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Excerpt for Panther Creek Mountain by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


MOUNTAIN


) ) THE BIG ADVENTURE

CLYDE McCULLEY

·. L . ¢· . . • ,.

Story Night Press

* P O R T L A N D . M A I N E *

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


There are those whom I wish to thank for their help in the writing and publishing of Panther Creek Mountain–The Big Adventure.

This book is written with mid-grade school kids in mind, so it was from such pre-teens that I sought advice. I asked five kids to read a sampling of the stories I was writing to give me feedback. I’m glad I did, because they gave me some great advice.

At first the book was going to be the story of two boys, but one of the young readers suggested that I add a girl. He thought young girls would want to read the book, too, so I added Sally Jane. She gives spice and vigor to the stories, and gives the two boys a run for their money.

A big thank-you to the five kids who read for me and contributed so much: Sophie and Thomas Gilsenan of Montreal, Canada, Toby and Sebastian Yindra of Portland, Maine, and Oscar Schwellenbach of South Hadley, Massachusetts.

My daughter, Sheri McCulley Seibold, designed the wonderful cover of the book. Her husband Tom graciously offered to provide a final edit along with his interior text formatting and page design. Thanks to both of them for their help and encouragement.

I want to thank my wife Susan for her encouragement, and for her many hours of reading the manuscript and

making suggestions, which has made it a better book.

Panther Creek Mountain–The Big Adventure is a work of fiction. The locations where the stories take place are also fictitious. Some stories have been adapted from the author’s memoir, The Boy on Shady Grove Road.


Copyright 2018 by Clyde McCulley All rights reserved


Published in the United States by Story Night Press Portland, Maine

www.storynightpress.com

PANTHER CREEK MOUNTAIN




  1. Clay and Luke’s cabin

  2. The treehouse

  3. Sally Jane’s cabin

  4. Georgie Robinson’s cabin

  5. Smithsons’ cabin

  6. Ol’ Man Rasmus’s cabin

  7. Jensens’ cabin

  8. Ol’ Larry Tuffy’s cabin

FOREWORD

ADVENTURES ON PANTHER CREEK MOUNTAIN


On a dark night on the ridge of Panther Creek Mountain, Clay, 11, and Luke, 9, watched their room light up as lightning flashed through the window of their attic bedroom in their little cabin home. The driving rain hammered the tin roof with a sound that was deafening. It was magical. Clay and Luke snuggled beneath the covers as the thunder crashed, then silence. The boys heard a panther scream somewhere in the mountain, answered by the scream of a second panther. They thought that it sounded like the blood-curdling screams of a woman.

Last spring, the boys’ cousin, Sally Jane, moved into a cabin just up the road from the boys with her Mom, Aunt Olive. Sally Jane is the same age as Luke. She also watched the lightning in her bedroom and heard the panthers scream. Just like the boys, Sally Jane thought the sound of the panther’s scream was an exciting part of mountain life.

World War II was over and things had settled down across the nation as well as up on the ridge. Times were improving for everyone. The ridge on Panther Creek Mountain was a community of half a


dozen families of modest means. They did not have electricity or running water in their homes. In the evenings the kids read by the light of oil lamps and used outhouses when they had to go to the bathroom.

Once a week everyone in the family took baths in a big galvanized laundry tub near the wood- burning stove in the kitchen. The water came from the spring up on the hill behind the cabin.

The kids were on their own during the summers. They spent the days in their tree house, exploring the woods, streams, caves and the ponds, as well as river rafting. Every day was an adventure for Clay, Luke and Sally Jane as they experienced the wonders of living on an Appalachian Mountain Ridge in 1951.

Come along and join them as school ends and summer begins for the kids on Panther Creek Mountain.

Clyde McCulley, author

CHAPTER 1

HURRAY! SCHOOL’S OUT FOR THE

SUMMER!


“School’s out for the summer!” shouted the kids of the Wild Cat Valley School. They all said goodbye to their teachers and dashed out to get on their school buses.

