Old books have always captured my interest. From personal diaries to ancient maps, finding unfamiliar, old records on paper has been my hobby. Once, when we visited my great uncle’s farm, I found a slip of paper sticking out of the bathtub shower head. I reached up and tugged it out of place, marveling at how old it seemed.How it never got ruined, I have no clue.
But as I gazed at the wrinkled paper, trying to decipher its writing, someone banged on the bathroom door, yelling at me to hurry up. That scared the bejeebers out of me and I jumped out of the tub, hollering back that I’d be done in a minute.
I carefully folded the paper, and trying not to crush it, I stuck it in my hoodie pocket. I opened the door and immediately my youngest brother burst into a rant.
“ What in the world took you so long?! You were in there for ages and Mom’s taking care of Macie in the bathroom upstairs.” Gage’s brown eyes blazed.
I stared back at him, wrinkling my nose, which I tend to do often. “What do you expect me to do in the restroom?” I replied, moving out of the doorway into the hallway. He stomped into the bathroom and with a final glare at me, he slammed the door shut.
As soon as I heard Gage lock the door, I turned around and went out the back door, wondering about the piece of paper I had found. I stood on the deck and looked around for a good spot to examine the writing.
My eyes wandered to a fallen tree next to the rotting wooden fence. Giant aspen trees formed a ring around the dead wood, guarding it like ants protecting their queen. I walked over to the closest tree and put my hand on it, the smooth bark feeling like a soft sheet on my fingers. I took a deep breath and stepped into the circle of golden shade. I walked softly across the grass and sat down on the base of the fallen aspen.
Here I pulled out from my pocket the square of paper. It was covered in scribbled handwriting around what looked like a mini map. The paper itself was only about four inches long by three inches tall, so the writing was tiny. In the top left corner was the title “The House of the Strykers” in larger print.
That was the first thing that stood out to me. That’s my last name. And my great uncle’s. A wave of excitement overcame me and I searched the paper with more interest. A note on the bottom said it was a two story house with a little attic. I noticed a minute compass rose with a scale in the bottom right corner.
I started looking for significant markings that were in my uncle’s farm house. I found some similarities on the front-view side of the paper. A giant brick chimney. Five stone steps to the front door.
I flipped the page around to the top view. There were three bedrooms on the first floor, four on the top floor. Both stories had two bathrooms. Then I noticed something else.
A tiny little square in the middle of the second room on the right. First floor, in the corner of the kitchen closet. Marked with “ SR” in bold print. Both capital letters.
Spreading the little sheet out on the tree trunk, I was about to search for more clues about the “SR” room when suddenly my mom’s voice rang out from behind me.
“Evony!” she called. I turned around, holding my hand on the paper to keep it from fluttering away.“ Come in and get ready to leave in a few. We need to get back home for dinner.” She waved her arms at me.
“All right, I’m coming,” I yelled back. I turned back to my map and rolled it up, and delicately placed it in my hoodie pocket once more.
That evening we left for home. In the car I never took it out of my pocket for fear of my siblings tearing it up. But I fingered the worn parchment in my pocket, pondering what “SR” stood for.
All that happened when I was ten. Three years later I still have that sacred paper in a little lock box tucked away in my writer’s desk. For months after finding the map, I would beg my parents to take me to Uncle Melvin’s house. And for the most part, they did. I had searched and searched for a sign of a hidden latch in that closet. I had tried to find something, anything that would show a hint of a secret door in the floor.
After finding no trace I gave up. I remember tossing the map into the lock box and locking it, telling myself to forget about it. That seemed to work for a while.
Until one Friday in history class at school. We were talking about mystery books and coded maps and secret rooms when I thought of my little map. I decided to take a look at it when I got home.
After school, I caught up with two of my friends in the main hall. “Arryn, Don, I’ve got something to show you.” They turned around. “Huh,” came their replies.
“Can you guys come over for a few?” I was grinning my head off thinking about the map once again.
