Short Story from Autocrit contest written by me. Theme: Treasure
Jonathan taps his pencil against his math homework as he listens to his mom chat on the phone in the other room. He glances at the clock to see if it’s time for his dad to come home from work. His deep brown eyes widen when he hears the front door unlock and open. He leaps to his feet and rushes to see his dad.
His dad puts down his suitcase and slips off his coat. “Hey, sport.” He hugs his son and ruffles his shaggy brown hair. “Almost time to get that haircut, kiddo.”
“Dad.” Jonathan rolls his eyes and heads back to the dining room table where he left his homework. “Hey, dad, can you help me with my math homework?”
“You go it, but let me change my clothes first. I need to get out of this monkey suit.” His dad makes monkey noises as he heads upstairs.
Jonathan laughs, shaking his head, and picks up his pencil again, staring down at his homework. He does okay in math, but now they are working on word problems and he hates it. Jonathan looks up when he hears his mom laughing about something her friend Sylvia said and groans. His mom is supposed to be helping him but then Sylvia called and his mom has been on the phone for a half an hour now. Jonathan gets up and heads over to the refrigerator. He opens it and grabs a small orange juice. Returning to the table, he opens it and takes a long sip. Setting it down, he wipes his mouth on his arm just as his dad walks over to the table.
“Jonathan, napkin,” he says and grabs one from the kitchen. He tosses it at his son, then glances in the other room where his wife sits on their green couch. “Hi sweetheart.”
His wife doesn’t look at him, but waves a hand in his general direction. She laughs again and continues her conversation as if her husband hadn’t even said anything.
“Dad,” Jonathan groans. “Can you help me? I want to get this over with.”
“Sure, buddy, let’s get this math done.” His dad sits down next to him and he looks down at the homework.
Jonathan tosses and turns in bed that night. He can’t relax and fall asleep, so he sits up and looks around his dark room. His math homework sits opened on his desk; half finished. His dad had received a call from the office and disappeared into his office until dinner time. His mom talked on the phone while warming up leftovers from the two nights before. She even stayed on the phone while they ate. His dad, too. After dinner, Jonathan had begged his parents to help him, but they both told him their usual ‘I’m busy’ excuse. They never have time to help him, and he knows he is going to get in trouble with his teacher because he couldn’t finish his math.
At least all of his other homework is done, so maybe his teacher won’t be too mad at him. Jonathan pushes his blankets off and gets up. He flips on his desk light and sits down, glaring at his math homework. He grabs his pencil and struggles through the rest of the word problems. He won’t turn it in half done. Jonathan packs his backpack when he’s done. He knows his answers are most likely wrong, but he doesn’t care at this point. He heads back to bed.
Outside, the wind howls, pushing the tree close to his window against it. Jonathan jumps when the branches scrapes along his window.
Jonathan shakes his head and climbs back out of bed. He walks over, pushes the window open, and sticks his head outside. He looks around; the wind blew his hair around his head and covered his eyes.
Not seeing anything else except the bushes and trees blowing in the crazy wind, he shuts the window. He turns off his desk lamp, climbs into bed, and turns on his bedside lamp. Grabbing his comic book, he flips it open and reads.
“I wish I could go on an adventure.” He closes the comic book and stares at the pirates on the front. “I’d love to hang out with these guys.” Jonathan glances at his bedroom door. He can hear his dad snoring logs down the hallway and rolls his eyes. “They wouldn’t even care if I was gone. They’d probably wouldn’t even notice.”
Jonathan looks back out his window at the windy world past the glass. “I wish I could disappear into my comic book. I just want to go away. I want to find friends and people who would actually care about me.”
Jonathan sets his comic book back down on the table and flips off his light. He rolls over and closes his eyes. His mind swirls as he falls asleep.
“Jonathan! Are you awake?” Judy yells up the stairs. She taps her foot impatiently before yelling up again. “Jonathan!”
“Good morning, sweetheart.”
“Derrick, is your son up? I’ve been calling for him, but haven’t gotten an answer back.” Judy crosses her arms, staring up the stairs. “I don’t have time to wait today. I have a doctor’s appointment and then a meeting at work.”
Derrick looks up the stairs. “I didn’t hear any movement in his room when I walked past. I assumed he was already down here.” He shrugs and heads back upstairs to find his son. He knocks on Jonathan’s door. “Hey, sport, are you up?”
He doesn’t hear anything and knocks harder. “Jonathan, this isn’t the time to joke. Mom has to get to her doctor’s appointment, then work, and I have an important meeting this morning, too.”
Growing annoyed, Derrick shoves the door open. “Jonathan! Let’s go!”