For Clay and Luke, summer days meant going without shoes, playing in the woods and creeks, and making discoveries. They could not wait for the old yellow school bus to drop them off at Panther Creek Road.

When the bus finally stopped at their road, the boys jumped off and kicked off their shoes. They felt the warm sand between their toes. Each boy had a big grin on his face. They loved going barefoot.

“I will race you up the road to our cabin,” said Luke, as he took off.

Clay knew he could not let his little brother beat him home, so he started to run, then spied Luke’s shoes on the road where Luke had kicked them off.

“You may beat me, but you’re going to have to come all the way back down from the ridge to get your shoes,” yelled Clay.

Luke came to a quick stop.


‘How did I forget my shoes?!’ he fumed to himself, and reluctantly returned to get them.

Clay laughed and laughed, which only made Luke fume even more.

When Luke came back to get his shoes, Clay tore off running and beat Luke home.

“No fair!” yelled Luke, but Clay only laughed again.


When they entered the cabin, they could smell sugar cookies, fresh from the oven.

Mama grinned at the boys, knowing that it was good for them to have summer recess from school.

Both boys beamed and said that they loved school, but it was great for summer to arrive. Here in the woods, they felt that they got a “real” education!


Mama smiled and gave each boy a glass of buttermilk and three sugar cookies.

After their snack, they took a notebook and pencil and walked up to the water spring where they could sit on the log bench and make their summer plans. They wrote the following lists:

    1. Summer Adventures Camping

River rafting Swimming Kite Flying Biking Fishing

Indian Arrow Head hunting Build a Tree house, and….Unknown Adventures

    1. Money Making Ideas

Pick up cold drink bottles along the road and sell them.

Sell Wild Plums Sell Watermelons

Sell Flower and Vegetable Seeds And…Unknown Money Making Ideas

    1. Family Chores Feed chickens Feed Hogs


Feed Smokey and old cow

Help Momma wash clothes on Wednesdays Wash dishes at suppertime And….Unknown chores

    1. Anything else we haven’t thought of….


“I think that should be enough to get the summer started,” said Clay.

“You think we can do all that in one summer?” “Yeah, I think so—We’ll fill our days with fun. I

really want to build a tree house and maybe a small log cabin.”

“A log cabin? News to me! When did you think of that, Clay?”

“Oh, one night after you went to sleep and I was lying awake listening to see if the panther up in the mountain would scream. All of a sudden I thought, why don’t we build a real miniature log cabin, just big enough for the two of us to get in? Luke said, “Well, what about Georgie or other friends? It should be big enough for them too.”

Clay agreed and said that they could go into the pine forest and cut a lot of small trees to build walls high enough for them to stand up in.

“That sounds like a lot of work,” said Luke. “Let’s start with some of our other plans first.”

“Okay, but we should aim for building a log cabin at some point.”


They climbed the ladder to the attic that night and both had trouble getting to sleep because of the exciting possibilities that lay ahead.

Luke finally drifted off to sleep and Clay heard two panthers scream in the wild woods up in the mountain above their cabin.

Clay loved the sound, but it also scared him.

He was excited knowing that they lived in the mountains, something that most boys could only imagine in their wildest dreams.


CHAPTER 2

BUILDING A TREE HOUSE


Clay and Luke had a favorite tree that hung from the cliff overlooking the valley below. Its roots grew into the cliff, allowing the tree to practically hang in midair.

On the first day of summer break, they decided to build a tree house. The tree had large limbs that grew perfectly for supporting it—limbs that grew straight out over the cliff, making it easy to build a floor.

The thought of it excited them. “We will probably have one of the only tree houses in the world that hangs out over a high and dangerous cliff.”

They searched around the community and through the woods gathering up old boards that people had discarded. Pa gave them a can of nails and the tools they needed; a saw, hammer, and some rope.

The first thing they did was to cut boards just the right length for steps, which they nailed to the trunk of the tree so they could climb up and down. Next, they wrapped long boards together with part of the rope. Clay climbed the steps and instructed Luke to push the pile of boards as high up the tree as he


could. Clay hoisted the boards up so they could lay them across the limbs.

