Shiloh and the Cave

by Jonna Turner

 

Chapter One

“What’s a police car doing at our house?”

Shiloh, my golden retriever, answered the question by looking up at me with liquid brown eyes, as if to say he didn’t have a clue. He must have been curious though, because he dashed up the long driveway ahead of me. I ran after him, and we both burst into the house through the laundry room door.

Dad was in the kitchen talking to his policeman friend, Sergeant O'Guin. “What’s going on?” I asked, out of breath.

“Not now, Jenn,” he said, obviously brushing me off.

When I walked into the family room, I found Mom sitting on one of the couches, crying her eyes out. I sat down beside her.

“What’s wrong, Mom? What happened?”

She wiped her eyes with a damp tissue, smiled a little and patted my cheek. “Everything’s fine, Jenny, just fine. There’s nothing for you to worry about.” Then, she buried her face in her hands and started to cry all over again.

“I’m a member of this family too, Mom, and I have a right to know why Dad is talking to Sergeant O’Guin and why you’re crying!”

Mom’s tears stopped, probably because she was shocked at my outburst. But, I wanted her to understand that I needed to be included in family problems, not shielded and protected like a child.

The telephone rang then, and she answered it. So, I still didn’t know what was wrong. What I did know, though, was that it had something to do with my brother, Austin, who is a freshman at Colorado State University.  I knew this because Sergeant O’Guin mentioned Austin’s name. Austin obviously wasn’t hurt, or we’d be hauling up to Fort Collins. I just hoped he wasn’t in some kind of trouble. 

Hearing a knock on the laundry room door, I went to open it. Our neighbor, Mrs. Knapp, stepped inside.

“Is everything okay?” she asked, a worried expression on her face.

“No. It’s not, but no one will tell me what’s wrong,” I complained.

Treating me like Mom had, she patted my arm, after which she walked toward the family room to sit with Mom.

Okay! Whatever! I called to Shiloh, my best buddy, and walked out onto the back deck.

Shiloh grabbed a grubby tennis ball and gazed up at me hopefully.

“Not now,” I said and rubbed his blond head. He sat on his haunches, looking so pitiful that I took the slimy ball out of his mouth and launched it up the hill for him to chase.  Instead of waiting for him to bring it to me, I followed him. I needed to get away from all the drama going on inside my house, especially since no one would include me.

Shiloh loped toward me and tried to drop the ball—now slimy and covered in pine bark—into my hand. Ignoring the ball, I scratched his ears. “Come on, boy.” I headed for the back fence and the black metal gate that opens onto the property behind our house.

“Sixty acres of prime, forested land,” Dad says often. “Wish we had the money to buy it.”

“What would you do with it?” Mom always responds.

“Nothing,” Dad usually remarks dreamily. “Not a darn thing, just enjoy it. The wildlife is getting pushed out of Franktown with all the development.  I’d leave the property wild like it is.” Wild, Dad calls it. 

While lifting the gate latch so Shiloh could run through, the property appeared anything but wild to me. The rolling hills and hundred-foot ponderosa pines lazed sleepily in the late September sun. However, I knew coyote and deer lived on the property, along with great horned owls and red-tailed hawks with their huge nests high in the ponderosas.

Prickly yuccas and tall, dry grasses grabbed at my jeans while I ran after Shiloh across the open meadow. When I reached the bottom of a low hill, I pulled a red fall leaf off a scrub oak. Some of the clumps of oak looked as if they were on fire, while others resembled spun gold. I wondered why they were so different.

Spotting a squirrel, Shiloh raced off after it. Tennis balls, rabbits and squirrels. With Shiloh, it doesn’t matter which one, he chases all of them. But, I love to watch him run; he looks so regal.

I continued to follow him past the old Franktown Cemetery. When I reached the top of a rocky hill, I saw the squirrel dart into a cave with Shiloh right behind it.

“No, Shiloh!” I yelled, but he didn’t pay any attention to me, which he generally doesn’t when he’s in hot pursuit.

I ran up to the entrance of the sandstone cave, the opening not much higher than my five-foot-four height. I peered inside.  “Shiloh, come back!” It occurred to me then that I had never seen this cave before, even though my brother and I have roamed the woods for years.

