The night was quiet; the moon was full. It was a sleepy town with some old buildings dotted around, some as old as several hundred years! Little had happened here, somehow avoiding the disasters of time and progress. But that didn’t mean it held no secrets… Everyone was asleep, but there was one figure lurking on the rooftop. He moved slowly, darkly, as dark as one could manage despite the moon casting his silhouette on the dark blue sky. He could be quite easily seen if one were to look, but there was nobody to see him for all was a sleep. The roof plates wobbled dangerously as he moved forward, making his way to the next window and he huddled up to it. He brought out a crowbar and buried the iron into the dry old wood. It cracked and he opened the window stealthily. The weight of him made the floor creak, each step somehow becoming louder. He took a breath, brought out a flashlight and an old book and read it softly to himself. “Though it will be some time until I return to this place, I decided to hide the map in the cupboard on the second floor, the one in the main hall. The first layer of the drawer was easy to break and nobody would guess that something was hidden inside. I hope that I will return to it soon. I do not trust the captain and his men to honour their promise.”
He smirked and looked around. There was a cupboard down the hall and he opened the drawer. The old wood squealed when he pulled it open and he hesitated, seeming much louder in the night where sound carried far. He broke the first layer, revealing a secret compartment. He dug his hand into the dark and felt the coarseness of paper. A wide grin grew upon his face.
The library was empty that day. It was the weekend and very few would come, even less people stayed after hours, which was allowed. Kollin lived at the academy as a student. She preferred the library, not just because it held a bunch of books but because it was roomy and cool in summer, stark contrast to her sweaty, and mostly loud, dormitory. Besides, there was a certain ambience at night which she simply adored. It made it easy for her to get lost in whatever she was reading, even boring articles about politics which she had to study for. Sitting in one of the few couches on the second floor, she placed the paper she was reading on the table beside her and leaned back at the chair, making a comfortable sigh. Then she dug into her backpack on the floor and brought out an old worn book that was dogeared at every corner of every page, so much so that paper itself had fallen off at places. The cover was that of a pirate captain standing at the helm of his ship. The sea roaring, sabre in hand and a shark poking its head through the waves showing its teeth. At first glance, this would seem like a childish book and although it was considered a children’s story at her time, it was the earliest piece of fiction ever created and was much respected in literary circles. But that was not why she liked the story so, but because it was a tale of adventure, of a time long gone. The book is about a lawyer named Jason in the 17th century who was forced into piracy because of gambling debts which he couldn’t pay. He stumbled upon a pirate crew in the new world and hoped to amass a fortune to return home and restore his life. But pirate life was hard and he soon realised he would have to think of something else if he ever wanted to come home alive and rich.
Kollin sighed and looked dreamily into the darkness and dreamt about adventures and exotic places. "I wish I could be there,” she said and allowed herself to imagine for just a little bit before packing up her things and heading home, hoping her dreams would come true in her sleep.
The next day, Kollin went to class. She studied to become a professor, but the lecturer today was a bore and she leaned in and whispered to her friend Jane who sat left of her. “You think he’s ever been to the places he talks about?”
“Does it matter?”
Of course it does! She wanted to say, but she didn’t as she felt the eyes of the lecturer on her and she burrowed herself in her chair and tried to pay attention. “I don’t think he barely leaves the school grounds,” Oliver, another friend of hers, said. “And we pay good money to listen to this…”
Kollin smiled. She had two great friends, Jane and Oliver. They had been friends since childhood and they did everything together. “As long as I get the degree is all I care about,” Jane said.
“I suppose so… They are not all this boring, though, thankfully,” Kollin said.
They listened obediently and took notes when Oliver leaned in. “I’m going tomorrow, by the way.”
“You are really going to go through with it?” Jane said.
“Of course, there’s money to be had. Businesses will flock to me for advice once I get a foot in the country… My offer still stands, you know.”
“That’s sweet, but I have other plans.”
“Me too, I’m sorry,” Kollin said.
“It’s alright… So I guess we won’t see each other much once we graduate…”
“Yeah…” Kollin smiled sadly.
Suddenly, Jane stood and grabbed them both under her arms, squeezing their necks. “I’ll visit you even if you move across the world you hear!”
