Excerpt for The Mystery of the Haunted Castle by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Mystery of the Haunted Castle


Copyright 2017 William James Stoness

Published by Stoness Publications at Smashwords

ISBN 978-0-9868129-8-9






Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Acknowledgements

I wish to dedicate this book to my late Aunt Annie, a true Ontario pioneer for almost 103 years. Aunt Annie suffered from macular degeneration, yet she read and enjoyed all of my previous novels, viewing them a few words at a time on a magnified image on her reading screen. I definitely valued her encouragement!

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

About the Author

Other Books by William James Stoness

Connect with James




THE MYSTERY OF THE HAUNTED CASTLE

Chapter One

George stared moodily across the table as he quietly sipped his coffee. His eyes were focused upon the ornately designed mantle over the massive fireplace in the dining room of the hotel. A few logs blazed merrily sending a warm glow towards the unmoving figure while his friend, Bill Horton, studied him in silence.

Bill saw a slim built man, whose brown hair was somewhat tending to the disorderly, with glasses that always seemed to slip down his Roman nose. Bill had known George since University days when they had attended Queen’s University in a small town in eastern Ontario. For four years they roomed together and when they graduated, by chance they got jobs at the same place. That was more than a dozen years ago, he reminisced. How the years had slipped away!

Neither of them was married.

Bill thought angrily of his attempt at marital bliss that had ended in dismal failure five years later. Until recently, George had never showed a lot of interest in the fair sex, spending all his energies at his job in a big atomic power plant near Toronto. George was a skilled electrical engineer and his knowledge of the intricate circuits behind the bewildering display was what made him one of the most valued workers in the plant. When he wasn’t keeping busy at work, he was exercising his eternal interest in antiquities.

When the Canadian government sold a Candu nuclear reactor to Honduras, a country in Central America, both George and Bill were requested to move to help with the installation. George fell in love with Comayagua, the small town where they were staying, and bought a rundown house that was built high up on the mountain. George also met a charming young lady who changed his outlook on girls. In a few short weeks they became engaged, and in short time he and his fiancée were deep into the work of restoring the old home.

The move was exciting to Bill. Whereas George loved the antiquities, Bill was crazy about the history of Central and South America. He had studied their history and now he would have a chance to live there. What could be better!

At last Bill broke the silence. “What’s keeping you so quiet this morning, George?”

George took his eyes from the sculptured mantle. “Hazel wants me to tear out the old fireplace and replace it with something more efficient. She says she doesn’t want to live in a cold, drafty house the way her mother did.”

“Okay,” Bill replied as he looked at George closely. It wasn’t like George to reject modernization. He liked old things, of that there was no doubt, but he liked comfort too. “Okay, so what’s wrong with that?”

“You too Bill!” George stormed. “Don’t you see what it will do? It’ll destroy the originality of that end of the room. And besides that, we may damage the carvings on it, and that would be unforgivable.”

Bill countered, “Come on George, just how much damage can you do if you are careful? I’ve seen you repair broken artifacts so that you wouldn’t know there ever had been a break in them. I think that you can remove the old mantle without damaging it. I’m confident you can!”

“Oh I don’t know, some things are harder than others, why…”

But before George could get wound up again Bill continued. “You want that room to be homey, and comfortable, and yet be like the original. Gosh! You put in one of those glass-fronted fireplaces with a heatilator, and replace the façade and bingo, it’s perfect… and the little woman will love you for it! If you don’t want to carry wood, then stick a new gas fireplace in there.”

Before George could interrupt him, the waitress came to their table. Realizing they’d dawdled longer than usual, they paid for their drinks, and rose heading for the door.

“I’ll think about it, Bill. Perhaps it’s a possible answer.”

A few days later Bill dropped in at the old house to find George and Hazel working diligently at the front of the fireplace. They had already removed the carved wood at both sides of the fireplace and were carefully prying the massive mantle loose from the wall.

“You’ve come just in time, Bill. I’ve not been too certain that Hazel and I could handle this thing by ourselves. It’s coming loose better than I thought it would. Maybe another half an hour and it will be ready to lift off the supports.”

