Chapter 1: Awake
‘If we keep moving at this pace we’ll make it ten or twelve more miles before dusk.’
‘How close will we be by then grandpa?’
‘We’ll be closer for sure, and if we end up where I think we are headed there will be a nice flat gravel river bank to set up camp and catch some supper. Rog knows the spot I’m thinking about, we’ve been stuck near that river bank a few years back in spring when the water started rising and we had to get out quick.’
Uncle Roger smiled and nodded his head in agreement while he stepped around his dad who had paused for a few seconds to check the compass. Rog knew that his dad only checked the compass to find an excuse to catch his breath and give his aching knees a break.
‘We’ll keep following the base of this line of bluffs headed south until it meets up with the river. If we’re lucky, the boat’ll still be tied up where we last left it.’ Jim had been exploring this area since he was a kid. With more than sixty years experience under his belt he knew the hills and the major landmarks very well. Both Roger and Jonathan felt very confident in his company.
The afternoon air had warmed considerably since the morning, and Jonathan was starting to break a sweat as the group quickened their pace to make sure they made it to camp before dark. His Uncle Roger led the way, Grandpa Jim brought up the rear, and he was between them. They walked this way for what seemed like half the day to the boy, but in reality it had been less than an hour since they left the previous night’s campsite and headed deeper into the woods. They had departed from any well marked trail two days prior, and there were no discernible markings to lead the way.
‘Hey Grandp’s, why is it that the people that found gold back here didn’t give better directions on where to find it?’
‘Well buddy, I imagine it’s because they were trying to keep it secret from other people. Legend has it that the men that discovered gold back here estimated it to be worth hundreds of millions. So they kept it secret and developed some code to talk about it amongst themselves so no one else would figure it out and sneak in and steal their treasure. But in doing so they lost it. And since no one has turned up with it or shared any new clues in over a hundred years, it seems to me that they lost it forever. Lord only knows how what it’d be worth now.’
‘Billions maybe, or even trillions. It sure would have been easier for us if they just left some better clues or a map with a big X to mark the spot so we didn’t have to look so hard.’
‘Most days I agree with you, Jonathan. I’ve been looking and exploring these woods my whole life and don’t feel like I have progressed the search much more than finding a needle in a haystack. I also can’t say I blame them for keeping it secret. People are greedy and will do just about anything to get rich in the pursuit of an easier life. The Adrina brothers knew that, so they kept it secret. As you go through life Jonathan you’ll find that in most cases there is nothing worse than other people. And most of the bad things you encounter can usually be traced back to a person or their greed for something. If you find anything that is truly good, you’ll want to do your best to keep it to yourself. Same as what the Adrina’s did with their treasure.’
‘This wilderness is a big haystack,’ Roger never had much to say about anything, but he was always willing to chime in when the odds were against his favor. ‘It’s a damn miracle you or anyone else stumbled upon anything back here.’
‘You’re right Rog.’ Jim said while he tapped Jonathan on the shoulder, bent down, and whispered, ‘You know it wasn’t far from where we are headed when I ran into Tim Adrina.’
Jonathan had only just turned fifteen, but he knew his grandpa well enough that he was sure to start retelling his tales about the lost gold mine while they still had hours to walk with no one in earshot for miles. As soon as grandpa Jim mentioned the name Tim Adrina Jonathan looked back to see his grandpa’s eyes glazed over and a faint smirk come to his face as though he was staring at the treasure right in front of him.
‘It was the spring before I graduated from high school that me and my brother headed back here to camp for a long weekend. It was a few weeks before he was headed off to boot camp and he wanted to hone his survival skills. We spent a lot of time back in these woods together growin’ up, huntin’ and fishin’ and just staying away from our parents in general. But we was set on going further back than we’d ever been before, and that scared us both because of what we’d heard about this area.’
