His heavy coat helped, but the fog still stuck its aching fingers into his sides and down his back. Charlie looked at the bare limbs and twigs of the trees. He remembered how the green leaves of summer had turned to yellow and fallen to the ground. “I liked kicking them with my shoes and jumping in the piles when we raked them up,” he thought. Now there were only sparse gray-green blades of Bermuda grass poking out of the cold winter ground. Scattered here and there were spiny, dark brown seed pods dropped from the liquidambar tree by the curb.
“I wish there were something to do,” Charlie thought aloud. He was still too young for school. His older brothers were doing their seat work inside. His younger brothers were playing in their bedroom. He didn’t feel like joining them. So, once again, Charlie was outside by himself.
“I’m bored,” almost slipped out of his mouth, but just then a huge, bright flash blinded his eyes! For a second, Charlie couldn’t see or speak. The flash had taken him completely by surprise. But, in another moment, he was squealing with delight and running to meet his friend, Magic Puppy!
“An adventure awaits you today, my little friend,” said the puppy in a rich exciting voice. “Will you come?”
“I’ll go ask!” Charlie’s feet barely touched the lawn as he ran to ask for his mother’s permission to go with Magic Puppy. “Where will you be going?” she asked, just as any mother should do. “I don’t know,” enthused Charlie, “but he said it was an adventure!”
Poor Charlie was so excited, after being so bored, that he could hardly stand still long enough to hear his mom tell him, “Make sure you’re home for dinner.” He fairly flew back out the door and leaped onto Magic Puppy’s back. “I’m ready,” he said, “let’s go!”
“Do you want to know where we are going, Charlie?” asked Magic Puppy.
“It doesn’t really matter where. If I’m with you,” he answered. “Where are we going?”
“To Pirate’s Island. You have pirate’s treasure to find! Is that adventure enough for a day like today?” the puppy winked. Charlie grinned, gave a sort of a shake and probably grabbed too hard on the puppy’s fur, but he didn’t seem to mind. With one lunge, they headed into the southern sky.
Charlie was surprised when the two of them broke through into the bright, warm sunshine above the clouds. Looking down, all he could see was a vast sea of white, like some great ocean of cotton candy. “How far is Pirate’s Island?” the boy asked. “It’s quite far, but we’ll be there before long,” came the answer.
The sea of white clouds soon gave way to a sparkling blue ocean beneath them. Far below, Charlie could make out tiny little boats in the water. He pointed them out to Magic Puppy and asked how big they really were.
“Do you see that one down to our left?” the puppy asked. Charlie nodded. “That is a cruise ship that will pass within twenty miles of where we are going. It holds as many as three hundred people.” The realization of how very high they were made Charlie tighten his grip on the puppy’s fur. Before long, his friend called out to look ahead.
In the distance straight before them, Charlie could see the top of a cone-shaped mountain rising above a circle of clouds. It was an ancient volcano that had formed an island when it erupted long ago. As they got closer, he began to make out the shoreline beneath the layer of clouds that clung to the sides of the mountain. A thin white line described the ground over which the stubborn land and the relentless sea continually battle. “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Charlie said awestruck. “That’s Pirate’s Island!” the puppy replied.
As Magic Puppy circled the island, Charlie realized that, not only was he looking for the best place to land (which Charlie thought surely the puppy already knew), but he was also showing Charlie the lay of the land so that, if he ever got lost, he would have an idea where to go. Charlie paid close attention.
What before had looked to be a delicate white line, now became the undulating curl of waves and foam splashing against rocks and running up on the shore. Lower and slower they flew until the sound of the surf could be heard over the wind of their flight. Finally, little puffs of sand leaped up to greet them, as Magic Puppy’s paws fell lightly on a fine white beach.
The bright blue sky and warm sunshine were such an invigorating change from the dreary gray of winter back home that Charlie immediately took off his coat, shirt and shoes, rolled up his pants and dashed for a swim in the crystal clear water. Magic Puppy, himself, came loping into the surf. The two adventurers laughed and played at the beach until morning was nearly gone. Then, just as the first pangs of hunger were grabbing Charlie’s attention, Magic Puppy called for him to follow into the forest.
Magic Puppy seemed to melt into the thick mat of foliage. Charlie wondered how he would follow, but as he came to the edge of the forest, he found there was a narrow path. Taking it, he too passed from the bright open beach into the sudden darkness beneath the jungle canopy. The change took Charlie completely by surprise and he stopped in his tracks. He could not yet see well in the dimness of the forest. When his eyes finally adjusted, his friend was nowhere in sight. Fear gripped him so that Charlie had trouble calling out.
