The Journey and the Jewel
Rachel and Alex Glidden were a painter and a writer who collaborated on those picture-book treasure-hunts that were popular in the early 80s, full of fantastic realism and cryptograms. They wrote one about Merlin that included a hidden map to his golden wand. Another time it was Titania and a cache of silver fairies. The Gliddens died in a car accident in 1985, leaving their last book—The Journey and the Jewel—unsolved. The treasure remained wherever they had hidden it, maybe strung into the inlet on a rusting chain. Maybe in a tree.
They also left their daughter, Ananda, a fourteen-year-old orphan.
The week before the book came out, Ani asked for the solution, but her parents just teased her. She had never been good at solving puzzles, even when elaborate cryptograms appeared in her lunch for practice. When they wouldn’t just tell she sulked and pleaded with all the melodrama of adolescence. In response her father only intoned, “The golden season meets the green, Ani.”
“Think!” her mother added. An evening in August, the three of them sitting on the deck and watching the waves climb the beach, the sweet commingling scents of arbutus and saltwater.
* * *
The Journey and the Jewel is about a girl who lives in a cottage by the shore, at the edge of a vast, dark forest. Her childhood friend, Prince Autumn, entrusts her with a gift for the Summer Queen, whom he loves, and from whom he is separated by the cruel mechanics of the seasonal clock.
The girl looks a lot like Ani did in 1985. Curly hair and denim jacket, arm-loads of jelly bracelets. In the first painting, this Other-Ani stands in the cottage doorway, a silhouette in conversation with Prince Autumn, who is handsome and black-haired, his true form billowing out from the human-ish figure who solicits her help. Mellow fruitfulness sketched into the margin of his trailing cloak, attendants made of mist and autumn leaves standing in his train.
This seems like an easy task. Other-Ani is brave and clever. But the road is treacherous, and even here something haunts her steps.
* * *
The house in the book was still perfect, like it was still 1985. The actual cottage Ani inherited from her parents fell into disrepair in the years after her guardian—her aunt Michelle—moved her out. The garden grew up or spilled over; blackberries swallowed the path down to the beach so you had to cut your way with a machete if you wanted to go swimming. She hardly swam anymore, though she had been one of those slippery, otterish children when she lived in the cottage, learning to swim as she learned to walk.
When Ani was younger she used to host people at the cottage on weekends, because she could only stand to visit in a crowd goofy with beer and weed. The summer Ani turned forty-five, Michelle—who had never stopped being her guardian—kept hassling her about the real estate bubble. It was going to correct, and wouldn’t she rather get an extra 100k on the property while she could?
Ani always said yes, definitely, it was time. Meanwhile, her inheritance went on taxes as the Glidden Estate shrank each year. Despite the loss, she couldn’t stand the thought of walking through the dusty rooms with an appraiser in a blue pantsuit, someone who’d talk about staging and suggest fake hydrangeas for the library. Mom had painted stars and fairies on the ceiling of Ani’s bedroom and would the blue-pants-suit woman want her to cover them in eggshell?
“Probably,” Michelle said when she mentioned the fairies. “People buy for the waterfront. If they can afford the property they probably don’t want a cottage. They’ll bulldoze it.”
* * *
On the second page of The Journey and the Jewel, Ani’s father describes the darkness of the forest and the wildness of the ocean. Between them, a small house. Her mother rendered it in oil, every square of her canvas filled with portent and instruction.
The first step of Other-Ani’s journey takes her not out, but down through the house itself. A cross-section of the cottage reveals a sea-cave beneath the foundations, a secret tunnel through which Ani slips past the Shapeshifter’s sleeping guards. On the beach she meets Viscount Measure, an aristocratic seal whose large, sad eyes direct the reader toward a rebus sketched into the painted sea-floor: Measure, and a Maid. Between them a key, greengold like the seafloor itself.
