It all started on a small, inconspicuous island, with a tiny library and a resident population of curious sea turtles.
At first, Drekker didn’t think anything was wrong. He went about his daily business, sweeping the decks, buying his daily bread, carefully stepping over the sea turtles who seemed to follow him around.
No-one could have predicted what happened next, least of all the librarian – who was in fact partly to blame.
It was when Drekker had stepped over the seventeenth turtle of the morning as he was picking a pumpkin from the garden that he noticed something strange. There was nothing beyond the garden gate. Where the path used to wind down the side of the cliff through the sea-thrift and buttercups to the cove below, was nothing.
Over at the docks, a gleaming yacht bobbed on the waves, with no sign of any crew onboard – but every available surface was stacked high with books.
Tomes of every size and shape were stacked from bow to stern, from port to starboard. Some even teetered and toppled off the gunwales. From where Drekker watched, currents swirling around the yacht dragged a trail of lost copies shorewards. Peering over the garden wall, he could see a lonely paperback brushing up against a rock where sand had been before.
An elaborate sandcastle, decorated with colourful pebbles and unusual shells, had appeared on the beach overnight.
“What?” asked Drekker to himself. “The beach wasn’t there before, was it? It was down there, at the bottom of the path. Not over by the harbour. Except there’s no path now.” He scratched his head. Was he going mad? Turning around, he nearly tripped over another turtle who had wandered over to munch on some spinach. “I wonder if anyone else has noticed anything strange, or if I’m imagining things. Perhaps I just had too much wine with lunch.”
“Where’s the watermelon-flavoured lip balm when you need it?” muttered Claire, shop assistant in the island’s gift shop. “It was here, I’m sure it was. And now there’s mango lip gloss instead. I never ordered that.”
“Hi Claire,” Drekker said, poking his head round the door. “I just popped in to ask you if you’d noticed anything strange going on, but I guess that’s my answer. ” ‘
“Well, I mean, if you consider me not remembering ordering something strange, then yes. I probably did some ordering one evening after I’d been down the beach bar. No wonder I can’t remember.” Claire said, with a slight frown.
“Ok…” Drekker paused, picked up a plastic toy dog. It was holding a banana in its mouth. “How about this? Remember ordering this?”
Claire’s frown deepened. “That’s… not something I would order. And surely Angela wouldn’t order it either?”
“That’s what I thought,” Drekker said. “There’s something funny going on.”
It was the quaintest little treehouse anyone could imagine, complete with wooden shutters in the windows and a rope ladder. It was also where Drekker lived. The house was built in a giant silkwood tree, suspended over expansive decks below with loungers for enjoying evening sun. From his kitchen window he had a view over the garden and down to the sea. His bathroom was hidden away down in the garden, and he had to sweep fallen leaves off the deck each day, but he didn’t mind these minor issues. He still felt like a little boy each time he climbed the rope ladder to go to bed. A little inconvenience was nothing if he got to relive the feeling of possibility of youth every day. But when he went back to the house to consider what to do next, there was a problem. The rope ladder was tucked up in the treehouse. No way for him to climb up.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a bookshelf toppled over, covering the entire floor in an avalanche of non-fiction.
Drekker knew what it was immediately. There was nothing else to fall in the tiny treehouse. Someone was up there. Someone who didn’t care about the furniture. The good news was, all he had to do was wait to see who came down, then confront them. The bad news was, he hated confrontations. How was he going to manage this? And he had a horrible feeling he knew why someone was up there.
He sat down in a shady corner of the deck and waited, back propped against the central tree. From here, he had an excellent view of where whoever was in the treehouse would come down the rope ladder eventually, but they wouldn’t be able to see him until they were half-way down. It was a warm afternoon. Butterflies hovered around flowers nearby. Bees hummed gently. Before he knew it, he’d nodded off.
He was woken again by the sound of boots hitting the deck. Jumping up, he caught sight of a distinctive mane of red hair disappearing up the garden path and vaulting the gate into the lane, scroll in hand. Jackson Planck. At least he knew how to find the thief.
