THE MYSTERIOUS BOAT
The withered clouds came undone. Magnificent golden rays fell upon the field and began to disperse the gentle mists left by the morning rains. Along the fence lines, great sentinels of maple, alder, fir, and cedar stood silent vigil over prairie grass full of small wildflowers. Bees and grasshoppers began to buzz. Orange-breasted robins hopped about, tilting their heads as they prospected for an easy meal. A pair of black and white Holsteins foraged for sweet grass, each pausing now and again to lift its head and chew, or to slap at a bothersome fly with its tail. Everything in the field was normal; everything that was, except the rickety, old boat with a tall wooden mast.
Jake Flynn stood at the fence, his face wet with tears. His chest still heaved from a long and furious run. It took him a moment to realize where he was. When he did, a smile broke loose on his dreary face. He wiped his tears on a sleeve and proceeded to climbed through the fence.
The field with the mysterious boat was one place Jake had always wanted to visit. Until this morning, he had never have gone this far away from home alone. It was over a mile at least, maybe two as the gull flies. Today was different though. Today he wanted to be as far away from home possible. Today was his twelfth birthday.
Now that Jake could see the boat for himself, he recognized it from books as an old style cutter, the kind large sailing ships used in order to ferry people and supplies to and from shore. They were often carried or towed until needed. They could be rowed to shore by several men or a mast stood up to support a single sail. Urged on by his love of everything ships, Jake tromped through the grass for a closer look.
The boat was the subject of several local legends and a popular topic among the kids at his school. Somehow this large boat had come to the field from the ocean over a mile away. It had appeared one morning over a decade before and nobody, including the field’s owner, ever figured out where it came from or how it got there. More than that, what gave mystery to the puzzle, was the fact that on the morning of its discovery, not one tire track or footprint had been found in the soggy soil around the craft and the field’s gate had still been locked tight with the farmer’s own lock.
There were many theories on how the boat arrived. They included college pranks and helicopter mishaps but nowhere were the rumors more creative than at the local school. There the tales were passed down from one grade to the next, year after year. According to the most popular version, the boat was flown in by pirates from Neverland while looking for a place to hide their treasure. For some unknown reason, they had left the boat behind. The idea of a real pirate ship and possible treasure was enough to lure young adventurers from all over Whidbey Island to explore the vessel first hand. Some even took up temporary residence for the summer and over the years, a small fort had been cobbled together and attached at the stern by imaginative hands.
As he approached the boat, Jake began to hear the voices of two boys talking on the far side of the fort. One of them climbed up on deck followed by the other. He recognized them as the Higgins brothers from school. Apparently, Caleb was being pressed to climb the mast by his older brother Luke. Any other morning, Jake might have gone right up and volunteered for the job himself but not today, not after the way his morning had gone. Instead, he stood there and watched as Luke forced Caleb to climb up the tall wooden pole to the top.
Caleb clung to the pole with one arm as he pulled a coil of string from his back pocket. One end was tied around a stone. Caleb lowered the loose end to Luke who tied it to the end of a thin rope.
“Okay, put it through,” Luke said.
Caleb proceeded to drop the stone through a brass ring at the very tip of the mast.
“Yes!” Luke exclaimed with a fist, as the rock landed. He grabbed the fallen line, and began to pull up the rope. When he was done, the mast had a loop of cord just like a flag pole.
“Hey, it’s Jake Flynn,” Caleb called down to his brother and pointed out in the field. Now that his presence was known, Jake approached the side of the boat. Caleb shimmied down the mast, and the three boys met at the boat’s side. It did not take Luke long to explain the situation.
“This is our boat,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s our boat,” Caleb repeated as he picked at a splinter.
“That’s fine. I’m just here to look… she’s quite a beauty.”
“That’s our fort too,” Luke said. “We fixed the roof.”
“It’s cool,” Jake said after a glance.
“We live over there now, so we can come here whenever we want,” Luke said pointing. Jake followed the direction and then gave a nod.
“I live a couple of miles that way.” Jake motioned back over his shoulder. The mention of home caused the troubles of the morning to tug at Jake again but he pushed the thoughts away.