From there, Ani walks through the pages of the book like she’s walking from the house to the gate and out along the road. As she walks—or reads—she might hear the portentous ruffle of leaves, and the steps of a heavy creature, so well adapted to the hunt that he can hide in the intersection of branches, or in her own shadow.
Her parents’ first instruction to readers is on the cover, before the story begins: find him where he lurks under the paint, on the stony beach or in the forest, and you may find the clue you need.
* * *
Ani used a September flex day to visit the house and start the whole horrible process of selling.
She arrived on Friday afternoon, pausing outside her car with her back to the forest and her face to the breeze off the water. When she felt brave she unlocked the front door and found that while the house was still, it was not abandoned. She smelled them first, then saw half-burned magazines in the fireplace and oyster shells on the floor, all the old mugs tea-stained. She looked for broken windows, but whoever got in had a key, maybe one her parents had hidden forty years before.
She meant to start an inventory right away and call real estate agents, but instead she walked room to room as though she had lost something, and stood on the deck, staring at the horizon and listening. When nothing at all happened she fled the house for an easy 8km along the road. The undergrowth seemed deeper than she remembered.
A red pickup truck stopped her when she was nearly home.
He unrolled his window and said, “You didn’t see the notice? Cougar in the area.” Ani glanced over her shoulder. Something moved, or maybe it didn’t. “You want to get off the road. Need a ride?”
Ani hesitated, then he leaned over to open the passenger door and she got a look at him: an old guy with a faded baseball cap, his cab full of pruning hooks and bone meal.
“You girls should be careful!” he said.
It had been a long time since Ani was you girls so she climbed up into the cab, which smelled strongly of earth.
When they reached her gate he said, “You’re the Glidden girl! I haven’t thought about them in a while. You know, I helped your Dad with the grove out back. Red oak. What happened—that was pretty sad.”
“Anyone ever dig up that treasure? There were people from all over digging up the parks at night. Someone got arrested, I remember.”
“No one got it right,” she said. “People have started looking again. Apparently someone posted the book on a message board.”
“You know where it is?”
Ani had been asked this question many times, and had not yet settled on a completely truthful answer: she knew its location, sure, but not the key to the book’s elaborate puzzles.
“Sort of,” she said, and wondered if he’d been one of the people digging.
“Thirty years is a long time to wait,” he said. They had reached the house. The man set the brake and looked at the overgrown garden. “Way too long. What about a hint?”
“I can’t. Not as long as people are still looking.”
“I guess everyone loves a mystery.” Ani did not like mysteries, but she didn’t say anything. “Well, it’s good to see you back here, kiddo.”
He waited until she was in the front door. She watched his taillights until the trees swallowed them.
According to the sea-floor map to which Viscount Measure pointed on the sixth page of the book, the Shapeshifter’s House Invisible was near the ring of red oak that Dad and the pick-up truck guy had planted in 1975. She had a faint memory of Dad setting out twelve scarlet oak saplings in a huge circle. Ani’s own grove he’d called it, and told her about how they would turn red against the muted greys of October. Just wait until you and the trees are all grown up! he’d said. It’s going to be magic!
Once she looked for it on Google Earth, the red circle of autumn foliage in the woods near the cottage.
She tried to stop, but by the time she reached the kitchen her eyes prickled, her throat seized. She wondered how long it took for the autonomic processes of grief to cease, so she could observe her parents’ home with affection and without pain. She suspected it would never happen, and her enteric nervous system would grieve silently and forever. There was something inside her for whom it was still 1985, a year as distant and inaccessible as a fairytale.
Michelle was always brisk with advice for mindfulness and meditation. Ani had grown expert at yoga, and conceded that yes, some pain could be remade into other things—core strength, maybe, or insight. Most of it, though, remained untransfigured in the fibres of her spine.
