The Crystal Doorknob – Open Heart Story
Story By Cynthia Lee De Boer
Parked fifty yards from the front door of the abandoned cabin was a 1951 Willys station wagon. Its engine was still warm from the long climb up the rough mountain. The olive drab paint bore a few more scratches from trees and boulders that narrowed the dried creek bed, which was the only possible road to this remote location. It was late July 1978, and Sam and Bee were out exploring.
This time it was a one room, wooden cabin with a slanted metal roof. Years of neglect had taken its toll. The roof was sagging and all that remained of the windows were jagged chards of broken glass. A wide porch with several boards missing stretched out over the steep hill across the back of the house. The deck and railings were attached to the exterior wall only. Ground supports did not exist, leaving it to crumble at any moment. The only accessible path leading up to the back of the cabin was littered with broken bottles. This ensured the occupant would only receive guests from one direction—the front.
This was also a definite sign that there was another way out. A hidden exit, known only to the owner. This was gold country and cabins such as these were often built on top of open mine shafts. These shafts, often hundreds of feet deep, usually contained at least one escape route. Sam and Bee grew up in these mountains and they had been taught well. The girls carried a deep respect for every facet of their world and knew a single wrong decision could cost a life.
Sam and Bee were actually Samantha and Becky. They were sisters, sixteen months apart in age. Sam was the oldest at twenty. These beautiful tomboys possessed wild spirits and strong independence. They were average in height with slender builds and delicate features. Both had sparkling blue-green eyes, bright smiles and long chestnut braided hair. Because they were often mistaken for twins, they dressed alike just to confuse folks.
Today found them in blue jeans, hiking boots and heavy long sleeved shirts. Hard hats adorned with miner’s lamps, additional flashlights, heavy leather gloves, crowbars, small tool kits, ropes and pistols were also part of their attire. The jeep lovingly named Buddy was their lifeline; ropes and harnesses were once again securely tied from the winch drum to the girls.
With one final safety check, Sam slowly pushed the door open to enter the cabin. The lock on the door was broken off, which was to be expected. Bee was braced at the door, gun in one hand, holding tight to Sam’s rope with the other. The thick layer of dust covering the floor showed no signs of animal tracks. The patched metal roof was solid but rusty and a cool pine scented breeze filtered in through the broken windows. Sam stepped slowly, listening to the wood creak under her weight. Cautiously, she knelt to shine her flashlight into the cracks and the bright beams of light exposed the earth below. The tension eased as the floor appeared to be safe and no animals were in residence. Still, the cabin gave Samantha a cold uneasy feeling. She was on high alert and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood guard.
The dusty room was sparse. It contained a small wooden table and two matching chairs, one metal cup, bowl and spoon. An open tin of cocoa revealed the owner’s meal was interrupted. No other food was present. The small pot bellied stove sat in the corner supporting a large empty pot. Any water it might have contained had long since evaporated. The room was void of any cabinetry and a set of deep scratches scarred the floor. They ran from the left wall out the front door and onto the small porch. Something quite heavy was obviously dragged outside, most likely a trunk with sharp metal corners. Against the back wall stood a single bed. The mattress, pillow and blankets were ripped to shreds. Not by animals—but by a knife!
Sam bolted for the jeep but Bee stopped her. She felt Sam was being silly and she wasn’t going to leave without the crystal doorknobs attached to the porch door. After all, they were the only good find of the day. Becky went to work removing the fixture and Sam decided to examine the bed more closely. (It just didn’t make sense. No one would build a cabin like this without a second exit.) She pulled the bed from the wall creating the sound of fingernails scrapping across a chalkboard. The shrill noise woke a hidden owl. The dark bird let out a loud shriek and shot past Sam, barely missing Bee’s head and out the porch door. The girls screamed then laughed till their sides ached. It took several excited minutes to return to work.
Sam was still giggling as she began to study the area previously protected by the creaky bed. She was using a small broom to sweep away the years of dust and discovered several light scratches. The bed was moved on numerous occasions, but for what purpose? Sam couldn’t see any defining pattern to mark the presence of a trap door. The wallboards ran vertically, any passage there would be easy to spot and none existed. It was quite strange.
Meanwhile, Bee finished the removal of the knobs and tucked the newly acquired treasures into her shirt. She glanced out the weather-beaten door, careful not to step on the decaying porch. The view was magnificent but her attention was immediately drawn to the broken bottles glistening in the warm afternoon sun. They were varied in color and size and she wondered if any had survived their fall intact. Bee wanted to inspect the bottles as they left. She opened her mouth to make the suggestion just as the wood gave way under Sam’s feet.
Sam didn’t utter a word as she fell. A hard jerk of the thick rope ended her descent. The harness and Buddy easily supported Sam’s weight. She had dropped nearly ten feet into total blackness. Every fiber of Sam’s body was clenched stiff. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly to compose herself. Sam realized she was holding the small broom in a death grip, which seemed to have fused it to her hand. She carefully peeled it from her skin, attached it to her belt and switched on her miner’s lamp and flashlight. Sam was stunned but unharmed. She assured
Bee of her safety and surveyed her surroundings. She was suspended in a narrow dirt pit, approximately four feet in diameter and forty five to fifty feet deep. In front of her, within reach was a rickety ladder. It was attached to the base of the cabin floor with the legs disappearing into the uneven ground far below. There must have been a cave in. The exit was blocked.
Sam could only guess that the miner was buried beneath her, swallowed by the mountain’s rumbling rock and soil. His meal and life cut short as he raced to escape his enemy. She was hanging in mid air over his chilly suffocating grave, the last place his mortal body walked. It was all too eerie.
The realization of what had just occurred began to hit her. The wet cold and overwhelming smell of damp dirt was invading every pore, filling her mouth and mind. Sam felt as if the earth was going to consume her too. She was beginning to panic. Sam’s trembling hands grabbed for the ladder. She had to get out. Now!
Bee pulled the slack out of the rope keeping it taut as her sister climbed. It took several minutes for Sam to emerge from the darkness. They grabbed each other in a triumphant and shaky embrace and then turned to inspect the opening. The remaining splintered boards were thin and variegated in length. No apparent pattern. Narrow wood strips covered with dirt connected the boards from the bottom side, giving the floor the illusion of being solid. The tiny scrapes in the floor were the only evidence leading to the secret passage. The exit was cleverly designed and virtually invisible.
The girls quickly pushed the rusty bed against the wall over the deep ominous cavity, studied the cabin one last time and raced for the jeep. They drove past Bee’s forgotten bottles and down the steep mountain. The hum of Buddy’s engine was the only sound to be heard. Not a single word was spoken the entire trip home.
Each sister kept a crystal doorknob, a physical reminder of that day. The time spent in the small remote cabin was less than an hour. But the memories were deeply chiseled like words in a granite headstone—onto their very souls!
Author’s Note: This fictional adventure is based on true events compiled from several days jeeping in the Colorado Rockies. I will forever treasure these special times. The photograph is an antique crystal doorknob resembling the one we found.