“You shouldn’t have brought me down here, Mark. I’m scared!”
“You said you wanted to be a Goonie, remember? Don’t worry. I’m sure there’s another way out,” Mark said, ruffling Sean’s dark hair in the murk.
Mark stared up at the peephole of daylight far above. He pulled the dangling walnut totem from beneath his damp shirt, hiding his worry as he rubbed the small carving for luck. It was a gift from his Uncle Yiska, the last of the family to keep his Navajo birth name.
He feared he should have heeded the no trespassing sign swaying from the rusted fence beyond the cave entrance. Friends at school whispered endless rumors about the old well on the Sapp’s property and what was hidden in the cave system traversing its depths: Treasure, dead bodies, vampire bats, and most unsettling: a skin-walker able to bestow extraordinary powers. Mark didn’t really believe such nonsense; he simply wanted to find Sean’s lost dog. Still, he should have come alone.
“Do you really think Banjo could’ve gotten lost down here?” Sean said, scanning for a way out.
“He could’ve chased a critter out of the woods and down into the cave,” Mark replied. “It would’ve been much easier for him to squeeze through without causing a cave-in like we did.”
The brothers scanned and searched, determined to find another pathway leading out of the dank well. It was mostly dry except for a small, trickling stream and some stagnant pools. Minutes passed, and Mark began directing his attention toward finding sure footing to climb the moist walls in escape when the faintest Yip-Yip carried forth.
“Did you hear that?” Sean exclaimed, moving towards a protruding rock around which the stream had pooled. “It came from behind here!”
Mark rushed over, snatched the flashlight, and crouched against the rock, listening. “Shhh,” he said.
Again: Yip-Yip. Weak, distant.
“Hold this…” Mark pushed against the rock, which wobbled and then fell over, revealing another tunnel’s dark entryway. “I’m going in, you stay here.”
“I don’t wanna be alone in here!” Sean cried.
“Just making sure it’s safe first, it will be ok, promise.” He wormed his way into the hole, leaving his brother in stark silence. Sean immediately began shuttering in fear.
Yip-Yip-Yip-Yip! – louder.
“Sean! I see Banjo, he’s…”
Mark’s muted words ended abruptly as the Yips! turned to barks! Louder and louder.
A mass of piebald fur exploded from the dark hole; Sean gasped in shock. “Oh, my God! Banjo!”
The dog leaped, and Sean splashed to the floor, grabbing his furry friend to limit his slobbery tongue’s reach. He sat up, waiting for his brother to crawl back out of the hole at any second. “Mark? Mark?”
Sean sat, stroking his dog nervously when his finger caught a small leather strip where the collar should have been. “What’s this, boy?”
He pinched the flashlight between his cheek and shoulder, pulling the strip away from the damp fur. When he saw Mark’s worn walnut totem dangling under the dog’s chin, he screamed and pushed away, scooting over the wet ground until he hit a rough wall.
The dog cocked his head, as if confused by the boy’s peculiar behavior. He Yipped! again, the sound echoing off the stone walls, and slowly advanced…