59

THOMAS AND THE THREE CAVES MYSTERY

In the stories that are told in books and around campfires there will always be one that is a favorite. This is a story about a young boy named Thomas. Thomas was no ordinary boy. He had very special abilities that made him different from other 10 year old boys in the world. Thomas lived in a city called Huntsville. The city was very big and could be a scary place, but Thomas was not scared. All day Thomas would like to explore the city streets around the center of town. He was very smart and knew how to stay out of trouble. School was out now and his summer had just began, so he packed up his compass, his water bottle, his camera, notebook, and borrowed his brothers old cell phone in case he got lost. He liked the old buildings and watching people walk here and there, always in such a hurry! Thomas did not want to be a grown up, it did not look very fun to him. He was very aware of certain people that he saw near the court house. Often the same people came there every day and waved at Thomas.

There was something different about today. Thomas tried to figure out what was bothering him. He would see these mean looking men walking around in black coats with sunglasses on and they were always looking at things in their hands. The men would stand in front of old buildings and look at the thing they were holding. Thomas was very curious to see what they were up to.

At night when Thomas got home, he would watch TV, eat supper with his family, and sit on the back patio and think about important things. He wondered what those strange men were doing downtown. He knew he had better go to the library and do some snooping around.

Thomas had a friend at the library, her name was Casey. Casey's mom was the head librarian. Casey knew a lot about history and Huntsville. Thomas knew she would help him get the answers he was looking for.

When he got his mom to drop him off at the library he found Casey on the front steps very angry. She told Thomas that someone had broken in last night and stolen some old city maps that were in a special glass case. She said the police could not find them after they ran out of the library. She wanted them found and to be put in jail! Casey loved the old city maps, they were from the mid- 1800's, and they were worth lots of money. She had taken pictures of them and had them made into posters to hang on her walls at home. Now she was afraid she would never see them again.

Thomas was wondering why someone would want to steal the old maps and if it had anything to do with the strange men downtown. This was turning out to be a very big mystery indeed.

Thomas spent the next couple of days at the library trying to help Casey figure out what was going on. The old books that were still at the library talked about how Huntsville was built on top of a huge cave system. Thomas had heard his brothers' talk about a place near their home called Three Caves. The caves were sealed off and hidden so that people would not go inside them. There were legends that old outlaw cowboys had hidden treasure deep in the caves. They planned on coming back and getting it when the sheriff and his deputies stopped searching for them but they were caught and sent to jail instead. The story says that the last outlaw gave a map of the caves and the location of the treasure to a friend he made in jail right before he died. When the friend he gave it to was released from jail, he disappeared. Some say he hid the map somewhere safe then spent the rest of his life trying to find it. The map, the treasure, and witnesses were all long gone.

Thomas was very excited to learn all of this! He loved adventure, and treasure. Casey was ready to follow Thomas anywhere. They began planning on how to find the caves.

Thomas and Casey went and talked to an old man that was known for being a great storyteller and historian. He just laughed and smiled at the two little explorers. He told Thomas and Casey, "come back tomorrow with some pecan pie, and cold milk, and I will tell you all my tired mind remembers." They were so happy! Thomas told Casey that if she would get the pie, he would get the milk, and they could meet back at the old house at noon tomorrow!

Thomas could hardly sleep that night thinking of treasure, and adventure. Casey was restless at her house too, but she was more worried than excited, this was a little scary to her. Soon they slept and dreamed of caves, outlaws, and the old man.

The next morning, Thomas rode his bike to the corner grocery store and bought a fresh carton of milk for the old man. The old man's house was close to where Thomas lived so it would not have time to get warm. Casey had her mom bake a pecan pie to take to the old man. When Thomas and Casey got to the old man's house the door was broken and the old man was lying on the floor. He was making moaning sounds and trying to get up. Thomas and Casey ran over and helped him up. When they got him back into his rocking chair he told them some mean men had broken into his house in the middle of the night and made him look at some old maps of the city. They wanted to know what had been built on the old sites of buildings that had been torn down. They asked him to show them the entrance to the passageway to the three caves. The old man told them he did not remember because it had been so long ago and he was so old. They pushed him down and tossed around all his things in the house and made a big mess.

The old man began to cheer up when he saw the milk and pie the children had brought him. He ate some pie and drank milk while Thomas and Casey cleaned up his home. After everything had calmed down he lowered his voice to a whisper and looked around very carefully. He began to tell the tale of the three caves to Thomas and Casey.

The old man began his tale. "A long time ago this was just a small town. The people who lived here were good and honest people. One day, some bad men rode into town on their horses. They told people they had robbed a train filled with money, gold, and treasures from all over the South American jungles. People believed them because there was news that a train got robbed on its way to a fancy museum up north and that all the rich people from there were very angry, and wanted it found. The group of outlaws tried to get into the local inn to stay for a couple of nights before heading out west. The inn keeper said he did not want those kinds of people staying in his inn and causing trouble in his little town. They were very angry but did not want to make a big scene and lose their loot so they headed into the forests at the edge of town. On the side of the mountain they stopped at there was an entrance to some caves. It was winter and getting ready to rain so they moved all of their stuff inside. They sent one of their men into town to get food and some supplies. When he returned he told the others that a posse of law men was meeting up and were going to come after them in a day or two. The leader of the outlaws went deep into the twisted maze of caves. He found a secret room to store all of the stolen goods in for safe keeping. The outlaws found an exit to the cave near a natural spring in the middle of town. They built up walls and booby traps deep in the caves so no one could find their treasures, then they went out the exit into town. When the posse caught them trying to sneak out of town they could not prove they had stolen from the train because there was no evidence. The only thing they found was a gold coin with a serpent on it in the leader's pocket of his vest. They let him keep it and told him it was the only treasure he would ever get from the robbery because he was going to jail, right before he died he gave a friend in jail a map he had drawn, instructions about getting through the booby traps, and the gold coin."

