The Hidden Spring
The map was old. So old, Jonathan Graves barely had to touch it for it to almost dissolve beneath his fingertips. Fortunately the corner of the map held nothing of importance, so he refrained from removing it from the frame at all. His mother had asked him to look for something up in attic of their house, a task he very much didn't want to partake in. But as his mother so eloquently put it:
"So long as you live under my roof, you'll obey my orders!"
The old sewing machine she had asked him for could wait. There was no way his mother knew about the treasure map he had just discovered among his father's old things. If she had, why hadn't she gone out looking for it herself? Or hired people to search for it in her stead? Maybe his father never wanted his family to know of the treasure at all.
"Or maybe Dad used to be a criminal before he married Mom..." Jonathan muttered to himself.
Of course that hypothesis went out the window immediately. The map before him was clearly decades, perhaps centuries older than his father. How he had gotten a hold of it would be a mystery for all time.
Another inspection of the parchment confirmed it was written in a language he couldn't understand. It was vaguely familiar, something he had practiced in his youth. Spanish, he thought, but wasn't one hundred percent sure. He did know exactly who to take the parchment to for confirmation. The question on his mind now was:
"How do I sneak it out of the house?"
His mother had forbidden Jonathan from touching anything that belonged to his father. He was currently out of the country, enjoying fine wines and meals that probably cost twice as much as groceries for a week back at home. But such was his business, the details of which Jonathan didn't know too much about. A combination of age and general mystery surrounding the profession was to thank for that.
Jonathan set aside the parchment, close to the attic entrance but concealed enough so his mother wouldn't suspect he'd seen it. Getting the sewing machine she had asked for, he climbed down the ladder and closed the attic door behind him. Even if he could get the framed parchment out of the attic safely, he'd never be able to slip past his mother's watchful gaze with it in tow. If he wanted to have someone else see the parchment, he'd have to bring them over here.
Jonathan placed the sewing machine on the living room table. His mother was busy sewing by hand some of his tattered pants.
"Thank you," she said, always sure to show gratitude even when it was a direct order.
"Can I go to a friend's house for a while?" Jonathan asked. Her gaze turned to him.
"Sophia." Jonathan answered, his pale cheeks betraying him with a slight blush.
"Sophia Ruiz? I didn't know you were friends with her." Her glare pierced right through Jonathan. "Why do you want to go to her house?"
"I just wanted to talk to her about something..." His eyes wandered, too embarrassed to look directly at his mother. Then the gears in his head turned. "If you want, I can ask her to come over here, instead."
His mother was only making sure her twelve-year old son wasn't engaging in any untowardly behavior.
"I'm sure her father would be a good chaperon. But if her parents allow it, she can come over."
Jonathan wasted no time is darting out the door. He heard his mother repeat the usual safety instructions behind him, but he didn't need to hear them for the umpteenth time. He knew to look both ways before crossing the street and not talk to any strangers. And the chances of running into any strangers or cars was minimal, given that Sophia lived four houses down and across the street. Still, Jonathan made sure to do as he was taught before crossing over.
Sophia Ruiz's house had a dark green door. On it hung a hand-carved wooden sign that read 'Ruiz', done by her father. Steeling himself with a deep breath, Jonathan knocked on the door exactly three times. Before the door swung open, he made sure to take two steps back. Just to be out of arm's reach in case her father answered. He didn't think a grown man would cause him any actual harm, but better safe than sorry.
When the door opened, Sophia was the person answering. Jonathan did his best to not make his crush on the girl known.
"Sophia, can you come over to my house for a little while?"
The girl was about to answer when her father appeared behind her. She kept her mouth shut and lowered her head in his presence. Next to him, she appeared no more than a toddler with really long hair, despite being the same age as Jonathan. Jonathan always suspected her father used to be a bodybuilder. Or maybe he still was.
"What was that?" He asked in a thunderous low key. Jonathan swallowed hard before answering.
"I want to know if Sophia- your daughter- can come over to my house for a little while. I need her help with something."
