The Way It Could Be.
Part 5 of 6.
Day 3: Morning
This time Mike woke up late, and took his time to get moving. From the window he could see Pete in the vegetable garden. Things from yesterday kept clicking onto his mental desktop. He rummaged among them, until Bernie appeared wheres the delete button when you need it. Time to get busy doing something; packing would do for now.
As he came into the kitchen Jan said "Weve had breakfast but Ill have a mug while you have yours, unless youd like to go for a walk."
"Oh, no, Im starting slow this morning. Happy to sit."
Amy breezed through. Mike was disappointed that she still seemed rather cool towards him. She was off to some event and Pete soon came in to help her get ready.
"Are you all set for the great treasure hunt Mike? It starts in about an hour."
"Yes. Tell me a bit about it."
"There is a group of students visiting us from Canada I think. Jenny has organised for them to do the treasure hunt and we thought you might like to join in. You get clues and have to work out how to get to the end of the course and find the treasure. Youd enjoy it, some surprises though."
"Well, OK. Sounds interesting. How long does it take?"
"About two hours. The course takes you around the village and through the forests."
"Whats the treasure?"
"Youll find out, but I can tell you its very valuable. Oh do you have any old things to wear?"
"No, not really."
"You could use some of Petes. You two are about the same size. Would that be alright?"
Mike sat facing the window. "Fabulous morning out there."
"Yes. Theres rain about, but just look at that view."
"Is that where Amy went the other day, to the top of that mountain?
"No. Thats our highest peak. Not that its very high really. Its little more than a steep hill, but its the biggest one around here."
"Still the view from the top must be great."
"Oh yes I suppose so."
"Dont you know. Do you mean you have never climbed it?"
"Thats surprising. I thought by now you would have been up there many times."
"We walk on the slopes but we dont go to the top."
Jan thought for a moment. "Out of respect I guess."
"Whats the right attitude to that mountain?"
Mike just stared.
"He gives us our water, and shelters us from the Westerlies. He is much older than me, and so patient. He can take fires and droughts; always comes back green. He knows more about this region than I do. And I like nestling down here in his valley. And his forests are magical. So Id say the right attitude is a mixture of humility and gratitude and respect. To climb him would be to conquer him, to assert my superiority. Thats not the right way to think about him. I often wonder what he thinks about these silly little human lice that crawl over him in recent times, causing so much disturbance. Hell be here long after weve gone."
"You are a Pagan."
"Thats right. Arent you? Its the only road to salvation you know. Humans wont save the environment until they come to respect, appreciate and indeed worship nature."
"Then we have had it! Thats too much to expect."
"Maybe. But that outlook is reinforced when you live close to nature and become very dependent on it. People who live in cities cant be expected to understand any of this. So if we can only get them into places like The Glen it will be easier to get the reverence going than you might have thought."
"Yes, thats plausible, but its going to be very difficult. Reverence for nature isnt in the Western mentality."
"Right. Natures there to exploit, conquer, dig up, log, sell off. By the way do you know what Edmund Hillary said when he had reached to top of Mt. Everest?"
"We knocked the bastard off."
After a few moments Mike said, "By the way, whos Fred? His opinion seemed to be very important at the water committee meeting the other night. How come people are so ready to defer to him?
"Oh, sorry! " Jan said "I shouldve realised you wouldnt have known about Fred. No one has explained him yet?"
"Ah then you must meet Fred. Very influential fellow, our Fred." Jan said, getting up out of her chair. "Come on." She moved towards the door still carrying her mug. Mike got up and followed, a bit puzzled at such a sudden decision to go and meet someone when he was still eating breakfast."
But Jan only went to the desk in the next room and had started to fiddle with the computer. "Sit down. Im just calling up Fred." A few seconds later, "Ah, there he is. Now what would you like to know?"
"What would you like to know. Tell me something you would like to know about, some controversial issue like "
Mike thought hed been follower long enough and a bit of assertion was called for, so he cut her off with, "Does God exist?"
Jan didnt miss a beat, but just rattled away and said, "There we are, theres the index. Now lets rummage around a bit. First we had better find God."
"You can do that?!" Mike said in mock amazement, although he had no idea what was going on.
"Yep. There he is." Jan pointed to the screen. It was displaying a list from the top to the bottom of the screen. At the left side of every line was the world God, followed by other words Mike couldnt make out as Jan moved down the screen, muttering to herself. Then she said, "Lets try existence of " Another few seconds and she said, "Ah, here we are; this looks like what we want."
Mike now saw on the stationary screen many lines on which the world God was followed by - existence of.
"Well, how long have you got?" Jan asked, "How long are you prepared to spend on this trivial question?
Mike didnt know what to say.
"Were due at the Hunt in less than hour. Youd better take an overview. You can go to the longer accounts later if you want to. She scrolled down a bit more and checked on an entry. "So there you are." On the screen Pete could see a document headed God/TheExistenceOf/Overviews/ Level1.
Jan said, "OK, OK. Time to explain. Fred is a type of encyclopedia but one that deals mainly with controversial social and philosophical issues. But theres also a lot of technical information, for example on the best gravels for reed beds and the costs of garbage gas plant. He enables you to get onto a very good account of an issue, quickly and efficiently and clearly and reliably."
"So does he tell me whether God does in fact exist?"
"He tells you want can be said about that. Theres a general format for entries. If you ask, "Does acupuncture cure Arthritis?" Freds first concern is to tell you the facts, i.e., whats known. His second aim is to tell you what the main theories or views or positions or arguments on the issue are. In this case Fred has set out for you the arguments for and against the existence of God.
"But the issue could be unsettled; I mean the facts, like whether or not it cures arthritis might be uncertain, not established. Some studies might say yea and some no."
"Thats right, and Fred will set all that out, and sometimes there will be no settled facts only studies and probabilities and scraps of evidence. But then after giving you those he might offer you an interpretation of the situation."
"Whose interpretation? How do I know Fred is reliable? All interpretations are biased, from a point of view. It cant be otherwise. Why should I take any notice of Freds view? Anyway, who is Fred?"
"Of course, of course. Interpretations are problematic and there is no one that is the correct and complete one. What Fred does is give you the interpretation developed by the panel that works on looking after that field. You can look up who they are. They do their best to think out what all the evidence means, knowing that they must try as hard as possible to help you understand the issue and to avoid bias. Often theyll say there are several interpretations of this field or topic, and they will set all these out. Sometimes theyll say this one or that one seems best and they will give their reasons. Sometimes theyll say they have no doubt about what the best interpretation is, and sometimes theyll say they are not at all confident but this is the way it seems to them to be, or theyll say they cant choose, but here are the interpretations that are held and between which they cant decide with their supporting cases."
"Why dont you just get a good account from some textbook?"
"Oh thats what we mostly do. The panel knows the literature in the field so it usually just selects some existing account that they know is very good, for a particular level. But sometimes they think its best to put together their own, maybe based on a text."
"Whos on these panels?"
"People volunteer and theyre registered and official. They include mostly academics in the field in question, and lay people with a deep long term interest. They regard their work as an extremely important contribution to their society and theyre very conscious of the need to sort out and present good reliable, clear accounts, and to be as unbiased as possible, because what theyre doing is helping us all to understand issues and sort out good social policies, and its crucial that we do that as well as possible. There are two sorts of statements. Many are about long term issues that dont change much over time, like what are the arguments for and against the existence of God, or what were the causes of World War 1. These can be changed if new evidence and ideas come in, and from time to time the panel overseeing such an issue will revise the material on it. And every statement has a date on it, telling when it was last revised."