It didn’t often happen, but when it did – the librarian, and perhaps the turtles too – wanted to know all about it.
Luckily for Philip the curious librarian, latest residency records were stored at the library, so Drekker had to go there to track down Jackson’s last known address. And of course, the two of them ended up discussing one of the very rare crimes that occurred on the island. “And you actually saw him run off?” asked Philip. “Do you know why he was up there at all?”
Drekker looked sheepish. He was a terrible liar and hadn’t prepared a story. Truth it was then. “I had a treasure scroll that showed the Peacock Path.”
“Should we travel to South America?” Jackson asked the hooded figure.
“Patience. I am not sure that is what this scroll is showing. The legend says the path can be accessed from wherever the owner of the scroll is. And you do not want to make a mistake with the way of the Path.”
A hooked finger indicated the swath of the Peacock Path, the ancient route to untold riches. Legend said that those who trod the path returned rich, but changed. Sometimes skills were acquired. Sometimes abilities were lost. According to lore, one sailor returned with a boatload of gold, but deaf as a post. Another traveller returned with the keys to an ancient kingdom, but speaking a different language entirely. Following the path was a risky decision.
The scroll did indeed seem to point the way to South America. But why? Something in the scroll provided the clue. Jackson waited for instruction. He knew his place, and it was a follower to the person in the hood.
It was already shaping up to be one of those days that everyone laughs about afterwards.
First the beach, then the shop. Even the turtles were behaving strangely, promenading down the high street in an extended conga line. Drekker was distinctly uncomfortable, regretting his choice of a long-sleeved shirt on this warm day. The library was too close for comfort.
“How exactly did you come by the scroll?” Philip asked him. Drekker squirmed in his seat.
“You know, it was just, er…” he looked away and down at his hands.
“Because you know those scrolls are considered treasure trove. You’re required to report them if you find them.
“Ye-es… I mean, I was going to…”
“And you know, we had one in the library here, until about a year ago. it mysteriously went missing. I don’t suppose you know anything about that?”
“We-ell, you know, I would never steal from the library, I swear. I didn’t. It’s just, I kind of found it one day, you know, in a bottle, washed up on the shore. I know I should have reported it… but I just wanted to read it. I don’t know how Jackson found out I had it.”
“Perhaps you mentioned it after a few too many beers?” Philip murmured.
“I know, I made a mistake. But we have to get it back.”
“I couldn’t agree more. That scroll in the wrong hands is exceedingly dangerous.”
The beach was deserted, except for a bunch of balloons tied to a tree and a snow shovel propped up against the trunk.
“This is Jackson’s last known address? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Drekker said. ”Looks like a kids’ party ended in a murder.”
“Not his last address. But the only access to the house he lives in is up there.” Philip pointed up the garden path, accessible above the high tide line. “Come on, unless you’re chicken?”
The two of them walked up toward the house, well set back from the beach in a grove of trees. It was a two-storey villa with an uncared-for look. They rang the bell and waited. And waited. There was no reply.
“No-one in. I guess we’ll have to go then,” Drekker said, turning around.
“Not so fast. This is the perfect time to investigate,” Philip replied.
“So, you’re talking about breaking and entering, the very crime which Jackson is accused of?”
“I’ve lost my shoes again.” Claire was tossing a barrage of shoes away from the pile.
“Hey. You can stop. They’re here.” Angela passed her a pair of trainers. “You put them down behind the statue, remember?”
“Not really.” Claire sat down on the step and bowed her head onto her folded arms. Angela sat down next to her, placed an arm around her shoulder.
“I know you think this helps, but I don’t see the value. I just sit there trying to think of solutions.”
“Trust me, I think about that too,” Angela said. “But it can’t hurt to try prayer, right?”
“I only do it for you,” Claire said. “I don’t believe prayer can solve cancer. You heard what Mum’s doctor said.”
