Zephrum Gates & The Strange Magical Treasure

By Tricia Riel

Prologue

The Floating Treasure Chest

            Floating over rippling whitecaps in choppy water was a treasure chest covered in slimy grasses.  As it drifted down the Haversville River, it sloshed up against rocks and banged upon boulders like a ball in a pinball machine.  The suitcase-sized river blob ambled down the large stream like a wanderer with no destination.  Scuffed and scraped on its edges, ragged for wear, this bulky item looked as though it had been traveling for years.      

Two men with fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand spotted the object while they were walking on their way to their favorite fishing spot. 

Standing over the Haversville Water Bridge, the thinner of the two fishermen pointed up the river and said, “Hey Chubb, Whatcha reckon is in that there box thing?”

The stocky man scrunched his eyes up the river to see the item slowly drifting toward them.  Finally, Chubb responded, “I don’t rightly know, Slim.”

As it wafted closer, the huskier man was able to get a better look at the trunk.  “Well, I’ll be,” he said.  “Seems like a strongbox of some kind.”  Pausing slightly, he squinched as though it would help him see the box better, “Actually, it looks like a real bonafide treasure chest.”

“You think it could be?” said Slim.

As the object gravitated closer to them, the burly Chubb scratched his thick beard.  “Only one way to find out.”  He ran off the bridge and scooted his wide legs down the slope of the small ravine that led to the water’s edge.

Following Chub, Slim scrambled down the gully.  “Now, this here is every boy’s dream,” he said.  Findin’ a treasure chest while out adventurin’, What could be better?”

“Well, findin treasure in that there chest would be better, wouldn’t it?” said the stocky man sarcastically.

 “Aw, Chubb.  That goes without sayin’.”

As the two men approached the shore of the river, they focused their eyes on the trajectory of the chest.  “Looks like it’s aiming to our side of the river, Slim.”

“Yup, sure does,” said the leaner man, taking his boots off.  “I’m gettin’ myself right in there, Chubb.  Not gonna miss this here opportunity.”

“Looks pretty big,” said Chubb.  “It might take more than one person to drag it ashore.”

“Well, git yerself in ere’ then,” said Slim.

Reluctantly pulling his boots off, the thicker set Chubb said, “Oh, alright, but I get half, no matter what it is.”

“Deal,” said Slim.

The two men waded into the river, finding sure-footed positions that would place them in the direct pathway of the box.  Smiling with breathy excitement, arms up, hands out, all set to catch it, they readied themselves to be a formidable human obstacle.  As the large crate arrowed towards them, they wedged themselves up against the force of it like a blockade.  The river’s momentum pushed the treasure chest into their bodies with so much force that they lost their footing and began floating down the river with it.

“Whoa,” said the husky Chubb.  Their bodies had dipped into the river almost up to their hips.

Slim grabbed a hold of a low-lying tree branch and stopped their slippery journey.   Bracing himself, he held onto a side handle of the chest.  “I think I’ve got a good hold of it here,” he said.  “Push that treasure chest towards me more and git yerself stabilized.”

Chubb labored somewhat before he found a solid stance.  Then together, they pushed it to the water’s edge and heaved the old vault onto dry land.

The two men were dripping like miniature waterfalls as they emerged from the river.  They both groaned as they lifted the treasure chest a few feet away from the water’s edge.  Their wet pants were weighted down with river water that made them stand all bow-legged.  Once they were clearly free of the river, they took a good hard look at their find. 

“Aw, all that effort and it’s got a god-darned lock on it,” complained the sturdy Chubb.

Slim wrapped his hands around the lock and pulled hard.  To his surprise, the lock opened.  He smiled as he removed it.  “Chubb, This is our lucky day!”

Chubb unfastened the clasp on one side of the chest, while Slim released the clasp on the other side.

They looked at each other and opened the wide arc of mystery together.  First, a creaky rusty sound came from the hinges.  The next thing they noticed was the faint aroma of river water from drips that had seeped in through the cracks.  Peering into the chest, they saw gold coins glistening from within, cash wrapped in plastic bags, and jewels of a variety of shades and colors.

“Real pirate booty!” exclaimed Chubb.

On top of the mound of plenty, Slim spied an old piece of parchment inside a corked bottle.  He grabbed the bottle, opened up the cork, and pulled the thick paper out from inside.  As he unrolled it, he grinned, “Well, lookie here.  We found ourselves a map.”

BUT, as he looked more closely at the map, all went blurry in his vision.  As he faltered, Chubb propped him up and grabbed the bottle before it crashed out of Slim’s grasp.  Seizing the ragged parchment before it could be blown away by the wind, Chubb held it in his hand and looked at his friend.  “Slim, what’s gotten into you?”

“Don’t know,” said Slim.  “Just feelin’ a little woozy all of a sudden.”

A dazed look came over Slim.  Somethin’ funny about that map.  I looked at it and my eyes went all hazy and cloudy-like.”

Chubb unrolled the parchment again and took a look at it.  Mmm, Looks like it’s a map of some underground caves in the center of Haversville.”  He pointed at the reference point of the Haversville bank.  “See, here’s the bank, and huh, here’s a tunnel leading out from it, mmm… to ‘The Grotto’.” 

“What the heck is the ‘Grotto’?” whispered Slim, looking more pale-faced than ever.

“Don’t rightly know,” said Chubb, scratching at his beard.

“Weird lookin’ lettering on this here map as well,” said Chubb.  “I wonder if it means anythin’?”

Slim glanced at the map again and experienced a great wave of nausea. “Ugh, Every time I look at that paper, I feel sicker than if I ate a mouthful of caterpillars.”

Chubb was not able to keep his eyes off the parchment.  Slowly, he began deciphering the words written in the strange lettering.  Reading aloud, Chubb said, “All roads eventually lead to the great path.  Many cross along the way.  Put a little faith in your pocket now, for stumbling upon this grand treasure has brought you to a precipice of change that cannot be undone.”

Excitement and apprehension were thundering in his veins in equal measure as he read on.  “Magic within this crypt cannot be silenced, not even by the likes of Zephrum Gates.”

Slim said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t know,” said Chubb.

“Who’s Zephrum Gates?” asked Slim.

“Don’t got the foggiest idea,” said Chubb. 

Chubb continued reading, “There is no escape from this point onward, for that which has now been released into the world has nearly as much power as Strasidous Rowpe and all ‘the awakened’ combined.  When sleep is an ocean, you will have reached your fate.  Nothing can stop this great wave.  The box has been opened.”

“Jeez, whoever wrote that malarkey?” asked Slim.

“Not sure,” said Chubb.  “But there’s more.”   

“It says, ‘Grab what you can while you can, for this is all there is’.”

Snatching up a coin from the chest, Slim held it tightly in one hand.  “Enough to support us for the rest of our days, idn’t it?” 

“Could be,” said Chubb as he finally got to the very end of the message.  “Herein lies the hope of all hopes, and,” hesitating for the space of a heartbeat, he said, “and the cold embrace of darkness.”

The two men looked at each other, horror struck.  Everything suddenly went all pear-shaped.  Big waves of liquid doom wretched from within them as they each began foaming at the mouth.

Within seconds, they fell to their knees and gripped at their throats.  They grasped towards the riches within the box, but were no longer able to reach them.  The coin Slim had in his hand fell to the ground and his body followed.  The men clutched at the edges of the grand treasure, shaking uncontrollably.

Then blackness.  All the riches of the trunk disappeared.  All that was left was the one coin that had fallen to the ground, the glass bottle, the cork top, and the map with the cryptic messages.