“M-Magic P-Puppy! Wh…where are you?” he stuttered.
“I’m on the path before you,” the puppy’s voice came from only a little way ahead. “Follow the path. Don’t leave it.”
“But I can’t see you!” Charlie insisted.
“There is too little room on the path to walk together without the danger of falling off into the jungle. If you stay on the path, you will not be lost.” That was all that the puppy said, then Charlie heard the treading of paws along the path ahead.
Now, every boy has a pretty good imagination for spooky things. Right then, Charlie’s began to get the better of him. Each step he took brought another sound. Each bush or tree he passed seemed to hide the shadow of some hideous monster that was stalking him. The noises in his head grew to such confusion that, all at once, Charlie panicked and started to run! He screamed for help and tried to see the path through his tears, as he ran in desperation after Magic Puppy. He blindly ran headlong into something hard and everything went blank.
Charlie awoke to the gentle sound of a stream that flowed near by. He was lying on soft green grass in the shade of a pear tree. As he opened his eyes, he saw Magic Puppy looking over him. “Are you hungry?” the puppy asked. “Come and eat. There is fruit on the trees and I will show you some roots to dig up that will give you strength for the walk ahead.”
When he had eaten all he wanted, Charlie glanced toward Magic Puppy from where he sat with his back against the pear tree. Quietly, he said, “I was afraid in the forest when you left me. I ran after you, but I hit something and… How did I get here?”
“I brought you here,” was the gentle reply. “It was only a little way. I was always near you, Charlie. I stopped you from running. You had lost your senses and did not know what you were doing. There is nothing in the jungle to hurt you, as long as I am with you, but you can get yourself into trouble if you do not follow my directions.”
“Will you forgive me?” Charlie asked. “I didn’t do as you said.”
“Yes, my son.”
Charlie wondered why he had called him “my son”, but he didn’t really mind. In another moment, he stood up to stretch his legs. He took a good look around him for the first time since he awoke on the grass. He was standing in a clearing near the base of the volcano. The carpet of rich green grass was shaded, here and there, by the occasional fruit tree from which he had picked his lunch. The ground sloped gently up toward the mountain. Forest covered the volcano to about one third of its height. Above the forest, the bare earth and rock stood defiantly against the sky, making the volcano look ominous.
Magic Puppy came alongside Charlie and asked, “Do you see the dead tree standing out above the forest near that big boulder on the side of the mountain?” Charlie replied, “Umm-m-m, you mean that straight one with only a few branches?”
“Yes, that is the one,” the puppy answered. “Follow this path in the front of you until you reach it. That tree holds a clue to the location of the pirate’s treasure. You will know the clue when you find it. Follow the clue precisely. Don’t be afraid, Charlie. If you need me, call out. Follow my directions and you will find the treasure. Charlie took one more look at his friend, smiled and started off up the path.
The food that Magic Puppy had provided for him gave Charlie such strength and energy that he felt as though his feet hardly touched the ground as he quickly strode up the path toward the dead tree. He was no longer afraid of the forest. He even found himself singing for the joy of the adventure that lay before him. He remembered the puppy’s words that told him there was nothing to fear because he would always be close by.
He was so engrossed in the excitement of finding the clue to the treasure, that he almost walked right by the dead tree. In fact, it was the big boulder, or rather boulders, that got his attention long enough for him to realize he had already reached the spot. There were rocks crowding the base of the large boulder. Since these covered the path, Charlie had to climb up and over several to get around to the other side. He worked his way through the maze, regained the path and was about to continue up it. Then, he stopped, turned around, recognized the boulder and realized he had reached the tree at last.
Charlie walked up to the tree and began to study the trunk closely. “Magic Puppy didn’t say what the clue would be,” thought Charlie, “but it must be on the trunk somewhere.” He worked his way around the base of the tree, but couldn’t find anything that looked at all like a clue. “Is this the right tree?” he asked aloud. In order to check for a different tree, Charlie decided to climb up the nearby rocks so that he could see over the surrounding forest.
He climbed to a shelf on the main boulder about half way up. Scanning the area, he could see quite a lot. He traced the path down to the clearing where he had eaten lunch. He followed it up the mountain until the path disappeared around the ridge. This was the only dead tree to be seen. A little confused, Charlie climbed to the top of the rock and sat down to think. He figured that this had to be the right tree, since there just wasn’t another one like it anywhere around. So, he studied the tree to find the clue he’d missed. What kind of clue would a pirate leave? Was it a mark, or did the tree point to the treasure some other way? Did it have to do with the tree being dead, or the kind of tree it was? These were some of the questions Charlie considered as he sat looking at the tree.