"It's for school," Jonathan lied, "and she's much better than me at the work."
The small bit of flattery seemed to do the trick, as Mister Ruiz's scowl seemed to dissipate ever so slightly. He looked down at his tiny-by-comparison daughter, and she looked up at him.
"You be back in one hour, or else." He instructed flatly.
"Yes, Papa." She meekly replied. And with that, the large man vanished back into the house. Immediately Sophia punched Jonathan in the arm.
"What was that for?" He groaned.
"You could've called! You know how Papa is. So what do you really want?" She crossed her arms, putting on her best pout face. Jonathan did his best not to smile, since he found her to be twice as adorable that way.
"I need you to read me something. I think it's in Spanish, and you know I'm not too good at reading Spanish." Jonathan's explanation drew a sigh from the girl standing in the doorway.
"Fine. Give me a minute to change, okay?" Sophia ducked back inside and shut the door behind her. She knew Jonathan wouldn't want to wait inside the house, not with her father hanging around.
The two had known each other for nearly seven years, since they met the first day of school. Back then, it was Jonathan who almost wanted nothing to do with the girl. It was his 'girls are icky' stage in life, while Sophia actively pursued him as a friend. She was the one with the crush at the time, a tidbit the girl inside the house remembered all too well. Those feelings weren't completely gone.
A few minutes later, Sophia emerged dressed to impress. Instead of the drab shirt and shorts combo she was sporting before, she wore a simple-yet-elegant white one piece. It was the middle of summer, but that didn't stop her from boosting her modesty with a short leather jacket. She even undid the ponytail her hair was in, letting it fall behind her in a brown cascade. She instantly noticed Jonathan was staring.
"What are you looking at?" She barked, using all her might to keep her cheeks in check.
"N-Nothing!" Jonathan stammered, turning away. He took off for his house with a light jog as to hide his own flushed cheeks. "Come on!"
After greeting Jonathan's mother properly (an event which caused Jonathan even more embarrassment as his mother was still sewing up his tattered pants), the two kids ran up to his room. Jonathan closed the door, but didn't lock it.
"House rule?" Sophia asked, pointing at the doorknob.
"Yeah. Mom would go crazy if she tried to get in here and the door was locked."
"Same with my room. Especially if I had a boy in the room."
Sophia expected her jab to further fluster Jonathan, but the boy didn't catch the brunt of the verbal attack as he fished around his drawers for a flashlight. Once he had found one, he motioned for Sophia to follow him. Out in the hallway, Jonathan pulled on the chain for the attic door, bringing down the built-in ladder.
"What are you doing up in the attic?" Jonathan's mother called out to the two almost-teenagers.
"I left my flashlight up there. Just going to get it."
"Why do you need the flashlight now?" A valid question. Jonathan looked to Sophia for help in forming another lie.
"It's just part of a homework assignment, Misses Graves." Sophia called out. She was prepared to distract the woman if need be, but Jonathan held her by the arm.
"Jonathan?" She called out. It didn't sound as though she was going to move from her place in the living room.
"Hold up, Mom!" He handed the flashlight to Sophia.
"Get up there, and when you do look behind some boxes to the right. There's a map with some writing on it." He whispered to the girl. She nodded, and started up the ladder.
"Going, Mom!" Jonathan ran over to the living room.
Up in the attic, Sophia followed the boy's instructions and found the framed parchment. She reached for a corner to pull it out, only to have the corner tear off and dissolve between her fingers. She snapped on the flashlight, and glanced over the document instead. Jonathan was right; the writing was in Spanish. Spanish cursive, making it even harder to read. Sophia never understood why people insisted back then to write everything in cursive.
The map itself wasn't very detailed. A poorly drawn circle was about the extent of the cartography, with little notes scattered about. Reading the notes from top to bottom seemed the logical thing to do, but the sentence fragments didn't make any sense.
"Busca la piedra de Dios." One line read.