No sound came from the interior. All I could hear was the wind behind me sighing through the pines.  A little nervous, I took a tentative step.  “Shiloh,” I called in a softer voice.  It seemed appropriate not to shout.  Still, I heard nothing. 

Where was Shiloh?  Surely, he wasn't lost. His nose, I knew, would lead him back when he grew tired of chasing the squirrel.  Yet, I really needed to find him. It was almost six o’clock and would be dark soon. That meant coyote! As soon as the sun set, I knew the coyote would start their nightly chorus of screaming, howling and roaming around looking for dinner. I didn’t think they would bother me, but I didn’t want Shiloh to get cornered by a pack of hungry coyote.

The deeper I crept into the cave, the higher the ceiling became, but it also grew darker.  I needed a flashlight, and I needed help finding Shiloh, so I turned around, retracing my steps, and ran toward home.

When I arrived, Mrs. Knapp and the policeman were gone. I found Dad on the phone in his study and Mom lying down in their bedroom.

“Shiloh’s disappeared. He ran into a cave, and I can’t find him,” I told Dad as I walked into his study and up to his polished cherry wood desk. He glanced over at me, his forehead wrinkled in concentration and his eyes bloodshot.  “Not now, Jenny,” he whispered, holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.

“Parents!” I mumbled as I stalked out of his office and went to the kitchen. There, I pulled open the drawer where the flashlights are kept. I grabbed one and headed out the back door again. I’d find Shiloh by myself.

Returning to the cave, I called again for my dog. Still, no sound came from inside. I switched on the flashlight and directed the light around the walls. The beam caught and reflected in two red eyes staring up at me.  “Shiloh!”  He bounded toward me and sat down.  When I knelt beside him, he licked my face. However, a second later, he jumped up before I could grab him and disappeared farther into the cave.  “No, boy!  Come back!” I shouted.  That dog!

What choice did I have but to follow him, whether I wanted to or not? I pointed the light toward the inner cave so I could find my way, when something flashed, like the sun reflecting off a car window.  Wonder what that is? I thought. I stepped over jagged rock, which jutted out of the floor, and held onto the cold, hard wall for support. 

The cave soon angled to the left.  Would I get lost? Starting to feel a little scared, I told myself that so far there had been only one way to go, so I couldn’t get lost.  It wasn’t like there were several different passages that I could take.  So, I continued with the turn. In the distance, I heard scratching and barking. It sounded as if Shiloh was still chasing something.  Surely, the squirrel was long gone by now.  Moving deeper into the cave, I shivered, as the temperature fell.

“Shiloh!” I shouted. “Shiloh, come!”

The tunnel then veered to the right, and there in front of me was a large room—a large cave room.  When I stepped into it and flashed the  light  around, the  walls  sparkled…red  and yellow.  I  couldn’t believe what I was seeing! The cavern was as wide as our house yet only about half as tall. I scanned the area and spotted several openings off the giant room with lights coming from them, each a different color: blue, purple and orange.

From the room with the blue light, I heard water crashing down.  More curious than scared, I followed a smooth rock path around a large circular area in the middle of the central room.  Inside the circle was dirt—dark brown and loamy—similar to the topsoil Dad uses in our flower beds. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the dirt moving.  I jerked my head around, and, yes, the soil appeared to be breathing. This couldn’t be real! I knew I was probably asleep now and only dreaming, so I wasn’t afraid. I would wake up any minute.

Leaving the strange dirt behind, I started toward the room with the blue light coming from it.  A waterfall…inside a cave? Sure enough, a waterfall gushed over a rocky ledge about twenty feet high. It thundered deafeningly into a large pool. The blue light, I saw, hovered over the pool like a cool mist. Again, a circular area filled with breathing dirt occupied the middle of this cave room. The blue mist drifted from the pool and dripped bits of water into the soil.  With each drop, the dirt sucked up the water instantly. Now I knew I was dreaming! Things were becoming too weird! I needed to find Shiloh and head for home. But, where was he?

As if he could read my mind, I spotted Shiloh watching me from under the waterfall.  He barked when he saw me. At least he appeared to be barking.  I couldn’t hear anything with the water crashing down. He turned and leaped through an opening with a different color of light coming from it. This time the light was purple.

