The Axe in the Stump #3: “Cave ‘Treasure'”

“Wait, what was that noise?” Bryce asked.
“What noise, Bryce?” I replied in an annoyed tone.
“That high-pitched buzzing! What, don’t you hear it?”  He said, obviously holding back a nervous laugh.
“I’m getting sick of your shenanigans, y’know that, Bryce?” I sighed.
“Hey, I’m hilarious!” He announced, trying to seem offended.
“Sure, bud, sure,” I rolled my eyes.

Little did we know what was going to happen next.

 As we walked on a damp, run-down railroad track, we started approaching a dark cave with thick fog seeping from the mouth. Pitch-black leaked from the cave, with thick vines entangling the entrance, though it was a bright summer day outside. There were massive rock spikes dripping water in little puddles everywhere, inside and out of the cave. 

“Look at all the vines!” Bryce gasped excitedly. He had always been a nerd about nature.
“Cool! Reminds me of when we found the axe in that viny stump!” I recalled the scene happily, the days before we were supposed to find some weirdo gods or something.
As we got closer, I saw something gleam brightly through the fog and vines. “What’s that?” I whispered.
“What’s what?” Bryce said, confused.
“The little gleam in the dark!” I replied as I stared harder to make out what it was.

“Maybe instead of straining your eyes to the point where you go blind, we go inside and see?” Bryce offered sarcastically.
“What are you, my mom? Jeez!” I said in an annoyed tone.
“I would be your dad, dude,” Bryce said in a monotone voice.
“Ah, haha, yes, so funny,” I rolled my eyes at him.
“Hey, don’t disrespect your father,” He joked and elbowed me in the arm.

I sighed as we ventured into the cave through a gap in the vines just big enough for us to fit. Bryce had heard a small squeak that came from the cave.

“What was that?”  Bryce asked randomly.
“What was what?”  I replied.
“Is that a rat?”
“Maybe.”
“Ew.”

Bryce was rambling about a rat or something as I got closer to the gleam. Spikes of rock were jutting out all around, and as I approached, I saw a massive, wooden chest of tiny gold and silver coins, but most importantly, a map with a big red X on it.
“Bryce, come check this out!” I hollered into the fog.

“What?!” He yelled back, holding a rock spike.
“Come here!” I yelled again.
“OH!” He emerged from the fog, holding some massive rock shard.

He was holding his rock out towards me. “I found a rock,” he announced in his fantastically awkward fashion.
“Very nice, I found the map,” I replied.
“Oh sweet!” he dropped the rock and knelt down next to me.“Well?”
“Well, what?” I said, sounding brainless.
“Pick it up, dude!” He exclaimed.
“Oh, right,” He somehow made me flush bright red.

I reached to pick it up, but when I grabbed it, we tumbled down through a hole and into a net underground. There were rats everywhere.

“RATS!!” Bryce shrieked as the tiny rodents scampered around.
“It’s just rats, Bryce. They can’t touch you from here,” I tried to calm him down.
“I hate rats…,” Bryce whimpered.

As we sat there and waited for something to happen, I came to the realization that we weren’t alone in the net, when Bryce suddenly shrieked again.
“Bryce, I told you it’s just a couple rats,” I replied calmly when he pointed to the far end of the net and whispered, “Skeleton”.

I stared in disbelief at the obvious human skull. “Well, I can’t decide if the dead cave witch haunting this place legends are true, or if you’re correct to fear the rats,” I whispered to Bryce.
“Fortune teller, dude how many times should I correct you?” Bryce said.
“You’re really arguing with me at a time like this?!” I yelled at him. Bryce will take any opportunity to be stubborn.

Suddenly the soft squeaking of the rats turned into a storm of squealing loud enough to be a pack of hogs. My eyes shot over to see what all the panic was about.“Bryce?”  I whimpered quietly.
“I think we should fear the rats…,” I murmured, my eyes starting to water a bit. I watched as the rats piled on top of one another, forming some sort of horrific beast. 

Bryce shrieked twice as loud as before, “RAT BEAST!”
“Yes, I  can see that, Bryce!” I said, scrambling over to pull him in to the point I was hugging him close. Suddenly the rat beast burst and rats flew everywhere, hitting the walls and falling to the ground with a faint ‘thump’.

As fog and dust cleared from the chamber, we saw her.

“I suggest you don’t touch the chest,” said a girl holding a spear.
“Yeah, a sign would’ve been nice!” I said sarcastically, “Who are you?”
“I’m Willow. I’ve lived in this dump for over a hundred years, that net is meant for monsters,” she said, looking us up and down. “You don’t look like monsters, though, so I’ll help you down. Stay still,” she cut down the net.
“One hundred years? You look like you’re thirteen. Is this some sick joke?” Bryce asked rapidly.
“No, I’m immortal. What are you doing here?” she questioned us.

Me and Bryce looked at each other. Not knowing what to say, I rapidly exclaimed, “We found an axe in a tree stump that said to find someone and then we found a cap saying to find a map so we came here and we saw one in your chest. Sorry for intruding, but we really need it!”

She stared at me like she was figuring out if we were lying or not.“A quest?”
“Yeah.”
“To do what?”
“Find someone.”
“Who”
“We don’t know?!”
“Can I join your quest?”
“Sure? If you want, but we need the map.”
“Fine.”

She showed us out of the chamber under the net, which I noticed looked like the rest of the cave, just with an old, dirty chair and some food wrappers scattered around. Willow obviously didn’t like cooking.

“Where we going next?” she asked.
“We need the map to know,” Bryce replied.
“Can I have your names at least?” she seemed genuinely interested in helping us.
“I’m Nate, short for Nathan, which is short for Nathanial,”
“Bryce, nice to meet you,”
“Cool, you already know mine, I’ll grab what we need, and we’ll continue on, yes?” Willow planned.
“Sure,” Bryce and I agreed. 

I sighed as we continued walking back down to the field away from the railroad by the cave mouth to find our next spot, whatever that X was. 

X marks the spot after all.

Right?