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Posted: Dec 11 2011, 09:36 PM
Map Maker's Guild
Member No.: 343
Joined: 20-January 10
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you crossed a Western novel with a Pirate novel?
This is the backdrop for The Last Treasure Map. In this tale, a young lad in the late 19th century sets sail looking for buried treasure. Instead of carrying a dashing cutlass, he carries a reliable Smith and Weston. Instead of gunning his enemy down with a long-nine, he uses a Winchester or a Gatlin gun.
Here's the first chapter, after a little editing. This probably won't be the final version, as I may still do a little editing. However, the basic content of the chapter should never change.
Here it is:
“I hope you find these conditions satisfactory,” said my uncle. “This is the best we could provide.”
I smiled and glanced around the small room. My uncle and aunt had been very kind to welcome myself into their home on such a short notice. They had cleared most of their old attic of all the ancient furniture and belongings that had belonged to my grandparents, and they had even swept the floor. Just then I noticed a drop of water running down the wall, leaving a path that led to a small leak in the dingy ceiling, and a boarded up window from which I could detect a chilly draft.
“It’s wonderful,” I said with a smile. “Far better than most others, I assume.”
“I am glad you like it.” My uncle relaxed his shoulders and leaned against the wall, and I thought I heard a small sigh of relief. “Supper will be ready for you in a few hours. I’ll see you downstairs.” I watched as his hunched shoulders disappeared down the dark stairwell. As soon as he was gone, I let out my own sight of relief. At last, I could be alone.
I walked to the end of the dilapidated room and sunk into a rough straw matrass. I kicked my boots off in one deft movement and let them fall onto the floor. I then used my toes to remove my sweaty socks, wiggled a little deeper into the matrass, and otherwise allowed myself to get comfortable. Travelling over a hundred miles nonstop was a difficult task, even for an eighteen year old such as myself. My thoughts began to drift towards the remarkable circumstances that had placed me in this unique situation.
My father, at the age of fifty-four, suffered a heart attack while I was at town. I had found him lying face down at the doorstep of the house. My world was shattered.
I was even further distressed to discover that my father had kept many debts, and that nothing on the farm actually belonged to him. The bank owned it all. I sobbed all night when I found out that there was nothing for me in Greenville, Ohio.
Then there was the suggestion that I travel west, where opportunity was abundant and strong backs and sharp minds were in great demand. But something held me back….
My father had told me wonderful stories about his life growing up in Annapolis. Stories about my grandpa, Captain Theodore Palence, commander of the U.S.S. Discovery during the War of 1812. Stories about vicious sea storms, exotic islands, and other allures of the immense ocean. Someday, I had always intended to go back there and visit Annapolis.
Now here I was, against my neighbor’s wishes. But I had long since forgotten about them. The bank had claimed the farm and drained my father’s accounts, and there was nothing for me there. I had sent a letter to my aunt and uncle, but the coach had been waylaid, resulting in a very surprised Mr. and Mrs. Fred Palence and an even more surprised Theodore Palence. I had never met my aunt and uncle, but they certainly appeared to be nice people, if a little reluctant to foster their nephew.
I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on my current predicament. There was nothing for me to do in Annapolis. No future, no career. Why I had decided to move here was still a mystery to myself and the harder I tried to solve the puzzle, the more it seemed to escape me. I began to whisper aloud to myself, trying to solve the innate puzzle that had eluded me ever since my father’s passing. “Was it grandpa’s stories?” I wondered. “Nonsense,” I said. “Those were just tall-tales told around the campfire when I was younger.” I continued to press myself to my mental limits, practically giving myself a headache in the process. After a few more minutes of quiet deliberation, I thought I might have the solution.
I finally gave up and resigned myself to not knowing. After all, father had always said that nobody can ever know everything in life. “Certain things will always elude you,” he’d said.
I crawled off the old bed and rummaged through my belongings until I found a fresh pair of socks. I slipped the misshaped wool stockings over my blistered feet and fastened the laces to my worn boots. If there was one thing I had learned while on the road, it was to never leave yourself unprepared, no matter what the situation.
I stood up and began walking towards the staircase that lead down to the kitchen, but I stopped myself when I reached the first step. After a moment’s thought, I crept back towards my pack that I had left open on the floor, its contents scattered around it like marbles in a sandbox. If I was going to stay here with my aunt and uncle, then I’d have to clean up after myself.
I squatted beside the burlap bag and reached my hand inside, grabbing the first object my fingers made contact with. The first few items were mostly clothes, which I stacked in a neat little pile beside my bed. The last couple of items had sunken to the bottom of the bag, and I removed each one of them with great care.
The first was a photograph of mother, father, and myself when I was just a baby. Although it was faded and worn, you could still see the radiance beaming from my mother’s smile, and my father’s pride in his family. It was not long after this picture was taken that my mother got the consumption and died.
I laid the photograph on my bed and reached into the bag again. My fingers brushed against something hard and square, and I knew I had found the family bible. I gingerly removed it from the bag and cradled it in my palms. The cover was a little fainter than I had remembered it, and one of the corners was bent. I opened its cover and I had to squint in the faint light in order to read the letters of the title page. After a few moments I snapped the book shut, but on an impulse I opened it again. There, scribbled onto the back of the cover, was my family history.
Every event in the Palence family, dating all the way back to my great-grandfather, was written on the back of that cover. My eyes scrolled down about two-thirds down the page until I saw the last entry. I knew what it was, but I read it anyways: 1865—Sarah Palence, died. Buried in Greenville Cemetery.
My eyes began to blur, and it took me a moment to realize I was crying. I shut the book again, this time for good, and slammed it on the floor beside my bed. For a moment, I contemplated the idea of just getting rid of the old bible. It probably wouldn’t be of any use to me anyways, and all it had inside was painful memories. Yet, some small voice inside my head, some part of me that still clung to my life in Ohio, refused to let me throw the book away. I reached my hand back inside the bag and decided that I could wait to decide what to do with the bible.
The last item inside the bag was my most prized possession. On the last birthday my father and I had spent together, he bestowed a gift upon me, which didn’t always happen every year. I dug around a little more with my hand and finally gripped the handle of the Smith and Weston revolver that Dad had given me. It was a model ____, the best gun the store had in stock. Dad said that he wanted me to be able to defend myself in life, and he and I had spent many hours practicing in the barn behind the house. My eyes blurred again as I thought of the day when I finally bested Father in shooting practice.
I held the gun in my hand with as much affection as I had held the family bible, albeit I treasured thus possession far more, as much as it shamed me to admit it. The bible only held memories of my past, while the revolver promised me of my future. If it came down to it, I knew which item I would ultimately keep.
With the last item gone, I let the burlap sack slip through my fingers and fall onto the floor. I didn’t need it any longer, now that my aunt and uncle had agreed to house me. My life in Ohio and my journey on the road were all behind me now, and this time I did not stop when I reached the first step of the staircase.