A gasp escaped Kollin, as they ruffled each other. They didn’t care if the lecturer and half the class glared at them.
Oliver made his trip, as he said, and he was gone for a whole week. He returned disappointed but spirited. Apparently the trip hadn’t gone well but he was excited to tell what he’d seen. “It’s an amazing place! They are really poor but they seemed happy and friendly. I swear, most of the buildings are relics from the colonial era. There weren’t that many foreigners either so I was kinda like a celebrity in a way,” he said with a huge grin.
“Sounds like you had a good time.”
“Oh yes, you should come with me next time. You’d like it especially, Kol, it’s just like that pirate story you like so much.”
“Fortune in the Mire?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. They had an old inn, hundreds of years old and everything.”
Kollin looked doubtfully at him. “I don’t know, I have midterms coming up and…”
“You’ll be fine. You study too much anyway.”
Jane and Kollin looked at one another. “I suppose it could be fun.”
“That’s the spirit! You can study on the plane if it worries you that much.”
“Alright, alright, I said I’d go already,” Kollin said.
They laughed and a week from then they took a plane to this exotic country. At the airport, Oliver took a cab to another part of the country to see if he’d have any luck over there. Jane and Kollin took a minibus cramped with people. There were no roads, at least no modern ones. The roads were made of dirt and sometimes there were potholes made worse from the rainy season and the vehicle bump up and down. It took two hours to get there and they were not disappointed. The city was beautiful, situated on a hill along the coast. The streets were colourful with flowers and purple and torque painted houses. Although much of the paint had fallen off by the heating sun over the years, there were still patches of paint that made the town all the more charming. Palm trees dotted the town and flowers grew over the walls of the residences… It was just as Oliver had described and more. A couple of years ago, there were no tourists, but slowly and surely, the tourism increased and Jane and Kollin were lucky enough to stay at one of the newly renovated inns. Jane was more happy about this than Kollin for she wanted the ‘authentic experience,’but secretly, she was happy too that they didn’t have to sleep in a damp drafty room without running water or something like that. After they’d settled in, they went downstairs to the bar. The bar was still old and dim, no electric lights had been drawn and the only light came from the sun through the dust covered windows. They looked at each other and smiled, Jane smiled mostly because Kollin did. They ordered each a fruity drink by the bar and they placed themselves by one of the tables near the window. The table was ancient too, with marks and crevices that took your imagination away. Maybe some sailors had been here carving into the wood? Hard to tell, the table was scar ridden and had more history than one could discern.
“This place is amazing,” Kollin said and drank from her drink, her mouth twisted bitterly at the taste. Jane didn’t grimace and drank heartedly. “I like it, it’s quaint,” she said.
Kolllin’s entire body was shaking and she smiled oddly. Her heart drummed and her palms were sweating, she didn’t know what to do with herself. This was the place of her dreams… She was finally here! It was so much like her story that… She dug into her pocket and brought out the book and read: “We moved among the alleyways in the dark. Dark characters glanced at us as we passed, but we were too many, too fierce ourselves to be meddled with. The inn had been loud with singing and laughter before we entered. They looked at us and silenced each other - they glared and we glared back. We had our usual spot by the window with the wall at our back. Nobody had dared take it. My face was cold through all this though my insides were burning. So the news had already spread. We’d no longer be safe at any port of men.”
Jane smiled lovingly. “It sure does sound like this is the place doesn’t it?” And held up her cup. “Cheers matey!” They clinked cups and drank.
“I already knew that H.M Jefferson was well traveled in his time but this is too real! What if…” Kollin said and leaned closer, lowering her voice. “What if this is the place,” she said, giggling.
Jane leaned back on her chair and smiled. “You are such a nerd,” and took a swig. She licked her lips. “Maybe he was, it’s easy to imagine anyway.”
Kollin grinned wide and stood, clutching the book at her bosom. “We must investigate!”
“Hold your horses matey! I’m not down with my drink,” Jane said and gestured at her cup.
Kol sat down reluctantly, sort of trembling. Her right knee jittering up and down anxiously.
“Alright, let’s go,” Jane said and they headed out. They took a right and went deeper into the city. “Here!” Kol said. “This is where Jason passed out and almost got killed by thugs… And here is the bush where the captain picked the roses for a his prostitute girl…”
Jane started laughing. “You talk as if the characters are real.”