"And the second kind? You said there are two sorts of statements."
"The second is to do with current local affairs. Something that comes up suddenly and might be about a debate over policy, or a decision that has to be made. These can be pretty trivial, like what speed limit to put on a particular road. Its always important to be able to go straight to a good simple overview of the issue, about what you would get on one page. The panel aims at presenting a consensus statement on what are the arguments pro and con, and almost always this is possible, because they simply set out what they agree on as being the relevant facts, theories, interpretations etc., and what they agree on as their interpretation .which might include the fact that there are many interpretations in this field."
"Now look", Said Mike ,"You might be able to settle whether or not God exists in one page, but not whether I should give up butter! Some issues are very complicated and it would take a lot of time and space to set out faithfully."
"Quite. I was coming to that. For any issue there are a number of accounts at different levels of detail. The first is about a page long, so anyone can grasp the essentials in a couple of minutes. Look here, for God, see it says Level 1. Then there is usually an account that might be 5 pages long. Then there is usually one that is about 15 to 25 pages long. Then there is a very detailed presentation that gives access to all the references and side issues and evidence the panel has got onto, so you can spend as long as you like researching it all for yourself if you want to. At this level there are links all over the place."
"Does anyone ever challenge the accounts?
"Yes. You can lodge your view and the panel will consider your arguments. They might revise their statement, or if not they would attach a commentary to your input. There might then be a long debate which anyone interested can read over. All archived if you want to dig through. See its all about giving you all the information you need to work out your position, and saving you the immense trouble of having to dig it out for yourself, when you dont know the field and cant tell whats good stuff and what isnt."
"But now I have to tell you the scene gets a bit more complicated. If you want to you can look at what various goups would say about the topic. It could be that you prefer to know how a Protestant or Norwegian or a Marxist or an Ecofeminist would see the issue."
"Why? Isnt the truth the truth? Why wouldnt you want one panel that tells you the situation as the experts think it is. Are you saying theres a Protestant truth about acupuncture that is different from the Catholic truth about it?"
"Actually yes. As we see it, all any individual or group can give is their account from their perspective. No one can state The Truth. Any account will be in terms of a vocabulary that deals with or attends to or highlights some aspects and not others. A geographer would give a different account of our town from that of a painter, or a botanist. No one of these accounts would be truer than any other. They would just be accounts from different perspectives or in different terms. So if you were a painter you might be more interested in one given in those terms. A Marxist might be interested in how things affect the interests of capitalist and working classes, and in contradictions in the system, in social justice, exploitation, power, privilege, and in the economic substructure of society. Now a Protestant isnt very interested in these things. A Protestant would be more interested in a discussion that at least refers to things like what the Bible says about the issue and how it connects with faith and predestination etc, things a Marxist never talks about. So you can see that there could be a discussion of anything, even traffic proposals, from either of these perspectives, and these would not necessarily contradict each other on issues of basic fact, but would use different vocabularies and focus on different aspects. So it might be that if you prefer to think about the world in Marxist terms you would usually tap into the interpretation of the issue in question thats been developed by a Marxist panel. I usually go for the Ecofeminist perspective on things, but sometimes its very helpful to look at how the issue is being interpreted by some group whose outlook I dont share at all."
"So what is the limit here. Is Henry Murphys perspective there?"
At last Mike was in charge, for a moment! "Henry, or Alf, or Annabel, or anyone?"
"Oh, I see. Yes, could be. Anyone who wants to make an account available or a comment, or a quibble can lodge it. But a few major group positions come to be most known and referred to, and only those groups have the resources to put up material on a wide range of topics. But most people only use the main panels analyses."
"But there can still be disagreement about how to represent the field, for example about how significant some counter argument really is, or how powerful some causal factor was. "
"Yes. The panel just thinks carefully and says , This is what we think, Everyone knows the panel can be wrong, and if someone thinks it is they feed this in and its debated, and if the panel still thinks so, we all know thats the considered view of that expert and conscientious group but there are some who differ and here is their view. "
"So the user is the one who comes to, or adopts an interpretation in view of the information given?"
"Thats right. Let me put it this way. The panels job is to enable you to work it all out for yourself without accepting anyone elses conclusion. Its task is to make available, as intelligibly and succinctly as possible all the relevant considerations, facts and interpretations, but with the detail there if you want it. Its not a matter of taking their word for it. Ultimately they are not saying, "Its like this; we are smart and we have thought about it and we conclude its like this". They are saying, we are experts who know the literature in this field and we have done all this spade work for you. Heres the evidence, the interpretations, and ours, organised as accessibly as possible, and here are all the references and detail, so you can now conveniently, quickly wade through it and see why we arrived at our decision and you can come to a different one if you wish."
" Well, well. Its all very interesting. But why do it? Why have you gone to so much trouble. Why are all these little groups beavering away all the time when they could be at the pub?"
Jan paused, leaned back and stared at the ceiling, with a "Where to begin?" sigh.
"Look, most of the mess in the world, the conflicts, the stuff ups, the rackets, the domination, the suffering and most of the wars that go on, would not happen if people were able to understand the issues properly. Politics is usually about groups struggling to get their way at the disadvantage of others and crucial in this is bluffing, lying and bullying people into accepting your case or your version of the situation. The social policies you get are shaped by how people in general see the issues and again in most societies people have very imperfect and distorted understandings of what the situation is and what options there are and what the effects of different actions are likely to be. In the society you come from there is no way ordinary people can sort any of this out, and be at all sure what to support or vote for. And some people have immense power to get you to see the issue the way they want you to see it. A very few very rich people own all the media, and they use them to make the world appear as they want you to see it. A few can hire PR people and advertisers and think tanks. Governments and corporations and unions and church leaders often put their "spin" on the issue, that is they lie and deceive, and you have no way of knowing what the situation really is. In any case most of us dont have the time to sort it all out."
"OK. l can see a good Fred would eliminate those problems."
"The main reason why disadvantaged and oppressed people put up with their situation is to do with ideology. They either dont understand that the situation is unjust or they think it is legitimate and they dont deserve a better deal. Once everyone believed that the king had a divine right to rule. The crucial task that people on the Left have always had, and failed at badly, has been to help poor and oppressed people to see that the systems they are suffering are bad. Most of the misery humans have endured and that they suffer today would be remedied immediately if people in general understood that the situation is rotten and could and should be changed. And confusion and mistakes are behind much racism, white superiority, and fundamentalism."
"OK I agree, but surely thats not the whole story because as well as understanding there must be concern and motivation, the feeling element that produces the urge to change the situation."
"Agreed, but the first problem is simply to facilitate clear understanding of situations. For example very few people in Australia today seem to have an understanding that the global economy is extremely unjust and that their affluent lifestyles are built on the exploitation of millions of impoverished Third World workers making the toys and clothes and coffee we buy in supermarkets. If this situation was clearly understood its much more likely that it would be changed. You cant expect anything to be done about problems if theyre not even clearly understood. Fred is about solving that problem. So Fred is very important."
"OK." Said Mike. "I can see he probably saves an astronomical amount of wasted time and effort and argument."
