The burnt match smell very strong now, tainted by something worse, something rotten and dead–was the lake lined with dead bodies? Given Stoddard’s story, maybe it was lined with dead gold hunters. Fear was growing. He gave himself another mental shove.
You came here to find the legendary Gold Lake, didn’t you? Go find it.
The smell was so bad his legs shook. It was like entering a fog of rotten stench. He moved forward pinching his nose, trying not to gag.
A hundred steps more brought him to the steady hissing sound of a waterfall. So there must be a lake; even small waterfalls produced prodigious amounts of water. If there was no outfall stream, where was it going? And why did it smell so bad? Well, another minute you’ll know the answer. Are you a man or a boy? Suddenly he was running toward the sound–the answer–even if a big gob of fear in his stomach told him to run the other way, and his mind was crying, God help me.
He grew weak. He slowed down until he found himself crouching awkwardly forward, expecting the whizz-thump of an arrow in his chest. His shoulders ached. His feet felt like lead. His eyes were popped so wide he couldn’t blink. He tried to rally himself mentally: You’re seventeen now. This is one of those places where you become a man.
Nearing the backwall and the waterfall, at least he would see the big white buck up close and even if there wasn’t any gold it would be worth the trip. There wouldn’t be any gold. (Would there?) On the other hand California was the Promised Land.
This was an unexplored canyon. (Wasn’t it?)
Finally he saw it. Silver showering water fell at the back of the canyon. He forced himself forward. There was a cool breeze. The smell was mostly gone. He felt the sting of the arrow that would end his life. But he had to see this lake now.