“Well, maybe they are?”
Jane’s smile straightened into a thin line.
“I mean, I know they aren’t but still, it’s so real…”
“It doesn’t mean anything, calm down.”
Kollin looked distantly over the city. “I wonder…”
She didn’t argue with Jane, she knew logically the stories couldn’t be true. It would mean all fantastic things in the book happened for real… But still she wondered, couldn’t they have? They spent a whole week in the town and had a great time. They met up with Oliver back at the airport who looked grumpy as he slouched on the airport sofa. “I take it it didn’t go well?” Jane asked as the two friends placed themselves beside him.
“Terrible! I know this is a good idea but nobody else does… Maybe they don’t think I can do it. Maybe they think I’m too young?”
“Then you have to prove them wrong,” Jane said.
“I guess, but how…? I’m sorry, can we change the subject? How was your trip?”
Kollin burst out as if waiting for the question. “It was amazing! You were right, it’s just like the story. Even more so, it is the story!”
Oliver winced from her exciting outburst and then looked at Jane as if he needing translation. “It kinda, is,” she said. “It’s very similar at least.”
“It’s more than that,” Kollin said and dug up the book and showed Oliver a passage. “The bar scene, the fight in the alley, the romance… It’s all there, it happened.”
Oliver lowered the book that was forced up his face. “Well, uh, I’m glad you had a good time… So, it’s similar, huh? I don’t remember much because I was busy with other things.”
Kollin collapsed into her chair, gaping disappointedly at the ceiling. Oliver and Jane looked at one another. “Okay, okay, the stories are true. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean the treasure is real too?”
Kollin shot up and looked at Oliver. “I haven’t thought about that… I guess it must be.”
Jane elbowed Oliver in the side. “That’s the thing you remembered?”
Oliver squirmed in his seat. “Well, that’s what I find interesting, okay, don’t judge. Besides, I read it a long time ago, I think it was in middle school.”
Jane and Kollin eyed one another and smiled.
They looked thoughtfully at nothing for a little bit as they waited for the plane, then Oliver said. “So where would the treasure be? Hypothetically, I mean.”
Jane sighed audibly
“In the swamp, I’d assume… Are you sure you remember the story at all?”
“Maybe, but that’s not the point—.”
“Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Jane said.
“Well, they got betrayed. They had taken a large treasure and they were going to hide it in a swamp. The lawyer knew the swamp well and was gonna nab it later for himself, but in the end, they didn’t trust him and they started a fight.”
“Can’t trust a pirate,” Oliver said.
“Or a lawyer in this case… You know what’s funny? The story is very detailed up to this point but at the end it becomes so very vague, as if the author didn’t want anyone to find out…”
“I’ve learned he got depressed after this wife died, that’s why he got sloppy at the end,” Jane said.
“Maybe… Yeah, that makes me sense, doesn’t it? I’m just being silly.”
Jane took a breath. “It’s alright. It’s fun to pretend, isn’t that right Oliver?”
“Hmph, at least I have my priorities straight.”
They laughed and talked about other things while waiting for the plane. Kollin tried to forget about her silly ideas, but it stuck in her mind, festering on the flight home. It wasn’t about the gold, she told herself, it was the idea of finding a real treasure stolen by real life pirates. Yes, she didn’t care about the wealth, it was about the adventure! Question was, where’d she begin looking? Thoughts like these consumed her on the way home and she started doing research, only a little at first, then she went deeper. What had other people been writing about this? It seemed nobody had come to the same conclusion she had, which was good because it meant the treasure was still there. Most research concerned the cultural value of the book and analysis of its hidden meanings… The author’s past is a mystery too, which only vindicated Kollin even more. At some point, she was so consumed that she neglected her studies and spent every waking hour trying to find a clue where the treasure might be. After some weeks without finding anything useful, she started searching other sources. She found, in the academy archives, that someone else had done their own research 50 years ago, which wasn’t strange per say, but there was a news article attached to it: The student had disappeared! He’d gone to a town called Seaside on the west coast and went missing in the local swamp… Bingo!
“I’m telling you, it’s there.”
“Calm down, how can you be so sure?” Jane said.
