Hide and Seek
“First-rate suspense with an original premise and an appealing theme…A good, solid adventure.” Kirkus Reviews
“Mystery and adventure propel this readable survival story that will hit the spot with Gary Paulsen’s fans.” School Library Journal
It was a perfect afternoon. The sky was a deep, deep blue and there wasn’t a cloud anywhere. The sun was warm on the back of my neck and my shoulders–T-shirt weather. A great day for hunting hidden treasure.
I swung one leg over my bike. When Dexter saw what I was up to, he raced over, his ears pushed forward and his tail spinning like a windmill. This was going to be the first geocache I’d ever done completely on my own, so I’d planned everything carefully. Dexter and I headed north on the 373.
I pulled off the highway and Dexter stopped, too, waiting a little ahead of me to see if I was coming. I shrugged off my backpack and pulled out my handheld GPS. My fourteenth birthday was last week, and Dad had given it to me as an early birthday present the last time I saw him in August. I had found the coordinates on the cache I was looking for on the Internet and entered the waypoint into the GPS. Okay. We were going in the right direction.
I slung my backpack on my shoulders and we took off, still heading north on the 373. This stretch of road was nice and shady, and the air felt cooler here among all these tall trees. Dexter trotted along, having the time of his life–run, stop, sniff, squirt. He never got tired. He’s part German shepherd, part something else. He’s always on the trail of some interesting smell.
I caught up with Dexter at a trailhead with two wooden posts on either side. The hiking trail stretching out in front of us was a dark ribbon cutting through the swaying grass of the open meadow. I stopped to check the GPS. The navigation arrow pointed west, straight ahead in the direction of the trail. We were 2.3 miles away from our geocache. We went across a little footbridge over a dry gulley, and then the hiking trail followed an old railroad bed. The trail was paved with a bunch of rust-colored cinder rocks that crunched under my tires.
Now all around us were open fields, and we could see for miles and miles. According to the GPS, we were at an elevation of 8,562 feet. Up here, there weren’t a lot of trees, but there were little stands of white-trunked aspen clustered together. Their leaves were still pale green, fluttering silver in the breeze. The aspen hadn’t started to turn yet, but pretty soon the whole mountain would be covered in yellow, gold, and orange. The only sound we could hear was the low rustle of the wind waving the branches of the trees above our heads.
My uncle first took us geocaching a couple of years ago when he came out to visit us from Nashville. He showed me how to look up geocache locations on a website and put in the waypoint on his GPS. Then he took my little sister Shea and me out and we found a few caches around Big Lake.
My older sister Kendra thought it was weird. “You mean people just hide a bunch of junk in some container for strangers to find later? What’s the point?”
Shea and I loved it. “It’s like hide-and-seek,” she said.
The cool thing is that non-geocachers–muggles–can pass right by a hidden cache without even knowing it’s there. It’s like a secret club.
“Dexter, want to find some treasure?” I asked, and his ears pushed forward.
We were getting closer and closer–.7 miles, then .4, then .3. Pretty soon we were down to a matter of feet. At that point, I got off my bike and left it beside the trail because it was easier now to navigate on foot. I kept my eye on the screen, and with every step I took, the number of feet ticked down like seconds on a watch: 62 feet, 59, 53, 48, 44 feet–and then I was within 23 feet of the geocache. Now I didn’t really need the GPS anymore, so I slipped it into my pocket. It had brought me to within a matter of feet of the waypoint I’d marked, but I had to find the hidden cache on my own.
I scouted out the area. This was an awesome place to hide a geocache because the hiking trail had come right up to a little grove of trees and bushes. I started looking in the bushes, pushing back branches and searching underneath for any signs of a hidden treasure.
Dexter watched me pawing through the underbrush and ran over, his ears pushed forward and his forehead wrinkled. His face pretty much asked, “See anything alive in there?” but I told him no, we were looking for something else.
Since I didn’t have much luck in the bushes, I walked around the little grove of trees, looking up in the branches for any signs of a container, maybe hidden in the crook of a branch. There were piles of rocks nearby, and I picked through those to see if anything was buried underneath. So far, nothing. But this was the part I love–when you know you’re within feet of the geocache and you just have to find where it’s hidden.
I walked around the trees, and that’s when I saw the fallen log. “That could be it,” I said out loud. “Wouldn’t that be a perfect hiding spot?” I was halfway to the log when I spotted a couple of objects nearby in the dirt. Seeing those things stopped me right in my tracks.
Uh-oh. This was not a good sign. My heart sank at the sight of the small toys scattered around by the fallen log.
A little green army man was lying on his side in the red dust. Next to him was a die-cast Jeep. I could still see the tracks in the dust where the toy Jeep had been doing doughnuts. Dexter walked over to them cautiously and gave them a thorough sniff.
“Who is it, Dexter? Does it smell like muggles?”
Dexter walked away and squirted in the grass to let the muggles know he’d been here too. I looked around as if I expected to see the people who’d taken the toys out of the geocache, but of course no one was around. Dexter and I were all alone out here.
I bent down and looked inside the end of the log, but I didn’t see anything. I grabbed a stick and poked around inside until I hit something hard. It made a hollow metal sound when I hit it with the stick. I reached inside the log and felt around. Under a pile of leaves I could feel some kind of metal box.