* * *
You’ve heard the stories about who finds you when you’re lost in the woods? Maybe the Kushtaka—the Land Otter People—come visiting from the north coast. Maybe you are overtaken by panikon deima, that terror of the wasteland that is Pan’s particular gift. It might be a skinwalker. It might be Bukala. It might be Windigo—or worse than Windigo, it’s someone becoming Windigo, swarmed all over with lights while they creep through the bush in the throes of their inhuman appetite. You might also fear Herne the Hunter, on his travels through the darkest places beneath the trees. Because it’s all one forest once you’ve passed through the pages into the book, or through the trees and into the House Invisible. It doesn’t matter which door you take, you always end up there.
The Shapeshifter has names as mutable and multitudinous as his body; his house is populated by the inlet’s drowned and those who die of exposure in the woods. Given his extensive court, Ani wonders why he hunts human beings with such rage. Maybe he’s envious, a living creature attended by the dead.
In The Journey and the Jewel the Shapeshifter takes many forms when he is outside the House Invisible: a cougar in the undergrowth, a huge Mack truck that nearly runs Other-Ani off the road. A black bear in the garbage cans behind McDonalds. A barn owl.
* * *
It happens quickly. One minute you’re fourteen years old and waiting for your parents to come home from a reading you didn’t attend because readings are full of fans with complicated theories. They always hassle you for tips. You’re kind of too old for that.
It’s winter. What sunlight survives four o’clock bleeds away, and even though you’re fourteen, you’re susceptible to the kind of thoughts these days engender: to a shivery sense that something is collecting in the grainy darkness at the margins of your room. So you turn on all the lights in the house, which you aren’t supposed to do.
You shut the curtains, and draw the blinds, and lie on the couch bathed in artificial light from lamps and television, and wonder why they’re late and how much later they’re going to be.
You fall asleep eventually, and when you wake the fire’s out and there’s a knock at the door. You don’t want to answer it, but then you hear your name: Ani! Ani? Ani!
It’s Michelle, though the part of your mind educated by your parents’ books thinks about shapeshifters. She puts her arms around you and says, “We’re going to be okay, I promise. I will make sure you are okay.”
When you open your eyes over her shoulder you see that the darkness is granular—not an absence, but a substance that collects around you, where you stand in the porch of a small house, suspended between the ocean and the forest.
* * *
The four paintings dedicated to Other-Ani’s chase through the House Invisible are hallucinatory. For the first time her mother’s brush strokes loosen into something like expressionism. Her father’s riddles flood Other-Ani’s hair. A surfeit of symbols hide in the kelpish locks of the drowned, in the interlocking branches of the canopy. Ani both loves and hates these canvases, which she keeps back from the collectors, but also won’t hang on her walls.
Remember that they’ll give you a choice. When you meet Windigo, for example, sometimes you’re asked: do you want to eat or be eaten? Bakwas will offer up the food of the dead in oyster shells and abalone. Do you eat it, or do you turn your face away?
Other-Ani is wise and clever, and though she’s very hungry, she doesn’t eat anything in the House Invisible. There are two pages in which the dead surround her with a banquet: salmon sashimi and chokecherry jelly, abalone and blackberries and drunken mussels pressed to her unwilling lips.
* * *
The golden season meets the green
Between us, Maid and Measure, gleams
Our charge, we guard it for the queen.
* * *
On Saturday morning Ani ate her breakfast over the kitchen sink. Mid-chew she saw Michelle walking down the driveway.
“I thought you were going to be here tonight!” Ani said at the door. “Where’s your car?”
“I left it at the gate. It’s a nice walk down.”
They sat at the kitchen table and talked about interior latex and septic fields and foundations.
Then Ani had to turn away from the table and toward the seal who seemed to watch them from the water off the beach. “He looks like Viscount Measure,” she said.
“Don’t worry, kiddo. You don’t have to do it all at once.”
“If they’re just going to bulldoze it, why bother?”
Michelle opened a freezer bag full of fruit leather. “I made it last week.”
“Someone’s been using it. There were oyster shells here when I got in, and they were burning old Harrowsmiths.
“Did you call the police?”