‘Some folks rumored that the hills was cursed by some ancient natives Indian tribes that roamed through this area. Others were more superstitious, they claimed spirits, or aliens, or demons, or big foot, or you name it, if it was questioned to exist then people pointed to the Koraz mountains. I remember growing up some people claimed there was a gold mine discovered back here hundreds of years ago, and that it was cursed or haunted by the ghosts of some ancient Indian tribe that went missing while they were carrying the gold out. A few people in town called it the lost treasure of the lamp, or more rightfully the Lost Lamp Mine, but no one really knew where that name was derived from. Rumor has it around the time of the great California gold rush there was a young man that came walking out of the hills at the end of every summer with gold nuggets worth thousands of dollars. He’d keep to himself and spend the rest of the year in town wasting his money on women and booze and gambling. Then spring would roll around and he’d spend what he had left on supplies and head back out just to return to town a few months later with more gold to cash in. Theres a few versions of the story I heard, some say gold, other say diamonds. They say people tried to follow him so he’d lead them right to the source, but no one was ever able to figure out where exactly he went. Most of them that tried to disappeared and never returned from their pursuit. Then one year the young man didn’t make it out until late fall when temperatures were below zero and the ground was snow packed. When he returned he was ill and near death. While he was on his deathbed he told some folks about how he’d stumbled upon the mother load of a gold mine. He tried to tell them where it was located and how to get there. Problem is, none of the maps didn’t lead anywhere and then all the maps disappeared over time. It’s harsh country out here, it’s difficult to get in, and sometimes it’s even more difficult to get out. With all the legends, and the people dying around this area, people just sorta gave up their search and let it go cause no one wanted to trade their life for some bogus legend. But that was all just hearsay, none of it has ever been confirmed, and I never heard much about anyone heading back here to search for anything more than to get away from townies.’
‘Thing place was a maze so to speak, a maze of hills covered with lush forest, rocky mountains and bluffs lined with creeks and streams and separated by ponds and lakes. Me and my brother learned from our grandpa that it was peaceful and quiet, and mostly serene. Not just because there was no good map to help folks navigate through these remote hills, but mostly because other people stayed away and we were free to roam and do as we pleased. People were scared of the ghosts.’
Uncle Roger turned to look back at Jon and gave him a wink, it was an unspoken agreement between the two of them that they knew that grandpa Jim was going to take his time and tell the full tale. So they knew not to interrupt and ask too many questions so they would get all the gory detail they loved to hear.
‘Your daddy came high tailing it outta these woods one morning when he was a few years younger than you, said he heard or saw something back here when he was fishin’ alone. He never would say what it was that got to him, pawpaw never was able to figure it out either. But I could sense it in the look in your daddy’s eyes and the way his face went pale whenever I bought it up. Something had left an impression on him, whether it was real or just something he thought was real, we’ll never know. And no one could ever get him near these woods again after that. Maybe it’d have been different if he’d have done as I told him and stayed close to his little brother while pawpaw and I headed upstream for bigger water.’ Jim’s father, Roger’s grandfather, and Jonathan’s grandfather, the other two of whom he had never met, had gone to a well known fishing and camping spot on the edge of the woods for a couple days on the south western edge of the woods near Lake Hayden only a few miles from town. ‘I always knew Roger was the stronger minded of the two. Rog, you been back here long enough, you seen anything, or ever get it outta Samuel what he saw?’
‘Nope.’ Rogers relationship with his big brother departed after that day.
‘I never seen much either, just Tim Adrina. But I’ve had a plenty of times where all the hairs on my body stood straight up, or I just knew that I was being watched or thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. But never saw anything like what other people or your daddy talk about to scare me away. And that Adrina said more to draw me deep back into these woods than anything ever did to keep me away.’
Just hearing about it made the hair on the back of Jon’s neck stand straight up. He always had felt like someone was watching him back in the woods. Even though he’d only ever met a few people in town that were familiar with these woods, and there was little chance anyone was watching him, Jon felt an odd sense of eeriness all around. It may have been the way the trees and hills looked, or the way the wind felt or sounded as it rustled though the hills, or the faded silhouette of hills in the foggy distance, or the range of colors of the water in streams and lakes in the area would take under the sunlight. He wasn’t sure, but he was always aware of it. He just never let it get to him the way his father had. Jon always figured his eagerness to explore the area stemmed from his mother begging him not to come back here because of what his father had told her. Jon had never known his father, but he was more like his grandpa than his father and wasn’t easily spooked. Jon left all reservations behind him when his grandpa offered to take him on his first camping trip back here when he was just six years old. He’d been back many times since. With summer break almost gone, he accepted the offer to tag along with his uncle and grandpa on one last adventure for the summer to dull the anxiety of returning to school. And he knew his grandpa and uncle were well experiences, armed and equipped to avoid whatever problem the three might encounter.
‘I remember we was wading out in the water, my brother and me, catching trout with our homemade poles. Wasn’t more than a stick with a string attached to the end but damn it worked. We’d prolly caught thirty good size trout in that spot in an hour, but ended up throwin’ most of ’em back ‘cause we was only keeping what we wanted to clean and eat. Jordan had made his way onto a boulder in the middle of the creek, and I was in the water when he yelled back down to me that he’d spotted a boat about a half mile up stream caught up in some brush near the bank. We’d got pretty excited cause it was rare we ever found any sign of anyone else ever bein’ back here. In fact I think before that all we ever found was an old set of clothes and a rusty ole shovel. So he got down off the rock and we waded upstream cause there really wasn’t any good river bank to walk on.’