"El rio le da vida al corazon." Another line read. Sophia skipped to the last line at the bottom of the map.
"Espera al cielo de oro."
The sentences were cryptic, but Sophia was certain they made sense in context. They just had to find out what that context was. Like Jonathan, she had seen enough movies to know this was a treasure map.
She was so engrossed in reading over the words on the map she didn't notice when Jonathan climbed up into the attic. He sat down next to her, having to sit close enough to rub up against her so he could also see the map.
"So what's it say?"
"What did you tell your mom?"
"We were doing homework for science. Something about how flashlights use electrons to give off light." Sophia couldn't believe her ears.
"She believed that?"
"I don't think Mom was ever good at science."
"Or she didn't care to tell you that was stupid and wrong as heck."
"Whatever, okay? What about this map?"
Sophia smiled and looked at the map again.
"I can tell you what it all says, but none of it makes any sense. Like, there's no actual directions on how to find whatever the map is for. See for example," she pointed to the first line on the top of the parchment, "this says 'Find the rock of God'."
"The 'rock of God'?" Jonathan repeated.
"Exactly. This here says 'The river gives life to the heart'. 'Roots above ground mark the path'. 'Wait for the golden sky'. It's all a bunch of nonsense." There were a few other lines Sophia hadn't translated for him, but Jonathan got the gist of her argument.
"But they're clues. If we read them in the right order, we'll know where to look for the treasure, right?"
"Maybe. But this map is just like a circle. There's nothing else on it; no trees, no water, nothing. This could be a treasure map for a deserted island half way around the world and we'd never really know."
Jonathan looked over the map again and again, hoping that with each new scan something would magically appear on the parchment. He didn't want to believe that he'd found a real treasure map and it wasn't even for treasure buried somewhere around his house. Sophia remained silent the whole time, rereading the cryptic clues in different orders to see if that helped. She had already given up on finding the treasure (if there was one), but something compelled her to keep trying. After a few tense minutes of silence between the two, Jonathan let out a sigh and leaned against Sophia.
"This sucks." He blurted out. Sophia blushed slightly as she leaned against Jonathan herself.
"Oh well. It was fun coming up here, anyway. It's really cool that you have a real treasure map."
"Would've been cooler if we could actually find it. Can you tell me what the rest of it says?"
From top to bottom, the map's notes said thus:
Find the rock of God.
The river gives life to the heart.
The church rewards your search.
Roots above ground mark the path.
Wait for the golden sky.
"Wait, are you sure about that one?" Jonathan asked after hearing the list a second time.
"About the church."
"That's what it says. Why?"
"I have an idea. Come with me."
Abandoning the map in the attic, the two returned to Jonathan's room. He handed Sophia a notepad so that she could jot down the clues from the map. While she did that, Jonathan prepared a few things for a little expedition.
"There's something in the woods by the park. I saw it a few times when I was little. My dad said it used to be an old church." He explained.
"Oh, I know what you're talking about! Those old white rocks by the-" Sophia gasped. "-by the river!"
"Exactly! Maybe the treasure really is nearby!" Jonathan packed the flashlight, a small shovel meant for building sandcastles, and a couple bags of chips he had lying about his room for a snack during their trip.
"Come on, let's go!" Without thinking, he took hold of Sophia's hand and led her out the room. Before they got to the living room, she freed herself from his grasp.
"Listen, Jonathan. I can't go. Papa said I had to be back soon, and I don't want to get you in trouble. Or me."
"What? But, don't you want to see what kind of treasure is buried out there? Who cares if we don't get back home on time? When we come back with the treasure-"
"-if there's treasure," Sophia corrected him. "We don't know if it's really out there. This map could still be for some other place, you know."
It's not that Sophia was wrong. In fact, Jonathan knew her theory held better ground than his own. But he couldn't just dismiss the coincidence of the church in the woods by the park. There had to be a chance the map was leading them to a secret somewhere by the old church and river. But if Sophia didn't want to tag along...
