This week’s short story is by a guest author! This is a children’s story by my friend, who appears here as the author VITO. Enjoy! S.
It was just the beginning of summer, and it was the first time a little boy would be spending time with his grandparents in the countryside by himself. He already was a little bored: no television or video games, and everything smelled musty. His grandparents didn’t seem to like anything very sweet or loud, or have anything made of brightly-colored plastics. He sat in his room, wondering if maybe he could convince his grandparents that going to McDonald’s for his birthday would be a good idea. He had already worked out an escape plan: he’d swap clothes with some other boy, slipping him the 5 dollars of “emergency money” that Mom had solemnly entrusted to him, and then hide under the giant pile of balls in the playroom. Then he would live at McDonalds until his parents came back. He felt a little bad about using the emergency money, as he had thought it would be useful for the purchase of chocolate if he saved it, but if this wasn’t an emergency, he didn’t know what was. He was going to be stuck here for a whole week otherwise! It had already been 30 minutes since he’d been dropped off, and he felt like he was going to die of boredom.
There was a gentle knock at the door, followed by the craggy head of his Grandfather.
“Hello, Vito!” said Grandpa. “Your mother told me that your birthday is today!”
“Yeahâ€¦â€ muttered Vito, who was still lost in the planning of his escape. He did not fail to notice, however, that Grandpa was carrying a small covered basket. That had some entertainment potential, especially in the context of birthdays.
Grandpa sat next to Vito with a thump, looking him in the eye appraisingly, “Bored?”
Vito nodded sullenly.
“Well, maybe this birthday present will cheer you up. Your mother tells me that it was today. Did I already say that? Happy Birthday!” He handed the basket to Vito with a small flourish. Vito took it and gave it an exploratory shake. It was awfully light. Upon opening it, he saw it was empty. Vito, veteran of many birthday parties, fished around with his hand to make sure there wasn’t a check or gift card stuck inside. Nope, it was emptyâ€¦it was quite probable that—and the horror of this was not lost on Vitoâ€”that the basket was the gift. Grandfather noted Vitoâ€™s expression of consternation with amusement.
“Grandpaâ€, said Vito slowly, so he would be understood, â€œThe basket is empty.”
“A Hah! But the basket is just the key to your present!” boomed Grandpa. “Your real present is out in the field in back of the house, but first I’m going to tell you a secret that only your grandmother, myself, and now you know. There’s a treasure in that field that has been lost for many years, and because you’re such a good boy we’re going to let you look for it. The basket is for putting clues into, so you can bring them back to the house for inspection, and we can tell you if you’re getting warmer or colder. Whaddya say?”
Treasure! Vito was all about treasure! But still…”Grandpa, is there a McDonald’s nearby?”
Grandpa wrinkled his nose, “No. There is, however, a Bernie’s Fish and Chips over in Booneville. That might make for a nice birthday dinner…I hear the fish is especially slimy, just the way I-”
“That’s OK, Grandpa! Didn’t Mom tell you I hate fish?”
“Oh, that’s too bad…you should just smell the place! Quite an odor, attracts people from miles around, along with the flies. Maybe some other day weâ€™ll go. But first, letâ€™s look at the field.”
The field was larger than Vito expected, stretching off for quite a distance toward the horizon, where a line of trees obscured what looked like a small creek. There were tall grasses with stalks of fuzzy things on the end, flower and clover, and all kinds of green things that Vito expected would be part of a normal field. He stood there, clutching his empty basket, uncertain as what to do next.
Grandpa laid a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Ok, Vito. I know that this is the first time you may have professionally gone treasure hunting, so let me give you some tips. Treasure is always hidden, obviously, so people don’t just stumble across it. However, there are always patterns and clues you can find, because people who bury treasure need to be able to find them again. If you can find the patterns and the clues, you will eventually find the treasure. Like pirates and X-marks-the-spot, or a bunch of things that makes a line that points at a big rock…do you understand?”
Vito did. “Yup. Look for clues and patterns and rocks.”
“Good enough! Here is a map of the field…you can see the trees over by the creek here at the top, and here’s the house. When you find something you want to put in your basket, mark where you found it on this map, so your grandmother and I know where you found it; you might have to find your way back to the same spot later! You can also write down clues in the notebook, or draw pictures to describe things. Oh, that’s right…you need a notebook.”
Grandpa handed Vito a small leather-bound notebook with a piece of string tied around it. It was the nicest notebook that Vito had ever seen. Very grown up!