“I will,” Ani said, and picked up a strip of fruit leather. Before it was in her mouth she tasted summer, like salt water and blackberries. She felt her eyes unfocus, loosening in their sockets as its flavour crept throatward past her tongue—
“What about the treasure? I know you wanted to make sure someone could still claim it, but—”
The sun in August. Mom in the kitchen, fingernails stained red from picking blackberries that grew on the path down to the beach, showing off a particularly gruesome scratch across her forearm. They heard Dad coming in from the studio with that smile on his face—I figured out the last rebus! he said, scooping blackberries from the bucket—
“Between the maid and measure. What does that mean?”
Ani heard herself begin as she watched the seal dive, his body a smudge of grey beneath the water: “The maid is obviously the heroine since she’s a teenaged girl, and Viscount Measure is obvious, so you could look between them in that one painting—”
“—that’s not enough. Where is it, girl?”
“You know it’s—”
She would have said more if she hadn’t just that moment heard “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac. Michelle’s ringtone. Why would she hear—
“Don’t answer that!” Michelle’s voice harsh, “so rude, Ani—”
She picked up the phone, still tasting August, and read a text from Michelle: Sorry going to be late for tonight. Stupid car having a bad day!
Ani looked up at the creature across from her. Michelle’s mouth widened from grin to grimace, eye sockets stretched until they snapped and the interior of her skull billowed out.
The buzz of August bees, her mother’s voice just out of reach, maybe out on the kitchen step with a bucket of blackberries. Ani stuck her finger down her throat and wretched in the kitchen sink, running the tap over a stomachful of toast and the red stain of fruit leather.
The Shapeshifter circling the room like a trapped bird, hissing and whistling until it found the open kitchen door and all its malevolence was lost in sunlight.
Ani rinsed out her mouth, then threw up again. Bees and blackberries receding, her mother’s voice again lost—
* * *
The Journey and the Jewel’s last page is its most dreadful, the kind of page a kid might fasten shut with paper clips to prevent it opening by accident.
Other-Ani, having escaped the House Invisible, breaks the frame that contains her and stares at you, reader, with eyes that might be Ani’s own. Ani remembers the day her mother took the photograph, how it was overcast, and she sat with her back against a white wall, in the clean, reflected light of the ocean, and how her mother said: be thoughtful and let’s try sad and maybe scared? And finally okay, now you’re just overacting which was true as Ani tore her hair and rolled her eyes.
In the last painting Ani seems older, like maybe her mother painted her as she would be in the future. There are lines around her eyes that weren’t there when she entered the Shapeshifter’s House.
This is also the page of revelation. Earlier it might have looked like she bought her escape from the House Invisible with Prince Autumn’s treasure, and had failed her duty, but she is a wise and clever girl. What she gave the Shapeshifter was weighted like gold, but was only beach-glass collected with the help of Viscount Measure, the inlet’s noblest seal.
So Other-Ani tells you she has hidden the treasure’s true location in the very story she has just told you, dear reader. Black ink fades to grey, as though Other-Ani’s last words have bled her out.
And what, dear reader, is that? What shadow—a grey so pale it’s nearly white—floods the page from the corner that contains her shadow? What secrets reside in the brushstrokes that constitute her curling hair?
That’s the Shapeshifter, overspilling the frame of his painting, flooding the paper beneath your fingers.
* * *
—when she could see clearly again, Ani texted Michelle to cancel their plans. Emergency at work so sorry totally sorry will have to do it later promise.
She packed the car. It wouldn’t start.
* * *
Had the day progressed? Was it now late afternoon? Her phone was dead. The sky purpling in the west. Every breeze, every tap nudged her away from the house.
The plan formed: she’d walk out to the highway, hitchhike into town.
