February 10, 2011 § 6 Comments
Have you ever believed you were about to discover buried treasure? Whether you’re just a young kid or an adult who should know better, the feeling that an unknown treasure lies just below the ground at your feet is intoxicating. It can quickly consume your time, energy, and even your rational thought process. I would know. I’ve searched for buried treasure before and I believed for one fascinating hour that I was about to find it. It was the most exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and even frightening hour of my childhood. Let me tell you about it…
Many were the days in my youth that I spent up at the Zelinka household. Megen, Emily, and I were very close friends and, with the wealth of land and pond their property offered, we had countless ways to pass our childhood afternoons. The afternoon I am most concerned with here took place probably when I was about 9 or 10. It was a gusty fall day, with leaves scudding across the fields and little miniature waves rocking the pond’s surface. After finishing our schoolwork for the day, the three of us decided to take the rowboat out onto the pond and see what mischief we could create. It was a normal plan and something we’d done hundreds of times. Little did we know that this afternoon was not going to follow the norm.
We threw on some windbreakers and grabbed a thermos of lemonade and some homemade chocolate chip cookies. We always went prepared. If we got deep into an involving game of Orphans (Our favorite imaginary scenario at that time was pretending we were orphans/runaways in the forest, usually with one of us having some debilitating disease or handicap, and/or a secret romance with another (imaginary) orphan), we didn’t want to have to break for food. How realistic would that be? So we loaded up on the necessary foodstuffs and headed out to the rowboat. I believe it was Emily who manned the oars that fateful day. We drifted for awhile on the lake, chattering like magpies, our childish fantasies growing real before our eyes. It wasn’t until we had floated closer to the far shore that Megen noticed the scrap of red on the bank.
“What is that red thing sticking out of the ground over there?” She asked, vaguely annoyed. “I hope the little kids haven’t been leaving trash out.” (Meg’s always been the clean, motherly type, and well, when you have 5 or 6 siblings below you, it’s a coping mechanism.) Emily obediently rowed us closer to the shore and after some squinting, and poking with the oar, we discovered the little piece of red was part of a plastic tarp. It was protruding from the ground by only a few inches.
“Why is there a plastic sheet under the ground here?” Emily was the inquisitive type. “I never noticed that before.”
“Let’s see how big it is. Maybe we can just pull it out and clean it up!” I was the goody two shoes, the one who would never leave a mess at someone else’s house, no matter how much I felt like part of their family. “Em, scrape around it with your oar.” She did so, and it soon became apparent that only a few inches further under the dirt, the tarp was wrapped around a red plastic bag. A bag containing something that shifted and moved when you poked it, but was unidentifiable due to the mud and the thickness of the bag’s material. We could barely see the corner of the bag but our curiosity was kindled like a bonfire.
“What’s in that bag and why is it wrapped in a tarp?” Emily voiced the question that was on all our minds. The three of us stood in the boat, staring down at the six inches of tarp and one inch of bag we had uncovered.
“More important, why is it buried on the bank of our pond?” Being three children who read any and all mystery novels we could get our hands on, our minds immediately jumped to the most outrageous possibility.
“Guys, do you think it’s something someone buried here and forgot about? Or left to be found by someone else?” I had unconsciously lowered my voice, not wanting to be heard by whatever spirit might be lingering by the buried bag.
Meg replied in the same hushed tone. “Maybe it was… Andy.” The mysterious Andy. His (her?) name was over the little shed in the yard, signifying the pond as “Andy’s Pond.” We never knew who he was, or why his name had been chosen for the pond. The sign itself was old, the paint cracked and peeling in a dozen places.
“We have to dig more of it out!” Emily twisted around to start rowing and the boat rocked wildly, causing Meg and I to tumble to the bottom of the boat in a very undignified fashion. “We need to get something to dig out with. Maybe one of the other oars, from the canoe. And we should get the binoculars too.”
“Why?” I asked, picking myself up off the floor of the boat and glaring at Em. “It’s not hard to see.”
“To keep an eye out for people!” Emily explained. Her impatience at my slow-wittedness was poorly disguised. “In case the person who buried this stuff is watching to see if anyone finds it!”
Just like that, the forest that surrounded the pond was suddenly full of unseen eyes. I felt my skin prickle into goose bumps as I swung my head wildly around, trying to find the lurking stranger. It was impossible. There were too many places a person could hide, behind the bushes, up in a tree…
“They could have been watching us the whole time!” I blurted out fearfully. “Maybe we shouldn’t touch the stuff.”
Meg shook her head emphatically. “We’ll keep a lookout while we dig it up. We have to see what it is.”
Again, Em voiced what we were all thinking. “What if it’s money in there?”
We reached the shore with that awe-inspiring thought and hastily grabbed another oar. Megen ran into the house for the binoculars and Emily and I bounced in our seats, waiting impatiently for her. Dollar signs were dancing in our eyes and I knew she was picturing the same thing as me: the three of us discovering a cache of buried money, hidden in the ground beside the pond, with no claim to ownership other than our own.
