“I was asking the immature one over there if he noticed anything different about this wall.” Madison pointed to the back wall of the cavern, and then turned back to her brother for his answer.
“Ok, sis,” Mica said, having decided to play along. “This part here looks like it’s a different color than the rock around it.” He rubbed his hand slowly along its slick surface.
“That's right. Different color, different texture, and there’s an outline around it as well.” Madison pointed toward the wall and traced a line in the air with her finger.
“Ouch!” Mica yelped. Drawing his hand back and clutching it in the other he said, “It shocked me. I've been rock-shocked!”
“Can’t you be serious for one minute?” Madison asked. “I'm not playing games with you.” She took the opportunity to point out that rocks themselves don't conduct electricity, although the water inside of them could.
“I am serious!” Mica demanded.
As Mica turned and held up his rapidly reddening hand as evidence, the oddly colored wall of rock behind him dissolved, revealing another chamber. It was a secret room filled with mist. The air was too thick inside to see how big the room was, or what dangers it might hold.
“Galloping gopher guts!” Onyx exclaimed. “We’ve got to investigate this.” Stepping through the opening, her eyes widened with excitement and anticipation. “I bet we're the first humans ever to walk here.”
Digby followed without hesitation. He scurried past everyone's feet into the concentrated gray mist of the secret room. Madison, possessing an inquisitive and scientific mind like her best friend but without the same sense of adventure, was cautious to explore the new cave room. She leaned in behind Digby for a look.
“Maybe we should wait for Grandpa,” Madison said. She glanced back to see if he had returned.
“Wow!” Onyx said, barely audible through a pinched nose and covered mouth. “This is nasty.”
“Sulfur, I suspect.” Madison said, joining Onyx in the secret cave.
“It smells like really rotten eggs,” Onyx answered. “So, yeah, it's either a pocket of sulfur gas, or Digby's stomach.” Onyx was suddenly reminded of the last time she visited the Terrence home.
“Do you two really think I'm just gonna’ walk, in my pajamas no less, into a strange cave room full of weird mist and gopher gas, after a morning of swimming in a sea of snakes, and after seeing a ghost lady in our pool?” Mica said. He plopped down on a rock bench, crossing his legs and then his arms. “Now who's being stupid?”
“What is he talking about?” Onyx asked.
“This entire day has been weird,“ Madison said. “I’ll tell you later.”
Watching from behind his pillar, Jacin’s curiosity was peaked. He craned his neck around the formation that hid him, straining to see this secret chamber. Leaning a little too far, Jacin suddenly lost his footing on the slippery rocks and landed hard on his skinny backside.
“Oomph!” Jacin moaned.
He’d tried not to make a sound, but he had landed on a pile of broken, sharp-petaled gypsum flowers Madison had stacked there a few days earlier. Since these cave formations were broken and posed a tour hazard, she had moved them to a safer place where dripping water might allow them to continue forming. Madison would have been pleased to know they had caused Jacin Means some inconvenience, instead.
Jacin stood up fast and turned to inspect his backside. When he saw white crystal shards protruding from the back pockets of his jeans, he squinted his eyes so tightly he felt them pushing against his brain. He gritted his teeth, holding his breath and his bottom until the pain became bearable. Then, one by one, he plucked the strange, sharp flower petals from his behind and quietly laid them on the packed mud floor.
“Oh, it just keeps getting better. Check this out,” Onyx called through the clearing mist to Madison and Mica. The thinning fog had lifted enough to allow better visibility. “It’s a staircase!”
Mica leaned his head through the newly opened doorway to see what the girls had found. “Wow, guys. You’ve discovered steps,” Mica said with disappointment. “Stairs, steps. Oooh, the excitement of it all.”
“Yes. But where do they go?” Madison asked.
“Look at it,” Onyx insisted. “Haven't you seen a spiral staircase like that before? I know I have, and I’ve only visited here a few times.”
The look on Mica's face revealed he had made the connection between this mysterious staircase and the one he climbed everyday to Grandpa's attic. Both staircases were made of a highly polished dark wood. Both handrails were intricately carved with strange vines and unusual creatures. Even the treads were the same, carved to resemble half-moon shaped lichens that grow on the sides of trees deep in the forest.
“But that staircase doesn't go up,” Mica pointed out.
“Sure it does,” Onyx said. “Just because it doesn't go up from here doesn't mean it can't go up from somewhere else. The question is from where does it go up?”
Digby began his descent down the newly found staircase. Mica noticed his familiar furry tail as it curved down the stairwell and out of sight.
“Galloping gopher grapes!” Mica screamed. “D-i-i-i-g—b-y-y-y!”
“We have to go get him,” Madison said.
“Okay—but you first,” Mica cautioned. “I'll be right behind you. I think.”
Onyx stepped forward and began the descent. Very little, if anything, scared her. Her thirst for knowledge and the excitement of discovery drove her. Once, she was grounded for a whole month because she’d climbed down by herself into a new cave she'd come across in her native Peru. Her parents had been pleased with her discovery, but furious that Onyx didn't use the buddy system. She could have gotten into huge trouble, with no hope of getting help. Onyx rationalized since she had buddies on this trip, she was good to go!