’I can remember my brother and I coming up on that boat like it was yesterday. He was wading in water just above his knees and I was maybe an arms length distance beside him with water up to my mid thigh. He was a head taller than me so he saw into the boat first, and as soon as he peeked over the edge and into the boat he jumped back and fell down backwards into the water. He screamed ‘git down Jimmy, there’s a damn man in that boat!’ He was a splashin’ and crawling on all fours in the water as fast as he could away from the boat, as I turned straight towards the boat and took a few steps to get a better glimpse. I’ll never forget what I saw. The top of a mans head, greasy black hair, his bright white eyes starring at me from a dirty face, and the barrel end of a pistol pointed right at me. His cracked and blistered lips was moving, but I couldn’t make out what he was sayin’ over the sound of the rippling water. He laid the revolver down next to him, and his eyes was barely open but I could tell he was looking right into my eyes. As I got closer I could tell he had no intention to use the pistol. He was riddled with arrows, his clothes and face smeared in blood and dirt, and he looked like he’d been layin’ in the boat for a month. The bottom of the boat was red with bloody water. When I leaned in I could tell he was askin’ me to help him, so I turned to my brother who was twenty yards downstream hiding behind a pile of brush at that point and yelled to him to get over and help, ‘cause that guy looked pretty bad.’
‘I’d never knew anyone by the name of Tim Adrina, and didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but it was clear that man was bound for death and all we was gonna be able to do was get him outta that boat and into a more comfortable spot to pass. So I coaxed Jordan back over, and we led the boat by hand downstream to the nearest shore by the boulder we’d been fishing at. Then we carried the man out while he winced in pain, and propped him up on our sacks to give him some water. He moaned from the pain with every move. I remember he seemed to suffer the most pain when he asked for whiskey but neither of us had any. He struggled to speak, but he managed to tell us his name and that he’d been a few days hike back in the woods with his brothers and a few other men. He gave us all their names as well, but I remember I didn’t recognize any of them from town. He didn’t say what they was doing, just that they was a gang of Indians had caught them by surprise a few days before and had trapped them in a cave. He said that he thought he was lucky to get away until he got shot, but the others in his group were probably dead by then.’
‘I remember Jordan grabbed me by the arm and walked me out of earshot of the dyin’ man, and he was hysterical. The thought of Indians had scared him the most, as well as the fact that this was a strange man neither of us had ever heard of or met before. We’d heard of Indians back in the woods, but he and I had never encountered any personally. I remember Jordan saying that whatever it was that Mr. Adrina’s group was doing back here they couldn’t be doing anything good this far back, especially given the condition we found this guy in. Jordan wanted to take the gun, shoot him, and take his boat and head downstream as fast as possible to get outta here. I calmed him and said we didn’t have to kill the dyin’ man cause it was only a matter of hours before this guy went on his own accord, and we didn’t have to be killers and pansies at the same time. It took a bit to settle Jordan down and we wen’t back to the dyin’ man and set up camp and cooked up some fish we’d caught. I remember the man didn’t want to eat or talk, he was just shivering and hackin’ and coughin’ and passin’ in and outta consciousness. We stayed awake for a while that night sitting around a small fire waiting for the man to die, but mostly watchin’ for Indians or some other damn thing to come out of the woods. It’s funny how the night can play tricks on your eyes when you’re staring into the darkness of the woods all around you away from a fire. After a while we gave up our guard and passed out while the fire was winding down.’
‘I woke up sometime early in the morning to my brother shakin’ me. Apparently he’d been awoke by the dyin’ man’s coughing spell and stayed awake for a few hours. He said the man had been rambling some nonsensical stuff, mostly names of people or places he didn’t recognize and had no meaning to him. He headed out a few yards into the woods to take a squat and asked me to watch guard while he was gone. As soon as he left the man looked straight at me. I’ll never forget the way he sat up like he wasn’t dyin’ no more, opened his eyes wide, and looked straight at me. I remember feelin’ like he was peerin’ into my soul. I was startled but I rushed over to lay him back down, and he grabbed my arms and said as clear as I can recall that he and his crew had found the mother load and they were back here with some tools and a whole gang trying to mine enough to bring back and make it rich. He said he and his crew had come from somewhere out west, Oregon I think he said. They’d were playing cards at some casino on an Indian reservation and there was a drunkin’ old Indian that told them tales of some enormous treasure lost in these mountains back east that no one could get to and even if they could it was cursed and they’d never get out with the riches. He said the old Indian gave him a makeshift map and some clues to the whereabouts so they headed out here on a whim to find out it was true. He told me everyone that knew about it was in the mine with him, along with the map, and they were probably dead and he was gonna die and the mine would be lost again. But they left a rough sketch of the map at his wife’s families house in town and I should go there and ask for Meghan and tell her what happened and that he loved her and he was sorry. Then he pulled me closer and repeated an odd saying twice, he said, and I quote verbatim ‘follow the mark of the lamp and you will find what you seek. Don’t. Tell. Anyone.’’