"He certainly does that but much more important is that because Fred exists many things just never become controversies. Often everyone can see what makes sense. It means many issues can be quickly resolved and the right policies adopted. It means that the difficult and controversial cases can be tackled effectively, free from the confusion and mistakes and deliberate obfuscation that would have clogged the process otherwise. And Fred greatly increases involvement in public issues, because he empowers everyone. We all know we can easily get to understand an issue and join in a discussion in an informed way. Any one in The Glen can look up the figures on the new garbage gas proposal, and the arguments for putting it here or there. Or they can quickly get the hang of the Korean War was all about, or how Australia treated East Timor in the Whitlam era. In your society many people have abandoned politics and public life because they feel they cant understand what is going on and they cant have any influence when an issue blows up. They know that their understanding is very imperfect and probably wrong but you cant easily do much about it. Fred prevents this and thereby greatly lifts the quantity and quality of public discussion."
"How does Fred fit into the education system. He is a sort of universal curriculum isnt he? I mean he is a gigantic text book of everything."
"Bingo! Right on! Thats one of Freds main roles. He is knowledge. He is the text books. If anyone is teaching anything, or just wants to learn anything, they can go to Fred knowing that in a few seconds they will find a really good account at the level they want, and with the detail to study at depth if they want that. This is why people mostly teach themselves around here. Everyone knows they can quickly get a good understanding of anything, so you look it up. And its why we have very few magazines."
"Eh? What has Fred got to do with magazines?"
"Magazines like Gardening Monthly mostly trot out the same information again and again, like what to do in the rose patch this month. Thats a waste of paper. We just put that sort of information into Fred and anyone can look it up whenever they wish, year after year."
"Well, well thats all very interesting," said Mike, almost to himself. "How about I look up a few things myself, to see how Fred handles them."
"OK, but there is just one other thing I should explain. Remember that the accounts are at different levels. Now sometimes all these four levels are included in the one document, by what we refer to as nesting for scanning format."
"Lets get one up on the screen. Theres a fabulous one here somewhere very elegantly done because its my one on geraniums."
"Geraniums! Does that come under the heading of controversial or philosophical!?"
"Neither! I like Geraniums. Everyone should like Geraniums so my mission in life is to persuade everyone Geraniums are fascinating and you should get involved. So I have set up in Fred an analysis of Geraniums. You should send him one on sarcasm."
"Alright, alright. Lets do Geraniums."
"No, were here for the format, not the content. What do you see there? You see a screen in many scripts, many different indentations, some underlined, some italics, some big type, some in bold, stuff in brackets and footnote numbers all over the place. All this my friend makes for simplicity!"
"Oh I can see that", said Mike, sarcastically.
"Now lets assume you were Amy; shes nine. Lets assume she has 5 minutes to find about Geraniums. What does she do? She just scans through reading these biggest type headings. If you pulled them all out into an article you would get what I think are the essentials about Geraniums on about one page, and you would have understood the map of my whole detailed analysis. I mean you would know where you can read in more detail on any aspect that interests you. See, here , half way down begins the stuff on propagation. You could skip that, or you could scan it. Under the big type heading there is a short paragraph. Below that there is a bigger paragraph further indented and in smaller print, giving more detail on the themes summarised in the first paragraph. In each of them the key phrases and sentences are in bold type. Lesser themes and key bits of grammar are in normal type, but the least important words are in faint type. All this enables you to almost see at a glance what that paragraph is about or where you need to focus to get what you are interested in, or whether to skip that paragraph. You can then literally scan-read a very long document extremely quickly. You can actually read a book in ten minutes, by scanning and skipping through the main points, stopping to go into more detail whenever you want to. I mean this more like checking out than reading."
"I see. Yes, when Im researching a topic for an article often my purpose is only to get some idea of what some topic is all about, to decide if its likely to be worth delving into, and if so what parts will be of interest to me."
"Yes and when you read a normal book its very difficult to do this, because the key points in the text are not highlighted. This nested for scanning way of setting out an account enables you to check out large amounts of material quickly and identify whats there for you, and if you like you can slow up and dwell on the stuff thats for you. "
"OK," said Pete. "Looks great. Really does but I have just thought of one thing I know that Fred doesnt."
"If we are not careful well be late for the treasure hunt
There were about ten young adults standing in a huddle outside Marios when Mike, Jan and Pete arrived. Quite a lot of the locals were also there chatting to them. Jan explained to Mike that they had come into The Glen yesterday as part of the University course they were doing in Canada. An option open to many students now is to spend some time in an eco-village somewhere around the world.
They had just finished some kind of game or exercise and several of the students were still wearing colourful, comical clothing, including hats and masks. All were in high spirits. Jan introduced Mike explaining that he was going to join them in the hunt. Jenny indicated that two young girls were going along too. They were wearing masks, more or less obscuring their faces but tufts of hair stuck out. The smaller one had jet black hair and the other with the bright blue mask was blonde.
A tractor chugged up pulling a trailer, Jenny said, "OK everybody the kits have arrived, we can start. Here, help me unload these." She started passing an odd collection of backpacks from the trailer.
"Its very simple. You have to find your way to the next place where theres a clue to how you can find the following place where theres another clue, and so on, all the way to the end. These backpacks are kits that give you the gear youll need to work out or get hold of the clues, so you will each need to take one of these. Weve packed one for each of you. Look for your name on the tag."
Mike happened to be closest so he took the first and handed it to someone then turned for the second one. He was surprised to find that it was quite heavy and the third so light that it could have been empty.
There was a huge group of locals there by now, surrounding the treasure hunters. "Who is going to win?" someone said "Ill back that big tough looking bloke." Another said laughing "My moneys on the stringy mean man there"
People started rummaging around in their packs. "You mean Im going to need a bottle opener?" "Maybe the treasure is a crate of booze." "What! A book of statistical tables!?"
Mike found an odd collection of bits and pieces including a coil of rope, a hammer and nails, paper and pens and a pocket calculator. Somebody said in dismay, "Two house bricks!" It was Gayle, who had ended up with the second pack. Mike wondered why the packs were very different.
"Ready? Packs on everyone," Jenny called. "The first check point is down there at the lake on a bright blue signboard about 150 metres from here. Your first task is to find it. Are we ready to start? The countdown is about to begin! Who will find the treasure?"
Looking at the participants, Mike started to think they were so different in strength and brains, some being fit looking young adults and the two kids only about ten years old. The whole thing might be a sadly un-thought out fizzle, leaving many disappointed. Charlie was a fiercely fit looking 20 year old in a singlet and running shorts, wearing a big grin, bouncing up and down and swinging his arms in an exaggerated warm up performance. He sure did look mean and stringy. Mike felt that some of the others might be feeling rather daunted at their chances.
"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go!"
Charlie sprang away in an exaggerated knee lifting run and the rest straggled into action after him. A girl immediately dropped her pack and stumbled, swore, scrambled her act together and scurried after the main group. The onlookers cheered wildly, waved arms and called out inspiring comments as the participants started to move out of the green and down the path towards the lake.
Mike was a good runner, and he had been trying to decide how seriously to go at the task, but he thought he might as well take it easy and watch Charlie win the honours, so he shuffled along in the middle of the pack. Some were moving further ahead, but when he looked back he could see a few falling well behind. The two girls were right back, Penny carrying her pack in her arms awkwardly. Again he thought that this was a bit unsatisfactory, the kid probably isnt enjoying the event much, but one wouldnt be able to tell because both of the girls faces were almost completely covered by their somewhat silly masks.
