Excerpt for Survival on Mystery Mesa (Eagle Mountain Adventures, Book One) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



SURVIVAL ON MYSTERY MESA

By George Goldthwaite

Eagle Mountain Adventure Series – Book I

CHAPTER ONE


“Are you kidding? You started the fire in your mom’s science lab?”

Josh crammed books into his locker, the hall now filled with students returning from what most had at first thought was a drill. Some stared at him as they hustled past. He shrugged. “More like a science experiment gone bad.”

Alex laughed. “You’re the talk of the school. Good thing we’re going on Christmas Break.”

“Great.” The last thing he wanted to be known as was ‘that guy’. “Probably be grounded the whole vacation.”

“But we’re supposed to help at the Retriever Trials.”

“Dad may have other ideas.” Josh shrugged. He wanted to be alone. “Have to pick up my brother at the elementary school.”

“No problem. It’s on the way. You can tell me how you did it.”

“Did what?”

“Got us out of last period.”

“It was an accident, Al, really.” He exhaled. It looked like he was going to have company on the walk home after all. “I’m growing nitrate crystals for a science project—”

“And that started a fire?”

“Well, sort of. I needed more light, so was using the plant table by the window. I had this magnifying glass on a stand, measuring the crystals’ diameters before we leave for Christmas Break.”

“Sounds good so far.”

He sighed. “When I went to get my notebook, the sun was shining through the lens, heating up the crystals.” He put his fists together and pulled them apart, spreading his fingers. “Kaboom.”

Alex laughed. “So the future scientist blew up the school?”

“It didn’t hurt anything.”

“But it set off the smoke alarm, got the firemen there.”

“Yeah, like three trucks’ worth. They didn’t think it was so funny.”

“But everybody else did. Maybe they’ll start calling you ‘Sparky’.”

By the time they got to the Eagle Mountain Elementary School, Josh had taken about all the kidding he could stand. He yelled to his eight-year-old brother. “Let’s go, Mick.”

Playing tag with friends, Mickey ran over, out of breath. “Where’s Mom?”

“Still at school, finishing up report cards.”

Alex grinned. “Or still cleaning up the lab.”
“Oh.” Mickey pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Hi, Al.”

“Hello, Mick. You hear what happened this afternoon?”

“Yeah. The sirens went right by my room. What was it? A fire in the cafeteria?”

Alex chuckled and glanced at Josh. “Not exactly.”

Mickey perked up. “Josh?”

His face warmed. “It was an accident.”

“You set the school on fire?”

“No.”

Mickey’s eyes grew bigger. “Tell me, Al.”

“Ask your mom.” Turning the corner toward home, Alex glanced back over a shoulder. “Come over later for football.”

Mickey poked his brother’s arm. “Tell me, Josh. What happened?”

“Forget it. Let’s go.”

“Whatever.” Mickey pumped his fist. “Two weeks with no homework. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

With Mickey right on his heels, Josh walked home as fast as he could. He wanted to get far away from that middle school. Fishing a key from his pocket, he threw open the front door.

Mickey dashed into the living room ahead of him and sniffed the air. “It smells just like Christmas.”

Josh followed him inside and inhaled the fresh scent of cinnamon and pine. The week before, they had hiked into the mountains and brought home a tree. After Mickey picked it out, Josh cut it down and Dad tied it on top of the car. They peeked through pine branches all the way home.

Josh stared at it a minute. The angel on top drooped, her raised arms rubbing against the ceiling. “It looked smaller in the forest.”

“I think she’s watching over us,” Mickey said.

“Who?”

“The angel. See, she’s looking down right now.”

“Like that’ll do me any good.”

“Whatever. It can’t hurt. I hope she’s watching over Moose, too.”


CHAPTER TWO


When Josh wandered into the kitchen, the family’s Golden Retriever jumped against the door from the outside porch. Their mom allowed the dog in when the family was home, but for the furniture’s safety, he stayed outside during the school day.

Josh filled the feeding dish and swung open the door. Moose crashed in. Everyone and everything in his path faced the danger of being trampled, or maybe just licked to death. At least Moose won’t poke fun about the science lab.