‘At that exact moment he finished talking I was startled because I heard someone come up from behind and call my name, so I jumped and turned quickly to find my brother returned from his midnight shit. When I turned back around Mr. Tim Adriana was laying limp with his mouth wide open, eyes staring into the distance, dead on the ground. His last words were ringing in my ear. Don’t. Tell. Anyone. It was so abrupt like an out of body experience, I wasn’t sure if it was real or not. So I didn’t tell Jordan, and the next morning we buried the body and marked the grave, tied the boat up a few yards away from the riverbank, packed up camp and headed home without so much as a spoken word exchanged between the to of us. My brother said he didn’t want to us to ever mention this to anyone, and he would never step foot in these woods again. I never did tell my brother or anyone else exactly what I heard Adrina tell me that night, and a few years later Jordan died while he was deployed across the Atlantic. The only people I ever told were you two and Samuel.’
By the time Grandpa Jim paused his story the three had stopped walking and set their gear down. Uncle Rog was taking a leak behind a nearby tree, and Grandpa was reaching into his pack and offering Jonathan a drink from his canteen. The smell of Roger’s cigarette smoke covered the earthy smell of the woods.’
‘What happened when you went to see Meghan like Tim told you before he died, grandpa?’
‘I did go see her buddy, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it sometime. Turns out Adrina didn’t tell his bride to be nearly as much as he suggested on his death bed. Hey, you realize this is further than you’ve ever been on an expedition with me back here?’ Jon was use to his grandpa sometimes providing an answer to a different question than what he’d been asked.
Jon hadn’t realized it, but while he was so engrossed in his the story their hike had continued to meander through the rugged and rocky wilderness, always staying close to the base of the bluff as grandpa Jim had directed. Jonathan had heard his grandpa tell the story of his encounter with Tim Adrina a umpteen times before, but it was always exciting and entertaining to know that Grandpa Jim had a real connection to the treasure they sought. As they walked, the terrain had changed from lightly wooded with the ground covered in fallen leaves from the previous autumn, to a more rugged and rocky and dirt mixed ground surrounded by pines and scattered with small ponds filled with green and gray water. The way their path twisted and turned through the terrain made it difficult to see where they had come from or what was round the next bend, despite the relative openness of the woods. The bluff to their right had gotten taller and the trees thinned as the hill on the opposite side got steeper with multiple shallow drop-offs. There was no sign of any stream they were headed for yet save for a few small creeks that they had hopped across.
‘We’re just a couple miles off of the river now and should be there shortly. Within the next hour or two. It’ll be close to the spot where we found and buried Tim Adrina.’
As Jim was talking, they heard Roger curse loudly over a slide of dirt and rocks. When Jonathan turned to look, his uncle was nowhere to be seen. Jonathan and his grandpa ran quickly over to the tree where Roger was last standing, and they found that he had slipped down a steep slope and was laying on a ledge fifteen feet below them.
‘You alright Rog?’
Roger looked dizzy from the fall, but looked up and yelled back, ‘yea, the ground musta gave way from under me. I ruined my best damn pair of jeans,’ Roger was pointing to a tear and a smear of mud near the left shin of his jeans. Jonathan smirked at the comment because his uncle had skoal rings in both the back pockets of all his jeans. As Roger was climbing back up the steep incline, grabbing at roots and small tree trunks to hoist his way back up, he stopped abruptly a little more than midway. He waited there for a few moments, and just when it seemed he turned to stone Jim yelled, ‘what you waitin’ for, we ain’t got all day, get your clumsy ass back up here,’ while he shook the hand he had extended out to pull Roger up. With the hand from Jon and grandpa Jim, Roger was able to get up and brush himself off. He had a few scrapes and scratches on his arms, face, and legs, but otherwise he was more dirty than hurt from the fall.
Uncle Rog got real close to Grandpa Jim’s ear, and Jonathan heard him whisper ‘Dad you better get down there and get a look at that tree,’ while he was pointing down the embankment at the trunk of a large maple tree he had stopped and clung to to pull himself back up. Jim gave his son a puzzled look, when Rog said, ‘How many times have you seen the mark of the lamp, Dad?’ Roger raised his brow and lowered his head to gaze at his father over the brim of his glasses as he spoke, suggesting that he really had seen the mark below and Jim should take a look.