They worked all morning and by lunchtime had built a platform about eight by eight feet square. They were delighted! They stood up and looked out across the valley with the binoculars they had purchased at the Army Surplus store in town. It was amazing how different the valley looked by being only 15 feet higher in the air.

As they stood up, Luke looked down to the cliffs below and almost felt dizzy. “Man, oh man, this is high, high, high!” he shouted. His eyes grew big and round.

Clay laughed, “You had better be careful and not fall, because you would look like melted butter spread on the rocks below.”

Luke laughed and turned a funny shade of green. He wanted to quickly build the walls of the house so he and his brother wouldn’t fall off.

By the end of the second day they had completed the walls, and had an old tin roof built the day after that. They thought they should invite their friend Georgie Robinson over to see their new ‘Headquarters’—They thought he would be impressed and possibly a little jealous too. They also wanted to bring Mama and Pa and have them climb up into it.

BUILDING A TREE HOUSE




“Mama will be scared to death—You know she hates heights,” said Luke.

Luke had an idea. “Why don’t we spread the word around the cabins here on the ridge that for a nickel, kids can climb up into our tree house and get a fabulous view of the Great Smoky Mountains. I think they will love it! We will make some money to buy new bicycles.”

“Great idea! You are a genius, Luke!”


9


They told all of the neighbors. Soon five boys and three girls crowded around the tree trunk. They were anxious to see the new tree house and get a good view of the Smokies.

Pa and Mama came down to watch. Mama said it was best for the five boys to climb up first, and then the girls climb up after the boys.

“Oh, I get it,” said one of the boys. “That way we can’t see the girls bloomers, because we will already be up in the tree house.”

“You got it,” said Mama, “AND, the girls come down first.”


They all paid their nickel admission and were thrilled by the height and amazed by the view of the Smoky Mountains.

The tree house had been a success and would be Clay and Luke’s favorite hangout for years to come.

That night, as they lay in their bed up in the attic, Luke was concerned. He hoped the panther would never find the tree house.

Clay laughed and started to answer, but Luke was already asleep.

Soon the panther let out her blood-curdling scream. Clay smiled at the sound in the darkness, rolled over and fell asleep.

CHAPTER 3

CLAY AND LUKE MAKE A BIG DISCOVERY


When Clay and Luke headed out for the day, it was already getting hot.

Clay suggested that they ride their bikes a few miles north and explore Panther Creek. Luke thought it was a good idea.

They went to the shed and found their backpacks from the Army surplus store in town. They went into the kitchen and made peanut butter and banana sandwiches. They also packed graham crackers, green apples from Granny Palmer’s tree, and a jar full of wild red plums, which they had just picked. Finally, they filled their canteens with fresh brewed sweet tea.

“This should hold us over for the day, unless we get lost,” Luke joked.

The two boys never got lost. They each had a good sense of direction.

Their parents were not at home, so they left a note saying that they were headed north to look for the creek they had found last year, and they would be home by supper time.

They jumped on their bikes and headed up Panther Creek Road.




Clay rode ahead of Luke, and yelled back, “I hope we can remember where the creek goes under the road. I remember there were a lot of bushes along that spot. We did not even realize that it was there and stumbled upon it when you had to stop and pee!”

Luke laughed, remembering that he was going to pee on the road because no one was around, but Clay thought someone might be hiding somewhere and watching. That spooked Luke.


Clay let him know that he was only joking, that he was just trying to make him go into the bushes to pee.

But that had turned out great because they discovered the big creek under all that brush and it had all been because of Luke.

They had ridden for about half an hour, when they saw a dip in the road and realized that they were at the right place.

They slowed down and watched for moving water. “Stop talking, and listen.” said Clay. “Maybe we

can hear the water running.”

They got off their bikes and listened, and sure enough, they heard the creek quite clearly.

“We have no idea who owns this land,” said Luke. “It’s probably someone who lives in town, because I have never heard any of the neighbors talking about any country people having land up here.”