“You want to see our treasure map?” Caleb asked. The boy’s eyes sparkled with its secrets. The offer was met with a frown and hush from Luke.
“Sure,” Jake said.
“Show him,” Caleb insisted.
Yielding, Luke reached down near his feet and picked up a thin roll of paper torn from a brown grocery bag. As it unfurled, Jake could see that a crude map of the field had been sketched and that several spots had been marked with an X.
“These are the best spots to hide treasure,” Luke said. “We scouted them yesterday. Now we’re gonna take the ship and check them out. You wanna come?”
“Okay,” Jake said with a one-shoulder shrug and climbed aboard. He was excited to be on a real wooden cutter for the first time. “Let’s loosen the main sail and then we can weigh anchor by cranking the capstan.” He was one grade above Luke and two above Caleb, so when he stood in the boat, he was the tallest of the three.
Luke and Caleb both looked at one another.
“Maybe you should be Captain,” Luke said, “We don’t know much about boats, not really.”
“All right then mates, prepare to get under way.”
Caleb brought two fingers up to his brow in a Cub Scout salute and rushed to pull on the new rope at the mast. Meanwhile, Luke went forward and hauled up the anchor which turned out to be a chain attached to a log. It was the beginning of a Saturday full of adventures.
By afternoon, Jake was fully immersed in the play. His hand was not on a bike wheel nailed to the mast but a wooden ship’s wheel. The hiss of the wind was not coming from the leaves and branches of the trees around the field; it was in the rigging and sails. Those were not cows grazing off the starboard quarter, but unknown ships on the horizon. When he looked out over the bow, he did not see acres of grass, but the great-green sea. The cutter was an armed man-o’-war, and Jake was her captain.
“All hands on deck,” Jake ordered. The Higgins boys scrambled over each other out of the make-shift fort and stood on the deck. Their chins were up with their arms straight down at their sides. Jake turned to face them with a squint and frown.
“Time for inspection men,” he said and began to look them over. He grabbed Luke’s arm. “There are no dirty nails on this ship, Mr. Higgins.” Caleb giggled. Jake snapped a look and stomped over to tower over the smaller boy. Jake peered down his nose. “And you, Mr. Higgins, have torn pants, which is also unacceptable,”
“Sorry Captain,” Caleb said, and then a smile slid on his face which he tried to force off. Jake scowled, and Caleb covered his mouth with a hand. Jake was about to say something more when he saw the Holsteins were coming closer and decided to change the game.
“Enemy ships to starboard!” he cried. The Higgins boys looked around until Jake pointed to the cows off the right side of the ship. All three boys produced paper-towel tubes and peered through them at the two grazing vessels that approached.
“Should we man the cannon, Captain?” Caleb asked.
The thought had crossed Jake’s mind, but a better one took its place.
“No you lubber, raise the ensign.” Caleb looked to Luke, who just shrugged. Seeing this, Jake repeated the order in less satisfying terms. “Raise the flag, mates.”
The two brothers ran over to the mast and attached a torn black shirt to the rope. Caleb was all grins as Luke hoisted the flag. As it climbed, the cows raised their heads and stared at the object fluttering in the breeze.
“That got their attention swabs,” Jake said with satisfaction, “now man your gun.”
This was the order the brothers had been waiting for, and they raced to set up their cannon. It consisted of two pine boards nailed together in the shape of an L. One side stood straight up in the air while the other sat flat on one of the boat’s benches. Both boys took their positions, straddling the gun to hold it down. Luke pulled back the board sticking up.
“Load,” he said, and flung his open hand back behind him in preparation. Caleb reached down into a rusty bucket and pulled forth a pine cone the size of a plumb. He placed it into his brother’s hand. Luke then set it against the top of the board.
“Ready, Captain,” Luke said. They all looked out at the cows who had returned to their meal. Jake began to turn the ship’s wheel.
“Prepare to fire as they bear,” he said.
“Aye aye, Captain,” repeated the boys in near unison.
With an internal sense of timing, Jake watched the enemy ships approach out of the corner of his eye and waited for the exact moment.
“Fire!” Jake cried.
“Fire!” the Higgins boys repeated together.