“Don’t let him get your clothes muddy.”

Josh turned at the voice behind him, and Moose wagged his tail even harder as he charged their dad.

“Good boy. Down.”

He never came home from work at this time of day. After what had happened at school, that wasn’t a good sign.

“Where’s Mom?” Dad asked.

Josh held his breath and hunched his shoulders. “School. Had papers to grade and report cards to fill out. Said she’d be home around four-thirty.”

“That’s not all I heard.”

Josh thought he was going to throw up. This wasn’t good.

Dad cocked an eyebrow. “They say a fire started in her classroom.”

Did everyone know? Eagle Mountain was a small town, but news couldn’t travel that fast. “Nobody got hurt.”

Dad nodded. “I want to hear what she has to say about it... get the real story.”

Maybe he didn’t know how it started. The last thing Josh was going to do was tell him. “How come you’re home, Dad?”

“Doc Alvarez came by the airport. Was going to text your mom about something he said, but forgot my cell phone.” He held it up, then stuck it in a pocket. “He’s been asked to treat injured dogs at the Retriever Trials in Cortez. He and Alex are flying out there Sunday and may need help. You know, hold the dogs, get medicine, whatever.”

“When are they coming back?” Mickey asked.

“That night. Doc has plans for Christmas Eve on Monday.”

A grin tugged at Josh’s mouth. “Al asked if I could go. It’d be awesome.”

“I wanna go, too,” Mickey said. “Josh gets to do everything.”

Dad held up his hands. “Hold on a minute, you two. There’s a cold front due in. They may have to drive up and spend the night in a hotel. If that’s the case, I’d want you here at home.” When Josh frowned, Dad said, “Let’s see what Mom has planned. Right now, I need to get back to work. Have her call my cell when she gets home.”

He climbed into their old pickup and a puff of white smoke belched from the exhaust when he cranked the motor. Not long after he left, Mom pulled into the driveway. She parked her car by the side door, gathered her books and papers from school, and strolled inside.

Moose almost knocked her over. She laughed and scratched behind his ear. “Can’t wait until you get a little older and settle down.” She turned to the boys. “Pretty exciting day, huh?”

Josh exhaled. “What did the principal say?”

“She’s not happy.”

“Guess that means detention.”

“She said your dad and I should handle it.”

He perked up. “And?”

“We’ll discuss it over dinner. How about you, Mickey, how was your day?”

“We had a history test.” He frowned. “Why do we waste time on stuff we’ll never use?”

“You never know what knowledge you’ll use, and it all goes together like building blocks. You have to learn certain basics before you can move on to more complicated things.”

Josh had heard this speech before and hoped his little brother would try to argue with her and take the heat off of him. When he didn’t, Josh said, “Can I ride over to see Al? They’re flying to Cortez and… Oh, by the way, Dad wants you to call his cell.”

“We’ve already talked.”

What that meant, Josh wasn’t sure. “Can I go now?”

“Take Mickey and Moose with you.”

“Ah, Mom…”

She gave him her teacher’s look, the one that said she didn’t want any back talk. “And be home by dark.”

Josh sighed and let his shoulders sag. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Race you to the bikes!” Mickey dashed out the door, Moose not two steps behind.

Josh shook his head and followed them. He couldn’t understand why his little brother had to tag along everywhere, especially when Alex might still want to hassle him about the explosion at school. He didn’t need Mickey getting any ideas.


CHAPTER THREE


Their friend was tossing a football in the air when the boys pedaled up. Moose flew ahead and pounced.

Alex fell down laughing. “This dog gets bigger every day. Glad Papa found him for you.”

“Hi, Al!” Mickey dumped his bike on the brown winter grass.

“Hello, Mick. Go long.”

He took off, looked back over his shoulder and shouted, “I’m open.” Alex launched the ball in an arcing spiral. Just as it reached Mickey, Moose jumped high in the air, trying to catch it at the same time. They came down in a heap of flapping legs, arms, and tail.

“Incomplete!” Josh waved his arms back and forth in front of his waist like referees at the Friday night games.