“Wait a minute!” he exclaimed, as an idea began to form in his mind. “Mom told me that pirates lived a long time ago. Maybe the tree was still alive then.” That made sense because the tree should have rotted away if it were dead when the pirate was there. His dad had taught him about things like that. “Since the pirate was here a long time ago, the tree might have been a lot smaller,” Charlie thought. He remembered a tree house he’d seen at his grandpa’s cabin. His dad had said that, when that tree house was built, kids could climb up to it. But, the tree had grown so much since then there was no way anyone could climb up there anymore. So, Charlie looked higher up the dead tree than he had looked before.
Then he saw it! Right even with where he sat on the rock, a shape was carved into the trunk. It looked like a funny sort of letter, a capital “M” with long legs curving outward and a smooth, shallow dip in the middle. Over the letter (if that is what it was) there were three lines. The one in the middle was the longest and it was straight up and down. The lines on either side angled in at the bottom.
“What in the world does that mean?” was Charlie’s response. He studied the mark for a long time. He couldn’t figure it out at all. He was just about to give up, when it occurred to him to find Magic Puppy and ask what it meant. He stopped and took another look at it. Then, he turned exactly around to face the mountain.
“That’s where the treasure is!” he shouted, pointing to the mountain. “The ‘M’ isn’t a letter at all. It’s the volcano. The other lines are lava coming out… No, it’s an arrow pointing to the top!” The treasure must be at the top of the mountain.” Charlie gave a whoop, leaped off the rock and ran up the path that led to the top.
Charlie skipped and danced, whistled and sang his way along the path. It was so exhilarating to have found the clue and figured out what it meant. Being on his way again to find the treasure made everything very exciting. He wound his way up and around the mountain, all the while trying to think of a likely place for a pirate to hide the treasure.
As the path got steeper and the walk got longer, Charlie’s skipping and dancing turned into a rhythmic plodding. Step after step, his joyful singing diminished to a determined silence. Only steady breathing could be heard. With several switchbacks, the path had taken him about two thirds of the way up the volcano, through the clouds and around the other side from where he had left Magic Puppy. By this time, he was getting pretty tired and began to think he might not reach the top.
Then, he rounded a bend in the trail and came upon a cave. It was hidden from view except from the trail. The opening was big enough for a boy to walk in, but a grown man would have had to stoop down, or maybe even crawl on hands and knees if he were carrying something heavy. “Something like a treasure chest, I bet,” said Charlie, finishing his thought aloud. Then he saw something else. A picture was carved into the rock on the left side of the opening. He had seen that picture before! It was a skull-and-crossbones; the Jolly Roger. If there were a better sign to mark a pirate’s hiding place, Charlie couldn’t think of it.
He stood in front of the cave looking into the pitch black darkness. He didn’t like caves. But, if the pirate had hidden the treasure in there, he would go get it. Just as he resolved to search inside, a breath of dank, deathly air rolled out of the mouth of the cave and stopped Charlie mid-step. In that moment, he remembered another place he had seen that picture. “Poison,” he whispered. “It means death.” It was as if a curtain or hood had been taken off his eyes. How easily he had forgotten the clue of the dead tree. The treasure was at the top of the mountain, not here! He knew now he must not venture inside the cave, but get away and up to the top as fast as he could.
A shiver went up his spine as he turned and hurried on. He did not see the pair of ice-blue eyes peering out at him from just a little way inside the mouth of that dread hole. A hole into which a few men had dared to enter, but from which none had returned.
The trail from the cave to the top of the mountain seemed strangely short, for no sooner had Charlie taken a few steps and rounded a bend than he arrived at the rim of the volcano. At least, that’s how it felt. Finally, he had made it to the top. At last, the treasure would be his…, if he could find it. The entire mountain top was a massive tangle of boulders. How would he ever find the treasure in that mess? The day would soon be over and he would have to go home. He had come so far and worked so hard. To think he’d have to quit before he had found what he had come for… That was too much to take. Charlie decided, then and there, that he needed Magic Puppy’s help. He would circle the rim looking down to find the puppy, wherever he was, and call for help. But, he needed a drink first.