“Well, I don’t see any ‘No Trespassing’ signs, so I say it belongs to us for today!” said Clay.

“You got that right, man.”

They wanted to hide their bikes so no one would take them. After dragging them through the bushes and hiding them under the bridge, they knew no one would find them.

After the bikes were well hidden, the boys started to wade through the water in the creek. The bushes


were too close to the water for them to be able to walk on the bank. Soon, the woods opened up and the bushes were back from the creek and they could see a long way up the rocky stream bottom.

“Ding-dang, this is beautiful! Look how clear the water is,” said Clay.

They both got on their bellies, and scooped up the clear cold water in their hands to drink. “This is great tasting water, even if it does have fish and frogs and snakes in it,” said Clay. Luke gulped. Clay went on, “These critters won’t hurt us, just think of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone traveling for days through the woods. They didn’t have wells or springs to drink from. They drank from creeks and rivers, and they lived!” Luke felt better hearing this.

As they got up from the creek and started to walk again, they heard a terrifying scream that sounded like a woman screaming. They both froze in place, and Luke’s eyes got as big as watermelons.

“Clay, what was that? Sounds like a woman is being murdered!” whispered Luke.

Clay was shaken too, but he thought for a minute and said, “Luke, I am quite sure that was a panther screaming. The neighbors say there are panthers up in these woods. I have laid in bed at night and heard them screaming away off in the distance.” Luke wanted to turn around and head home.


Clay told him that panthers are afraid of humans and will only attack if the are cornered or if they have their young with them, so they were okay, and to just keep going.

Now they both kept their eyes open.

As they walked along the bank of the creek, they could see small fish swimming—a lot of them.

Clay said it was too bad that they didn’t bring fishing poles with them, that if they had they could catch some fish, build a fire and have a great meal.

Luke wanted to know if Clay knew how to clean fish and get them ready to cook.

He said he thought they could figure that out and if nothing else, just cut off the heads and tails and cook them over the fire.

“Did you bring matches?” Luke asked.

“Of course, I did, what if we got lost and we were here for days until someone found us. We would need matches to build a fire at night to keep the panthers away,” said Clay.

“Now you are trying to scare me, so just stop it!” “Okay, Okay, I will. Sorry.”

They were about a mile and a half from where they left the bikes when they heard something running fast through the nearby bushes. They both froze and crouched low to hide and see what it was.


A large rabbit came running by them at full speed, with a fox close behind. The rabbit did not see the boys, but the fox did and he turned and ran the opposite direction.

The boys started running after the rabbit, and all of a sudden it disappeared.

The boys stopped, a bit bewildered and then got down close to the ground to see where it went. As they crawled, they fell forward into a large hole they hadn’t seen. The large opening was totally filled with grown pine trees and bushes, and the limbs of the trees had hidden the opening to a cave! It had looked like flat land to the boys.

Neither of them was hurt. They stood up and started to look around, but it was quite dark in this place. As their eyes adjusted, they realized that they were in the opening of a large cave with a stone ceiling.

They looked around, and realized that there had been people in this space before them, but it looked like many years ago. They found strange things, objects made of metal. There were old pots, pans, an old copper tub and an old wooden table. Nearby was a fire pit made out of stone. Next to it was a bubbling spring of clear cold water.


“What is this place?” said Luke, “Have we found some kind of old torture chamber or something? I am not sure I want to be here. Let’s go!”

“No, no,” said Clay, “I think I have figured it out. Maybe we have found a place where people used to camp, probably back in the 1930s after the Depression. There are stories of bank robbers who hid out in the hills away from the lawmen. They probably hid here for days, cooked their food over the fire pit, and slept here on blankets. The cave would protect them from the weather and also hide them. I wonder if they hid any of the stolen money here?”

They went back to the entrance and pulled the limbs back over the opening to disguise it in case anyone else came by.

When they went back in, they discovered a small hole in the stone ceiling above them where smoke could escape without filling the cave.