Bill moved in and helped willingly until finally they pulled it free leaving it resting upon the upright stones of the fireplace. It had been held to the wall by several wooden pegs driven into the wall and the mantle was pushed inwards so the pegs slid into matching holes in the mantle. Working together, the three of them lifted it off and moved it to a waiting set of sawhorses.

Under the mantle they discovered a layer of grout and stone that had been used to keep the heat of the open fire from the wood of the mantle. The grout was cracked and soot filled the cracks.

“By Gawd, George, it’s a good thing you did this. You might have burned down the house with you inside of it. One night you’d light one big fire in the fireplace. The heat would have ignited the wood beneath the mantle. It might smolder for hours, but maybe, sometime in the night it would flare up, and… woosh, and it’s gone.”

Hazel was examining the underside of the mantle. “Hey look at this guys, the bottom of this thing is all charcoaled. It looks as if it’s already been on fire, but has gone out.”

They looked at each other with amazement. “I guess, George, that there was insufficient oxygen to keep it burning, but that might not have always been the case,” Bill said as he looked it over carefully. “You see this side?” he asked. “That spot there has almost burned through at the edge. Then it would have had oxygen, and then the fire would have blazed up and likely destroyed this house.”

George idly dug through the cracked grout and stones till his hand struck something with a different feel. “Hello, what’s this?” he mused as he moved some of the rubble out of the way.

Bill’s head rose from his examination of the mantle. “What’ve you got, George?” he asked as he moved over beside George.

“It feels like a lid of some sort,” George said as he worked feverishly.

“George, you’re making a mess all over the floor,” Hazel shouted from the other end of the room. “You said you wanted to keep the old floor clean of rock and ash, now here you are dumping stuff all over it.”

George paid her little heed. In his haste to uncover whatever it was that he found, he was scooping the broken material over the edge onto the floor. “The floor will clean,” he muttered, working on. “There… there I think I’ve got the edges clear. It almost looks like a stone cover.”

“There’s some sort of design on that stone, George. Take the soft broom and dust it off. There, that’s better. Now if we just bring the light over here we might be able to see it.”

Hazel arrived with a flashlight just as George leaned down and blew off the remaining dust and as he raised his head, Hazel screamed as a wave of horror hit her and she withdrew in revulsion. There on the stone was the faded picture of horribly shaped goblins with fangs and fingers with long hooked fingernails. They were wielding curved weapons of unknown origin.

Bill was the first to recover. “Good Lord! What do you make of that, George?”

“I have no idea what it is,” George responded. “Help me pry off this lid, if it is a lid. I suppose it could be just a rectangular stone. Hand me that little pry bar.”

After a while he managed to fit the sharp edge under the rock and began to lift. At first it was difficult, and then it suddenly popped free so Bill was able to reach under the edges and lift it up.

George said excitedly, “There’s something in here.” He reached down and carefully lifted a folded bundle of parchment. “This looks old,” he said, gingerly lifting it from its hiding place.

“It looks a little bit burned, too,” Hazel commented. “I hope it’s not destroyed.”

“It’s going to be brittle, there’s no doubt about that… that’s too bad,” said George. “Let’s get it onto the table. I think we should photograph it in steps as we work at it.”

Hazel went to clear the table and then headed to the other room where she had left her camera equipment.

They worked quietly and diligently, slowly, delicately, working their hands down and under it. Then they slid a piece of thin cardboard underneath so that it would rest on the firmer surface. Finally it was ready. George carried it carefully to the table and sat it down. They studied it for a long time, probing here, and lifting there, as they examined it. It appeared that the object was folded into three, much as you fold a business letter to fit into an envelope. There were two folds and as there was much charring at the edges it was going to be very difficult to open the parchment without severe damage. George thought of a visit he had made to a museum in England where they were working on some Dead Sea scrolls. The work was fastidious. The scientists in charge reckoned that they might spend a couple of years before they would even know if they could open the scrolls without damage. But George was impatient to see what had been hidden in his fireplace, and he had no intention of waiting very long either.

It seemed that Bill was reading his thoughts. He watched as George probed at the packet and then said, “Are you going to try to open it, or will you take it to some expert to do it for you?”