Kollin put her thumb and index finger at the bridge of her nose. “I mean, because… He went to a swamp and he did research on the book too.”
“Coincidence?” Jane shrugged.
“No, I’m telling you, he found something.”
Oliver, who had been silent, looked at Kollin thoughtfully. “So it might still be there, if he went missing, I mean…?”
Jane glared at him.
“It’s a long-shot, I know,” Kollin said. “But it’s worth a look.”
“And what if we’ll be in danger? He went missing you know.”
“We’ll be careful.”
“Kol… This is not like you at all.”
Kollin felt different too. She was sweating even though it was cool. She couldn’t sit still and walked around the tiny room. “I think we should do it,” Oliver said. “If we don’t find the treasure that’s the end of it, but if we don’t go I don’t think Kol will let this go.”
Jane saw something else other than friendly concern in Oliver’s eyes, but what he said was true; there was a glimmer in Kollin’s eyes that was unmistakable, just like when they were children; she couldn’t be persuaded otherwise. “Alright then, but if we die, I’ll never forgive you.”
And so the three friends went west to the town called Seaside. The name was ironic, of course, because it wasn’t anywhere near the coast. Instead it had a large river going beside it and the swamp was on the other side. Some say they called it Seaside because the river was so large that there were beaches along it, a deep rooted wish by their ancestors to live by the ocean? Of course, being so close to a swamp nobody sunbathed by the freshwater beaches, at the very least in summer, when the mosquitos came in deathly numbers. When they arrived, they didn’t know exactly where to go. They knew that the treasure was out there somewhere, but where would they begin to look? They bought a map at a grocery store and looked over it, seeing just how massive the swamp was. “Where do we begin?” Oliver said.
“I— I don’t know,” Kollin said, daunted by the map.
“How about nowhere? The place is huge!” Jane said.
“But we have to start somewhere…”
“Kol… I’m your friend and I’ll help you in whatever way I can but even you must realise this is impossible.”
Kollin stared at the map, searching for any clues, any at all; almost hoping to find a big red X marked somewhere, just like in the stories. “Are you interested in the swamp?” Somebody said behind them.
Kollin winced. “No!” She said guiltily.
Jane looked askance at her and said. “We are, who are you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, my name is Christine, I Work at the tourist office,” she said and pointed at the building behind them. “I saw you and I thought I might help.”
“A tourist office…” She said doubtfully.
“Oh yes, we have lots of visitors to the swamp, believe it or not, a real wonder of nature! Not in summer, though, a lot of bugs you know.”
Jane scowled at Kollin. “You don’t say.”
“It’s that popular?” Oliver said.
“Yes, even more so now that they discovered the Hermit.”
“There’s a Hermit?”
“Mhm, he’d been living in the swamp for fifty years without anyone noticing, can you believe that? Some conservationists found him by mistake. When people learned this they went crazy and wanted to talk to him, I guess they figured he would have all the answers. He’s very wise you know, I’ve been there myself.”
“Fifty years…” Kollin murmured to herself. “Wait, he takes visitors?”
“Oh yes, and gladly too. He must be lonely, poor thing. There’s a path,” she said and pointed at the map. “And sign posts you can follow.”
Kollin’s face turned white.
“If you are going to see him, we only ask that you are respectful and have a flare gun in case you get lost. Wait here, I’ll fetch one for you.”
Jane held out her hand. “That won’t be necessary, we haven’t decided if we’ll go, right, Kol?”
“Yes— No, may I have it, please?” Kolllin said. She took the flare gun and held it to her. “Let’s go,” she said and her friends followed her. They walked down town until they came to a bridge. Kollin was prepared to continue on but somehow her legs wouldn’t move. She stood there, undecidedly for awhile before Jane said. “There’s a bench over there,” pointing to their right.
They placed themselves by the river and sat silently for a bit. Oliver became restless and broke the silence. “So are we going or not?”
“This is not how I wanted it to be,” Kollin said.
Oliver shrugged. “Makes it easier for us, doesn’t it?”
“I’m glad he’s alive, don’t get me wrong, but…”
“There’s no adventure in this, is there?” Jane said.
“Hey, the treasure is still out there, you know. I mean he wouldn’t stay in some swamp if he found it, right?”