Jonathan and his grandfather gazed at each other with excitement. ‘Come on boy, tie off on this rope and let’s have Rog lower us down there so we can have us a better look.’
The bond between Jonathan and his Grandpa Jim had been strong since even before Jonathan was born, and it showed by his Grandpa’s willingness to include him in everything. Jon’s father had left his pregnant wife to work out west on some top secret government project and had been gone most of the time she carried Jonathan in her womb. Grandpa Jim took her in during that time and took care of her, so the bond was borne even before Jon was. Then when Jonathan was born, Jim took every opportunity he could get to spend time with the boy even when he was an infant. Then Jon’s dad Samuel had died when he was a small child. As Jonathan grew up the two became better friends than family, and before long his grandfather realized that the boy was a fearless dreamer and explorer much like him. Jim had shared tales of his excursions in the remote Koraz hills and clues on the whereabouts of the treasure. The two were inseparable through Jon’s childhood. In all the time the two spent together hiking and camping these woods, Jonathan had only seen a few indications that anyone had actually actually been in these woods other than them, and that was limited to a few old rusty shovels and other mining tools and aged camping gear that his grandfather had shown him. He wasn’t about to pass on this offer to get a glimpse of a rare marker suggesting there really was a mine lost somewhere back here.
Jim removed a rope from the side of his pack, and he and the boy used the rope to tie themselves together and to a tree a ways back from the edge. Roger slowly lowered the two down as they walked backwards down the semi-steep incline. Jim realized that in actuality, they probably didn’t need to use a rope to get down but he was old and the boy was inexperienced, and they wanted to make certain they didn’t have to climb back up further than they needed. As they came upon the tree that Uncle Rog had pointed out, they each went around on a separate side. The marking on the side of the tree was difficult to make out at first. It was about the size of a grown mans hand, and about five feet up the trunk from the ground.
‘I’ll be damned. Looks to be burnt into the wood, rather than carved on the surface.’ Jim noted about the dark coloration and the smooth surface of the mark.
‘What’s that cage looking symbol over here?’ Jon asked his grandpa as he pointed to a peculiar symbol on the opposite side of the tree from what looked pretty clearly to be the infamous lamp they had spoken of. Jon had heard plenty about the lamp and even seen the lamp before in his grandfathers renderings, but the other symbol was foreign to him and it was difficult to make out as it had obviously weathered on the tree over a long time.
Grandpa Jim circled around to the same side of the trunk as Jon and took a good long look at the symbol and then paused before answering. ‘I’m not sure bud, but you’re right it does resemble a cage of some sort. It’s old that’s for sure, the marking has faded and lost its form,’ Jim said as he swiped his thumb across the smooth surface of the marking. ‘Thing is I’m not exactly sure what this marker is suppose to be marking here or why they are on opposite sides of the tree. It could mean we are headed the right direction, or it could mean there is something right here.’ Grandpa Jim looked around, ‘I almost think we should get a vantage point on that high ridge across the way and see if there is something we’re missin’ from being this close.’ Jim pointed to a peak off in the distance. The route to get on the peak looked steep and difficult.
‘Nah, ain’t nothing here Pops except for that marking,’ Roger called from above where he’d been looking around while the other two were scoping out the tree. ‘Let’s move on.’
Jim agreed as he looked around and he and the boy checked a few more trees and rocks on the side of the hill for additional signs as they made their way back up while Roger pulled the rope they were tied to. As they came up they were out of breath from the exertion of the climb and sat near the edge to catch a breathe. Jim looked at Roger and said, ‘I don’t really know what to make of it, except that the lamp seems to be pointing the direction we are headed and that other symbol is facing behind us. It looks nearly identical to the lamp I found carved on the face of the bluff above the river where we are headed. It looks the same and it points the same direction as the other lamp. You know, I can’t say that I’ve turned this place inside out looking for this mine, I’ve probably only scratched the surface. But markers like this are a tell tale sign we are on the right track.’
Jonathan and Roger were both excited at the prospects of what the symbol meant. Grandpa Jim had told his story of a trek up river and the discovery of they symbol of a lamp painted on the side of the bluff in a spot where he couldn’t figure how anyone would have been able to reach. He had spotted it five or more years ago, when the weather was warm enough to allow access deeper into the woods than previously. Jim was certain he’d found the marker that would give the location of the mine, but he wasn’t able to locate anything in the surrounding area. Jonathan and Roger were not sure of the clues that Jim had found to lead them there, but when he arrived all he found was the marker and an empty shallow cave at the base of a bluff. That was the last trek he’d made in this part of the forest. The entire purpose of their current journey was to get back to that exact spot to continue the search. The weather was warmer than it had been for the time of year in a while and summer only allowed for a short window of opportunity to explore this area. Their goal was to make it as far in as possible.