It only took about two minutes to get to the lake and as Mike came through the scrub he was surprised to see the fast starters some fifty metres away standing in a group talking and gesticulating. Charlie wasnt there, and as Mike came closer one of the girls said loudly "Oh yeah, I get it," and ran off to the right.
The sign had writing all over it. Mike scanned and with some dismay could see that it was some kind of brain-teaser about how to work out the instructions for finding the next clue. The writing got smaller so he couldnt scan it all with the others crowding around and jabbering. The message was a garbled concoction of things that seemed relevant and things that were not. It began,
Seekers of the great treasure you must travel 180 metres from here to the dwelling of the ancient elf. You will know when you have found it for he will be there to greet you. You must read on to find out what direction to go to find him. Those who are very clever will work it out quickly, but if you cant, the precise location is stated somewhere below in the text explaining the natural history of elves.
Mike glanced down the board to see a mass of text in rather small print. OK, try to work it out or have to wade through all that. Someone else said "Aah," and ran off. Meanwhile two others had caught a up and started expressing their consternation looking over Mikes shoulder. He plunged into the second paragraph which explained that the location could be read by rearranging the letters set out in a row. Mike assumed the gaps separated words and set to work on the first one which was pretty obviously T-H-E, then the second and then it didnt take long to see that it could be E-L-F, then I-S, then a bit more difficult. A seven letter word with some of them upside down this time making it harder to work on, but he soon got S-I-T-T-I-N-G, and therefore the sense of what was to come. The next two were easy, U-N-D-E-R and H-I-G-H, but the last one was not so easy and after a few moments, Mike thought about scanning the text below on the habits and lifestyles of elves.
He scanned down the first section and then onto the second and was about to go back to the letters when his eyes just happened to pick up like to sit. And there it was, the old elves always like to sit under the high arched bridge. He looked up and could see at a glance that the scrambled letters could be rearranged as A-R-C-H-E-D B-R-I-D-G-E, but without the space.
He smiled to the others, without saying anything, and moved aside just as Gayle made it to the sign, puffing and looking somewhat agitated. She dumped her pack and started trying to figure out its message. Some were enjoying the action, making witty comments and laughing, but some seemed more serious, indeed, worried.
Mike soon came to the bridge in time to see someone come out from under it, scramble up the bank and jog across it, revealing which side Mike should head for. He almost slid down the bank beside the bridge, bent low and moved under. Sure enough there sat a little concrete elf leaning on a stick smiling, a blue sign around his neck read
Hi there! Nice to meet you. You will be wanting to know where clue two is. Its a hundred metres north of here, where you will find Albert near the blue pole. He has the directions for the third leg.
Mike climbed back up to the path and looked around. Where the heck is north? Aah! wheres the sun? So it should be in that direction.
As he started to jog across the bridge, another two treasure hunters came from the scrub. One called out "Is this the bridge? Have you found the elf?"
Mike said "yes" then asked himself whether to save them the trouble of going under the bridge, but decided not to and turned towards the sun.
From the bridge a wide grassed area ran between the stream and the tall trees to the left. A few people were in sight, strolling or sitting on benches. Which one of them was Albert? Mike estimated a hundred metres form the bridge and sure enough there was a couple seated on a bench, and another standing with a large dog, and what looked like a tomato stake was near by. Getting closer he could see the stake was painted blue. Then he saw that the people standing were Charlie and Anne and there seemed to be some sort of argument going on.
The couple sitting on the bench were made up as a very old man and woman, smiling merrily, each holding a sign, One saying "I can only say NO", and the other "I can only say YES". So the hunt involved some of the locals playing a part in the action.
Charlie was just standing and doing nothing, apparently having been there for some time, getting no where, and seemed a bit cranky that Anne and now Mike had caught up.
Mike said to the old man, "Hello, you would be Albert I think".
Charlie cut in with "No he isnt."
"Well, are you Albert," Mike asked the lady.
"She can only say Yes" or nothing, she cant say No. At least Ive found that out."
"We asked him if shes Albert, and he said No." Anne said. "And we asked her if she knows where Albert is, and she said Yes. But how do we get out of them where Albert is? Thats the problem."
"Have you asked them is Albert somewhere close around here?" Mike said to Charlie. But before he could respond, the old lady said "Yes" and smiled.
"Is Albert within 50 metres?"
They all looked around, saw only one person standing close by, the man in the yellow hat holding the dog on the lead, and they pounced together.
"Is that guy Albert?" Charlie had even started to move off.
"How come," said Charlie, looking around once more.
"Lets start again. Is Albert within..."
Anne cut across him. "Is Albert a person? I mean could Albert be something else, I mean..."
"Aah. Its the dog, right?" Anne said.
"Good morning Albert", said Mike, "I believe you have something to tell us".
They all stood around Albert as he sat on his haunches looking up at them. Anne and Charlie were badgering the dog owner, a tall man wearing a floppy yellow hat, but he would only smile. The situation became more complicated as two more hunters came up breathless. One said, "Have you found Albert?"
Charlie hesitated, not keen to give away what theyd found out the hard way. Mike leaned down, patted Albert on the head and then noticed the tag hanging from his collar. It read in a beautiful, running, engraved script Albert.
As Mike stood up, the tag spun at the end of its short chain and Mike noticed that the back was blue, the same blue that was on the previous clue signs. He bent down again and turned the tag so he could see the back. On it in small letters was printed Clue 3 is in the Mudbrick Quarry.
Mike stood up. The others were still talking and focused on each other in a confusion of questions and comments and the tone was becoming a little heated. Mikes mind raced, should he tell them? Just then, one of the new arrivals asked a useless question, and Charlie made an exasperated gesture that was enough to tip Mike. He quietly moved away and approached the people beside the lake.
Before he could ask them where the quarry was, one of them smiled and said,
"Just over there, 80 metres or so".
Mike plunged through scrub and onto a lane, which way to go? He saw a stake with a blue sign up ahead. It said "Mudbrick Quarry", with an arrow. Then he realised that the path was going to cut across the one the hunt had begun on, not very far from the starting point. So the course zig-zagged back across the same territory. Sure enough he soon came out onto the first path. As he crossed it he glanced left and saw, not 50 metres away, Penny and the other girl sitting down. They hadnt seen him and in a split second his momentum had carried him across into the thick bush again. He concluded that they must have given up.
The blue signs were conspicuous so he lost no time having to think out which way to go. But he started to think more about the kids back there on the track. They must be having a lousy time. But some of the other hunters were also struggling and frustrated. After all it is a hunt and someone will win and many will lose. And right now he was actually in front, a somewhat unfamiliar situation for Mike. But maybe he really should go back and help those kids.
But not for long. A noise behind him announced the rapid approach of Charlie, running fast and panting hard.
"Aside, little fellow, aside. Set superior talent through!" He thundered past gasping, elbows out and stringy long legs gobbling up the distance. Mike bristled. Hed just been plodding and was pretty fresh and he could see Charlie was puffed. He thought he could run him down if he tried. But the kids back there were on his mind.
The irritating choice was clear. Either go after Charlie and cut him down to size, win the race, take the treasure, become world famous or help these kids out, with not even a press photographer to witness the deed. Damn. He turned back.
