Zephrum Gates & The Strange Magical Treasure

By Tricia Riel

Chapter 1

The Crime Scene

The late summer days had dried out the wild grasses on the uplands.  Hillsides had become crispy yellow tinder under the sun’s penetrating rays.  Beyond the regular schedule of summer festivals, fairs, and farmer’s markets, there wasn’t much news to report.  Archibald Greevy, the editor of the local newspaper in the Haversville area, was sucking on a Popsicle in his office, daydreaming. 

Looking at a spreadsheet with numbers on it, he whispered aloud.  “Newspaper sales have plummeted ever since summer began.”  Continuing to talk to himself, he said, “Heck, Who am I kidding?  All year, each month, our newspaper sales have been dwindling.  It must be caused by the danged economy.”  He said “economy” as though it was a dirty word.  “If somebody could get to the root of the problem and stop this plummet in sales, The Diurnal Journal would prosper like it once did in its heyday.”

Archibald was wishing something interesting would happen when he heard a report on the police surveillance radio that he kept in his office.  He strained to hear the words through the crackling. 

At the same time, Dexter Droudy, a thin toothpick of a man, had just walked into The Diurnal Journal building to finish clearing out the desk of his office.  He had been writing a regular feature column for the newspaper, a kind of “Dear Dexter” column.  It was an entertaining column that explored questions of strange phenomena and anything unexplainable.  Dexter was going to be writing much less as the summer came to an end.  He was busy starting an alternative school in the area and would now only be able to contribute to the paper occasionally.

Bumbling up the stairs in his usual quirky manner, Dexter nearly missed the top step as he reached the second floor.  Although Dexter had a very curious mind and an uncanny way with words, he was so physically clumsy that it seemed he could trip over something as simple as AIR.

Doing his best to stay out of Archibald Greevy’s way, Dexter quickly recovered and snuck past the editor-in-chief’s office door on tip-toe.  He quietly slipped into his own office, piled his remaining possessions into a box, and headed out to the hallway with a heap of odd objects brimming over the top of the carton.  Just as Dexter closed his office door and turned around, he accidentally banged into the rounded stomach of Archibald Greevy.  The box flew into the air, spilling the contents all over the floor.

Mr. Greevy held his temper the best he could.  His gravelly voice sounded slightly restrained when he finally spoke.  “Dexter, uh, I have some information I think you’d find interesting.”

Peering over one of his stray notebooks, Dexter looked up at Archibald’s shining bald head, “Uh, yes sir.  What is it?”

“I know that you’re busy with your other project, but something very odd has just come to my attention.  It seems like it’s right up your alley, so I thought I should tell you about it.  You know, it might be something you’d want to investigate.”

Dexter scrambled to pick up his possessions from the floor, “Oh, sir, I appreciate the opportunity,” said Dexter anxiously, “but I’ve got loads to do and places to go and things to plan and, and, and…”

“Stop your yammering!”  Archibald bellowed.  “Dexter, It has something to do with Zephrum Gates.”

Immediately, Dexter dropped all of the objects he was holding.  Pencils, pens, and stray office stuff littered the entire hallway in an instant. 

Archibald Greevy was doing his best to ignore Dexter’s all too familiar chaos.  He showed incredible restraint as he explained about the two fishermen that were found under the Haversville Water Bridge.  “There’s a treasure chest at the scene of the crime and a note inside it that mentions Zephrum Gates.  I just heard them talk about it on our secret police radio.”

Beyond jittery, Dexter pelted Archibald with a barrage of questions.  “Are they still there?  Can I make it over to the bridge before the evidence is taken away?  Has the ambulance come to pick up the men yet?  How much time do I have?”

“If you leave right now,” said Archibald with more calmness than he felt, “you might make it there before anything is taken away from the scene.  I couldn’t say.”

Dexter rummaged through the clutter of debris he had recently scattered all over the hallway, grabbed his portable camera, and said, “Uh, I’m right on that, sir.”  Apologetically scanning his office junk on the floor, he glanced at Archibald with a pitiful look.

Archibald growled, “Don’t worry, Dexter.  I’ll have Gladice deal with this mess.  She’s used to it.”

At that, Dexter stumbled energetically down the hallway and scrambled down the stairs.

The last thing he heard before the newspaper door closed behind him was Archibald screaming as loud as a fire engine, “Gladicccce!!!”

By the time Dexter reached the Haversville Water Bridge, the two drooling fishermen had been taken away by ambulance.  A random onlooker who was still at the scene told Dexter that it looked like the men were slobbering buckets of frothy dribble as they were placed on gurneys and loaded into the emergency vehicle.  “Yes,” she said.  “I overheard the ambulance guys saying that the two men seemed like they might end up as vegetables.  Poor men.  Who would ever want to live like that?  I sure hope they find the culprit.”