The children were amazed by this story. Thomas, being very curious as usual, asked the old man if it was true. The old man looked at Thomas and Casey and asked them why they wanted to know. They told him that they loved history and were afraid that the bad men that had stolen the maps and broke into his home would find the treasure and steal it away for themselves. They wanted to stop them and if it were real, find it and put it in a museum for everyone to enjoy.

The old man smiled and stood up slowly. He went across the room to a wooden bookshelf. He pushed it a little and then stopped; he bent down and with his pocket knife and pried back a loose board on the floor. He reached down into the open space and pulled out a matchbox. He walked over to where Thomas and Casey were sitting. He slowly opened the matchbox and pulled out a folded small cloth. Inside the cloth was a gold coin. The gold coin had a serpent on it, and looked very old. The children were full of excitement. It was real!

The old man told them that the man in jail had been his great grandfather. He said that when he got out of jail he hid the map and coin in the bottom of the well, sealed up in a jar. The problem was that when he wanted to get the jar out, he couldn't. He was not the smartest man so he just figured he could drop the bucket it and fish it out when he needed it, but he never was able to get it back out. It became a legend in our family that people did not believe because no one had seen the maps or the coin. The old man explained that his father had told him the story when he was young. He had believed it and was determined to one day get it out of that well and find that treasure. Thomas was dying to know how he got it out, but he waited for the end of the story. The old man said, "I guess it was about twenty years ago after my daddy had died and I was the only one in my family still alive, I was sitting beside the well at the old homestead and remembered the legend. The old well was long forgotten. I went to the hardware store and bought some rope. I bought a new big bucket made of plastic and drilled some holes in the bottom so it would sink all the way down. I spent about three hours dropping that bucket to the bottom of that well and never found anything but tadpoles and some dead birds. I was just about to leave because I had stopped believing it was true when I decided to just drop that bucket one more time. It went easing into the dark and made a little splash when it hit the water. I let it drop until the rope wasn't tight anymore, and I started twirling the rope a little. I ran it around the opening of the well like a planet circling the sun. I stopped when I was tired and started to haul it up. I noticed it was much heavier this time, and I felt the rush of excitement run through me! Could this be real? When the bucket came to the light I could see that it was just a big clump of mud. I was so disappointed. I poured out the mud and thought I heard a clink sound, like metal hitting glass. I knelt down over the mud and started squishing it with my hands until I felt something hard in the middle. I quickly ran to a nearby faucet and began rinsing the layers of mud away and there it was, the old Mason jar! I got it dried off and inside I saw the coin you now see and some writing on old scraps of paper. I took them out and placed them on the table inside my home. I just stared at them for a while, and then I started trying to copy on good paper the maps that were in the jar. I got a good copy made and burned the scraps of paper from the jar. I was too old to go looking for the caves, but I did not trust anyone to do it without me, until now. I want you kids to find that treasure, and do what is right with it. Do not let the bad men who broke in my home and the Library find this." Thomas and Casey both promised they would do their best. The old man then walked across the creaky wooden floor and took an old picture off the wall of a lake at sunset. It was faded and not really special at all. He dropped it on the floor and the frame fell off. He began peeling the front of the picture back and some old papers slid out. He told the kids that these were the maps and ways around the booby traps to get to the treasure. They waited until sunset to head home and made sure no one was watching them. Thomas took the coin, and Casey took the maps. They spilt them up so if one was found it would be useless without the other. They were very smart!

Casey was an only child. She took the maps to the library and quietly made copies. She then took the maps that the old man had given her and changed all the directions. She had a feeling like someone was watching her when she left the old man's house. She thought that if someone took the maps from her she would give them the ones that were all wrong. She was very pleased with herself. Casey had watched a lot of television shows about mysteries. She knew all the tricks and was very clever.

Thomas was lying in his bed just looking at the old coin. It was so shiny. The snake on it was rough to the touch. This coin was made by antique presses and pure gold. He was very excited by the thought of finding a big pile of gold and jewels and swords and maybe even crowns of kings! He laughed at himself for being so silly. But, what if it was like that? What if deep down in those caves somewhere was a great secret? He hoped that Casey could understand those maps. He was ready to start tomorrow. Now, Thomas just had to try to sleep. Thomas woke up at 3 AM when he heard the neighbor's dog barking over and over. He crawled out of his bed on the second story of his home and looked out the window. He could see the dogs shadow in the streetlight. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a man walking away quickly to cross the street into the dark woods at the end of the park. Thomas knew that the men followed him and knew where he lived. Now, Thomas was very afraid. He did not know what to do. Maybe he would talk to his dad. Maybe he would tell his big brother. He just was not sure. Not many people will listen to a ten year old boy telling a story of treasure and adventure. But he had to do something, and do it soon.

Thomas was too frightened to go back to sleep that night so he turned on his little lamp by his bed and started writing down plans in his notebook. It would be easier if they knew where the entrance to the caves was downtown. The night seemed to last forever! When dawn finally came Thomas rubbed his eyes and went downstairs to get some breakfast.

This was an unusually hot summer. The heat made everything feel sticky. Things seemed to move slower because of the high temperatures. Thomas put his supplies into his backpack and headed for Casey's house.

Casey was waiting on the front steps for Thomas. They started riding their bikes toward the park downtown. They guessed that the park would be a good place to start looking for the entrance to the caves. Casey had the maps laid out on the grass and was trying to get her directions correct when they noticed that a couple of men were slowly walking toward them. Casey folded up the maps and stuffed them in her backpack. Thomas was watching the men come closer. Thomas and Casey got up and started to walk toward their bikes when they saw two more men and a woman standing by the bike rack. This was making them very afraid. The two of them decided not to run but to see what it was they wanted. The woman walked up to them and smiled but they could see she was not a nice person. She said, "Why don't you kids just go ahead and give us those papers you were looking at before something bad happens." Thomas and Casey looked at each other, then Thomas, to Casey's surprise, said "ok, if you give us the maps you stole from the library!" This made the woman smile and laugh, but only a little bit. She said, "We do not need those old maps anymore, we already found the hidden entrance. We need the maps that you got from the old man. The caves are full of twists and turns. There are traps everywhere. Now give us the maps!" Casey reached into her backpack and slowly pulled out the maps. She dropped them on the ground and told the woman to give her the papers they had stolen from the library. The woman took the old maps from one of the men standing behind her and handed them to Casey. Casey picked them up and she and Thomas walked quickly to their bikes, climbed on and rode off toward the town square.