It didnt take long to find them. They looked up quite startled as he approached. Penny had propped her red mask on the top of her head but for some reason put it back on as soon as Mike appeared
"Hi. Need a hand?"
"Oh, not really", said Penny. "Were OK. Just having a rest."
"Do you know what way to go to the next clue?"
"Yes. Were OK, really Well go on now."
"You sure? Its down there. Albert is a dog. Have a look at his tag."
Mike was a bit surprised at their response but could at least see they were not upset and wanting help. There was not much more he could do, so he said "Good luck fellow hunters," turned and retraced his steps as they stared after him.
Within 50 metres of where he had turned back, the path turned and dropped towards the creek and into a small clearing where he could see mud was being dug and made into bricks. There were benches, two small sheds, bits and pieces and many bricks stacked in under shelters. Many bricks were also scattered around on the ground, which seemed a bit odd. In the middle of the space was another blue stake holding a small notice, again blue and full of writing. Milling around it and wandering between the bricks were four or five hunters, including Charlie, looking puzzled. The sign read,
Congrats. You have found clue three. Somewhere in this sign you are told exactly what it is, but you might save time by following the hints. The clue is in the bricks, but your problem is that you are too close to see it.
Mike looked at the stacks of bricks. Were they supposed to unpack them? That seemed too much. He read on,
In fact you are standing in and on the clue. You cant see it from where you are and you cant see it from the east, or the west or the north or the south. What does that leave? You are too close you must move away. You cant read it from where you are.
After another two paragraphs of similar unhelpful text Mike read,
Well if going east or west or north or south wont make the clue obvious, why dont you try the remaining direction?
What other way could there be? Then it struck him that it might be upwards. Mike looked around. Up the side of the gully? Then he saw the ladder that had been right beside him up against the roof of the shed. Could that be it? Well, might as well climb it. The clue could be on the shed roof, but the roof was bare except for a box with turn around written on it in blue. Mike turned and there below, right where he had been standing, spelled out by the bricks hed thought were just scattered randomly and impossible to interpret at ground level, were the words In Marios bin.
He almost laughed out loud as he came down the ladder. He had wanted to say something clever to Charlie, maybe tell him to look over the other side of the next hill, but resisted the temptation and tried to move off without arousing suspicion.
It was only a short distance up the slope into the trees and then along to lane to where the houses began and then into the village centre. He quickly crossed to Marios and looked for a garbage bin out the front and failing to see one went inside and confronted a smiling Mario. Before he could speak Mario teased,
"Let me guess, you either want a tea, or a coffee, or a bin, right?"
"Out the back."
Mike went through, down three steps, and there in the middle of the yard was a tin garbage bin and a sheet of blue paper poking out from under the lid. He tugged but it wouldnt come out. It was a tough plastic cover and was somehow anchored in the bin and the lid was tightly jammed on. He could read several words at the bottom, including the last few, thats where youll find the clue.
Obviously it had to be got out somehow. He tugged as hard as he dared then realised that on either side a short chain ran from the lid to small bolts anchored in the side of the bin. The nuts were too tight to undo by hand, so how to get those nuts undone. First thing to do was to look in his kit, but there was no spanner and nothing that looked as if it could be used as a spanner. What to do. Look around the side, especially for anything blue. No use. After two or three minutes, Mike was reduced to leaning against the wall looking at the bin unable to come up with anything like a promising idea.
Then with a ruckus, Charlie and three hunters burst through Marios backdoor and Mikes lead had evaporated. He might as well tell them what he knew. He pointed to the blue folder and the nuts and said, "Look in your packs for a spanner or anything that would engage a nut that size."
A flurry of rummaging for a few seconds. Anne tried her bottle opener. One of the others failed with the gap between the claws of a little hammer. Then Charlie said, "Hey, look at this!" He was standing still, gazing at a sheet of blue paper he had found in his pack.
"Dont you have one?"
"No all the packs are different, didnt you know?"
"What is it and can it undo nuts?"
"It says This is a list of whats in everyone pack. "
"So does it undo quarter inch Whitworth nuts, thats all I want to know."
"But it says there is a shifting spanner "
" In Pennys pack."
"In Pennys pack it says."
"Let me see." They crowded around and passed the sheet between them.
"Wheres Penny when you need her."
"Wheres Penny anyway. She must be miles behind."
People looked at each other, struggling to digest the situation.
"OK, OK. Lets get organised here. The task is to find Penny, Right? Well have to go back and find where she is."
"What then?" said Charlie.
"Well," said Mike, "As I see it the options are clear. One we steal the spanner, strangle Penny and throw her body off the bridge. If thats not acceptable we tell her she has the key to finding the treasure and would she mind helping us do that. Any other options come to mind?"
"OK, how about Mike and I jog back," said Charlie. "Were obviously the best at this sort of thing. Well save you."
"And come back pretending you cant find her, hiding the spanner I bet."
"Let them go. Itll tire them out more. Well guard the bin. Theyll have to come back here, so we can tip out their packs if they are hiding it and pretending."
Mike and Charlie went out through Marios. Mario seemed strangely preoccupied, stacking something. Across the green, through the bushes, down towards the creek. There was the man in the yellow hat, Albert and his two old friends, now being interrogated by two straggling and exasperated hunters, but no Penny was to be seen.
One of the stragglers said "Whats going on, where are you all going?"
"Have you seen Penny?"
"No, she was way behind us."
They almost ran over Penny and the other girl as they jogged around a tight bend in the forest.
"Aah there you are! Hey, we need your spanner," blurted Charlie.
Penny did not look delighted.
"We cant get into the bin at Marios without the spanner youve got."
"In your kit."
"How do you know?"
"It says on the list."
Penny undid the strap and began scrambling around and then with a surprised look pulled out her hand grasping a small yellow shifting spanner.
"Yeah! Great work kid!" Charlie enthused. "Lets go!"
Within a few minutes the four of them got back to Albert. Mike showed Penny and the other girl the blue name tag. Charlie bowed several times in mock difference to the old couple who chatted "Yes" and "No", and laughed. A pat on the head for Albert and they all moved off quickly towards Marios again.
Mario was standing behind the counter with hands on hips smiling without a word as they filed through and out the back door again to be greeted with jubilant cheers by the others. Penny was paraded in front, still clutching the spanner.
"Here," said Charlie reaching for it, "Let me ."
"Just a minute" Mike said, "I think we have a problem dont we?"
"Well, thats not your spanner is it? Its not ours either. Its Pennys."
"Well, maybe its Pennys right to undo the nuts and read the clue."
"Well, OK, then well all just read it too then go on."
"Not if I read it first and then tear up the sheet," said Penny.
Her friend laughed. She had left all the talking to Penny although she seemed a little older. Now she was staring at Mike for some reason.
"The cunning buggers," said Charlie with a grin.
"Them what designed this hunt."
"Yes," someone else said. "Cant you see? Theyre toying with us, got us in a nice little fix havent they?"
"I think theyve got us all here together to make a point of some kind."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we now have this problem," Mike said. "How are we going to solve it? Are we going to say our kits are ours, like our private property that will help or hinder us as individuals, like what about Gayle who got loaded with the two bricks? Tough luck Gayle! While Penny is lucky because shes the only one who can get this clue here."