“That’s the medical diagnosis. I believe in the power of prayer. We have to believe that something will save her.”
“Well, I’m happy to go along with it, if it makes you feel better. But I won’t stop trying to find another solution.”
The sun was so hot that the librarian’s ice cream instantly melted into a sticky, hokey-pokey flavoured gloop.
The two of them were pondering their options with refreshments back at the beach cafe. After Philip had found an unlatched window and Drekker had crawled inside, then let Philip in, they’d explored the abandoned house. It was a large wooden house with gabled windows set amongst overgrown gardens, trees tapping on the upstairs windows. Inside, the rooms were dingy, dark, and dusty.
The whole place had the feeling of a squat, with uncared for living spaces and bedrooms a mess of drinks cans and pizza boxes. By a process of elimination they identified what must be where Jackson slept – you could tell by the Meatloaf posters. There wasn’t much to see, and certainly no scroll, because his room had nowhere to hide anything. There was a bedroll on the floor, a rail of hanging clothes, and a chest of drawers, full of t shirts and boxers. Some shelves housed cricket trophies.
“Not here,” said Philip, sadly. Drekker was looking at a pinboard on the wall though. A small piece of paper held a clue. At the top, it said ‘DB’- Drekker’s initials. Then 2-3.30 – the hours he usually did chores around town – and a good time for someone to case his treehouse. And finally, a phone number, and the initials PPS. “Peacock Path Scroll,” said Drekker. “It must be a clue.” He noted down the number carefully. They escaped as quickly as they could, deciding they’d already pushed their luck.
At the cafe, they were discussing how and when to call the number….
Finally, they agreed Philip would do it. He called and said “I have information about the Peacock Path Scroll that I know you want. Meet me at midnight at the old tree,” and hung up.
The only thing that could save the day now was a chocolate milkshake, a box of doughnuts and some pretzels. At least, that was how Drekker usually stopped himself from panicking. It was why he was ever-so-slightly pudgy. Very uncomfortable in a hot climate. Right now he was speed-eating a packet of biscuits and wondering what on earth they were going to say to whoever showed up at midnight.
“We don’t actually have any information,” he argued with Philip. “What if they turn nasty?”
“Ah, but we do. Just wait and see. I’ve been a scholar of the Peacock Path for years. And I know what that scroll shows and the key to using it.”
“You do? Then why haven’t you?”
“Well, when I say I know the key, I mean, I have a pretty good idea. The answer’s definitely somewhere on the boatload of books.”
“You mean the boatload of books that was overspilling into the ocean?”
“Absolutely. Now, are you going to help me find what we need?”
No-one ever found out where the penguins had come from – they simply appeared one day.
Now they appeared to have colonised the boat of books, hopping up the rope ladder, diving off the bow, making messes on precious books.
“Shoo!” Philip and Drekker rowed out to the boat. Whole waddles of penguins dove off into the water, while others remained clustered, sheltering under the deck rail and hiding behind piles of books.
“How do you know what you need is here?” asked Drekker.
“Well, you see, all of this is kind of my fault,” said Philip as they tied up alongside, swatting away a penguin that tried to jump into their boat.
“A couple of years ago, I found that scroll in a chest, addressed to my predecessor. She had retired, but must have ordered this chest before she left. I should have told her about it, but I was curious. It was such a beautiful old chest, made of walnut, with brass buckles, and it just unlocked when I touched it. I couldn’t resist taking a look inside. Well, when I found the scroll I knew I couldn’t tell her about it. It just… called to me. Do you know what I mean?”
“I do,” said Drekker, thinking of how it had always seemed like distant piano music was playing when the scroll was in his treehouse.
“Well, I knew what the scroll was, of course, and I knew a little about it. There’s a restricted book in the library that has some interviews with people who’ve trodden the path. They talk of the symbology on the map sending messages. Eventually I realised that some of the writing on the scroll relates to the symbology. Well, when I figured that out, I decided to try the keywords on the scroll relating to boats. It worked – but not how I expected. This boat appeared, and as you can see it’s absolutely full of books. I came out here one day just over a year ago to see if I could find more answers. I brought the scroll in a bottle to keep it dry, but somehow it slipped overboard. I guess that’s when you found it.”