“Yes, and no, my friend. Yes I’m going to open it, and I think it’s going to be soon. First we’d better try and soften this a little.

“Come on, we’ll take this into the darkroom.” George used the dark room for working on some of his antiques because it was a fairly clean room. He had a portable machine that used warm steam to create a humid atmosphere. He placed the package in the drawer at the top, and closed the small panel.

“There, we’ll leave this until tomorrow. By then maybe it will open without too much damage,” he said as they returned to the room with the fireplace. George took a seat facing the fireplace with Hazel and Bill on either side.

Suddenly he went to the fireplace and picked up the box and carefully carried it to the table. Then he went back and brought over the oddly designed lid.

“Isn’t that the damnedest thing?” George said as he stared at them. “It’s probably nothing important, but it’s odd that someone thought enough about the security of that thing, that they hid it as securely as they did.”

“I’ll say so,” Hazel retorted. “That design on the cover is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.” She thought of her sudden fright and her unanticipated scream. It embarrassed her. Normally she had terrific self-control and not many people had ever seen her come unraveled. But there was no doubt that the design on the lid had done it.

“I don’t know what got into me,” she said, “but when I saw that lid I just wanted to get away. I think that box is evil, George, I really do!”

Bill came over to the table and stared at the design. He turned to George. “You’ve looked at a lot of ancient art and figurines. Do these pictures look like anything you’ve seen?”

George took the lid in his hand, and using a small brush he very carefully cleaned it off. “The pictures look like those we might see on some old churches, or even some of the gargoyles on the big cathedrals.”

“Yes,” Bill said, “you’re right. I saw figures like that when I climbed to the bell tower last summer when I visited Vienna.”

“What were you doing climbing up to the bell tower?” Hazel asked him. “Isn’t that a lot of work?”

Bill looked surprised. “Of course it is. But it’s a lot of fun too. You’d be surprised at the superb views you get of the towns and the cities from up there. Unless it’s a valley town, the church bell tower is usually the highest thing in the town. I’ve got some great pictures to show you someday, if you’d like.”

“Well I’ll take your word for it,” Hazel said. “I think that I’ll stay on the ground, or maybe go up in an elevator, when they’ve got one.”

George broke in. “Yes, Bill, that’s one place you might see these kind of figures. Another is in the books written by devil worshipers. They seem to always have their work covered by this kind of doodling.”

“So what is it doing in our house? Did someone use this place for worshiping the devil, or was it used for some horrible ceremonies where they sacrificed humans?”

“Easy, Hazel,” George responded, “there is nothing here to make us think either of those things is true. All we’ve found is a parcel in a box. I think it’s a little early to jump to any conclusions. Let’s put this discussion off until tomorrow after we’ve tried to open the package.”

Hazel’s suggestion that there had been sacrifices in the house ended the mood of excitement that had been building up after finding the box. For the next few minutes no one said anything, and the mood was sombre. After a few false starts at making conversation Bill stood up and said he had to go. There were some things he had to do. He said his goodbyes and left. As he was going out the door George told him that he might be trying to open the package after they had eaten breakfast in the morning. Bill said he would return at that time if he were free.

Where the day before had been dull, the next morning opened with a red sun peering into a sky that looked as if it would be deep blue. No clouds marred the perfection. The first rays of the yellow sun shone through the bedroom window illuminating the room with the early light. George stirred and then awoke fully. Hazel was still sleeping but she stirred as soon as he slipped out of bed.

“What time is it?” she asked, her voice husky with sleep.

“It’s about a quarter to six,” he said pulling on his shirt. “I think I’ll get some work done while it’s cool.”

“Don’t start working on that thing from the box. You told Bill you would be starting on that after breakfast.”

George didn’t answer and made his way towards the little room downstairs that was his darkroom. He paused at the door for a moment thinking, grinned, opened the door and turned on the ceiling light. A small red glow came from panel of his humidity box indicating it was still functioning. He checked the humidity level. It was fine. He mulled for a little while about peeking, and at last his curiosity was too strong to resist the urge.