‘What’s that other symbol dad?’ Roger questioned his father her, but Jim’s eyes looked to the ground as he scratched his head as though he knew something he wasn’t telling.
‘I’m not sure, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. I suggest we get on our way if we still want to make camp where we planned before the sunsets. It gets dark back here quick because of the bluffs and the woods’ Jim quickly dismissed the question and hurried to move on.
The three packed up their gear and headed back in the direction they were headed before Roger had fallen. They continued to make their own trail through the trees and rocks across the pine covered ground for an hour before Roger stopped and put his hand up for the others to follow in behind. He crouched down and signaled for the boy and his grandfather to do the same.
‘Look boy, grizzly bear.’ Roger said as he whispered back to the other two. There was a large brown bear about fifty yards ahead of them. They waited for the bear to move out of sight before they rose and continued on the way.
‘I’ve encountered plenty of bear back here, it’s best to do as we did and ignore them and let them move on. Unless they are closer, then you gotta make some noise to scare them off. I’ve encountered plenty of moose, and a lot of deer and elk too. Usually if you make enough noise under your feet or talking, the wildlife will avoid you.’ Grandpa Jim was making extra noise with his feet on the ground below him to prove the point. ‘I ain’t never run into any trouble with bears or anything else for that matter except for Tim Adrina. I’ll tell you though, that lamp symbol we saw on that tree back there is identical to the others I’ve encountered.’
‘How many have you seen, grandpa?’ The boy asked.
‘Well, that’d make five I reckon I’ve seen over the years. There’s the one on the bluff we been talking about that was the biggest and best preserved I’ve seen. That one was so unique I was damn sure I’d found something important. I remember there was one on the handle of Tim Adrina’s pistol, it was a circular metal piece embedded in the wooden handle of his six shooter that we buried with him. Quite some years after I encountered Adrina, I was walking through the antique shop with your grandma and came across a golden lamp that reminded me so much of the symbol on the pistol. Problem was the shop owner didn’t know nothing about where it come from and it didn’t lead to any other clues.’
‘You ain’t ever seen that other symbol though dad?’ Roger asking again was implying that his father knew more about their expedition than he was letting on.
Jim’s voice delayed for a moment before he replied, ‘Nope, never seen it and I’m not sure what it’s suppose to mean. I’ll tell you sometimes all I feel like I’m chasing back here is a ghost. The ghost of Tim Adrina perhaps.’
Jonathan had never heard about the pistol before now, he felt that his grandfather had told him more during this trip than he ever had before. Jonathan had learned early on that his grandfather loved to tell his stories and tales about the treasure, but didn’t much like to be questioned about his knowledge or how he came about his knowledge of things. That was the exact reason that Jim always had an enormous trust in the boy. Jon knew that, and he always decided not to probe further than what his grandpa is willing to tell. The old man and grandson had a mutual respect because both knew their unspoken boundaries of each other. Jim enjoyed the boys company because he was calm and his interest in the treasure reminded him so much of himself, he was a dreamer and adventurous and enjoyed being connected with nature. He saw in Jonathan someone he could pass on the torch to spend a modest life living in town and continuing the search to find the lost Lamp Mine. Or more reasonably at least shed more light on the rumor by picking up on the clues where he had left off. Jonathan knew that his grandfather had found more than he led on, but never felt that he was keeping important secrets from him or his uncle.
‘Up until that day when I happened to run into Tim Adrina, I never much believed in tales of gold, or treasure or other rumors about these woods. A few years later I saw my first lamp marking on the other side of the woods chiseled into a small rock on the side of a slope that appeared to be an aged but weathered trail. It was a few hundred miles away from where I’d run into Adrina, and I was never able to connect the two locations with any meaningful route. I’d heard stories of a few greedy miners that came through the area that made their way back into the woods from one direction or another, but none ever returned. Most people assumed they got trapped as the early winter weather rushed in. Most people aren’t aware of the harsh changing conditions back here, I figured those early miners weren’t properly equipped to survive long enough to make it out. Some forty years back there was Mayor Wollin’s son Terrance, who led a group back here early one spring. None of them ever returned except Terrance, who turned up three years later decapitated near the southern side of the woods.’