Shortly, Charlie found a good sized pool of water at the base of a tall rock formation. The sides of the pool were guarded by smaller boulders except for a narrow beach, of sorts, directly across from the main boulder. The water tasted wonderful and Charlie drank deeply. To cool down even more, he dunked his head under the water and threw back his wet hair with a toss of his head. When he opened his eyes, there on the rock face in front of him was the sign of the volcano with the arrow, just like the one on the dead tree!
Charlie knelt there staring at that sign as tingles spread throughout his whole body. This was it, the place! He knew it had to be. He would find what he had come for right here.
“Where exactly is the treasure? What exactly could the treasure be?” he wondered, as he began to study the area around the rock. Charlie figured that since this was the only place the mark could be seen, the treasure (or at least the way to the treasure) could be found from this spot. He sat down once more to think.
He looked into the clear water and easily saw the bottom. No treasure was to be found there, though. Charlie got to his feet and climbed around each side of the pool to see if there was some opening in the wall of rock, but it was solid, as far as he could tell. While he stood upon the rocks to the left of the beach, he noticed that, from there, he wasn’t able to see the base of the large rock beneath the water level, only shadow. It just had to be an under water cave! Quickly, he climbed back down to the beach and waded into the pool. He was sure he had found the hiding place the pirate had chosen so long ago. Now, finally, the treasure would be his.
The water turned out to be deeper than Charlie had thought. The closer he waded to the rock, the higher the water came up his body. “If it gets any deeper, I’ll have to go back,… or drown,” Charlie said under his breath, which came in short little gasps as the cool water came up to his chin. Charlie could not swim.
At last he reached the big rock. Sure enough, the face of it curled back just under the water on that left side. Did it lead to a cave? He felt as far under the rock as his arm would reach. Nothing but water. Charlie could not swim.
“Well, is it there or not?” he wondered. Did the puppy know that he couldn’t swim yet? Sure, he’d put his face in the water in the plastic wading pool at home. And there was that time when he had run around the corner of the neighbor’s yard only to cut the corner wide and run right into the deep end of their swimming pool. His dad had been there in the pool and helped him get to the side, but boy, was that ever scary! Charlie could not swim!
He thought over the events of the day. “You have pirate’s treasure to find,” Magic Puppy had said. He remembered how he had found the clue on the tree, just as the puppy had told him he would. He shuddered again when he thought of the first cave he had almost gone into. “I would have missed the right place for sure if I’d gone in there,” he thought. Then, it was so odd to have found this rock by accident when he was just looking for a drink. “But it wasn’t really an accident, was it?” Charlie spoke as if Magic Puppy was right there listening to him. “Well, if I hold my breath and pull myself under the rock, maybe there will be a cave inside and I’ll get to it.” With growing courage, he went on, “I can’t believe magic Puppy would lead me this far just to let me drown. Swim or no swim, I’ve got to try!”
There was a mixture of fear and determination on Charlie’s face as he felt for a good hand hold. Then, with just a moment’s hesitation, he plunged under the surface and pulled himself hard beneath the rock. Hand over hand, he groped along the tunnel. Charlie felt the water and the darkness closing in around him, as the moments seemed to drag on to eternity. He felt himself beginning to panic again…and then he was through to the other side. There was a cave after all and Charlie had made it!
When he got his breath, he looked around in the darkness. Little by little, he began to see the inside of the cavern. As his eyes adjusted, he could see rocks to his right at the edge of the pool. There seemed to be a dim light filtering in from above that side of the cave. To his left, he saw a small sand bar, or beach. Something was sticking up out of the sand.
Charlie waded toward the beach. The bottom of the pool sloped up quickly so that, with just a couple of steps, he was only waist deep in water. A few steps more and he sloshed onto the sand and then knelt peering at the hilt of a pirate’s sword. That old cutlass had been stuck into the sand bar some two hundred years ago! Charlie slumped down in awe, as the realization of its age got hold of his mind. He reached out his hand to grasp the hilt, but couldn’t bring himself to touch it. Was he afraid of it?
“That’s silly,” he scolded, “it’s just a sword!” But still, he didn’t touch it. “Well, the treasure’s got to be here somewhere, too,” he decided. So, he set about finding it instead. It didn’t take long. Even in the dim light of the cave, Charlie saw the chest almost immediately. It had been wedged into a low nook where the rock wall curved just over the sand. He shimmied on his belly to reach the chest only to find that it was stuck too far into the sand and wedged too tightly against the rock for him to move it. Charlie began to cry.
“Oh, magic Puppy help!” he sobbed. “I’ve come so far.” His tears and sobbing flowed freely for awhile. Then, after he grew quiet, Charlie heard, or rather felt Magic Puppy’s voice.