Gayle didnt say anything, just stood looking at the ground which puzzled Mike a little. Then he saw Penny and the other little girl staring at him, and that was a bit strange too.
"Anyway," said Charlie, "if she was the only one to get this clue and didnt tell us, then wed all follow her wouldnt we."
Then Penny said, "You fast guys would get the next clue and race ahead again, wouldnt you, leaving us to get lost again."
"OK, OK," said Mike. " How about we ask Penny politely if she would be prepared to let us all get this clue by letting Charlie undo the nuts."
"Great idea." "OK."
"But," said Mike. "What then? If she says yes, do we all race ahead again?"
"Guess not," said Charlie.
Someone said, "Look, how about we share this clue and we start again when we all get it?"
Cries of, "Yes, thats it." "Alright." "Lets go!"
Charlie took the spanner and in a few seconds had freed the two nuts, the lid came off to reveal the plastic cover firmly connected to one of the bolt heads preventing it from being pulled out. He undid the knot and held up the folder where most could see it.
He read out aloud, "The next clue is in the middle of Murphys pig pen. Murphys pig pen is at the western end of Elm Street."
Cries of "Yeah! To the Pigs", "Good old Murphy!" as packs were snatched up and Marios bin was knocked over. Mike nearly collided with Charlie while others scrambled to get their gear back into their packs.
Mike got to Elm Street quickly, but Charlie had streaked ahead. This time blue signs on tomato stakes left no doubt about which way to turn. Within a few minutes there was a big blue sign pointing left and announcing Murphys Pig Pen.
Around the corner and there was the pig pen, made from heavy boards and sheets of corrugated iron -- and there beside it was Charlie sitting on the ground looking at him.
"Charlie? What are you doing there, did you find the clue?"
"Yep," said Charlie. "It was right there in the middle of the mud." He pointed to a blue stake three metres out in a sea of black ooze in which four gigantic, thoroughly evil looking pigs were half submerged. And Charlies legs were black mud almost to the knees.
"Dont bother going in. I got the message here."
Mike was as stunned by Charlies generosity as by his not having been devoured by the pigs.
"How? They look ferocious!"
"No, I grew up on a farm, and, I shouldnt tell you this, but actually theyre asleep. Here, want to read the clue."
Mike took the paper wondering why on earth Charlie wasnt already over the nearest hill on the way to the next clue. Although the paper was suffering from Charlies muddy fingerprints, it clearly said, Clue five is on Gayles bricks.
They just sat there in silence waiting for the others, who they could now hear running towards the corner.
"Wheres Gayle?" said Charlie.
"We need Gayles bricks."
Just then Mike was amazed to see Gayle come around the corner. He had thought shed be way back.
"Gayle! Gayle! Honey me dorlin," Charlie said in a heavy Irish accent, while getting up and revealing to all the full glory of his muddy shanks, "Thank the good Lord youre here. We need your bricks."
Gayle looked stunned "Why?"
"Because clue six is on them."
"But we want clue five" said someone in a confused voice. "Clue five is supposed to be here at Murphys Pigs."
"It is," said Charlie. "Here it is," waving the paper and launching again into his accent. "It was out der in dat sea of mud in de middle of dem swines. God only knows how I risked me life to get through, -- now get out them bricks woman. See it says here clue six is on Gayles bricks."
Gayle finally closed her mouth, squared up, shuffled and said nothing. More hunters arrived, including the two little girls, still wearing their rediculous masks.
"She aint gonna give em to us," someone ventured.
"Ah, Gayle me dorlin," said Charlie "you wouldnt be so mean, would you?"
"Why not?" said Penny.
"Point, youve got a point there kid."
Gayle said No its not that, its just "
"Hey," said Charlie, " might I remind you ungrateful lot that it was me that got clue five for you all, right. I mean look at these legs, theyll probably rot off before I see any treasure. Anne, would you have gone into that seething, bubbling hell of micro-organisms to get clue five, past them fierce damsel-eating swine? The things I do for you lot! At the very least Gayle, you should at least give your old mate Charlie a peek at them bricks."
"I cant," said Gayle.
"Cant? Why not"?
Pause. "Cause I dumped them half an hour ago."
"I thought Stuff This! Im not lugging these when some of them have got nothing in their packs, so I threw them out. I mean how the hell do you think I've been able to almost keep up with the slowest of you?"
"Still beat us!" said Penny.
"The slowies get their revenge at last eh?"
"OK everybody, OK. Time to take stock of the situation. Weve got to get them bricks right?"
"Well, where are they Gayle?"
"I dont know."
"I mean, I more or less know, but I dont know for sure."
"Dropped them off the bridge I suppose."
"No, I wanted to but I thought someone would notice. Theyre in the scrub before we got to Albert. See I make quick decisions. Before we even started I knew those bricks were going to sit this one out. It was just a matter of when the first opportunity to dump them would present."
"Ok. Then lets all go back there and look."
"Alright, then but thats a million miles back. Gayle you have to always quit so soon?"
"No its not, "someone said. "Dont you realise weve been going round in a sort of circle. In fact if we cut across that way, well be into that stretch again."
"Are you sure Vic?"
"I think we should go all the way back and retrace our steps" someone else said.
"No, trust me," said Vic, "Im good with directions. I bush walk and do maths and spatial things. The place we started from is actually just over there Id say, maybe only a couple of hundred metres. If you go back the way we came itll take much longer."
"Would you buy a used car from this man?"
"I think hes right."
"Ok, lets try it."
Vic lead off and within no more than a few minutes, roofs came into view and they could see that he had been right. Another few minutes and they came out into the lane that had been the first leg of the hunt.
"Down here somewhere I think," said Gayle. "At least it was on this side, I know that. Oh dear, cant tell where. Look I think it would have been between that tree and the fallen one right down there".
"How far in?"
"Aah, I threw them pretty hard."
"I didnt ever want to see them again!"
"Maybe you wont!"
"OK everybody. How about we spread out along the road and search our patch in as far as you think Gayle would have chucked them."
"Gawd," said Charlie, "80 metres at least."
Within three minutes, someone called, "I think Ive got one, yep."
"Well, the other will be near, then "
Cheers from up and down the road as people came together.
"Give me my bricks," said Gayle, now feigning great concern for their welfare.
No she cant be trusted with them."
Anne had found the first one and was turning it over and over. "Its sort of got some blue writing on it, but it doesnt make sense."
"Same with this one," somebody else said.
They all came together in a huddle.
"Oh I see," said Mike. "Put them together, theres half the clue on each one.
They held the two end to end and as clear as daylight the whole message read,
Clue Six is in the red boat near the arched bridge.
"To bridge!" called Charlie swinging his pack up.
"Just a minute," Mike said. "Maybe we should debrief a bit here."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, lets try and figure this out. First it looks as if we dont know which bits of our kits are going to be useful and we dont know whose got the useful bits, right?"
"So Im a bit confused about this hunt," said Anne. "How can anyone take the treasure if its like that?"
"Maybe," said Charlie, "We bumble towards the finish line together, and then the fittest and cleverest and therefore most deserving, Im referring to me of course, out-smarts the field on the last leg and gets the treasure."
"Maybe," said Vic "we none of us will get to the finish unless we help people like Penny and Gayle to get there."
No-one had much more to say as they started to walk off towards the bridge, and for once there was not a rush with some streaking ahead.
