The next morning was perfect for hiking. The sun was shining, but a breeze kept the temperature from rising to an intolerable level. The kids borrowed Alex's grandmother's old van, packed up the lunch Lisa had made them, and piled into the car. Alex usually jumped into the driver's seat, but today he wanted to sit in the back. The reason had remained a mystery until about five minutes into the drive.
"Alex! Get off before you kill yourself!"
Said teenager laughed and got off the roof of the van.
"Aw, did I scare you?" he teased.
"No," Kristen rolled her eyes. "I would just hate it if you ruined my day by falling off a moving car and splattering yourself all over."
"Yeah," Diana called from the driver's seat. "Then we'd have to scrape you off the pavement and explain to your grandmother why her car has guts all over it. If I'm driving and you fall forward, I'll be the one to hit you with this car."
"Geez," Alex said. "I was just car surfing...Hey, where did you put the food?"
"Oh no," Tim said. "No, then you'll just eat it all before we even get there."
"Yeah!" James put in. "Maybe I should look after it..."
Tim and Kristen smacked him upside the head.
When they pulled up to what they liked to call "the mountain," they unloaded their backpacks. Really the mountain was just the entrance to an old mine, the one Mr. Hufker struck gold in. It had since been drained of all possible precious metals and served as a hiking venue for really bored residents of Myso Valley.
Kristen found the trail, and they hiked their way up. They couldn't see much of a view from the trail itself, but the rock formation had several openings- doors to the mines, rusted over in disuse. In some places, they could walk two or three across, but as they got up higher, the path got narrower, and bordered a very steep ledge. Places like that could only fit one across, and they had to be careful to keep their balance.
Before long, the friends got to the top, hungry and tired.
"Can we eat now?"
"Yes!" Diana said, tossing the food to the boys. "Stop bothering me!"
They ate their lunch and looked around.
"It's not a bad view, really," Kristen said. Myso Valley looked like a cute little town from afar, and they could see the empty land beyond, which was made up of some farms, but mostly flat, undeveloped space.
"All this time and we never came up here," Tim said.
"I'm kinda glad we did," Diana said. "Good idea, James."
They stayed up there until around four thirty, then realizing they were expected home before six, scrambled to pack up and get ready for their descent.
"Wait," Kristen said. "Hear that?"
Everyone was silent, and they found that they could hear shouting.
"And I'm telling you, it's too dangerous to leave him there! Someone's going to find him!"
"You're an idiot. He's been there for days. No one comes up here."
"Lots of kids do, when summer comes around!"
The kids frowned suspiciously. They crept to the edge of the top and looked down. About fifteen feet below them, stood two men, arguing. They were dangerously close to the edge.
"And I'm not an idiot," the first man said. "Who thought of this whole plan? Who got the idea to steal the stupid thing in the first place?!"
"The money we got from that necklace was not nearly worth killing that guy!" the second man shouted, shoving the first roughly.
"They're gonna kill each other," Alex muttered.
The weight of all five teenagers on that rock was proving too much, and a small pebble moved down the slope to the men below. They looked up, immediately seeing the eavesdroppers.
"Hey!" The men shouted, scurrying up the path to the top. They grabbed Kristen, who was closest.
"Let go!" she screamed, kicking and flailing. The rest came to her aid. James was moving to tackle one of the guys when he pulled out a gun!
"What did you hear? What did you HEAR!?" the man shouted. Everyone was silent.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," he said. "Oh I know just what to do with you five. Line up!"
Having no choice, they complied.
"Kyle, lead them to the mine," the man with the gun said.
'Kyle' walked in front of them, the nameless man with the gun in the back. The seven marched down the path in a row, until they reached another large mine opening. This steel door was cleaner and was used recently, judging by the ruts in the ground. Sliding back the huge handle granted them access. Kyle shoved them in, and the door was slammed behind them.
Alex grabbed the handle, and pulled with all of his strength. Tim and James joined in, but the door was locked from the outside. Eventually, they just lost it.
"We're going to die in here!"
"It'll be hours..."
"Nobody will know where to look for us!"
"Who were those guys?!"
Eventually they calmed down enough to think straight, and started to look for another way out. The roof and one wall had small gaps, big enough to provide oxygen, but too tightly wedged together to move and escape. Ancient, primitive tracks ran from the huge metal door to the far wall.