He freezes when he sees the empty room. The bed is a mess, the chair turned over, clothes everywhere, and Jonathan is missing. He hurries to see if Jonathan is hiding in his closet, but there is only a gaping hole in the back wall.
“I don’t have time for his, Derrick. Where is he?” Judy stops in the doorway and looks at the mess. She screams when she sees the hole in the closet. “Jonathan?”
Derrick looks around again until he spots a comic book and a note on his son’s bed. He strides over to the bed and scoops up both. His eyes scan the words while his wife walks towards the closet. “Judy, look at this.”
Judy slowly walks over to her husband, shock setting in.
Avast parents o’ Jonathan,
We ‘ave yer lad. If ye want ‘im aft, travel through this here ‘ere portal. Once there, a treasure map an’ supplies be waitin’. What lies ahead be not for the faint o’ ‘eart, but reward be worth its weight in gold. This here be an adventure fer them strong o’ will. Will ye risk the danger to get ‘im, or set sail the lad to the perils o’ seas?
Cap’n Tiny Beard
Judy and Derrick look at each other before they reread the letter. They stare at the portal, hearing sounds of birds chirping and waves coming from it. They hesitate for a few minutes before they look at one another.
“This can’t be real,” Judy says, pacing around the room.
“There is only one way to find out. We need to get our son back, Judy.” He holds out his hand to his wife.
She stops pacing. Her arm trembles before she grabs his hand. “No one takes my baby and gets away with it.”
Judy and Derrick take in a deep breath and let it out at the same time before they stride through the portal without a second thought. Their world swirls around them and shifts into a gray mess. They close their eyes, feeling dizzy and nauseous. Once the world stops spinning, they open their eyes to find themselves standing on a beach. Behind them, the portal shows Jonathan’s bedroom, safety beckoning them back. They glance back, then forward, shading their eyes as they search for anyone else on the tropical beach.
Derrick sees a rickety table sitting not far from them with two packs and a map on top. He lets Judy’s hand go and hurries over to the map, picking it up and looking it over. He had been in Boy Scouts, but that was years ago. He hopes he will still be able to read the map without too much trouble. Judy kicks the sand with her shoe, surprised that it is real.
“Where are we?” she asks when a screech catches her attention. She looks up to see colorful parrots soaring overhead. “Are those… parrots?”
“Judy, I’ve found the map,” Derrick says, looking in the bags to see what is inside.
Judy shakes her head and hurries over to her husband. She takes the map from him while he looks inside the bags. “So according to this we are on the Salty Beach, and we need to get to this X in the Seaweeds Caves on the East side of the island?” She looks around. “We’re on an island?”
“Looks that way, Hon, but we can’t worry about that now. We need to find our son.” Derrick ties up the bags and hands one to his wife.
She takes the bag and groans, slinging it over her shoulder, and hands the map back to Derrick. “Let’s go get him and get back home. I still have a lot to do today at work.” She glances at her watch. She looks at it confused and taps her finger against its glass face. “My watch… it’s not working.” Judy throws her hands up and lets them slap against her legs. “This is ridiculous. When we get back home, he is going to be grounded for setting this prank up.”
“Prank? You think this…” Derrick waves his hand around, then points at the portal. “That? You think all of this is a prank?”
Judy crosses her arms. “What else could it be? There is no Salty Beach, no Seaweed Caves, no Tiny Beard. None of this is real. What else could it be?”
Derrick gasps at his wife’s seemingly uncaring comment. He can’t believe how she is treating all of this, their son being kidnapped and all, as if it isn’t really happening. “Let me guess. This is all just a dream?”
“A terrible dream,” Judy says. “Let’s get to this cave thingy and get our son.” She lets her arms swing as she stomps off.
Derrick grumbles and follows his wife, looking at the map to make sure they are going the right way. “There should be a trail leading towards the inner part of the island coming up to your left, Judy.” He looks up, but his wife has disappeared. “Judy? Judy, we don’t have time for this. I know you’re mad, but you can’t be wandering off. We have to find Jonathan.”
Derrick stops and turns to look behind him. Maybe she went around him and headed back for the portal, but she isn’t anywhere near the portal. He is alone on the beach. He turns back around and squints when he sees something shine on the sand. He runs over to it and finds his wife’s favorite necklace. Jonathan had given it to her for Mother’s Day two years ago. He retrieves the necklace from the sand, brushing it off. She never takes this off!
“Judy??” Derrick shouts as loud as he can, but the ocean waves seem to muffle his voice. “Judy, where are you?” He looks down at the map.