‘When I talked to Mayor Wollin about it he was still pretty shaken up by the finding of his headless son. He didn’t have any information that pertained to me or my interest, but he did let me search through some of the belongings Terry had left. One of which was a drawing of a lamp, just like the one we saw on that tree back there. But there was no mention of what it meant, or how to use it or where it was found. Though just finding it did reiterate that the lamp was an important marker, and he was on a similar trail as we are now. What I wouldn’t give to have talked to Terrance before he went. Most people figured that some member of his crew had turned on him. But that was years ago, and only shortly after I’d met Mr. Adrina.’
‘I’d hate to think that we were on the same trail as Terrance Wollin considering he disappeared back here for a few years and wound up to some bad fate a few hundred miles away,’ Grandpa Jim considered the boys comment and thought the same. The comment also reminded him that Jonathan was young but he obviously wasn’t stupid.
‘Even with your Uncle Rog and I here to keep safe, if anything goes down we will hightail it back outta here as quick as possible. Remember, if you lose sight of us head southeast to get to the lake.’’
As the conversation trailed off, the sun was starting to set and the the three came to an opening in the trees. They started to hear the noise of a nearby stream. ‘We are pretty close to our destination for the night.’ They hiked for twenty more minutes before they made it to a large bank on the edge of the stream. The bank was made of a combination of rocks and sand. On one end the bank stopped abruptly at the woods, and at the other it narrowed to an end before dropping off into the water. Beyond that the stream was narrow and violent and flanked on both sides by the faces steep flat bluffs. There was no other river banks upstream or downstream within sight. An old wooded boat sat about 50 yards upstream.
‘Adrina’s boat! I’m glad it’s still here.’ Jim said loudly over the sound of the water.
‘Yea, would have been a rough swim otherwise,’ Rog said with a touch of sarcasm. ‘I’m glad the river is running low for this time of year, otherwise, this would have been a swamp. Let’s set up camp before it gets dark.’
Jonathan hadn’t realized they were taking the same boat that Tim Adrina had captained when his grandfather had first met him. That fact alone made this adventure even more special and exciting to know he would get to use the boat from the story that had changed his grandfathers life forever. After hiking in nearly fifty miles, through pretty rough and heavily wooded terrain, onto this riverbank, Jonathan came to understand why his Grandpa and Uncle decided not to bring Jon’s younger brother with them. Ryan never would have fit in that little boat with the three of us, Jon thought as he let go of any remaining regret he had harbored about leaving his little brother at home with their mom.
The three set up a small tent just in case the weather changed on them overnight. There was no sign of the previous camp site that Jim abandoned during his last trip, it had probably been washed out with seasonal flooding from snow melt. They set the tent up on a flat dry spot in the middle of the bank. By the time the tent was up and they had brought the boat closer to their camp, Jon had returned with fresh caught fish for super. Then they settled in and ate fish while the sun fully set behind the bluffs overhead. The three sat in peaceful silence cooking and eating fish as the night became dark. They were happy to have made it to their destination for the night, especially after a year of planning and waiting for the expedition and then hiking two days straight to get there. Grandpa Jim and Uncle Rog had been sipping bourbon from a small flask that Rog had brought. Jim passed the flask to Jonathan as a rite of passage, and the boy took a small sip. It burned his throat and nose and he coughed it up through his nose.
‘I always bring a flask of good whiskey with me in memory of Adrina asking my brother and I for a sip and us not havin’ the one thing the dyin’ man wanted.’ Jim held up the flask as a pseudo toast in memory of Adrina and took a swig before twisting on the cap and putting it away. ‘We’ll get up at first light, have a quick bite to eat for breakfast, pack up our gear into the boat and head upstream. We’ll leave the tent and anything else we don’t want to carry here, it’ll be a tough trek upstream and we need to be light,’ Jim said as he reached into his bag and pulled out a map that he laid out next to the fire for the group to see. He had traced their route in dark red, and had reviewed it with Roger and Jonathan while planning this excursion over the last year. The spot they were spending the night was marked with a red circle. ‘As far as I know the stream heads northwest for about twenty miles. I’m not sure how many opportunities we’ll have to stop and along the way. But I can tell you that it will be the most difficult part of our trip paddling this old boat upstream in these waters. I’m not sure how far we’re going to make it, but we will give it our best shot. If we get to a point where we can’t make it, we will simply turn and head back.’
‘Better get some sleep so we are well rested for tomorrow,’ Uncle Roger chimed in as he finished reviewing the map and rolled over in his sleeping bag next to the fire.
‘He’s right Jon, let’s get some rest so we are good to go tomorrow.’ Grandpa Jim said.
The three were exhausted from their trek and fell asleep quickly under this he stars.
Jonathan woke early the next morning, just before dawn as the sunlight was starting to peak over the bluffs. He awoke to the rumbling of the stream while his uncle was still snoring next to him. Grandpa Jim wasn’t near their camp. As Jon sat up he saw the black silhouette of his grandfather near the water a few yards away. He got up and stumbled sleepily down to his grandpa.