"Are you sure you don't want to come? Please?" He wouldn't resort to the puppy dog eyes. Not unless he had to. He wanted to share in this little adventure with Sophia. And maybe even finally tell her how he really felt. Like in the movies.
Sophia struggled. She wanted to go with him, she really did. The only thing holding her back was the wrath her father would bring down upon Jonathan. She knew he'd never do anything more than ground her, but with Jonathan? He'd crush the poor boy in two or something. Her rational mind told her that was illegal, but deep inside her was the little girl voice that told her it was still possible. But the longer she looked into Jonathan's eyes, the more convinced she became.
"Alright, fine! I'll go." She finally said.
Before Jonathan could literally jump with joy, she raised her finger to him.
"But! No funny business, okay? If we don't find anything, we come straight home. Deal?"
Getting past Jonathan's mother was easy considering the pains it took to get Sophia into the house in the first place. Despite being focused on her sewing, she noticed the pack Jonathan was carrying on him as they walked out of the house. He made an effort to hide it, but she didn't demand to inspect its contents. She did ask where they were off to.
"The park. We'll be back soon!" Jonathan moved towards the door. His mother cleared her throat, enough of a warning that he'd best not move until she said so.
"I thought you two were doing science homework. Something about how flashlights run on electrons?"
Sophia's giggle sabotaged whatever hope they had of keeping up that lie. Though judging by his mother's exact recollection of the lie, they both knew she knew it was a blatant lie.
"I don't know what you two are up to, but you be careful out there. It's all on you if something happens, you understand?" She pointed her finger at Jonathan.
"We'll be okay. Back before you know it!" He assured her with the biggest fake smile he could muster. Sophia silently nodded her head.
His mother said nothing else, allowing them to be on their way. From there, they ran down the street in the opposite direction of Sophia's house. The park was a couple blocks away, giving the two something of an awkward time alone. At a glance it looked like Jonathan was the one having trouble hanging out with the lovely young lady. In truth, it was Sophia that didn't know what to think of being seen walking with Jonathan. He was busy wrapped up in the clues regarding the treasure.
The park was pretty full that afternoon. Summer was practically upon them, the days getting hotter and hotter as the month changed from May to June. As kids from around the neighborhood enjoyed their time off, the tag team explorers vanished into the woods surrounding the park playground. There was a beaten path leading down to the riverbank and up to the ruins of the old church. It had been decades since anyone actually went there for service, so it became a hot spot of kids of various ages to have a small adventure.
"So the clue said 'the church rewards our search'. What does that mean? The treasure is somewhere inside the church?"
"I think the church part of the clues is the last one," Sophia said, looking over the list herself. "I think we need to find the 'rock of God' first."
"Okay, but what is it? Just a random rock? A rock that looks like God? Where do we start looking?"
The area around the old church was littered with rocks, mostly debris from the church. It was possible one of those was the 'rock of God', but how would they ever know? With no other alternative in sight, Jonathan started picking up rocks from the ground around his feet.
"You don't plan on checking every single rock, do you?" Sophia asked him.
"What else can we do?" Jonathan tossed his third rock and moved for the fourth.
Sighing, Sophia moved away from her companion. It would do them better if she started away from the same area. After picking up and inspecting just one rock, she already saw the futility of the activity. Thankfully, the trees around them gave off plenty of shade. But the sun was due to set in an hour or two, so eventually it would cutting through the trees and hitting them direct.
Sophia's mind wandered for a moment, which was exactly the trigger she needed for an epiphany. The sun would set, making the sky turn yellow.
"'Wait for the golden sky'... we have to wait for sunset to find the treasure. Jonathan!"
The boy continued to pick up rocks at random, and with every discarded one the pile by the riverbank grew a little bit taller. When Sophia approached him, she noticed he had an oddly shaped rock in his hand, which he quickly discarded.
"No, wait!" She caught the rock in mid-air. The boy finally snapped out of his daze. If Sophia hadn't shown up when she did, they might have missed the 'rock of God' entirely.