The librarian pulled out a beautiful notepad with sky-blue pages and little rainbows on the cover.
“This is it! It must be!”
Drekker looked up from the pile of books he was sifting through.
“The rainbows. You’re right, they’re the same as the ones on the scroll. What’s inside?”
Philip leafed through the notebook. All the pages were blank.
“This can’t be right….” he murmured. “There must be a clue here somewhere.”
“What’s that?” said Drekker. “There – do you see it?”
“There, on the page, see that faint shape, like a watermark? It’s a letter. I think the notepad is spelling out a message… ”
An old cargo ship sat in the dock, waiting to be loaded with crates of books – carefully watched by what looked suspiciously like a penguin.
“I guess someone got fed up of this boat being here,” said Philip. “We were only just in time. I’ve looked through the books so many times, but never found it, until today. I must claim these books for the library, we could do with some new stock. And technically it is mine.”
“Hmmmm,” Drekker said. “That’s strange, it wasn’t until we came to the boat together that you found it.”
“There are a lot of old legends about the scroll, you know. All about it only working for the right person, and so on. Perhaps we were meant to use it together?”
“Perhaps. How are you getting on with the code?”
“I think it’s a poem. It’s something to do with South America. Perhaps that’s where the path is leading?”
“It was on the scroll, so maybe. I do know the scroll leads where it wants. Until we can get near enough to try it though, we won’t know.”
Everyone agreed it was time for a barbeque, a couple of drinks and a good story or two. After all Drekker and Philip had had a tough day. They’d had shifting sands, a crime, a scroll lost and found and now they had some time to kill. Drekker called up Claire and Angela, a few other friends and invited them round for drinks and BBQ on his deck with Philip.
As far as the librarian and the turtles were concerned, this was just a game – but they couldn’t have been more wrong.
Things had got a bit out of hand at the BBQ. After drinking for a while, they’d started betting on turtle races. Daubing numbers on the turtles in washable paint, they were lined up behind a piece of string and released to race for the finish. It was a bit like watching a baby race. Some of the turtles had absolutely no interest in racing whatsoever. Some walked around in circles. Some raced off, then stopped and reversed. What was clear though was that the longer the race went on, the drunker everyone was getting. ‘Drink while you cheer’ was the rule Philip had made up, and things were getting messy quickly. Drekker was taken up with the excitement of cheering for his turtle, no. 7, Lucy (though he had no idea how to gender turtles, so he’d just guessed she was a girl) and drinking away merrily, that he suddenly noticed it was approaching midnight.
“Philip!” he hissed. “We’ve got to go,”
But Philip was too tied up in the race to care about the scroll. That left Drekker to go and meet whoever was on the end of the phone number at the Old Tree. He crept away from the race while the others were still drinking.
At the tree, though it was 1 minute to midnight, no-one was there. But as he waited, there was a movement in the shadows. Jackson, and a Hooded Figure.
“Hello,” said Drekker rashly, suddenly unsure what the plan was. Did he even have one? This was all Philip’s idea, and without Philip and in his drunken state he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to say. He decided on the direct approach, since that was all his brain would let him process. “I believe you have my scroll,” he stated, as boldly as his level of drunkenness permitted. “And I have some information you might find useful.”
The hooded figure stepped forward, scroll in hand. “Is that so?” A familiar voice asked.
“Yes!” And before he knew it, he was reciting the words on the notebook. He didn’t know why, but something made him say it out loud. As he finished, he heard a whooshing in his ears as he, Jackson and the hooded figure were sucked into a vortex that left them on a mountain peak.
Without a parachute and some snow shoes, this was looking more and more like an impossible task.