When Thomas and Casey got to the courthouse steps they stopped and sat down. They looked around to make sure that none of the bad people were around. Thomas asked Casey, "Do you think they will fall for it?" Casey told him she believed they were not very smart. Casey had slipped them the fake maps that she had drawn the night before! Thomas and Casey were very pleased with themselves. Now they just had to find the entrance.

As the kids sat and thought about what to do next, a van pulled up in front of the old hotel on the corner. The doors opened and they saw the group of bad people climb out. They slipped inside the hotel and vanished from sight.

Thomas looked at Casey and smiled. "We know where the entrance is; now we just wait for them to leave!" The two were very excited! They headed home to regroup and plan on how they could get in without being caught. This was going to be tough.

Thomas had over the last two years bought some really cool things from the spy shop. He had some cameras that recorded when they sensed movement. He also had some goggles that could see in the dark. He had a megaphone that made strange noises when you spoke into it, like monsters, and other scary things. He also had a large collection of fireworks he had been saving. He had a BB gun and a slingshot with marbles. He was ready for anything!

Casey was collecting some valuable things from her house as well. She had a laser pointer. She also had a slingshot. She had a compass, flashlight, canteen, folding shovel, and cell phone. She put a walkie talkie under her mom's bed and turned it on in case things went wrong. She kept the other one with her. She put some snacks in her backpack and was ready to go.

Thomas and Casey tried to sleep really hard, but they were so excited thinking about the adventure that lay ahead of them, they tossed and turned all night.

The next morning the kids were off by 7:00 AM. They checked their gear and headed to the corner of the square. There was no sign of the men. They hid their bikes and slowly walked up to the entrance of the old hotel. The door was opened a little and there was blood streaks coming from the hallway to the front door. Someone had been hurt really bad, and the others had brought him out. The dangers of the caves were beginning to sink in to Thomas and Casey. They were afraid for the first time since this all began. They followed the blood trail to the hall and peered into the darkness that led down the old stairs. Casey pulled out her flashlight and aimed it down the stairs. It seemed that no one was here but them. Thomas pulled out his little video camera and hid it by the top of the stairs. If someone started down to where they were going it would let Thomas know there was danger. They pulled out the map and the guide to avoiding the traps and headed down the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs they saw the entrance to the basement. They could see the blood trail leading to a far corner of the dark, dusty room. They came to an old bookcase and the trail stopped. Thomas and Casey pushed really hard and the bookcase slid open. Behind the bookcase was a big hole in the wall. This was the entrance to the caves. Casey examined the maps very closely so they could find their way. Thomas put on his night vision goggles and had his BB gun cocked and ready.

The cave was cool and damp. The walls moved outward into different directions. They came to the end of the first big room and there was four ways to choose from. Casey studied the map but could not decide which paper was right. She had two papers that looked the same. Thomas chose to look ahead before she could figure it out. He entered the tunnel on the left of the room. Just as Thomas was about to take his next step, Casey screamed "Stop!" Thomas froze! Just when he stopped a big stone fell right in front of him blowing dust all into the air. Thomas could feel his heart beating hard and fast! He slowly backed out of the tunnel and stood beside Casey. Casey scolded him for being so foolish, and Thomas agreed not to run ahead anymore. The second tunnel was the safe way to go. So they began slowly walking toward the opening. Casey had an idea to put something at the entrance of the other two tunnels so she put a cupcake wrapper at the beginning of one and a hair bow at the other to trick anyone who might come after them.

The tunnel they were walking through got very narrow and turned downhill a little. Thomas thought he could hear water in the distance. It was so dark around them they almost turned back. But they thought of the treasure, and they kept going. They came to the bottom of the hill and it opened up into a big room with a stream running through the middle of it. They sat down on the cold hard dirt and started going through their backpacks. Thomas had a roman candle he wanted to light, so he did. It lit up the room and Casey could not believe what she saw. There were tunnels leading in every direction! Every time the next burst came out of the end of the stick it lit up all the possibilities and made Casey very worried about choosing the right path. When the candle fizzled out, Thomas and Casey were still seeing spots when they closed their eyes, it was funny to them.

Casey studied the maps and found where they were. There was supposed to be a mark that showed the right way to go. The mark was a T on the wall next to the entrance. They started searching all the entrances. Casey found the T and Called Thomas over to the opening. Casey walked just ahead of Thomas slowly moving the flashlight back and forth. She was moving along when she felt something across the top of her foot and stopped. She looked down and shined the light to see the old rope that was sitting on top of her foot. Thomas stopped and backed away. Casey backed up and looked at the maps again. She could not understand why there was a trap here. It was not on her map. They backed up and rolled a rock across the floor into the rope. When the rope pulled tight a log swung down and went exactly where Casey would have been standing. They backed out to the big open room again. Thomas was looking at the T on the wall when he noticed something that Casey did not see the first time. Thomas took his hand and wiped the bottom of the T. dust and dirt wiped away to reveal that the T was actually and I that had been covered across the bottom with the dust! That explained why there was a trap. They knew they had to be more careful.