I pulled it out and brushed the dirt off. It was a green ammunition box, like soldiers out in the field might use. “Perfect stash for a cache,” I said to Dexter. He wasn’t impressed with my rhyme.
I felt a charge of excitement that I’d found the geocache. But it had definitely been muggled, and that was really irritating to see with my own eyes. The lid wasn’t fastened down right. When I opened the box, I saw that dirt and leaves had gotten inside. I pulled out the logbook and an empty plastic bag. The logbook should’ve been stored in the bag to keep it from getting wet or dirty. But other than that, there wasn’t too much damage. It could’ve been worse. At least it hadn’t gotten wet from rain.
I inspected the treasures inside. There were three more army men, one purple and one gold strand of beads, two rubber snakes, a small set of Allen wrenches, a little padlock and key, and a wooden nickel that said Pinnacle Peak Patio on it.
I smiled because that was a steakhouse in Scottsdale. Kendra, Shea, and I go there with Dad sometimes.
I took the wooden nickel, but the best treasure of all in the whole box was a duck call. I took it out and blew into it. It made a weird honking sound that I guess was sort of like a duck quacking. Dexter’s ears shot up like a couple of antennas. He had such a surprised look on his face that I had to blow into it again. Honk. Up went the ears. Maybe just one more time. Honk. Boing! I cracked up over the way Dexter’s ears moved every time I blew the call.
“Cool! A duck call, Dexter. In case we want to hunt wild ducks sometime, huh?” I held out the little plastic mouthpiece for him to sniff. I definitely wanted to keep this treasure.
Then I slid my backpack off my shoulders and unzipped it to take out my item for exchange. That’s the rule–you can take whatever items you want from a geocache as long as you leave something behind. I left a new red bandana in the ammo box.
Then I took out the pencil stub and opened up the logbook, which was just a little spiral memo pad. I turned to the first page and saw that the first logged visit was last year on April 2, so this was still a fairly new geocache. Flipping through the pages, I noticed that quite a few people had found this cache over the summer–about nine different visitors. Then I flipped to the end of the logs so I could record my find.
Except the last thing recorded wasn’t a log.
It was a message:
Help? Help Wene? What was that supposed to mean? I stared at the handwriting. It looked like some little kid had written it. Either that or someone trying to disguise their handwriting. All the letters were capitalized. Was this some kind of joke?
I sighed. Some kids must have done this–accidentally found the geocache, opened it up, scattered the toys around, and then left this stupid message.
But wait a second. What would kids be doing way out here? I looked around. We were miles from any houses, and we were 2.3 miles from the road. Maybe it wasn’t kids. But I knew one thing: no geocaching parents would let their kids scatter the cache contents around and mess up the logbook. There were certain rules everyone followed. This was the first muggled cache I’d ever found. I was disgusted.
On the page right before the message, someone had logged this:
9/3–last day of the long weekend & we’re heading back to Tempe in an hour. Our 3rd cache of the trip. Beautiful hike and great views! We hate to leave the mountains and go back to the desert heat. TNLN. Team Sparky
Okay, September 3. That was just last Monday–Labor Day–so the geocache had been muggled sometime during the past week. TNLN meant “took nothing, left nothing.” Some people did geocaches just for the sport of finding them. I turned to the page after the scrawled message and logged my visit:
9/12–looks like cache was muggled. Lid not on tight, stuff scattered around, logbook out of the plastic. Cleaned it up. T wooden nickel and duck call. L bandana. C&D
“C&D” was for Chase and Dexter, of course. Then I cleaned out all the dirt and leaves in the ammo box, put the logbook and the pencil stub in the plastic ziplock bag where they belonged, dusted off the AWOL army guy and his vehicle, and returned everything to the box. I made sure the lid was fastened tight to protect it from the elements before I buried it in the leaves inside the log.
We’d found our geocache, and it was still fun, even if it was a little muggled.
“Okay, Dexter. Let’s go home.”
But by the time we’d made it back to the road, I couldn’t stop thinking. HELP WENE. Was Wene somebody’s name? And why did they need help?
“Dexter,” I called. He looked over his shoulder at me, his ears up.
“What if it isn’t a joke?”
My brother Andy introduced my sons and me to geocaching. Every time he’d come to visit or we’d go to visit him, he would take us out to find geocaches. As we were on these excursions, I would think, This would be a great idea for a novel. Then once when my sons were on their fall break, my husband Eric and I decided we’d like to spend a long weekend in the mountains of Northern Arizona to get out of the heat of the Phoenix desert. So we booked a cabin in Greer. We spent the weekend hiking, geocaching, and fishing. And we took our dog Dexter along. This picture was taken that weekend:
We saw a lot of wildlife, including Canada geese, a deer family, and herds of elk. We stayed out too late one afternoon looking for a geocache and had to rush back to our car before it got so dark we couldn’t see. Dexter stepped on a fish hook, but fortunately it was just caught in the fur between his pads, so he wasn’t really hurt. That trip provided much of the inspiration for this book. As soon as we got home, I began outlining the story that would become HIDE AND SEEK.