by Joseph Albanese
There was treasure in those woods. He knew it. Even at five-years old, he knew it. There were ghosts in those woods as well. He knew this too.
The Boy knew this because it was what he was told. At such a young age, the Boy didn’t question bedtime stories.
They weren’t just stories though, they were legends.
The woods in question were no more than sixty yards behind his house’s back fence.
Hundreds of years before, after Bluebeard found the treasure in his own right, he kept it for himself, and his crew turned on him. This is the story the Boy was told before he’d go to bed.
Bluebeard had to hide out, hide from his crew. Hide from other pirates. Traditionally pirates did their deeds at sea, but the Boy’s home was at least forty miles inland. Bluebeard’s port was in the middle of South Jersey, according to legends. The Boy accepted this as truth.
Bluebeard hid his treasure in those woods. Jewels and gold and who knows what else, so the legends went. He stayed in hiding until he died, deep in those woods behind the Boy’s eventual home. The Boy could see those woods through his bedroom window at night.
Bluebeard’s treasure was waiting somewhere in there, in those deep dark woods. So was his ghost. And there they would stay…
Spring meant the Boy’s family needed to do some cleaning. So they cleaned. Every room they cleaned. Even the attic.
The legend of Bluebeard and his treasure was not a single family’s story. No, this legend spread through the neighborhood. The Boy told someone. That person told another. Soon every kid on the street knew of Bluebeard and his hidden treasure.
It was not odd to the Boy, nor the other five to seven-year-olds, that they all needed to be in the attic to help the Boy’s father clean it out. But they were there, huddled and hunched over, searching through random and needless things.
And in that attic they found something. A map. A map to the treasure.
It was an old map. Hundreds of years old probably. They could tell it was old because it was discolored and the edges were burnt. Yes, this was indeed a pirate’s treasure map.
The map must have been left by the previous owners of the house. The owners before that must have left it too. Lost in the clutter would lead to the treasure lost in the woods.
Bluebeard must have left it before them, before he died.
And this group of kids knew they had to find that treasure. They had to find that gold and those jewels.
This would be a dangerous mission, going off and find the treasure, deep in those haunted woods. They needed the approval of their parents, like all treasure hunters do.
It would take a few days for everyone to prepare. Treasure hunting was not something to do in haste.
A day before the hunt would take place, the Boy and his father followed the first two clues on the map themselves. According to the map, at first there would be a hill. There was only one hill near those woods, and it happened to be right behind the Boy’s house.
So they started there.
They went during the day. Hunting a ghost’s treasure is too dangerous at night. Everyone knows this.
The map said to start at the tree with four trunks.
The Boy knew this tree well. The whole neighborhood did. One tree on that hill among many trees was one that stood out, for it had what looked like four trunks coming out of a single base.
The Boy and the neighborhood kids called it the “elevator tree.” You would stand in it, and the elevator tree would take you away. Childish fantasies that got in way of grown up business – the treasure.
The Boy and his father followed the map from the elevator tree. Pace after pace they counted. Down the hill. Through the field. And to the entrance of the woods.
There they would stop. It was too dangerous now, just the two of them. And no weapons? They were not that dumb, not that careless.
They’d wait for backup the next day. And backup did come. Treasure hunters. The whole neighborhood of kids. The Boy was the youngest, but this was his hunt, his story.
Kelsey was his best friend by his side. They were too young to know boys and girls couldn’t be best friends. They were way too young to know they could be much more than best friends.
There was Pete. Pete was a year older and several years crazier. But he was prepared. He had a metal shield and swords, as metal can kill a ghost. This was a known. He had crosses around his neck and he had holy water he blessed himself. Impressive for a six year-old.
Sam and Brandon were the tough kids of the neighborhood, six and seven respectively. They both played it cool, but they were scared out of their minds. They could rough up the kids on the lawn, but a ghost was a whole other story.
There were other kids there that day of the hunt. They were mostly there to not be left out. Leaving out others is how Bluebeard lost his crew to begin with, the Boy’s father explained.