Casey and Thomas went to all the openings until they found the T. As they were starting to step into the tunnel the little light blinked on Thomas's motion sensor camera. Someone was coming, and they knew who! They started into the tunnel and made their way around many turns until they came to a wall with a ladder that went up and down. Casey tried to read the map quickly so that she could turn the flashlight off to avoid giving away where they were at to the people now following them. It was now about 9:00 am. They were deep into the cave and the thieves had just entered so they were not too worried about them finding them yet. The cave was really quiet. All the kids could really hear was their own breathing and echoes of water running and the occasional screech of bats.

Casey read the map carefully and knew they had to climb down deeper into the cave. Thomas had a bag of Chinese finger poppers that if you threw them down they would make a little "POP" and spark. He carefully spread them out on the floor of the cave in front of the ladder. If the thieves made it this far he would hear them if they were close. They started down the ladder into the dark.

When they reached the bottom they had only one way to go. They began heading back up under the tunnel they had come through before they climbed down. They kept going until they came into another big room. Just as they were crossing through they heard a muffled scream echo through the cave. Someone had found another trap! If Casey had calculated right that should only leave three thieves. The noises were so far away that it was hard to tell where they were coming from. When they reached the next wall at the end of the room Casey laid all the maps out. The treasure was not too far away now but it was already 10:30 and they had to hurry or their parents would start to worry.

Casey figured they could reach the treasure by lunch, then they had to get it safely out. The thieves were coming but still very far away.

Now the next thing they had to find was drawn like a bear. They hoped there was no bear in the cave! As they searched the walls Thomas stepped on something that made a loud "crack" and he was afraid to move. Casey shined her light down at Thomas's feet. It was a skeleton of a man, inside a skeleton of a bear! Casey let out a little whimper but held most of it in. Thomas thought it was cool. He stepped out of the pile of bones and reached down to the hand of the man's skeleton. Clutched in the hand bones was another gold coin just like the one Thomas had! Thomas took the coin and Casey just squirmed and said "gross!" They started down the path behind the bones when they thought they heard voices and footsteps. It was above them! The thieves were in the first big room that had the stream in it. Thomas and Casey realized they were making a big loop back under the way they had been.

The tunnel was going smoothly until it made a real sharp turn and sloped up in the opposite direction. At about 11:00, they sat down and ate a snack. They had to hurry because the thieves were still coming. It would be hard for them to find their way without the right maps though. So the kids ate and studied the maps.

Thomas was looking around the edge of the tunnel and found lots of arrowheads that the Native American people had left here. He loved finding stuff to put in his little chest at home. There were cool rocks and crystals in the walls of the cave that he collected and slipped into his backpack.

Pretty soon the kids started back on their way. The tunnel opened up into a small room and there were bones everywhere! It was like a cemetery but everyone had been laid on top of the ground! Casey did not want to cross through this room. She was very afraid. Thomas tried to comfort her by standing in the middle of the room and telling her that they were just bones, and not to worry. Finally she walked slowly through the bones.

At the end there were three paths. Casey knew they were close. She studied the map and realized this was the last tunnel before finding the treasure room. They chose the tunnel in the middle and were about to start in when they heard the faint "pop,pop,pop" of the finger poppers Thomas had left behind. They knew the thieves were at the ladder. Their hearts raced knowing the thieves were only about an hour behind them. They hurried down the path toward the treasure room.

It was still so dark around them and the path was getting narrow and the ground was beginning to slope on the sides until they found themselves on a stone bridge. The darkness made them afraid of how high they were. Thomas lit a sparkler and held it up. It bumped the roof of the room and bats started screeching and flying around them in huge numbers! Thomas and Casey hit the ground and covered their heads until the bats settled down. Thomas dropped the sparkler and watched it disappear into the darkness below. When it hit bottom it fizzled out and they saw how high they were.

Casey stood up and took a deep breath. Thomas got up and lit another sparkler, but held it down so he could see. They slowly crept along the stone bridge for what seemed forever. Finally, they came back to level ground. The treasure room was very close now. The map had kept them from getting hurt by the traps but now was the hardest part. They came to the back of the path and found several stones on ropes hanging from the ceiling. Casey examined the map and tried to figure out what to do. Thomas turned toward the darkness behind them; he thought he heard voices on the path they had come from. Far away at the other side of the stone bridge he saw faint flashlight beams moving! He told Casey and they turned off their lights. The kids moved across the room into a dark corner and waited not knowing what to do. Thomas told Casey to turn her light back on and pull the stone that opened the door to the treasure room so she did. The stone door slowly pulled open and they darted inside. The door shut behind them and they turned to see what was waiting for them.

When Thomas turned his light around he and Casey saw two big wooden boxes, a chest, and a big burlap sack tied off at the top. They wanted so badly to see what was inside of the containers but the thieves were coming! They slid all of the stuff to a far back corner of the room and waited in the dark. They could hear the sound of the thieves coming into the room outside with the hanging stones. The voices stopped, and then they heard a scream! It sounded like someone fell down a deep hole. That should narrow it down to two thieves. They could hear the two thieves arguing outside about who would pull the next stone, a man and a woman. The woman won the argument and the man agreed to try the next stone. For a moment all was quiet, then, a big "thud" and a "yelp" from the woman. Now it was up to her, she was all alone. The kids could not hear anything from the other side of the door now, so they turned the flashlights back on and tried to figure out how to get out, especially with all this stuff! They had to open the boxes and see what they could do.

The kids looked at each other not sure of what to do now. Thomas wanted to open the chest first. Casey wanted to save it for last. So they agreed to open the sack first. Thomas pulled out his pocket knife and cut the old rope cord off of the top of the burlap sack. Casey pushed it over to spill out what was inside. There were several pieces of clothing inside. Robes and dresses, sashes and boots, all full of brilliant colors tumbled out of the sack. Some of the vests had jewels in them. There was gold sewn into many of the robes. These clothes were for royalty, kings and queens. They put the clothing back into the sack and took it over to a corner and piled rocks over it until you could not see it.

