“Buried Treasure” – Fiction by Ashley Lister

The Caran d'Ache 1010
The Caran d’Ache 1010

The grand finale of our Fall 2014 issue is Ashley Lister‘s Choose Your Own Adventure tale “Buried Treasure.” Is it an amusing literary diversion spoofing a once-popular genre? Or is it a bleak satire on the illusion of free will? YOU DECIDE!

(Or DO you?)

{ X }

YOU ARE ONE OF SEVERAL PEOPLE SITTING BEFORE A SOLICITOR. You are in the room that was your late Uncle John’s home office. It’s a sombre day because you’re attending to hear the reading of Uncle John’s will. Uncle John was one of your favourite relatives. He made his vast fortune from writing Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories.

Do you attentively reflect on the incongruities and peculiarities of all the other beneficiaries? (GO TO SECTION A.) Or do you tell the solicitor to hurry the fuck up? (GO TO SECTION B.)

 { A }

The walls bear framed covers from Uncle John’s many adventure stories. The room is dominated by a large old-fashioned desk that takes up half the room. Behind the desk sits the small, bespectacled solicitor.

The other half of the room is crowded.

Aside from being a popular writer, Uncle John was something of a ladies’ man. It’s been suggested this is what probably killed him. Your parents had always advised you to never eat at his house, especially not anything from the fruit bowl. Your mother always said he had more STIs than readers – and she made this remark after Uncle John had been on the NYT Bestsellers list. Your father claimed the coffee at Uncle John’s house tasted of rohypnol.

Many of the female beneficiaries are dressed in black. Some of them are sniffling into delicate, lace-edged handkerchiefs. Most of them are giving evils to each other through smudgy eye makeup as though only one of them is entitled to feel bereaved.

The most obviously upset is Dorothy.

Dorothy had been Uncle John’s off-again on-again girlfriend for the best part of a decade. She’d been living with Uncle John and putting up with his peculiar ways for the past five years. It’s widely known that she has forgiven more unforgivable indiscretions than the last three Popes. With jet black hair and jet black eyes and a jet black dress she looks like she’s auditioning for the role Morticia Addams. Her lips are thin. Her eyes are tired and bloodshot. And she’s glaring at the redhead wearing skin-tight leather pants.

The redhead is deliberately ignoring Dorothy. It’s likely the redhead was the most recent of Uncle John’s indiscretions. If there is any truth in the stories about his body being found in a wardrobe, with a shoelace round his balls and an orange up his arse, then it was probably a wardrobe in the redhead’s house. Even though she looks the sort who would introduce citrus fruit to sphincters, her tears look genuine.

There aren’t many men in the solicitor’s office.

You’ve met Tommy before. Tommy was Uncle John’s simple best friend. He’d read all of Uncle John’s Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories and proudly told  anyone who’d listen that each new title was another book all about him and his exploits. You suspect the scars on Tommy’s forehead are the results of corrective surgery that was possibly too invasive.

You also recognise Uncle Jack, Uncle John’s brother. Uncle Jack is a police officer although he inspires no trust. He’s the type who will likely one day have to take early retirement under the embarrassing cloud of a bribery accusation, or the discovery of his improper involvement with a cache of controlled substances. Uncle Jack keeps glancing at his watch.

You clear your throat, ready to tell the solicitor to hurry up.

 { B }

Before you can speak Uncle Jack shouts, “Hurry the fuck up, man. We haven’t got all day to put up with you and your fannying around.”

A handful of those gathered chastise Uncle Jack for his coarse turn of phrase but there seems to be a consensus that the solicitor has been fannying around. Suitably motivated, the solicitor polishes his wire-framed glasses and then begins to read out the contents of Uncle John’s will.

Do you listen attentively to the final will and testament of your beloved relative? (GO TO SECTION C.) Or do you doze for a while and come back to your senses when you hear your name being mentioned? (GO TO SECTION D.)

 { C }

The solicitor skims over the material with unseemly efficiency. He swiftly blah-blah-blahs his way through the ‘hereby bequeaths’ and ‘direct my executors’ so those gathered don’t get bored with the long words and technical details of the legal jargon.

It’s a relief to hear Uncle John has done the right thing by Dorothy. This is a relief because Dorothy would have kicked off if she’d felt slighted and, although she looks like Morticia Addams, the woman is known to have a mean right hook. Uncle John has given her the house they shared and a substantial portion of the money from his estate. It’s a generous bequest.

