MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Somewhere near the center of the town of Sitting Duck lies Hetchley’s Park. It’s quite nice. I mean, it’s not brilliant, but, you know, it’s all right. It’s got a lake, which is pretty cool.
Okay, it’s not actually a lake as such—it’s a duck pond. But still, that’s not bad, is it?
Right, fine, it doesn’t have a duck pond, either. It has a bench. But it’s a nice bench, and that’s what counts. Geez, stop picking on Hetchley’s Park. What’s wrong with you?
Anyway, Hetchley’s Park is near the middle of Sitting Duck, and near the middle of Hetchley’s Park (just by the bench, which is actually in a bit of a state now that I look at it properly), best friends Sam, Arty, and Emmie were hanging out and having a laugh.
Or rather, Arty was having a laugh. The other two … not so much.
We’ll come to that in a minute, though. First, let’s take a closer look at the three friends. In alphabetical order, because everyone likes the alphabet, don’t they?
Arty. He’s a lovely lad, that Arty, if a bit too clever for his own good sometimes. People say that Arty’s brain is as big as his belly, but that’s clearly not true, because his head would have to be absolutely massive to hold a brain that size.
Emmie. Pink, girly, and flowery—three words that have never been used to describe Emmie. Of the three friends, Emmie is probably the toughest. She’s an all-action girl who is rumored to have once punched a tiger in the face. Of course, the rumor is utter nonsense. She actually punched it in the ribs.
And finally we come to Sam. Everyone loves Sam. He’s witty, charming, brave, and clever. Not Arty clever—no one’s Arty clever except Arty himself—but smart enough when he needs to be. He’s just great all around, really. I mean, you should have seen how he handled the zombies in the last book. Wow. That’s all I’m saying. Wow!
“Come on,” giggled Arty, who was eager to get on with the story. “It’s easy!”
Sam sighed. Emmie scowled. This treasure hunt Arty had set up had stopped being fun roughly four seconds after it had started. It was now entering its fifth hour. It was the code-breaking kit that was the problem. Arty had been given it for his birthday and thought it would be fun to leave cryptic clues for his friends to follow. Not for the first time that day, Sam wished Arty had just been given a football or something instead.
“Right, read the clue again,” Sam said.
Emmie squinted at the rectangle of paper and read aloud:
RFC MJB MYI RPCC → 2
Sam nodded. “Right. So what does it mean?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
Arty snorted a laugh. “I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out. It’s so easy!”
“I swear,” growled Emmie, “say that one more time and you won’t leave this park alive.”
It was autumn, but the breeze that drifted around the park was warm. As it swept over Emmie, though, she gave a shiver. Her eyes darted across the grass, past the bench, and over to a clump of trees near the gate. This did not go unnoticed by Sam, because he’s also quite sensitive, as well as all that other stuff I said about him earlier.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Of course I’m okay,” Emmie snapped. She took a deep breath and her voice softened a little. “It’s just … it’s hard to believe it’s been three months since…”
“The zombies,” said Sam.
“Poor Professor Pamplemousse,” said Arty. “Apparently they found one of his arms wedged under the merry-go-round last month. It had been there the whole time.”
“Nasty,” said Sam. “I suppose he sort of brought it on himself, though. He did invent the zombie virus, after all.”
“Not on purpose,” said Arty.
Sam shrugged. “I suppose.”
They stood in silence, each of them remembering some of the horrors they’d seen over the summer. At least, Sam and Emmie were doing that. Arty had realized he had accidentally stepped on a massive dog poop and was trying to wipe it off on the grass without anyone noticing.
“Still, it’s over now,” said Sam.
“Is it?” asked Emmie. “Half the town still seems pretty brain-dead to me.”
“They were always a bit like that,” Sam reminded her. “Anyway, it’s done with. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
“Exactly!” cried Arty. “Not when we’ve got something much more fun to do instead!”
“Do we?” asked Emmie, hopefully. “Does that mean we can stop this stupid treasure hunt, then?”
Arty’s face fell. “I was talking about the treasure hunt.”
“You have a very strange concept of fun, my friend,” said Emmie as she looked at the clue for about the fiftieth time since they’d arrived at the park. “Right, let’s get this over with. It’s a code, right? The groups of letters are words, so there are four words in the answer. Three with three letters, the last one with four.”
“What does the arrow mean?” asked Sam.
“Aha, if I told you that, you’d know the answer,” Arty gloated. “You have to figure it out.”
“Wait a minute,” said Emmie. She turned to Sam. “The third clue. How did we figure that one out again?”
“No idea,” admitted Sam. “I’d lost the will to live by then.”
“Was that the one where the letters had been swapped with numbers?”
Arty giggled. “Might have been.”
“Arty!” Emmie barked, so sharply she made both boys jump in fright.
“Okay, yes. That’s right,” Arty said quickly.
Sam peered at the clue. “But this one doesn’t have numbers.”
“No, but what if the letters have been swapped with other letters, and the arrow means move along?” Emmie suggested. So A would become B, B would become C. Like that.”