“We have found something very, very special,” exclaimed Clay. “Obviously, none of the people in these parts know about this or we would have heard about it. The old copper is probably worth a lot of money. This simply means that you and I have found a place of our very own, our ‘secret club house’ and we cannot tell a living soul about it. Do you


understand what I am saying, Luke? It is our secret hideaway forever!”

Again, Luke’s eyes grew huge with a look of fear, surprise, and excitement!

“Okay, I agree. We don’t tell anybody! Does that even mean our good friend Georgie?”

“That even means Georgie. Cross your heart and hope to die, stick a needle in your eye if you tell anybody?”

Luke crossed his heart that he would not tell.

They cleaned the cave. There were pine needles that had blown in, all over the floor of the “new room”.

Clay thought the needles would make a great bed. They picked them up and piled them into two beds.

They were starting to get hungry, so they unpacked the peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and cut up the green apples with their pocketknives. They opened the canteens and drank the wonderful sweet tea that Mama made.

“Let’s build a small fire in the old fire pit,” said Luke.

“Okay, but we need to keep it small because we don’t want someone to see the smoke and discover us.”

They filled the old bucket with water, ready to douse the fire quickly if needed. Then they gathered


dry twigs and pine needles to build a fire. The burning pine needles smelled good to the boys. They lay down on the new beds and watched the fire. Both drifted off to sleep. The fire burned itself out. They must have slept for about an hour. All of a sudden they were awakened by the blast of a shotgun!

Luke grabbed Clay and whispered, “Someone is going to kill us!”

“Quiet!” whispered Clay.

Their hearts were beating a hundred miles per hour! They could hear the voices of two men, maybe three. One of them was saying, “Where did that damn rabbit go? He disappeared.”

Clay and Luke looked toward the opening and saw a rabbit crouching and trembling. One of the men said, “I think he went into a hole over here.” All of a sudden there was another blast of the gun, but this time it was aimed at the opening and they saw pine needles flying.

Both boys were really frightened now.

They hoped the men would not get down on their hands and knees and discover the secret opening. They were afraid that if the men found them, they would be in big trouble.

Luke whispered, “What if they are bad men, who kidnap kids and sell them as slaves?”

Clay almost laughed, but he was too scared.


One of the men yelled, “Come on, let’s go. I’m sure there are other rabbits around.” “No, let’s try to find the one we shot at,” said the man who sounded like he was closer to the “entrance.”

Finally the men gave up and left. The boys could hear their voices trailing off as they left the area.

“Thank the good Lord they did not have coon dogs with them,” said Clay. “If they did, those dogs would have followed that rabbit right into our secret place. They would have discovered us, too, and then you know what a howl they would have made, and possibly attacked us!”

Again Luke’s eyes grew wide. Clay thought to himself, “If I don’t stop scaring Luke, his eyes might pop right out of his head.”

He giggled and Luke wanted to know what he was giggling about.

“Oh, nothing.”

After the men were well out of sight, the boys went over to see where the shotgun blast hit the opening. Pine needles were torn from the trees, but they did not find a dead rabbit. He must have escaped. They were glad about that and sighed a long sigh of relief.

They sat on the ground in the secret cave and tried to relive what had just happened. They talked about whether it was too dangerous to be there, but


then decided that they were definitely going to return.

They had no idea if the men usually hunted in these parts regularly, or if this happened to be their first time.

If the hunters were to return, the boys would have to have a system in place that would warn them. They would go back home and work out a plan.

They left the hideout, being sure to hide the entrance by covering it with tree limbs and old brush. They followed the creek back the mile and a half towards the road and their bikes. They were quiet for a while, always listening to see if they could hear the men’s voices, or shots being fired. After about forty minutes, they spotted the road, got the bikes out from under the bridge and headed down Panther Creek Road.

As they neared home, both looked at each other. Both understood they could never talk with anyone about the secret cave.


CHAPTER 4

WE HAVE TO MAKE A PLAN!