There are small bequests for several of the female beneficiaries attending. These have the unpleasant feel of being achievement awards handed out in return for sexual accomplishments.

“The contents of my wine cellar go to Betty,” the solicitor reads from Uncle John’s will. “And I hope she gets as much pleasure from swallowing what’s there, as she seemed to get from swallowing everything I gave to her on the special Saturdays we shared together. She really should show others the trick she can do with a wine cork.”

Betty has the good grace to blush.

Dorothy glares at the woman and squeezes her knuckles into a fist.

“My pair of Georgian tea sets are to be shared between Agatha and Gertrude,” the solicitor continues.

Agatha and Gertrude stiffen in their seats. Their smiles are guarded.

“I had plenty of proof that they’re both very capable of sharing,” the solicitor reads. “And I like to think they’ll get as much satisfaction drinking from a Georgian tea set as they got from drinking from each other’s furry cups.”

The solicitor continues reading the bequests.

He gives signed first editions to someone called Natalie, allocates the royalties and merchandising from his books to Tommy and bequeaths John’s garage of classic cars to Uncle Jack. Then he mentions your name.

 { D }

When you hear your name being mentioned you start in surprise. It appears Uncle John has left you a pen. At first you feel justifiably disappointed. You’re in a room full of people who have been given gifts of substantial financial value and all you’re getting is a shitty pen. Yes, he was a writer. And there’s likely some sentimental attachment to the bequest of a writer’s pen. But sentimental attachment has never paid anyone’s rent. More importantly, he was also a pisstag and undoubtedly had as much emotional attachment for the contents of the wine cellar that he gave to blowjob Betty. Whilst you’re thinking that you’ve drawn a very short straw in the scheme of things, you listen to the grumble of discontent that rumbles around the room. There are several muttered voices suggesting you don’t deserve such a substantial gift. You begin to wonder if the bequest of a pen is quite as shitty as you’d first feared.

“It’s a Caran d’Ache 1010,” the solicitor explains. He hands over a chunky black box. “It’s one of an extremely limited edition,” he goes on. “It’s made from solid 18ct gold. The clip is set with a VVS diamond. It’s been conservatively insured at a value of £100,000.”

If an artist could draw you in this moment, your face would look like a cartoon character with dollar signs in the eyeballs. An expensive pen now sounds like a bequest worth having. You’re already trying to decide what sort of auction listing it should have when you list it on eBay.

You open the chunky box and look inside.

Although you’re not an expert on pens, you immediately deduce that this is not a Caran d’Ache 1010. The pen that sits in the box is a scabby looking Bic biro with a yellow stem and a blue plastic end. There’s a dribble of runny ink on the ballpoint nib. The blue plastic end has been chewed.

Do you demand to know who’s stolen your pen? (GO TO SECTION E.) Or do you resolve to find out what has happened on your own? (GO TO SECTION F.)

{ E }

“Who the fuck stole my pen?” you demand.

The solicitor asks you to explain what you mean. You show him the box and he looks puzzled. The solicitor asks Uncle Jack for advice in his capacity as a police officer.

Uncle Jack says he’s off duty.

Tommy examines the Bic and says he doesn’t think it’s a Caran d’Ache.

Dorothy and the redhead are shaking their heads. The other beneficiaries are grumbling together. The solicitor says it’s all very odd but offers no helpful suggestions. Your bequest was the last item on the list. The solicitor is already packing his paperwork back into his valise and preparing to leave.

{ F }

“Fine,” you declare dramatically. “I’ll find out what’s happened on my own.”

Storming angrily from the room you waylay one of the house servants and ask to be taken to Uncle John’s safe. It makes logical sense that, if Uncle John had a very expensive pen he might keep it secured in a safe. If not, you intend to turn the house upside down in your endeavour to find the £100,000 pen you’ve been bequeathed.

The servant takes you to a room on the upper floor and points to a wall safe.

It’s locked.

Do you talk with the servant about your late uncle? (GO TO SECTION G.) Or do you tell the servant to fuck off and leave you to breaking the safe? (GO TO SECTION H.)

 { G }

“Your Uncle John is lucky to be dead,” the servant says.

The comment surprises you. “Lucky?”

“There’s not a lot of love in this house,” the servant explains. “There’s not a lot of love in this family.”

You think of all the women who were mourning Uncle John’s passing and start to argue the point.