Buried treasure. It’s a powerful allure.
Meg pelted down the hill and jumped into the boat, tossing me the binoculars even though her hasty entrance had almost knocked me into the water. “You’re the smallest, so you have to watch out while Em and I dig.” She bossed me.
I shuddered but obediently took up my job, scanning the far side of the shore where we were headed. The tree branches were mostly devoid of leaves by now and they waved at me threateningly. A squirrel jumped from a bush right as my sight passed over it and I nearly dropped the glasses. Emily got us to the bank with all haste and immediately stood up. She shoved one oar down into the silty ground, steadying the boat as much as possible. Meg grabbed the other oar and scraped away at the muddy tarp. Inch by tantalizing inch, the red bag grew more visible. I paused from my terrified searching of the shoreline to watch her efforts.
“What’s that?” Em cried out suddenly and I jumped with a shriek.
“What!? Where?” I was certain that the vengeful Andy had come to seek his revenge by murdering us in cold blood. They’d have to drag the pond to find our bones…
“Right there.” She pointed down at the bag. “There’s a blue thing.”
Meg scraped away at the little speck of blue until we could see it enough to know it was a second bag. “Two bags,” she said softly. “It has to be money. It just has to be!”
“Let me dig!” Emily grabbed the oar and continued the excavation. Clods of dirt tumbled down the steep side of the bank and into the water. I resumed my search for mysterious strangers, half expecting one to tumble out of the trees and right into our boat. A crow cried out overhead and once again, I nearly dropped the binoculars into the pond.
“This is ridiculous.” Emily was panting with the effort of digging. “Let’s go back to the house and see if there’s a small shovel or something in the basement. Using this oar is stupid.”
“Okay,” Meg agreed. “But we have to come right back, we can’t just leave this here for anyone to find.”
I gulped. “Anyone” sounded particularly sinister to me right then. I nodded in agreement with the plan, willing to do anything to get back to the security of the house. At this point, I was so frightened of the mysterious stranger my mind had conjured that I was willing to sacrifice whatever money or treasure lay buried at our feet. There wasn’t much I could do with treasure if I was dead, I realized with a terrible shiver. “Let’s go back!” I cried.
On the short row back to the landing, Emily and Meg were busily conjecturing the innumerable terrifying possibilities of the treasure’s existence.
“Maybe someone stole it and buried it there and then drowned in the pond!”
“Maybe it’s cursed!”
“Maybe Andy murdered someone for it!”
“Stop!” I begged with my hands over my ears. The girls blithely ignored me, much too used to my timid nature to pay it any attention.
We heaved the boat onto the land and charged up into the house, Meg and Em still full of excitement and me just wanting to be somewhere away from the horrors within the forest.
As we piled into the kitchen, muddy and breathing heavily, Mr. & Mrs. Zelinka looked up from the table.
“What in the world are you doing out there?” Mrs. Z asked, eyeing our flushed faces.
All three of us started in at once, talking over each other with what we thought were the most important parts of the story.
“The bags were buried under the tarp-“ Meg cried.
“And maybe Andy is a ghost now-“ Emily shouted louder.
“Someone was watching us, I could feel it!” I quivered with fear and scooted further away from the windows. What if the treasure person had a rifle?
“What are you talking about?” Mr. Z got up and looked out the kitchen window down to the pond.
“Across the pond, Dad,” Megen said, helpfully pointing out the spot. “See the red tarp piece? There’re bags wrapped underneath it!! Just think, maybe its money!”
“Buried treasure!” Emily chimed in from his other side.
“Girls!” Mr. Z sighed, shook his head, and delivered a blow we never saw coming. “You’ve been digging up the pond lining!”
Silence. We looked at each other, eyes wide. Mr. Z continued, unaware he was crushing our greedy dreams with his ruthless honesty. “The pond bank is lined with tarp and sandbagged, to prevent it from washing away. You’ve been pulling the sandbags out of the ground. That’s all they are.”
“Sandbags?” I whispered. “Then… Andy won’t want to murder us for waking up his ghost and digging up his treasure?”
Mr. Z snorted. “I highly doubt it.”
Megen and Emily were so disappointed, they looked like they would cry. “But we thought…” Em trailed off. What excuse was there? The fever of buried treasure had swept through our veins, erasing any logical thought we might have had.
“Can you please row back over there and see if you can get any of the dirt to cover the lining back into place?” Mr. Z ushered us gently back out the door.
Once in the rowboat, I sighed happily and looked around at the scenery. The forest was back to its friendly self, filled with the noise of chipmunks and birds chattering in the trees. The bushes were no longer menacing hideaways for a masked man intent on murder, but merely the bushes that led to the trail that brought you to the tree house that Francis had built last summer. I glanced over at Meg & Em’s downcast faces and said loftily, “Well, I don’t care. Buried treasure is more trouble than it’s worth. Wanna play Orphans?”