THE GHOST OF FOSSIL GLEN (Chapter One)
Allie Nichols clung to the side of the steep cliff, trying to calm her racing heart and think. Stupidly, the only thought that came to her mind was: Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew where I was right now.
How many times had her mother warned about how dangerous Fossil Glen could be? How many times had her father reminded her not to go fossil hunting alone? How many times had they both cautioned her about climbing too high on the steep shale cliffs that rose perpendicular from the stream bed at the bottom of the glen?
“All the best fossils are up in the cliffs,” Allie always told them, which was true. But her parents were right: Fossil Glen could be dangerous, as Allie’s predicament clearly proved.
Mom and Dad won’t have to kill me, she thought, because I’ll already be dead. She felt tears spring to her eyes and almost lifted her hand to brush them away before remembering: she couldn’t let go of the large exposed hemlock tree root. It was all that was keeping her from tumbling over one hundred feet straight down.
She couldn’t change the position of her feet, either. The tips of her sneakers dug into the crumbly rock of the cliff side. Each time she tried to move, she dislodged several layers of the thin, slippery shale and slid farther downward. She was already stretched as far as she could stretch: her hands clung desperately to the root, her feet dug precariously into the shale, the side of her face pressed into the wall of the cliff.
There she hung, like Allie the Human Fly, except that, unfortunately, she had no wings. She’d thought climbing up was the hard part; now she realized it was even trickier to get back down.
She inched her head to the side so that she could look below her. Her eyes snapped shut when she saw how far away the ground was. She made herself open them again to survey the surface of the cliff beneath her, to see if there was anything down there that she could grab onto if she let go of the root and slid down the cliff side.
If there wasn’t, and she fell all the way—well, she didn’t want to think about that. But if she managed to get down lower and then fell, perhaps she wouldn’t do anything worse than break a bone or two.
About halfway to the ground there was another hemlock tree. Thin and scrawny, it grew bravely out from the rocky wall. She had used it to pull herself up; now she hoped that it was strong enough to hold her weight if she grabbed it on the way down.
One by one, she began to uncurl the fingers of one fist. But then she froze. It was just too scary to let go.
Suddenly, from somewhere, she heard a voice. It wasn’t a voice she recognized and yet it seemed familiar. It was soft and soothing and seemed to be coming from inside her head. She trusted it right away.
“Go ahead,” said the voice. “Let go. You can do it.”
A feeling of calmness and confidence began to come over Allie.
“It will be all right.”
Allie believed the voice. Still, she hesitated.
“Now. Before you’re so tired you simply fall.”
Yes, thought Allie. Now. Letting go of the root first with one hand and then with the other, she began to slide down the face of the cliff, slowly at first and then faster. She ignored the terrible clatter of falling rock and the scraping of her hands and face and concentrated on the skinny hemlock trunk. She reached for it, caught it, and held on with all her might.
Her arms were nearly jerked from her shoulder sockets, but she held on and, miraculously, the little tree’s roots held fast in the stony soil. Her right foot found a narrow ledge. Carefully, she tested her weight on it. It was solid. She brought her left foot next to her right.
In this position, which was far more secure, she rested for a moment before looking down. The ground was closer, though still far away.
“Good,” said the voice. “Now slide. Don’t lean back. Just let yourself slide.”
Again, Allie did what the voice told her to do. She let go and slid. When she hit the ground, her legs buckled under her. She landed on her bottom and then on her back, in a cascade of rocks and dirt.
“Ow!” she moaned. She sat up and gingerly examined the damage. Her rear end hurt—a lot. Her hands were scraped and raw. Her face felt just like her hands. She reached up to touch her cheek and her finger came away bloody, but she couldn’t tell if the blood came from her face or her hand. Probably both, she thought.
Allie stood up, brushing the dirt from her clothing. There was a rip in the front of her windbreaker, and her sneakers were full of dirt and stones. Her right elbow hurt where she had used it to soften the force of her fall. But nothing was broken. She was alive.
Glancing up, she saw the place where she had been clinging desperately just minutes before. Her heart lurched. Feeling dizzy and slightly sick, she realized how close she had come to serious injury or even death. She took a deep breath and looked away.
Still feeling shaky, Allie began walking downstream to the path that led out of the glen. From the back pocket of her jeans, she took out the trilobite, the treasure that had gotten her into trouble in the first place. It was when she had reached back to put it in her pocket that she had lost her balance and made her first terrifying slide down the cliff.
She looked with satisfaction at the fossilized remains of the extinct marine animal. It was a beauty, all right. She had found not just a part but the ancient creature’s entire body. She couldn’t help smiling. Now that she had both feet firmly on the ground, she thought the fossil was well worth the risk she had taken. It was the prize specimen of her collection.
For as long as Allie could remember, she had been fascinated with fossils. They were reminders of a world that had existed long before she was born, an undersea world that was almost impossible to imagine. And yet she held proof of it right in her hand.
She had tried to get her two best girlfriends, Karen and Pam, interested in fossils, but every time she talked about her hobby, they looked at her as if she was crazy. “You call that fun?” Karen said. “Climbing around in the glen, getting all dirty? And for what? Little hunks of rock?”
Wait until I tell them about today’s adventure, Allie thought. Wait until I show them this trilobite. Wait until I tell them how that voice just came to me and told me what to do.
Suddenly she stopped short. The voice. How could she have forgotten? With a puzzled frown, she searched her memory. Whose voice had it been? She tried to recall what it had said. The exact words were gone, but she remembered distinctly the reassurance she had felt, the calmness and courage the voice had given her.
She had been alone on the cliff. Still, she’d heard the voice. It had come from somewhere. It had belonged to someone. It had saved her life, she realized. But no matter how she tried, she couldn’t imagine whose voice it had been, or how it had gotten inside her head.
THE GHOST OF FOSSIL GLEN Copyright © 1998 by Cynthia DeFelice