The last time he saw his father alive, Jackson David Kendrick was only nine years old.
The gray light of dawn was seeping in between his bedroom curtains when Jack woke to find him standing in the doorway. Dr. David Kendrick was a willowy, spectacled anthropologist at the University of Chicago. His black skin and wide brown eyes gave him a youthful appearance, but the flecks of silver frosting the edges of his hair made him look more distinguished and professorial. So people who didn’t know him could never tell if he was twenty-nine or forty. But this morning, his normally thoughtful eyes looked weary as he sat on the edge of Jack’s bed.
“Sorry to wake you so early, but my flight leaves at seven thirty.”
“Where are you going this time?” Jack sat up and asked through a husky yawn.
“Out west,” his father said. “Some field research on an old Indian legend.”
His father had often explained the kind of work anthropologists did, but all Jack really knew was that he was gone more often than not. Always traveling around the world to study some obscure ancient culture. He said he was trying to learn more about them—who they were, where they had come from, and why they had disappeared. But Jack had always felt there was something in particular he was searching for. Something that continued to elude him. Most of the time he would come home from his trips looking tired and disappointed.
“What kind of legend?” Jack persisted, figuring that if he kept peppering his father with questions, he could keep him from leaving as long as possible.
His dad stared out the window for a moment. In the shadows, Jack thought he saw hesitation in his eyes, as if he was pondering exactly what to say. “One about a very old civilization that I believe actually existed out there. A long time ago, before most of the other tribes had even migrated to this continent.”
“Who were they?”
“Well, that’s just it—nobody knows for sure. One legend says they built a whole subterranean city under a mountain somewhere. And that they may have been very advanced . . . maybe even more advanced than the Egyptians.”
“Very cool.” His dad grinned. “Anyway, it’s kind of a mystery I’ve been working on for a few years now. So if I can find some proof that they actually did exist . . . well, it could change most of what we know about human history.”
“Change it how?”
His father laughed and rubbed Jack’s hair. “I’m on to you, kiddo. I’m running late, so we can talk more about it when I get home.”
“Fine,” Jack huffed. “Are you gonna be back for my soccer game on Saturday?”
“I’ll try, but Aunt Doreen’s bringing her video camera just in case.”
Jack’s shoulders drooped. His father’s sister had moved in with them after Jack’s mother died in a car wreck six years earlier. It wasn’t that he disliked his aunt—indeed, she was the closest thing to a mother Jack could remember. It was just that his father had missed five of his last seven games, and watching Aunt Doreen’s shaky video footage wasn’t the same.
His father stood to leave, but Jack clutched his wrist. “When can I start going with you?”
His father looked down and sighed. “Maybe when you’re a little older.”
Jack groaned and lay back on his pillow. “You always say that. But you never say how much older.”
His father gave a soft chuckle. “Just a little more than you are now.”
He kissed Jack on the forehead and slipped out of the room. Jack listened as he collected his bags from the hallway and carried them out to the car. A minute later the engine chugged to life, and Jack ran to the living room window as the car backed out of the garage. He watched his father drive off down the street, turn the corner, and disappear.