Preview the first two chapters:
Plans in the Making
Matt stared at the map on the wall; the pencil thin lines trailed in all directions making a spider web of confusion. The lines weren’t trails or rivers, but paths of the legendary underground caves surrounding the Browser’s mountain home. Scrawled in large, uneven letters along the bottom of the page were the words, Browser Territory. Matt imagined his ancestors drawing this map with pride.
“You’re not going to win, you know. Stalling isn’t going to help,” Matt’s twin sister, Meg snapped.
Matt turned and looked into his sister’s fiery eyes, victory evident in their depths. Matt sighed and turned back to the checker board, his chin resting in the palm of his hand. “Do you think those stories about the Minutemen treasure are true?” Matt asked, deliberating his next move on the board. Sadly, he noted Meg had three kings and he, none.
Meg glanced at the map on the wall and frowned. “Even if those stories were true, don’t you think the treasure would have been found by now? Wishing for all the money in the world isn’t going to stop us from moving.” Meg put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. “Do you give up already? I want to bike down to the pool.”
Matt shrugged and sat back in his chair. “But what if? What if there’s a treasure and we could find it? We could pay the banks and keep our house and…” Matt trailed off as his father entered the room.
“How are my two favorite M&M’s ? ” Mr. Browser asked, using the nickname for the twins they’d had since birth. Mr. Browser’s hair stood on end from running his fingers through it so many times. He hadn’t shaved in weeks; his face resembled a fuzzy lumberjack’s. His shirt wasn’t even buttoned correctly; stains dotted the front of it like a connect the dot puzzle. Mr. Browser hadn’t seen the inside of an office in months.
Matt averted his gaze, ashamed to see his father so lost and helpless. His father had given up, accepted their fate and was just waiting for the eviction notice. Matt swallowed his anger. If he was the dad, he would never give up, never let his kids down.
Meg jumped up and dutifully hugged her father. She kissed his bushy cheek and edged her way to the door.
“Go to the pool,” Matt said to his sister. “We can finish this later.” He stared hard at the checker board until he had memorized the pieces and their exact places. He left the office quickly, leaving his father slumped over at his desk, reading the latest Help Wanted ads online.
Matt knew his dad would say he knew nothing about the “real world”, how there was nothing Matt could do to save the house from foreclosure, but Matt had different ideas. He had been dreaming about it for some time.
Matt headed toward the garage in search of his old hiking pack. There was a lot to do if he was going to make his plan work, but the most important thing, was convincing Meg she had to help him.
Entering the Darkness
“Are you absolutely sure you remembered the map correctly?” Meg asked Matt for the third time.
Matt cast his doubtful twin a withered glance. “Have I ever been wrong before? I know we are on the right track,” he muttered. The two continued to trample loudly through the dense brush, heading deeper and deeper into the woods.
Meg stumbled and let out a shriek.
“What? What?!’ Matt shouted anxiously, rushing to help Meg up from the ground.
Meg grinned sheepishly. “A stick got tangled around my ankle and I thought it was a snake,” she admitted.
Matt dropped her hand and howled with laughter.
Brushing the dirt from her pants, Meg rolled her eyes at Matt’s antics. “Ok, Einstein, enough laughing and find that cave. I’ve got to be home by six to babysit for Mrs. Bailey.” Meg’s tone stopped Matt’s laughter and turned his face grim.
The two of them plopped down heavily on the forest floor. The sun that shone through the trees was in sharp contrast to their darkening moods. They had walked all morning and still not reached the cave entrance.
Meg spoke what she had feared from the beginning. “What if the stories were bogus? What if great -great –great grandpa’s map isn’t even right? We could be wandering through dark, scary caves for nothing.”
Matt shook his head vehemently. “No, Meg. I believe it. Dad told me the stories a million times when I was little. Our family’s land was right in the middle of everything. I know it’s true.” Matt’s eyes burned bright.
“That’s the thing, though, Matt, they were only stories.” Meg removed her pack from her shoulders and groaned. “This stuff gets really heavy. How about we eat our lunch and that will be less weight to carry?” she suggested.
Matt closed his eyes. The map was vivid in his head; the cave entrance had been close to water. “We need to find Duck Lake. Once we cross that, we are close to the entrance.” Matt bit into an apple from his pack. “Don’t eat everything you brought, we need to save some,” he lectured.
Meg rolled her identical bright blue eyes at Matt and returned her trail mix to her bag. She hated when Matt told her what to do. He thought being born 7 minutes ahead of her made him the boss. Worse, he had an amazing memory. He was never wrong when they got into an argument.
The two stood and stretched. Meg allowed herself a small smile. She was an inch taller than Matt, the only thing she could naturally beat him at.
“When do you think Dad will figure out we lied?” Meg asked as she climbed over the rotted trunk of a fallen tree. An outstretched branch grabbed hold of her curly hair. “Yow! Stupid branch,” she scolded, freeing her long curly locks from the tree’s grasp.
“Well, he thinks we slept over at Hannah and Craig’s. Hopefully he won’t find out until we’ve returned with the treasure. Then he can’t get mad because we’ll have the money we need to save the house,” Matt said as he picked his way through a mass of brambles. “Wait, do you see that? I see water!” he shouted excitedly. Matt raced ahead leaving Meg to free her backpack from the thorns.