* * *
This journey brings certain perils. Your car doesn’t start, so you walk. Only there’s a fallen tree across the driveway and it pushes you into the undergrowth, and the longer you follow its trunk the farther you are from the road, until pretty soon you can’t see it. Then—is it twilight?—the snuffle and lurch of something in the darkness that might be a black bear gorging on early-autumn salal berries. So you walk around it, too, and then it’s the disorienting tangle of Oregon grape and a slide down a bank, and it’s hard to keep north straight from south, though you know this land intimately. Are those stars?
Are those whispers?
* * *
It was dark. It was cold. She could hear waves on the beach. She had walked for hours toward the road, but she found herself once again at the house.
There was a light in the kitchen window. When she opened the door she felt the radiant heat of a wood fire in a stone chimney, its sweet scent, too. The cool air falling behind her as she stepped into the room and saw oyster and abalone shells on the floor, scenting the room like a tideline.
“Just us, Ani,” her mother answered. They were sitting at the kitchen table, the green lamp lit above them, the rest of the house in darkness.
They were both younger than her.
“I think we’ve got it, kiddo,” Dad said, and held up a diagram of the property: the house, the beach, the ring of twelve red oak that was her very own grove, the dark and undifferentiated stretches of forest. “What do you think?”
It did not seem strange—not yet—that she felt only relief, not surprise, at their presence. She had felt such relief before, in certain recurring dreams where she’d find herself in this very kitchen and there’d be Mom elbow deep in bread dough, and there’d be Dad doing dishes and they’d say, without moving their lips, I know we’re dead, but there’s so much to get done.
“It’s so good to see you,” Ani said. “It’s so good.”
“You too, kiddo! Did you figure out the riddle I put in your lunch? The golden season and the green?”
“Michelle thinks I should sell, but I don’t know,” Ani said. “What do you think?”
“Yes, yes.” Dad’s voice rose in irritation. “But where is Viscount Measure?”
“I can’t remember,” Ani said, truthfully. “Why don’t you read the book?”
“I’ve read the book,” he said, petulant.
“She’s just hungry! Sweetheart, you need to eat something.” Mom stood up and collected a bucket from the corner, full of living oysters. With a practiced snap and pry she split one, cupping it in her hands and offering it to Ani.
“Isn’t there a red tide warning?”
“All organic,” Mom said, “and fresh. If you don’t like oysters, I’ve got these.”
Mom offered her an abalone shell piled high with white, fleshy berries.
In her long trek out and back—the business with the barn owl and the fallen tree—Ani had not eaten. Wasn’t there a plan, though—she was going to hike out and get a ticket into the city and have a shower in her own glassy condo where she could—if she opened the window—hear the sound of people walking past on the sidewalk. She was going to order food in white plastic boxes.
The ghostberries were large and clustered on thin stems, an out-of-season delicacy from dead-of-winter. They pattered into her palm, cool and dense.
“Oh,” Ani said. She opened her hands and the berries spilled through her fingers and onto the sheets of paper. She saw that in the way of dreams the pages were covered in gibberish, as though scribbled by an illiterate creature who knew only the look of letters, not their content.
“Ani. Think,” it said in a voice like a landslide.
“Please can we just—”
Her father’s face falling as the shifter’s substance fell from his eyes and his mouth, and beside him her mother began a muddy hum. No words, just their gravelly clatter, as parts of them—a hand, a foot, the back of a head—dissolved into its constituent ashes, then reformed into parent-shape to say, “I can’t believe what you’ve done to this place.” The father-thing spoke through a mouthful of grit and dead leaves.
“We’re not angry,” the mother-shape grated, “just disappointed that you let us down so badly. You have not taken care of your inheritance. You are a wicked child.”
“Ungrateful in life. Disrespectful in death. Now solve the riddle.”
Ghostberries have waxy skins and large, sticky seeds. Ghostberries—also called Saskatoon-berries-of-the-Dead—are the preferred food of those unfortunates who return from death and find themselves again in human bodies after a sojourn in the spirit world. If you are dead, and come back, you will eat them by the handful while you drift uncertainly through the bush, waiting for that closed door to reopen.