He lifted the lid. The package was still there. Of course it was. What did he expect? Was it magical and once removed from its box going to vanish? Of course not. It was nothing more than an old piece of parchment. His interest intensified. Why would anyone place an old parchment in a strange stone box and hide it in the top of his fireplace?

‘Maybe I should check to see if it needs to stay in any longer,’ he mused to himself. Now that he had persuaded himself to do what he got out of bed to do the rest was easier. He used his insulated gloves to pick up the parchment and carried it over to a work table that contained several small tools. Some of them looked like dental tools, picks, scrapers and wedges. Others had very specialized shapes that he often used when cleaning artifacts.

At first he just studied the object. He could see where it had been folded. He decided it had been folded in half, and then folded again. This was not good. If it had been rolled he could have slowly peeled the layers back. But now he had sharp folded edges to contend with. At the worst they would crack when he tried to unfold it. At the best, the fold would likely be unreadable.

Tentatively he prodded at the material with one of his tools. The parchment was no longer brittle on the outside, and showed signs of suppleness. Using a flat tool he began to try to unfold it. Slowly he pried until he could hold it with his fingers. It felt pliable to the touch and gently he began to lift it and separate the first fold. When it came so easily without cracking he felt a great sense of relief.

There was a gentle knock at the door. “Come on in, you can’t hurt anything,” George said, never lifting his eyes from what he was doing.

A moment later he was surprised to see both Hazel and Bill at his side. “Hello, Bill, how’d you get here so early?”

“Hazel phoned me and told me to get over here right away,” Bill responded. “She said if I wanted to see you operate on this thing I’d better get over here right away or I’d be too late.”

Hazel chipped in. “Right, I know how impatient you are when curiosity has you in its grasp.” She paused and looked more closely at his work.

“It looks like it’s coming apart okay. What’s your assessment, George?”

“I’ve had really good luck with this first fold,” he said, then added, “so far, that is. We’ll try a little bit more.”

It took several more minutes before he had the parchment flattened out. “Well, that looks better,” he said, sighing with relief. “I wonder how the next step will go?”

He examined the edges carefully. The pieces of material were so tightly compressed together that it looked like a single layer. “Damn, this is sure going to be tougher than the first step,” he said, exasperatedly. “I don’t even know where the layers begin.” He probed his way towards the fold. “Ah,” he said with enthusiasm, “I think I can insert the tool here. It’s not so tight right here near the crease.”

It took another hour before he was able to unfold the layers. “One more to go and we’re home free,” he said. “It seems as if the moisture has reached even to the centre because it’s still quite soft. I think this will open up without a problem if we don’t hurry it.”

By midmorning they had it completely unfolded. Glimpses of curlicued writing and squiggly lines had teased their attention for the past hour. Now they were able to see it in its entirety.

“Why, it’s a map of some sort,” Bill uttered in amazement.

“Right,” agreed Hazel, “but what do these strange words mean? I’ve never seen a language written like that. What language is that, George?”

“I’ve no idea. I’ve seen a lot of old writings on scrolls, and vases, but not that one. I’ll send a sample of it off to an old colleague of mine who studies the ancient languages. Maybe he would have an idea.”

Bill asked him if the material would dry out and become brittle again.

“It could, and to prevent that I’m going to rub it with a compound that I have that will soak in and protect the surface as well as keeping it pliable,” George told him.

Bill left and George spent the rest of the day working on the map hoping to preserve it from further damage. The following day, after the preservative had soaked in and dried, he took it to his scanner and made a copy and pasted it into his computer. Then he selected a portion of text and emailed it to his old colleague. The next day he received a phone call from his friend.

“George, it’s good to hear you again,” came the familiar voice, even though George hadn’t heard it in a few years, he recognized his old friend John Beck.

“Hello John. What a coincidence, John, I just emailed you something yesterday.”

“No coincidence, George. When I saw the hieroglyphics I just had to find out more about how they came into your hands,” John replied quickly.

George’s privacy barrier flew up between them. “It was just a little something that I stumbled across the other day. I don’t want to say much about it until I learn some more about it,” George said, after a hesitation.