The board swung forward like a mini-catapult and the pine cone flew through the air toward the closest enemy ship. It glided wide to the left and landed in the grass beyond.
“You missed, you lubbers!” Jake shouted. “We’ll have to come around and give them another broadside. Quick now, reload.”
The Higgins boys obeyed the order, and anticipating what was next, Caleb already had another pine cone ready.
“They’re firing back!” Jake cried, “Down! Down! Hit the deck.”
All the boys fell to the belly of the cutter. The Higgins boys filled the air with fake explosions. Jake lifted his head and looked over the side.
“Up men, return fire!”
Like a spring, the Higgins boys bounced back up and were ready to fire their cannon.
“Fire!” Jake cried.
“Fire!” repeated the boys.
This time the pine cone leapt forward and bounced off the rump of the nearest cow. The startled beast turned and trotted off toward the barn, its companion following.
“Who were they, Captain?” Luke asked watching the retreat.
“Two frigates from the Royal Navy I’ll wager, but I doubt they’ll want to tangle with Captain Jake Silverheels and his crew again anytime soon.”
“What’s a frigate?” Caleb asked.
Jake let out a sigh before answering, “It’s a type of warship used by the Royal Navy to hunt down scallywags, I mean pirates, like us.”
Jake continued to answer their questions until a merchantman was spotted by Luke, who had grown tired of talking.
The voyages continued until the last rays of the sun dropped below the Olympic Mountains to the west and a woman’s voice called the brothers home. Caleb and Luke saluted their captain one final time before they jumped over the side and ran at full speed across the field toward the voice. Jake felt a brooding pang as he watched the brothers run home. He gave the bicycle wheel one final spin before he climbed down off the boat himself. As he crossed toward the woods, Jake was well aware that no mother’s voice would call out for him.
THE STRANGE BOX
The blue sky had turned toward black as Jake emerged from the woods. Ahead lay one of his Grandma’s blueberry fields. The moon was more than half full and gave ample light. It monitored his progress crossing the rows along with a hoard of twinkling stars. Being a good sailor, Jake paused to find the North Star. He traced upward from the two stars at the front of the Big Dipper until he found the bright star at the tail end of the Little Dipper. That was Polaris. As he gazed upon the dippers, he remembered they were also called the bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. He sighed. It seemed even the stars had parents.
Jake's parents had left him with his grandmother when he was only a year old. They had promised to be back for him by his next birthday but no one had seen or heard from them again. The years passed with no word, but Jake continued to anticipate their return. As the big day approached, he would decorate for a homecoming party that was never celebrated. Jake then made the same birthday wish, that they would come the next year on his birthday as a big surprise. This morning, he had come to the kitchen to show grandma a new ‘welcome home’ sign he had made for the party. That was when he overheard his uncle’s words, the ones that sent him running away for the day.
Jake’s parents are never coming back and the sooner he accepts that, the sooner he can grow up.
Most adults assumed they were dead, but Jake refused to believe they were gone. In his heart, he knew his parents were still out there somewhere, even if his brain began to doubt. More than anything, he wanted to meet them and find out why they had left and not returned. He also wanted to know why they had never written or called.
As he set foot on his own driveway again, Jake felt like a dog coming home with its tail down and ears folded. He dreaded his uncle’s temper and the confrontation that would greet him for being gone all day.
Grandma was in the rocker on the porch knitting when he walked up to the house. She was a thin woman with a pointy nose that her spectacles often slid down. Behind her glasses were two eyes that missed absolutely nothing, even when they weren’t looking. She was wrapped in a purple robe over floral green pajamas. Her feet were swallowed in a pair of fuzzy white slippers and she had put her hair up in curlers with plastic pulled over them for protection.
As Jake began to climb the porch steps, his grandma did not stir. She continued in rhythm at her work. Jake continued until he was level with her, and then she spoke without looking up.
“I’d be respectful when I went in there, if I was you…best hide the stains on those new pants too. There’s another pair in the laundry room that you can change into.”
She didn’t seem worried at all. It was as if he had been right out in the yard all day. Jake looked down, not having noticed his dirty knees until now.
“You’re not upset?” he asked looking back up.
