Unexpectedly, Rick’s field trip turns into quite an adventure. Read the exciting ending to our you-finish-the-story contest!
Boys’ Life asked readers to give this story, which originally ran in our October 2013 issue, the best ending, and we got a flood of entries. Judging was tough, but here are our winners:
FIRST PLACE: Thomas Mildon, 16, of Santa Clarita, Calif. He won a Kindle Fire HDX and $100 Amazon gift card. Click here to read his ending.
SECOND PLACE: Joseph Vozzo, 16, of Gray, Maine, who won a $75 Amazon gift card. Click here to read his ending.
THIRD PLACE: Jonathan Corbin, 16, of Palmyra, Va., who won a $50 Amazon gift card. Click here to read his ending.
Congratulations to our finish-the-story contest winners! You can read all their endings below.
By Maureen Crane Wartski and introducing BL contest winner Thomas Mildon, Joseph Vozzo and Jonathan Corbin
Illustrations by Greg Newbold
Rick didn’t even have time to cry out. One moment he was walking along the narrow path; the next, he was stumbling and rolling down the mountainside.
He tried to grab for a bush, for grass, for anything that could break his fall. There was nothing. Then suddenly he came to a hard, jolting stop, and the world went dark.
Rick could guess what had happened. He’d slid into some kind of cave, a hole in the rocky side of Dragon Mountain. He looked around him but couldn’t see much.
There was a small square of daylight not too far above his head, so maybe he wouldn’t have too hard a time climbing out. Rick started to get to his feet then gasped in pain.
“My ankle …”
Had he sprained it during that mad tumble? The ankle throbbed, and what he could feel of it told him it was already swelling. He hoped it wasn’t broken, but there was no way to tell here in the dark.
He tried yelling for Seth, but he knew it was no use. Seth was too far down the mountain slope to hear him. …
Rick and his older cousin, Seth, had driven out to this part of the Wasatch Mountains early that morning. Rick hadn’t been impressed by the craggy peak of light-gray limestone ahead of them, but Seth had been excited and started bounding up the narrow mountain path.
“I know it doesn’t look like much,” he called over his shoulder, “but this is a fantastic place. These mountains were once covered by shallow oceans, and there are coral reefs here that have been preserved for millions of years.”
There’s an old legend that says dragons used to live here and lay their eggs in the limestone caves.
Rick grinned. A major in geology at the University of Utah, Seth thought rocks were the coolest things on the planet and was writing a paper on Paleozoic era fossils. His enthusiasm had rubbed off on Rick, who’d asked to join his cousin on a field trip into the mountains.
“Dragon Mountain’s supposed to be one of the best places to study fossilized stromatolites,” Seth was saying. “They’re prehistoric algae —”
“Dragon Mountain?” Rick interrupted. He looked up at the peak in front of them. It didn’t look like any dragon he’d read about or seen pictured.
Seth chuckled. “That’s not its real name. There’s an old legend that says dragons used to live here and lay their eggs in the limestone caves. It’s just a folk tale, Rick. Come on — let me show you how to find those stromatolites.”
For the next two hours, Rick followed his cousin up the steep slope looking for even layers of the light-gray stone.
“Bumps on flat rock surfaces are usually fossilized algae,” Seth explained. He worked his high-def camcorder, talking about his findings, while Rick took still shots.
Legends usually were based on some fact.
The noonday sun was blazing hot when they stopped for lunch. Afterward, Seth checked his handheld GPS to map out where they would work next, but Rick felt restless. Saying that he wanted to take a few more photos, he began to walk up the steep trail.
Dragon Mountain — how had the place gotten that name? Legends usually were based on some fact. Had great beasts once roamed Dragon Mountain? Not dragons, of course. There were no such things as dragons. Rick liked reading about those fantastic creatures with fiery red eyes — great, scaled beasts that could fly and puff out smoke and fire — but he didn’t believe they’d ever existed.