John Beck noticed the pause, but decided that he would learn more if he didn’t push the issue too fast. Let George decide that he needed him first.

“All right, George, that is fine. I’m guessing it’s something you just found recently, and you’re not sure if it’s valuable, nor whom you should trust. When you are comfortable with the idea, I’d like to come and see what you’ve got. Maybe I can help, I don’t know. I do know that I need more to go on before I can attempt to interpret the picture writing. I was just wondering if you had more that you could show me because sometimes this type of pictoform writing has a diagram to go with it and that helps solve the puzzle.”

“I understand,” said George slowly. “You just caught me by surprise with the question. And of course you were right. I just came into possession of the… ah…. item and I need some time to think this over.”

“May I have a number to phone you back if I should want to do that?”

The professor gave him a number. They swapped a few pleasantries as they caught up a little on what each had been doing lately, and then hung up.

George walked to the safe and took out the strange map. Back at the desk he placed it under a strong light and using a magnifying glass began to study it closely. He inspected each of the lines on the map to determine if the colour or texture changed. This was one way to decide upon the originality of the document.

Then he sat away from it to better view the drawing. There was a castle set in a valley between two rows of hills. A river wound past it on the front. The castle appeared to be placed so that its back was against a cliff. Stick figures, obviously meant to be trees, cloaked the hills and most of the valley so that trees surrounded the castle almost hiding it. Other than the small river, there was no road or visible trail leading to the castle.

In the background two volcanoes reached high above the hills. The upper reaches of the volcanic mountains were encased in snow. Behind them rose a split-coned volcano. The strange drawings surrounded the central picture of the castle’s location. George relaxed for a few moments and sat back into his chair thinking. Just then the door opened. Hazel smiled at George, and walked to the desk to look at the map.

“Well, my dear George, what have you discovered?”

“Not very much, I think,” he responded. “It’s a real puzzle. I wonder just where the castle is located?”

“Most castles that I know of are in Europe,” Hazel began. “But why is there a map of a castle hidden in a house here in Comayagua?”

“Let’s see if we can figure out any of this stuff that’s drawn around the picture,” George suggested. “I’m stuck, so maybe you can help me.”

“Where do you want to start?”

“How about this set of figures right by the castle?”

Hazel studied the pictographs for several minutes. George sat quietly, saying nothing, trying to work out the scene.

Finally Hazel spoke. “It looks to me as if they were piling up something valuable. These people here,” she pointed, “look like guards carrying weapons. In the last picture the pile is quite high and complete. I think the guards are killing them.”

George nodded. “I agree, it’s almost as I was thinking. I think the ones doing the piling are slaves and are killed to keep what they were doing a secret. It looks like they are in a small room with a curved ceiling.”

“Fine, but what is the secret? Are these bricks of gold, or silver, or something else?” Hazel asked.

“I’m sure I don’t know, and I don’t have a clue where this castle is located,” George said.

“George, see this shield on the arm of the figure over here on the side. There’s a picture on it.”

“Well, most of the shield carriers had their family emblem or that of their country. I expect that’s what you’re looking at.”

“I don’t think so,” retorted Hazel, I think it’s something else. Have you got a magnifying glass?”

“Here you are, honey. I was looking over the lines a while ago. I didn’t see anything that shouldn’t be there.”

Hazel took the lens and peered at the shield. “George, take the lens and tell me what you see on the shield.”

He looked at it carefully and then looked up at Hazel. With surprise showing in his voice he said, “That looks like an outline of Central America. Do you think that this castle in somewhere around here?”

Hazel took the lens and looked at the picture on the shield once more. “I never heard of castles of this style being built in this region. But,” she added, “I haven’t been here long enough to learn about such things.”

The doorbell interrupted them. Hazel went to see who it was and returned with Bill.

He was in a cheery mood. “That is one humdinger of a great day I’ll tell you. I don’t suppose you guys have even been outside yet.” He eyed the map on the table in front of George. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. Have you solved the puzzle yet… and don’t tell me you’ve been too busy to look at it. I’ll bet it’s been the only thing on your mind since I left yesterday.”

