An angry yellow beast ripped up roots and tore away the hillside behind my house with a vengeance. Spewing diesel fumes, the acrid odor stung my eyes and constricted my breathing much like I imagined acid rain would.
It was almost humorous to think that my friend, Dr. Todd Brinkley, history professor at the local university, also moonlighted as a heavy equipment operator. Here he was on my farm looking more like a young Indiana Jones than a tenured history professor. He had truly abandoned himself in our quest.
His boyish enthusiasm was contagious. “Ryan . . . Ryan.” I could barely hear him over the rumbling yellow cat he sat atop.
My mind finally snapped back to attention and I looked up to see him grinning ear to ear as he put the machine into neutral and jumped down. “Hey, Ryan. I think we’ve broken through. Let’s go have a look inside.”
I followed my friend around the big beast and through the muck from the hillside. Heavy black goo clung to my boots, sucking my legs into the mire. The natural spring seemed to be working overtime now that we’d struck into its very heart. Todd grabbed the lights and turned on the generator. I fingered my Swiss Army knife and a collection of rusted coins in my pocket—coins I’d found in the Spring rain run-off from this very hillside.
My heart raced with excitement as I examined the gaping hole that once was green with fresh pastoral growth. What would we find inside? The coins in my pocket dated from the mid- to late-1930s and were all from the early Nazi regime. I just couldn’t fathom how rare, 100-year-old Nazi coins got into a hillside on an Iowa farm. We eased our way into the cavern, placing lights at strategic locations. Roots dangled through the limestone shale over our heads, forming a jungle-like canopy. The cavern had a root cellar feel—musty and dank. The right wall was lined in wooden shelves; glass jars filled with long ago rotted fruit. The earthen floor was littered in debris—nails, slivered bits of wood, broken glass.
I moved further into the room and noticed an alcove off to the left side. Clicking my Coleman lantern flashlight, my breath caught as a frosty finger of fear stroked my spine. “Quick, Todd. Get over here.”
Propped up against the wall was the last resident of this hideout—a skeleton with lots of secrets. Todd dropped down on his knees. “Well, Ryan, now this is something worth our morning’s work.”
Todd got down to business, examining the clothing fragments and the ground around the skeleton. “Ryan, I can’t believe it. I’m pretty sure this uniform is from Nazi Germany. Let’s search around to see if we can find any insignia. Then we’ll know for sure. Look at this pouch—it’s probably the source of those coins you found recently.” The leather pouch was brittle to the touch and half embedded in the muddy wall—its contents eking out the side.
Moving around the floor on hands and knees, we sifted through the mud, dirt, and relics of the past, placing objects of interest into plastic buckets.
Todd made his way toward the back of the room, groping along the far wall in the dim light.
“Ooeeeeewwww!” His shrill cry hung in the air and echoed through my head. Scrambling to his aid, I neglected to see the sharp drop-off and met the same fate. Landing heavily, I shook off my dizziness and fumbled for my flashlight. Fortunately it was still attached to my belt and miraculously it still worked.
“Todd, buddy . . . Are you alright?” I shook his shoulder and a slight murmur reassured me. He rolled over onto his back and scrunched his legs up.
“Wow, that was quite a ride, huh? I’ve got one heckuva headache.”
“Well, at least nothin’s broken. Can you get up? I think we’ve got some explorin’ to do.”
“Sure. Just give me a minute to catch my breath.”
It wasn’t long before Todd and I were back in the game again. “Hey, man. We’re gonna have to get more light down here. I’ve got a feeling this adventure’s just starting.”
“Yeah, it’s not every root cellar that has a basement.”
Through the shadows, I could see a sparkle in Todd’s eyes and that boyish enthusiasm bubbling up again. “Hey, Ryan. Don’t you know life’s an unexpected journey? We just gotta embrace it.”
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