‘Jesus, good god almighty!’ Jim turned his entire body quickly in a defensive swing, ‘you scared the crap outta me boy.’
‘Sorry grandpa, I didn’t mean to scare you. What are you doing awake down here by the water this early?’
‘Oh I’ve been up for a few hours. I guess I’m anxious as all hell to get moving. I heard some strange noises and thought I saw a shadow moving off in the distance near where the sand bar ends. But musta just been an animal or my mind playing tricks on me in the dark. Its dark out here now, they say the night is darkest just before the dawn,’ Jim was pointing off in the distance as he talked, as Jon squint and strained to see anything in the darkness of the early morning.
Jim put his hand on the boys shoulder and said, ‘Let’s get back and wake Roger up so we can get packed up and hit the water at first light. I’m not sure how far we will have to make it up river before we find a good place to stop, but I’m sure its gonna be a helluva day trying to go against the current with the water moving at this pace.’
As they turned and started walking slowly back to where Roger was starting to stir from sleep, Jon thought he saw movement in the distance out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to his right to focus his vision there was nothing there that he could tell. Jon turned back to the path and noticed his grandpa had fallen behind. Jon turned further to his left he noticed his grandfather was about ten steps behind and had fallen to his knees. He couldn’t make out his grandpa’s face in the dark or if he was trying to say anything over the sound of the rippling stream.
‘Grandpa?’ Jon was puzzled and quickly rushed back to assist his grandpa. When Jon got to him he was alarmed by his grandpa convulsing violently. Jon noticed that his teeth were chattering and his arms had clammed up. Jon caught him before he fell forward to the ground.
Grandpa Jim looked up at Jon and struggled to speak while he drooled foamed from the corners of his mouth. ‘Jon.. the lamp. The lamp and…’ But Jon could barely hear him over the sound of nature around him.
‘Uncle Rog!’ The boy screamed as loud as he could and saw Roger sit up frantically. ‘Uncle Rog! Help! It’s Grandpa!’ Jon didn’t know what else to say, but he knew it wasn’t good.
‘The Lamp… The lamp… and the…’ Jim struggled to get the words out, but Jon could see from his stare that there was something important he needed to tell the boy.
‘And what Grandpa? Don’t talk, Uncle Roger is coming.’ But as Jon said that his grandfathers eyes rolled back in his head and he convulsed violently before fully losing consciousness.
Roger arrived in a hurry, and helped his father to lay down on the ground. By that time that Roger had got too him the old man was already gone. The two looked at each other across Jim’s limp body and knew that all hope had been lost.
‘Mr. Daxter?’ Another voice called.
Jonathan’s eyes opened to the realization that he wasn’t in the woods, he wasn’t with his grandfather, he and uncle Rog weren’t alone in the woods on the edge of a stream in search of a lost gold mine. It took a few moments while he looked around to reach the abrupt realization that he was in a board room, and he had dozed off during the presentation and the lights had just been flicked back on. He looked around at a conference room full of eyes that were upon him, and it took a few moments to realize they were waiting for him to comment on the content of the meeting. Unfortunately he’d dozed off quite early and had missed most of the points. Luckily the summary from the presentation was still projected on the screen so he digested the bullet points quickly. The thought of his grandpa and the mine were so fresh in his mind he could feel it, but more than twenty years had passed. The feeling that his grandfathers secrets about the whereabouts of the treasure of the lamp from his boyhood dream had died early that morning by the river bank still haunted him after all these years.
Jonathan wiped his mouth to remove any remnants of drool, opened his eyes wide, quickly perked up in his chair hoping no one had seen his head nod off. ‘Yea, I… Ah….’ He stuttered a few times before saying ‘I agree that the strategic profile of your proposal seems aligned with our longer term objectives. I’ll need some time to allow my leadership team to cross-check the opportunity value for us as well as the timing and budget priorities before we can make a decision as to when and how this best fits.’
Everyone nodded in agreement. Jon knew he didn’t play games, but he knew he could play the game well enough. ‘If you can leave your information, or make Greg the point person for all information transfer, he can get the ball rolling on the evaluation with our team. It’ll probably take two or three weeks before we can get back to you with some clear direction.’
‘Sounds like we have an action plan with mutual interest. We will be in touch in two weeks.’ A very serious business man responded before standing up and others followed behind the lead. When the meeting adjourned, multiple people shook hands, some left, some stuck around for additional chatter in smaller side groups. Jon left the room. A big part of him wished he was still a kid on the trail with his grandpa and uncle. He had let that memory fade away for far too long.