George had tried to break in a couple of times but Bill’s outflowing usually couldn’t be breached until he was ready to stop. “We have spent a little time at it,” he admitted, “and no there is still very little to tell.”

He gave Bill the same task that he had given Hazel. Bill, look at these pictographs and tell me what story you get from the sequence. At the end, Bill’s story was in agreement with theirs. When it came to the little picture on the shield he could hardly contain his excitement.

“Wow! If it’s true that those few lines are actually a map of Central America and are suggestive of the castle in the picture being in that region, well that’s just amazing. I doubt if it is true, but if it were, it would make a great book.”

Hazel laughed and added, “Not to mention it might make the author of such a book quite famous, and maybe even rich.”

Bill smiled, a little sheepishly, “That never crossed my mind… well perhaps just a little bit.” He laughed.

Hazel teased just a little more, “No, it never crossed your mind. It moved in and took residence there.”

“Come on you two,” George interposed, “we’ve got some serious work to do. It’s my gut feeling that the map leads to a treasure of some sort and the treasure is in a castle hidden in a deep valley not too many days from here.”

Hazel looked at him closely. “You’re really serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am. I think, too, that we should try and get some time off to go and look for it.”

“That sounds great,” Bill said. “I’m ready for a little rest and relaxation.”

“You might be in for a big disappointment, Bill. I’m not sure that this search will give much in the order of rest, nor relaxation. Looking for the castle, assuming it’s here at all, will be difficult. It’s not going to be fun looking through these rain forests for a lost castle.”

“Maybe not, George, but it’s different than our regular work. It’ll be an interesting change of pace.”

Bill had no way of knowing just how much of a change it would be.

They turned back to the map. “What will we do now? We’ve picked off all the easy stuff. Apart from the scary devils and goblins around the edge the rest looks like some sort of language.”

“I agree with you on that,” said George. “I’m not sure where to turn next. My friend Professor John Beck wants to come here and look at this thing. I sent him a few clusters of words to see if he recognized the language. He phoned back all excited wanting to know where I got the stuff. I didn’t tell him much. He thinks that seeing the entire document might assist him in interpreting the words.

“What do you think? Should we let him see it, or should we keep it secret?”

Bill thought for a moment before answering. “It’s not something for me to tell you. You made the discovery, and you’ve got to make up your own mind. However, here’s something to think about. It’s no good to you if you can’t interpret the map. All you’ve got is a worthless old document. If you invite him to have a look at it, it’s possible that you might get some clues as to where to find the castle.”

“And if you find anything he’ll be entitled to a share,” said Hazel, looking up from the map.

“Maybe we are getting excited about nothing,” George suggested. “It might be just a hoax.”

“Who would hide a hoax in an old fireplace?” Bill asked. “The chance of it ever being found is mighty slim.”

George didn’t bother to answer. He was busy staring at the meaningless symbols on the map. After a while he looked up. “I think I’ll give John a call.”

Chapter Two

Professor Beck arrived in a taxi the following afternoon. He had accepted George’s invitation to stay a couple of days and carried a small overnight bag in one hand and a present for George in the other.

George greeted him like a long lost brother. “Hey, John, it’s great to see you. I don’t think you’ve aged at all. What’s it been, ten years?”

“Oh, all of that and probably more,” came the jovial answer.

Bill, who had only just arrived before the professor, took all of this in from his vantage point inside the room. The man was dressed in leisure pants and shirt. He was clean-shaven and his lips seemed to be on the verge of a smile when he wasn’t speaking. His blue eyes were alive, actively looking at everything, yet always directly upon you when you were talking to him. A prominent Roman nose held charge over a strong, bold chin. Although Bill had heard very little about Professor John Beck, he liked him immediately.

George introduced him to Hazel when she came downstairs. “John, this in my fiancé.”

Prof. Beck seemed to be genuinely happy to meet her and complimented them both on their good choices for mates. He shook hands with Bill who measured the man’s firm clasp as another plus mark in his favour.

George herded them into the study. “Come on inside, and we’ll have a drink to relax you after your trip, and catch up a bit on old times.”