The vortex was closing behind them, leaving choices extremely limited. Could they climb down? Just as they were looking around at each other, wondering what next, in the last gasp of the vortex, Philip suddenly appeared, the door closing behind him.
“Now what?” asked Drekker out loud. They were on a sheer peak, who knows where. The ground was covered in snow and the four of them were dressed variously in shorts and t shirt, with the exception of the hooded figure who wore a dark flowing cape from head to toe. Drekker was wearing sandshoes, Philip and Jackson slightly more sensible trainers. But all of them (with the possible exception of the hooded figure – who might be wearing a parka underneath the cloak for all they knew) – were woefully underdressed and in danger of becoming frostbitten and hypothermic very quickly.
“I know this,” said Philip, suddenly sober. “It’s a test. We’re in the gateway to the Peacock Path. If we pass the test, we proceed to walk the path.”
“And if we fail?” asked Jackson.
“Best not to think about that,” said Philip. “Now, we need to find the door, and quickly”
A snicker came from the direction of the hooded one. “A door? On a mountainside? This is not Lord of the Rings. Don’t be ridiculous. We need to get down.”
“No, we need to find the door,” said Drekker. “We can’t climb down, unless you have climbing equipment under that cloak. It doesn’t matter what you think or believe, though I would have thought you understood this was real, since you stole the scroll.”
“Enough,” said Philip. “This is not helping. We all need to work together to find the door. Now, according to the legend, there should be a clue on the scroll. Who has it?”
A strangely familiar hand emerged from beneath the hood, handing the scroll to Philip.
“Yes!” said Philip after a short while. “Look! This symbol has appeared underneath the South America symbol. It means ‘four corners’ in the ancient language. We need to form a square, with each of us on the corners, and the scroll in the middle. When all four of our minds are in sync, focusing on moving onto the Path, we will pass through the door to the Peacock Path. That’s if we are worthy.
Drekker looked doubtful. Jackson was starting to shiver. But the four of them knew it was their only option and moved to form a square on a flattish section of mountainside. The sun was high in the sky but even so, wind whistled through their thin clothing.
“Now, concentrate,” said Philip. “We all want this. We’ve all touched the scroll. I know what that does to you. Can you hear the music?”
The four of them looked at the scroll, and tried to focus their minds.
Time was running out and though everyone – including the librarian – secretly knew it, they pretended it wasn’t the case.
Though the four of them had been silently focussing on the scroll for some time, nothing had been happening. Drekker tried to clear his mind. The sound of music eluded him. He knew that it was there. But he could no longer feel his feet and it was increasingly difficult to focus on the outcome he needed. His mind started to wander. The shifting sands. The disappearing lip balm. The boatful of books. So many books! Some of them being spoiled in the sun. The penguins ruining them. What a waste. How useful those books would be. He almost forgot to think about the Peacock Path as he started to hear piano music again. Yes! this must be the answer. Instead of focussing on the Path, he thought about the books. How useful they would be, and such a shame they’d been left there to rot.
As he reflected to himself, the sun seemed to become warmer and the wind started to rise again. He felt a familiar whooshing in his ears. It was working!
He felt a rocking underfoot. He felt it! He could feel his feet again! Opening his eyes, he saw something surprising where the scroll had been.
It could easily have been mistaken for macaroni cheese, but it was definitely stickier and somewhat less tasty.
Yes, it was penguin poo. All four of them were back on the deck of the boat of books. Full daytime. No scroll in sight.
“Is this it?” asked Jackson warily.
Philip opened his eyes. “No. The scroll travels with the traveller. We’ve been found unworthy. We cannot have been focussed enough on the Peacock Path. Instead we’re back here. It requires every person in the square to focus at the same moment.”
“But I heard the music!” said Drekker.
“Me too,” said Jackson.
“And I,” said Philip. “Can I ask, what were you thinking of?”
Drekker averted his eyes. “I was thinking about this boat. And all the books on it, and the penguins,” he admitted.
