Brown Fox’s scalp prickled with dread as the Indian boy cautiously picked his way over the rocky floor of Whispering Canyon. The narrow winding canyon twisted in tight turns like a coiling snake. The steep bluffs closed in on either side like walls, and in some places they met and formed short tunnels.
Brown Fox was not in Whispering Canyon by choice. He had been traveling along a forest trail that ran along the top of the forbidden canyon when a stone rolled under his moccasin. Before he could recover his footing, he had plunged into the abyss. Instinctively Brown Fox grabbed at a mass of gnarled roots and found himself suspended halfway down the cliff.
“My mother is right about my clumsiness. They should have named me Duck Foot!” Brown Fox murmured shakily, grateful for the strong roots so firmly anchored in the rocks.
Because the top of the bluff jutted outward, there was no way for Brown Fox to get back up, even if he had a rope. He trembled with dread as he stared downward. His darting black eyes saw that his only escape was to descend into Whispering Canyon. The handholds and footholds were precarious, but feeling like a fly and knowing there was no other escape, Brown Fox began his descent.
Brown Fox heard eerie moaning whispers as he stepped down onto solid ground. His heart began thudding like a war drum. According to the legends of his tribe, the gloomy place was haunted. Not even the bravest hunter would follow a deer or a buffalo into the haunted corridor where there were constant moaning whispers. Even the oldest men of his tribe could not remember a brave who had entered and survived the forbidden canyon.
The Indian youth cautiously followed a faint path, making certain no loose stone rolled under his moccasins again.
Because he could not see the sun, Brown Fox lost all track of time. He was sure he had walked for several hours, and now the chilling sounds grew louder. Several times Brown Fox started to turn back and then changed his mind. He knew that the south end of the canyon started only a few miles from his village. The north end might wind in aimless circles like a labyrinth, and he would be trapped inside forever! No. He would continue traveling southward.
Brown Fox became so weary that he grew careless. Suddenly he heard a warning rattle. Leaping straight up, Brown Fox clung to a projecting ledge. He was terrified as he watched a huge rattlesnake slither away. The fanged one would have killed Brown Fox if the ledge had not been there!
Shaken by his encounter with the snake, Brown Fox decided to camp for the night where he found a pool of clear icy water. A basin had been carved out of solid rock by the fragile threads of water falling from high up the bluffs.
How many hundreds of years has it taken to form this basin, Brown Fox wondered. He removed thin strips of dried meat from his skin pouch for his supper. Then he sought a safe place to sleep. Remembering the snake, Brown Fox finally found a large boulder with very steep sides. As the drifted off to sleep, the young Indian boy felt less frightened, for the whispering and moaning sounds had stopped.
The sounds had started again, however, when Brown Fox awakened at dawn. They were shrill now and even more frightening. The moans began to rise and fall like the mourners’ chanting when a chief dies. But Brown Fox forced himself onward, although dread slowed his steps. He expected any moment to be confronted by some horrible apparition.
Suddenly Brown Fox stood still in wonder and awe as the canyon turned again. Before him a lush green valley stretched for miles. Brown Fox could see a wide lake, blue as the sky, that sparkled like a jewel in the bright sunshine. Nearby a grassy slope was covered with a herd of fat buffalo. A sleek deer bounded into a dense growth of trees as he watched. How glad Brown Fox was that he hadn’t turned back. He felt overcome with envy as he compared the beautiful valley to the parched and barren land where his people lived.
Now Brown Fox realized that the eerie moaning wails had changed to a soft humming sound. Then the sound completely stopped. The wind ruffled his hair and the noises began again. The Indian boy laughed aloud when he saw a thin spire of rock almost as tall as the canyon walls. Like a needle, the spire had a hole at the top where a cave had once been. The rushing of the wind through this opening made the moaning sighs. They were picked up by the towering bluffs and then magnified and carried for many miles through the canyon!
There were no evil spirits after all and nothing to keep his people from moving to this rich green valley! Brown Fox had solved the riddle of the “haunted” canyon.
Excitement lent wings to his feet. The chief would believe the boy, and he would send a group of braves back with Brown Fox to explore the valley. Brown Fox’s eyes reflected his pride as he thought about the chief calling for volunteers to accompany a boy to Whispering Canyon. They would all be frightened, but each would step forward. None would dare to show terror at actually entering Whispering Canyon, and no Indian braves would be outdone by a mere youth!
As Brown Fox hurried toward home, he thought of how he would proudly return in a few weeks to the canyon with the braves of his tribe, leading the women and children into the beautiful fertile valley he had found.
Here there would be food for all, and there would be peace for his people. The haunted canyon would protect them against enemy tribes, who would fear the canyon even more when they discovered that an entire tribe had vanished into its whispering depths.