* * *
You may ask yourself, as you are lost in the House Invisible, why, exactly, the Shapeshifter is obsessed with this treasure. Ani doesn’t know, but she wonders—in retrospect—if it is some narrative curse, some unfortunate side-effect of her parents’ conjuration. He was born wanting, she thinks, because their story required it. And then before the story could be ended, the riddle solved, they were gone. How much must it hurt, Ani thought, to wait so long inside an empty house.
“Come outside,” Ani said.
The Shapeshifter followed her to the kitchen porch, familiar faces coalescing and disintegrating inside the swirl of dead leaves and loam that was his body.
“The golden season and the green,” Ani said. “The maid and Measure. I have no idea, but after I complained a lot they told me it was in the grove between two of the trees. That’s all I know. You can have it if you can find it.”
The Shapeshifter held his murky form, then he stormed around her toward the forest. For a moment she saw from inside him, and the world was all grey and stony. When he left the colour stayed in her eyes, his ash still filled her mouth.
He collected himself into a giant humanish form among the trees, twice as tall as she was, his head branching into antlers. He snapped and splintered a path away from the house, toward the grove.
Perhaps, she thought, the world would stay ash-coloured forever. That was when she felt raindrops on a breeze that gusted in from the sea.
She blinked. “Do you hear something?” Ani asked the empty house. “Do you smell it? I think that’s Autumn.”
* * *
Michelle found her asleep on the couch early the next morning.
“I texted,” Ani said. “I said don’t come.”
“Your text was weird,” was all Michelle said, cleaning up oyster shells and dead leaves without comment, as though she had done it before.
She made Ani drink coffee, and then pointed out that she was filthy and what had happened to her hair?
Ani could not quite look at her, thinking of the disintegrating face of the previous day.
“I told someone where it was,” she finally said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“There’s always someone coming after the treasure. I should have dug it up years ago. I should have dealt with it.”
They took their second cups of coffee outside. Ani was surprised by the miracle of a single night: the season progressed, the ocean veiled, the air damp, tinted as though one of her mother’s amber glazes had spilled across it, and Ani saw through painter’s eyes the lovely ruin of the garden.
The morning mist would burn off soon and leave the unrelenting blue of mid-day, but not yet.
“Hello,” Ani said, politely, to Prince Autumn and his familiar attendants: the day’s copper edge, the scent of saltwater, the pale sky.
“Well, we should probably go check the damage. Are you sure you don’t want to have a shower first?”
Ani shook her head. Together they followed the Shapeshifter’s broken path through the woods.
When they reached the grove they saw the pit it had dug between two trees, the trunks on either side scarred, the grass torn.
“So that’s over.” Michelle said from the edge of the pit.
“Did you know about that thing?”
Michelle shook her head and then said, “I guessed.”
“Okay,” Ani said. “I should plant another oak to mark the spot.”
“That would wreck the calendar.” Ani must have looked confused, so Michelle added, “The Maid and Measures” and pointed at the trees on either side. For the first time Ani noticed the symbols cut into the base of each trunk. Virgo. Libra.
“That’s actually kind of obvious,” Ani said.
Together they admired the composition her parents had begun forty years before, but which they never saw mature. In spring, Ani thought, the driveway will be hung with the wet petals of the chokecherry, and the wood-roses will scent the air and guard the drive with their thorns. For now there were asters—had they been there the night before?—around the gate. Through the trees she could see the first pilot-flame of vine maple, its leaves burning with the red of sunrise. The luminous gold columns of poplar, the white trunks of birch, red rosehips and bracken brown.
Her parents had made more than the House Invisible. This was theirs as well, the Prince’s country, and the Autumnal train was passing, smoky asters in its wake.
Rebecca Campbell is a Canadian writer and academic. NeWest Press published her first novel, The Paradise Engine, in 2013; her fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and Lackington's. You can find her online at whereishere.ca.