MONDAY: Campus Treasure Hunt


Copyright is held by the author.

JULIA SAT at her usual desk in the college’s Special Collections wing flipping through an old book about 17th-century witchcraft trials. She was too tired to be productive but didn’t have the strength to leave. As she thumbed the pages, she was surprised to find a piece of modern lined paper secured with clips to the centuries-old tome. Someone had transcribed a poem on the sheet, in flowing cursive:

“In a Waterspring of unblemished glass

you’ll find a locket of gold cast.

I put the jewelry there for you;

if someone else sees it she won’t have a clue

for inside is a map only you can find

and that leads to a treasure divine.”   

Julia read the signature at the bottom of the page, then looked up at the circulation desk where Henry was picking at his fingernails absentmindedly. She pushed away from her table, stretched, grimaced as her back got used to not being hunched over, and walked over to the smiling library assistant. He seemed, now she thought about it, to always be smiling.

“Did you get my note?” he asked.


She put the book onto the table.

“It’s very strange.”

“I’ll bet you don’t know quite what to make of it.”

She couldn’t help smiling back. If this was Henry’s way of flirting, she didn’t mind. She’d always thought he was cute.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“Well then, why don’t you follow the clue and see where it leads?”

Julia made sure the message on the piece of paper matched the photograph she had of it in her head before closing the tome and pushing it toward Henry.

“If I ever have a spare moment, maybe I’ll give it a shot.”

“Or you could think of it as a study break.”

She sighed.

“I can’t afford study breaks right now, Henry. My thesis is due next week.”

She brushed a paper fragment from the book’s cover.

“Anyway, would you mind putting this back on the cart for me? I’ll need it again tomorrow.”

“Sure thing. Have a good night . . .” he glanced at the clock behind him, “. . . or morning.”

Julia also saw the time and yawned reflexively.

“Yeah, you too, Henry.”


By the end of the week Julia definitely needed a break. Her thesis was due in five days. She was nearly done; all she had left to do was read the whole paper to make sure it hung together. First, though, she needed to clear her head. She would see if Henry had indeed hidden a locket for her.

“A Waterspring of unblemished glass” probably meant the small pond at the edge of campus. It acted as a reflecting pool, appearing to hold inverted trees, and could be reached only by a dirt path through a small forest. When she reached the pond, she walked around the perimeter; nothing gold or glinting stuck out. She would have to go swimming.

She stripped down to the swimming suit she’d worn just in case and, shivering in the cool spring air, waded in. The rocks at the edge of the pond were slimy, and the whole place smelled of algae. The water thankfully didn’t go very deep, only up to her chest. She walked around a bit, looking into the water and wriggling her toes on the rocky bottom. After a few minutes she spotted something shiny beneath the surface. She grabbed it with her left toes and brought it up: a locket.

Eyes wide, she waded quickly back to the edge of the pond and sat on the towel she’d brought. The locket was plain and circular, with a simple double-knob clasp. There was a small, empty ring at the top for a chain. She opened the covering.

Or tried to, at least. The clasp wouldn’t open. She used all the strength in her thumb and index finger, but it didn’t budge. Why would Henry have gone through the trouble of leaving her a locket that was stuck closed?

On her third try, she felt something shift. The clasp loosened slightly, and she cried out triumphantly. Then it shut again, abruptly, trapping a bit of her skin. She shouted again, this time in pain. When she snatched her finger away, she saw that it was bleeding from a small cut. Blood fell onto the locket.

The clasp loosened visibly.

The locket only opened when touched with blood? She pulled up the poem in her mind’s eye: “inside is a map only you can find.” When touched with her blood? Her breath quickened. She had spent nearly her entire life studying the occult. Until recently she’d seen the field as escapist, like fantasy novels. That’s why she’d decided to write her senior thesis about people who used witchcraft as a coping mechanism. But in the last year, as she’d dug into the arcane more methodically than ever before, she’d started to think, or perhaps hope, that magic was real. How could so many people believe in something for so long without it being at least partially true?

Now she was holding a locket that opened when touched with a particular individual’s blood. Could this be the proof she was looking for?

She opened the locket the rest of the way. Numbers were etched into one of the panels: “1703-1791.” For a history major, they could only be years.


“Did you find it?”

Julia nodded, out of breath. She’d run back to the library after opening the locket, almost forgetting to put clothes on over her bathing suit. Her shirt and pants were soaked, but if anyone looked at her strangely, she didn’t notice.

“How does it work?” she gasped.

Henry smiled.

“You’ll learn when you solve all the puzzles.”

“What? No! Tell me now!”

Henry looked over her shoulder, clearly worried that someone would overhear them. She couldn’t have cared less about that.

“Look . . . .” Henry said.

His smile drooped, then bloomed again.

“I can’t tell you yet. Be patient. I promise, you’ll find out soon.”

Fine. She would play his stupid game. Really she’d do anything to know whether Henry, the demure library assistant, was a magician hiding in plain sight.

