I think I've finally made up my mind about what I want to do if and when I grow up. I'm a junior at the university now and I've been vacillating between two majors since I came here but now it seems to be coming together. I've always enjoyed writing and I've kept a journal since I was about ten so it's fairly extensive. Now I'm thinking about tackling a book. It wouldn't be an autobiography, though. I'm not interested in sharing my whole life with the world at large but I think I've compiled enough interesting events through my twenty years on this planet that they could be the basis for a pretty interesting novel. It might be a pipe dream but, hey, how many writers get their first novel published anyway? Scanning through some of my older notebooks, I ran across some stuff that evoked some memories of an important turning point in my life; and my sister's life as well. For reasons that will become obvious, the names are made up but here's what happened:
I guess you could say we were practically inseparable, my sister and I. Oh, we had our fights and disagreements like all kids but for the most part, we really only had each other to rely on so maybe we were closer than most sibs.
Living on a barely profitable ranch in the middle of Nevada didn't offer many opportunities for social engagement. Everything was so far apart and we lived so far out of town that even something as simple as going to a party with our friends at school was usually out of the question. Dad lived only for the ranch and he was about as fatherly as a fireplug. As far as he was concerned, raising children was the mother's job. Mom was bored out of her skull and spent a good deal of her energy trying to get into the hired hand's jeans when she thought Dad wasn't looking. It was a big joke among the men and I'm pretty sure Dad knew about it but just didn't give a damn. You might add vacuous to the list of Mom's characteristics.
We weren't physically abused or anything. Well, at least not much. We had pretty much what all kids had except that our folks seemed like they were counting the days until we were old enough to live on our own and they could be seen to have fulfilled their parental responsibilities. The time I'm thinking about, we'd just turned fourteen – oh, by the way, we're twins – so they were going to be saddled with us for three more years until they could ship us off to some college; the further away the better.
Do I sound like I'm whining and wallowing in self-pity? I'm not. Alexandra and I – I call her Allie - had long since come to a consensus on what we thought was the secret to surviving our family. If we played it cool and hung together we could do OK on our own and not be a 'burden' to our folks who clearly would rather be doing anything other than raising kids. Is it any wonder that we clung to each other?
Our daily routine included after school chores. Mine was looking after our five horses and keeping the stable cleaned up. That usually took about two hours a day. We use to have a lot of horses until my Dad discovered he could do a lot more with ATVs for a lot less money than it cost to keep horses fed, groomed and medicated. Allie's duty was helping Mom with the cooking and keeping the house reasonably clean. I say helping but in reality, she cleaned and cooked while Mom parked her derriere on the couch and read romance novels. We'd both taken a few 'whuppins' over the years, as dad called them, mostly for not getting our work done to his satisfaction. He couldn't abide laziness.
We made our little pact somewhere around the age of eleven and for the most part, it worked. We made sure we did our work, kept a low profile and kept our mouths shut around the folks. In other words, we tried to be as invisible as possible. If we could avoid it, we never went to them with our problems, never asked questions, never asked for anything unless it was a school requirement. An outside observer probably would have thought we were someone else's kids, there was so little interaction between us and our parents. We just kind of co-existed in the same house.
If we weren't in school or doing chores, we were together, either in her room or mine or out riding our horses somewhere on the ranch. One of the few gifts we ever got from Dad was pair of twin colts on our tenth birthday. We fed them, cared for them and trained them. When Allie and I began our great adventure, they were four years old and in their prime; beautiful matched geldings, gentle as lambs and devoted to my sister and I. We named them Thunder and Lightning. Hey, we were kids.
During summer breaks or whenever school wasn't in session for some reason, we'd ride for miles and miles exploring the ranch. Eventually we found a favorite place we liked to go that nobody else knew about. It was a cave on a rocky hillside about two miles from the house. We discovered it by accident one day when we stopped to let the horses rest after a half-mile gallop. Allie challenged me to a foot race to the top of the hill and took off running with me in hot pursuit. She had already started her pubescent growth spurt and she was two inches taller than I was so she had the advantage. I was about to catcher her when she darted between two boulders. When I followed her through the narrow gap, we found ourselves standing in a cave entrance, maybe seven feet high, five feet across and disappearing into darkness.
"Wow, Mark! I never knew this was here, did you?"
"No! This is so cool. I wonder how far back it goes." I looked around the floor area covered with fine dirt and didn't see anything but coyote and rodent tracks and some slither marks where snakes had passed. I found a good-sized rock and threw it into the darkness. It went a good distance before it bounced off a couple of rock walls. It was deep.
"I don't know but let's not go exploring until we have some light," warned my sister, always the practical and cautious one.
"You're chicken!" I taunted.
"No, just smarter than you. Look, next time we ride out here we'll bring a lantern and some stuff for a picnic. Who knows? This might be some old bandit's hideout and there might be stolen money or gold somewhere."
"You wish! It'd still be fun to explore, though. We could come back next Saturday if you want. I can bring my .22 rifle in case there are varmints."
"That's a good idea. Come on, it's getting late and we still have chores to do. We don't want to be catching any grief from the parental units."
We left the cave and headed back to the house with a feeling of ownership. This would be our place and nobody else's.
The following Saturday, we got up early and made ourselves breakfast and a few sandwiches to take with us to the cave before Mom was up. Dad was already out doing fence repair with one of the hired hands. Nobody gets up before he does. Sometimes I think he doesn't sleep at all. We got our chores done early and saddled our horses for the ride out to the cave. I found an old oil lantern and a half-full bottle of oil in the tack room and stuffed them into the saddlebag. Allie carried the sandwiches and bottles of water.
A half hour later we were at the cave. From the bottom of the hill the two boulders looked like one. The gap between them was invisible and too narrow for the horses to squeeze through so we unsaddled them and let them graze while we explored our new 'special place'.
The cave entrance faced east so there was a little sunlight coming in between the rocks and lighting the place up about ten feet in. It looked like it widened but there was a lot of dark beyond the sunlit floor. I laid the saddlebags off to the side and lit the oil lamp.
"You ready?" I asked.
"Ready when you are, Bro. Let's check it out."
When we got past the sunlit part, the cave opened up into a chamber about fifteen feet across. Further on it looked like it narrowed again, twisting and turning in the lamplight. Of course the swinging lamp caused all sorts of interesting shadows to move around us kicking our imaginations into high gear. I still couldn't see anything on the dusty floor but animal tracks. That reminded me that I'd forgotten my .22.
"Dang! I forgot my rifle."
"What were you planning to shoot," she joked. "A ghost?"
"Har, har! Very funny! Come on, let's keep going."
The floor slanted downward at a fairly steep grade. We weren't more than a hundred yards in when Millie squeaked and pushed me against the rock wall making me bang my head.
"Ouch! Damn it, Allie, that hurt," I complained.
"L-l-look!" she said, pointing into the darkness.
At first I couldn't see anything but then I did. Two bright yellow dots in the darkness and they seemed to be moving toward us. We stood as still as stones, hardly breathing as the points of light got closer and closer. I almost wet my pants when a coyote suddenly bolted past us like a bat out of hell. I don't know which of the three of us was the most frightened.
I chuckled with my best attempt at bravado, "Just an old coyote. He probably won't come back since the smell of humans is in the cave now."
"I hope not," gasped Allie. "I know they try to stay away from people but they still bite if they get cornered and he was almost cornered."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Maybe we need to be more carful."
.... There is more of this story ...