“You are not the first person to run away from this farm for the day, Jake Flynn,” she said. “I knew you were fine and would return.” Jake wondered how she always knew so much. She knew about things when she wasn’t even there and could tell when he was lying too, every time. After a pause, Jake spoke.
“Grandma, can I ask you a serious question?”
As if not hearing him, she continued her knitting rhythm. After a moment she said, “I don’t see any reason why not.”
“How come the whole universe is against me?”
She stopped rocking, put down her knitting, and looked at him over her glasses. “What are you talking about? What do you mean the whole universe is against you?”
“How come I don’t have a home with a mom and dad like other kids?”
“Oh, I see what it is now. You weren’t made with the same cookie cutter, and you don’t like the shape you got? Well, I’ll tell you a secret. All the cookies on the tray taste the same and that’s a fact.” Jake looked down and scuffed at the porch with his foot, twisting the toe of his sneaker over an exposed nail head.
“It just isn’t fair is all,” he said keeping focused on the nail.
“Fair? Who said it has to be fair? The truth is Jake, there isn’t anything in life that ever is fair. There is always a bigger fish, a faster fish, a taller fish … but there is also an uglier fish, a slower fish–”
“A dumber fish,” Jake said breaking into the game with a smile. They chuckled.
“That’s right,” she said, “The point is there isn’t another fish out there like you. I can promise you that. You are special Jake, you…” she paused as if she was going to say something more but pressed her lips together and put the thought away. “Yes, you’re very special.”
“That’s just it, if I am so special, why is everything so hard for me? Why is my life so different?”
“Now you are asking good questions. And that is what life is all about, Jake. You’ll find your answers someday, but you have to live your life in order to get them. You have to follow your heart and trust your instincts. Listen to the voice in here.” She tapped her chest.
“I‘m not sure I know how to do that.”
“Believe me, each of us has something we are meant to do, a destiny Jake, and it’s out there. You have to learn and be ready when it comes. Just look at that sky, Jake.” She looked up past him. He followed her eyes back out to the night sky. “We are only one of those stars. It’d be pretty arrogant to think something more isn’t out there behind one of them.” She looked at Jake. “It’s sort of like when you’re in school. You learn to read picture books long before they teach you Shakespeare. Maybe all of us here on Earth are still in kindergarten and have a lot to learn before we get to move on to the harder books. It’s the same with you son, take it one step at a time; don’t try to jump to the end.”
Jake made a half frown considering.
“Don’t lock yourself in a box just because some person tells you that’s where you belong. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open for you never know what’s just around the corner.” Jake nodded a few times. “Good, now give your grandma a hug.”
Jake hugged her, and for the moment he felt at peace. She patted him on the back.
“All right now, you get on inside. I left your dinner warming in the oven. Take those muddy shoes off and remember there’s a clean pair of pants in the laundry. After you eat, we’ll open your birthday presents.”
“While you were away, your uncle moved that big boulder out of the pasture. Now that the old mare is gone, I’m going to have him turn it into a big field of corn. Tomorrow he’s going to work on back filling the big hole it left and smoothing everything out. If you go in there and ask him to help, he will not expect that and all will be forgiven. Now you just give me a call when you’re ready for dessert and presents.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jake said with a smile. He turned and walked through the door and was nearly tripped by the cat bolting out between his legs.
“Come on out then, you old thing,” grandma said with a wave of her hand. She picked up her knitting and continued where she had left off. Pleased with its escape, the calico sat down on the porch and began to lick a paw.
When Jake finally made it upstairs later, he shut his bedroom door on the world. The smile for grandma dropped. Thoughts of his parents never coming back continued to haunt him. He collapsed onto the bed, buried his face in the cold pillow, and lay there breathing. He was tired of crying.
After some time, he sat up and opened the bedroom window to look once more at the night sky. Big Bear and Little Bear were still there with Draco the dragon slithering in-between. Every so often, the wind would reach out and touch his face as he watched Polaris twinkle.
“I wish I could sail away and find them,” he said to the star.
