over at his desk in the far corner working on a new landscape painting. "Hi, I'm all ready for bed." Ernie said he entered the room.
          "Are you done with your home work?" his mother asked
          "Oh yeah," he replied "it wasn't easy but I finally got them done. I haven't checked them over yet, but I can do that tomorrow in study hall." He walked over and looked at his father's painting. he had barely started and all that he had colored was the sky. The rest was just a light pencil drawing of some hills and a mountain with a small stream meandering through the whole thing.
          "What's going to be funny with this one?" Ernie asked putting his hand on his father's shoulder.
          "Oh you'll see when I get there." his father returned with a chuckle. "Headed for bed, are you?" He set down his paint brush and leaned toward Ernie to give him a kiss on the check.
          Ernie received his kiss, returned one, and headed toward his mother saying that he hoped that it was a nice day tomorrow so he and Jason could work on their project. He kind of wanted the subject of their digging out the old well to come up, but he didn't really want to come right out and mention it directly. Especially since they hadn't asked if they could dig out all the fill that his father and others had put in there. His father, however, did not respond to the remark so he let it go for the time, kissed his mother and said good night to them both, and headed up the stairs to bed.
          Ernie was tired from the digging he and Jason had done that afternoon, and he went directly to bed. He took one more brief look at the book they had found, hoping that maybe the strange language might change into English or better yet that he could figure out how to read it the way it was. Putting the book down on the bed side table and turning off the light, Ernie lay back on his pillow and wondered what he should do to find out what the rest of the book had to say. The more he thought about it the more important it seemed to become. He could not get the thought of the light, the book had mentioned at the end of the tunnel, out of his mind. The book hadn't even said that it was the end of the tunnel, it just mentioned a light, and then there was nothing. At least there was nothing that he could make any sense out of. His mind drifted between the words in the book and various fantasies that he constructed until he finally fell asleep.

Copyright 2007. Ed Gnaedinger.