Arryn pushed her blonde hair behind her ear and sniffed. “Yeah, just give me a second to text my mom.” She pulled out her phone and her fingers moved faster than I could say “noodles.”
I turned to Don. He was looking at his phone. I cleared my throat.
He looked up at me and shoved his glasses up on his nose. “Yep. Already told my dad that I’d be a few minutes late.” I raised my eyebrows and he tilted his head. I smiled.
After Arryn got approval from her mom, we headed to my house a few blocks away. At my house, I grabbed a snack from the kitchen and returned to my room where they were waiting.
“So whatcha got for us?” Don was spinning in my office chair when I walked in. “Is it a pirate’s treasure map?” he asked sarcastically. Arryn sniffed behind me on my bed.
I ignored his second question and stepped around him to my desk. When I brandished the mini lockbox, Don stopped spinning. Arryn walked over. “You brought us here for a Walmart box that you found?” She scrunched up her nose.
“No, and I will show you what’s in it if you stop making fun of it.” I opened a drawer in my desk and picked up the key. I fit the key into the keyhole and turned, snapping the lock open. Flipping the lid up, I delicately pulled out the wrinkled and slightly torn paper and set it on the desk.
“Whoa,” Arryn breathed. Don pushed his glasses up and gazed at it with wide eyes, a goofy expression on his face. “It is a treasure map.”
I burst out laughing and Arryn joined in, her hair falling in her face. Don just sat there with an innocent look on his face until he started laughing, too.
“No, stop, I don’t know what it is,” I finally said after a full minute of laughing. “Take it seriously or I’ll send you home.”
“Okay, okay, now what is it.” He folded his hands on the desk.
“Whatever it is, it has your name on it,” Arryn commented to me. I nodded. She continued. “And by the looks of it, it’s a map of your Uncle Melvin’s house, if memory serves me right.” I nodded again, remembering all the times she had gone on weekend trips with me to his house.
“Ok, but what is it a map of?” Don asked.
“Well, it’s of the house at least,” I murmured. “But look here.” I pointed at the small room labeled “SR.” “I don’t know what this stands for.”
Don had barely looked at it for a few seconds when he figured it out. “Secret Room. I bet it stands for Secret Room.” He smacked the desk and a jar of pencils fell off onto the carpet. “Oops.” he leaned out of the chair and set the jar upright on my desk.
I slapped my forehead. “Right. I should have known that.”
“Have you looked for the room, or found it?” Arryn questioned.
“Uh, yeah I’ve looked but I never found a clue that it actually exists.” I tapped my desk, wishing I had more information.
“Then I vote to visit your uncle’s house and find the hidden room,” Don proposed. “Who’s with me?”
Arryn and I stared at him. “Give me thirty minutes max to pack a bag and get ready.” Arryn gathered her things, shouldering her backpack. And she walked out the door. Don looked at me.
“It was your idea,” I said indifferently.
Sure enough, thirty minutes later, Mom and I picked Arryn and Don up on the way to Uncle Melvin’s place. I actually didn’t think my mom would let us but she must have been in a good mood. We three in the back seats talked the whole thirty five minutes there. We didn’t mention anything about why we wanted to go because Mom was probably listening.
Once we got there, we had to eat dinner right away. But right after we excused ourselves we went upstairs to our rooms and I pulled out the map.
“Let’s get to work.” Arryn headed back downstairs, Don and I right behind her.
I led them into the tiny storage closet in the kitchen. We all squeezed in as I pulled the chain to turn on the light bulb. I held out the map so each of us could see it.
“According to the map, there should be a trap door right over...here.” I pointed with my foot at the area.
“Okie dokie.” Don got on his knees and started pounding gently on different spots, listening for a hollow noise. Arryn and I sat down and did the same.
All of a sudden I heard the noise we had been waiting for: the echo of a hollow space beneath us. “I found it!” Arryn cried.
