Soon, the water was shallow enough that Isaac could touch bottom with his toes. He walked the rest of the way to shore through the clear, salty water.
A glass bottle was bobbing in the water near the shore. Inside, there was a rolled up piece of paper. Isaac fished the bottle out of the water and unscrewed the cap. He tried to pour the paper out.
Unfortunately, the neck of the bottle was narrow, but the rest of the bottle was much wider. The paper had unrolled itself enough to fill the wider part of the bottle. Isaac could only fit a finger in to the narrow neck. He could poke the paper, but he couldn’t get it out.
He walked out of the water and onto the beach. Maybe he could find some rocks and smash it open. He looked around. The beach was composed of sand, and beach grass, and bits of driftwood. Further away, it looked like there were some trees.
Isaac started to walk towards the trees, but they didn’t seem to be getting any closer. He knelt down and checked the sand. There wasn’t a hidden treadmill or any quicksand.
He tried walking forward once again, but he still wasn’t going anywhere. This wasn’t working. Maybe he could walk along the shore and find a path or a more agreeable patch of sand.
And so, he walked along the shore, but he wasn’t really sure if he was getting anywhere new or not. Finally, he reached some tide pools. Isaac was relieved that he wasn’t going to be stuck on the same stretch of beach forever.
He crouched down and looked into one of the tide pools. Some sea anemones clung to the edges of a rocky basin. There were a few brightly colored starfish, and a hermit crab peeked around a rock. “Hello,” Isaac said. “Can you talk?”
“Of course we can talk,” a purple starfish said. “If we feel like it.”
“I don’t feel like talking at all,” a pink anemone said.
The starfish laughed. “You just did.”
The anemone waved its tentacles. “I did not.”
“Did not. I’d know if I talked or not, and I said nothing.”
“You’re still talking.”
The sea anemone reached its tentacles towards the starfish. “Why don’t you come over here and say that.”
The starfish laughed.
Isaac looked at the rock the hermit crab was hiding behind. “Could I borrow that rock? I’ll give it right back.”
“No.” The hermit crab snapped his claws at Isaac. “That’s my rock.”
“But you’re not using it,” Isaac said.
“It would just take a second. Besides, you’re a hermit crab. You should know all about borrowing things,” Isaac said.
The hermit crab growled. “What are you trying to say? What’s mine is mine.”
Isaac frowned. “But you just find things and take them. Just like I just found that rock.”
“Find your own. This one’s mine.” The crab snapped his claws at Isaac. “If you take my rock, I’ll pinch you.”
Isaac looked around. There didn’t seem to be any loose rocks outside the pools. “I guess I could go look into the other tide pools.”
“You do that.” The crab snapped his claws a few more times and the starfish laughed again.
Isaac checked the other pools. He found sea anemones and starfish, crabs and little fish, even some little mussels. Finally, he found a big rock, covered in barnacles, but unguarded by hermit crabs.
He reached for the rock, but the barnacles squealed. “Leave us alone,” one of them said. “Find your own home somewhere else. This one’s taken.”
Isaac stood up again and looked around. That was the last tide pool. Maybe there would be more rocks further down the beach. He held tightly to the mysterious bottle, and started to walk along the shore again.
The beach ahead was empty, and when he turned to look, the tide pools were gone. “Back to the beginning then?” Isaac asked himself.
“Nonsense, you didn’t begin here,” a gruff voice said. Isaac turned to see a tall skinny man moving towards him. Strangely enough, he was facing Isaac and stepping backwards to move forwards.
Isaac was pretty sure the man was a pirate. He had an eye patch and a peg leg and big red beard and a parrot. Isaac looked down at the bottle in his hand. “Is this yours?” he asked. “I found it when I arrived.”
The man pointed at Isaac. “Hah! I knew you didn’t begin here.”
“I began walking here when I arrived,” Isaac said. He looked around. “At least I think I did.”
“So you admit you didn’t really begin here at all, right?” The man narrowed his eyes and looked down his nose at Isaac.
Isaac shrugged. “Sure. I came from somewhere else, so I guess I didn’t begin here.” He held out the bottle. “So, is it yours?”
The man threw back his head and laughed loudly. “I knew it,” he said, slapping his knee. “Short Jim Black is always right.”
“Why are you called Short Jim Black if you’re tall and your hair is red?” Isaac asked.
“Because my name is Jim, of course.” The pirate scratched his nose. “Oh, hey, where did you get that bottle?”
“I found it. Is it yours?” Isaac held it out yet again.
“Nope. I already found my treasure. That must mean it’s yours.”
“Treasure!” the parrot squawked.
Isaac looked up at the pirate, feeling a little confused. “I thought pirates could never have too much treasure.”
“That depends entirely on the type of treasure, of course,” Short Jim said.
“Treasure!” the parrot squawked again.
“I guess that makes sense.” Isaac held up the bottle and looked through the glass at the rolled up paper inside. “So what kind of treasure is it?”
