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In Search of Treasure

Bailey slammed his fist down on the coffee table, the mighty thump displacing several coasters and almost upturning his Mum's coffee.

"Six more to go and I would've done it! Level 16 – I almost had it!" He thrust the Nintendo controller down beside him and grimaced at his Mother, who fixed him with the sternest of gazes.

"Bailey Smith, if you can't take defeat nicely, you shouldn't play at all. You need to just enjoy the experience of playing. It doesn't matter if you win or lose, at least not as much as you think."

Bailey stood up and crossed his arms, defensively.

"Aw, what do you know, Mum? You don't know how these games work."

Beside his mother, Bailey's Grandpop gave a little chuckle.

"What?" scowled Bailey. He didn't know his Grandpop that well and although he found the discussions with him about astronomy rather fascinating, he still felt a measure of distance between them. Like there was still a lot to learn about his Grandpop, especially why he had come back into their lives after all this time.

His Mother clasped her hands and started twisting the rings on her fingers, nervously.

"Never mind, Candy, I'll sort the young man out later on. You just leave it to me." He gave her a little wink and an affectionate pat on the shoulder.

Bailey rolled his eyes.

Old people. He doesn't know anything about living in this day and age.

He picked up the controller and started his game all over again.

The next morning, Bailey found a note on the kitchen bench, right where he was about to pour his cereal into a bowl.

     Come with me but do not trip

     On what is cool and what is hip...

Huh? Bailey screwed up his face and read the note again. It was written in his Grandpop's messy scrawl, with eccentric, high-flung dots over the top of the i's.

Was this some kind of test? A puzzle? A riddle? Yes – it was a riddle! Bailey read the riddle three more times, pondering each little section until the words trip and hip leaped out at him.

His Grandpop's cane!

Last night, his Mother had gently chastised the old man for not using his cane after he had stumbled slightly and clutched at his painful hip. Bailey knew it affected him badly in the cool weather – and 'cool' was another word in the riddle! Looking around, Bailey noticed the cane, propped up against the pantry door. Placing it carefully aside, he opened the door to find another distinctive note, stuck to the bread box.

     What seems real but yet is not,

     It's like the land that time forgot...

The Nintendo game! That's not real! Bailey pondered this solution but just couldn't make 'it's like the land that time forgot' fit with the Nintendo in any way.

It's like the land that time forgot...

Bailey sucked in his breath and drummed his fingers on the kitchen bench in contemplation.

the land that time forgot...

All of a sudden, he knew the answer. On his parents' desk in the study was a beautiful globe with a clock built into the side of it. Bailey had spent many years admiring the realistic globe, imagining he was an astronaut looking down on planet earth from space. He had been immensely disappointed when the clock had stopped working, his parents insisting that the special lithium battery that powered it was too expensive to replace.

That's got to be it, thought Bailey. That's the land that time forgot!

He rushed to his parents' study and found the globe sitting slightly askew on the desk. Peeking out from beneath it, Bailey could see the edge of another slip of paper. Gently, he lifted the globe slightly to prise the note out.

     All in all a major feat,

     A pity that it's not so neat...

Whaaaaat? Bailey was mystified. These riddles were definitely getting trickier. A major feat? Not so neat? Try as he might, he couldn't fathom what this next riddle meant. Looking around, he saw nothing that sparked his mind to think of an answer. Major feat? Major...feet? Bailey suddenly remembered his teacher talking about homophones – words that sounded the same but meant something different. Major...feet? As his eyes grew wide, he realised that his Dad held the rank of Major in the army – he was Major Terence James Smith. Dad's feet? With a yelp of joy, Bailey remembered the crosswords exchanged by his parents at dinner. His mother had complained that his Father kept his shoes in an untidy arrangement on the shoe rack at the door. They kept sliding off and she was forever having to pick them up and arrange them more neatly. Satisfied with himself, Bailey rushed to the front door and eagerly appraised the shoe rack. Tucked into his Father's work shoes was the edge of a little note.

     Yellow rising to the sky,

     But only glimpsed by eagle eye.

What rises to the sky? Bailey thought. Hang on, I know this, I know this! Something flashed into his mind, a brief memory from three days ago – his Grandpop pointing out a weather balloon on the horizon, as they stood on the front porch together. A balloon? He couldn't remember the colour of the weather balloon but he was pretty sure it wasn't yellow. Running his fingers through his hair, Bailey sat on his haunches beside the shoe rack. A yellow balloon in the house? Eagle eye? He figured it was a balloon that was hard to spot if he needed an eagle eye to see it. He mused out loud, listing the things that made something hard to spot. It could be very high up (not very likely if it was in the house!), or it could be small. Or it could be hidden. Could it be hidden? How could a bright yellow balloon be hidden in this house?