“Shiloh!” I called.  Knowing he probably couldn’t hear me, I followed him behind the waterfall—hugging the wall to keep from being soaked—and climbed over slippery red rocks to reach the opening he had gone through.  When I reached the opening, wet and cold, I was greeted by warm air that felt like the ocean breeze I remembered from Florida a couple of months earlier. The air felt so good, I stood there for a few minutes to dry off and warm up before I entered the next cave room.

Smaller than the other two cave rooms, this room appeared about the size of my bedroom, and the purple light seemed to radiate from the ceiling like rays from the  sun.  The  light  shone  on  another patch of dark, breathing dirt, which took up most of the area.  Yet, this dirt was different.  In it were trees,  tiny pine trees,  which ranged in size from an inch or so to almost a foot tall. A living, breathing tree nursery! In a cave? No way this was real!

On the other side of the pine tree nursery, I spotted another opening, yet it had no light coming from it. I rounded the tiny trees and looked through the opening down a long, straight tunnel. At the end of it, I could see daylight. Yes! Shiloh must have gone out that way, and we could make it home before dark. I followed the tunnel.  Soon, I came to a set of steps carved into the stone. I could see bright daylight at the top, although by now it must be way past six.

Shiloh, I saw, was sitting on the top step and looking down at me. He barked and dashed off again. That dog is going to drive me crazy!

“Shiloh!” I shouted, running up the steps. He must want me to keep following him, I realized, so I did. Needless to say, I wasn’t going home without him. Everyone at home was already upset, and I didn’t want to make matters worse.

Reaching the top, I stepped out onto the ground. Surprised, I found myself standing in the middle of a huge tree farm. Rows of three-foot-tall trees─pine, aspen, oak, cherry, maple and ash, according to the markers─stretched out in front of me as far as I could see.  These kinds of trees, except the pines, weren’t on the property behind my house. Where was I?

Turning, my mouth dropped open. I rubbed my eyes and opened them again. Nothing changed. In front of me, I still saw a dirt path winding down a hill to a lake with a rowboat tied to a dock.  Beyond the lake, which I had never seen on this property before, stood yet more trees for what seemed like miles. These were tall, blooming fruit trees. In September? Pink, white, red and even blue and purple flowers covered the trees. 

Shiloh trotted along the dirt path around the left side of the lake. I sprinted after him. If this was a dream, it was a beautiful one, and I didn’t want to wake up now and face whatever disaster was going on at my house.  The warm wind finished drying my clothes and hair as I ran.  Overhead, the sun moved from behind a giant, billowing, white cloud and was directly overhead, not edging toward the west as it should have been in the late afternoon. And, it felt like summertime, not fall.

It was then that I spotted something on the other side of the lake in an opening in the trees about the size of my backyard. It was a hut of some sort.  The walls were made of gray stone, and the black roof appeared to be slate. A black metal chimney puffed white smoke into the warm air, which drifted upward and into the clouds. Beyond the trees, I spotted the familiar Rocky Mountains in the distance, so I couldn’t be too far from home.

I rounded the lake in time to see Shiloh dart into the open weathered-gray wooden door of the tiny hut.  Following him and wishing I had brought his leash, I walked up to the door and knocked.  No one answered so I called for Shiloh, who came out and again sat in front of me. “Come on boy. We need to go home.”

He pawed my leg, jumped up and trotted back inside. I knocked a second time. Still no one answered, so I went in after him.

“Shiloh! Come!” I called, now really annoyed with him, but the words died in my throat.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Inside, the hut was actually a house, almost as big as our house.  The entrance stretched across a hall to a family room. Looking through it, I could see out a wall of windows with a view of the lake, which circled around behind the house with trees beyond and the mountains beyond that.

In front of the windows were shiny, wooden chairs with backs and seats made of what appeared to be snowy-white fleece and a couch made of some sort of leaf-green, wool-like material. They formed a semi-circle in front of a tall, arched, stone fireplace, which was easily big enough for me to walk into it. The walls, I noticed as I gazed around the room, were made of smooth, pale stone and the floors were a reddish wood. Brightly colored Indian rugs lay scattered around the floor.

“Ah, it’s you,” someone said quietly.

 

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 Copyright 2011, Jonna Turner - All Rights Reserved