Home to Whiskey Creek

By: Brenda Novak

1

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

—William Faulkner

No way would he be able to reach her, not with his bare hands. And Noah Rackham didn’t have anything else—just his mountain bike, which lay on its side a few feet away. In the pouch beneath the seat he kept a spare tube, the small plastic tool that made it easier to change a tire and some oil for his chain but no rope, no flashlight. He wouldn’t have packed that stuff even if he’d had room. For one, he’d come out for a quick, hit-it-hard ride before sunset and wasn’t planning to be gone longer than a couple of hours. For another, no one messed around with the old mine anymore. Not since his twin brother had been killed in a cave-in a decade and a half ago, just after high school graduation.

“Hello?” Kneeling at the mouth of the shaft where someone had torn away the boards intended to seal off this ancillary opening, he called into the void below.

His voice bounced back at him, and he could hear the steady drip of water, but that was all. Why wasn’t the woman responding? A few seconds earlier, she’d cried out for help. That was the reason he’d stopped and come to investigate.

“Hey, you still there? You with me?”

“Yes. I’m here!”

Thank God she’d answered. “Tell me your name.”

“It...it’s Adelaide. But my friends call me Addy. Why?”

“I want to know who I’m talking to. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Just get me out. Please! And hurry!”

“I will. Relax, okay, Addy? I’ll think of something.”

Cursing under his breath, he rocked back on his haunches. Ahead of him, the dirt road that temporarily converged with the single track he’d been riding disappeared around a sharp bend. To his left was the mountain, and to his right, the river, rushing a hundred feet below. He saw more of the same scenery behind him. Trees. Thick undergrowth, including an abundance of poison oak. Moist earth. Rocks. Fifty-year-old tailings from the mine. And the darkening sky. There were no other people, which wasn’t unusual. Plenty of bikers and hikers used this trail, but mostly in the warmer months, and certainly not after dusk. The Sierra Nevada foothills, and the gold rush–era town where he’d grown up, were often wet and chilly by mid-October.

Should he backtrack to the main entrance of the mine? Try to get in the way they used to?

He’d already passed that spot. Someone had fixed the rusty chain-link fence to keep kids from slipping through. Noah couldn’t get beyond it, not without wire cutters or at least the claw part of a hammer. That entrance and this shaft might not even connect. It was likely they didn’t, or whoever was stranded down there would’ve made her way over—provided she was capable of moving.

Scooping up his bike, he hopped on and went to check. Sure enough, the fence, with its danger keep out sign, was riveted to the rocky outcropping surrounding the entrance. He couldn’t get through; he didn’t have the proper tools, and there was nothing close by he could substitute. The only foreign object in the whole area was a bouquet of flowers that lay wilting in the mud. Noah guessed Shania Carpenter, Cody’s old girlfriend, had placed them there. She’d probably come up here to commemorate the anniversary of when she and Cody had started dating, or become an item, or first made love or...whatever. She’d married, divorced and had a kid, in that order, but she’d never gotten over Cody’s death.

Neither had Noah. It felt as if a part of him had died that night.

And now someone else’s life could end the same way.

Certain that this entrance wasn’t the answer to his problem, he returned to the shaft. He never would’ve noticed this other opening if not for that cry for help. The boards that’d been pried loose were so covered by moss they blended in with the rest of the scenery.

“I’m not going to be able to reach you,” he called down. “Is there some other way out? A tunnel that might not be sealed off?”

Considering what had happened to his brother, was it safe for her to move?

“No. I—I’ve tried everything!”

The hysteria in those words concerned him. “Okay. Listen, I know you’re...frightened, but try to stay calm. How badly are you hurt?”

“I’m not sure.” It sounded as though she couldn’t suck in enough air to speak normally, but he couldn’t tell if that came from fright, exhaustion or injury. “Help me, please.”

He wanted to help; he just didn’t know how. The shaft was too deep to reach her without rope. But if he hurried off to notify rescue personnel, he wasn’t sure she’d be alive when he got back. Trying to bring others would take too much time. There was no place for a helicopter to land. And it wouldn’t be easy to get an ambulance in here. A Jeep or truck could make it, but even that would be a challenge in the dark. Flooding several years ago had washed away parts of the old road.

But if he stayed, he’d soon lose all daylight and he had no flashlight. Even if he managed to get the woman out, how would he transport her in the pitch-black?

“Can you walk?” he called.

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