A shrill scream pierces his ears from his right, towards the ocean. He turns in time to see Judy disappear under the water, something holding her around the waist. He drops his bag and the map. He runs to the ocean, not caring that he is about to get wet. Derrick puts her necklace in his suit pants pocket before he rushes into the cold, salty water. As soon as he is out far enough, he dives under the waves and looks around for his wife. He ignores the salt stinging his eyes and spots something dragging Judy away from the shoreline. Derrick tears off his jacket and starts kicking hard to get to his struggling wife.
He reaches the strange creature holding his wife loosely around the waist and grabs his wife’s ankle, yanking her back hard. Judy slips free after the third tug and he pulls his wife against him. She chokes and is losing her breath. Derrick kicks hard, pushing them up to the surface. The creature behind them screams under the water and pursues them. Derrick and Judy break the surface and spit out the ocean water, both gasping for air.
Judy screams when she feels a hand wrap around her ankle again, the creature pulling her back down under the water. Derrick dives under and kicks at whatever is holding his wife. The sea creature screeches again and releases Judy. Derrick grabs her and the two swim to the surface. Without waiting to catch their breath, they swim for the beach.
They can hear splashing behind them, but they don’t stop until they are running towards the tree line. Derrick grabs the map and his bag, leaving his jacket behind, as he rushes past. They find Judy’s bag where she had dropped it by the tree line. They collapse on the beach, staring at the ocean, breathing hard, and watch as a mermaid tries to crawl after them. She screeches and pushes herself back into the water, disappearing.
“I just saw something in the water. I was…I was curious,” Judy says, frightened.
“Baby, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Derrick pulls her into his arms and hugs her tight. “Let’s hurry and get away from here.”
He stands up, brushing the sand off his clothes. He reaches down and helps her up. They grab their bags, look at the map, and head into the forest. They can hear the mermaid screaming and splashing angrily behind them.
Judy groans, waving her hand in front of her sweaty face, trying to cool off. “These trees aren’t giving us much cool shade.”
Derrick agrees, wiping his forehead with his almost dry shirt, hoping there is still enough ocean water to cool his face. “Let’s take a break and drink some water. We won’t do Jonathan any good if we die ourselves.”
The two sit down under a tall palm tree, leaning against it while they unpack their water from their bags. Judy pulls out a bag of what looks like salty meat and makes a face. Derrick laughs and pulls out his own bag. He sniffs the first piece before ripping into it. He raises his eyebrows, surprised that it tastes good. Judy takes a bite of hers and covers her mouth, moaning.
“Pirates make amazing beef jerky,” Judy says around another bite.
Derrick laughs as he watches his wife devour the piece of meat and then grab another piece while drinking some water. His wife, who absolutely refuses to try anything new, is actually enjoying something from another world. They enjoy their break and snack before they pack everything up, heading back on the trail.
“We should be out of here soon and enter the Webby Trees…. Webby Trees?” He looks at his wife and shakes his head. “Some of these names sound like they come out of his…” He remembers bringing the comic book with him and drops his bag. Derrick digs until he finds it. “I should have known after reading the Pirate captain’s name.”
Judy moves closer to Derrick and they see a Pirate Captain and his crew on the front. Below them is the ocean with a mermaid. He opens to the first page to find Captain Tiny Beard staring at them with a big grin on his face. He indeed has a tiny beard true to his name
“We are in his comic book?” Judy takes the comic book and flips through it. She finds the part where Captain Tiny Beard had lost a few of his men because of a mermaid dragging them to their death on the way to the island. “There’s the mermaid. Okay, let’s keep going.” She closes the comic book and clutches it close since it is Jonathan’s. “Let’s go get our baby boy back. I have some choice words for this Captain Tiny Beard.”
Judy hikes on with Derrick beside her. The fire in her step makes Derrick smile as he tells her which path to take. They stop at the end of the trail through the tropical forest and stare into the deep, dark forest. As they look closer, they see something hanging down from the trees like a curtain. Judy flips the through comic until she sees the Pirate Captain leading his men inside the forest known as Webby Trees. She flips the page and nearly drops the comic book, screaming.
“Spiders? Why does it have to be spiders?” She drops the book on the ground, the spiders glaring up from the page. Judy dances around, wiping her arms, already feeling the webs and spiders crawling on her skin. “I can’t do it. I can’t go in there.” She shakes her head and crosses her arms. “No way! We need to go around.”
Derrick grabs hold of her shoulders and forces her to look at him. “Sweetheart, you have to go in there. We have to go in there. We have a scared little boy at the end of this map. We have to save him before Captain Tiny Beard does something to him.”