They were all geared up with water guns and plastic weapons, ready for whatever the woods and Bluebeard could throw at them.
All the parents were there. Some had video cameras. Who would not want to capture this expedition on film? Some followed, some stayed behind. Pete’s dad stayed back. Sam’s dad, Big Sam, came along with rope. You never know when you need rope.
The Boy’s father took them the long way to the woods, passing the big kids sitting on the electric box. The cool older kids always sat there. They were barely teens but to the treasure hunters they were adults. The young kids always wanted to sit there and couldn’t wait to be old enough to. But for now they were too young and not cool enough. But they did have a treasure map. That was enough that day.
The Boy, his fellow hunters, and a few witnesses with their cameras followed the map. They followed it to the elevator tree. They followed it down the hill and through the field. They followed it to the edge of the woods.
The Boy took a breath. This next part would be new to him.
There was another hill down into the woods. It was steep. Thank goodness for Big Sam and his big rope. He tied it around his big belly as an anchor. The hunters used the rope for support as they descended the hill and into the darkness of the woods. As dark as five P.M. would allow.
Just into the woods and they lost a member of the group. Sam, the tough kid they all knew, he could not go down the hill into those haunted woods. Fear got him. And he was left behind.
The rest of the kids continued on, following the map, keeping their weapons at hand. Bluebeard’s ghost could be anywhere.
They trekked those woods. Deeper and deeper they trudged, but always in sight of the entrance. And then there was a tree. A handprint edged into the bark. It was clearly a handprint as long as you were told that’s what it was, as the map told them.
According to the map, it was here that they could find what they sought.
The Boy’s father did the digging. He was the only one strong enough to use the shovel. The rest of the hunters stood guard.
He dug and dug and dug some more. And then… he hit something.
“We’ve found it!” the father shouted into the air.
And there was about to be amount of celebration from all the hunters and the witnesses, when all of a sudden, a great booming voice echoed out from deep in those woods.
“GET OUT OF MY WOODS!” the voice bellowed.
There was no time to wait around. Bluebeard had them and their weapons would be useless.
“Run!” the Boy’s father cried.
And they did run. Through the woods. Up the hill, using the rope still anchored to Big Sam. Through the field and around the houses.
It was in their escape they made sense of what was happening. This was all real. There really was a treasure map. There really was a treasure. There really was a ghost chasing them.
At five years-old, this could be reality.
They regrouped back in front of the Boy’s house. Hearts raced with fear and excitement. They had made it back safely.
Of course the adults were not scared, nor should they have been. Only children are vulnerable to such ghosts. But they were out of breath, chasing the treasure hunters with their video cameras.
Minutes later the Boy’s father finally arrived. He made it back as well.
And he had a box.
It was no larger than a shoebox, but it was old. You could tell it was old because it was made out of burnt wood.
A treasure chest.
It was closed tight and the Boy’s father had to open it with a hammer. He banged it. And the lip opened.
And it was everything they imagined. Jewels. Gold. Chalices.
They found what they sought. They found the impossible.
Even the big kids left their electric box to see what the commotion was about.
These treasure hunters had succeeded. And for that summer he basked in the glory of what they accomplished.
This was real to the Boy. It was real for a long time. The hunters divvied up the takings evenly. The Boy kept his share of the treasure in his room. He brought it to school to show the other kids.
He was proud of his accomplishment.
At night he looked out at the woods, wondering if Bluebeard would ever leave its refuge to come after his treasure, to come after the Boy.
In the end, Bluebeard never came back.
The treasure hunt was as real as anything that would happen to the Boy after it, even if it wasn’t. But for that day, there was magic in those woods. The magic a father can give his child. For that day, ghosts were real, and their treasure can live with you forever.
About the Author:
Joe Albanese is a writer from South Jersey. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can be found in publications across the U.S. and in ten other countries. Joe is the author of Benevolent King, Smash and Grab, Caina, For the Blood is the Life, Candy Apple Red, and a poetry collection, Cocktails with a Dead Man.