“That looks like a map to King Island. The location changes, of course. But you only ever need to find it once. Then you’re always king.”
“King of what?” Isaac asked.
“Oh, it’s hard to say. You can be king of so many things. I became king of the pirates.” Short Jim puffed out his chest and lifted his chin. He stayed like that for several minutes. “You should bow and say, ‘your majesty,’” he said out of the corner of his mouth.
“Oh, right.” Isaac bowed. “Your majesty.”
The pirate nodded his head. “Welcome to my island. Of course all islands are my islands, because I’m king of the pirates.”
“Were you always a pirate?” Isaac asked.
“Well, not exactly. I was a baker and hoping to be king of the bakeries, but someone else got that one. Still, it could be worse. Someone else got turned into a dolphin when he found King Island.” Jim shook his head. “I wonder if he misses having hands.”
Isaac looked down at the bottle in his hand with horror. “I don’t want to be king of anything. I just want to go home.”
Jim shrugged. “You should have thought of that before you picked up the bottle. At this point, the only way out is through.”
“Can’t I just put it down and pretend I never saw it?” Isaac asked.
“Go ahead and try it.”
“Treasure!” the parrot squawked.
The pirate glared at his parrot. “I didn’t say treasure, I said try it.”
“Treasure!” the parrot squawked again. The pirate huffed.
Isaac threw the bottle out towards the ocean as hard as he could. It fell at his feet. He tried to step away from it. Suddenly it was back in his hand. He dropped it and it reappeared. “What do I do?” he asked.
“You need to read the map,” Jim said. He pointed to the bottom of the jar. “Read it first, and then you can unroll it and pull it out of the bottle.”
That didn’t make any sense, but Isaac tipped up the bottle. He could see the inside of the map through the glass at the bottom. The moment he saw the big red x in the corner, the map started to unroll. It pushed against the sides of the bottle and the bottle disappeared.
He was left holding what looked like a large treasure map. “Now what?” he asked.
Short Jim, the pirate, shook his head. “I know you’re new to this, but I think it’s obvious. If you want to find the treasure, you have to go hunt for it.”
Isaac frowned. “What if you don’t want to find the treasure?”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “If you didn’t want to find the treasure, you wouldn’t be here.”
Isaac thought for a minute. What had he been thinking about when he came here? “I just wanted an adventure. I don’t want to be stuck here being king of something.”
“I’m sure it will all work out,” Jim said.
Isaac wasn’t so sure. “I thought you wanted to be king of the bakeries. And that one guy got turned into a dolphin.”
“What was that? I think you were mumbling just now. Well, off you go.” The pirate made little shooing motions with his hands.
Isaac sighed and looked at the map. There was a big red x in the bottom right corner, right at the edge of an island. He turned the map to face Jim and pointed to the x. “It says that I need to go here. How do I get there?”
“That’s where we are now,” Jim said.
Isaac looked around. “So, where’s the treasure? Should I start digging?”
Jim laughed. “No, you’re just starting out. It will be a while before you find the treasure.”
“But if the X is here, the treasure should be here too.”
Jim held out a hand, and Isaac gave him the map. Jim pointed to the x. “X marks the start. Everyone knows that.”
Isaac looked at the map again. “But it doesn’t say where the treasure is. What kind of treasure map is this?”
Jim rolled up the map and handed it back to Isaac. “If it told you exactly where to go, they wouldn’t call it a treasure hunt, would they? It wouldn’t be any fun if it was as easy as using a map to find the address of some place in the next town over.”
Suddenly the task seemed overwhelming. “It could be anywhere, on any of these islands?”
Jim nodded. “Except right here, of course. This is where you start.”
“It would take forever to dig up all of these islands. I don’t even have a shovel,” Isaac said, feeling a little panicked.
“No, no, no. You don’t have to dig to find the treasure.”
“Then how do I know I’ve found it?” Isaac asked.
“We’ll tell you of course. Some of the other kings and I will meet you there and we’ll have a bit of a celebration. A proper feast. And then we’ll crown you king of whatever and it’ll be done.”
That didn’t sound so bad. But it didn’t sound like a treasure hunt. In fact, “That sounds more like hide and seek.”
“Then you’ve been doing treasure hunts all wrong,” Jim said.
“But it’s how all the pirates do treasure hunts. You know, fifty paces past the rock that looks like a skull and such.”
Jim shook his head. “That is a terrible way to write directions. Did they lose their treasure all the time?”
“I don’t know.” Isaac shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Well, I am the king of the pirates, and I’m telling you that this is the proper way to do a treasure hunt.” Jim stood tall for a moment. Then he took a step forward and slid backward. “I’ll see you later.” He took a few more steps and started to disappear into the jungle behind him.
“Wait!” Isaac tried to run towards the pirate, but he instead was moving backwards. He was suddenly standing ankle-deep in the ocean, and Jim was gone.