“Dates, obviously,” she said. “But I don’t know what they mean.”

Henry took a folded square of paper out from under the desk and handed it to her. The message was written in the same flowing cursive as the previous one.

“In the place where nobody wakes

find the stone with bones and snakes.

Then think back to times gone by,

and let your piece of charcoal fly.”

She photographed the message with her mind and handed it back to Henry. Glaring at him over her shoulder, she ran out of the library.


Julia had been to Waterspring Cemetery only once before, when she was exploring the area around campus with her parents during accepted students’ weekend. She had always liked old cemeteries because they reminded her that history was personal. And there was something about old-ness that made her relax. Now, though, her mind was racing. Had her blood really opened that locket?

She’d solved the second clue quickly: the stone with bones and snakes referred to the grave marker she was looking for, the flying charcoal to grave rubbing. She found five graves with bones and snakes in the first thirty seconds. She could pick one at random, but she only had one piece of paper and it would be a pain to get more.

Ah yes, the locket: 1703-1791. She went back through the bone-and-snake graves, looking at the lifespans engraved on them. 1705-1772, 1698-1734, 1703-1791. There, that last one. It belonged to Shana Warren.

Julia knelt down and taped the paper to the gravestone, then started rubbing a large crayon over the sheet. A couple minutes later she removed the tape, detached the paper, and examined her handiwork. There was the skull-and-crossbones, a snake down one side, a snake down the other, and, in the center, the deceased’s name and dates. Something seemed off about the dates, though. The death date on the paper appeared to be 1991, not 1791. She lowered the paper and saw that, indeed, a faint curve was etched into the top of the “7,” turning it into a “9.” She never would have noticed it without the rubbing.

Instinctively, she reached forward and touched the curve on the stone, wanting to feel its shallow groove. The hard rock gave way. There was a click as her finger moved deeper into the stone, and the ground beneath her feet trembled. She jumped back and watched as a square patch of grass where she had just been kneeling sunk slightly into the ground, forming the base of a hole about a foot deep.

Her heart racing, she looked into the hole and saw a little crevice in one of its dirt walls. Inside the crevice was a gleam that reminded her of the locket at the bottom of the pond. She reached for the shiny object. It was a golden ring.

Without hesitation, she slipped the band onto her left middle finger. It fit well and emanated an odd warmth. At first it was pleasant. But after a few seconds it became severe enough to hurt. She tried to take the ring off but it stuck. She screamed. The burning got so intense that she almost passed out.

Then the ring was in the grass; the burning was gone. She rolled onto her back, breathing heavily from the adrenaline.

Her middle finger had blistered into distinct patterns. Maybe someone who spent less time studying witchcraft wouldn’t notice, but for Julia it was impossible not to see letters of the Theban alphabet, an occultist language. They spelled “GILES.”


“Henry, how did the ring do that? And why is my hand healed?”

The blisters had disappeared just moments after Julia had read their message.

“You’ll have to –”

“Don’t tell me to wait!”

“Get a room,” someone called. Several of the students in the special collections wing snickered. Julia lowered her voice.

“Just tell me.”

Something about Henry’s nametag caught Julia’s eye. She’d never looked at it before. His last name: Warren-Giles. The gravestone: Shana Warren. The latest clue: Giles.

“Henry,” she said slowly, staring at the nametag. “What is going on?”

He handed her a piece of paper. It was folded into a perfect square like the previous clue, and its message was again written in Henry’s unmistakable flowery hand:

“No matter what your faith

find shelter in this place.

And as you sit and think

look for the flower pink.”

Julia memorized the passage and returned it.

“OK,” she said, eyes narrowed. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and turned around. “OK.”


She opened the creaking wooden door leading to Waterspring’s interfaith chapel — “No matter what your faith / find shelter in this place.” Julia wasn’t religious or spiritual and had only been in the chapel once, during orientation. She now regretted not coming here more often. It was a beautiful sanctuary with stained-glass windows and about twenty rows of pews. Not really “interfaith” in design, but very pretty.

The poem’s next line gave her some trouble: “As you sit and think / look for the flower pink.” She sat in one of the pews and gazed around, not seeing flowers of any colour. Rather than holding religious texts, each pew contained about ten copies of a book entitled Inspiring Poems. She absentmindedly turned to the title page.

On it was a pink flower.

“Ha!” she shouted, her voice echoing through the empty chapel.

She brushed the flower with her finger, poked it, breathed on it. Nothing happened. She considered licking it, then stopped herself.

“Giles,” she muttered.

The Theban alphabet clue — and part of Henry’s last name — had to be relevant somehow.

She turned to the index, but “Giles” wasn’t listed. On the back of the book someone had placed a sticker: “In Loving Memory of Roberta Smith.”

“I wonder . . .”

Starting in the back pew, Julia looked at each book’s dedication. Finally, on book fifty-six, she found it: “In Loving Memory of Maurice Giles.” She turned to the book’s title page with the pink flower. She raised it so it was separated from the rest of the book’s leaves, then held it up to the light to check for a watermark. Nothing.