“That was interference,” Mickey said. “Throw a flag.”

“No penalty. He was going for the ball.”

“Aw, Josh…”

Alex beamed. “Moose has the makings of a great retriever. A little training and he could win at the Trials.”

“That’s why we came over,” Josh said.

Out of breath, Mickey trotted back with the football. “Yeah. What is that, Al?”

“It’s a contest. People take their dogs to win prizes. My favorite part is the Big Air Contest, where dogs jump off a dock into the water. They really fly.”

Mickey pushed up his glasses and tossed Alex the ball. “Sounds like fun. Wish we could go.”

“Our plane has four seats.”

Josh frowned. “Have to see what Dad says.”

“Still think you’ll be grounded?”

He shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out tonight.”

“What about the weather?” Mickey asked.

“Something about a stalled-out cold front,” Alex said. “Whatever that is.”

Josh stood up straight. “It’s a line of low pressure, warm on one side and…” When his friend gave a look that said ‘who cares,’ he swallowed and changed the subject. “I could help your dad—that is, if you don’t have to spend the night.”

“He checks the weather about every two hours, so we’ll know by tomorrow afternoon. If some dogs get hurt, he can get really busy.”

“That would be awesome.” Josh moved his hand like an airplane in flight. “I’d love to see Mesa Verde from the air. I saw a history special about it on TV. People called the Anasazi lived there on the sides of cliffs hundreds of years ago.”

Mickey laughed. “That’s crazy. They’d just fall off.”

Josh sighed. “They built homes in the sides of mesas to make it hard for others to attack. You know, ‘cause they were up so high.”

“In caves?”

“No, rock houses.”

“In the cliffs?”

“Yep. And they were big astronomers, kind of like the scientist I want to be someday.”

“So they had robots and spaceships?”

“No, silly. They didn’t even have electricity. But their homes were cool in summer and warm in winter. The show said they led good lives.”

“Aw, c’mon,” Mickey said. “How could they have a good life without TV and video games?”

“Good point.” Alex laughed and tossed up the football. “Game on. Mick, you’re center.”

The rest of the afternoon, Alex made spectacular passes, the two brothers taking turns as receivers, all while stumbling over the canine defender. It was the perfect beginning of a two-week vacation.

They played until the sun sank in the western sky and the wispy clouds above changed to pastel shades of pink. While the boys pedaled home, Josh turned to Mickey. “Have you ever seen a girl who can throw a football like that? She’s terrific.”

“Yeah. Think we can go with them?”

“We’ll see what Dad says at dinner, and watch the weather after we eat.”


CHAPTER FOUR


Josh, Mickey, and Moose crashed through the kitchen door without regard for whom or what was on the other side. Dad jumped back. “Well, if it isn’t the three musketeers.”

“I’m starved!” Mickey shouted. He cocked his head. “And what’s a musket ear, anyway?”

Dad chuckled. “Tell you later. Go wash up.”

Josh led off toward the bathroom, all the while dreading what he’d hear at dinner. He plunked down at the table and it seemed to take forever before Mom and Dad finished whispering by the sink and joined them.

“Oh, boy!” Mickey said. “Chicken fried steak. That’s my favorite meal in the whole world.” He sniffed at another aroma floating in from the kitchen. “What else is cooking?”

“Oatmeal cookies. Thought you’d like some for dessert,” Mom said.

“Wow. Can’t wait.”

Josh could wait. He’d probably spend the whole vacation grounded. Maybe they’d at least let him keep his cell phone so he could text Alex while she was at the dog trials.

The family bowed their heads, and as soon as Dad said ‘amen,’ Mickey jabbed the serving spoon into the mashed potatoes and piled them on his plate. He dished out a hole in the top. “This is the volcano, and the gravy is hot lava.”

Josh frowned and started to say something, but Dad cut him off. “So tell me about the fire.”

Josh had grabbed the potato spoon, but left it in the bowl. “It was an accident.”

Dad winked at Mom. “So I heard. Go on.”

“It was the sun, shining through the magnifying glass. It must have focused on the crystals, heated them up to a flash point, and set them off.”

