The beautiful, fresh, Wisconsin air practically punches me in the nostrils as soon as I open the car door. The awfully stagnant air inside the car (which I’m pretty sure was mostly carbon dioxide and methane), smelled of Frito chips and dirt and quite possibly a pint of spoiled ice cream we forgot about until just a few minutes ago. Like the plot of a Febreeze commercial in reverse, I suppose.
“I hate to quote Fred Jones here but I feel as if it’s my legal obligation to do so;” Avril pipes up. “Let’s split up and look for clues.”
“Alright, I’ll take the lighthouse.” I say with a hint of eagerness, reaching back down into the car to snag the GPS from the dashboard and almost knocking the George Washington bobblehead over in the process.
“Actually, there is a site that says that the lighthouse is only open during a week in May, so it’s most likely inaccessible right now.” Oliver says, looking down at his phone.
“Well, it seems like more people know about the game than we thought, so it wouldn’t hurt to try or at least ask someone!”
“That’s true. Speaking of, I’ll do the beach and the keeper’s house.” He says. I hand him the GPS, and he absentmindedly tries to put its bulkiness in his pants pocket like a cell phone, but then realizes what he’s doing and decides on holding it instead of looking like a weirdo.
“Alright, then. I’ll do the forest and grounds. If anyone finds anything, call the other two on your phone— oh crap!” She pulls her phone out of her pocket. “I don’t even have your guys’ numbers yet!” She hands her phone to Oliver to put his number into her contacts. “We really haven’t had to split up enough that we needed it. Probably will come in handy now.”
I grab her phone when Oliver is finished, put in my number, and change my contact name to ‘Snorey Sleeping :)’ (because yes, I did hear her call me Snorey a couple of days ago). I return it to her, and she shoots both of us a text to let us know she got them. We bid each other good luck and head off in different directions.
As I approach the lighthouse, a cool wind blows through and nearly knocks my hat off of my head. I push it back down and tighten it in the back. Don’t want to lose something I just bought yesterday, I think as I walk up to the lighthouse door. I try the handle and I am surprised to find it unlocked. Just as I am about to pull open the door, I feel a hand on my shoulder and I jump.
I turn to see an older man who looks like one of the guys you’d see on a lobster boat. “What do you think you’re doin’, kid?” He grumbles in his grisly old guy voice. The metal name tag fastened to his heavy coat says George.
“I, uh… I just wanted to check out the lighthouse, sir. The door was unlocked so I thought...” I reply.
“Sorry to disappoint, but the lighthouse is only open for a few days in May. One of the employees probably forgot to lock the door.” He says apologetically. ”You can come back again when it is open. For now we have a museum and a gift shop if you want to check those out.”
“Um…” I stare at him, and an idea crosses my mind. A risky one. One that if this guy is the wrong kind of person to deal with it could get me in deep trouble. And of course my brain, without even asking me, decides to do it anyway. I do a 180, and I’m not sure exactly how I move, but it’s a mix between an exaggerated trip and a jump, and I land right inside the lighthouse tower. I turn back around, quickly slam the door shut and lock it from the inside before George can even speak.
My heart is racing a mile a minute as George bangs on the door and shouts for me to open it. I peek up through the center of the spiral staircase to the opening on the top that a few rays of sun are shining down into, and I run.
Step, step step step. I can hear him yelling as it echoes through the tower. Step, step, step, step, step, step. Faster and faster I run until I hit the last step and leap from the staircase into broad daylight. I bend over, hands on my knees, and catch my breath. I can feel myself smiling like an idiot from the adrenaline rush. I stand back up and walk over to the railing. I look down at George, who is still slamming his fist on the door and being watched by a few tourists.
“Hi!” I chime, and I wave at him when he looks up at me.
“What is wrong with you, kid?!” He shouts, hands cupped around his mouth.
With a sly smile I proudly say, “I’m here for a game!”
He looks down in thought and then back up after he realizes what I mean. “Well, why didn’t you just say so?”
“I figured you wouldn’t believe me!”
After a bit of just staring up at me in all my out of breath teenager glory, he nods and turns to walk away. “Well, good luck to ya with that, kid, but please never do that again.” He says, sauntering back to the building. The crowd disperses along with him, leaving me alone at last. Without the extra noise, I can hear myself wheezing thanks to the super smart idea to sprint as fast as I could up all those stairs. Almost hesitantly, after yesterday, I grab my inhaler out of my sweatshirt pocket and take a dose.
