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The Adventures of Matt Sawyer

Did I tell you about the time I was scared for my life by a couple of (probably) drunk guys who took my treasure chest?

It was the summer of 1989, the first summer of my teenage years, and the first full summer I'd spent living in north Champaign. Mom and dad had divorced in the autumn of 1988, and mom and I had moved from the central/west part of town, to the north end, in order to save money. It was disrupting to a then-12-year-old, who'd spent his entire life in just one part of town. When you're young, and have less mobility, your world is particularly small. What is a short drive nowadays was like the other side of the world back then.

Thankfully, a couple of friends from the old neighborhood made the bike ride over to where I lived (and vice-versa), so the separation from familiar surroundings was filled with a little less anxiety. So, with the summer of '89 in full-swing, plenty of time on our hands to think of things to do, I decided to create a treasure hunt for my friends. Now, looking back, such a notion brings but a shrug of the shoulders. Back then, however, I thought it was the most brilliant idea EVER. Probably reading too much Tom Sawyer, or something.

At any rate, I cobbled together a few bits and bobs, some spare change left over from allowance, and found a suitable container to serve as the treasure chest (actually, just a light tan plastic box with clasps and a handle). The really clever part consisted of the clues. I had written down cryptic instructions on scraps of paper and, while the initial clue would be present at my house (the starting point), the rest of them would be hidden along the way, only found if the previous clues had been deciphered. At the end would be the buried treasure, with a nice big 'X' marked in the dirt above it.

The location for the treasure -- nay, the very idea of the hunt -- had come to me when on a solitary walk one hot summer's day. Next to the north-end neighborhood was sort of a lost land within the city. It was overgrown, with a little path snaking through the middle. Other neighborhoods bordered it, and the area eventually ended at another part of town. Not much existed there except for trees, rocks, weeds and the occasional power pylon. Here, then, would be the path of my treasure hunt.

I set-out one day to place the clues along the path, and to bury the treasure. Everything went as it should until the very end. I'd brought a little shovel, dug a small hole, and placed the treasure box within it (and the last clue, congratulating whoever found it), when suddenly there were voices. With pulse quickening, I darted into some nearby trees, managing to stay out of sight as two rough looking men -- one white, one black, both scruffy -- stumbled into view, talking loudly.

"What the hell is this?" one of them asked. "Fuck, man, it looks like someone's been digging!" said the other. They continued conversing in expletives as they noted the presence of the shovel, the hole and, ultimately, my little, pathetic treasure. One of them read the last clue that lay atop the box, slowly, as if he'd barely made it out of elementary school:  "Con-gra-tu-lat-ions. You--have--found--the--treasure."  He paused, then looked at his friend and said, "Hot damn!" They grabbed the box and the shovel, cursed some more, and stumbled off.

And that was the end of my dreams of a treasure hunt. I waited a couple of minutes before leaving the sanctuary of the leafy trees, and returned to the empty hole in the ground. 'What a stupid idea this had been,' I thought. It was all gone now. How was I going to explain the permanent absence of the shovel to my mom? What if the two guys had seen me? These were questions I pondered, fearfully, as I slowly walked back to the house. That, and how it was probably a good idea I'd never mentioned the treasure hunt to anyone.

Until now.


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