Dexter nodded in agreement.  He pointed under the bridge.  “So, they were found down there near that treasure chest, yes?”

The woman nodded and Dexter made his way down to the scene of the crime.

Local police were quite familiar with Dexter showing up when something strange occurred.  One of the police officers rolled his eyes.  “Surprise, surprise, Look who’s here.”

Dexter scampered down the gulley to get a closer look at the treasure chest before the police could have a chance to take it away.

“Oh, Dexter,” said one of the patrol men.  “There’s really nothing to see here.  This box is an empty coffer.  Nothin’ here except for a bottle, a cork, and a strange piece of tattered parchment.”

“Oh, it might seem like nothing to you,” said Dexter, his voice cracking from excitement, “but as I have experience in these matters, it might mean something to me.  Remember, I have helped the police department with mysterious cases on a number of occasions.”

“Dexter, Dexter, Dexter,” said one of the police officers.  “You know the rules.  Once we establish it as a crime scene, we can’t let the general public mess with anything.”

Dexter danced from one foot to another.  “You know me.  I don’t want to mess with a thing.  Just take a look is all.  I’m not even writing for the paper anymore.”

“Oh really?” said one of the officers, skeptically.

“It’s true,” said Dexter.  “I’m starting an alternative school in the hills.”

“Alright, why are you here then?” responded the officer.

“Well, it’s because this matter concerns one of my students.”

“Uh huh, And who would that be?”  The officer looked at him through narrowed eyes.

Dexter lowered his voice.  “I’m talking about Zephrum Gates.”

The two officers looked at each other with eyebrows raised.

One of the officers finally said, “Alright, but don’t touch anything.”

Dexter nodded and walked over to the treasure chest.  As he looked inside the crate, he eyed the map and began reading the strange lettering that was written upon it.  When he got to the end of the writing, his lips mouthed, “Herein lies the hope of all hopes, and the cold embrace of darkness.”  Shivers traveled up his spine as he finished uttering these last words. 

Dexter took his portable camera out of his pocket and snapped a photo of the parchment when the officers weren’t looking. 

He pocketed the camera.  “Pretty spooky words on that parchment.  Do you guys have any leads?”

“Oh, Dexter,” said one of the cops.  “You know we can’t say anything about a crime scene.”

“Yes, yes,” said Dexter.  “I know.  I just wondered.”  Then, as though it was an afterthought, Dexter said, “So, uh, There was no treasure?”

The police officer closest to him bent down and picked up a gold coin from the ground.  “The only thing we found was this one gold coin.”  He showed it to Dexter and then threw it into the treasure chest. 

Dexter followed the course of the coin as it landed on top of the parchment inside the trunk.  The moment the gold touched the paper, the message began to blur.  Dexter’s mouth opened in astonishment as the entire map and all of the letters disappeared before his very eyes.  Just like that, all of the evidence was gone.  Vanished.  Only the empty parchment remained.

Uneasy, Dexter’s voice quivered.  “Uh, Officer, Did you mean to erase all the ink on that page when you threw that coin inside the chest?”

Alarmed, the police officer looked inside the treasure chest and saw that the parchment was completely blank.  “What the?  How did that happen?”

“Don’t know,” said Dexter. 

Both of the officers looked at each other in disbelief.  One of them picked up the parchment and turned it over to see that there was also nothing on the other side.  “Do you remember what it said?”

“Kind of,” said the other officer.  “But jeez, not word for word.”

The officers both looked at Dexter, as though he was to blame.  One of the officers pointed to the empty paper and said, “This is just a useless piece of parchment now.  We might as well just throw it away.”

“I’ll throw it away for you if you like,” offered Dexter.

“Fine.  Whatever,” said one of the cops.

“Dexter, seriously,” said the other officer disapprovingly.  “You’ve got to stay away from crime scenes.”  Shaking his head, he said, “Unbelievable.  Even when you don’t do things to disturb anything, something about having you around just screws it all up.  Just get out of here.”

Dexter grabbed the empty piece of parchment and obediently began climbing the small gorge.  One of the officers screamed after him, “And not a word about it, Dexter.  Not a word.”

Dexter nodded as he quickly left the river and ducked out of sight from the police officers.  He breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the edge of the bridge. 

In the distance, he saw deep dark clouds forming.  The approaching gloom seemed to smother the sky with a darkness that gave him the chills.  He ran to his old clunker as fast as he could, hoping to avoid the ominous thunderstorm.  If something in the magical world was creating this kind of havoc, Dexter knew that it would only be a matter of time before things got much worse.  He had to find Zephrum, and quick.