Saturday October 9th 1982
Butch and Shane stood close to the fire, drying up their clothes and getting warm, while Andrew and Steven set up the tents at a safe distance. Shane watched the two troopers, admiring how quickly and skillfully they worked together, though he’d never admit it. He was too “cool” to compliment anyone, especially a couple of “nerds” like Andrew and Steven.
"Okay,” said Butch, all warm, dry and satisfied. “Let’s get going, I don’t want to waste anymore time.”
“Sure thing,” said Andrew. “But we need to put out the fire.”
“Then hurry up and do it! I’m getting impatient.”
Steven took two of the buckets from the cart and filled them with water from a nearby stream. He poured the water on the fire and Andrew stirred the ashes with a stick. Steven poured more water and Andrew stirred the ashes again. They did this a few times till they were confident the fire was out. But Andrew wanted to be absolutely sure. He did one last test that he’d learned from the Youth Troops: he knelt down and ran his hands through the coal.
“Harper, what the heck are you doing?” asked Butch. His face crunched into a frown.
“He’s just making sure the fire is completely out,” said Steven. “We do this every time we’re done with a fire.”
“Was I talking to you, pudge-ball?” Butch snapped at Steven.
“Okay, we’re all good,” said Andrew, trying to shift Butch’s attention away from Steven. He was feeling bad that he dragged Steven along, and he didn’t want his buddy being picked on by the two bullies. “Let’s get moving, guys.”
They left the campsite, heading eastward on the trail, Andrew leading the way. He studied the map carefully, pausing briefly every now and then to check his compass, making sure they were on the right track. Grimdamun Cave, a dreaded place according to legend, was still a good distance away, and Andrew was still curious why they were going there in the first place. He felt that he had a right to know.
"So, Butch," said Andrew, trying to make friendly conversation, "you never told me exactly why we're going to the cave. Are you looking for something in particular?"
“Told ya, Harper, it’s none of your business.”
“Okay. Just curious is all. No biggy.”
“Just get us there,” Butch growled, “that’s all you need to worry about.”
And so it was. Andrew didn’t ask Butch anymore questions about Grimdamun Cave, and the four boys moved quickly through the dark and narrow trails. All was going smoothly, or so Andrew thought, until they heard something that brought them to an abrupt halt...
“What the heck was that?” asked Shane, searching the treetops with his flashlight. But before anyone answered, they heard it again, a lot closer this time—a loud howl, echoing through the forest.
“Probably just a coyote,” said Butch, shining his flashlight up into the brush at the side of the trail. “That’s all it is...right...Harper?”
“I’m not sure,” said Andrew, his heart pounding. It was the first time he’d ever heard Butch sound scared, and for some reason, that spooked him. He turned off his flashlight and told the others to do the same. “Please keep quiet for a second.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Shane asked, ignoring Andrew’s request for silence. “I thought you trooper kids knew everything about animals.”
“We do... sort of,” whispered Andrew, “but that didn’t sound like a coyote.”
“Maybe it’s one of them wolves Matt Bruce was talking about,” said Steven, reminding Andrew of Matt’s story. “But it doesn't sound like an ordinary wolf to me.”
Andrew gulped. “No, that was no wolf.” He kept his tone low. “Not any kind of wolf that I ever heard.”
The four of them stood silent in the middle of the trail, listening, but the animal, whatever it was, had stopped howling for a moment.
“Well, no sense in standing here all night,” said Andrew, breaking the silence. He turned his flashlight back on. “We might as well keep going; we have at least a mile and a half more to go according to the map.”
They continued on, making as little noise as possible and shining their flashlights all around them. The winds picked up again, and all they heard at that point was the rustling of dry leaves and the crackling of twigs under their feet. The path was straight-forward for the most part, until they came to a fork.
Andrew paused to shine his flashlight on the map again. “Okay you guys, according to the map, we have to go left at this fork, then keep going till we come to a bridge that crosses over a wide stream.”
“Alright, Captain,” said Steven, who was still tugging the cart along. “Lead the way.”
And just as they bared left at the fork, they heard another howl in the distance, followed instantly by another one, and then another, until there was no doubt they were in the midst of some deadly animal pack.
Andrew urgently motioned to the other boys to turn off their flashlights again and keep quiet.
“Harper,” whispered Shane, his eyes bugging, “you really have no idea what they are?”
“No.” Andrew squinted in the darkness. "They might be wolves, but I've never heard howling like that before.”
The boys stood silently for a few more minutes, hoping the howling would stop, and by some small stroke of luck, it did — at least for the time being. There was silence once again. Feeling confident they were safe for the moment, Andrew turned his flashlight back on.
“So now what?” asked Steven. “ Should we continue? Or go back?”
“What do you mean go back?” Butch shoved Steven, and pointed his finger in his face. “We aint going anywhere till we find this cave.”
“Then let’s hurry up and get going,” said Andrew, “before those things start howling again.”
As they continued to walk, they reached an area of marshy ground. Luckily for the troopers, they had on camping boots, but the bullies weren’t as fortunate—they neglected to wear proper footwear and their sneakers were soon covered in mud.
“Where is this damn cave?” said Shane, trudging through the mud.
“We’re almost there.” Andrew pointed forward. “Look...it’s the bridge.” Up ahead was an old wooden bridge that crossed over a stream. “That’s the bridge we have to cross. After that, we turn left off the trail, go straight for a bit, and that’s where the cave should be...if the map is correct.”
Being that the bridge was old, the boys decided to cross it one at a time to play it safe. Andrew told Steven to go first, but Butch didn’t agree.
“Are you kidding me?” the bully said. “He’s the fattest one here. He goes last!”
“That’s not nice,” said Andrew, who’d just about had it with Butch’s attitude. “Steven’s been a big help all night; no reason to be so mean.”
“Excuse me?” Butch glowered at Andrew. “I want to get to the cave as soon as possible and I don’t want the bridge collapsing because of fatso over there. Am I clear?”
Shane sighed and rolled his eyes. “Come on, Butch. He won't collapse the bridge. Give the kid a break.”
Butch gave Shane a cold stare. “Again you side against me?” He smiled sarcastically. “Since when did you become a dork lover?”
“It’s no big deal,” chimed in Steven. “I don’t mind going last.”
The guilt Andrew felt for dragging Steven along increased tenfold. Not only was his buddy doing a great job of helping out, but he was taking undeserved abuse as well. Andrew patted him on the back as if to say sorry and thank you.
One at a time, they each crossed the bridge slowly, the old wood cracking and creaking with every step. When it was Steven’s turn, Andrew said a silent prayer for him to cross safely, and his prayer was answered: Steven made it across with no problem.
“Alright,” said Andrew. “We’re almost there. Grimdamun Cave, here we come.”
And once again, after turning left off the trail as the map instructed, the boys were dealing with marshy terrain, eventually finding themselves in the midst of a large and thorny briar patch. The tall thicket seemed to stretch for a mile, slowing them down. The winds were no help either, making the trek even more uncomfortable. To be safe, Andrew tucked the map safely in his jacket pocket.
After trudging through rough terrain for a while, they came upon a large hill, larger than all the other hills in the forest. And on the side of the hill they were facing, practically hidden behind tall shrubs, was a large hollow. They'd finally reached Grimdamun Cave...