The boat had been there all along near the bridge but no-one had taken any notice of it. Mr and Mrs Yes-No were still there and smiled and waved. A red rowing boat was anchored only three metres off the low but steep bank, some 30 metres from the bridge. Beside it on the bank was an assortment of ropes and poles, tools and bolts and clutter. As they gathered on the bank they could see a small blue box on a seat in the boat with Clue Seven clearly written on it in big letters, but lying flat on the ground right on the edge of the bank was a big blue sign saying
Treasure Hunters Beware. These waters are infested with giant hungry piranha. You must not enter the water.
"Aah," said Vic, "I get it. We have to get the box somehow without wading out. That means constructing something from this stuff to get across".
"Aah yes, a bridge, lets make a bridge."
Some of them started lifting boards and poles and rummaging through the gear. Anne thought she had the answer and carried a plank to the edge, but it would have been too short.
Charlie said, "Here this is the longest one." He placed one end on the bank and awkwardly dropped the other onto the edge of the boat, but the boat would have turned over if anyone had tried to walk out with all the weight on one side.
Mike said, "I think I get it. Tie ropes to the top of the plank and well hold them while somebody goes out."
They scurried into action and soon again had the plank just reaching the boat to the edge of the boat, several people holding each of the ropes somewhat awkwardly.
"Oh oh," said Vic, "I think we have a problem."
Too late. Charlie had started moving out, arms side-ways for balance, but he had only gone about a metre, when the pull on the low angle ropes started to slide the plank back along the grass, and off the boat. He was lucky to get back without becoming piranha fodder.
"I think," said Vic, " we have to make a crane."
"Yep, thatll be it. See the poles have holes that will take rope. That one could be a king pole and the very long one there could be an arm. Yes thats it. Lets go."
"Here hold that one up there while we tie it off with rope and someone yeah look a pulley! Im right. Someone shackle that pulley to the end of the pole and thread the heavier rope through."
"Aah yes, I see, thatll do it."
"Great, yes, must be the answer, its obviously all made to fit together. We mathematicians know we have the right answer when it comes out elegantly."
"Where will we anchor these guy ropes. No trees or anything around."
"I think well just have to hold them, maybe three of us on each of those ropes while a couple pull the rope lifting the hero."
"Yeah, someone has to be lifted up on the end of the rope, swung out to the boat to read the clue "
"Penny, Penny me dorlin," said Charlie. "Whats it like to be a hero?"
"Because, mirror, mirror on the wall, youse the lightest of us all."
Cries of "Yes!" "Good thinking Charlie."
Mike thought that Penny might go for more revenge by being difficult, but she promptly said, "Alright."
Meanwhile Vic had tied the end of the main rope into a loop and had organised three people as the haulers, more than enough. Some of the others would help him swing the boom 90 degrees when Penny was air born.
Vic said, "Now. Lets have a dummy run."
"No, your not getting me on that thing!" Charlie said, backing away.
"No lets use a bit of weight. Anyone got any bricks?"
"Gayle!" a gleeful chorus.
"Aw no, we left them when we got the message from them." Groans.
"OK. Anything will do. Give us a few packs. Now this is just so we all know our parts. Especially you haulers, you have to make sure you keep a good tension on all the time."
"Vic," Anne said, "Are you sure that will hold there, I mean the foot of the boom?"
"Yeah, thats ok. See its always going to be into the ground at a high angle so it will dig in and wont skid out. By the way, does youse mugs know what course Im doing?"
"Obviously not English."
"Engineering! Now, this rigs just fine, itll work like a dream."
After the trial Penny stepped into the loop and the haul team lifted her easily off the grass.
"Lets move the boom out, pull slowly you lot."
Penny swung out over the water, the team on the main rope only had to let out a metre or so and Pennys feet were on the boat seat amid cheers from all. She reached into the box, picked out a blue sheet and stood looking at it blankly.
"Come on. What does it say?"
"I dont know, I cant read it."
Oh no thought Mike, our hero is a slow learner, eight and cant read.
"Spell it out then."
Slowly she said "OK, v-o-u-s e-t-r-e-s "
"French!" someone called, "The damn things written in French!"
"Ok, lets get our hero back to dry land. Penny, dont dump that sheet just because its heavy will you, remember about bricks."
Penny passed the sheet to someone as they got her feet onto the grass again. The others laid the poles down and gathered round.
"Anybody done French?"
"Failed it though. But I did it."
"What can you make out? Its not very long."
"I can get a few of the simple words, it doesnt look complicated but that and this and this, no idea what they mean. If Id thought French might have been this useful someday I might have concentraed a bit more."
"Well, well get no where unless we can decipher it."
"Oh!" from the back of the group. They all turned to stare at Silvia who stared back with open mouth.
"Guess what! I think I have it! Youll never believe this, do you know what I saw in all the junk Im carrying? The sneaky buggers." She bent down and unbuckled her pack to reveal a mass of bits and pieces, like a kids toy box, and started delving into it.
"I didnt take much notice of what was in here at first, but I thought it must be a kind of decoy to distract us, like useless bricks, but, here it is. This is what I did see". She pulled out a small newspaper package tied with string, on I was written In case you have a French problem. Everyone knew what it was before the wrapping came off. Then Charlies voice boomed, "Aah yes, here it is, on the list. One small French - English dictionary. Here Ellen, what are the problem words?"
"Struth, slow learners! Charlie just read the damn list out so we all know whose got what. That should save gallons of time in future."
Charlie ran through the list while others looked through their kits.
"How about we even the packs up" someone said. "Some of us have been carrying a lot while mine for instance is pretty light."
"Good idea. Try to remember what your adding, so next time we need something we can get it quickly."
"We got it! Code broken. The key bit says You are 150 metres from the lobster pot.
"Great what direction?"
"Well, lets just go in all directions and look."
"Right, whats it going to look like, a cooking pot?"
"No, itll be the thing they catch them in, like a woven basket, spherical, maybe this big".
They fanned out, some along the grass banks, but most heading up into the scrub. Within three minutes the call came, "Got it! This way."
There in a clearing on a bench was an old lobster pot with bits of rope dangling out in all directions. Inside was a small blue container with Clue Seven written on it. A single blue cord ran from it to an opening in the side which was too small to get a hand into. They crowded around and started trying to puzzle out how to get the box out. The cord was jammed against the floor of the pot and the bench by about 20 pieces of steal rod just sitting vertically on it. Spikes prevented them from being pushed sideways and when Vic pulled one up, it rose enough to free the cord but a collar prevented it from being pulled right out, so when he let it go it sat down on the cord again.
"Somehow we have to get them all off the cord at the same time."
"Tip it upside down."
"Ok. Here, you get that side."
But the whole contraption was bolted to the heavy bench.
"Why dont we all lift one each?"
They crowded around shoulder to shoulder jostling and changing positions all reaching out. Much pushing and changing and advice, giggling and witty comments, like a rugby ruck. "Thats it, were going to make it, this will do it. Can any one reach that one?" "Aah losing my grip." "Thats it, nearly free Yeah!" "All lift." "Aah no, we got no one on that rod."
"OK team, have a breather. Remember where you were, but everyone shuffle down one and Anne can free one hand to hold that rod. Ready? Lets try it again."
A group cheer went up as the b ox was pulled out and people fell back from the scrum.