The boxes were nailed shut but the nails were old and rusty and the wood had gone soft, so the kids were able to remove the lids with very little trouble. The first box contained old parchments, Gold stationary tools, some beautiful jeweled statuettes, and two crowns. The second box contained ornamented weapons that were obviously used for ceremonies. There was a gold dagger with rubies and diamonds in the handle. They also found a beautiful sword and shield, both made from solid gold. There were two goblets that had emeralds and diamonds all over them! Thomas thought he was going to pass out! He had never seen anything, even in his history books, so beautiful.

There was only silence from behind the door. Casey was very afraid there may be another way in. They took the items and carefully placed them back in the boxes. They found a cubby at the far end of the room and slid them down into it. They covered the cubby with more rocks, now only the chest remained. Thomas was trying to figure out how to open it. There were no visible locks or handles. It was made of iron, with ore and gold hinges.

Casey slowly walked over to the doorway to see if she could hear anything while Thomas studied the chest. At first, she could not hear anything, and then a low and creepy voice just louder than a whisper came from beyond the entryway. "I know you are in there, you may have won for now, but I will be waiting for you. I will have that treasure, and you will be on the news as missing children!" Casey heard the footsteps of the woman fading away. Casey felt chills run down her spine.

She looked at her watch; it was now almost 1:00. She walked over to where Thomas was fumbling with how to open the chest. They wiped the dust and years of grime off the top. Thomas found two small slots that on opposite sides of the curved lid. Casey thought they needed a key to open it, but Thomas thought of something else, the coin! Thomas fished the old coin out of his pocket and slid it into one of the slots. It went in about half way and he heard a "click" like something locking into place. He turned the coin and heard something inside the chest break free! He tried to pull the coin out but it would not without locking again. Just then, Casey remembered the coin that Thomas had took from the skeletons hand! Thomas dug around in his backpack and found it. He placed it in the other slot, turned it, and the other lock inside broke free. The kids looked at each other with excitement. They had forgotten all about the danger they were in for now because it was time to see what the chest had inside. Thomas slowly began to raise the lid, and Casey shined the flashlight into the chest. The light shimmered off of all the gold coins inside. Thomas stared as if he was in a trance. There were diamonds, as big as pieces of bubble gum, that were mixed in with the coins, and sent little star like beams in every direction when the light hit them. Casey just felt like time had stopped. They closed the lid and opened it again to make sure it was real. It was real, and it needed to be protected from the thieves. Thomas and Casey both pulled really hard but could not budge the chest, it was too heavy. They started looking for a way to hide it. They piled some old boards and rocks up around it. Thomas took about ten pieces of the gold coins and three of the huge diamonds. Thomas stuck a couple of pieces of the gold in his pocket. Casey also took some out so that they could prove they were telling the truth and get some adults to help them.

Casey sat down with Thomas to try to figure out the best way to get out of there. There was a passage that led out the opposite way they came in but the maps were very faded and it did not look as close as the way they came in from the town square. They slipped out through a small opening that led them to the other side of the cave. After they checked their gear and decided on which way to go they began the journey out.

Casey looked at her watch. It was almost 2:30 now. Her mom would be getting home from her shift at the library soon. Casey knew that her mom would be very worried if she were not home waiting for her. The caves were now starting to get cooler and the path was sloping up. Thomas wondered how far below the surface they had gone, he thought it was cool. They made several twists and turns and were worried that the path through the cave was not looking like the maps. After about an hour, they were scared they were lost. What if they never got out? What if they died and someone found their skeletons like the man in the bear? Casey was about to start crying when she remembered the walkie-talkie she had left under her mom's bed! She would just call her and she would send help! Thomas was still very calm because he did not want Casey to see him afraid. Thomas took Casey by the hand and they started to walk again. Thomas knew that as long as they were heading up, they were going the right way. They were just starting to feel better when Casey's flashlight fizzled out. Now the only light they had was Thomas's night vision goggles, some sparklers, and Casey's cell phone helped a little. They had gone a long way when all of a sudden they heard voices up ahead! The woman was back and had brought help. There must have been a way around.

Thomas and Casey hid in a dark open space at the side of the room. They held their breath as the woman and two men came around the bend up ahead. They were clearly in a hurry and were not worried about finding them, they wanted treasure. They went past the kids and faded away down the path. Thomas took Casey by the hand again and they began walking very fast, almost jogging. They came to a split in the tunnels and looked down at the floor of the cave for signs of which way to go. They saw the thieves' footprints heading off to the right. That was obviously the way to circle around to the hotel basement. Casey thought they should not go back to the hotel. Thomas agreed and they headed off to the left, trying to make it to the entrance near their homes. They stopped and tried to radio Casey's mom, but they did not get any response. They kept going up, up, up, and then they turned the bend and ran into a chain link fence that went from the floor to the ceiling. They were trapped. The Huntsville Land Trust had fenced off the lower entrances to the caverns to keep stupid people, and kids, from trespassing and getting hurt.

Now they were very afraid. If they went back they would surely be caught by the thieves, if they stayed here they could still be caught, or just starve waiting for someone to find them. Casey began to cry. "Try to radio your mom again," Thomas said. Casey turned the two way radio back on again. The crackle and hiss of dead air did not help her feelings any. Her mom should have been home by now. She pushed in the talk button, she whispered trying to get her mom to hear her, but trying not to alert the thieves to where they were. She spoke a little louder but could not get any response. They sat against the fence for another 45 minutes. Thomas tried to cheer Casey up by telling her some jokes he had read in his joke book that he kept on his nightstand by his bed. Every morning he would read a couple of jokes so that he always began his day with a laugh. Casey wiped the tears away from her eyes and giggled at Thomas and his silly jokes.

They had gotten quiet when all of a sudden they heard voices again. It was not the thieves; it was someone else, on the other side of the fence! They could hear them but could not see them. They did not know if they should yell. Casey did not care anymore so she yelled "help, help!" The voices stopped and the kids could hear them whispering. "We are trapped in here please help" she screamed! The voice yelled back "OK, we are coming!" The kids could hear the footsteps coming closer then they saw the flashlight beams in the darkness!

