Aidan listened attentively as Kian related her vision about her parents. When she explained about the hidden room in the cave, he was intrigued.
“We should check it out, maybe move the Ark back there with the rest of the stuff. How close is the cave?”
“We can get there in maybe ten minutes with the Jeep.”
“How much canned food do you have?”
“Not a lot. Do you think we can get to a store?”
“At last count, there were four vehicles out back and we have bugs on all of them.” Aidan checked his tablet. “All parked together. Grab your Dad’s translations with the other valuable stuff.”
“Sure.” Kian was already taking the stairs two at a time.
While she was upstairs, Aidan went through her kitchen and pantry. He estimated she had a two-day supply of non-perishable food. Then he remembered Jimbo’s appetite. That cut it to less than one day. He packed what he’d found in a box, put the bag of cat food on top and hauled it to the Jeep. After that, he went to his Land Rover, retrieved two boxes of dried meals, and put them in the back. Kian came out with a loaded backpack and an arm full of her dad’s papers.
“Where’s the Ark?”
“In my backpack,” Kian replied. “Hurry, I don’t like leaving Lucky all alone in the house.”
They shopped for supplies in town, then Kian drove back toward the house while Aidan kept his eye on his tablet. “One car is moving.”
“Where’s it going?”
“On the highway in front of us. It just went past your house.”
When Kian reached her dirt road Aidan announced, “A second car is moving.” She turned onto her road. A few seconds later he said, “It’s following us.” Suddenly afraid for Lucky, Kian floored the gas pedal, leaving clouds of dust behind.
The Jeep, made for agility, not speed, was no match for the Mercedes chasing them. Kian saw it in her rearview mirror. The last thing she wanted was to lead the perp back to her house and Lucky. As she neared the pine tree and the cut off, she took a quick left, barely scraping the tree as she flew past the deep rut. Aidan swung around to look. He saw the Mercedes hit the rut, bounce up, and sink, splashing muddy water onto its windshield. It tried to back up, but the axel was caught. “Good work, kiddo. It’ll take an elephant to get that car out. Can we get to the cave from here?”
“Lucky. I gotta go back and get him.”
“Kian, I swear to you, we’ll get Lucky, even if I have hire an army to do it, but we need to supply the cave first. It’ll take them a while to get that car out anyway.” Kian knew he was right.
Aidan’s phone buzzed. “I got bad news, buddy.” It was Jimbo. “Two more friggin’ cars showed up, and that turd-for-brains Power found out the police arrested our fake Stephen. Everyone is breaking camp and pulling out.”
The visual was too much for Kian. “Turd-for-brains?” She laughed.
Aidan did, too. “Listen,” he finally said, “Two cars left a few minutes ago. One headed to town, the second one chased us. Do you know who they are?”
“One was a guy who showed up with Power last night. He left first, and then a woman named Raven left.”
“Raven is fake Stephen’s supposed wife. Her car is hung up in a rut about half a mile from the highway. Raven was the one that killed Jacob and shot at Kian. I’ll explain later. Can you get a bug on the other two cars?”
“Already done.” He gave Aidan the codes to punch into the tablet.
When two new dots showed on the map, Aidan said, “Got them. We’re on our way to the caves. We’re stocking them just in case, and then driving back to the house.”
“Sounds good. I gotta get the hell out of here before they find me. I’ll let you know if the bitch comes back. And text if you need me to rescue your sorry ass.”
Aidan watched as Kian drove the Jeep along a different trail, one that led away from the highway. After about five minutes, Aidan was totally lost. “Where is this place, anyway?”
“Not far now.”
They drove over a third rocky brook. Kian stopped the Jeep. Aidan checked his tablet. They had made a circle and were about a half mile from the stone chambers.
They got out of the Jeep. Kian picked up two of the boxes and tied the scrapbooks on top. Aidan got three boxes and then swung the backpack onto his shoulders. Kian led the way up a hill and down into a valley. Within minutes, the old growth forest obscured the Jeep. On foot, they followed a trail made by the deer. It was an easy one as it meandered through a meadow. On the far side, huge ancient evergreens cast dark shadows on the spongy ground. Kian turned to the right and stepped behind a tall rock. Aidan followed. They were at a passage wide enough for two. “Is this tunnel natural or man-made?” asked Aidan.
“Originally natural, but I think it was enlarged some.”
The deeper they walked, the darker it got. “Walk with your shoulder against the wall. It’s safer that way. I used to play here as a child.”
A small beam of light shone through a hole in the rock above. Kian put her boxes down and worked her hands around a boulder. When her fingers settled into two handholds chipped into its side, she stepped back and motioned to Aidan. “Here, look.” She took Aidan’s hands and placed his fingers into the pecked indentations. “Now lean back and pull the boulder with you.” He did and the rock moved, leaving a twelve inch opening. “If you don’t have your hands just right, it won’t move. Something about balance. Too high and you push it down. Too low and you push it up.”
Aidan peered into the darkness of the cave.