It took Bailey a full six minutes to figure it out. Turning slowly, with a grin, he approached the bright yellow lamp in the dining room and jumped onto the table to peer into its recesses. There, perched amongst the yellow bulbous light fittings, lay a yellow balloon with a smiley face printed on it. His Grandpop had used camouflage to hide the balloon in plain sight. Grabbing the balloon, he could see a slip of paper fluttering inside. Sitting on the edge of the table, Bailey squeezed the balloon and flinched when it gave a sudden pop! Laying amongst the strip of rubber, the new note read:

     Treasure of my sweetest child,

     Oh so young and oh so wild,

     Live your life with starry gaze

And wonder not of sunlight's rays.

In the stillness of the early day, Bailey could hear the clock ticking and the morning birds announcing their presence with a cheery chorus. After a minute, he became aware that his Grandpop had taken a seat on the edge of the table next to him.

"Did you do this for me?" he asked his Grandpop in a small voice, although he knew the answer.

His Grandpop's eyes twinkled happily and he patted Bailey on the knee.

"What do you think this last riddle means?"

"I think 'treasure of my sweetest child' might be me since my Mum's your daughter and her name is Candy which is sweet. I think I'm her treasure because I'm her kid."

"You're a smart boy, Bailey." The old man suddenly seemed familiar, priest-like.

"What does it mean, the last two lines?"

"What do you think it means?"

Bailey thought for a moment, his fingertips tapping out a soft ostinato on the wooden table they sat on.

     Live your life with starry gaze

     And wonder not of sunlight's rays.

He knew his Grandpop had lived his life as an astronomer and had recently retired from his job lecturing in science for a prestigious university.

     Live your life with starry gaze

     And wonder not of sunlight's rays.

Seeing his Grandson struggle to make sense of these last two lines, the old man offered up these words:

"When you were solving these riddles, did you ever stop to ask yourself what treasure lay at the end of your quest?"

Bailey's eyes widened. "No, I – I was having too much fun. It didn't matter what was at the end."

"Ah, young Bailey," his Grandpop nodded enthusiastically, "I think you understand now. If you always look towards the end of your journey then you miss out on the beauty of the path itself. It's like the game you were playing yesterday. It didn't really matter what level you were on, it was playing the game itself that thrilled you. You must never forget how special each moment in your life is if you take the time to breathe it all in. Leaping ahead to the next moment, or the next level doesn't give you the space to truly love what you do or celebrate what you have done."

     Live your life with starry gaze

     And wonder not of sunlight's rays.

"I get it," chuckled Bailey. "If you keep thinking about the next morning you might not see the beautiful starry night above you. Is that why you like astronomy so much?"

The old man closed his eyes and smiled wistfully. "Astronomy itself is a study in never reaching the end of your quest. Humanity may never travel further than the moon but we can dream, wonder, savour, and experience the joy of discovery. And that, young man, is far more important." He breathed in slowly and added:

"Do you know why I'm here?"

"No." Bailey inched closer to the old man and met his gaze expectantly.

"I don't have long to live, I'm sorry to say. All this time studying the stars, thinking I had plenty of time to retire and spend time with my daughter. We were close when she was growing up but when she left home, we drifted apart." His eyes suddenly seemed wizened, sad.

"Now, more than ever, I must make each moment last as long as one moment possibly can."

A silence fell between them like an immense grey cloud, heavy with storm and seasoning the sky with its first stinging raindrops.

"Grandpops, would you like to play Nintendo with me?" asked Bailey in a quiet voice.

"I would love to," replied the old man delightedly. "Of course, you would have to teach me the basics and we may not reach the higher levels if we play together."

"That's ok, Grandpop." Bailey smiled broadly. "I just want to play with you."

As Bailey rested his head on the pillow that night, he reflected on what a great game "Star Blaze Warriors" was. And his Grandpop had done a great job learning the game and helping him defeat all the alien enemy squadrons. What level did they get to? What did it matter, thought Bailey, sleepy-eyed and content, his head filled with images of stars, stars that would glitter, burn, blaze, then fade away, like the moments in time that would make up his life.