They talked for an hour before the professor interrupted with the question that was on everyone’s minds. “George what is this marvelous mystery that you have had the good fortune to obtain?”

George pointed to the torn apart fireplace. All work on the renovations had stopped with the discovery, and the mess was everywhere apparent. “It started there.” He explained the circumstances and then brought out the map and placed it on the table. Prof. Beck rose and moved to a seat at the table where the light was turned on showing the map in its best light.

Prof. Beck studied the map intensely. He stopped and focused in several times on particular areas, making notes on a pad as he did. From time to time he rotated the map upside down, and then back again. The others watched him closely, hoping that his facial expressions would show them that he had discovered something. At last he stopped and sat back. He removed his glasses from and began to clean them. As he did he began to talk.

“This is a most remarkable find.” He paused. “I don’t know what to make of it being found here… it’s very puzzling indeed.”

“Then you have seen this sort of thing before?” George asked him.

“Not exactly like this, but I’ve seen this type of language. It’s a language called Rongo Rongo. It’s virtually unreadable. It’s a form of hieroglyphics and no one has interpretive stone yet.”

“What do you mean by an interpretive stone?” asked Hazel.

“That is a stone that has the same story done in two or three languages. If you know the other languages you can work out what the unknown symbols mean by comparing the two documents.”

He added, “It was the discovery of the famous Rosetta stone that enabled scholars to interpret the Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone had three languages on it. One of them was Greek which the scholars could read.”

Bill asked him, “What can we do if the language is not understood by anyone? Isn’t it pretty well hopeless that we’ll ever solve the puzzle of this map?”

“At first glance you’d think so. If there were no map here it would be hopeless. But there is a map, and there are a few understandable pictographs. There might be some way to cross-reference the drawings and the hieroglyphics. That’s what I’m going to try now, but don’t expect instant answers. Sometimes these things take years.”

George was shocked by the time prediction. “Can’t you speed it up any? We don’t have a lot of time to spend on this.”

“My friend, there is very little anyone can do to speed the process. I do have a glimmer of hope to hand you. One of my jobs with the government was that of ‘code breaker’. During that time I developed a software programme that looks for patterns. It looks for logical ways of saying something. Now, of course, there’s no way of knowing if these people were advanced sufficiently that they had any logical ways of writing their thoughts and needs.”

“How does it work, especially in this case?” Bill asked.

“Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll try to get a good scan of the map into the computer. Then I’ll use the computer to list the number of times that it sees a repeat of the same symbol. It can also list similar figures, but ones that have little changes. Often a particular symbol changes only slightly to indicate different things about a central theme. The computer will sort these out. It’ll also show me the basic symbol, and the related ones. It will colour the segments that are changed from the basic symbol.”

“That’s amazing, but how does that help you interpret the symbol?” asked Hazel.

The professor was proud of his software and very willing to discuss it. “For example,” he explained, “if we knew a symbol meant standing and moving we could work out which little addition meant moving fast, or standing still, or crawling, and so on. Then, symbols related to those would likely be people, or animals doing the moving.”

Bill added excitedly, “And if we had a symbol beside a pictogram it might help point out the meaning of the symbol, provided,” he added as an afterthought, “provided we could explain what the pictogram was referring to.”

“That’s it exactly. So our next task after that is to try and guess at the meaning of some of these pictograph scenes on the map,” the professor added.

George spoke up. “We think we’ve interpreted a segment of the map. Would you try the same piece and write down what you decide it means? Then we’ll compare notes.”

The professor readily agreed and for the next half hour made some notes on his pad. When he compared his notes to those that George had hastily created, their ideas were almost exactly the same.

They sat quietly for a few moments thinking about the process they were starting. The big grandfather clock began to chime. Subconsciously George counted off the hours. “Seven o’clock,” he exclaimed aloud. “Where has the time gone?” He looked at the others.

“Let’s drive over to a restaurant and try our luck with a massive steak,” he suggested.

“That’s a splendid idea,” agreed John Beck, “I’m really hungry. I’d forgotten that I’d not had dinner, so supper is going to be extra special. In fact, I think that it will be my treat. I’m so pleased that you let me come and see this thing you found. I want to thank you again before I forget.”