Thomas suddenly got a bad feeling as the two men turned the corner at the bend of the cave on the other side. They ran up to the fence where the kids were. One of the men asked Thomas if he had anything in his backpack that could cut through the fence. Thomas told him that if he did he would not still be sitting there! Casey could not believe how mean Thomas sounded.

The men just laughed at Thomas. They thought he was pretty tough to just be 10. Thomas pulled out his B.B. gun and cocked it. The men asked the kids to hand their backpacks to them and they would lift up the bottom of the fence and let them slide under. Thomas lifted up the gun where they could see it. The man backed up a couple of steps and looked at him. Casey yelled at Thomas and asked him what he was doing! Thomas calmly told her that this part of the cave only has people in for tours on the weekends. These men were not supposed to be here. They must have known to come in from the other side; they were part of the thieves' gang!

Thomas was just about to shoot one of them when he heard the footsteps coming up from behind him in the dark, they were trapped. Thomas let the gun down by his side and growled under his breath. He did not know what to do now, so he starting screaming and swinging his arms as fast as he could. Thomas was going crazy on the woman and the man coming up behind him. Casey knew what she had to, so she grabbed Thomas's backpack off the ground and ran as fast as she could into the dark tunnel leading back into the belly of the caves.

The two men from the other side of the fence took off up the path they had come from to try to circle back to the hotel basement and head Casey off. She now had all the information and both backpacks running into the dark until she felt like she could stop and hide. She found a little crevice by feeling the wall beside her in the dark and she frantically climbed up into it and pulled herself up and over into a little shelf that was out of sight. She was crying and so worried about Thomas but she knew they would not hurt him as long as she had the backpacks and the maps. Plus, she knew Thomas could take care of himself! Thomas was probably giving them fits already. She heard the woman coming from up the path in the dark. She could barely make out the glow of her flashlight passing beneath the rock shelf she was hiding on. She was safe for now. She must have sat there an hour just listening, waiting to make sure no one was around. She took out the walkie-talkie and turned it on. She pressed the button and took a slow breath, and then she whispered "mom, can you hear me?" Static filled the radio but there was no reply. She pulled out her cell phone but had no signal. She typed a text message to her mom anyway. She wrote, "Mom, I am with Thomas and we need your help. We are trapped in the three caves. There are thieves here after me and they have Thomas. Bring the police, bring the army, and bring someone to help. Lots of traps so watch out. Door in bottom of basement of old hotel on square. Hurry! We found the treasure. I love you. Come save us!" She pushed send but knew her mom would not get the message unless she got back to the surface, or as close as she could. Casey knew she needed to try to get back to Thomas, but she was so scared.

Thomas was tied up and sitting by the fence. The man watching over him did not really know what to say. He tried to talk to Thomas but did not get any answers. Thomas was too busy thinking of all the things he was going to do to these people when he got free from the ropes he was tied with. Thomas looked up at the man and said, "I need to go to the bathroom really bad. Please untie me so I can go over in that corner and use the bathroom." The man was all alone with Thomas so it was his decision. He told Thomas that he would untie him if he promised not to try to get away. Thomas was not known to lie. He was a very honest kid. But, if he wanted to get out of this mess, he would have to break a few rules. He agreed to the conditions his captor had set, and was set free to go to the bathroom. The man watched him very carefully as he stepped into the shadow in the corner of the small room by the chain link fence. Thomas was thinking as fast as he could about what to do. He knew this may be his only chance to save himself and rescue Casey.

Casey was climbing down off the ledge. Her heart was racing so fast. She was still in complete darkness. She did not want to turn on a flashlight in case someone was near. She felt a great fear. She kept imagining the woman sitting in the dark just being quiet and waiting. She had never been so afraid! She moved very slowly step by step back toward the passage where she had left Thomas. She was worried about Thomas. They had better not hurt him or else! She thought of her mom, her house, her pet fish Moby, and what T.V. shows would be on tonight. What would she do if she made it back to Thomas? She started searching the backpack. She pulled out the slingshot and a marble. She might be able to get one good shot if she had to.

Casey's mom walked in the garage door to her house on Pratt Street. She had stopped by Star Market for a couple of things before she got home from the library. She called out for Casey but no one answered. Casey was always home by 4:00. She stuck her head out the back door and saw that Casey's bike was gone. She was just about to call Thomas' house when the phone rang, it was Thomas's mom wondering if he was at Casey's house. They quickly hung up the phones and rushed to their cars to ride the streets between their houses. After an hour of riding all around the neighborhood streets, they met back at Thomas's house. The moms were in tears. The families called the police and reported the kids missing. The local television stations put the kids pictures on all the local channels and people started gathering at the courthouse to try to send out search parties for Thomas and Casey. The parents were frantically trying to gather teams to send out. The whole city of Huntsville was on alert; they wanted to find the kids as fast as they can, hopefully alive and well. Just as they were about to go, an old man came walking up to Thomas's mom. He was leaning hard on his carved cane, out of breath; he reached out and started to speak.

Thomas was looking down trying to figure out how he could get away. The man was only a couple of steps behind him. "I cannot go if you are watching," Thomas said firmly. The man backed up another step and waited for Thomas to be done.

Casey had been walking in the dark for a long time. She could not hear anything in the darkness. She could feel a small draft of warmer air so she knew she must be getting close to the surface and the room with the chain link fence.

The old man told Thomas's mom about his visit with the kids a couple of days before. He was so upset because he felt like it was his fault they were lost. He told them about the treasure, the maps, and the bad people who had attacked him trying to find the entrance to the caves. He did not know where to tell them to go, but he thought the caves may be the best place to start.

Casey stopped the moment she heard Thomas tell the man something about him watching. She was relieved to hear his voice. She crept up to the turn into the room and could see by the dim light that Thomas was standing in a corner and the man had his back to her about five feet away. She tightened up her grip on the sling shot and was just about to draw back when in the darkness her cell phone lit up and beeped twice, signaling that a text message had been sent, and alerting the man that she was behind him!