“I was thinking about how warm it is here, and how I wished I wasn’t on a mountain, and instead was on a boat,” said Jackson.
“And I was thinking about what an interesting book I had noticed on the boat the other day. I think we have our answer. Our minds must have been in sync, but not for the path.” He turned to look at the fourth figure.
The hooded figure had collapsed in a heap, sobbing. The hood slipped back revealing Claire.
“I need to walk the path!” she sobbed. “I must have it!”
Drekker walked over to comfort her.
“The legends say only the rightful owner can walk the path,” said Philip. “But perhaps we have had a lucky escape. I’ve never heard of anyone escaping from the gateway before. You either perish there or walk the path.”
“But where is the scroll?” wailed Claire.
“Surely we must be getting close to Christmas?” asked Claire. She wasn’t making much sense.
“Erm….,” Drekker started, unsure how to reply. “I mean, another 12 hours has passed since we went to the mountain, and it’s October, so kind of?”
“I thought, I thought,” sniffed Claire, “If I had the scroll, we’d walk out at Christmas and everything would be OK. Mum would be cured of cancer, and we could carry on our lives together. But it’s still October, and we’re still on this silly boat.” She buried her head in her hands.
“Not so silly,” replied Philip. “There’s all these books.” He’d just fought off a penguin for one particularly hefty looking tome and was leafing through it eagerly. “I didn’t think to actually read any of these before, but you know what, this is a treasure chest!”
“Well, I’m happy to be back home,” said Drekker. “From what I hear we had a lucky escape. And I would have missed my treehouse.”
“I’m just happy to be able to feel my feet again,” contributed Jackson. “I do not like snow. Sorry I stole your scroll, Drekker,” he added. “Claire was so set on having it, and I thought I’d just sneak in and borrow it while you were out. I knew you’d deny having it, or I would have asked.”
“No worries,” replied Drekker. “It wasn’t really any of ours anyway. I found it after Philip lost it, and he found it in a chest addressed to the previous librarian.”
Claire suddenly looked up. “To Marjorie Banner?” she asked “My mother?” She looked at Drekker and Drekker looked at her. He said “there’s a legend that the scroll finds its rightful owner. I wonder if perhaps Marjorie has the scroll now?”
The four of them hopped into the rowing boat and hot-footed it over to the island’s hospice. There, they found Marjorie with her other daughter, Angela, and next to her bed, the scroll had appeared.
“What now?” asked Claire. There was no point asking the librarian, who had long since lost the plot. He was completely absorbed in the book he’d taken off the boat. It was up to Drekker to save the day.
“Let me take a look at the scroll,” he said. “I was quite familiar with it, I should know if it looks different.”
Sure enough, the very shape of the scroll had changed. Now a simple message said only ‘To the rightful owner, the path appears in front of you.’
Marjorie couldn’t walk well any more, but there was nothing wrong with her eyesight. “I can see it,” she said, focussing on a blank point in the hospice wall. “Let me have the scroll, and help me into my wheelchair. I want to go.”
There was nothing to lose with a terminal cancer patient, and Marjorie clearly knew the legend of the scroll. Wheeling forward, scroll on her lap, she simply disappeared… and then reappeared moments later, walking through into the other side of the room through the wall.
“How long was I gone?” she asked. “It’s been six months for me. I’m cured!”
Claire rushed over to hug her. “Moments, Mum!”
“What happened?” asked Philip, suddenly looking up from the book he was engrossed in.
“It’s a happy ending!” said Drekker. “Looks like a party is called for, everyone, how about an early Christmas BBQ round mine?”
“Marjorie,” said Philip, “Now you’re better, fancy spending some of your retirement time looking through the books on my boat?”
“About that,” said Marjorie, shooing a turtle out of the doorway. “I’m afraid I can’t. You see, the price of my cure was my ability to read. I just can’t read anything at all now. It’s all Greek to me.”
“Ah well,” said Philip. “Sorting through books is pretty much a dream job for me. But first, a BBQ.”