Judy shivers again, looking at the trees draped in webs. “But the webs are sticky and gross. Not to mention they are humongous.” She wipes her arms, feeling the webs on her skin again. She shakes her arms and straightens her shoulders back. “But for Jonathan, I’ll go into the Webby Trees forest.” She puts her bag down and rustles around. “There is nothing in here we can use to light our way.” She snaps her fingers and looks around for some big sticks. Finding two, she rips some of the bottom of her shirt off and ties one to the end of each.
Understanding what she is doing, Derrick rips the sleeves off his shirt and hands them to her so she can add them. He puts his bag down and pats his pockets. Pushing his hands inside, he feels her necklace and pulls it out. “Judy.”
She stops tying the cloth to the sticks and looks over to see him dangling her favorite necklace. Judy smiles and straightens up, putting her hand out. Derrick gently place the necklace in her hand, her fingers instantly closing around it. She smiles as she hooks it around her neck and gently touches the gems on the end.
“I always believed this necklace was lucky,” she says dreamily. “But lately I feel like the luck has run out. Work has been so hard. Long hours working for a man who doesn’t appreciate any of his employees. He fired three people yesterday just because they came up with one bad idea for advertising his publishing company. I’m exhausted working for him, physically and mentally.”
Derrick digs around his bag until he finds matches wedged down at the bottom. “Well, why not quit? I know you hate working as a secretary and I think you’d make a better editor than that man. You’ve always helped your author friends by editing for them on the side, so become a freelance editor.” He pulls out the matches and lets out a triumphant cry. He dances around Judy, holding the matches high.
Judy laughs at her husband as he does a little dance with the matches. “Okay, there dancing king.” She holds up the handmade torches and chews on her lip. “We don’t have any gasoline to light them up with, though.”
Derrick looks around for something else they can use. “Take off the cloth. We will try it the old-fashioned way.”
Judy looks confused and removes the cloth, tossing them off to the side, and waits for Derrick to figure out what to use to light the torches. Derrick looks at the closest tree and picks a bit at it, peeling some bark. “Here we go.” He picks off more of the bark and, with Judy’s help, wraps the bark to the end of their sticks. He strikes a match and soon their torches are lit.
They collect their things and head into the forest, Judy shaking as she swings her torch from side to side. She doesn’t want any spiders leaping on her. Derrick walks in front of her, pushing the webs out of their path, trying to make sure none of them touches his jumpy wife.
“Do you really think I should?”
Derrick glances over his shoulder. “Do I really think you should do what?”
“Quit my job and become a freelance editor?” Judy plays with her necklace as she keeps looking behind them and to her left and right.
“Yes, I do. You already have plenty of authors who come to you to edit behind Jared’s back. I know they would happily use you as their editor, even if you did quit that place.” Derrick looks up when he sees a shadow run past in the torchlight. “I don’t like the guy. You don’t like the guy. A lot of the authors he has don’t like him. Shoot, open your own publishing company. You’d be a way better publisher than that guy thinks he is.”
Judy raises an eyebrow, her mind reeling from the idea of becoming an editor or even a publisher on her own. She smiles when she thinks about what she would call her publishing company. “But if I do that, you’d have to quit your job and go into business with me.”
Derrick stops in his tracks and turns to look at her. “Me?”
“Yeah, you work way too hard for your jerk of a boss. We could start our own publishing company. You are great at advertising and can handle the business part, while I am good at finding clients and editing. We’d make a great team.” Judy’s eyes sparkle at the thought.
Derrick chuckles. “Okay, when we get our son and get out of here, we’ll discuss this more. Promise.”
Judy squeals, which quickly turns into a scream. Derrick spins around and comes face-to-face with a giant spider. It glares at Derrick, reaching its hairy leg towards the man. Derrick swallows hard as he watches the spider, almost hypnotized by the spider’s several eyes staring at him. Judy sees more spiders slowly coming down their webs towards them. She looks down for the first time and sees the ground covered with bones, both human and animal.
Judy closes her eyes, hyperventilating, and feels as if she is about to faint. Her heart hammers in her chest. She forces herself to think about Jonathan. Judy sees her son’s smiling face, can hear his laughter, and feel his warm hugs. She sees Derrick joining in their hug and she feels loved. Judy gets her breathing under control and opens her eyes. Her scared face melts into determination and she lifts her torch to the closest web.
The giant spider and Derrick look over at her and see the fire licking at the edge of the web. “We need to get our son. Either let us through or everything burns.”
The spiders slowly back up their webs, with the giant in the lead. Derrick and Judy hurry down the trail, turning right, then left, then right again. The map shakes in Derrick’s hands as they run.
“Keep going straight. We’re almost out of here,” Derrick yells at Judy over his heavy breathing.