Kollin nodded and stood. “You’re right, besides, I think I want to talk to him.”
Jane sighed. “Let’s go then, before it gets dark.”
They went over the bridge this time and stopped by a big map that showed the different paths to take. The road to the Hermit was surprisingly close, the closest path anyhow. How could they not have discovered the Hermit sooner? Jane thought. Perhaps he didn’t want to be found… A mosquito buzzed by her ears and she smashed it on her cheek. “I hate bugs,” she said. “Let’s go.”
There were small coloured signposts for them to follow. The path to the Hermit was yellow and easy to spot at first, but as the went further, the thicket became denser and the trees taller, darkening their view. Besides that, there was a sort of haze lingering around them, clouds of… specks floated about them, making everything seem murky and luminescent at the same time. It was an odd swamp, or maybe this was just how swamps were? Jane had never been in one. “We should stop,” she said. “I can’t see the sign posts anymore.”
“It should be up ahead, we are on the path, I think,” Oliver said.
Jane wasn’t sure, the ground felt soggy. “Kol… Kol? Where’d she go?”
“Is she gone?”
“Over here!” Kollin cried and they hurried towards her voice. Oliver stepped into something soggy, drenching his shoe in the mire. “Damn it…”
“Be careful,” Jane said and helped him up to a dry patch. They moved carefully then, between small islands of dirt. They were definitely off the path now… What was Kol thinking? They finally caught up with her standing in a small clearing. A ray of light penetrated the foliage. She jerked her head around. “I see a light over there,” she said, pointing into the shrubbery. “let’s hurry.”
“Wait, wait!” Jane called but she was gone. “What’s gotten into her?”
Oliver shrugged. “She’s obsessed… Do you see the light she was talking about?”
“Over there, it’s faint… I don’t like it.”
“You shouldn’t follow lights in a swamp, I’ve heard.”
“Those are just fairy tales.”
“Yeah… We’ll catch up to her if we follow the light too.”
Jane nodded and they were more careful with their steps. How could they have lost the path already? How could it be so dark…“How much do you think the treasure would be worth today?” Oliver asked.
“Don’t you start.”
“Well I’m not. This is a fool's errand and you know it.”
Oliver was silent for a while. “I bet you could do anything with that kind of money, even split in three.” Oliver had already made up a number in his head…
Jane frowned but didn’t say anything. The light was getting brighter and soon they came into another clearing. There was a small cottage where the light was. Moss covered the roof and half the walls but it was clearly a house. Oliver and Jane looked at one another? “Kol?” They called.
Suddenly, something dark emerged from the bushes. “Rawer!”
Jane and Oliver backed away. “Kol you shit, that wasn’t funny!”
Kollin laughed uncontrollably while Oliver tried to dust off the green spots of moss smeared on his clothes. “Don’t topple the poor old man’s house now,” Kollin smirked.
Jane still scowled. “Oh lighten up,” Kollin giggled. “There’s nothing dangerous around here. I even met the hermit, he’s waiting for us inside,” she said and gestured them inside.
Oliver and Jane looked worriedly at one another and followed her. Inside, there was a figure stooping over a tea kettle fizzing in the corner. The cottage was small with just one room, a bed and a kitchen. Everything seemed old and mostly handmade, except the table that was new and shiny. For the guests, Jane assumed.
“Welcome, welcome,” the Hermit said as he turned around. He held out the kettle and poured warm water into four cups. “I’m so glad you are here, it’s been a while since anyone came to visit. I thought maybe they had forgotten about me…” he said and gestured them to sit. As they sat, Jane noticed a large bright lantern by the window. “It was you?” She said and pointed at the lantern.
“Yes, it’s quite bright isn’t it? It’s so easy to lose your way in the swamp”
“It was extremely helpful,” Kollin said, smiling broadly.
The Hermit smiled back. “So, why have you come here?”
The friends looked at one another.
“Surely you have questions? People rarely come because they enjoy my company.”
Kollin cleared her throat. “Are you Joseph?”
The Hermit raised an eyebrow and looked at them. “That’s my name… Do I know you? Hmph, of course I don’t, everyone I ever known is either dead or 70… You aren’t 70 are you?”
