As a series of rocks tumbled down the slope, a cloud of gray dust ascended and collapsed quickly due to the thin air. A small wolf spider scrambled to avoid certain death, or at least a very bad day.
Michael had been stuck in this spot for at least twenty minutes and had little to show for his progress. He pulled a cloth from his shirt pocket and wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes. He looked to his left in search of an easier way up. Nothing. He turned to his right and stared again at the ledge which was about a foot above his head. It would be tricky, but in his many adventures, he had certainly faced far worse. He considered himself lucky that he hadn’t run into any stalking mountain lions as he had in his last undertaking, or a den of rattlesnakes similar to the one he fell into while searching for the lost Aztec city of Aztlán.
He put the cloth back in his pocket, unshouldered his hiking pack and heaved it up over the edge of the ridge. He moved beneath the ledge and reached up to grab ahold. His knuckles burned as his fingers dug into the edge and he grunted loudly as he exhausted his last bit of strength to pull his body upward. He kicked his left foot against the mountain and swung his right leg over the ledge. His heel managed to find a boulder, which he promptly leveraged to yank the rest of his body over the top.
Exhausted, Michael laid with his back against the dirty ground, eyes closed, attempting to catch his breath for the next few minutes. He turned his head and slowly opened his eyes, only to see the sun edging toward the horizon. Dusk was coming and he realized he wasn’t going to get much further tonight. He directed his gaze toward the mountain and discovered good fortune. In front of him was a small alcove, about eight feet deep into the mountain, ten or so feet from edge to edge and just tall enough to allow him to sit up. Though it might not stand up against a major weather event, at least it would cut out some of the cold wind that had picked up and felt like hundreds of tiny needles jabbing into his exposed skin.
He picked himself up off the ground, grabbed his pack and walked to the opening. It appeared luck truly was on his side today. A previous inhabitant had left pile of logs in the left corner of the cave. He got on his knees and shuffled towards the back wall, leaning his pack against it. Reaching into the pack, he pulled out his sleeping bag and unrolled it so that it ran along the back of the cave. He then pulled out a lighter along with a tiny wad of kindling. After placing the kindling towards the center of the cubbyhole, he reached for the firewood. He took several logs and leaned them on end against each other, in a teepee-like formation around the kindling. With his thumb brushing against the sparkwheel of the lighter, it rubbed against the flint and produced a small flame. He touched the flame against the kindling and it took hold. The flames spread rapidly until they finally grabbed onto the cordwood and the fire began to sustain itself.
When the heat started to seep out, Michael was comfortable enough to finally relax. He peeked into his backpack again, grabbed a bag of beef jerky and a folded piece of worn, yellowing paper. He moved his backpack to the head of his sleeping bag to use as a makeshift pillow and lied back with his head propped up against it. While taking a large bite of the jerky, he unfolded the piece of paper. The penciled writing was a bit faded at this point, but he could still decipher, correctly he hoped, what was on the page.
At the bottom was a crude drawing of a mountain with Mt. Misterioso scribbled underneath. The top of the mountain had a circle around it and an arrow extending to another sketch above the mountain. It was of a peculiar looking tree, in a withered state, no leaves to be had. There appeared to be a small pyramid leaning against it’s trunk and beneath the pyramid was a bold X.
He folded the paper back up and stuffed it back into the pack. The fire crackled and popped in the background and Michael could hear the crickets begin to chirp away in the distant darkness. He crawled into his sleeping bag and laid back down. He put his hands under his head and a wry smile crept onto his face as he began to think about the fame and fortune that this treasure would bring him. As he thought of all the newspaper articles and book deals he’d have to deal with when he returned home, he quickly faded off to sleep.
Michael dreamed that he was a young boy. He sat at the edge of a small bed, staring down at old, faded brown carpet. With elbows rested on knees, his fists pushed into his chubby cheeks. He thought long and hard about what his father said. You’re becoming a big boy now, son. It’s time to start acting like one. Michael had a lot of ideas of what he wanted to be – an astronaut, a police officer, a treasure hunter, a construction man. One thing he knew for certain was that he didn’t want to be a little baby. His dad was right. It was time to grow up.
He jumped off the bed and grabbed a trash bag that had been sitting near his feet. He opened it up and made his way toward the closet. Upon sliding open the door, the magnitude of what he needed to do stared back at him from the shelves. He reached in and grabbed a fat, smiling purple dinosaur.
“I love you. You love me. We’re a happy fa-mi-ly!”
It made a light thump as it hit the bottom of the bag. A box filled with tinker toys and toy cars was next. Sighing deeply, he dragged his right arm across the whole center shelf, sweeping everything in its path into the bag. Some of the items missed their mark and fell onto the floor.
“Come on Michael, hurry up. We’re gonna be late!”
Michael dropped the bag and closed the closet door.
“Be right there, dad!”
Michael awoke to a loud squawking in his ear. His eyes fluttered open and spied the back of a large crow perched on the edge of the alcove, overlooking the valley below. Michael shuffled his legs inside his sleeping bag and the crow turned its head toward him. The crow squawked once more and flew off toward the open air.
Michael enjoyed a small breakfast of peanut butter and crackers, filling him up and renewing his strength. He rolled up his sleeping bag and packed away his things. With the fire only lightly smoldering, he threw the pack on his back and resumed the journey upwards. He couldn’t be far from his destination now.
He marched his way up some jagged rocks that hung near the left edge of the cave and after thirty minutes of steep inclines and winding ridges, he finally came upon his destination. The top of the mountain was rather flat and aside from a few boulders, held only a familiar looking tree. Michael took in a deep breath. Well, I’ve made it… he thought to himself. He dropped his sack, opened the top and pulled out a small spade. Walking around the tree, he studied the ground. As he reached the back of the tree, he stopped suddenly. Sitting against the trunk was a large stone, shaped like a lopsided pyramid. He knelt down and drove the spade into the ground in front of the rock.
It only took a minute of digging before the tip of the shovel pushed back. Michael raised the spade and tapped it against the bottom of the fresh hole.
He turned the spade over and dragged the tip along the top of the soil until he found the edges of the object. He cleared out the surrounding dirt with his hands and finally stopped when he found himself staring at a small wooden box. He lifted it from the hole and wiped off the remaining grime. He studied the box carefully, but it appeared to be quite plain. No interesting markings or writing. He saw the box had a latch on the front that held down the lid. Flipping the latch upward, he slowly opened the box. Inside was a small piece of paper, folded in half. Michael crinkled his brow. He pulled out the paper and shook the box. He turned it upside down and looked inside, rubbing his finger along the inside edges. That was it. Nothing else.
He threw the box to the ground and unfolded the piece of paper. He began to read.
I’m sorry, but I have to say goodbye. I hope you’re not mad. There are so many more adventures for us to go on and treasures to find, but my dad says it’s time for me to become more responsible. I don’t want to leave you behind, but if I don’t, he will be angry with me. Thank you for always being there when I needed you. I hope we’ll meet again someday.