"What is it?"
"This is it," she said, though with some hesitation. Without the clue, it would've been just another odd rock. Or to those with an active imagination, the rock looked like a hand with the the index finger pointing outward.
"Are you sure?"
"I don't know, but maybe. Look, one of the clues said we had to wait for sunset. The 'golden sky'. If we wait a while, maybe it'll be easier to find what we're looking for."
"Are you sure we can hang around for that long? Mom and your dad aren't going to be happy about it..." Jonathan knew he'd get off with a bit of a scolding at worst. But it was the terror of the hulking man that was Mister Ruiz that really rattled him to the core.
"Doesn't matter! We have the rock, and we're at the church. If we wait for the sunset, we'll have three of the five clues!"
The entire point of this little expedition -treasure notwithstanding- was to have an excuse to spend time with Sophia. She had been hesitant at first, and now she was willing to get in trouble to see it through to the end. So Jonathan didn't protest, and offered the girl a seat next to him to wait out the sunset. It didn't occur to him until after they were sitting side-by-side that Sophia's hand had fallen on his.
He didn't mention it, and the two really didn't say much else to each other the entire time. While Sophia's mind was piecing together how the setting sun would help them find the treasure, Jonathan was focused on the fact that her hand hadn't moved from its spot on top of his. She had to have realized this, he figured. But quick glances at her expression revealed no clues.
When the sky went from blue to yellow, Sophia rose from the ground. With her hand finally removed, Jonathan breathed a sigh of both relief and sadness. In his childish paranoia, he failed to take advantage of the opportunity and hold hands with the girl.
"The sunlight is hitting the side of the church by the river," Sophia explained. "Maybe the clue we need is there."
Jonathan allowed the girl to lead the way, his taste for adventuring gone now. He was working up the courage to just tell Sophia how he felt; that was the hidden agenda of this adventure the whole time. Fates were nice enough to give him the romantic mood of the sunset to make his confession. So when Sophia reached the side of the church and was busy looking it over, he walked up behind her.
"Jonathan, you're in the way. I can't see."
"Sophia, I have to tell you something." His tone was steady, voice firm.
"What is- look!"
As the girl turned to face Jonathan, he eye caught something on the church wall. It looked at first to be a crack in the outer wall, but it was shaped strangely like an entryway. Where there was supposed to be a doorknob, there was instead a small hole. Putting two and two together in her mind, Sophia snatched the 'rock of God' from Jonathan's hands and jammed it into the hole. As she expected, it fit snugly, making a doorknob for the faux door.
"This is it!" She exclaimed with a little hop.
"You think?" Jonathan reached for the rock, and instinctively turned it. The sound of rock rubbing up against more rock was the result, with a poof of dust blasting both kids in the face as the door swung open. Once they had gotten most of it out of their system through some coughs, they looked inside.
"We found it." Sophia's voice was calm. She almost couldn't believe it. She turned to Jonathan, whose expression was a mess of different emotions. That's when Sophia remembered.
"You wanted to tell me something?"
"Nothing," he said. "Forget it."
"Whatever. Let's go!" She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him into the church. They didn't notice the door close behind them, or the 'rock of God' slip out of the hole in the wall and roll down the slope into the river.
Inside the church, there was a path illuminated by torchlight. Both kids didn't question this at all, when they should have realized it would have been impossible for these torches to have been lit all this time. All this time being an indeterminate amount of time, given the age of the church and this hidden passage. Still, the sense of wonderment washed over them both. Until they reached the bottom of a small staircase at the end of the passage.
There was a river here, and it flowed onward for a short ways until it split in two. Both sides of the river had narrow paths hugging the wall on either side, making it near impossible for an adult to try and cross safely. At the split there was a tree, another impossibility given trees needed sunlight to survive.
"Clue four," Sophia muttered to herself.
"And clue five was about roots, right? It must have something to do with the tree!" Jonathan moved closer to the tree, not taking care to watch where he was walking.