“That was part of your experiment?”

Uh-oh. This conversation isn’t starting well. “No, I was trying to measure the crystals, get their size, then compare them when we got back from vacation.”

Dad frowned. “So in two weeks, they would be a lot bigger. And if they’d gone off with no one around?”

“I don’t leave them in the sun under the magnifying glass. We keep them in a steel cabinet, in the dark.”

Dad looked to their mother. “Anne?”

“That’s right. The main thing is, what did you learn from the experiment?”

“That heating up nitrate crystals isn’t a good idea.”

Dad chuckled. “Someday I’ll tell you the stupid things we did when I was in school.” He picked up his knife and sawed on his steak.

“So, I’m not, like, grounded?”

“Your mom and I talked it over. Make sure the report you make on the experiment says what you just told me.”

Hopeful he was off the hook, Josh looked to his mother. “But the experiment failed. I never found out how big the crystals would grow.”

“Just because it doesn’t turn out like you want doesn’t mean failure. That’s the beauty of the scientific process—as long as you learn something and document the facts, it was a success.”

Josh still couldn’t believe he was off the hook. “Dad, about the retriever trials?”

“I talked again this afternoon with Doc Alvarez.” He paused, chewed a piece of meat, and washed it down with a sip of water. “If the weather’s good enough for them to fly, you can go, on one condition.”

Josh grinned. “Anything he wants!”

“You both go.”

The two boys locked eyes, and the smile migrated from one to the other. “Why?”

“Doc has two older brothers, and he always got left behind.” Dad winked at Mickey. “He said little brothers have to stick together.”

Josh shrugged. “Okay, if he has to. But if he doesn’t behave we’ll feed him to the dogs.”

Dad put his fork down and waited for both boys to look at him. “He will behave and you’ll be responsible for him.” He turned to the little brother. “Mickey, listen to both Dr. Alvarez and Josh. Do what they tell you to do. And if the weather’s bad, you’re both staying home. I don’t want to hear any complaints from either of you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can we take Moose?” Mickey asked.

“No. Doc will have his hands full. Moose will be waiting for you when you get home.”

Josh dug into his dinner, thinking about the trip in the doc’s little 4-seater airplane. He couldn’t wait to see Mesa Verde from the air. We might even see some of the old Anasazi ruins. And he really looked forward to watching the dogs jump in the water. This is going to be a great adventure.



CHAPTER FIVE


Around two o’clock on Saturday afternoon, Alex rang the doorbell. “Hi,” she said when Mickey opened the door.

As she followed him into the living room, Josh wandered in. “Hi, Al. What’s up?”

“We’re flying there in the morning.”

“So the weather’s okay?”

Alex nodded. “Looks like.”

“Awesome!” Mickey pumped his fist. “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Alex turned to Josh. “Papa wants to load up around six-thirty. We’ll fly to Durango and go to the trials, then leave for home before the front comes through. That should put us back here a little after dark.”

“I’ll have Dad get us to the airport early. What should we bring?”

“Just warm clothes and maybe a camera. Cortez is pretty high up and might get kind of cold.”

“The weatherman said it might snow here,” Mickey said.

Alex smiled. “That would be after the cold front. We’ll go sledding then.”

“But first I want to see all those dogs jump in the water.”

“We’ll have a cooler with drinks and our backpacks.” Josh nodded toward the kitchen. “Mom said we can take some cookies, too.”

“There’s not a lot of room. I’ll just have a little backpack with the rubber football and my laptop.” She reached for the door.

“Wait.” Josh picked up a copy of his favorite magazine about history and culture. “I want to show you this article about the Anasazi.”

“I’ve got to get home. We’re having dinner…”

“Then take it with you. It’s about what we’ll be flying over.”

She shrugged. “Mickey, think you’d like to spend all afternoon reading that stuff?”

He frowned and shook his head. “No way.”

“Me neither. I’ll look at it next week.”

Josh’s shoulders fell and he tossed the magazine on an end table. “Okay, it’ll be here when you want it.”

“I’ll read it when we get back. I promise.” She pulled open the door and headed for her bike. “See you tomorrow.”


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