As if by answer, a meteor streaked across the sky, followed by another, and then another. They appeared every few seconds for over a minute until one final meteorite, brighter than the rest, fell just above the barn and pasture. Jake followed it down until it was gone, and then something new caught his eye, something closer to home. Out in the field was a faint golden glow coming up from the ground where the big boulder used to sit.
“I forgot my gloves outside,” Jake said as he passed through the kitchen on his way to investigate, “I’ll be right back.”
Grandma was doing the dishes and waved him on by.
Outside, he ran toward the pasture. Sure enough, the glow was coming from where the boulder had been removed. A closer inspection revealed that the light was coming from inside an old rabbit burrow that had once been below the rock. Something was in there, some kind of box.
Jake reached into the hole. The tips of his fingers began to tingle and he jerked them back. Some kind of energy was in there too. He tried again, slower this time. Once again, his fingers began to tingle, but he continued forward this time until his whole hand was tingling. He stretched until his shoulder was nearly inside the hole before he touched metal. With a little work, he was able to get ahold of the box and pulled it out.
It was a coffer, the size of a shoe box, made of polished black metal streaked with cobalt blue. Strange symbols were etched in its surface. A bright yellow light came from cracks underneath its lid.
Jake gave it a little shake and heard something move inside. It took a few moments of fiddling to figure out that a square button on the front slid to the right. As it did, the little chest unlocked with a click. Jake opened the lid.
The inside was solid gold, and lying within was a round talisman made of the same metal as the box. The disk of the talisman was the size of a cookie and etched with symbols around its edge. The light came from a yellow gem the size of an olive embedded in its center. Small purple gems, the size of peas, surrounded it. At the top was an image of a sailing ship surrounded by stars. It was attached to a brass chain. Tangled within the links was a small scroll.
Jake unfolded the paper. Upon it was a note.
Jake, when the time is right you will find this box. Put on the talisman and think of me. –Dad.
Jake’s breath caught. He read the note over again to be sure. In his hand was a real message from his father. It was the first he had ever had. His heart pounded in his chest. He decided right then that nobody else could know about this, not until he knew more about the box and where it came from. He swallowed, then bit his lower lip, putting everything back inside. He looked up at the moon for a moment wondering what to do and then slipped the box under his shirt and trotted back to the house alone and through the dark.
The grandfather clock downstairs struck twelve. Jake pulled back the covers from his head and listened for movement in the house. Satisfied, he got out of bed and knelt to retrieve the special bundle hidden under his bed. He placed it on his pillow, his hands tingling the whole time. There was a thump in the hall. He froze. Then, the cat scampered down the hall. Jake resumed breathing. When all was clear again, he sat down and uncovered the ornate box.
For hours he had been considering the coffer and its contents, waiting for this moment. The golden light from under the lid tempted him. He hoped the talisman might provide answers about his parents. Part of him knew that he might not like the truth if it was found. Even so, he decided it was worth the risk.
Jake’s fingers tingled as they neared the box and an urge to touch it came over him again. This time, he let the feeling draw him in until his fingers brushed the cold metal. Golden light erupted upon his face as he opened the lid and peered down at the radiant talisman and scrap of paper. He picked up the note and read it again.
Jake, when the time is right you will find this box. Put on the talisman and think of me. –Dad.
Jake lifted the talisman up by the chain and let it spin for a moment at eye level. The gems protruded from both sides. The small purple gems along the outer edge made no light, but they did sparkle. Jake took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. He was ready. He lifted the talisman chain up over his head and down around his neck.
The purple gems all flashed once and Jake’s head was shocked with pain. It felt like eating too much ice cream too fast. He began to feel woozy. He blinked a few times with wide eyes and put his hands on the bed to steady himself. Then the feeling subsided and his head cleared. As it did, all the strange tingles from the talisman faded away too. He picked it up in his hand. This time when he looked, he understood what the markings meant.
Love lives in the heart of a person, not their mind.
He read the words as easily as if they were printed in English. He smiled. Now he was ready to complete the note’s instructions. He closed his eyes and thought of his dad.
This time nothing happened.
After a moment, he opened one eye and looked around. A second try didn’t work either. He had half expected something miraculous to happen again like being able to read the symbols.