Removing a can of paint from her bag, Meg sprayed a large, neon orange X onto a rock nestled in the mossy ground. Even with Matt’s memory, she wasn’t taking any chance of getting lost in the confusing, overgrown forest. The story of Hansel and Gretel went through her mind as she placed the can in her backpack. At least birds couldn’t eat the trail she was leaving behind.
Matt pranced around impatiently as Meg appeared at the edge of the lake. “This is it! I knew it! Just a bit more past this lake and the entrance to the cave should be there.” Matt’s elation was contagious.
Despite how tired she was, Meg danced in a circle. “We’re going to be ri-i-ich! We’re going to be millionaires, no billionaires, gazillionaires!” she sang out as she twirled along the edge of the lake. “Tell me the story again,” Meg said as the two slowed to catch their breath.
“Well, the story says that our great-great- great….” Matt sighed when he saw Meg exaggerate a fake yawn in his direction.
“I get it with the “greats”. Just say Grandpa Browser or something,” she said edgily.
Matt nodded. “Alright, I’ll just say Marcus Browser. He was the main guy anyway. Well, Marcus Browser was a powerful fighter in the Revolutionary War. Because he owned all of this land, he had secrets and advantages over the British. Marcus Browser and his brothers were what they call, Minutemen soldiers. The Minutemen were just average people trained to fight to keep their land and protect their families. They knew the layout of the land better than anyone else, and they could hide and attack better than the British army. They were supposed to be able to fight with only a bit of notice, you know, like in “minutes”. The story says that Marcus and his brothers attacked and ambushed the British troops day and night, stealing supplies and money that were supposed to aid the British army. The British eventually lost the war, and part of the reason they surrendered was because they were running out of supplies. The Browser brothers hid the supplies so that the British could never find them. The stories say that the loot is still hidden in these hills, and that Marcus Browser left the treasure hidden for the rest of his life. No one knew what really happened to the money part, but Dad thinks the map in his office shows the paths through the caves that the Minutemen used during the war.”
Meg looked doubtful. “But, Matt, why hasn’t anyone found it by now? Surely other people have heard these same stories and gone looking for the treasure?”
“Sure people have treasure hunted, but this is our family’s land. You can’t go looking wherever you want, that’s trespassing. I bet the Browser brothers hid everything so well, anyone who tried finding it just gave up.”
“What makes you think we could find it then?” Meg asked in a squeaky voice.
Matt ignored her question and stared past Duck Lake to a clearing beyond. He walked carefully toward the clearing, kicking up leaves as he went, looking closely at the ground. He knew the entrance had to be close.
Meg followed Matt to the edge of the clearing then bent to retie her laces. Her eyes honed in on a flash of metal just a few feet into the clearing. “Matt! Matt! Look at this, look what I found!” she yelled in disbelief. She hurried over to the spot she had seen the shiny flash and knelt in the ground. Her hands quickly cleared away the brush.
Leaves flew into the air and floated lightly to the ground. Meg gave a yell of triumph. Her hands had uncovered a circular cover, almost like a sewer cover one would find on the street. Etched into the rusted lid directly in the center were the letters “MB”.
Meg tried to move the cover. She strained and pulled, grunting in effort. Matt knelt down to help, but the lid wouldn’t budge.
Frustrated, Matt sat back on his heels. “This thing has probably been here for a hundred years.” He wiped the beaded sweat from his brow.
Suddenly, Meg jumped up and ran to the edge of the clearing; her eyes probed the forest floor. She reached for a long, heavy stick that was firm and strong.
Wedging it underneath the lip of the lid, the two tried to pry it free. The lid slid slightly, emitting a rusty creak of protest, and they wrenched the stick some more.
Their energy renewed from the discovery of the hole, the twins pried and twisted until the lid lay heavy on the ground next to the gaping hole of the cave’s entrance. Matt ran his fingers over the letters on the heavy lid. “MB. I knew it. We found Marcus Browser’s secret cave.”
Meg looked at Matt, fear evident in her eyes. The hole to the entrance was dark and foreboding, like a toothless mouth ready to swallow them whole. “This is it, Matty. This is our last chance to turn back and get some help.”
“There’s no time for that, Meg. We’re due for that eviction notice any day now! It’s up to us! Dad’s given up,” Matt said as he pulled a flashlight out of his bulky pack. He shined the light down into the darkness, trying to see the bottom. An old rusty ladder attached to the edge of the pipe was the only thing Matt could see.
He sat down and tested his weight on the first rung. “It feels ok,” he said softly to himself, worry creeping in to his voice as he finally realized what they were about to do. Shivers of excitement and fear coursed through his body making his voice shaky. “I’ll go first and then I’ll call up to you when I reach the bottom.”
Meg nodded nervously as she watched Matt take another step down into the darkness. Within seconds, his head had disappeared into the mysterious hole. She waited in the quiet of the woods afraid to move a muscle. She strained her ear to listen for the first hint of Matt’s voice. The only sound she heard was the loud, jumpy thumping of her heart reminding her that she was really, really a chicken when it came to facing the dark.
A tiny voice called from the darkness below. “Ok, Meg, come on down. I’ve got my light on.”
Meg wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans and put her feet on the first rung. She whispered a farewell to the woods around her and the sun above, and then slowly climbed down the ladder to join her brother.