The servant waves aside your protests. “John’s best friend was a blackmailer. His brother was trying to squeeze money out of him. His girlfriend was getting ready to leave him.”

You raise a sceptical eyebrow. “Do you have proof of these things?”

“There’s proof in John’s office.” Before you can say anything the servant adds, “In John’s real office.”

You digest that piece of information. You’re sure it’s important.

“John died at the right time,” the servant explains. “If he’d left it a week longer he would be so miserable now.”

It’s a moot point. You’re not sure Uncle John is better off being dead than unhappy. You ask, “Are you suggesting there might have been foul play involved with his death?”

The servant laughs at the idea. “Not from that lot.” He nods toward the door and says, “They’re scavengers, not predators. John’s death was relatively natural. Well, as relatively natural as autoerotic asphyxiation can get. These vultures just stayed close to him so they could strip the meat from his carcass.”

He gives you a considered scowl and says, “These are the sort of vultures who will start riffling through his possessions in search of a pen they want to flog on eBay.”

{ H }

“Fuck off and leave me to work on the safe,” you tell the servant.

Obligingly, the servant fucks off.

The safe is no challenge to someone blessed with your unconventional skills and you easily crack it. Inside you find only a photograph of Uncle John laid in his coffin. It’s a Polaroid snapshot and you wonder why someone would take a picture of your dead uncle and secure the photograph inside a locked safe. In the image he looks resplendent in a Harris Tweed blazer. You are saddened to think you’ll never again be able to enjoy Uncle John’s company and you feel disappointed that his memory is now tainted by the reprobates currently scavenging for morsels from his estate.

Do you go through all the drawers on your uncle’s desk? (GO TO SECTION I.) Or do you search the bedrooms on the upper floors? (GO TO SECTION J.) Or do you examine the secret doorway in the upper hallway that leads to Uncle John’s secret office? (GO TO SECTION K.)

{ I }

There is nothing in the drawers.

 { J }

There is nothing in the bedrooms except for a handful of used and unsettlingly sticky sex toys that you didn’t want to encounter. What the hell was wrong with that man’s libido? You find a banana in one bedroom but, although you’re hungry, you know better than to be tempted by such forbidden fruit.

{ K }

You’ve known about the secret doorway since you were a child. Uncle John, as well as having the well-appointed office where the solicitor was earlier holding court, also had a second office.

The passageway to this office begins through a secret doorway, disguised as a wall of library shelves. You clamber down a spiral staircase that is dark and festooned with cobwebs. Unable to find an electric light switch you have to use the flashlight app on your smartphone.

At the bottom of the staircase you discover your uncle’s secret office. This is where he used to do all of his writing. It’s a cosy little room with bookshelves, comfortable chairs and a soot-blackened fireplace. You find notes on the next series of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories he was planning to write. None of them sound particularly interesting. You also find some important-looking correspondence on his desk.

Curious, you read through the materials.

There are three documents.

The first item you find is a note that says, “Give me ten grand or I’ll go to the police.” You’re not an expert on handwriting but you think this looks like it was written by Tommy. It helps your impromptu investigation that Tommy has signed the bottom of the note.

The second item is a set of legal papers. A post-it note on the front of them says: “I’ve had enough of your philandering, you bastard. I’m leaving you and I want half of everything you own.” Dorothy doesn’t need to have signed the note for you to know that’s from her.

The final item you find is a revised will. The date on the top of the will was the same date that Uncle John died. It’s signed and witnessed and succeeds the will that has just been read. After briefly scanning through the document you see that there is no mention of Tommy being bequeathed royalties. There is no mention of Uncle Jack being the recipient of a garage of classic cars. And there is no mention of Dorothy being given the bulk of John’s estate. There is however, a final line in the will where Uncle John says he wants you to have the Caran d’Ache 1010.

Do you go back to the solicitor and demand he reconsiders the will in light of this discovery? (GO TO SECTION L.) Or do you keep these details in mind as you try to get answers from the individual beneficiaries? (GO TO SECTION M.)

{ L }

The solicitor has already left when you return to Uncle John’s office. The only people remaining are Uncle Jack, Tommy, Dorothy, Betty and the redhead. Uncle Jack is chatting with Betty. She doesn’t seem interested in him, although she’s showing off a trick where she manages to suck the cork from an unopened wine bottle. If your investigation wasn’t so pressing you’d stand around and watch. The sight makes Uncle Jack squirm.