"So I guess this really is an old mine shaft," James said thoughtfully. "It looks like that whole set of tracks was covered by a slide, recently."
"J, this isn't really the time-"
"No, wait Kristen," Tim said. "He gave me an idea."
"We mine our way out?" she said angrily.
"What? No. But it's a mine, right? Most were made with an escape route, like an extra opening, I think, in case there's ever a cave in."
"You're saying there might be one here." Diana confirmed hopefully.
"Awesome. Lets find one and get out of here," Alex said.
They spread out, making sure to cover every inch, looking for a loose rock that might be moved out of the way, granting them freedom. Tim reminded them to be careful not to start a rock slide, though.
It wasn't that big of a space, and they had jiggled every stone, and thought of every way they could tunnel out without making the ceiling collapse on them. Nothing was working.
"It's no use," Tim groaned. "We're stuck."
They sat there, staring into space.
"Why didn't he kill us?" Kristen said.
"The guy...who ever he was. He had a gun. Why didn't he just shoot us?"
"Maybe he couldn't bring himself to look a victim in the eye and shoot them," Tim said optimistically. The other four looked at him like he was crazy.
"Right," Kristen said.
"The gun wasn't loaded," Diana realized. "He was bluffing!"
"Maybe," Alex said. "But I wouldn't have chanced that."
Meanwhile, James was staring at the far wall. He put his hand up to it. A good amount of air was flowing out. Putting his eye up to a hole, he could see a space.
"There's a draft," he murmured. No one heard him.
"Guys!" he said loudly. "There's a draft here. Maybe it's a way out?"
Dubiously, they joined him and tried to budge a rock.
"Wait. This one's loose," Alex realized. The three boys pulled as hard as they could.
"Almost..." Tim said between clenched teeth.
"Wait guys," Kristen said. "That's not a good idea."
But they didn't hear her. Tim, James, and Alex all gave one more tug, and the rock came out. Unfortunately, it brought the rest of the rocks down on top of them.
Diana yelped in fright as she and Kristen unburied the boys. They looked up and blinked sheepishly.
"Guess that was foolish," Tim said.
"Foolish?! You could have been killed!" Kristen said with worry. "What...What did you JUST SAY about dislodging loose rocks?!" she scolded.
"You're right. But look."
The five gathered around the hole they had created. It wasn't incredibly big, just the right size for a smaller person to fit through. It wasn't light enough to see a thing, but hey, if it got them out, it was worth exploring.
"See, I was right! A space," James said.
"Yeah. Have fun going back there," Shortstop said, scrunching her nose at the smell. Truly, a horrible stench wafted forward, more terrible than last week's garbage in 100 degree weather.
"I can't fit," he said matter-of-factly.
"Neither can I," Kristen, Tim and Alex all chimed in. They looked at her. Diana caught their gaze.
"No way," she said, taking a step back. "No. No no no."
"Do ya wanna get out of here?" Kristen persuaded. "Or would you rather stay all night, stuck in a confined space with Alex's B.O.?!"
"Hey! Not cool, Macheer," he whined.
The petite girl steeled her nerves, and sighed. "Got a flashlight, boy scout?"
Tim grinned and dug one out of his backpack. "Careful, I think it's low on battery."
They helped her through the hole, then crowded around, trying to get a look.
"I don't see much," Di said. "But the smell is worse. I-"
She cut off mid sentence. The rest of the group could see the beam move downward quickly, indicating she dropped the flashlight.
"Di?" Kristen called.
"Diana Fitz..." Tim said sternly. "This isn't funny."
But then they heard it. Their friend was retching and crying at the same time. Then she let out a deathly shriek of terror. It was really more of a choking sob. It was the worst sound they had ever heard.
"I'm going in there," James growled, muttering about forcing himself to fit, when they could tell from the echoes of footsteps that their friend was coming back. She shot through the hole, into their arms, hysterical.
"I-I-It-He..." she tried in vain.
"Shh...shh," Kristen said, rubbing her back. They pulled her into an awkward group hug until she could speak coherently through her crying.
"What was back there?"
"A..a guy," Diana cried. "A man. He's...*sniffle* dead. He's been..*sob* d-d-dead for at lllleast a wee-ek."