Just then, I spot Avril at the edge of the grass just before the trees, who probably just watched the entire scenario unfold. With a smile, she waves to me before walking off into the trees, enthusiastically kicking up leaves and dirt with her feet.
When she disappears from view, I put my inhaler away and shift my gaze out to the lake. I remember Oliver saying it would probably be cool to see so far into the distance from up here—17 miles, I think it was— but a slow fog begins to roll over the lake and obstruct the view of anyone hoping for a nice picture from a lighthouse (which right now and until May is just me). Regardless, I pull out my phone and snap one anyway. I look at it, and it’s kind of blurry, but there’s a certain charm to it.
I slip my phone back into my sweatshirt pocket and lean on the railing as I watch the fog cover the water. Since last night, Avril’s question has been in the back of my mind, begging for an answer of any kind, just to get some clarity.
“What is your Ultimate Prize?”
I even had a dream about it. It was a rather weird one, where she was a gigantic ten-story-tall centaur and she said that if I didn’t give her my answer she would feed my entire family to the Titans. Also, Oliver was there and he was Apollo… or maybe Hades. Well, he was riding on the three-headed dog Cerberus… yeah, he was Hades. I don’t know why I frequently dream in Greek Mythology, but I’ve come to accept the fact that my brain is pretty weird when I’m not in complete control of it.
My dreams are never premonitions, I tell myself as a see a small bird fly from a tree to the roof of the keeper’s house. You know this, and you’ve proven this, Rory.
I don’t know for sure if Avril wants a solid answer out loud, even though she gave us hers. I would have given her one, but Oliver would have been crushed. Thing is, I have been friends with him for so long, and I don’t ever want to stop being friends by any means, and I always try to tell him the truth about everything. And just for the sake of quoting everyone’s favorite Stranger Things character: Friends don’t lie. But I have. I need to stop lying to people, especially my friends. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve lied in the past four days: three. It’s not a lot, but it’s still three too many. And they were big ones. Sooner or later I won’t be able to stop lying.
But I figure that part of me trying to change will have to be me coming to terms with my own thoughts and remembering that not everyone will like everything I say, even me. If she wants an honest to whatever higher power is up there answer, I have one, but I need to make sure that I accept what I really want first, and that is to leave. To finish high school and get out of the podunk little town I’ve loved for so long. Maybe I’ll go to college, maybe not, but one thing’s for sure: I don’t want to go back
I’m not a cool guy, no matter how highly Oliver thinks of me. I don’t do very good in school, regardless of who helps me, and I only have one actual friend, who, to be completely and brutally honest, is kind of a soggy breadstick in everyone’s books but mine. I know I’m not his only friend, but I am his best friend, and if I told him any of this, I don’t know what that would do to him… to us.
But, y’see, that’s where I’m a little conflicted. If I tell him, I could possibly seriously hurt him, but If I don’t, the lies will keep growing more crazy until I can’t handle it anymore and I tell him anyway, and I know that will make things even worse.
It’s a Lose-Lose situation. I’ll never get out of this without someone getting hurt feelings. I think. Unless… I break my gaze with the lake and look down at the ground from where I’m standing 90 feet in the air. What if I just—. At the same moment, I feel my hand connect harshly with my face. Stop it, Rory! Don’t even go there! A little voice in my head says. Don’t even try to tell me that you think this is an option. It’s not, and you’re blowing things out of proportion. There’s gonna be a time to tell everyone, to tell him, you just have to know when that time is. It’ll be okay then, Rory. You’ll be okay. The voice melts back into my own thoughts.
I step back from the railing, and a sinking feeling takes over me, a harrowing realization that I could have just, y’know, done what I was gonna do, without even thinking. “You’re distracted.” I remind myself. “When you get distracted is when you start thinking crazy, stupid stuff like that.” I take another step back. “Just focus on the task at hand. Find item four.”
