We started out walking southwest down Clyde Forks Road, an easy path to follow, and the reverend and I chatted as we went along. I tried asking him a few more questions about the history of the area but he proved to be as unknowledgeable as he had claimed. After that we mostly spoke about the surrounding scenery and I told him a few things about myself. Eventually we got to a point in the road where the reverend indicated we needed to head off into the woods, which we did and emerged fifteen minutes later in a large clearing. He explained to me that this was the former railway bed for the K&P line and that it now was used mostly as a trail which extended for many miles north and south. We took a quick break there as he indicated that the upcoming part of the hike was going to be the hardest and then we set off again. By the time we reached the beginning of the mine system I was in complete agreement with Reverend Currie about the difficulty of the hike. The forest we came through was thick and constant, broken only a few times by two-track roads and once by what appeared to be an old logging cut. I sat down on an old tree stump to rest and take some long drinks of water.
“Quite a hike, isn’t it?” The reverend was also sitting down, in his case on a large boulder next to several oak trees.
“Damn right about that. Oh, sorry.”
“It’s okay. I don’t really object. Quite frankly, damn by itself is not religiously dangerous.” He laughed a little at his own joke.
I had taken my boots off to rub my feet and replied as I did so. “Couldn’t we have just driven over here on that two-track?”
“Not really. You didn’t see it the way we came but that road is not continuous all the way through the forest. There are a few creek beds in there, and several large old quarry pits, that it does not cross. Besides, the walking is good for you.”
“Tell that to my feet,” I replied as I checked out the surroundings. About fifty feet away from where we both sat there was a short path heading down through the forest to what appeared to be a small clearing. Everything else around us was just trees and bushes. I pointed at the path.
“Is the mine down there?”
“It is. There is a small campsite down there also, seems to get used a little bit. About a month ago when I came over here it looked like someone had just left a few days before.”
“Hmmm, interesting. Do people go into the mine?”
“No idea. I don’t that’s for sure.” He shrugged and finished with, “I’m not much of an adventure seeker.”
“Right. Let’s go check it out.” I tied my boots back up and walked slowly down the path, slipping several times on the dense leaf litter that had accumulated in several places. At the bottom, the clearing was larger than it had looked, although still closely crowded by the surrounding trees. A black mark in the middle, surrounded by a ragged circle of small stones, marked out a place for a campfire. There were several other well-worn areas that seemed to verify that the place was visited and used with some regularity. The reverend walked over to the edge of the clearing and pointed into what looked to me like just another bunch of bushes.
“It’s right there.”
I peered in closer but still saw only the bushes. “Huh? Where?”
“Stand over here and look closely. You see that dark patch in the middle? That’s the entrance.”
I still could not see it but wanted to get closer anyway so I headed down the small incline toward the set of bushes he had indicated. He called a warning to me to be careful and then sat down on the ground, his back against a tree. I was almost on top of it when I could finally make out the actual entrance.
Hidden by a screen of wispy branches, the kind you can pull back without damaging, the cluttered space beyond them made me pause. It was dark and earthy, smelling like mildew and old, damp firewood. The ground was littered with various pieces of debris along with rocks of various sizes. There was even an old cast iron skillet hanging from a nail on the entryway frame. It looked too new to have been leftover from the active days of the mine, but it still struck a chord with me, something about old-time miners and days spent out in the wilderness. The space itself was both mysterious and lonely, a kind of sad junkyard of days gone by. I stepped further in, letting the branches fall back behind me.
It was dark inside there behind the screen of leaves, but enough light filtered through to allow me to pick my way forward. I ran my hand over the rotting wood that made up the walls of the short entry way, the logs smooth and dusty under my fingers. After several more steps I was past that part and into the passage beyond, one that quickly faded into blackness as it got further into the earth. I turned my flashlight on, shining it down the shaft but the darkness seemed to eat the light, the gloom impenetrable. I remained standing there for several minutes, breathing in the musty air and wondering about how much effort, money and planning it would take to explore the place. Probably a lot, more than I could afford, spare or come up with anytime soon. I walked out, back into the light, and sat down besides the reverend. He spoke as soon as I sat down.
“Did you hear anything in there?”
“Huh? No, it was totally silent, eerie kind of. Why?”
“I, well, I thought I heard something one time.”
“You heard something inside there? When? And I thought you weren’t the adventurous kind?”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not, not at all. I was scared both times that I did it. The first time was kind of a dare I gave myself. To overcome my fear, ya know?”
I nodded and kept listening. The reverend’s face was pale now and he looked afraid.
“You know, I shouldn’t be talking about this. It was just the wind, I’m sure it was just the wind. Had to be.” He bowed his head down and shook it slowly side to side. Then he reached inside his jacket and took out a silver flask, opening it and taking a long pull. He spoke with his eyes closed.
“We should probably head back.”
…to be continued