Grandpa beamed with satisfaction. “Yes, that is a professional-quality treasure hunting notebook, very hard to come by I’ll have you know. If you’re going to be hunting treasure, you should have the right gear. The paper is waterproof, and the binding will withstand just about anything you can throw at it. Still, you should take care of it, because when you treat things nicely, they’re more apt to treat you the same way in return.”
Vito was feeling more excited now…he was a professional treasure hunter, with a notebook! All he needed now was a bullwhip, a hat, and a gun. He mentioned this oversight to Grandpa.
“Hmmâ€ said Grandpa thoughtfully, â€œYou’re thinking of the South American style of treasure hunting. In these here parts, we use notebooks and good ole’ American brainpower. That’s what won us WW2, you know, gave us the edge! When you learn to speak Portuguese we’ll look into South America. Although you’re right that you do need more gear; I’ve marked the location of it on the map I gave you, so why don’t you go find it? Grandma and I can watch you from the house, so if you need anything just give us a holler.”
Grandpa turned and retreated back to the house, leaving Vito by the edge of the field. Unfolding the map that Grandpa had given him, Vito saw an X marked by what looked like the porch of the house. Under a bucket he found a small thin box, inside of which was a silvery engraved pen and a handwritten note:
“Vito, your Grandpa told me you are getting your own treasure hunting notebook for the summer. That is so exciting! Here is your own treasure hunting pen. It writes upside down and is waterproof, and has been used by actual treasure hunters and astronauts! Please treat it well, and may it bring you luck in return. Love, Grandma.”
The pen had “VITO – TREASURE HUNTERIST” engraved in it. Vito ran his fingers over it, feeling the slightly-raspy surface of the engraved letters and watching how the sunlight reflected off it onto his hand. The pen fit neatly into a loop in the notebook. All very grown up and professional, Vito thought. The treasure was as good as his! The map he folded and put it in a pouch at the back of the notebook, creating a neat package that fit nicely into his basket. Perhaps he would first investigate the line of tree…Grandpa had said something about things that formed a line, so maybe that was a clue.
Vito set foot into the field, making his way to the line of trees. He had no idea what he was looking for, but if there was treasure to be found it would be his.
The field was fairly flat for the first hundred or so feet, and then started to slope gently toward the tree line. Vito had to step carefully, as there were patches of moss in places. He wondered why the moss was growing thereâ€¦maybe it was a clue? He looked around for some kind of landmark so he could note where the moss was, and spied what looked like a field of wild strawberries. That would require further investigation later, though he remembered how his Dad had warned him about the danger of poisonous berries that could kill people but not birds. And then he saw the anthills underneath the berries. A swarm of ants were milling around what looked like a dead bug, carrying it with small lurches and wobbles toward their home. Vito poked the bug with a stick, and the ants briefly scattered before returning. This was entertaining until some ants got into his pants. Vito suddenly understood that this wasnâ€™t as funny as he had been led to believe by his parents. It also seemed like a good time to go back into the house.
â€œHowâ€™s the treasure hunting going?â€ asked Grandma.
â€œOK I guess! I just started! I saw some moss, then some strawberries, and then a lot of anthills! The ants were carrying this giant bug, and I was trying to, um, help them. Some of the ants got into my pants, so I came back inside so I could get them out…I think theyâ€™re mostly gone now.â€
Grandma looked slightly concerned. â€œOh, I would leave the ants alone, I think weâ€™ve already looked for the treasure there. You should probably put on some thicker socks and pants too, to protect against the ants and maybe other things. But I think youâ€™re on the right track. Letâ€™s get you changed, and then you can go out again.â€
Although Vito was already ready to go, he did allow for the thicker socks. He didnâ€™t like ants that much, and didnâ€™t relish the idea of larger bugs having at him. Grandma gave him a bag of Cheetos snacks and a sandwich, and shooed him out of the house.
Vito made it all the way down to the line of trees, and did indeed see that there was a very shallow creek there in the shade. It made interesting sounds as the water burbled over the rocks and pebbles. The trees didnâ€™t exactly make a straight line, but Vito followed them until he came to a small clearing with a large rock on it. This he noted on his map. The treasure might be underneath the rock, but it was too large for him to move. Some smaller rocks, about the side of a softball, were much easier to move. The first rock had a big bug under it, and this took Vito by surprise so much he dropped the rock on his foot and the bug ran away. It didnâ€™t hurt that much, but Vito did want to sit down. The big rock seemed particularly well suited to this, so thatâ€™s what he did.