I turn around, and almost hit my head on one of the small lights on the outside wall. “Jesus!” I hiss, jumping back a bit. Just then, an idea, a good idea, floats into my head like a cloud of cotton candy or some other thing that could probably float if it just believed in itself enough. I bend down and look up under the semicircle light cover to see if there is anything stuck up in it. Nothing. I move to the one on the right. Nada. And the next. Is big ol’ goose egg a good expression for nothing? The next two are in the same boat. I move to the last one, all my hopes dying faster than the ecosystem in the Amazon rainforest. I look under the cover expecting to find nothing again, but this time, it’s the opposite. And old wasp nest rests in one corner, flush up against the wall, and a neatly folded piece of notebook paper is crammed in the other.
I reach up under the light cover, careful to avoid the wasp nest and thankful that my fingers are relatively skinny, and pull out the piece of paper. I unfold the it to reveal a jumble of messy black pen marks that just somehow manage to pass as letters and words.
18 - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Is at the top of the paper. At the bottom:
Point out at the lake and follow the arrow ⬇
Another item? I think. If this is what we came here for, I guess I’ll take it. Now all I have to do is figure out the clues.
I have to admit, even though English is my first language, I am one of the many who still has to sing through the entire alphabet song to find a specific letter that corresponds to a number. In this case, I had to go all the way to ‘R’, which was the product of about nine seconds of flashing back to the first days of Kindergarten.
“Okay,” I say, “Now point out at the lake,” I extend an arm out towards the foggy water a hundred or so yards from me, ”And follow the arrow.” My arm moves down, and points at the roof of the keeper’s house.
I take a moment to collect my thoughts, and, in excitement, I reenter the lighthouse and bound down the stairs, the paper clenched tight in my fist. I unlock the door and once again burst out into the fresh and suddenly chilly air. My phone buzzes in my pocket, and I pull it out to find a text from Oliver to both me and Avril, saying he has one of the items. I text back that I have another, and Avril says something along the slightly irritating lines of “Wow guys, y didn’t u save 1 4 me?? :,c”
I round the lighthouse to find Oliver standing near the wall of the main building. When he sees me, he practically skips over to me. Before we can even talk, we hear an excited shout from the trees, and turn to see Avril approaching us in full-on Hunger Games sprinting mode. She stops right before she runs into us, and, breathing heavily, she huffs out, “You guys... Found them?”
Oliver and I both start to talk at the same time, eager to tell her how we both came upon the next two items in the game. We look at each other when we realize what we’re doing, and we laugh.
Avril breathily laughs with us. “Just… just save the next one for me… okay?”
“I think that can be arranged.” I unwrinkle the paper in my hand and hold it out so they can look at it.
“This must be four, considering my item. Good find, Freddie.”
“Freddie?” Avril asks. She looks at me, and I can feel my face get hot with a little bit of embarrassment. “Is that a nickname or something?”
“Yeah. And only my parents,” I elbow Oliver in the arm, “get to call me that!”
“Well, that was for earlier.” He grins proudly, satisfied with himself.
I click my tongue in irritation and roll my eyes. “You really suck sometimes.”
“So do you—”
“So, what is on yours, Oliver?” Avril interrupts.
Oliver grabs a folded up brochure out of the pocket of his sweatpants. On the front is a picture of a whimsical looking building, and above it in bold, white letters is Milwaukee Art Museum. He opens it for us to see. To probably both Avril and I’s surprise, stamped in black on every face of the brochure are the words ‘SØMNIUM Timed Hunt: Team Aquamarine’.
“This is the most straightforward clue yet,” I say as Oliver pulls out the GPS and hands it to me. He takes out his phone and gets onto the site, and I read him the coordinates. He inputs the same for both items and presses the submit button. We all huddle together as we wait for the site to refresh, and I can feel a tiny drop of rain plop down on my head.
“It’s starting to rain, guys.”
“It is?” Avril asks. “I don’t feel anything—” She pauses, and then starts again. “I take that back, there was a raindrop.”
A faint ‘ding’ from Oliver’s phone speaker, and our team moves up to second place, making us tied to Mauve with five items. We all cheer, and Oliver pulls me into a tight hug. Almost as suddenly as the rain starts coming down in sheets, another notification comes up on his phone. He reads it out loud, “Timed hunt between Team Aquamarine and Team Mauve at the Milwaukee Art Museum staring in five hours. Four hours 59 minutes 59 seconds, 58, 57…” We all exchange glances at that moment and then race towards the car with a jumble of unintelligible hollering and shouting to move faster.
(Last paragraph is in the description)