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Paige stumbles on an adventure that momentarily takes her mind off her friends’ disagreements

Paige ran outside from the back door of her house with a soccer ball in her hand. The sun hung high in the sky, and a few wisps of clouds slowly drifted above the Earth. School was starting soon, and Paige wanted to spend every last minute of freedom basking in the August sun. Her twin brother, Luke, was already outside reading a book in a chair on the patio. Their backyard was barren except for the oak tree that their father had planted a few years ago, and a small patio. A six-foot-high fence outlined the perimeter of the backyard, and a small shed was placed near the corner.

Paige started to climb up the large oak tree, then sat down on a branch high above the ground. Her mother had always told her to stop climbing the tree in fear that she might break a bone, but Paige never listened to her. She loved how far she could see from the tree; it made her feel like she was surveying the land with a golden crown atop her head. Some days, she tried to get Luke to climb the tree with her, but he always declined.

Earlier that day, Paige had been walking home from a friend’s house. She was supposed to stay there for a bit longer, but things ended abruptly when her friends got into a fight. Maria kept saying that she always did what Trey wanted to do, whereas he never did the same for her. She kept asking him if they could watch the movie she’d been waiting for all year, but he refused to. Trey kept arguing that Maria hardly even hung out with them anymore. Paige didn’t say anything the entire time. She was worried that her friends would hate her if she took sides. This seemed to happen to her again and again, and it made her feel like she was suffocating or drowning underwater. Sometimes she wanted to scream at them, but she never did.

Eventually, Paige climbed back down from the treetop. She kicked her soccer ball high into the air and watched it soar above her head before it came back down. Her father was the one who got her into soccer. When she was seven, he used to teach her about the different positions, such as the goalie or the midfielder.

“The midfielder plays both offensive and defensive,” her father used to tell her. “They’re arguably the most important position on a soccer team.”

Paige kicked the ball high up into the air and watched it soar past the oak tree. She started to run towards it, but tripped and fell flat on her face. After getting up, she started to head towards the ball again, but stopped when something caught her eye. She saw something shining from the rock that she had tripped on. Upon closer inspection, she saw that the rock wasn’t a rock at all. It seemed like some sort of container that was buried. Paige’s curiosity got the better of her, and soon enough she was heading over to the shed to grab a shovel.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“Nothing,” Paige replied. “It’s none of your business.”

Luke stared at her, but eventually went back to reading his book. Paige walked back to the place where she had tripped and started to dig. After several minutes, Paige bent down to take a closer look at what she had uncovered. It was a gray wooden box with golden accents. It had a silver lock and an envelope taped to the top. The box was covered in dirt and looked like it had been there for years. Paige ripped the envelope off the box and set it beside her. She thought about trying to open the lock with her hands but decided that this would be futile. Instead, she picked up the envelope and flipped it backwards. There was nothing on the back except for a stamp that looked like a cardinal.

“What’s that?”

Paige jumped and turned around. She looked up and saw her brother staring at the envelope in her hand.

“It’s nothing important,” Paige said, as she tried to hide the envelope from him. Luke looked at her skeptically and then darted his eyes towards the box.

“Where did you find that? It was buried here, wasn’t it? That’s why you needed the shovel.”

Before Paige could say anything, Luke ripped the envelope out of her hands. “Hey, give that back!”

“I’m not giving it to you until you tell me where you found this.” “I’ll tell you if you give it back first.”

“I won’t give it back unless you tell me.”

“Fine,” Paige grumbled. “I found this box buried under the tree with the envelope taped to it. Now will you give it back?”

Luke tossed the envelope back to Paige and then bent down to look at the box. Paige tore the envelope open and took out a folded piece of paper that had To Marcus written on it. Paige unfolded the piece of paper, which turned out to be a letter.

“So what’s in the envelope?” Luke asked as he sat down next to her.