The rock was warm from being in the sun, and was shaped in a way that he could actually use it as a chair. The top of the rock was also conveniently flat and level, so he put his basket on top of it and took out his sandwich. From his vantage point on the rock, Vito could see that there were lots of ants around here too. He tossed one of the big orange Cheetos onto the ground to see what theyâ€™d do. After a few minutes, the Cheetos snack was covered with ants, and to Vitoâ€™s surprise it started turning white. The ants appeared to be eating the surface of the Cheetos. Vito fished one out of his bag, bit into it, and saw that the inside was all white. What a rip off! When I have the treasure, Vito vowed silently, I will buy cheese snacks that are orange all the way through.
His sandwich finished, Vito jumped off the rock and collected his basket. He carefully noted the location of the rock next to the trees, and tried to have a look at the bottom of it. No trap doors or mysterious writing. Vito decided it might be just an ordinary â€œSitting Rock.â€ He turned over a few more small rocks, curious to see whether they all had bugs under them. Most of them did, which Vito found interesting until he wondered whether the Sitting Rock had a giant bug under it, which made Vito a little uneasy. He decided that maybe he could bring Grandpa out to the Sitting Rock later and show him, and maybe this would be enough to convince him to reconsider that whole South American style of treasure hunting after all. In the meantime, he needed something to protect himself with. He noticed a nice stick nearby, and inspected it. It was just about the right height, pretty straight, and had a good solid feel to it. It was like the stick was made for him. He opened his notebook and noted: â€œacquired treasure hunting stickâ€ in a page he chose to label â€œTREASURE HUNTING THINGS.â€
Armed and presumably dangerous, Vito felt much more inclined to do more exploring. Making his way back to the trees, he noticed that some of them had scratches in them with sap coming out. Was this a clue? Maybe the scratches spelled something, or they were marked to point the way to the secret treasure cavern. He spent some time inspecting all the trees, noting that although they were all just trees, each of them had a unique appearance. One tree in particular looked very angry, with a twisted barky face that looked like it was screaming at him. Was this another treasure hunter that had been cursed? He heard a scratching noise from aboveâ€¦maybe it was the tree branches waving in the windâ€¦or it was a giant bug getting ready to crawl out from under a nearby rock! Or the tree was about to curse him too! Run away! Vito sprang away from the tree as quickly as he could, ready to run for his life, but he tripped over the treasure stick and flopped back down. His hand came down on something hard and spiky, making him yelp. But when he lifted his hand to look at it, there was a gold and silver ring, which looked very old and precious. Vito had found treasure on his very first day. Obviously, he was what his father would call â€œa natural.â€
With a whoop of joy and excitement, Vito ran back toward the house. His Grandpa was out in the field already. Vito yelled â€œGrandpa! Grandpa!â€ and Grandpa hollered back, â€œDid you find it? Letâ€™s have a look!â€
Vito ran breathlessly up to him, jumping up and down with excitement. Grandpa beamed excitedly, calling Grandma over too. â€œCalm down, Vito! We knew youâ€™d find it! I hope you like it! Did you have fun?â€ Vito told them about the ants, the Cheetos, the giant bug under the sitting rock, and the angry tree and showed them the ring with a huge smile. But instead of the expected exclamations of praise and wonder, his grandparents looked shocked and rather surprised.
â€œOh my,â€ said Grandma. â€œWhere did you find this?â€
â€œBy the trees!â€ Vito exclaimed excitedly. â€œThere was this really angry scary looking tree that I thought was cursed or maybe another treasure hunter that had been turned into a tree! When started to run away from it to avoid the curse, I tripped and then I saw the ring! So now I call it the TREASURE TREE! I bet thereâ€™s more there! We should go back with a tractor and dig it up!â€ Vito looked back and forth between his grandparents. They were uncharacteristically quiet. Finally, his grandfather spoke.
â€œYouâ€™ve done very well, Vito.â€ said Grandpa. â€œYouâ€™ve found your great grandmotherâ€™s wedding ring, which has been lost for about 30 years.â€
â€œGreat-grandmotherâ€™s ring? The one that came from England that Mom talks about sometimes?â€
Grandma nodded. â€œYesâ€¦do you know the story of how it was lost?â€ Vito shook his head no.