Three minutes later they were putting down their packs down at another bench with another cage-like structure. Clue Seven had told them that Clue Eight was on the blue billiard ball in the centre of this wire mesh structure. A piece of poly-pipe protruded through the floor and into the cage but ending some 10 centimetre above the bench top. Scattered round the cage were many billiard cues. Someone tried knocking the ball with the handle end of the cue to get it to jump into the pipe. After a few seconds, somebody said, "No. Well have to lift it carefully and drop it in."
"Using the ends of the cues I guess. I mean several of us will have to coordinate getting the points just under the ball and lift together."
"It wont be easy."
After three tries and one near miss, Vic said, "Got it! Two of us hold our cues atclose together and parallel, we get the ball on top of them, lift it, then someone uses another cue to roll it along."
This worked first try and the girl in the bright blue mask scrambled under the low table to retrieve the ball. In tiny writing on it was written
You are very close now. One more task. Look under the pink stone at the back of Marios.
Packs up again and back towards Marios. Mike was very conscious that now no one was running ahead, all were walking in a group, chatting and talking about what had happened so far.
They came out of the forest, across a field, then an orchard, and straight along the lane to the area behind Marios. By the noise there seemed to be some kind of gathering on the other side out on the green, but out of their sight.
The stone problem didnt take a lot of grasping. There was a solid, oblong block of pink granite about a metre long, with lengths of reinforcing rods stuck into it at all angles. Poking out from one corner was the edge of a blue sheet, firmly pinned by the heavy stone. Six of them took up positions and on three tried to lift without much success.
"Ok, pull out all stops, all hands on deck," Charlie ordered.
"Wait a minute," said Vic, "How about we just lift on the one side thats got the sheet trapped, and if we budge it, someone can pull it out."
"Good idea. Gayle, can you kneel here. For peats sake, dont put your fingers under it."
"No, Im right, Ill just hold the corner and pull."
Everyone milled and jostled and then, "One, Two, Three, heave!"
The side lifted fairly easily, and Gayle whipped the sheet out. It read
Fabulous work team. You have almost reached the treasure! Its on the other side of Marios.
They filed up the steps, through the back door into the community workshop. Strangely no one was in there, but they could see many people out the front on the green. Even more strangely there was now no sound coming from that direction. Charlie was the first to reach the door. He open it and looked out. There seemed to be a million people on the lawn, lined up facing the door staring at him, expressionless, not making a sound. Anne bumped into him so he moved forward a little. The others filed out equally bewildered to stand in a huddle confronting the silent crowd.
As soon as they were all out the crowd burst into ecstatic applause and parted to reveal tables set out for what looked like a banquet and on the middle one a huge banner saying Congratulations! You have found the Treasure.
People closed in and made a big fuss of them, shaking hands and slapping backs. Jenny held up her hands and tried to quiet things down enough to shout
"Great Work! You made a fabulous team! There were times there when we didnt think you would make it. We thought wed have to send the relief column at Murphys."
"How did you know that?"
Jenny pointed high above them. They turned to see three people sitting on the roof of the workshop, with a telescope in front of them. They waved merrily
"We were watching you and " Jenny raised her arm to the left and through the crowd came the man in a yellow hat, holding up his mobile phone.
"See, spies everywhere. Let the celebrations begin!"
Cheers again and some musicians started a lively jig and people moved to the table.
The hunters were in great spirits reliving their heroics, with locals listening and telling some of the many other challenges that are sometimes set. Jan came over to Mike, "Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes, terrific. I wonder how Charlie feels. He led with his chin throughout."
"I think hes fine."
"Yeah, I could see from the start he was a fighter. Tough, confident, real winner, but he probably isnt now. He sure set out to win."
"Didnt you all?"
"Yes, but you set us up for that."
But no one said it was about you competing against each other as individuals to get and take all the treasure for your self."
"You see thats how normal people from consumer society automatically interpret the situation. Lifes about competing against others to beat them and take the prize for yourself, isnt? It usually isnt until Murphys that people start to see it differently. Thats where most people start to find the treasure. We hope all the hunters recognise its value forever."
"Id say thats how it was for us," Mike said. "Murphys I mean. Gee I feel a bit of a dill. I toyed with knocking Charlie off. I can run pretty well, I thought maybe I should go after this guy and beat him and bring him down a peg or two."
"But what if Penny was beating you? Do you realise we could have organised that?"
"Yes, see, we have a committee that plans each hunt and they can draw on lots of different challenges and check points and people to act as little old yes and no men and women. See the task can be made to require any skill or characteristic."
"So you could have set up things that Charlie cant do and Penny could."
"Yes. Did you notice how Vics engineering skills were important at one point, and how Pennys light weight was important. Everyone has talents that we can draw on, see."
"I felt sorry for those two kids, when I realised theyd been left behind. Charlie and I went back and found them."
"Yes they told us," Jan smiled in a way that puzzled Mike a bit and then said, "They told Padme too. I think you could have redeemed yourself there."
This made no sense to Mike so he went on with his post mortem.
"I think it was clever the way you woke us up gradually, first we saw that we couldnt proceed as individuals and wed have to at least think about sharing something."
"But then individualistic competition quickly took over again," said Jan.
"Yes, but it soon ran into the wall, I mean, into a pig pen and a brick problem."
"Maybe if we were all a bit more in the habit of cooperating and working together wed get through a few more of lifes pig pens. That message is the treasure of course. Great that youve found it, we think its immensely valuable. The Glen certainly couldnt work without it. Another thing Mike, where did you find the grail?"
"You went on a quest didnt you? The search for the Holy Grail is a central myth to us Westerners. Heroic adventure, struggle, epic journey, overcoming difficulties. Were all supposed to be on our quest arent we? Well where did you hunters find it?"
"Oh, back at home eh, where we began?
"Yes. Silly damn restless Westerners go out and trample on everything in their search for they dont know what, when all you want is right at home and in the community you began from."
"You played us like a yo-yo."
"Yes, does that irritate you now?"
"No, not at all, it was great fun and a great challenge to assumptions. None of us will forget it. Funny isnt it, sometimes you learn more thats important in a few moments than in a year at school."
"Yes, sometimes even a burp can have that effect."
Mike didnt take that up. "But what a lot of work you all went to."
"No its not much trouble now. When a group is organised the committee just applies the old formula and sets up and the volunteers are easily got. Do you think its work for us? A bother?"
"Well, I had thought it would be."
"No, its like when a teacher sees a student breaking through. Its great to see people get the point in a lasting way, that makes it well worth the effort".
"Saturday afternoon is our big event of the week. The market will start in about an hour, and there are various meetings, and a working bee time, then banquet and then the performance in the evening. It will end in plenty of time for you to get your train. We finish early so the kids can be there to the end."
"Sounds like a busy afternoon."
"Sure is. Everyone tries to keep Saturday afternoon clear. Would you like to go back to the house for a shower?"
"OK Ill get my notebook too, forgot it this morning. Be back in what, an hour?"
He took a piece of cake from one of the benches and threaded his way through the people on the green. The participants in the hunt seemed to be being treated like heroes, or prima-donna footballers, with little groups of townspeople grouped around some of them, laughing and retelling events. Mike now understood how much of the event had been surrepticiously observed by many and taken as regular free entertainment. Much of the action they hadnt been able to see would have been relayed by the people on the workshop roof.