Thomas had already grabbed a handful of dirt and was just about to turn and throw it into the face of his guard when he heard a weird beeping sound. The guard turned to see what it was and Thomas spun around and tossed the dirt into the man's face! When the man grabbed his eyes and bent over Thomas grabbed his B.B. gun off the ground and WHACK! The man went down to the ground and Thomas jumped over him and started running for the tunnel when SMACK! He ran over Casey who was kneeling down in the dark. She screamed but they did not have time to talk about it. He grabbed her hand and they took off down the tunnel into the darkness leaving the guard on the ground behind them.

Casey's mom heard her phone go off. She thought it may be Casey. She read the message and screamed as loud as she could! She ran to the top of the courthouse steps and got everyone to listen to her. She told them what the message said. All the people with flashlights took the lead as they headed to the corner of the square to the old hotel. They found the kids bikes parked in the bushes. They sent one team with the Land Trust officials to the entrance at Mountain Springs Pool. The rest of them headed into the hotel and down the stairs to the basement. They found three thieves injured lying on the floor. The police took them into custody. The two teams were heading into the caves from two directions. Help was on the way!

Thomas was pulling Casey through the dark as fast as he could. They were bouncing off the walls of the cavern and stumbling over the rough terrain until they just had to stop. Casey fumbled through her backpack trying to find her flashlight. When she finally found it she turned it on to find they had stopped running only a couple of steps from a deep drop off! Thomas swallowed in a loud "Gulp!" Casey was looking at the maps to try to find out where they were. They were both dying to talk about what they had done when they were apart but there just was not time now. The kids were tired, hungry, dirty, and scared. Casey whispered to Thomas, "I sent my mom a text message. That was the beep that you heard up at the top of the cave. I hope she gets it. By now they know we are missing. I do not care how much trouble we are in, I just want to go home." Thomas agreed.

The woman who was in charge of the thieves was now at her breaking point. She was hot, tired, bruised, and she still did not have the treasure or either one of the kids. She was standing at the chain link fence looking down at the man who was still unconscious from his run in with the butt of Thomas's B.B. gun! She screamed with her mouth closed like only truly angry women can do. She now was alone at this end of the caves. The two men that were on the other side of the fence were heading for the hotel. She did not know that they would never make it. When they saw the police outside of the cave entrance they put their hands up and fell to the ground. They told the officers the whole plan and were taken to jail. Now it was just the kids and the woman alone in the caves. The search parties were beginning to enter from each end but they had to be slow to avoid any of the other traps that were still set.

Thomas and Casey were standing on the edge of the drop off looking over the maps. The small glow of the flashlight made the darkness around them seem endless. The pages were a mess and Casey was struggling to figure out exactly what they needed to do. Thomas was trying to catch his breath. The kids were so focused on trying to find a way to get out that they did not even notice the slim dark shadow that was creeping up the path toward the light.

The woman grabbed Casey from behind and held her over the edge of the cliff. "Do not try anything tricky little boy or your friend gets dropped, and it is a long way down," the woman said to Thomas. Thomas stood still and asked "what do you want?" The woman explained the only thing she wanted was the treasure, nothing more. Casey was crying and closing her eyes. Thomas said, "If there is a treasure, we have not found it yet." The woman suddenly got a very angry look on her face and said, "If that is true, then there is no reason to let either one of you live!" She was about to let Casey go when Thomas yelled "Stop!" The woman grinned, "Is there something you want to tell me?" Thomas sighed, "I know where it is. I can take you to it." Casey sniffled and coughed, "Thomas, I am so sorry." Thomas told Casey it was ok, it was not over yet!

The woman took the flashlights and backpacks from the kids. She left them holding the maps and made them walk ahead of her. She showed them that she was serious by pointing to her jeans pocket revealing the shape of a small pistol. She told them very clearly that if they tried to run she would use it!

The two teams searching for the kids were making progress. The team on the land trust side had entered the caves and found the man Thomas had whacked in the head sitting with his back against the chain link fence. He was promptly arrested and taken away. The team on the town square side had found their way past the traps and made it to the first of the two big rooms. They were both closing in on the central network of the cave system. They wanted nothing more than to find the kids safe and get them home.

Thomas and Casey were slowly leading the woman down toward the treasure room. Thomas was busy planning on what he could do to get out of this mess. The bathroom trick would not work again, of that he was certain. What would be distracting to an evil grown up woman? Then it came to him, the treasure! Thomas thought of a way to buy some time. He waited until they got to the next intersection of paths to take and when Casey told the woman the direction to go in Thomas disagreed. "No Casey, this is the way we came from when we left the treasure," Thomas winked at Casey. The kids pretended to argue about which way to go until the woman had heard enough. "Stop it!" The woman said, "so far the girl has been right and kept us away from traps, we will go her way." Thomas in all the commotion had ran his fingers down into his pocket and pulled out one of the coins. He fell into the entrance of the path that he had said was right. When he did the woman walked over to where he was. When she bent down to help Thomas up, he said "Look!" On the ground a few feet in front of him was the gold coin. Thomas told her that it was proof he knew the right way to go, and she believed him. So for now, the kids were leading her away from the treasure and into the dark recesses of the vast cave system.

After another hour of walking both kids were exhausted. The told the woman they had to sit down and rest. Thomas asked if they could have some food from their backpacks. She allowed them a break so that she could get a better look at the coin Thomas had dropped for her. She could not believe how perfect it was. She knew they had found the treasure, and she wanted it. It was very late and both kids needed sleep. The woman was tired too so she agreed to let them take a nap. She tied the kid's ankles together and tied them to her so they could not get away. They lay down on the cold hard floor of the cave. The flashlight was left standing so they would have light.