Kian entered the cave and made her way to a small table. There she felt about until she found a kerosene lantern and a lighter. It took several tries, but the lighter caught and she was able to get the lantern going. It sputtered and threatened to go out several times before it gave off the light required. “That’s a miracle,” she said.
Aidan stacked the five boxes on the floor of the chamber and placed Red’s notes on top. Kian removed the Ark and Wings from the backpack and placed them in a cubbyhole to the back of the cave. Together she and Aidan moved a large stone in front to hide them from view.
When Kian was satisfied that all was secure, she showed Aidan how to move the rock back into place to close off the chamber.
As they turned to leave, Aidan pointed down the tunnel that continued past the cave. “Where does that go?”
“Back to a bigger cave. There’s some pottery, mats, old stuff the Native people had. I’ll take you there some time, if you’d like.”
She moved in close to him and wrapped her arms around him, but Aidan pulled away this time. He rested his hand on her shoulder. “I’d like to explore a lot of things with you. But right now we can’t let ourselves get distracted. It could get us killed.”
Kian understood. This wasn’t some bodice-ripper of a novel after all. “Come on, let’s get those other boxes,” she said.
The second trip to the cave seemed shorter because the load was lighter. This time they took a few minutes to check the items Kian’s parents had left in the cave. The candles still worked, and the blankets were a bit musty but usable. The cans of food had corroded. There was kerosene in a can and two more lanterns on a shelf. When they tested them, they still worked.
Aidan asked about the water supply, and Kian took him to a stream down a narrow passage. It flowed so swiftly no algae had formed on the rocks.
“It’s a perfect place to hide,” Kian said. “We could stay here forever if we had to.”
Aidan opened his tablet. “Except for one thing. We’re blind in here.”
When they got back to the Jeep, Aidan took his cell phone and punched at the keys.
Jimbo answered. “Need me to save your sorry ass already?”
“Not yet. Where are you?”
“Out back behind the house. And you?”
Kian grabbed the phone. “Is Lucky okay?”
“Preening himself in the back window.”
She handed the phone back to Aidan and climbed into the Jeep.
Aidan pulled himself up into the passenger seat and closed the door. “Jimbo, do you know where Raven is?”
“Power picked her up. She didn’t look too happy. The tracking device indicates they are in town. All the others are scattered throughout town.”
“All the others? How many?”
“At least eleven, last count. What’s that asshole Power doing anyway?”
“Beats me. Finding out is why I got you.”
“Now you tell me.”
Aidan studied his tablet. “I still see one vehicle at the old camp.”
“The maroon SUV. They ditched it, literally. Let it roll down a ravine.”
“Got-cha. On our way.”
Kian turned the Jeep around and started to drive back to the house.
When they got to Kian’s road, Aidan asked her to stop so he could inspect the Mercedes. It had been stripped before it was abandoned. “I don’t like leaving it here,” he said. “It blocks the back way. Always have an escape.”
“No problem. We’ll make another way.” While Aidan watched from the vantage point of the stuck Mercedes, Kian backed up a few feet, then swung the Jeep further to the right. She drove about two hundred feet, and then turned sharply left, heading back toward the Mercedes. Even with pine needles cushioning the way, Aidan could see that the Jeep bounced wildly. Twenty feet from the old track and the Mercedes, a large branch blocked the way. Kian climbed out of the Jeep. “Help me move it, will you?”
Aidan hurried over. Together they were able to swing the branch out, leaving just enough room to pass. With the way now clear, it was easy to get around the Mercedes and back to the Jeep trail.
“How many trails are there around here?”
“A lot. Most were carriage roads and mining tracks at one time. You just have to know where they are. Before my parents left, they kept the tracks cleared. Now a lot have saplings and small trees growing on them. Some are too big for me to cut and move by myself.”
When their Jeep reached the dirt road, Aidan’s cell phone buzzed. He answered it. “You are on speaker. What’s up?”
“Right after you called, a couple of the local officers showed up. Long story short, Power put out a ‘be-on-the-lookout,’ a BOLO for you, Kian, and two officers were sent to pick you up. One guy seemed impressed as hell because Power is FBI. He saw the blood on the porch and wanted to go in.”
“Are they still there?”
“Nope, I scared them off.” Kian and Aidan looked at each other.
“How’d you do that?” Kian asked.
“Did my Bigfoot impersonation.” Jimbo let out a piercing howl. “I shook a tree, threw some rocks, walked around like I owned the place.”
“Didn’t they see you?”
“Sure did. Well, anyway, seems this place has a reputation for being strange. One of the officers said, ‘Told you this place was spooky,’ and took off. The second guy followed making the sign of the cross. They left in a big hurry, I’ll tell you that.” Jimbo chuckled.
Kian and Aidan pulled up to the house as a large brown figure stepped through the trees toward them. Its shape was indistinct, eyes menacing, the creature let out a howling screech.
Kian gasped and grabbed Aidan’s arm.
A big grin plastered across his face, Jimbo stepped out of the woods and lowered the ratty old horse blanket. “Why’d you jackasses take so long?”
Photo Attribution: Percy Benzie Abery [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons