The Treasure at Devil’s Hole
By Jody M. Mabry
Publisher: Maybury and Gilliam Literary
Genre: Middle Grade Children’s
By Jody M. Mabry
Publisher: Maybury and Gilliam Literary
Genre: Middle Grade Children’s
How would you feel if you knew you had a legendary treasure right in your own back yard? Francis “Bug” Mosser knows, and will do nearly anything to find it, even if it means defying the most villainous person he knows—Mom!
Standing in Bug's way is his nemesis Tad Pricket, the red headed, pock-holed bully who’s suddenly been seen walking Bug’s girl, Melanie, home from school—worse, the walk ends with a kiss. Then there is the mysterious bald stranger and Miss Julia Brandon’s boyfriend who seems a little “too-classy” for the town of Possum Trot.
With the help of his brothers, and best friend Billy—along with his not-so-secret desire to impress Melanie Grainger—Bug goes off in search of fortune and glory, thwarting bad guys, stolen clothes, and explosions to find the one surprise about the treasure that he would have never dreamed of...
For More Information
- The Treasure at Devil’s Hole is available at Amazon.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Izard County, Arkansas
My older brother, Tom, had spent the last month digging in the cornfield. Ever since turning seventeen he had an urge to dig. Nobody knew why he was digging—he just was. When anyone asked him why, he would just say, “I’m digging for Mom.” I didn’t know how digging a hole was good for Mom, and didn’t question it. If he wanted to get in trouble with her, that was up to him.
Tom was standing in his hole, now deeper than he was tall, as Fred, Peter, and I walked by. He climbed out, face and hands covered in dirt, and smelling like Chief, our old lazy hog. I was sure it had been days since Tom had last come with us to the creek for a bath, but for him, I guess that was good. Tom was never fond of baths, especially in a cold creek during early spring.
“How’s the digging going?” I asked. He looked up and smiled; there was always mischief hidden behind his smile. I knew there was more to his answer than he let on. His long brown hair clung to his forehead as he halfheartedly tried to brush it away.
“Digging’s good today. Digging is mighty good! Where you headin’, Bug?”
“Just for a walk. Nowhere special,” I said.
He glanced at the packs we had on our backs. His left eyebrow rose into a soft pyramid as ideas clearly began to roll through his mind. “Nowhere special, huh?” He smiled.
My brothers and I couldn’t hide our packs and gear, of course. We’d spent nearly a week putting everything together, and there was a lot more than we’d thought there’d be.
“Just camping. Tell Mom we won’t be back tonight.”
“Will do,” he said. “Don’t go getting yourselves killed, now. Mom will likely blame it on me,” he mumbled as he jumped back into his hole. I could hear his pickaxe digging into the hard clay and mud as we started walking toward Devil’s Hole, taking a shortcut through the cornfield, then into the woods.
Freddy walked slowly as we approached the woods, hesitating to keep up with us. “What does he mean by ‘Don’t go getting killed’? Do you think we could get killed?”
Freddy was such a worrywart. Of course we couldn’t get killed. At least I didn’t think we could. I rolled my eyes at Freddy and didn’t give him the satisfaction of an answer. “And you call yourself the smart one,” I said.
Even though Freddy was a chicken, he kind of had a point. Mom wouldn’t approve of what my two younger brothers and I were about to do. No, approve is not the word I was looking for. Mom would have killed us. Well, she would have killed me, and severely reddened Freddy and Peter’s back cheeks.
I could hear her screams in my head now: “Francis Mosser!” Mom was the only person in the world who called me Francis anymore. Everyone else, even Mom when she wasn’t mad, called me Bug—after my grandfather, who was also called Bug; he was called that because of the fever, gold fever—Gold Bug. “At what point did you ever think that it was a good idea?” Of course, I wouldn’t have an answer for her. Even if I did, I wouldn’t dare use it. Apparently, answering a question while your mother screams at you is referred to as an “excuse.”
If Mom knew that I had convinced my two younger brothers to climb down into Devil’s Hole, I would never see tomorrow. But how could we ever find the Sikeston brothers’ treasure if we didn’t actually go into Devil’s Hole?
Peter, was only ten years old, had always had more courage than Freddy, who was three years older. Not once did Peter hesitate on our way to Devil’s Hole. “Do you think Tom knows what we’re doing?” He skipped along, hopping from one stone to the next. Peter had long since stopped wearing shoes, and he made a game out of jumping from one flat stone to the next to avoid tearing his feet apart.
“Maybe.” I shrugged. It wasn’t too important. Tom had bigger things to worry about, like his hole. He wouldn’t have said anything anyway. It wasn’t like Tom to ruin a good adventure—it was more like him to take over the adventure.
From our house, Devil’s Hole was about a half hour’s walk through the woods. We each carried machetes that Dad had bought us from an old army surplus store back in Batesville. Peter whacked through anything he could hit, regardless of if it was in his way or not. I led the pack, knocking out the large vines and branches while keeping my eyes open for snakes. I hated snakes; they were a treasure hunter’s worst nightmare. We trudged along, sweat dripping off our foreheads and covering our clothes. My arms were scratched from my hands to my shoulders, sliced by razor-thin blades of grass and hornet-sharp thorns that struck as often as possible. Mosquitoes dug into us with their sliver-like needles, drawing blood at will. We still kept moving forward.
“This stinks!” cried Freddy. “I can’t take it anymore. I’ve got bites on my arms as big as my nose, and Peter’s bleeding.”
“Oh, stop it. You didn’t have to come, did you?” I snapped back.
“We should go back.”
“Fine!” I said. He hadn’t stopped complaining since we first stepped foot in the forest, and we were nearly to Devil’s Hole. I wasn’t turning back now. “You go back, then. Peter and I are still going.”
He didn’t say anything, but I knew that would shut him up for a while. Freddy would never go back by himself.
Peter kept hitting his dull blade against whatever he could, hardly bending the grass and vines, let alone slicing through. I wondered if he’d even heard Freddy’s complaining. He was in his own world.
The sun was directly above us as we came to the entrance to Devil’s Hole. A giant boulder rested alongside it, as if it were a tombstone for the devil himself. We couldn’t see the entrance to the cavern under last year’s fallen leaves until we were within a couple feet of it. The cover of two old, massive trees and their fallen branches disguised the cavern even more.
I crept up slowly toward the entrance, watching my step as my two younger brothers stayed a safer distance away. None of us had gone inside the cavern before. Our only knowledge of it came from the many stories we had heard growing up, although I suspect most of those stories were “colored,” as my dad liked to say. They had a little more sugar coating to them than reality.
I glanced at the entrance from a few feet away. My nerves were beginning to reinforce my fear of slipping in and falling to my death. I had no real idea how far down the hole would go. From where I stood, the entrance looked like a small ravine, no deeper than Tom’s hole. I knew better though as I inched closer. The “ravine” went deeper and deeper until it disappeared from the sunlight above into a thick, seemingly impenetrable darkness.
“All right, let’s get down there,” I said, trying to hide my newfound apprehension.
I walked back to my brothers and tied one side of our sixty-foot rope to one of the thick, ancient trees. I hoped there was enough rope left for us to climb to the bottom.
Freddy stormed in front of Peter and me, and started to go first. He didn’t say anything to me, but just looked straight ahead as he passed. Apparently, he had something to prove. It didn’t take long before he was holding the rope and starting to climb down.
Freddy inched his way down as slowly as he could, taking each step cautiously. After a couple of minutes that seemed like hours, he dropped completely out of view. “Your turn next,” I said to Peter. “You know what to do, right? As soon as Freddy tugs on the rope, you’re going down. Tug on the rope when you’re at the bottom, and then I’ll pull it up and lower the backpacks down to the two of you.”
“Okay,” he said, but he wasn’t paying attention as he’d already started to reach for the rope. I had to pull him back. “One at a time,” I said. “We don’t need both of you hurt if the rope breaks.”
The rope began to move as Freddy tugged on it from the other end. It had taken him fifteen minutes to climb down.
Peter looked at me, as if asking if he could go now. “Okay,” I said. “Be careful.” Peter grabbed the rope, and began to climb down, repelling himself more often in small excited bursts than taking steps against the cavern wall.
“Bug!” yelled Freddy from below. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
It was too late for him to back out now. He was already at the bottom, and if I let him go, he’d run and tell Mom what we were doing. Freddy was as much a tattletale as he was a worrywart.
“Come on, Freddy. Peter’s doing it. He’s coming down right now.”
“This is dumb. You know that if the treasure was down here, it would have been found by now.”
Freddy was probably the smartest of my three brothers. Not just smart . . . but real smart. Intelligent, like they say a pig is. Freddy’s only problem was that he didn’t really get smart until he got scared, and at that moment, I knew he was scared. This was probably the clue that should have warned me that Freddy was right, that I should have told Freddy and Peter to come back up so we could go home. If the treasure was down there, it would have been found already. That same clue should have warned me that my mother not only knew where we were, but was on her way there to drag all three of us back home by our earlobes. Mom and Freddy were somehow linked—Freddy always got queasy when he knew she’d be looking for us, and she always knew when she should be looking for us—for instance, when we were about to climb down into a cavern in search of treasure.
Of course, as I just said, Freddy was the smart one. Peter was the fearless one. And me? Well, I guess I was the mastermind . . . just not a very good one.
“Really, Bug! I don’t have a good feeling about this. It’s cold down here, and I can’t see anything.”
“Just wait a second,” I said. I was growing impatient with Freddy’s complaining. He was always complaining. And when he complained or worried, he picked his nose as if he were searching for gold nuggets up there. That almost bothered me more than his complaining, although if he ever did find gold up his nose, I have to admit, my finger would be the next one digging.
“I’m sending the flashlights down as soon as Peter gets to the bottom. Just be patient, will ya?”
“Yeah, yeah, fine!” he said. I could hear the echo of rocks being kicked at the bottom of the cavern, along with Peter’s feet pushing off the wall and his body sliding down the rope.
A couple of minutes later, I heard Peter jump the last few feet to the ground. Peter always jumped the last few feet to anywhere: he jumped up or down the last step on a flight of stairs; he jumped across every puddle or crack he came across; he jumped over every toy, every bush, and if he could jump high enough, I know he would try to jump over every tree in Arkansas. I heard Peter land with a loud thud on the limestone floor of Devil’s Hole; at almost the exact same moment, I heard branches crashing behind me, like something was running through the woods. I heard the crashing sound again and then a sharp thud as whatever it was hit the ground with hard footsteps. This time it echoed like a soft, shuddering earthquake. I turned around and stood there. That was my first mistake. I should have leapt down Devil’s Hole headfirst, praying that I’d land on the devil himself and beg for his protection.
The footsteps became louder as I squinted to see farther into the woods. Quickly, one hard step turned into two, then three, and four, and then the pace quickened like the drumbeat from an oar-driven barge. Thud . . . thud . . . thud . . . boom . . . boom . . . boom . . .
Then I saw it: the deep red hair, tall and full. I only needed to see the hair to know what was next. Through the trees, her hair disappeared and then reappeared over and over, and even without seeing her face, I could picture my mom’s eyes, green and hard, focused on only one thing. Freddy calls it tunnel vision. I call it the perfect time to start running or, in this case, climbing down—fast!
She must have seen us walking in this direction. It wasn’t often that my two brothers and I hung out together and got along, and we must have looked like best friends as we walked off, with backpacks strapped to us, heading out through the cornfield.
I grabbed the two backpacks and threw them down the hole. “Incoming!” I yelled to my brothers as the backpacks rolled and tumbled. I only hoped that my brothers were able to jump aside in time to avoid being hit.
“Ouch!” Freddy cried.
Too late! Freddy clearly hadn’t moved out of the way in time. He didn’t stop yelling at me the entire time I climbed down, though, so I assumed he was doing just fine. A little bump on the head from a backpack was a heck of a lot nicer than a conk on the head from Mom.
I didn’t waste any time, taking Peter’s lead by jumping down the last five feet and landing hard on the ground.
“It’s Mom! I saw her coming! Grab the bags and let’s go!” I gave one bag to Peter and pulled a flashlight out of Freddy’s bag before throwing the bag at him. With the flashlight, I searched the limestone walls around us.
There was a problem. I could only see walls; there was no deep cavern, no hole leading deeper into the earth. There was nothing going anywhere that led to a treasure, only a hole going nowhere, and we were standing at the bottom of it.
The hard stomping sound of Mom’s feet echoed off the walls as she came closer. That’s when Peter began to laugh.
Freddy scowled at our younger brother. “Do you know what she’s going to do to us? Why are you laughing?”
Peter never seemed to fear anything, and at the most inappropriate times would burst into tears of laughter, unable to control himself. Each chuckle or outburst would just cause him to laugh even harder. Freddy thought it was a defense mechanism like a nervous tic, biting your lips, or gnashing your teeth together. Freddy did all those, and despite his own nervous reactions, he still had no patience for Peter’s uncontrollable laughter.
Peter was now laughing so hard that he could barely get the words out, “It’s like . . . we’re three turds . . . in the devil’s toilet.”
The thudding echo stopped, replaced by the scuffing of shoes. Pebbles fell from above as if a predator waited patiently for us. A predator named . . . Mom.
An Interview with Jody Mabry
What inspired you to write this book?
When I was a kid I was obsessed with lost treasure. I had a metal detector, grew up on a small farm, and dug my share of old horseshoes, nails, and random tractor parts. I always dreamed of being a treasure hunter, or the like of Indiana Jones. As I grew older and started raising boys of my own I realized how fun it was telling stories of my own adventures. Arkansas, caves, and looking for treasure are all things I've done and know well. As I started writing, everything fit seamlessly together. It's the adventure I wanted to go on at that age, and in some ways I did.
What parts of this book come from your own experiences?
The book starts and ends with Bug's older brother Tom digging a hole in the cornfield. My dad told me that same story when I was younger, and of all the stories in the book it is the most factual. That really happened! Exploring caverns I shouldn't have been exploring in the Ozarks, searching for treasure, and of course the young love crushes are all bits and pieces of me. I was always out, donning my Indiana Jones fedora, looking for an adventure. To this day, not much has changed.
What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?
Sitting down to do it. I think this is something that plagues many writers in their career. I had started and stopped the books dozens of times never getting very far. One day, I locked myself in a closet under the stairs-literally (think Harry Potter). Everyday I forced myself to write 10 pages. Good, or bad, I forced myself to write. Within a couple weeks the first draft was done. Then editing began....Eh, editing.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
When I started there wasn't. I wanted to write a good old fashioned boy's adventure simply for a fun read. As I wrote I found myself becoming nostalgic. I didn't think of it much back then, but, once published, I began receiving letters and emails from people who'd read the book, and it wasn't the middle graders. Parents and grandparents were writing to thank me for bringing them back to their childhood. I was surprised as anyone. So, I guess if there is any message, it is that we all have adventures whether we know it or not. Sometimes, it's important to reflect back on the "good old days" to remember how nice life is.
Have you ever travelled to any of the places in which your books take place?
Oh, sure! I've mentioned Arkansas already. In fact, Izard County Arkansas is where my family goes several times a year. I'd recommend it to anyone. Great trout fishing, caves pock mark the Ozarks, ghost stories, camping, hills. It is simply a beautiful part of the country.
What authors inspire you?
Above all, Lloyd Alexander and The Prydain Chronicles started me wanting to be a writer. When I finished those five books I was bawling and couldn’t believe how attached I was to the characters. I felt as if they were my best friends. I decided then that I wanted to bring out emotion like that in other people. I didn't discover Ernest Hemingway until I was more of an adult, but as I read more about him I find that he is similar to my dad in many ways. So, I find a connection with him and enjoy his stories. Wilbur Smith tells a great yarn. David Ball and James Michener are favorites of mine. I've always known I was going to be a writer, but it wasn't until I started reading James Rollins novels, as well as the combo of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston that I gave a concerted effort.
Like many people, my shelves were lined with Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew growing up. To this day these books still line my shelves.
Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
Unique? I don't know about that. I am a pretty good cook though-thank you Pinterest! I play a lot of tennis, which for someone not entirely athletic I somehow am athletic on a court with a racquet. I can tell a good story, although my family may say I'm a tad bit verbose. I collect coins, love the St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, and still manage to get into an adventure or two.
About the Author:
Jody is a prolific reader and writer of middle grade and young adult novels. He is the father of two boys and a girl, an avid tennis player, a wine maker, and the family cook.