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by Richard L. Provencher 
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Joe’s best pal, Ted, was here. Other friends included Martin, Greg and Josh. Mr. Maxwell was the group church leader. His assistant Larry was also Joe's big Brother.

After climbing aboard, their ride in the Safari Wagon took half an hour. Their destination: an underground cave.

"It's closed up now but a great trail goes right by it," Mr. Maxwell explained. “Don’t stand too close to the old entrance. Rock slides happen all the time," he said.

Joe was allowed to bring his dog, Pugsley. He was brown with a pug nose. Joe had gotten him for his seventh birthday. In the last two years they became really good pals.

As they drove from Truro they passed the low tide area of Cobequid Bay. Then traveled along a twisting road through the settlements of Old Barns and Prince Port. Before long the asphalt road turned into a pitted gravel road. Mud and water flew in all directions.

Suddenly the driving was over. "We're here!" everyone shouted.

After a scramble of feet, packsacks pressed to shoulders, car doors locked, and the hike began. Mr. Maxwell led the way, followed by anxious and noisy boys. Larry took up the last spot.

"I expect everyone to walk single file on the trail," Mr. Maxwell said.

When they came to the river Pastor Maxwell put on his chest waders (Spring water was very cold). Then tied a pope to a tree by the water's edge. After crossing over he tied the strong yellow rope to another tree. Low and then higher up.

By the time he returned to the bank the boys stood on, there was a walkway for everyone to use and keep dry. One was for feet, the other to hold onto.

There was more snow on the other side, and crunching sounds filled the air. But the spring thaw and burst of sunshine meant it would not last. Joe was happy to be in the woods, as young legs stretched with each step.

Mr. Maxwell called everyone forward, as they approached a cliff rising above the trees. "This hill is quite high," he said. "And our trail goes close to the edge."

Both Pastor Maxwell and Larry helped everyone over the icy parts. Pugsley was fortunate to have hard toenails help with his balance. Joe suddenly began to slide towards the pond at the bottom of the hill. "Oh My Gosh," he said.

"Hold on Joe," Larry called, and scrambled after him. Joe's dignity and muddy bottom were quickly returned to the trail.

"As long as we stay close to the cliff," Pastor Maxwell said, "everyone will be alright."

Joe held Pugsley's collar and looked around. A perfect toboggan hill lay to his right. Fallen rock had broken into fine pieces and created a long descending slope of light colored mud.

Finally, they reached their destination. Halen's Cave looked like a black smudge at the edge of the trail. Joe remembered looking into a well once. The darkness had frightened him.

“Careful, there’s a four-foot drop at the entrance,” Pastor Maxwell said. “We may try climbing down this summer. Now, let’s take a break by the trees."

As Joe hurried to catch up to the group, he dropped Pugsley's collar. The dog scampered across the ice, lost his balance and tumbled into the cave.

Joe was shocked. "My dog!" he yelled. "Mr. Maxwell!" thundered from his lips. Dropping on his tummy he looked down, barely able to see. Then his eyes got used to the darkness.

Pugsley looked like he was in a large cavern.

Joe reached down, trying to grab Pugsley's jumping paws. Just as he too slid into the hole he heard Pastor Maxwell calling his name. Now boy and dog lay on the floor of the cavern. It was beautiful in here. Rivulets of water spilled from a crevice on one side of the wall.

There was moss on parts of the floor, and in one area solid ice was smooth as glass. Joe looked around, but couldn’t see Pugsley. Then he heard barking from a distance.

He had to save his dog. Joe prayed for strength. Nothing bad could happen to him if he had faith. He remembered those special words from his Sunday School teaching. "Suffer the little children to come unto me," the Bible said. He knew Jesus would protect him.

Working up his courage, Joe moved forward. He had to be careful not to twist an ankle on the ice. His breath produced mist in the cool air. He felt much better after praying for his little dog to return. Joe stopped, wondering if more tunnels or even holes were ahead of him.

Suddenly, Pugsley was by his side. Joe was grateful as he whispered, "Thank you Jesus." The two of them slowly worked their way back to the tunnel entrance.

Pastor Maxwell was frantic, asking loudly, "Are you okay? Are you?"

Joe felt badly. He didn't want his Pastor to be afraid. Joe wasn't. First he helped boost Pugsley out. Then it was his turn. Strong arms lifted him.

Everyone gave him a hug. He could see how nervous everyone was. Pastor said the hole was too small for himself or Larry to go in after him.

Larry gave Joe a big wink. "I'm proud of you," he said. "You were very brave." The rest of the trip was icing on the cake. After having a prayer of thanks for Joe's safe return, they ate lunch, followed by a nifty snowball fight.

By the time everyone returned to the rope crossing, Joe was too tired to hang on. So Larry carried him on his back through the shallow water. Joe felt like a conquering hero. He had overcome his fear of the dark to get his dog.

His wet little dog was also brave. Joe had a great day, with good friends. He gave Larry an extra hard squeeze around his neck.

Wait 'til mom hears about this trip, he thought. Joe's face broke into a smile. He said, "Thank you Jesus ... for everything."

* * *

© Richard & Esther Provencher 2008

Richard & Esther live in Truro, Nova Scotia. They have four children and five grandchildren. Their novel FOOTPRINTS is available from www.synergebooks.com. Both are busy in church work and community outreach. They welcome (adult only) feedback regarding their writing at: richardprov1@netscape.net.

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