“A letter,” Paige replied. “For someone named Marcus.” She looked back down at the letter and slowly read what it said:

Dear Marcus,

How have you been? It’s been a while since we last saw each other. I hope that all is well.

If you are reading this, then I am dead. By the time you have found this letter, my funeral will already be over.

I trust that you have received the letter I have sent you, so you may know why I have brought you here. I will not repeat what I have said in fear that this letter has fallen into the wrong hands.

The only advice I have for you is to find the cardinal in order to gain the key.


Paige stared at the letter for a few more moments. The word “cardinal” rang a bell, but she couldn’t figure out exactly where she had seen or heard it before.

“Should we find it?” Luke asked, breaking the silence. “Find what?”

“The key.”

Paige stared at him. “Are you crazy? We wouldn’t even know where to start.

Besides, this box isn’t for us. It’s for some guy named Marcus.”

“But aren’t you curious? It won’t hurt to open it. We’ll just put it back once we know what’s inside.”

Paige thought about it for a moment. Her brother did have a point. She was curious to see what was inside of the box, and the thought of going on some sort of scavenger hunt excited her.

“Well, if we did want to find the key, where would we even start?”

“The forest,” Luke said. “There’s plenty of birds there. Maybe we can figure out what ‘find the cardinal’ means.”

“The forest,” Paige echoed. Suddenly she remembered why the word cardinal sounded so familiar.

“I found something the other week,” Paige said. “When I was playing in the forest . . .”

Paige led Luke over to a small clearing in the woods. In the middle of the clearing, there was a tree stump with a bird carved on it.

“Okay, now what? There’s nothing else here,” Luke said as he looked behind nearby bushes. Paige also started to look for some sort of clue, but found nothing. “What if the key is buried? Like the box you found?” Luke asked. “Maybe it’s underneath the stump.”

Before Paige knew it, she was going back to the forest from the shed. She tossed a shovel to Luke, and they started to dig near the stump. After a few minutes, a large mound of dirt appeared next to both of them, but they found nothing.

“Maybe this isn’t the right place,” Paige said. “We should try to look for someplace else.”

“Yeah, we probably should . . . wait, I found it!” Luke suddenly exclaimed.

Paige quickly turned around and saw herbrother holding along, slenderbox which had a cardinal engraved on the top with gold and the year 1927 written below it.

“It was definitely made by the same person. Hurry up and open it.”

Luke carefully took the lid off the elegant brown box. Inside was a fancy silver pen and another note. Luke took out the note first and read it out loud.

Paige’s smile quickly turned into a frown. Her new discovery had just led them to another dead end.

Dear Marcus,

Good job on finding the first box. The second one will be much harder to find if you do not remember the place where we first met.

Good luck.


“‘The place where we first met. . .’” Paige mumbled. “How are we supposed to know where that is?”

“Well, that’s the whole point. This D.C. guy doesn’t want anyone else finding the key except for Marcus, so obviously he’ll hide it someplace that only they know.”

Paige sighed. “Then what now? Should we just put the boxes back?”

“Well, we could at least try to find this place,” Luke replied. “It has to be somewhere around here.”

Paige thought for a while. “Are there any other clues?” “There’s nothing else in the box except for this pen.”

Paige took the pen from him and carefully inspected it. It seemed like any other pen. She twisted the tip of the pen and a ray of light suddenly appeared.

“So it’s a flashlight?” Suddenly, Paige had an idea. She shone the light onto the paper, and faint letters started appearing on it:

G-s-v y-j-r-w-t-v…

“ . . . That doesn’t make any sense.” Paige’s smile quickly turned into a frown.

Her new discovery had just led them to another dead end.

Luke took the piece of paper from her and stared at it for some time. Finally, he said, “Maybe it’s some sort of code. Each letter could stand for something else.” Paige tried to think of any codes she knew of. She had heard about the one that uses numbers in place of letters, and she knew Morse code, but that was about it. Then she remembered something she’d read in a mystery book once. “Can I have that?” Luke handed the letter over to her. She turned the paper over and used the pen to write the alphabet, and then wrote the backwards alphabet below the first one.