Then she remembered the numbers on the locket: 1703-1791. The book ended on page 253, so they weren’t page numbers. But each poem also had a number; maybe that was important. She turned to poem seventeen. According to the table of contents, it should have been called “The First Snowflake.” But in this copy it was called something different. That meant the original page had been replaced, although the addition was indistinguishable from the rest of the book. She counted. Her next clue hopefully would be in the third and ninety-first words of this seventeenth poem.

“Press me.”

Smiling, she pressed on the two words.

The book rustled and shifted, startling her. She closed it and put it on the bench. Then she picked it up again and opened the cover. The book’s center was now hollow. And at the bottom of the hole, covered by paper that had shredded itself, was a golden necklace.

“Please don’t hurt me,” she said, and put it on.

A wrecking ball pummeled her chest. Her sternum cracked as the necklace burrowed into her body. She tried to scream but didn’t have the breath. All she could do was collapse on the pew, a slide show of random life events playing in her mind, as she watched the jewelry dig through her skin. It pulsed visibly, like a jackhammer. Blood flew.

And then it was inside her. She could feel it burrowed just beneath her skin, and could even see its faint outline. Like a pacemaker. There was no wound, just a rip in her shirt and blood on her clothing.

But she wasn’t scared. In fact, she’d never felt happier. A weight had lifted from her shoulders. Not the figurative kind, but a literal one she hadn’t known was there. She stood up straighter than she ever had, her spine crackling as it adjusted to its new flexibility. Her mind, previously cluttered, now felt clear and focused.

Julia ran back to the library and burst into the reading room.

“I found it!” she shouted into Henry’s face.

“You did!”

“Henry,” she said. “I don’t know what this necklace does, or where you got it — ”

“It belonged to my mother,” he said, and tears dripped from his eyes and over his smiling mouth. Like a sun shower.

His forehead relaxed, as if he had finally answered a question that had been nagging him for years. He reached out and gingerly touched the spot where Julia’s necklace sat, then touched his own chest in the same location. He brought Julia’s hand next to his own; she felt a protrusion.

“I manage the college’s special collections,” he said.

“I know,” she replied, her smile wide.

“Not just the special collections you know about. Another collection. A magical one. Only the college’s president and the caretaker know of it. I’m the caretaker. It used to be my mother. Now it’s you.”

Even in her elation, Julia couldn’t let the logic problem go.

“Shana Warren, from the seventeen-hundreds, was . . . your mother?”

Henry closed his eyes, hand still on his chest.

“Yes. The necklace she wore, that you wear now, gives strength, happiness, and long life. You’ll live decades longer than everyone you know. Or centuries — the necklace’s endurance varies by person. My mother and I both long outlived my father, although I made the true death year on her gravestone difficult to find to avoid suspicion. This way, we need fewer caretakers. Fewer people who know of the collection. It’s a burden, but also a blessing. You’ll learn to treat it as a gift.”

The initial awe was starting to wear off. Julia still felt happier than she ever had, but her brain was beginning to think properly again. She became conscious of other people in the room. None of them was paying attention, which she figured had something to do with magic. Nevertheless, she crossed her arms to cover the rip in her shirt.

“Why me? And why the treasure hunt?”

Henry clasped his hands on the desk.

“I knew you were obsessed with the occult. But I didn’t know whether you could withstand the strangeness, and pain, of true magic. Or whether you had the patience necessary to collect and study it.”

The full reality of the situation was starting to weigh on Julia. Her shoulders rose. Not to their usual height, but enough.

“Do I . . . have a choice?”

Henry stopped smiling.


He got up from his chair.

“Where are you going? You can’t drop this on me then just leave!”

He didn’t answer. Julia followed him through the reading room and the library proper.

“I’ve gone as long as I can at this job. The necklace is wearing off.”

They stopped just outside the library. It was a beautiful, cool day, the sky crisp, the sun bright. Henry raised his arms and looked at Julia.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “And I’m sorry.”

Julia watched in horror as the necklace ripped itself out of Henry, along with skin, blood, and tissue. His body decayed and entangled with the sunlight, and then he was gone.

She looked down at the outline of the necklace in her own chest. She was the custodian of a magical collection! If she wanted to be. She had a choice, apparently. She could say no to outliving her friends and family. To having a magical talisman embedded in her body that controlled her mood and life force.

She basked in the sun for a few moments, then picked up Henry’s discarded necklace. She returned to the reading room and sat at the desk. After sending a quick email to the college president — how much did she already know? — she placed Henry’s necklace onto the desk and breathed deeply. She could never say no to a magical life.

A smile tugged at her lips.


Image of Zachary Dein Reisch

Zachary Dein Reisch writes speculative fiction in Boston, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in AntipodeanSF and several publications on Medium.

  1. Loved it. An intriguing read for sure. Dare I say I was spellbound?

  2. Nice read, Brother.

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