The search parties were getting closer to the kids by the minute. There were so many people inside the caves searching now that all the flashlights were lighting up the darkness almost like it was daytime underground! Most of the cave had never seen light. The search parties did not have time to notice all the cool things that were left by the early inhabitants of them.

Thomas was waiting for the woman to fall asleep. The kids had no idea help was on the way. Because Thomas did not know about the search parties that were getting closer every second, he felt like he had do something fast to try to save them. He struggled to think of a way to slip away from the woman. Casey was fast asleep; she was not the kind of kid that stayed up late. Thomas was watching the woman close. He had chills that ran up and down his spine making him grow cold. He kept imagining she was faking being asleep. He stuck his tongue out at her, but she did not flinch. He made funny faces and even whispered insults to her, but still nothing. So he now knew she was very asleep! He sat up slowly and looked at the cord around his ankles. It was not hurting him but it was tight enough that he could not slip out of it. He could not reach his back pack so his tools and things were out of reach. Thomas had a lot of little quirks. They were the things that made him Thomas! One of them was that he always had a little bitty knife in one of his pockets. Very small, it was mainly used for cleaning his fingernails. He slipped his hand down into his front pocket and found the small blade. The woman stirred and mumbled something which made Thomas freeze! She turned a little bit and drifted back off into her dreams. Thomas started cutting the cord slowly. It took what seemed forever but he finally got through and slipped the cord off his ankles. The woman was still sleeping. Casey was still sleeping. Thomas was free but was not sure what to do.

The team of searchers from the land trust side was only about 200 yards away. In the dark you could not see very far. The twists and turns of the cave hid all clues of the children and as the rescuers yelled it fell silent as soon as it hit the stale air under the ground. The second team that started from the hotel basement was about 50 feet above the kids in a chamber two levels up. The police were in the front of each team but the progress was still slow because they were all worried about the traps the old man told them about. All the local news stations were camped outside of both entrances. But deep inside of the mine were two kids that had no idea about any of that.

Thomas stood up and looked down at the woman and at Casey. They were both sound asleep. He thought he saw a flicker of light from across the cavern, and then it disappeared. He needed a light if he was going to get away, but he was afraid Casey might get hurt if she awoke and could not see where to go. Thomas could hear his heart beating. He felt a big lump in his throat. He could not believe he was about to do what he thought was the only way. He took a deep breath, slowly picked up the light, and kicked the woman as hard as he could in the leg! He kicked her twice and screamed at her! She was shocked awake and confused. Casey sat up alarmed also. The plan had worked! Casey was awake and could see what he was doing, and what he did was run! He took off into the dark with the flashlight running as fast as he could. The woman jumped up and tried to chase him but she could not because she was still tied to Casey! She fumbled for the flashlight in the backpack beside her. By the time she found it, Thomas was gone. In anger she pulled out the small pistol and fired two shots in the dark ahead of her. Thomas hit the ground! He turned off the light so she would not be able to see him. Then Thomas felt sick at his stomach as the tears welled up in his eyes. What if she shot Casey? Thomas suddenly felt like something terrible had happened and it was his fault. He started to cry harder, and then stopped the moment he heard the voices coming up the path ahead. He saw the lights flickering, and the voices were calling his name. Thomas wondered if he had been shot and this was heaven! Then his mom pushed through the officers and scooped him up into his arms. He was so happy to see her. Casey's mom leaned into Thomas and yelled "where is Casey!" Thomas said she was up the path with the woman but that the woman had a gun! The police ran up ahead with their guns pulled. Thomas heard them yelling at the lady to put her gun down. Then everything went quiet.

The woman carried Casey and ran as hard as she could toward the exit of the cavern. She heard the men yelling at her but she was not going to stop and she did not have time to cut Casey free. She went up, up, up, until she reached the next level of the tunnel system. She bent down and cut Casey loose. "You better not move or I will shoot! I will find you. That treasure will be mine!" she ran off leaving Casey once again alone in the dark. Casey wondered if Thomas had been hit when the woman shot into the dark. She started to cry. Thomas was her best friend.

The woman made it a little closer to the surface before she turned the corner and ran smack into the search party on the land trust side. It was over, she was caught. The police put her in handcuffs and sat her down to be guarded. They quickly found Casey after calling out to her and wrapped her in a blanket. Both teams exited the caves the way they came in. Thomas was at the hotel; Casey was at the land trust parking lot. They both wanted to see each other and know they were safe, but parents being what they are made them come straight home to clean up, eat and get some sleep.

The police shut off the caves and set guards at both entrances. The treasure was still deep inside. It was safe and the thieves were in jail.

The next day the kids were both taken down to the police station to tell their stories. They explained how they had wound up in such a bad situation. The news stations all got their interviews, and the kids were local celebrities.

After a few days passed by, the kids led a very special team of scientists, archeologists, and police down into the caves to retrieve the treasure. They found it all where they had left it and it was taken to the museum downtown. Thomas and Casey were each awarded for their efforts to preserve the treasure. They were given two scholarships for when they went to college. They also were named honorary trustees for the entire collection. They were very happy that everything was safe and the bad people were locked away.

FIVE YEARS LATER

Thomas was on his way over to Casey's house. They had just finished their freshman year in high school. They were excited because it was opening day at the Caves. Over the last five years, the land trust had been given millions of dollars in grants to open the caves and properly light them. The caves were now a tourist attraction. The tour guides rode on little rail cars like trains in a coal mine. The slow tours wound through the system of caves and showed exhibits of the Native Americans. The tour talked about the stories of how robbers had stored a stolen treasure in the caves while trying to get away from the law. When the tour got close to the treasure room it told the story of two brave kids who fought for the preservation of what they believed in. There was a picture of Thomas and Casey with the old man. There were pictures of the kids posing with the treasure, and big blown up detailed photos of the treasure spread out. The caves were now for everyone. The legend had been solved, and there were many more adventures in store for Thomas and Casey.

THE END