“The sand is soft.”
An instant thrill energized Charlie. He dragged one handful of sand away from the chest. Then another… and another until, finally, he got it free! He wriggled out from under the rock, dragging his prize. With a surge of excitement, he knelt on the beach, opened the latch of the chest…, whispered, “Thank you Magic Puppy,” …and lifted the lid. It was a book.
All of the excitement Charlie had felt drained out of him like water, leaving him numb and not a little disappointed. “I came all this way for a book?” It was a deplorable thought. Still, the book was very old and, also, there was the sword. He carefully lifted the book from the chest. Its cover was made of leather and wood. The front and back each had six jewels set into them. He blew the dust off and, even in the dim light, the jewels glistened invitingly.
“Maybe this is special after all,” Charlie ventured. He gently opened the cover and turned a few of the delicate pages. The book had remained in remarkably good condition there in the chest. That, Charlie admitted with growing interest, would make it more valuable. Closing the book again, he noticed that the pages were edged with gold and the book gave off a rich aroma. Oddly, he found himself growing to appreciate it already. Placing it into the chest once more and closing the lid, Charlie stood up to look for another way out of the cavern.
“If light is coming in over there,” Charlie said, studying the rocky side of the pool where the light seemed now to be getting brighter, “maybe I can get out.” He grabbed the hilt of the sword and drew it out of the sand, as he strode toward that side of the cave. He had no fear of the weapon anymore and actually carried it quite naturally. He waded across the pool, clambered over the rocks until he stood directly in a shaft of afternoon sunlight.
A rough path climbed through a very narrow crevice into the open air. Charlie went back to get the chest and carried it with him to the pathway. He tried to climb out, but the chest wouldn’t fit through the crevice. Apparently, the pirate had brought it through the pool, so he decided to leave the chest and took the book out once more. He left the chest on a rock, picked up the sword and, with the book, worked his way up the path.
Once out in the sunlight, it was obvious why the cave had gotten lighter in the last few minutes. When the sun got low in the afternoon sky, its light could find the way down the crevice to penetrate the darkness inside. Charlie looked around and saw he was again in the maze of boulders at the top of the volcano.
There on a rock, silhouetted against the setting sun, was Magic Puppy. His ice blue eyes looked down at Charlie with pride and satisfaction as the boy emerged with the sword and book. “This is all I found,” said Charlie, puffing from exertion, “there wasn’t any real pirate’s treasure.”
“Charlie, the pirate who brought those here gave up every bit of his ‘treasure’ to get them. That book and sword were the only things he sought to save when his life as a pirate came to an end,” said Magic Puppy, soberly.
Charlie leaned against a rock, trying to catch his breath and trying to grasp the idea of a book and a sword being so important. The only thing remarkable about the sword was some writing on the blade that was partly worn away. He couldn’t read yet, so he didn’t know what it meant. There were, of course, the gemstones set into the cover of the book, but would a pirate give up all his treasure for just these? Charlie didn’t think so. Not able to understand, he looked to Magic Puppy for the answer. “Someday, you may also come to treasure that book and sword, Charlie,” the puppy said. “Come, let’s take you home. Here, I have brought your clothes.”
Once the boy was seated on the puppy’s back, the dog leaped into the twilight sky. The world seemed to reel around them. Charlie got so dizzy that he had to close his eyes and hold on tight with his knees to keep from falling off. In no time at all, the puppy touched down in Charlie’s front yard. The last colorful rays of sunlight were spreading themselves across the dreary winter sky, as Charlie said good-bye and slowly mounted the stairs to his house. He was exhausted.
A brilliant flash of golden light lit up the front yard, as Charlie’s father came to let him in the door. The boy carried his treasure wearily to the couch and plunked down. “Quite a day, son?” his dad asked. “What do you have?”
“A pirate’s sword and a book,” Charlie said without opening his eyes. “Can I see them?” his dad asked. Charlie handed him the sword first. His dad read the words on the blade.
“‘He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword’,” his dad read. “The other side is worn off a bit. ‘…sharper than any two-edged sword’ is what it says, I think.” He took the book off the sofa, where Charlie had laid it, and opened to the beginning. He read a little to himself and reverently closed the book again.
“We’ll save this book for when you are older, Charlie. It is too old and valuable to handle often. Besides, when you can read, we can buy this same book at the store. Not one as special as this copy, of course, but one you can read anytime you like.
“What is the book, Dad?” asked Charlie.
His dad looked up at him and said, “It’s the Bible.”