He sat there deflated. The note didn’t lead to anything and that meant the talisman was nothing more than a fancy gift of some kind with self-changing letters and a really cool light.
Jake was about to take it off and put it away when he glanced over at a poster of Superman on the wall. The Man of Steel was fighting against the pain from a radiant piece of Kryptonite. Jake thought about the scene in the movie when Clark finds a glowing shard as a teen. At that instant, Jake realized something. When he thought of other people, their faces appeared in his head.
He bounced up, hurried over to the dresser, and pulled open the top drawer. There, amongst old postcards and wayward game pieces, he came up with a picture of his parents standing together on grandma’s porch. He brought the talisman up next to the photo, his eyes fixed on his father’s tiny face. Jake shut his eyes and brought the image of his father’s face into mental view.
“Jacob,” a man’s voice said behind him.
Jake whirled around startled, but the bedroom was empty. A cautious peek under the bed revealed nothing. He even opened the door to look down the deserted hall. Confused, he shut the door and returned to his bed to sit. He looked at the picture and talisman again trying to figure out what had just happened. Finally, he decided to try again.
“Jacob,” said the man’s voice, and this time Jake saw a pair of legs and feet before him in the room but his eyes were still closed. He couldn’t help but open them and look up. Once again the room was empty and quiet. A shiver ran through him – something strange was definitely happening. He closed his eyes one more time.
This time when he heard his name, Jake left his eyes shut, and then looked up.
Tychus Flynn was different in life than he was in any picture. A tall man, well-built, with long hair pulled back in a ponytail held by thick metal rings. He wore some kind of naval uniform with brass buttons and a saber hung at his hip. Around his neck was the same talisman that Jake wore now. Resisting the urge to open his eyes, Jake watched on, afraid to even move.
“So you’ve found the talisman,” his dad said looking right at him. “I knew you would someday.” Tychus smiled, but then it faded as he looked up and away for a moment. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to give it to you myself,” he said. He fingered the chain as he searched for the right words, then looked at Jake again.
“You’re probably wondering what’s going on and how you can have this waking dream of me. The truth is, this is not a dream, but a programmed vision, like television for your mind. I imprinted it within the amethysts of your talisman. One day you’ll understand how it works. It’s not magic, just hard to explain, and not really relevant right now. What’s important is that you and everyone on Earth are in danger. Son, there is something that I need you to do right away.”
Half an hour later, Jake was hurrying down the driveway away from the farm. The books and papers in his school backpack had been replaced with only necessities – crackers, beef jerky, cookies, bottled water, a pocketknife, and a flashlight. Feeling nervous with what he was about to do, he stopped to look back at his home. Grandma might understand his leaving, but his uncle would not. He hoped the note he left on the kitchen table was enough. At least they wouldn’t think he was abducted. In it he did promise to return, just like his parents had. Now he wondered if he was telling the same lie.
The talisman was now dark; it had faded once his father’s message had been delivered. The instructions were easy – locate a small sailing craft made of wood. Simple enough instructions for someone who lived on an island. Jake knew just where to find such a craft. What his father had not mentioned was what to do or what would happen when he got there.
The cutter in the field looked frozen in time under the hanging moon. Jake was now sure the boat had been left here for this moment. He got goose bumps. He and this boat had a destiny.
As he stepped on board, the talisman lit up again. Jake set his backpack down under the bicycle wheel, and lifted the talisman in his palm. It was easy to think of his father this time, the earlier visit so fresh in his mind. Once again, Tychus Flynn was there with one hand grasping the mast.
“Well done. I wasn’t sure the cutter would still be here, but the Creator has a way of bringing you to the milestones of your life by one path or another.”
Tychus looked up into the stars for a moment and then smiled.
“Son, you are going to go on a little journey. It’s time for you to join your mother and me.” Jake smiled. “This boat is going to bring you to us. What I need you to do is touch the mast and imagine the talisman’s light is passing through your body into the boat. I have imprinted the talisman to do the rest. Oh yes, and stay in the boat, no matter what happens, until it lands. I’ll see you there.”The image of his father disappeared, but this time the yellow gem continued to shine. Jake opened his eyes and without another thought, he reached over and ....