Rick was jerked out of his thoughts when a loose rock crumbled under his foot. He didn’t even have time to cry out. …
Now he was trapped in this cave.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Rick muttered.
His voice was making eerie echoes in the dark, strange noises in the enclosed space. Rick tried to get up on his knees, but then stopped as blistering pain shot through his entire leg.
“OK,” he told himself, “I’ll crawl.”
As he began to move, there came that noise again. It was just an echo. Or … was it something else? No — yes! Something was moving behind him!
Rick glanced over his shoulder and froze.
Two flaming red eyes were staring at him out of the darkness.
Rick could feel the breath of some ancient, gargantuan creature before him, hot and sticky against his face. He cried out in horror and, without thinking, scrambled away from the monster that he could not see but knew was there. His ankle felt like it was on fire, but he crawled away, following the cave. The hot glow of the fierce eyes burned in Rick’s mind as he crawled as fast as he could. Vaguely aware that he had dropped his camera, but not daring to go back and get it, he continued on, praying that there was some means of escape.…
There! A light! Rick scrambled toward the crevice. He managed to squeeze out of the crack, wrenching his ankle again. As he yelled out in pain and panic, Seth came racing from behind a rock formation and helped him out.
“What happened? Are you OK?” Seth asked Rick in a flurry. As he bound Rick’s ankle to prevent further injury, Rick tried to explain what happened to him.
“After I fell into the cave, I saw two red eyes staring at me. I could feel its breath, Seth. It was a dragon!”
“Hang on, hang on, I’m sure there’s another explanation. I’ll go back there and check it out,” offered Seth.
“No! Don’t go in there!” urged Rick, but Seth was already in the cave.
After what seemed like an eternity, Seth finally emerged from the cave holding Rick’s camera.
“I don’t know what you saw, but there sure wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in that cave,” he said. “What you saw could have been Arachnocampa luminosa, the glow worm. They live in caves like these and glow in different colors. That might explain the ‘eyes’ you saw.”
“Then what explains the breathing I felt?” Rick interjected.
“Well, oftentimes in caves, changes in temperature and air pressure cause wind currents that feel and sound a lot like breathing,” Seth offered. Seth helped Rick back to the car. “Let’s get you to a hospital and get that ankle checked out.”
It had been a week since the day at Dragon Mountain, and Rick still couldn’t get what he had seen out of his head. The doctor had told him that his ankle was sprained, and to keep off of it for four weeks. Curious about Seth’s explanations of natural phenomena, Rick was researching caves and cave life on his computer.
“Arachnocampa luminosa,” the online article title read, “These cave-dwelling creatures are not actually worms, but bioluminescent insects. Found only in New Zealand…”
Wait a minute, Rick thought to himself. If these glow worms are only in New Zealand, what did I see?
Later that day, Rick received a package containing the developed photos he took. They were all ordinary, except for the last one.
Must have been taken when I dropped my camera, Rick thought.
It was blurred, and the quality was bad, but Rick thought he could make out a mouth with rows of sharp white teeth.…
Rick started to crawl faster, terrified. The memory of those hypnotic and flaming eyes occupied his mind completely. He’d felt like a deer looking into headlights — helpless.
Rick scrambled toward a beam of light ahead, coming from the surface. He reached it.
The light shone down, illuminating a face out of legend.
The thing stepped forward cautiously, and Rick could see the head that possessed the eyes he’d been so terrified by earlier.
The head was scaly, green and angular, like the geckoes Rick and Seth had chased when they were younger, but with the same types of vicious teeth that had been used by the carnivorous dinosaurs Seth had been interested in. Rick could feel heat radiating off it.
Even though the thing was 10 feet away, Rick felt that it was entirely too close.
The thing stepped forward, and Rick could see its majestic body, strong, lean, perfectly proportioned to hunt. Its feet had wickedly sharp claws on them, sheathed like a cats, and its back had spikes running down it.
The spikes and claws were red, matching the eyes, as were random scales throughout the body. Rick could hear the creature’s tail swishing back and forth. The body itself was undulating. The entire effect was extremely hypnotic, and it was all Rick could do to shout “D-D-D-DRAGON!”
