Chapter 24: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Chapter 24

Saturday, July 5th was another beautiful day for driving.

“How did we get this lucky?” Frank asked.

“I think we’re with the odds on this one,” Nanette said. “It is summer, after all.”

“So where are we going?” Nathan asked again. “I remember seeing lots of interesting places near Salt Lake City when I was researching it in the encyclopedia. I guess if we were Mormons the temple would be a must-see, but they have good tours for non-Mormons too. There’s also a copper mine, and an amusement park.”

“I know, we’re missing a lot, but we can’t see everything on one trip.”

“Curt said that the treasure was hidden near a run down old resort. So if it’s run down, it’s not surprising it wouldn’t have made the top  ten tourist attractions in the encyclopedia,” Peter said.

“So, do we drive around looking for it? Blah,” Ashley said with a curl of her lip. She hated the idea of just aimlessly wasting time looking for something that may not be there.

“I have a good guess where to look,” Nanette said. “And if we can’t find the hiding place, we’ll just keep going.” To herself she thought, it won’t be the first time we’ve left a place too soon this trip.

“Where?” Nathan asked.

“Just wait and see and enjoy the scenery,” Frank advised. “The name wouldn’t mean anything to you anyway, now would it?”

“He’s got you there,” Peter said.

Two and a half hours later, after several stops, a snack, and a lot of comments about the mountains and scenery, Frank took an exit off Interstate 80 and told the kids to look ahead.  They could see the Great Salt Lake to their right and the hills of Antelope Island rising out of the water. Up ahead a white building with four coppery onion domes at the corners came into view.

“Welcome to Saltair,” Frank said as he pulled into the parking lot. “Actually, it’s Saltair III, but who’s counting.”

They parked and got out. The air smelled salty and sour. The building looked sad and rundown. A burned out boat sat like a warning in the pond in front of it. The shore of the Great Salt Lake was far from the building, as if it, too, didn’t want to stay at the resort.

The family walked up to the front and looked around.  Nathan looked around the edges of the  pond wondering if the hiding place had been on the charred boat. Weeds grew around the building, but the building itself was structurally sound. The absence of other people and the stinky smell outside actually made the building seem more woebegone than it might be in different surroundings. The door was unlocked and Frank pulled it open.

“Are you sure we should be going in?” Nathan asked.

“It’s fine,” Frank said. “This used to be a big concert venue, and I guess it’s still used from time to time, but just isn’t very popular right now.”

“No kidding,” Peter said.

They stepped inside to a large open space. Natural light filled the room through windows and skylights and a large grand staircase stood at one end looking old fashioned and very ghostly. Most of the room was empty, except for a refreshment area that was cordoned off on one side of the staircase and some old-fashioned wagons and carriages standing in the middle of the room as a tribute the past. A manikin in the driver’s seat of one of the carriages had fallen forward, and looked for all the world like a weary traveler rather than the adventurous pioneer he was probably supposed to represent.

“Where should we look?” Ashley asked.

“How about these old carriages here?” Nathan said, walking towards them.

“That’s unlikely, “Peter said, “Too obvious and Curt said ‘near’ the resort, not inside.”

“I want a closer look anyway, and maybe I can reset the manikin,” Nathan said.

Just then the ‘manikin’ startled them all by sitting up and speaking, “You’re here! I’m so glad to see you!” Ashley screamed, they all jumped, and Nathan turned and ran for the door. Was it one of the BGs? Had they stepped into a trap?

Suddenly Nanette called out, “Tim! You’re a sight for sore eyes!”

“Really?” Tim Trave asked as he jumped down from the carriage where he had been waiting and walked toward them. “Are your eyes that sore?”.

“They must be, or we wouldn’t have thought you were a manikin!”

“What a sad, stinky old place!” Peter said. “What are you doing waiting for us here?”

“It’s rundown now,” Tim said, “But it wasn’t always like this. And it won’t stay this way either. Come back when you’re older and see if it changes.” He winked.

“We’re here to look for treasure,” Nathan offered. “Curt said the BGs left some here.”

Tim didn’t seem surprised by the term. “That’s true, but it’s gone now. They came back and picked it up recently. They might have been afraid you’d find it. You’ve been lucky so far in thwarting their plans.”

“So did the BGs have relatives here? Why did they come here?”

