Chapter 1 - The Map
Page 3 - Treasure Hunt
“This hill doesn’t look that treacherous,” Chowderhead said, glancing around. “I think I’ll be okay.”
“Your funeral,” snapped Misery. He folded his wings and turned his back. “But when you fall into a sink hole and get swallowed up by the earth, I’ll be sure to show up right before your head gets sucked under so I can get a chance to say I told you so.”
“Sink holes, eh?”
“Yup. Sink holes, poison ivy, flesh eating beetles the size of Volkswagens. They’re all out to get you, and if you don’t have a guide, you’re a goner.”
“I don’t think there’s any sink holes.”
“Yeah? Well, I can’t wait to laugh when this hill swallows you up.”
Chowderhead frowned at the little bird. “You don’t have many friends, do you?”
“Paah!” Misery scoffed. “Friends are for chumps.”
Chowderhead thought about it. “Okay, sure. You can be my guide.”
Misery sniffed. “It’s too late. Now I don’t want to help you.”
“Suit yourself.” Chowderhead shrugged and headed down the hill.
Misery flapped after her. “Okay, okay. I’ll help, but it’s going to cost you.”
“I get fifty percent.”
“I don’t know what the map leads to yet?”
“Well, whatever it is, I get fifty percent of it.”
“What if it turns out to be some kind of magical animal or something?”
“Then we’ll cut it down the middle, baby!”
Chowderhead decided to ignore Misery. She started at the base of his tree, and then headed straight down the hill, looking for dead walnut trees. She pushed her way through thick foliage, and when she came out the other side, she found herself in a wide sunny area full of dead trees. There had to be thirty or forty of them, in all shapes and sizes. Plenty of variety, and all of them dead.
“Which ones are the walnut trees?”
She ran up and down under the dead branches, looking for any sign of walnut shells. There weren’t any.
She zigzagged around the dead tree trunks for twenty minutes, growing more frustrated by the second. As she walked, she noticed Misery sitting on a branch, whistling “Itsy Bitsy Spider” off key, his back turned, pretending not to notice her.
“Hey, Misery. Do you know what a dead walnut tree looks like?”
He whistled louder.
He began singing out loud. “…down came the grain and smashed the spider up…”
“If you could just point me to the nearest—“
“…up came the gun and dried up all the brain and the itsy bitsy spider…”
“Or maybe you’re just too stupid to know what a walnut tree looks like.”
“Of course I know what a dead walnut tree looks like,” he suddenly spat, spinning around. “I’m a bird, aren’t I? We know our trees. But I’m not helping you until you agree that I get fifty percent.”
“Fifty percent of what?”
She sighed. “Fine. Fifty percent.”
Before Chowderhead could react, Misery swooped down and snatched the map out of her pocket. He lit on the ground and spread the map out before him. “Okay, down to business,” he crowed. “And by the way, you’re a lousy negotiator.”
He studied the map for over a minute, occasionally saying “Hmm,” and “A-ha,” and “Interesting, interesting.” Finally, he turned to her. “What’s your name, little girl?”
He stared for several seconds. “Come again?”
“My name is Chowderhead.”
“Of course it is. You want to know what I can tell you about this map, Chowderhead?”
“This map stinks, Chowderhead. Who drew this?”
She wasn’t sure she wanted to tell him that she’d drawn it all herself. She certainly didn’t want to tell him that she’d seen it in a dream, and there was no way in the world she was going to tell him the map had been shown to her by a squirrel.
“Gypsies,” she said, thinking quickly.
“Well, these gypsies have no sense of scale. This doesn’t look anything like my hill.”
“I know that. But do you know which of these trees are the walnut trees?”
For a while, Misery scanned around. Then he flapped up to the branch of one of the most gnarled trees. He did this with only one wing, keeping the map clutched under the other one. This was a feat Chowderhead had never seen before.
“That was impressive,” she said.
“Shh.” He scanned around, aimed his beak into the wind, then flapped away, catching the map with his feet as he flew off. “Well, come on,” he cawed.
She chased after him, through the grove of dead trees, jumped over a row of bushes, and nearly tripped into the smelliest, most slimy green stream she’d ever seen. Stinky Stream, she guessed. It was just like on her map. She didn’t know how she could have missed it before. She should have smelled it from miles away. Just a few feet down stream, a rotten log lay across to the other side. As she ran across it, it disintegrated beneath her, and once again, she nearly fell into the river.
She spotted Misery much further down the stream, circling high over a thicket of brambly hedges. Chowderhead ran down toward him.
As she neared him, she heard him cursing as he swooped and soared up and down the brambles. “White rock path? What white rock path? The stream disappears underground at the bottom of the hill, and there isn’t a stinkin’ white rock path anywhere.”
This problem had both Chowderhead and Misery flummoxed for nearly half an hour. They consulted the map, Misery swore a lot, and Chowderhead scratched her head. There were the hedges, there was the stream, but where was the path?
Finally, she crouched low and crawled along the stream, keeping her eyes on the hedges. Finally, she found a tunnel through the brambles, barely tall enough for her to crawl through. It was paved with tiny white pebbles.
“Your gypsies must have been awfully short,” Misery grumbled. “You’d practically have to be a squirrel to find this path.”
“Heh, yeah,” Chowderhead agreed. “A squirrel.”
Misery handed the map back to Chowderhead and ran down the brambly tunnel. Chowderhead crawled after him. The tunnel was much longer and darker than Chowderhead had imagined it would be, and more than once, her clothing and backpack were caught on the thorny brambles that hung low above her. Finally, she emerged to find Misery standing on top of the oddest looking rock she’d ever seen.
“Would you look at that,” Chowderhead said.
“Pathetic, isn’t it,” agreed Misery.
“Not pathetic. Just sad.”
The rock came up to Chowderhead’s knees. It was shaped like a giant badger’s head—-a badger that was preparing to break down and cry.
“How do you suppose the rock got that way?” Chowderhead said.
“It’s a long story,” Misery said.
“You know how this got here?”
“Sure. Don’t you know the story of the bear king and the skunk? Don’t they teach you anything in school?”
“I know the story of the skunk and the bear king,” Chowderhead said. “But I never heard anything about a rock shaped like a crying badger head.”
“It’s from a bunch of old stone statues. They depicted the skunk getting kicked so hard in the rear end by the bear that you could practically hear the scream. There were a bunch of other statues of woodland creatures watching. Most of them looked unhappy about it, except for the other bears of course. It was actually a pretty funny scene, now that I think about it.”
“What happened to the statues?”
“Somebody blew them up.”
“Really? Was it you that blew them up?”
Misery scowled up at her. “Why would I blow them up? I just said I thought it was funny.”
Chowderhead didn’t have an answer. She looked around herself. They stood together in a small clearing in the middle of the hedges. “Well, this must be the place,” she said. “I guess I’ll dig first.”
“Yeah, you do that, said the bird. He crouched to sit on the badger’s head and folded his wings.”
Chowderhead pulled a folding camp shovel out of her backpack. “Here goes,” she said. She thrust the shovel into the dirt.
Immediately, the ground gave way beneath her, and she, Misery, and the badger head all tumbled down into a black pit.