We clustered around her, examining the echoing area. I ran my hands over the floor, feeling for any bump or strain in the flooring. I reached my arm under a shelf and found something. A little ring attached to the floor.
“Guys, feel this,” I exclaimed as I removed my hand from the spot. They shuffled over and I drew back to give them room. Don was the first to reach under the shelf. He sat up and wiped his hand across his jeans, leaving a pale streak that seemed to glow in the dim light.
“There definitely is something down there,” he remarked. “It might be a handle for the trapdoor.”
“Well, let’s not just sit here,” Arryn impatiently said. “I’ll try pulling it and tell me if you see anything else.” Don and I murmured our agreement.
I sat back on my heels, waiting to hear a click or a snap as Arryn tugged on the metal ring. After a moment of struggling, she withdrew from below the shelf with a frustrated sigh. She was covered in the same dust that was on Don’s hand.
Don snorted. “You look like a ghost,” he commented. I shoved him to the side to make room for Arryn to sit up.
“Did you hear anything at all?” she questioned. I shook my head no and Don confirmed it with “Nope.”
“Ok, let me try.” Don moved around Arryn, and I shifted to make more space. He stretched his arm underneath the shelf. “I’m going to pull really hard and listen for another sound.”
A wave of anticipation washed over me, and I strained my ears for a different noise as Don pulled the ring.
A simple click behind me. My heart leapt to my throat as I spun around to see a piece of wood sticking out from beneath the edge of the bottom shelf. I looked back at my friends and they nodded.
I reached out and grabbed the wooded block. Attached to a two-inch metal pole, it was smooth and sanded compared to the rough oak shelves. From my vantage point I could see that, engraved on it, was a symbol. I lied down on my back and slid under the shelf.
The symbol was simple, yet complex. Ordinary, and still beautiful. Two arrows wound around a globe of the Earth, like snakes around their prey. The arrows were facing the same direction: clockwise. I reached up and, hardly daring to breath, slowly turned the block of wood to the right.
And immediately there was a grating sound. Stone against stone. I got up from the floor as a section of the back wall began to sink into shadow, leaving a yawning gap in the bare stone.
One by one we stood up. I stared at Arryn, who was a rigid pillar, her eyes wide. Don was already moving toward the black doorway. I snapped out of my trance and followed him into the abyss. He glanced over his shoulder at us, grinning like crazy.
Arryn clicked on her flashlight behind us, sending a beam of light into the dark.
Don stopped and, turning around, said, “Hey, pass that up here.” I handed him the flashlight from Arryn and he shone it in front of him. He breathed in sharply when he had reached the end of the hallway.
“What? What is it? What is it?” I pushed past him and stood there with my mouth open, gawking at the sight.
Arryn filed in beside me. “It actually was a treasure map.” Her voice was hushed with awe, for at the end of the hall, there was a huge cavern covered in stalagmites and stalactites. And the cavern was full of scrolls. On stone tables laid ginormous scrolls and ancient-looking paper.
We were surrounded by the scent of old parchment, like the smell of dust. Stone shelves were drowned in a sea of paper sheets, the sizes ranging from minute to massive. I didn’t dare touch any of it for fear of damaging the priceless artifacts. There were manuscripts dated in 1145. Maps of the ancient Middle East, and the settlements in early China. Scrolls with titles like “Holy Texts” or “Original Figures.” I took it all in.
Don turned to us. “We can never tell anyone about this,” he realized. “Or else people will destroy it all.”
“Y-yeah, we can’t,” I stammered. I fell silent once more.
Then I heard the distant calling of my mom and we immediately stumbled back up the passageway. I was the last one out, so I twisted the knob counter-clockwise and the door grated shut.
When we emerged from the closet, my mom came over to us. “What were you doing in there?” she burst out.
We looked at each other. I stepped forward. “Nothing,” I replied evenly, pulling out a few jerky sticks I had snagged on the way out. “Just grabbing a late snack.”