Authors: Scott Clements
By Scott Clements
Copyright 2012 by Brown Dog Sound, Inc.
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To everyone who sees life as an adventure.
December – 1821
Darkness overtook Gasparilla as he plummeted deeper into the murky ocean. A massive storm raged as cannon fire tore through his ship. Just moments before, Gasparilla had wrapped himself in the ship’s heavy anchor chains as lightning ripped across the sky, silhouetting him against the blackness of night.
He roared above the cannon fire and cracks of thunder, “
Gasparilla dies by his own hand, no one else’s!” He released the ship’s anchor, the weight pulling him into the hungry depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
Clutched in his hand was his most treasured possession. He had heard his men call it
The Staff of Gasparilla
, and he liked that name. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple walking stick, but what made it extraordinary was the handle. It was called
Arbol de la Lechuza
, and was carved from a single diamond that was about the size of Gasparilla’s fist.
Fate had delivered
Arbol de la Lechuza
to him during his first battle as a pirate captain. Gasparilla and his crew attacked a Spanish treasure ship that carried a year’s worth of riches from the new world to King Charles III. The battle was not going well for Gasparilla. He was about to lose everything: this battle, his ship, his men, and his life.
In a desperate move,
Gasparilla boarded the Spanish ship and fought his way to the cargo hold. He refused to end his career without touching a single piece of treasure.
When he reached it, the cargo hold was full of gold coins, ornate weapons, and other elaborate treasures, but
Gasparilla only saw
Arbol de la Lechuza
. The moment he held it, he could feel his luck had changed.
de la Lechuza
was incredibly detailed. The base was a tree trunk with the hint of an old wise man’s face twisted in its curves. From the trunk grew the gnarled branches that wove their way in and out of each other to form a hollow sphere. Tiny leaves hung from each branch, and if you looked closely, you could see delicate veins running through the leaves. In the middle of the sphere sat a miniature owl, perfect in every detail. The owl was no more than an inch tall, but every feather appeared real.
No one knew the age or origin of
Arbol de la Lechuza
, but Gasparilla knew one thing from his own experience: It had strange, unexplainable powers. It also carried with it the legend that it would one day choose its true master. And that person would have unimaginable power.
lungs ached as he wiggled his arm free of the ship’s binding chains at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Every cell of his body cried out for oxygen. As his consciousness slowly slipped away, he raised his hand in front of his face and a sliver of moonlight filtered down through the murky depths. He could just discern the outline of the object he grasped tightly in front of his face. The Staff of Gasparilla. The desire for oxygen was too strong. He drew a deep breath of cold, salty death.
With a bounce in his step, thirteen year old Trip Montgomery paraded through the halls of
The Good Ole’ Times
retirement community, oozing confidence. Every day at six thirty, Trip brought dinner to his great-grandfather, Pappy. Despite the age of the average resident, Trip didn’t appear out of place there.
He was a good-looking kid with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Most of Trip’s friends found it difficult to understand how he could go there every day. The idea of being around that many old people just gave them the creeps; but that wasn’t the case for Trip. He liked his visits to
Good Ole’ Times
, mostly because he enjoyed seeing Pappy. But he also got a great deal of satisfaction from bringing smiles to the faces of the residents. As he strolled through the common area where the residents played cards, dominoes, and worked on puzzles, Trip always took a moment to say hello.
“Hey Miss Helen, that sure is a beautiful dress you’re wearing,” Trip called out as he sauntered passed. Flustered, Miss Helen dropped one of her dominoes with a clatter. Trip spotted Mr. Brown seated in a comfortable, overstuffed chair reading a book.
“Mr. Brown. I’m not letting you out of that arm wrestling rematch. I’m still convinced you found a way to cheat,” teased Trip, as he gave the old man a wink. He and Mr. Brown had a best two out of three arm wrestling match a few weeks back. Trip could have easily won. He was healthy, strong, and excelled at sports, but he thought Mr. Brown would enjoy a victory. And Trip was right. Even now, at the mere mention of it, a big smile crept across Mr. Brown’s lips. As Trip continued across the room, he spotted Mr. Anderson.
“Now you take it easy on her, Mr. Anderson,” warned Trip. “You know she doesn’t see all that well.” Mr. Anderson looked up from his fan of cards, happy to see Trip.
“Hey! Good to see you, Trip,” said Mr. Anderson warmly. “How’s your Pappy doing? I haven’t seen him for a few days.”
“We’ll see. I hope it’s a good day,” replied Trip.
“Well you make sure to tell him hello for me. Even if he doesn’t remember who I am,” said Mr. Anderson.
That stopped Trip for a moment. Pappy and Mr. Anderson had been good friends for a while, but Pappy’s mind was not quite right any more. It troubled Trip that Pappy could forget a friend like Mr. Anderson. When Trip tried to discuss it with his mom, she would say something like
, it’s tough getting old
these things happen
It seemed to Trip that Pappy was drifting further and further from reality. How long had it been since Pappy remembered who Trip was? Weeks? Maybe a month? Even on the days when Pappy didn’t remember Trip, it was still fun. Pappy usually had some crazy adventure he was reenacting. But some days he would just sit there staring out the window with a blank, sad look on his face. There was nothing Trip could do on those days to lighten Pappy’s mood.
But the days Trip enjoyed most, were the days when Pappy would tell him stories of his childhood adventures; the real stories, not the stories of his fantasies.
Just last week, Trip was telling Pappy about Eli, the kid who was bullying him at school, and Pappy responded with a story about the bullies that used to call him names and chase him through the streets of St. Augustine, shoes clattering on the cobblestone roads.
