My Secret Cave

by Hani Sallum

One fine morning when I was about six, I got up with the sun and set forth to my favorite childhood place: Broman's Hill, out in the land behind my parent's house.

It was Summer, and I usually played all day. I was the only person my age around, so I had to make do with my own company. That was no problem though. I spent many happy hours alone, and I never had an argument, a disagreement, or a fight.

This morning would prove to be different in all respects. When I got to the hill, I decided that I would dig a hole in the far side of the hill and make a tunnel all the way to the other side. I was sure this would only take a few hours, and, of course, it had that six-year-old appeal.

Of course, the appeal wore off eventually as I realized the amount of work that would be involved, and I settled on just searching aimlessly for buried treasure that some old pirate, who had managed to get his frigate moving at such a clip that when it hit shore it slid two hundred miles inland to where my hometown was and, having no other place to put it, buried it here, later putting a hill over it for good measure.

I had used to share these theories with my parents and older siblings when I had been younger than six (say, five and a half), but by this time I knew better than to even try to explain the underlying logic. In their eyes a pirate would have no reason to ram a perfectly good boat into a beach and try to keep it going as long as possible, but if I were a pirate, with a horde of treasure I might add, I would. Not for some logical reason, but the old six-year-old axiom: Just to see if you can do it.

The digging was good; it was a dry day and hadn't rained for weeks. I thought about turning back for a shovel on the way to the hill, but now it was obvious that I wouldn't need it. Besides, there's that other six-year-old axiom: You haven't done anything worthwhile unless you have gotten dirty doing it.

I had dug for a good half hour, a large pile of displaced earth at my side, when I felt something hit my hand. Before I could stop myself, I had dug another handful of dirt, and something looped effortlessly around my right ring finger.

At first I was scared, thinking I had been bitten by a snake. The snake was soon replaced by the image of an angry creature who lived in the hill and was peeved at my ruining his home.

Neither of these, to my relief, turned out to be so. Instead, my wild fantasy had become reality.

There was a ring around my finger.

I pulled my hand away from the hole in the hill, and felt the ring resist slightly, then slowly give way to the force of my hand. I drew my hand close to my face to examine the ring.

It was exquisite. It was of a metal I had never seen. Where I wiped away the dust a shiny slate color shone, and was extremely smooth to the touch.

It must have been in the ground for hundreds of years, yet not a trace of aging showed on it. It was seamless metal all around, and although it was rather big, it still stayed on my ring finger.

On the top of the ring, the part which I pulled from the hill, was a small loop which ran through a tiny notched rod no more than an inch and a half long. I picked at the dirt and clay which caked it, and saw that thin writing ran down the rod. My eyes would not focus on the writing, it was much to small to see. I could only assume it was the words to some enchantment of sorts.

The rod was of the same metal as the ring, but thicker than the ring's small width. It jingled quietly against the ring as I moved my hand around, and I fancied that men hundreds of years in the past new the sound well; knew the sound of the ring which belonged to that daring pirate and sorcerer... knew it and feared it.

It's my ring now.

I examined the ring for a long time, then looked at the hole. It went into the hill, as if I still subconsciously wanted to dig all the way through. And suddenly I did. Only a foot in and I had found this incredible ring. Who knew what I would find if I kept going?

I began digging again, faster now. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready to find anything.

Or so I thought.

On my third handful of soft earth an object fell out of the side of the hole. I nearly wet myself out of excitement, then I did wet myself out of fear.

The thing rolled out and bumped against my knee. It was roughly oblique; actually, it looked like a very large egg, although it was dark gray. It was undoubtedly the same metal as the ring, but not nearly as shiny. The thing was covered with thick grooves like some tiny relief globe, and spun roughly off center when it hit my knee. There was something that resembled a soda-siphon top on one end of it, with a tiny hole in it's side. I would later realize that the rod on the ring probably fit in it.

As the object hit the ground, a thin piece of bluish metal seemed to propel itself away from the object, landing on my right. It was about the same length as the object, but not nearly as wide. As I looked at it, I noticed plain white writing on it. The words were:


My parents were always proud that I was fairly quick on the uptake, and at that moment I was too. At that point, I guessed I had about two, maybe three seconds, to haul ass before that grenade went off. Luckily, I had not begun my hole at the base of the hill, and as I leapt back in fear, I fell below the level of the hole.

The explosive in the grenade detonated, covering me with thick dust and turning me temporarily deaf. When I knew for certain I was still alive, I took in a tentative breath. I breathed in a lot of dust, and I coughed non-stop for a full minute. The smell of burnt air surrounded me, and could see a few torn pieces of shrapnel which had once been the housing of the grenade.

Now, when any other normal grown-up would have been playing the gibbering idiot, I calmly got up and looked at my hole. When you're six, you don't realize what it's like to come close to death. Indeed, in the moment before the grenade went off my entire life had flashed before me, but I can't say I really noticed it, seeing as my life had only been going on for a few years, and it went by so fast it didn't register.

And, of course there was the third six-year-old axiom: If you're still okay, then there's no reason to go home yet...

Looking at my hole I saw it had grown some. A lot, really. In fact it seemed to bore straight into the hill. For a second, I thought I had achieved my original goal to dig all the way through, but I saw that this was not so. But, I did want to see what was inside, so I gathered my courage and climbed in.

The hole was wide enough to allow easy crawling room, and I soon found myself in a large open space. The hill was evidently hollow.

I spent the rest of the day at that artificial cave, poking through everything that was there (after running home and fetching a flashlight). I found eight crates of grenades like the one I had stumbled upon, a crate containing ten M-16's, four crates of M-16 clips, a case containing a stand-mounted M-60, three crates of ammo belts for the M-60, a long cylinder containing a collapsible Light Antitank Weapon, and five crates of missiles. In addition, there was a locker containing several bulletproof vests, boots, pants, infrared goggles, and rations. The rations turned out to be bad, but I had soon replaced them with my own from home.

And as my childhood continued I spent many hours in that old hidden munitions dump which was no longer quite so hidden. I learned a great deal about wars from what was in that old bunker, and it still holds a sense of magic, even from so far away; that magic I felt when I had first entered. And when I think about the fact that I might not ever see it again, I feel as if an old friend has moved away. I mean, this whole thing wasn't entirely my fault, if that dummy Philip hadn't asked to see the LAW during recess and accidentally shot it off before I even had chance to show everyone at show-and-tell, I might not be spending this time in the reformatorium.