{ M }

You approach the redhead. She’s one of the few people who seem genuinely upset by Uncle John’s death. You remember she was bequeathed signed first edition copies of Uncle John’s books. You comment on how thoughtful this was. She doesn’t appear particularly impressed.

“Choose-your-own-adventure stories are for losers,” she says.

Do you agree? (GO TO SECTION N.) Or do you ignore her and interview Dorothy? (GO TO SECTION O.)

{ N }

The redhead’s name is Natalie. She and Uncle John had been involved in a sexual relationship but she says it was only physical. There was no emotional or spiritual commitment. It was only depraved, unwholesome and yet surprisingly satisfying sex.

“Do you know what he might have done with my pen?”

Natalie shrugs. “He was an old pervert. If I was looking for something that shape and size, I’d start exploring his arsehole first.”

{ O }

Dorothy wants to know why you were talking to the redhead. When you ask her about the pen she says it was in the box the last time she saw it. She refuses to say anything further, other than reminding you that you should be grateful you were mentioned in the will. All the time, she’s speaking, Dorothy is curling her lip and glaring at Betty.

Do you go and interrupt Uncle Jack and Betty? (GO TO SECTION P.) Or do you talk with Tommy? (GO TO SECTION Q.)

{ P }

Uncle Jack tells you to piss off. He says, if you keep trying to interrupt him whilst he’s making a play for blowjob Betty, he’ll find some way of having you arrested so you spend the night in the cells. When you query the validity of this claim, Uncle Jack assures you he’s had it done before. He makes sure Betty hears this comment and she finally begins to start listening to him.

She holds a freshly sucked cork between her lips and winks at him.

Uncle Jack winks back.

{ Q }

You go to Tommy and ask him why he was blackmailing your uncle. Tommy tries to deny this but you eventually sway him with a reasoned argument, and by showing him the paperwork he’d signed.

“I’m just trying to find the pen my uncle left me,” you explain.

“What does it look like?”

“Gold with a diamond on the clip.”

Tommy seems to think he’s seen something similar recently. But he can’t quite bring it to mind. He’s known to have memory problems. The scars on his forehead throb dully when he frowns in concentration. Tommy takes your mobile number and promises he’ll call you if he remembers.

You hear screams coming behind the secret doorway. Dorothy is nearby and you ask her what the noises might be.

“It sounds like your Uncle Jack having an orgasm,” she says nonchalantly.

Do you ask her how she knows? (GO TO SECTION R.) Or do you figure that’s TMI and move on with you investigation? (GO TO SECTION S.)

{ R }

“Your Uncle John wasn’t the only one who enjoyed playing away from home,” she explains. “Uncle Jack called here regularly whilst your Uncle John was out visiting those skanky bitches who were here earlier.” Defensively she adds, “I’m only human. And there were times when I needed the cobwebs cleared out.”

{ S }

You run down the stairs and find Uncle Jack is just pulling his pants back up. Betty is swigging from a bottle of wine as though trying to remove an unpleasant taste from her mouth.

Uncle Jack demands you give him the revised will. He wants to destroy it.

Do you feign ignorance? (GO TO SECTION T.) Or do you tell him you have it? (GO TO SECTION U.)

{ T }

“What will, Uncle Jack?”

“The one sticking out of your jacket pocket.”

You glance down and see that a scroll of paperwork is protruding from your pocket. Words on the top of the document, and clearly visible to Uncle Jack, read: LAST WILL AND-.

{ U }

“OK,” you admit. “I have the will. And, whilst I don’t care about how this affects others, I do want the pen I was bequeathed.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Uncle Jack says. “If you give me that will, so I can destroy it, I’ll help you find your pen.”

Do you refuse? (GO TO SECTION V.) Or do you give him the will?” (GO TO SECTION W.)

{ V }

“You’re not having the will, Uncle Jack.”

“Very well,” says Jack. “I’ll have you arrested now. When you get strip searched before being thrown in the cells, I’ll be able to take it out of your possessions.”

“You can’t do that.”

“I’m a corrupt policeman,” he reminds you. “I do that on a regular basis.”

{ W }

“Very well,” you say. “I’ll give you this will in exchange for the Caran d’Ache.”

Uncle Jack takes the will and throws it into the fireplace. He lights it and, whilst the evidence burns, he leads you up the stairs to Uncle John’s safe. The room looks exactly the same as you’d left it. The safe door is open.