Mama had supper almost ready as they came through the back door. They could smell the potatoes frying in the big iron skillet, the cornbread and an apple pie, which had just come from the oven.

Mama wanted to know about their day’s adventures.

They both looked at each other as though she already knew about their day, but then they realized there was no way she could know.

They told her that they had a pretty thrilling day, chased a rabbit (but could not catch it) and played in a wonderful creek that they found.

Luke’s eyes were big again, but he didn’t say a word.

After supper, they washed the dishes for Mama as they did each night. After the dishes were done, the boys went out into yard to watch fireflies and talk quietly about the hideout. Even though it was now dark, the air was still hot and sticky.

“Luke, I have been thinking about what we can do that will warn us if someone is approaching our hideout. We have to have a warning rigged up far enough away from the cave entrance so that if we hear the alarm we will have time to put out our fire.


It’s lucky that the water spring is right beside the fire pit, so we can keep a bucket full of water to quickly douse the fire if we need to.”

They tried to think about what type of alarm they could use.

They realized that they couldn’t have a bell or anything like that that would let the hunters know that anyone was nearby. It had to be an alarm that the hunters would not realize had been tripped. They remembered that Pa had a lot of old fishing line that he never used. They could tie it from one tree to another, low to the ground, all the way around our cave. If the hunters got too close, they would trip it and cause a piece of dead tree trunk to fall, signaling them that the enemy was approaching.

When the boys heard the falling tree trunk, the hunters would too, but they would think that it just happened naturally. When the boys heard the tree fall, they would quickly douse the fire and huddle in the corner of the cave in case the hunters fired the shotgun.

Luke’s eyes grew big again as he whispered, “Maybe we should just forget we ever found our secret hideout. Let’s just pretend that it was a bad dream.”

“Are you kidding? This is the kind of thing that you read about in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn! Most


boys never ever have a chance to know the thrill of doing this kind of thing. This is the stuff they write books about. Luke, maybe someday we will write our own book about Clay and Luke’s adventures. Our adventures are just as exciting as Tom and Huck’s, maybe even better.”

They had a lot of trouble going to sleep that night. After a while, Luke said, “Clay, are you still awake?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well what if those hunters come into our secret place and shoot us dead?”

“They won’t. Now go to sleep and don’t have a nightmare. If you listen closely, you may hear the panthers screaming up in the woods.”

“Okay,” said Luke, and then he fell asleep and promptly started to snore before he could hear the panther.

Clay lay awake and heard a panther scream twice before he drifted off.





The next morning they awoke to wonderful smells coming from Mama’s kitchen. They smelled biscuits in the oven, eggs frying, and fried apple pies, their very favorite.

“So, what are you boys going to do for an adventure today?” asked Pa as Mama served the boys their breakfast.

“We will probably go back up into the woods.”

Then Clay asked, “Pa, do our lives ever sound kind of like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn?”

Luke’s eyes grew bigger.


“Oh, I think you boys have much more exciting lives than they did.”

Both boys laughed. “I told you, Luke,” said Clay.

They enjoyed breakfast. Luke was smacking his lips and Clay told him that it’s not polite to eat like that. Luke looked at him, and said, “I love Mama’s cooking and will smack if I want too.”

Mama told them to not pester each other, so they stopped. Mama smiled.

The boys each took a bucket of feed and went to the old barn to feed Smokey, their old horse. While they were gone, Mama heated a teakettle of water on the stove, so the boys could wash the dishes when they returned.

After the dishes were done, Clay asked, “Pa, could Luke and I have some of that old fishing line that you found at the town dump a while back?”

“Sure, I guess so. What are you planning to do now?”

“We want to do some experimenting with it in the woods. Perhaps we can figure out a way to catch birds, or maybe something else?” The boys looked at each other, knowing that it was “something else” that they were intending to do with Pa’s fishing line.

“You boys never cease to amaze me,” Pa smiled and said, “Use what you need.”

“Thanks!”


The boys went up the path to the old shed behind their cabin and found the fishing line. It was clear. They yanked on it and found that it was very strong. Since it was clear, one could hardly see it.