“We know why you are here,” Jane said impatiently.
“Did you find the treasure!” Oliver burst out.
The Hermit clutched his cup a bit tighter. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“We know you found something,” Kollin said. “It’s okay, we came to the same conclusion as you did.” she said and laid out the book on the table.
Kollin squinted at Jane.
The Hermit picked up the book and flipped the page. He smirked and laid back the book. “I don’t think you have, but it was very clever of you to find me.” He sighed. “Only a matter of time someone would, I suppose.” he said and sipped his tea. “I did find it, but I couldn’t take it with me.”
“Why?” Kollin asked.
“I don’t think they meant to hide it there. Over hundreds of years the treasure has sunk deeper and deeper into the mire, nobody can get it now, nobody alone anyway. They probably died with the treasure, at least some of them. You know of it, you read the book.”
“Why didn’t you ask for help?” Oliver asked.
As if being hit hard in the back, he winced and then looked sadly into his cup. “Yes, why haven’t I? It’s one of the questions I try to answer, I guess.”
There was silence, the question they wanted to ask lay heavily in the air. The Hermit looked up and saw their tension and smiled. “You want it, don’t you?”
They looked at each other.
“Well, you can have it. What am I supposed to do with it? An old man who rejected society… I wouldn’t even know what to spend on.”
“Are you sure?” Kollin asked.
“Yes, yes,” he said and stood and brought a cane. “Follow me,” he said.
Jane and Oliver followed behind while Kollin walked beside him. “It was very clever of you to find me,” he said and pointed at the book she still held tightly. “You wanted it to be real, didn’t you?”
Kollin smiled awkwardly.
Jane looked on from behind. She didn’t trust the old man. To her, anyone who dedicated their lives to find a treasure had something wrong about them. She didn’t like how the two of them talked so pleasantly.
“I must ask,” Kollin said. “How did you find out where to look?”
The old man tapped his pocket. “It’s in the story,” he said and continued on. The Hermit moved confidently despite the dark, holding the lantern high and illuminating a short distance ahead of them. He must have walked this path many times over, perhaps even a thousand Jane thought. Then, he stopped. “Are we here,” Oliver asked excitedly
“Yes,” The Hermit said with a smirk and pointed to the ground.
Their feet were half way below the earth. They tried to lift themselves up but the feet were stuck. “Help us,” Kollin said. But the old man’s face twisted and he started laughing, jumping up and down like a madman. “It’s down there, probably. Why don’t you have a look?”
“You are crazy! You’ll kill us for this?” Oliver said.
The smile on the hermit vanished and he frowned and yelled. “The treasure is mine! All of it,” he lowered his voice and muttered to himself. “I found some of it scattered about…” His muttering transformed into a laugh. “They held onto it so tightly, even in death. Poor, poor pirates. I wonder what’s a more horrible way to die, suffocation or starvation, hehe.”
“You’re mad!” Oliver cried.
The old man scowled, moved closer and grabbed after Oliver but he couldn’t reach him. “So? I’m allowed to be. I’ve spent 50 years for this! I deserve the treasure, all of it. I won’t have some snot-nosed kids come in and steal my hard work.”
“We’re sorry,” Kollin said on the verge of tears. “We promise to never come back, please just save us.”
“I would like to believe you, dear, I really do. But your eyes… Especially this one’s,” he said and pointed at Oliver. “Says otherwise.”
Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder. The swamp lit up for a second, showing that they were truly alone. The old man looked up and grinned. “See! Even the heavens want you dead,” he said and turned his back on them.
“Come back! Come back!” They cried but the Hermit just turned to have a last look at them before disappearing back into the foliage.
They were to their knees now. They could not help but struggle, even if they did not move, they would simply sink more slowly. “What are we going to do?” Kollin said and looked to Jane who had been calm through all this.
“Is he gone?” She asked.
“I don’t know, I can’t turn around.” Kol said between sobs.
“Let's wait then to be sure.”
“And then what?!” Oliver said, twisting his body to face Jane. “How can you be so calm?”
Jane smiled and tapped her pocket and looked at Kollin. Kollin looked quizzically at her for a moment then she remembered. “The flare gun!” She said and brought it out. “I— I forgot.” Oliver gaped at her as she pointed the gun into the air and fired off a stream of light that sailed back down, lighting everything around them.