“I got it! The answer’s ‘the bridge,’” Paige said triumphantly. “Do you know any bridges around here?”

Luke shook his head. “There is a bridge that leads to downtown, but if something was hidden there, somebody probably found it already.”

“Are you sure there aren’t any more?” “Not that I know of.”


Paige groaned. She didn’t want to stop searching for the key after trying to find it for so long, but they didn’t have any ideas on where to look for it next. “Maybe there’s another bridge somewhere? That people just don’t know about?” “Forget it, Paige. The bridge that this guy is talking about could’ve been destroyed a while ago. And if what you’re saying is true, how are we supposed to find a bridge no one knows about?”

“But we can’t just give up now! What about the box? Maybe there’s a clue we just missed.”

Luke shook his head. “There’s nothing else around here. You can keep searching if you want to, but I’m going home.”

“Fine,” Paige grumbled. “I don’t need your help anyways.”

As Luke headed back home, Paige walked deeper into the woods. She was lost in her own thoughts and soon realized that she had lost her way as well.

“Great. Now I’m lost and have no idea where I came from,” Paige mumbled. She decided to try and retrace her steps as best she could, but when she turned around to go back, something caught her eye. As she walked closer, her suspicion was confirmed. There was a small wooden bridge on the far end of the small river. Paige ran over to it and saw another cardinal carved into one of the railings. Excitedly, Paige started to dig near the bridge. After a short amount of time, she held the second box in her hands. This one was much smaller than the first two. It was in the shape of a flat, gray square; a tattered blue ribbon held the box together.

Paige carefully untied the ribbon and opened the lid. Inside she found a golden key tied to a small paper square. Her hands shook as she untied the key and read the letter D.C. had left.

Dear Marcus,

Congratulations on finding the key. Do you remember how we used to come here every week? It seems like it’s been an eternity since then.

I hope that you find the item in the box useful. I wish for you to have a happy and successful life.


Paige quickly found her way back home and found the box in the same spot she had left it. She took out the key, carefully inserted it into the keyhole, and turned it. She heard a tiny click sound and gingerly opened the box.

Inside she found a small silver necklace with a light-blue gem in the center. It looked as if it had been there for decades. Next to it was another note.

Dear Marcus,

Congrats! You’ve found the key.

I’ve given this necklace to you to grant you courage in times of trouble and to remind you of our friendship.



*          *          *

The next thing she knew, Paige was back with Maria and Trey at Maria’s house. Maria kept saying that she always did what Trey wanted to do, whereas he never did the same for her. She kept asking him if they could watch the movie she’d been waiting for all year, but he refused to. Trey kept arguing that Maria hardly even hung out with them anymore.

Paige gently touched the silver necklace she had carried in her pocket. She could feel the gem in her hand and thought back to all the letters.

Paige turned around to face Trey. “You always think about what you want to do! Can’t we just do what someone else wants every once in a while? It won’t kill you to watch a movie!”

Maria stared at Paige slack-jawed as she turned around to face her next. “And you act like you don’t even want to be around us! Why don’t you just watch the movie with your other friends? You’re just as bad as Trey!”

Paige glared at both of them. “And both of you never seem to care about what I feel! Do you even know how sick and tiring it is to hear you bicker all the time? You act like divorced parents!” Paige stopped to take a breath before continuing. “Is it really that hard to come up with a simple compromise? We’re thirteen years old! Kids younger than us can come up with better solutions than you! Just stop and think for a moment before screaming at each other.”

Trey and Maria both stared at Paige after her rant, dumbfounded.

Later that day, Paige reached farther into the box. Inside was a small photo framed in gold. Paige could see the forms of two kids who looked like siblings. Both of them were grinning from ear to ear and had dirt on their clothes.