The creature stepped forward, making an odd thumping noise every fourth step. Then he saw it; the dragons left wing and rear leg were savaged, scabby and oozing blood.
The dragon stepped forward until its face was barely six inches from Rick’s, and made eye contact, desperation in those eyes. At that moment, Rick realized that if the dragon wanted him for dinner, he would be helpless.
The dragon laid down, head on Ricks knees. It almost appeared to be crying. He felt something slip into his hurt ankle. It stung, like the antiseptics people always used on small scrapes. He looked down at it, and was amazed to find that his injury was rapidly healing, the wet blood scabbing and then fading away.
In a matter of moments, there was just a scar on his ankle and lower leg.
The dragon turned, trying but failing to reach its own injuries with the healing tears, barely coming close.
Rick reached into his pack and retrieved an empty bottle. Rick put it to the dragon’s eyes, letting the tears fall into it. He stood up and walked around to the dragon’s injured side.
Rick began pouring the tears onto the dragon’s wounds and they began to heal just like his own had. The dragon turned and began walking away.
”Wait!” Rick cried, “Don’t go!” But the dragon was already out of sight. He looked down at the still quarter-full bottle.
Above, at the opening in the cave roof, he heard footsteps. “Hello?” someone shouted, “Rick? Are you alright?”
Rick made a decision.
“Seth? I’m fine. Throw down a rope,” he said, and emptied the rest of the tears.
Rick screamed and flicked on the flashlight at his waist as he crawled back, but stopped short when the light fell upon the glowing eyes. They weren’t eyes at all.
Rick crept forward, breathless, as he peered at the small red jewels that lined the cave wall. There were dozens, even hundreds of the gems all along the limestone.
He thought back to what Seth had told him during the car ride there.
“These mountains are known to contain all sorts of fossils and gemstones, Rick,” Seth had said, “Red horn coral, amethyst, beryl …”
Rick remembered the descriptions Seth had given of the gems and nearly fell over as he realized what he was looking at. The hexagonal crystals, slightly transparent color … there was no doubt. It was red beryl, a gemstone rarer than diamond that had only ever been found in the state of Utah. And here he was staring at an entire wall of it. He slowly dragged himself along the wall, gazing at the sparkling crystals.
Mesmerized by the abundance of gems, Rick nearly passed by two rocks that sat in an alcove in the wall. They were intricately patterned, flecked with orange and strangely shaped. They were almost like … eggs. Rick’s eyes widened.
The world went dark once again as the floor gave out beneath him.
Rick could feel himself tumbling, wincing every time his leg struck a rock. He was sliding through some sort of tunnel, but it was too dark to see anything. His flashlight had tumbled away somewhere in his fall and he was moving so fast, Rick doubted it would help him much anyway.
Light poured through a hole up ahead, and Rick soared through the opening and out into blinding sunlight on a road. The same road he had taken up the mountain! Rick clutched at his leg as he pulled himself to his feet. A sound from behind him made him start.
“Rick!” It was Seth. “Rick, what’s wrong with your leg?”
“I … uh, I fell. Kind of.” Rick blinked at Seth. Was this a dream?
“You fell while taking pictures?” Seth grinned. “Never mind. You’ll never believe what I just found. Look!” Seth pulled out a bag of small rock fragments. “It’s petrified cedar wood! Cool, huh?”
Rick just stared as Seth rambled on about the fossilization process and walked ahead down the road. “… and then sediment fills in the pores and … Rick! Are you coming?”
Rick turned back and looked at the mountain. He about what he had seen and wished he still had his camera so he could’ve shown Seth everything, but then changed his mind.
Whatever secrets Dragon Mountain held, they should remain in Dragon Mountain.
“I’m coming, Seth!” Rick smiled and limped after his cousin, who hadn’t stopped talking about the petrified wood. From behind the peak of the mountain, a puff of smoke rose up toward the sky.