“The settlement of Utah and the gold rush overlapped a little in time, and some Mormon pioneers –mostly young men—also came to California to try their luck at striking it rich. And some people who came west for gold were converted to Mormonism. It’s not surprising that they might look for friends or relative here, but after 150 years, you can’t expect to find people in the same place you left them.”

“But they found a relative in Illinois!” Nanette said.

“If that was where they were from, that makes sense to me. Many pioneer people have a wanderlust, like me, but the people who stayed home…” Tim left the sentence hanging.

“Not so much, I guess,” Frank said.

“But the people of Illinois were pioneers too!” Ashley said.

“True, the real homebodies stayed on the east coast, but…” said Tim.

“What about whalers?” Peter couldn’t help interrupting since he recently read a comic book version of Moby Dick.

Tim shook his head as if he didn’t know what to say to that.

Nanette filled in the silence with a ‘Mom-ism’, “And that’s why stereotypes don’t work!”

“Anyway,” Tim said, “I brought you this.” He pulled something out of his pack and held it out.

“A feather? A fossil?” asked Nanette.

“A special feather. A passenger pigeon feather. It’s coated in amber with flecks of meteorite.”

Peter’s eyes got bigger. “Really? Does that help power the time machine?”

Tim sighed. “I’m not telling you how I made my time machine. This isn’t the power, though. I originally had steam power, but after traveling to the 20th century I refitted the machines with battery power to be more compact. The passenger pigeon feathers paired with other things that I’m not telling you about—more than just amber and meteorite flecks—enables the temporal drive.

“I’m more of a tinkerer than a scientist, so I couldn’t explain it all if I tried.  And I’m not going to try. Depending on how you look at it, my discovery of time travel was the result of fortuitous circumstances or bad timing.”

Tim sighed and looked into the distance as he spoke.

“I personally think the latter. I should never have made this machine. Since I’ve had it, I’ve done nothing but try to clean up messes of my own making, like this debacle with the thieves.” He looked at Nanette and Frank. “Even the The Secret of the Pirate’s Medallion solved a mystery that would never have happened if I had stayed in my own time.”

Nanette said, “So you’re afraid of the consequences if someone else figured out time travel?”

“Yes, but thankfully I don’t think that will happen. I  heard that passenger pigeons are extinct in 2003, and I don’t believe there is a suitable substitute, even among similar birds.

“Anyway, this feather will not enable a temporal drive as it is, but will work as a locator. It’s keyed to my machine.” Tim pulled out a crudely drawn map from his pack and handed that over also. “This map shows where my old cabin is located near Bass Lake. Sometime around midday on Wednesday, meet me there. If you don’t show up, or can’t show up, this feather will help me find you in time and space.

“I hope we will be closer to ending this by then.”

“Me too!” Nanette said.

“If we manage to get ahold of the thieves’ time machine, should we destroy it? How do we destroy it?” Frank asked.

Tim smiled mischievously. “Smash it, throw it off a cliff, hit it with a sledgehammer, run over it with the car! It isn’t hard to break.”

“Keep your own machine in good repair, then,” Nanette said. “Curt really wants to go home.”

“And I want to take him there,” Tim replied solemnly.

Tim stayed a while longer to talk with Nanette and Frank, but the conversation turned to topics more boring to the kids, so Nathan and Peter decided to go swimming. They changed into their trunks in the car, but Ashley and Charlie didn’t want to go into the foul smelling lake.

Tim told them, “The stink is just brine shrimp and algae washed up on the shore. It won’t hurt you. Besides, when will you have another chance to explore a lake like this?”

“Yuck!” Ashley replied and was content to play with Charlie on the shore while the boys waded out. The water was so shallow that they walked really far out and it never got deeper than their knees.

Nanette and Frank got some beach towels out of the car and they sat on them with Tim while they talked.

Tim filled them in on more of his adventures. He had tried to see them at other times, but because of problems with his machine—or perhaps because of the quirks of time travel—he had been unable to interact with the surroundings. He had learned enough to return to their house last May to thwart the BGs bomb attempt. And he had heard the family use the term BGs, so it wasn’t strange to him.

Tim left before the boys came out of the lake, but promised he would be at the meeting place in Bass Lake on Wednesday. Nanette fervently hoped that they–and Curt–would be there to meet him.

End of Chapter 24

The beginning of Chapter 25 can be found here: Chapter 25a: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)










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