“It was in here,” Uncle Jack explains.

“It wasn’t here,” you tell him. “I opened that safe earlier and the only thing in here was this photograph.” You show him the picture of Uncle John resting in his coffin.

Uncle Jack looks genuinely perplexed.

Tommy appears in the doorway. “You found the picture,” he smiles.

“You left it there?” Jack asks.

Tommy nods.

You ask, “What was the photograph doing in the safe?”

“I put it in there to show what I’d done with John’s pen,” Tommy explains. He smacks his forehead in surprise and says, “That’s where I’ve seen the pen before. Now I remember.”

The comment puzzles you until you look more closely at the picture. There is a pen in the breast pocket of Uncle John’s Harris Tweed. It is a gold coloured pen and has a VVS diamond on the clip.

“You put a £100,000 pen in a dead man’s pocket,” you exclaim incredulously.

“He’s an idiot,” Uncle Jack reminds you. He regards Tommy with abject contempt. “Of course he did that.” With a sarcastic sneer he adds, “You don’t think he just put the pen there and then took a photo of it so we all thought the pen was buried, did you?”

Do you threaten Uncle Jack and Tommy with repercussions if they don’t help you to get your pen back? (GO TO SECTION X.) Or do you try to find a legitimate way to start the legal processes for an exhumation? (GO TO SECTION Y.) Or do you go into the graveyard at midnight and illegally dig up your uncle’s corpse? (GO TO SECTION Z.)

{ X }

“Uncle Jack,” you begin. “I swear to God, if you don’t help me get this resolved I’ll-”

Uncle Jack punches you in the nose before you can finish your threat.

“You’ve got nothing on me,” Uncle Jack says coldly. “And if I ever hear you talking as though you do have something on me, I’ll make sure you’re behind bars where no one is going to listen.”

Uncle Jack storms out of the room. Tommy goes with him.

{ Y }

You call the solicitor and explain that the pen has been buried with the deceased. It’s difficult to make yourself understood because you’re talking with a broken nose.

“That’s unfortunate,” the solicitor says.

“How do I get it back?”

“You don’t,” the solicitor says. “The cost of such an action would be prohibitive. There would be the cost of a disinterment, which includes the legal costs, the parish charges and the labour charges. I don’t doubt the local church would fight the case and they’d have a pretty strong position. You’re talking about removing a pen from a writer’s last writing place. Even if you did get permission, and it all went through smoothly, it would take the best part of six months before you got the pen back and then you’d need to sell it immediately to cover all the costs you’d built up.”

Frustrated by this development you close your eyes and try not to moan in despair. “As my uncle’s former solicitor,” you begin patiently. “What would you suggest I do?”

The solicitor lowers his voice to a whisper. “Have you got a shovel, and some sort of flashlight app on your smartphone?”

{ Z }

It’s midnight. You’re in a graveyard with a shovel and you’ve been digging for the past three hours. Fortunately it’s autumn and not many people choose to visit a cemetery in the middle of an autumn night.

The night would be cool but the exertion of shovelling six foot down has helped to keep you warm. The sounds of owls and faraway traffic were making you nervous at first but now you’re no longer worried.

You finally get through to the coffin.

It takes a little while longer to clear away enough earth so you can lift the lid but you eventually move it and find your dead uncle laying there. You switch on your flashlight app and shine it on the breast pocket of your uncle’s suit. There is nothing there.

You remember a comment that Natalie made earlier. “He was an old pervert. If I was looking for something that shape and size, I’d start exploring his arsehole first.”

Is that where you’re meant to start searching now? The idea is too horrifying to consider.

You remember another comment from earlier in the day. This one had been made sarcastically by Uncle Jack. “You don’t think he just put the pen there and then took a photo of it so we all thought the pen was buried, did you?”

You wonder if that’s what really happened.

Before you can dwell on the problem any further there are lights shining into the grave where you stand. You see a host of faces gathering in the night sky above the grave’s edge.

Tommy is one of those faces. Uncle Jack is another and you see he is taking notes. Somebody starts to tell you that you’re being arrested. Uncle Jack is shaking his head with apparent disapproval. The pen he holds to take notes is an elegant gold colour and it looks like there is a diamond on the clip: a VVS diamond.

{ THE END }

ARL PicASHLEY LISTER is an author and lecturer living in northwest England. Aside from writing full length fiction and non-fiction he also lectures in creative writing and English related-subjects.

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