“Perfect,” said clay. “This should do the trick.” They put the rolls of fish line and a flashlight in an old gunnysack, and started to get on their bikes.

“Wait!” Luke said, “We have not made any sandwiches for lunch!”

“Oh, yeah, good thinking.”

So a few minutes later, they had sandwiches, two apples, plums and sweet tea. They put them into old army backpacks and were off to their secret hideaway. The boys were excited (and a little bit scared, too.)

As they approached the cave entrance, they looked carefully to see if anyone had been around the cave. They found the tree limbs that they had used to cover the entrance were exactly as they had left them. They pulled the branches away and shined their flashlight inside to see if there were any animals in the cave. They watched for eyes beaming back at them, but they saw none, and that made them feel much better.

They took their backpacks into the cave and sat them on an old table that the “bank robbers” left. They then went back outside. They took out Pa’s fish


line and started attaching it to tree trunks down near the ground. They found old pieces of fallen trees and tied the line to them, then hoisted them into position against standing trees, so they would fall and warn the boys if the fish line was tripped.

They found that they could take strong tree limbs and using leverage under the larger pieces of trees, lift them into place.

In order to do this, they had to put a strong tree limb under the old pieces and put all their body weight on it to lift the old pieces up against live trees and tie the line to them.

The trees were very heavy, especially for Luke, but he was a good sport.

Clay said, “Now we have to try out our warning system and see if it works.

They started walking through the trees and when their feet hit the fish line, an old tree trunk near them fell. It made a hugh crash!

“It worked,” they both yelled, “Yipeee!”

Then Luke got one of those looks on his face. “This means we now have to lift that old tree back up again!”

“Yes, we do, but we proved that our warning system works, Luke!”

They were both delighted. The tree did not seem as heavy to hoist as it did the first time.


“Now we can feel safe in our hideout, even when we spend the night,” Clay said.

“Spend the night!” exclaimed Luke, “Are we really going to sleep in the cave at night?” His eyes got as big as two full moons.

“But what about the screaming panthers? They will eat us alive!”

“Don’t worry,” said Clay, “remember our warning system will let us known if an enemy approaches.”

“But what if a panther is up in the trees and jumping from to tree to another and does not trip our alarm?” said big-eyed Luke.

“Panthers stay on the ground, I am pretty sure, so don’t worry about it,” said Clay.

“But what happens if they avoid our alarm and we wake up in the night and see a panther in the entrance to our cave? THEN what are we going to do to keep from getting eaten?” asked Luke with a trembling voice.

“Stay calm, I have been thinking about how to handle it if that happens. You know the old large metal pan we found by the fire pit? Well, we are going to get a big stick and see how loud a sound it makes when you hit the pan with it. If it’s loud enough, it will scare the daylights out of anybody or anything. Lets go in the cave and try it.


Clay took the stick and Luke held the pan while he slammed it. It made a really loud ringing sound.

“Now tell me, Luke, if you were a panther and came sneaking into this cave in the dark and suddenly you heard that loud ringing sound, what would you do?”

Luke thought for a minute and said, “I would probably pee my pants.”

“Well panthers don’t have pants, but I am sure he would run like crazy!” said Clay.

“And probably pee down its legs as it ran!” shouted Luke. They both laughed.

The boys built a fire and watched the flames flicker as they ate the sandwiches, plums and apples. They took a short nap on the pine needle beds. When they awoke, the fire had burned out. They poured water from the spring on the smoldering cinders and started packing to head back home.


As they left the cave, Luke said, “Remember, where we put the fishing line around the trees so we don’t trip it.”

“Right, or we will have to set the booby trap again.”

It bothered each of them that they had kept the cave a secret from Mama and Pa, so about a week


later, they decided that it was time to tell them about the cave.

They had also done a lot of thinking and talking about spending the night there, trying to build up their courage.

During supper, they told Pa and Mama about discovering the cave, about their theory that it was a bank robber’s hideout, and how they set up a warning system and tested it, so they thought they would be safe. They also told about banging a pan if anything tried to enter the cave.