Pappy was about the same age as Trip at the time, and the bullies pursued him through the city and on to the hot sands of the beach. Pappy ran full out, afraid for his life. He paused for a breather and frantically looked around for a good hiding spot, when something glinted and caught his eye.
It sparkled in the sunlight; half buried in the beach sand near a palm tree. He knew he needed to keep running, but his curiosity got the best of him and he stopped to check it out. He was glad he took the time to investigate.
As he got close to the shining object, Pappy felt it had a magical quality, like it was calling out to him. He gently brushed the sand away and carefully picked it up. Serenity spread over him and his breath slowed. He could barely move.
It was a small piece of iron with a jewel embedded in it. He held the jewel in his outstretched hand as the bullies closed in. Pappy was mesmerized, unable to run away.
The bullies walked right up to the spot where he stood. It was as if they did not see him at all. They stood not more than two feet away, but did nothing. Pappy looked at the jewel, and then back to the bullies as a smile stretched across his face. It was precisely at that moment that the biggest bully landed a knock out blow, hard, to the center of Pappy’s nose.
When Pappy told Trip stories like this, he knew he could deal with his own problems.
Trip arrived at Pappy’s door and took a deep breath.
“Please let it be a good day,” he whispered to himself as he grabbed the doorknob. With another deep breath, he turned the knob and went in.
Pappy balanced precariously on a chair and waved his arms wildly in the air as if swatting at invisible bugs swarming around his head. He was full of energy and looked like he was having a great time. Trip smiled at the sight of it. If there was not going to be any interesting
conversation today, at least it would still be entertaining.
“Come on Pappy. Get down from there and have something to eat. There will be time for that later,” coaxed Trip with a chuckle.
“I was just trying to get rid of these pesky bats!” explained Pappy as he climbed off the chair.
“Do you remember who I am today, Pappy?” Trip asked hopefully.
“Of course I do. Do you think I’m crazy or something?” replied Pappy, offended.
“Oh good, because I was hoping to get some advice on a few things,” said Trip.
“In due time, General Shakelston. But first I need to ask you a question,” said Pappy.
“Yes, you are General Earl
Shakelston, U.S. Army,” replied Pappy. “But what I can't figure out is, why a man of your rank is bringing me my food?”
For a moment, Trip felt let down. He had hoped Pappy would be able to have a real conversation. But Trip realized those were selfish feelings. He was here for Pappy, not for himself.
Trip whispered to himself, “It’s OK, Pappy. Maybe you’ll remember tomorrow.” And then he put on his best performance, “Well, General Montgomery. We have some serious strategies to discuss and I feel it’s best if we have a little dinner and then...”
Pappy reached out and grabbed Trip’s arm, stopping Trip in mid sentence. Trip looked into Pappy’s eyes and saw them filled with an intensity and focus he had never seen before. Was this part of Pappy’s delusion? It couldn’t be. Pappy looked as if he were present one hundred percent. Even on good days, Pappy still had a dreamy look in his eyes, as if he only allowed a certain percentage of his attention to come back to reality. But every bit of Pappy’s attention was here, right now, in this reality.
“Trip. Listen carefully!” said Pappy intently. “I need you to do something for me. There's a trunk in the attic of your house. It's important. You need to find that trunk... Your father...” Pappy found it difficult to keep his tentative grip on reality. He struggled, but tried to continue, “Your father and I... You're the last hope. There's no more money... don't you see? I'll die!”
Trip started to worry. Pappy never talked about dying before. In all the time they had spent together, Pappy never behaved like this.
“What’s going on, Pappy? Let me get the nurse!” said Trip, worried.
“No, Trip!” pleaded Pappy. “You have to do this for me. Can’t you see? There’s no other way!” Pappy’s eyes filled with tears. Now Trip was really concerned. He needed to get some help.
“That’s enough!” said Trip sternly. “I’m getting the nurse now.” But Pappy’s grip tightened on Trip’s arm.
Pappy continued desperately, “There's no way your mom can take care of me. They're going to kick me out of this place. She can't afford to keep me in here
any more. It's the only way! Promise me you'll do it. Get that trunk! Promise me!”
Trip was confused, and not exactly sure what Pappy wanted from him, but he knew Pappy really meant it.
“Yeah, sure, Pappy,” soothed Trip. “I’ll get the trunk. But what exactly is in it? What do you want me to do with it?”
“I said promise me!” begged Pappy. “You have to promise me, now!”
“Of course! I promise. I promise,” said Trip hastily. “Now what is in the trunk? What do you want me to do with it?”
Pappy allowed his delusion to take him back away from reality.
“General Shakelston,” said Pappy. “You are speaking nonsense. Here we are discussing military strategy and suddenly you start asking about some trunk. Have you gone mad?”
Trip was too shaken up to dive back into the fantasy, “Sorry General
Mongomery,” said Trip. “I will try to pay more attention.”
But there was no way Trip could pay attention to this role-play any more. What just happened here? Pappy insisted this trunk was in Mom’s attic, and said if Trip did not find it, he would die. Did Pappy believe the trunk had magical powers to keep him alive? No, he said they needed money, money to keep Pappy here in the retirement home. Maybe the trunk contained savings bonds or stocks, or something even more valuable. But why wouldn’t he just tell Mom to get the trunk?
There were so many questions, but Trip knew a couple of things for sure. First, there was no way he could let Pappy die. Second, even if Pappy was crazy and that trunk had nothing to do with whether he lived or died, it was important to Pappy that he find that trunk. And finally, if Pappy wanted Trip to find it, he would find it.