The late summer sun was shining down on them as they walked along Sycamore Boulevard towards the entrance of Pratt’s Woods. A warm breeze gently rustled the leaves of trees lining the suburban sidewalk. As much as Ryan was trying, Stacy seemed to keep a step ahead of him as they walked.
“It feels like I haven’t been to the park in forever. I can’t wait to get out there and see if it’s changed,” Ryan said.
“Yeah, you guys pretty much disappeared after school ended. I’m glad you called, I’ve been wanting to see where you guys found it. You were all like mini-celebrities for a while,” she said. “Is that the path over there?”
She pointed to the back corner of a parking lot just off the road. At the back of the lot was a path that disappeared into the woods.
“That’s the one, let’s check it out,” Ryan replied.
Their feet crunched on the tiny pieces of yellow rock that made up the path. Rounding the first turn, Ryan realized he had gotten several steps ahead. He slowed to let Stacy catch up, listening for the sound of her feet on the stone.
She bumped into him as she caught up. When he looked at her, she was smiling that mischievous smile she sometimes did. He never knew what to do when she did that. This time, he settled on an awkward smile, then looked at the ground and continued to walk. His hands fidgeted between his pockets and his sides.
“So what have you been doing all summer? I thought you and the guys would be out here every day?” she asked.
“I thought so too, but I guess I didn’t really know what to expect. Once we got all of the bones out of the ground, the Professor took them back to his lab. There was a group of professors and students who talked us through cataloging them. We just finished with that a few days ago. I think they’re going to be writing papers or something for a while. Why would anyone want to do that? I think coming back out here is way better.”
Stacy laughed. “I’m sure it’s not that bad. I saw a post about you guys on-line after the dig. I’m pretty sure the reporter only talked to Jay. I didn’t see anything about you or Casey.”
“Yeah, he’s the one for the limelight, that’s for sure. Casey’s great in the lab but when you put him in front of the cameras, he’s terrified. You’d think he was a fossil himself. He just stands there and doesn’t talk.”
They made their way down the crushed stone path a few hundred feet. Just before they turned another corner they stopped at a small wooden display on the side of the path. Underneath one side of the Plexiglas cover was a white sheet of paper with the words “Work in Progress” hand written on it.
On the other side was a printed copy of an article describing the dig that had been completed just a few short months ago. The headline read, Local 7th Graders Find 13,000 Year Old Woolly Mammoth Skeleton in Pratt’s Woods.
Ryan ran his fingers over the article. He smiled at the picture of him beside his friends, Jay and Casey, in front of Professor Coleman and his graduate students, Lee and Peter. The group stood next to the half excavated mammoth skeleton.
Ryan looked up from the sign towards a dirt trail behind it. The trail had been traveled so much that the grass had been worn away from the forest floor. Patches of topsoil and seeds dotted the sides of the trail where larger sections of brush had been scraped away.
“Let’s go, I hope it’s still in good shape. There’s something I want to show you,” he said. Ryan led Stacy down the dirt trail. It was just wide enough for the two of them to walk side by side.
Off the main path the tops of the trees shaded them from the heat of the sun, but the stillness of the air made it feel muggy. The forest hummed with the rhythmic chirping of cicadas. The trail turned to the right at the edge of a small pond full of croaking frogs.
A few paces past the pond they were stopped by saggy, faded caution tape wrapped around the trees like a fence. About the same distance beyond the tape was a hole in the ground the size of a driveway. On the other side of the hole, the trail continued up a small hill. Stacy’s eyes followed the trail in front of them down to the hole in the ground. Ryan stood silently for a moment, looking at her reaction.
“You ready? It looks like nobody’s been out here.”
“Yeah. Is this how you guys left it?”
“Yeah, we wanted to leave it open for when we came back. I’ll show you why.”
They ducked under the tape and approached the hole. The closer they got, the more it resembled a kid’s swimming pool. They came up to the deeper end first, which looked no more than a couple of feet down from the ground. The shallow end was on the other side of the hole, at the base of the small hill. Stacy stopped at the edge of the deep end.
Ryan turned the corner to the shallow side of the hole and stepped in. He motioned to the shallow end. “The mammoth was laying on it’s side, with the back end over here.”
He walked closer to Stacy where the hole was the deepest. “The head was over here. We had to dig deeper to get one of the tusks out. It twisted farther down into the ground than anything else. We found the other tusk up there.” He pointed to the top of the small hill.