Judy just nods, unable to talk. They burst through webs, scattering baby, juvenile, and adult spiders out of the way by waving their torches at them. Judy can feel her fear taking over again, but she keeps pushing herself until she and Derrick burst out of the last webs into the fresh air. They skid to a stop before they slip off the edge of a cliff. Grabbing each other, they stare down at the roaring river under the cliff. Judy begins to panic again.
Derrick squeezes her hand as he looks around and spots a narrow trail that leads down the cliff. “Judy, we have to go down this path. It’ll get us to Seaweed Caves. Are you ready?”
Judy takes a few quick breaths and nods. “Let’s go.”
Judy and Derrick lean against the mouth of the cave, both sweating and catching their breath. The trail was narrow, and they almost fell off a few times. They lost their torches halfway down to the hungry river. They walk into the dark cave after they catch their breath and follow the map towards the back of the cave where the bright red X sits on the map. The cave drips on them and somewhere in the distance they can hear the river cutting through. Voices echo from the end of the passage they had just entered.
“Pirates,” Judy whispers to her husband.
They sneak toward the end of the passage and peeks around the corner. They don’t see their son and when they look at the map, it shows the red X is off somewhere to their left. They trace their steps back but don’t see any other passage ways. Derrick stares at the map while Judy stares at the wall. An idea pops into her head and she walks over to the wall, her hands in front of her. She keeps walking and walks right through the wall, to Derrick’s amazement. Derrick hurries through the wall after her and nearly runs into her.
They look around to see a room full of treasure. Their eyes light up and they dream of everything they could do with the treasure around them. As they look around with desire in their eyes, they spot a cage in the back. They run past it all and kneel to see Jonathan curled in the back, sobbing.
“Jonathan! Mommy and daddy are here,” Judy says, reaching for her son.
Jonathan wipes away his tears and grabs her hand. “Mommy, I want to go home.”
Derrick finds the key to the cage hanging on the wall next to him and soon the family is back in the passageway, rushing for the entrance. Behind them, they hear the pirates giving chase since they had heard the lock hit the ground. The family race up the trail, and into the Webby Tree Forest, not even stopping to think about the dangers.
The pirates clamber after the family, screaming for them to stop. Not wanting to find out what the pirates want, they run out of the Webby Trees and back into the coconut tree filled forest. Captain Tiny Beard yells again, telling the family to stop. Judy kicks off her heels when they hit the sand, leaving them behind so she can run faster. The portal is just a few feet away.
In the ocean, they can hear the mermaid screaming as she swims alongside of them. Jonathan glances over and his jaw drops.
“Don’t look at her, honey, just keep looking at the portal,” Judy says as she glares at the mermaid.
Jonathan tears his gaze away and sees his bedroom just beyond the portal. They rush through it and collapse on the floor, unable to run anymore. They stare at the ceiling, gasping for air. Jonathan slowly sits up and gasps when he looks back through the portal.
Derrick and Judy sit up to see the pirates standing on the other side of the portal, glaring at them. Captain Tiny Beard pushes his way to the front, glaring at Jonathan’s parents. He points his cutlass at them.
“I ‘ope ye two learned a very important lesson durin’ all this here.” He waves his cutlass around him.
Judy stood up, Jonathan and Derrick doing the same. She wraps her arms around her son. “I did, Captain Tiny Beard. We went on this crazy treasure hunt to save our son who you stole. We fought a mermaid, the heat, and spiders. We went down a trail that could have killed us and we saw the most beautiful gems and gold. But what we discovered was our real treasure.” She smiles at the Captain Pirate. “And I would do it all over again because Jonathan is our most important treasure. I understand. We need to spend more time with him, with each other as a family. That is why I am quitting my lousy job and going to freelance so I can be with our son.”
“My family is more important than any job, so I am quitting, too,” Derrick says, taking his wife and son in his arms. “We will start a family business and be here for Jonathan and each other. We will make more time for us.”
Captain Tiny Beard chuckles, nodding his head. “Ye be just fine. Don’t e’er forget yer adventure an’ what you’ve learned.” He tosses the lost comic book through the portal. His crew cheers. He puts his cutlass away, tips his hat, and steps backwards. “We’ll keep an eye on ye.”
The portal closes and leaves the family hugging in Jonathan’s bedroom.
Judy and Derrick kiss while Jonathan makes gagging noises. Judy laughs while Derrick ruffles his hair. “How about some pancakes?”
The family head downstairs to the kitchen. Judy calls her boss and quits, then reschedules her appointment while Derrick quits his job as well. Jonathan cheers and helps make the pancakes. The family laughs and ignores the world for the rest of the day.