“I hope he didn’t hear that,” Jane said.
“What if they don’t get here in time? What if it starts to…”
Like a bucket of water, rain poured over them and they started to sink even faster. They cried desperately, trying to reach the vines and branches around them. The mud was at their waist now and they could not reach for anything. “I’m sorry I brought this on,” Kollin said. “If we ever get out alive, I’ll stay in my room forever.”
“I will never seek riches again!” Oliver said as if abandoning one’s vices god would save them.
After some hours, the rain had stopped and the Mud was at their chests. “This is it, isn’t it?” Oliver said.
“It can’t, it can’t!” Kollin cried.
Then there was rattling in the bushes and a man in a yellow vest appeared. “I found them,” he said and three more men with vests came out of the bushes. They threw out lines to attach themselves with and they pulled the three friends out of the mud. As they brushed themselves off, Christine, from the tourist office, emerged from the bushes. “I don’t know what he was thinking…” She said and looked at the three friends. “Are you alright? Did something happen to the Hermit?”
The way the expedite talked at them made Jane furious. “The Hermit?! Who cares, we almost drowned!”
“You can’t drown in here, it’s not deep enough,” she said and pointed at the mud… “Oh my goodness, you really thought you were—.” The expedite hugged each of the friends tightly. “I’m so sorry, I thought you knew, it must have been awful! Poor things.”
The expedite wouldn’t let go and the friends looked awkwardly at one another. “Wh— What was that about the Hermit?” Oliver said.
The expedite let go and dried a tear. “Yes, he was acting so strange. As soon as he saw us, he jumped through the window, screaming like a madman. I tried to go after but I lost him.”
The friends looked at one another and explained everything. They went back to the cottage and found a sizeable gold treasure hidden under the floorboard. The gold glittered and must have been polished everyday. “He could have lived well for the rest of his life with this,” Oliver said.
Among the possessions, Kollin found a very old copy of ‘The Fortune in the Mire.’ She opened it and found a note inside. “Are you coming?” Jane said, eager to leave.
Kollin slammed the book shut and pocketed it. “Coming.”
In the end, they couldn’t be mad at the Hermit for they were never in any real danger. Besides, the Hermit was a pitiable creature, consumed by his own greed. They left the treasure as it was to be brought later to a museum. But the treasure was gone when they came back and still there was no trace of the Hermit. Some say they can still hear him cackling maniacally in the swamp at night, still looking for every last piece of the treasure. Several days later, the friends were back at school, having lunch in the corridor, waiting for class to begin. “You think that was all of it?” Oliver said. “The book made it seem the treasure was much larger.”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Jane said.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’d want it anyhow. There was cursed about that man,” he said with a shudder.
Jane looked at Kollin who was deep in reading. “You’re really still reading that old thing?”
Kollin smiled and looked up, folding a piece of paper into the book and closing it.
I congratulate you for coming this far. You with the greatest of imagination and curiosity have found this note and last will and testament of an old fool. I bring you a word of warning before you read any further because this is not for those weak of heart or greedy by nature. Of course it is not possible for a person with any normal ego to know if they are greedy or not. Rarely are there such extreme instances where such discovery of character becomes obvious. Let me make myself perfectly clear, this is such an instance and if you have any doubt of heart, put the note back into its hiding place and let someone else take on this hunt.
If you have chosen to continue reading, I pity you, as I pity myself. As you may have already concluded, the treasure of the Low Sea Pirates are very real, I know because I was there. That I came out of this alive can only be a attestant to God’s will. The treasure should remain buried, I firmly believe, but I write this as a point of weakness for I know the treasure will bring harm upon the reader… I cannot let it die. In all my life, the thought of the treasure had never failed to invade my mind, even as my life was blessed in all things, the treasure never left me. Yet I was strong, I never brought any of it with, nor did I ever return to it. But more likely, it was cowardice that kept me away for I feared that perhaps parts of the crew still lingered in those swamps, their spirits surely would and they would blame me, as they should, for their misfortune. Alas, I will not bore you with the tales of a troubled old man and if you still seek to find the treasure of all treasures go south from Hempington until you come to a crossroads (…)