“Only there’s a number two, so—”
“You move two places instead!” Emmie realized. “Pass me a pencil, quick.”
Sam fished in his pocket until he found the pencil Arty had given them at the start of the treasure hunt. It had been brand-new when Arty had handed it over, but now it was chewed all the way around, and Emmie had snapped it in half in a fit of rage twenty minutes into clue number one.
Silently, she scribbled on the paper right beneath Arty’s studiously neat writing. As she wrote, a smile of relief spread across her face.
“‘The Old Oak Tree,’” she read. “That’s the final clue. The Old Oak Tree.”
She grabbed Sam by the shoulders and squeezed. “We’re almost there,” she said, her voice a hysterical whisper. “We’ve almost done it. We’re almost free. Quickly—to the Old Oak Tree!”
With a whoop of triumph, she raced off. A moment later, she raced back. “Where’s the Old Oak Tree?” she asked.
Sam shrugged. “No idea.”
“So it seems your search isn’t over quite yet!” Arty laughed. He stopped abruptly when Emmie grabbed him by the front of his T-shirt and snarled right up in his face. “It’s in my garden,” he blurted.
Emmie’s face darkened. “But that’s back where we started.”
“I know,” Arty squeaked. “Funny, eh?”
“Right, that’s it,” Emmie replied. “I’m going to kill him.”
Sam stepped between them. “Come on, Emmie, you can’t kill him. It’s his birthday.”
“Thanks, Sam,” wheezed Arty.
“Kill him tomorrow instead.”
“Good idea,” said Emmie. “Now, let’s get to that oak tree and get this whole horrible ordeal over and done with.”
* * *
Arty’s Treasure Hunt Clues
These are just some of the more infuriating clues Arty set out for Sam and Emmie to solve. Each and every one of the below caused Emmie to inflict actual physical harm upon Arty’s person.
Warning: Any attempt to solve them yourself may cause your head to implode, so best not to bother.
1. 20-8-5 3-12-21-5 9-19 9-14 19-1-13 19 12-5-6-20 19-8-15-5
(Use numbers instead of letters.)
2. --- -. / .- / -.. --- --. .-.-.- / .- -. -.-- / -.. --- --. .-.-.-
(Nothing beats Morse code.)
3. Apple, cherry, and rhubarb are some examples. Get past the point and take the fourth numeral to the place of nightmares.
(The more surreal the better.)
1. The clue is in Sam’s left shoe.
2. On a dog. Any dog.
3. 5 Elm Street
Sam had climbed the big tree in Arty’s garden hundreds of times in the past but had never known it was an oak. Come on, give the guy a break. I said he was great; I never said he was perfect.
He and Emmie squeezed through the narrow gap in Arty’s back fence, then spent a good fifteen minutes trying to pull Arty behind them. For a horrible moment halfway through, it looked like Arty was going to be stuck there, wedged in the gap forever, until Emmie climbed back over the fence and shoulder-barged him through from behind.
The towering oak tree loomed above; up there was the tree house Arty had built himself to hide from his big brother, Jesse. The three friends climbed quickly up the thick trunk. The end of the treasure hunt was in sight, and Sam and Emmie had never been so happy in their entire lives.
“It’s a shame it’s over,” puffed Arty as he heaved himself up onto a higher branch.
“No, it isn’t,” said Emmie.
“She’s right,” agreed Sam. “No offense, but I’d rather face the zombies again than another one of those clues.”
“This treasure had better be worth it—that’s all I’m saying,” Emmie said as she heaved herself in through the tree house window. Sam slid in behind her. A moment later, Arty came toppling through and landed on the floor face-first.
A large wooden chest had been set on the table directly in front of them. As Arty untangled himself and got back to his feet, Emmie creaked open the lid. What would she find? Gold? Jewels? A small monkey wearing a hat?
Nah, it was none of them. It was a small envelope.
“It’s a small envelope,” said Emmie, who was very observant like that.
“Well, open it, then!” urged Arty. He hopped excitedly from foot to foot, which made the whole tree sway gently back and forth like a metronome.
Emmie tore open the envelope. Maybe there was cash inside. Or a check. Or a very small monkey wearing a hat.
“It’s an invitation to my birthday party tomorrow night!” whooped Arty. “At the town observatory.”
“At the what now?” asked Sam.
“The observatory!” said Arty. “It’ll be the most informative birthday party you’ve ever been to. Forget games—we’re going to learn all about the wonders of the universe!”
“Informative,” said Sam.
“Learning,” said Emmie.
“Yay,” they said together.
Arty put his arms around them both, completely failing to notice the sarcasm dripping from their responses. “What’s even better is my mom has booked the whole place just for us. We’ll have it all to ourselves for hours!”
“Hours?” groaned Emmie.
“Hours!” Arty grinned. “Now, come on,” he said. “If we’re quick, we can squeeze in one more treasure hunt after lunch!”
The King’s Buttocks
Three Frogs in a Sock
The Great Banana
The Lesser Banana
The Bag of Chins
The Long Hamster
The Upside-Down Circle
Text copyright © 2014 by Hothouse Fiction Ltd.
Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jamie Littler