"Jonathan, wait!" Sophia cried out, realizing there was a stone bridge beside them. Both sides of the river were precariously narrow, so it really made no difference which path they took.
"It's okay. I won't pick a path yet, I just want to-"
He was cut off as the ground beneath his feet gave way. Head first he went into the river, making no more than a quick yelp before he vanished beneath the surface. Sophia was frozen to the spot, the shock of it all too much for her. Her heart began to race, and within seconds it felt as though it would burst out of her chest. Jonathan never surfaced. He plunged into the apparently shallow river, and didn't surface. He didn't even struggle to get out of the river. He just... vanished.
Seconds turned into minutes. Sophia couldn't move her legs. The weight of what had just happened was still setting in. And no matter how long she waited, Jonathan never surfaced.
"Jonathan?" She finally managed to whisper. There was no reply, just the sound of moving water echoing in the passage.
She had to get help. There was still a chance someone could help her save him. She turned around and ran back up the stairs. As fast as her legs could carry her, she ran down the passage leading out of the church. Then she hit a dead end. The door was closed, and no amount of force could get it open again. There was no doorknob or handle or switch of any kind to get it open.
She was trapped.
The realization set in seconds later. Her heart reacted to the fear this brought on, making her heart pulse faster in her chest. Even if she were to scream at the top of her lungs for help, what were the odds anyone would hear her? Who even knew they were out here? They made it a point not to be noticed as they snuck out to the church in the first place. A search conducted by police couldn't happen for at least a day or two.
Sophia was trapped. And there was only one way out. If there was a treasure room of some kind, there had to be another exit through there. There always was. Right?
"There has to be," she told herself. "There has to be."
So she returned to the river at the other end of the passage. The scene where Jonathan fell into the river hadn't changed. There was still no sign of him having escaped the depth of the river. She looked to the tree, and took the right path instead. To cross the river, she used the small stone bridge before the river split. Both paths hugged the wall, and even the right path looked to be capable of collapsing under her weight if she tried to cross.
Still, she had to trust in the clue left behind on the map. It was her only hope for escape, after all. So she followed the river. The path went on for some time, though how much she couldn't be certain of. She did notice the tunnel she was in grow brighter the further in she went. At one point, the torches lining the walls just stopped.
Finally, the tunnel ended. At the end of it was a chamber, a large tree firmly planted in the center of it all. All around it was a spring, its water glowing a faint golden color. There was something mystical about this place; something magical. Once Sophia set foot into the chamber, the passage leading out vanished. When she turned around, there was nothing there but a solid stone wall.
Despite it being completely cut off from the outside world, somehow Sophia could hear the wind. The leaves of the tree in the center rustled softly, and somewhere she could hear birds. It was as if this chamber was displaced from the real world, somehow. She couldn't explain it any other way than through 'magic'. And she couldn't come up with any explanation as to why a map leading to this place existed in the first place. Or why it had been in the possession of Jonathan's parents.
But she was here, now. With no where else to go, Sophia made her way to the tree. She sat down on an elevated root, unsure what to do now. There was no treasure here. There was no hope for escape, either. So what was the purpose of this place?
She scooped up a bit of the golden water at her feet. There was no strange scent to the liquid, but it continued to glow even when separated from the source. She took a sip, figuring nothing worse could possibly happen.
Despite its golden color, it tasted exactly like plain water. Sophia sighed, and looked to the ceiling. It was closed off, yet it still felt like above her was an endless sky. She couldn't quite explain it herself, but there was something magical about it all. This knowledge did her no good, however.
"This is all your fault." Sophia whispered into the air. "All your fault, Jonathan."
Her breathing got heavy. The realization that her friend was gone finally sank in. He wasn't just gone. He was dead. And she was trapped there. She covered her face with her hands.
"Jonathan..." She managed through her tears and sobs. The serenity of her prison was of little comfort. Neither was the melodic chirping of songbirds echoing in the magical chamber.