They asked Pa if he would like to join them for an overnight adventure in a secret cave. He did not answer. He said that he wanted to know where the boys found a cave. He had lived here many years and did not know of any secret cave in these parts. They explained in detail how they had seen a rabbit being chased by a fox and they followed the rabbit and discovered the cave.

Pa said he was a little concerned about the boys staying overnight. “You know you are going to be way back in the hills and I want you to be safe.”

Mama said, “So it sounds like you boys have been planning this for a while, huh?”

“Yes, Mama, we have, but we did not want to worry you and Pa,” said Clay.

Luke sat there and said nothing.


Pa noticed and said, “Now Luke, are you alright with this overnight plan?”

Luke looked at Clay, then at Pa and said, “If Clay thinks it is safe, then I am okay with it.”

Mama had a worried look on her face.

Again, they asked Pa if he would like to camp in the hideout with them. He said, no. He thought that they were old enough to camp alone, but he would like for them to take the .22 rifle with them. He reminded Luke that it was only Clay who was old enough to use the gun.

Both boys agreed, shaking their heads that they understood. They said they would probably wait a few more weeks before staying overnight.

Mama was relieved.


CHAPTER 5

DISCOVERING THE CRAZY WILD WOMAN


Pa grew a few grapevines up the trail behind the cabin in a little field he had cleared in the woods. The grapevines were close to an old shed where Luke and Clay liked to play. They called it their “Clubhouse.”

They used ideas from the Boy Scout handbooks that they had checked out from the library to make their own “boy scout” room in the “clubhouse.” They did not have money to buy the uniforms required to join the real Boy Scouts. They also did not have a way to get to town at night when the scouts had their meetings because the family did not have a car.

Even though the old shed was rickety and just about falling down, they loved having their very own clubhouse.

It was a hot summer morning. Mama was home and Pa had walked down the mountain to town. The boys thought they would spend the morning swimming in old man Gerber’s pond and try to catch a few fish.

They got the cane poles and fish hooks out from under the cabin.


Luke said, “We should catch some grasshoppers for bait before we go.”

They got out an old bedspread and each of the boys held two corners, one high and one low, near the ground. They held on tight and ran through the tall grass for about 100 feet before stopping. Then they pulled the lower part of the bedspread up high and held it together at the top so the grasshoppers could not jump out.

Carefully they unfolded it. There were dozens of grasshoppers, green ones and black ones and every size you could think of.

“Man, oh man, we did good,” said Clay. “We have at least a hundred juicy grasshoppers.”

They grabbed them one by one and put them into an old canning jar, then closed the lid.

They thought with a little luck they might be able to bring Mama a mess of fish for supper. They knew she would like that.

They were excited and ran to the pond.

The pond water was warm from the morning sun, so they stripped off their clothes and swam bare- naked for a while. They tried to see how long they could hold their breath under water. There was a large rock sticking out of the water and they took turns diving off the rock.


After a while, Luke said, “We had better see if we can catch a few fish—It is almost noon.”

They excitedly opened the jar, took out two large grasshoppers and pushed the fishhook through the grasshopper’s bodies. The grasshoppers were kicking and squirming as they threw the line into the water.

Within seconds, each had a bite. They struggled to pull their catch onto the bank of the pond. To their amazement, two large bass lay flopping on the bank.

“Wow!” said Luke. His eyes grew big.

“Did you bring that old bucket to put the fish in?”

He just looked at Clay and said, “Was I supposed too?” They both laughed.

The two large bass would be all they needed for supper.

They both suddenly realized they’d been fishing bare-naked, and laughed as they put their clothes on. After finding an old gunnysack to carry the fish home, they headed back down to the house for dinner at 12:00 sharp, as Mama asked them to do.

When they went into the house to eat, Mama seemed upset and very nervous. Luke and Clay looked at each other. They knew something was really wrong. They asked her what was upsetting her.

She did not want to say, so they asked if someone was dead, or had been killed.


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