â€œYour mother, when she was about your age, got into the jewelry box and put this ring on when she was out playing in the field. It was too big for her fingers, so she put it on a piece of yarn around her neck. Iâ€™d told her that someday it would be her wedding ring, so she got it into her head that it was hers. She lost it somewhere in the woods, spent days looking for it before she told us what sheâ€™d done. She was very very sad.â€
â€œReally? Mom did something bad?â€ Vito asked excitedly. He couldnâ€™t believe it!
Grandpa laughed, â€œOh yes, she was in big trouble for going through your Grandmotherâ€™s jewelry box. She was grounded for weeks, and she spent the entire time looking for that ring. Even when she was in high school she would sometimes go out and try to figure out where she lost it. That was the ring she wanted to be married in, plus it your grandmother would occasionally bring it up when your Mom was being particularly naughty.â€
â€œHow did Mom get married without the ring?â€
â€œAs it turns out, your father had his own ideas about the ring, so everything worked out. But I have to confess something to youâ€¦this wasnâ€™t the treasure you were supposed to find.â€
Vito was confused. â€œSupposed to find? You already know where the treasure is and didnâ€™t tell me?â€
Grandpa sighed. â€œYesâ€¦letâ€™s go over to the old dog house and see whatâ€™s inside.â€
They walked over to the old dog house, and inside was a brand new wagon with a wrapped box on top of it. The wagon had a big card on the handle that said â€œHAPPY BIRTHDAY to VITO THE TREASURE HUNTERâ€, and the box said â€œFOR TREASURE HUNTERS ONLYâ€. Vito pulled the wagon out, still a little confused by what had happened. However, his finely-honed present-opening skills were fully present, and the box was opened with great speed and dexterity. Inside was a cool backpack packed with all kinds of things: a magnifying class that could close in its own case, several clear plastic containers with lids on them marked â€œspecimensâ€, a bronze compass with a twisty glow-in-the-dark dial, a pair of socks labeled â€œant-proofâ€, a metallic green water bottle, a locking lunch box, and a pair of red binoculars. It was quite a haul, and Vito knew what heâ€™d do with every item. He was thinking that maybe he should keep his plans about the magnifying glass to himself, but his Grandpa seemed to read his mind and said in a stern voice, â€œThat magnifying glass is only for magnifying things, Vito, if you know whatâ€™s good for you.â€ Vito involuntarily hopped in guilt. Stillâ€¦
He looked up at Grandpa. â€œIf there is no real treasure in the field, why did you want to fool me?â€
Grandpa fidgeted. â€œWell, we thought it would be fun and adventurous for you, looking for something in a field. Thereâ€™s all kinds of interesting things out there, like the sitting rock, and the angry tree. Thereâ€™s the wild strawberries, and the Queen Anneâ€™s Lace that has the spiders in the middle of them. Thereâ€™s lots of interesting rocks, the stream has frogs in it, and sometimes thereâ€™s jackrabbits in the field. Your mother used to try to catch them, but they were always too fast for her. There are garden snakes, which are harmless. It just looks like an empty field the first time youâ€™re in it, but when you look closely there are treasures in it. So, from a certain point of view, we werenâ€™t actually trying fooling you.â€
Vito, who was already lost at â€œQueen Anneâ€™s Lace,â€ looked at Grandma for clarification. She shot Grandpa an exasperated look, and then addressed Vito softly, first stooping down lower so she could look Vito in the face. â€œVito, we wanted you to have fun exploring the field, but weâ€™re sorry that you felt we were making fun of you. What your Grandpa is trying to say is that heâ€™s sorry too. Are you ok?â€
Vito was already looking through his new backpack, checking the pockets for envelopes and gift cards. His instincts had not failed him; a gift certificate for â€œThe Discovery Storeâ€ was in a side pocket. He hoped there was one nearby, because that meant â€œmallâ€, which meant â€œtoysâ€ and usually â€œMcDonaldsâ€. Though with all the loot he had now, he didnâ€™t think heâ€™d need to use his five dollars of emergency funds to effect his escape. â€œYeah sure Grandma! Thanks for the presents! Can I go try them out? Now? And so itâ€™s OK to eat the strawberries? Where are the spider lace things? Can you make me another sandwich? Do frogs bite? What other naughty things did Mom do? Was she as good at treasure hunting too?â€
Grandpa laughed and tousled Vitoâ€™s hair. â€œSure, letâ€™s go and see the frogs. I think I might find some treasure along the way too!â€