The others started to object, but John wouldn’t hear of it. They had a pleasant supper at a nice Spanish restaurant. Its menu never failed to amaze diners of all ages, and this party was no different.

A couple of hours later, full, and sleepy they returned to the house where the professor began to plan his strategy. It took him the rest of the evening to scan the map and feed the information to the computer.

“Now we’ll leave the computer with the problem for tonight,” he said. It will go over the symbols many times, refining each search, before repeating the process. Computers are much faster now. The programme that I wrote for it is big. It used to take a week to do what I’m expecting will be done in one night. Of course,” he added, “I might be badly fooled. It might not be done in the morning.”

“Well, if it isn’t,” Bill said, “maybe we can all go golfing.”

Hazel laughed, “You haven’t got a hope, fellow. Not a chance.”

“What do you mean… what do you mean,” he laughed too. “I deserve some time off. I’ve worked hard since I got to this job.”

“What I mean is whether or not the computer is ready, we have to start planning for our search.” And then she added, “This country will be difficult to traverse. The jungles are thick, and dangerous for those who don’t know what they are doing.”

“I guess that would be us,” quiffed George. He turned to the professor. “John, I didn’t ask you before, but do you want to join us in this… well this chase which may be a wild goose quest?”

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do this summer,” he answered. “It doesn’t take the talk of a treasure to interest me, I want to find out more about the source of this map and that might tell me something about those who wrote the strange language on it.”

The next morning everyone rose early. Hazel had a lethal breakfast of bacon and eggs, toast with a wide assortment of jams, coffee, and muffins. Everyone enjoyed it fully.

“George, let’s go and see if there is a result,” John said as he wiped away the last crumbs from his lips.

“I thought you’d never ask,” George said as he leapt from his chair, followed closely by Bill and Hazel.

The professor printed out the results and laid them on the table. He looked at them for several minutes.

“What do you see, John?” George eagerly asked.

John said nothing for a few minutes. He shuffled the pages and looked at the results again. “This is terrible,” he said. “I really don’t understand this at all.”

“What’s wrong?” Hazel broke in.

“There are only a few matches on the symbols. I would have expected many. I just don’t get it.” The professor sat down with the map in his hands. He pointed out a particularly prominent symbol. “I was certain this one would come up often in the results, but there’s only about ten positives, at least according to the computer.”

George, who was standing across the table pointed and said, “I see about six of them from here.”

John looked to where George was pointing, and waved his hand negatively. “No, George, that is upside down. That should be quite different. I thi…. Oh my gosh,” he said and struck his forehead with a smack. “What a dummy I am. Of course it’s upside down. This is so stupid.” He looked totally frustrated.

“What’s wrong, John?” asked Bill.

“What’s wrong is my brain lets me down from time to time.” He picked up the map and turned it around, looked at it, and turned it back again. “If this language is Rongo Rongo, then every other line in written upside down.”

“Written upside down? Surely you’re joshing,” said Hazel. “What forever for, would they do that? It must make it terribly hard to write, and also a pain to read. Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know why, I’m sure.” He turned to the computer and worked for a few minutes. “I’m going to have every other line turned upright, and then run the software again.” He ran off new copies of the map with the lines all turned upward the correct way and gave them each a copy.

“Okay, we let the programme work through this again. Hopefully there will be enough symbols to make us happy.”

After supper they checked again and found the computer had completed its job. As they gathered around the table to see the printouts the look of anticipation ranked high on their faces. Would anything come of it? Should they just give it up as a bad job? Maybe there were other ways of attacking the problem. All these thoughts, and more, ran through their heads even before the papers revealed the truth.

“Ah… that’s better,” the professor said in a low voice.

George heard it though. “What’s that you say, John?”

“Mostly I was mumbling,” he said.” But, you know, I think it’s looking a bit better this time.”

“I do see more matching figures but I don’t know what you’re going to do with them,” George replied.

“What I’m going to do is this. I’m going to seclude myself from all distractions for the next little while and see if my brain cells can match wits with this computer.” He laughed, “I suspect the computer will think it’s a pretty poor contest with all the odds on its side.”


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