THE MYSTERY OF THE CAVES
Chi Chi led Phoebe and Jeremy back down the ridge to a dark opening in the rocky cliff, fully concealed by mountain laurel. They proceeded by candlelight to an underground stream, and finally emerged into the sunlight under a grove of willow trees. Chi Chi hurried them on across the beautiful valley to another concealed entrance into a long wall of rock. Phoebe and Jeremy followed him into an enormous, fascinating room with sunlight coming through an opening in the ceiling. Chi Chi beckoned them forward, and they saw a stone fireplace flickering with small flames. Nearby an old man with keen gray eyes sat in a carved wooden chair almost like a throne. His thin face with high cheekbones was framed by white hair.
“Father,” said Chi Chi with a slight bow. “I’ve brought Phoebe and Jeremy.”
“Wonderful! Thank you all for taking this trouble for an old man who does not get out to see the world.”
After some introductions, the old man told them, “I will come right to the point. A small group of us are carrying this project, this treasure, this life’s work, and we have reached a stage where we must begin to hand our hopes and responsibilities to the next generation. Will some of you accept the burden?”
Chi Chi led Jeremy to a rock wall displaying an enormous map of Hidden Valley, the forest, and the caves beneath. He began to explain to Jeremy the duties of a Protector of the Wood. Meanwhile the old man told Phoebe, “I’m trusting you with my biggest secret,” and he walked through a very small doorway lying back in the shadows on the far side of the hall. Phoebe followed him into a narrow tunnel, slanting downward deep into the earth. She longed to stretch out her arms but they felt pinned to her sides. The panic of claustrophobia rose inside her like a demon beginning to scream.
Soon the old man stopped and rolled a large stone a couple of feet to reveal a round hole in the side of the tunnel. “This way,” he said. “Be careful.”
Phoebe felt as if the earth were squeezing in upon her. The tunnel was getting smaller.
“Look out for your head,” said the old man. “You’ll have to crawl through here.”
“Crawl???” she thought. “No, no, no… Please no…” Terror filled her like boiling water. “I’m afraid!” she cried.
“Of course you are,” came the muffled voice ahead of her. “I am too, though I’ve been here a thousand times.”
They crawled forward…