“Sometimes we stand and watch. Dreaming of what life might be if we were stood elsewhere. Maybe of we just took the chance we might find out. Maybe that fantasy would come true.”
Hartley picked her way through rubble, plaster dust and old, peeled paint chippings to reach her favourite window. This used to be a five-storey block of apartments until inspectors came and said it was subsiding. They’d condemned the building when Hartley was seven. If subsiding meant collapsing; this building was an exception to the rule. She was nineteen now and although it was in a state of dilapidation the building was still standing.
Family life had always been difficult for Hartley. Daily arguments, money issues and beatings for no reason. This building had become a refuge for her over the years. She’d explored every room and floor and knew its deepest secrets. In the last few weeks, something had changed right outside her favourite window on the fourth floor.
The glass was long gone and so she leant at the peeling, chipped frame to peer outside. Silvery grey clouds floated lazily over the green hillside. Gazing below, Hartley saw the trenches of the archaeological dig. Each measured about six-feet-square showing the importance of the dig.
The rugged, handsome gentleman in the cream shirt and jeans was Dale Dawson the leading archaeologist. He was in control the six other men and women down there today. Hartley watched him drip water down his shirt as he drank from his bottle. She longed to run down there – not to kiss him, although that would be nice too – but to tell him the secrets she knew.
Hartley had read about the dig in the papers and followed the story on social media. She knew they were digging in the remains of the old castle in the hope of discovering the treasures it once held. The basic truth was, they were digging in the wrong place. Should she run down there and tell them? No, they’d likely mob her until she left and tell her not to interfere with the dig. That was the trouble with being a teenage girl in the dainty black dress which showed her dirty knees. Nobody ever believed anything she had to say. Hartley let out a sigh and perched on the sill to watch the men work. She longed to run down there and make Dale’s dream come true.
A rain shower blew through and then the sun came out as the day wore on. Hartley grew hungry after a time. She tore her eyes from Dale and picked her way to the stairs. Reaching the ground floor, she paused to stroke Whiskers the cat. He was feral and had lived there about as long as Hartley could remember. Straightening her back, she smoothed her long blonde hair over her shoulder and stepped into the Foyer. Somebody was stood there, she gasped and made a run for the nearest door.
“Hey! There’s no need to run. Who are you?” he called to her.
Hartley froze, almost hugging the doorframe – could she trust him? “I’m Hartley. I have a secret I think you’d like to know.” She gave a bashful look over her shoulder and felt her heart rate increase. It was Dale the archaeologist, standing right there. Smiling at her.
“I don’t doubt that for a second. I’m Dale. I run the dig out there,” he gestured with a strong forearm. “What’s a pretty lady like you doing in this desolate old building?”
Taking a deep breath, Hartley unfurled herself from the door frame and gave a coy smile as she took a measured step toward him. “This old place has been my home from home and hiding place for years.”
“Really? You’ll be sorry to hear they’re going to demolish it to build a new apartment complex soon, then.” Dale’s eyes wandered over her with admiring quality about them.
Hartley felt the heat rising in her cheeks. He seemed to like her; she didn’t think anybody would ever feel that way toward her. “I’d heard that, but hoped it wouldn’t happen. You’ll never find what you’re looking for if they do that.”
“Oh?” Dale scratched his handsome chin while giving her a quizzical look. “What am I searching for then?”
‘Me hopefully!’ Hartley thought while hiding a wry smile. “You’re searching for the legendary vault in the Castle and its five chests of treasure.”
Dale’s mouth dropped open. “And you know where it is?”
Hartley nodded and grinned.
“Will you show me?”
Hartley shook her head – teasing him.
Dale put his hands together before him, “Please.”
“Okay, since you begged so nicely.” Hartley skipped forward and took his hand. “Come on!”
“Hey, what’s the rush?”
Hartley just smiled, she felt like she was whisking her prince away. She led him back passed the steps to the upper floors and around behind them. Here an old door hung off the hinges. It squeaked as she pushed it aside and ducked inside. Producing her phone, she lit up the basement steps and began to descend.
“I always wondered where you ladies keep things like phones when you have no pockets in your dresses,” Dale remarked.
“Ha! Now, there’s a secret you’ll never learn!” Hartley gave a coy giggle as they entered a spooky basement room. “There look. This basement was built right alongside the old castle foundations. I think that wall collapsing is why they condemned this building. It wasn’t subsidence though, there’s a room behind there.” Hartley illuminated a pile of crumbled masonry and a cavelike crack going deep into the wall.
Dale freed himself of Hartley, took his phone from his back pocket, and moved closer to have a look. “Wow! I wish you’d come and told us about this sooner.”
“I thought you’d all mob me for trespassing if I came. Maybe have me arrested because I interfered maybe.” Hartley confessed.
The archaeologist smiled at her. “Am I really that officious to you?”
Hartley shook her head and blushed while avoiding his gaze, “No – go and look inside!”
“Okay.” Dale cautiously stepped inside with Hartley right behind him. The brownstone walls in here were centuries older. There is no doubt this was the castle dungeon. There was even iron sconces and rings for shackling prisoners still in the walls.
“Over there to the right,” Hartley directed while staying back. “I’m sure that’s your vault even though I couldn’t get it open.” She watched the archaeologist approach a solid-looking wrought-iron studded oak door. It had an arched top which seemed to secure it to the stone walls.
“This is incredible!” Dale ran his hands over the door and gave handle a solid tug.
“It has funny ancient padlocked bolts.”
“So, it does.” Dale smiled at Hartley. “This is so exciting!” The archaeologist returned to the basement opening and selected a sizeable brick. Coming back to the vault door he struck the first padlock with a thunderous bang.
“Going for a nice gentle approach, I see.” Hartley giggled.
“Always.” Dale winked and continued to work. Sweat beaded his brow before he managed to get the locks off. Then with a flex of his muscles, he yanked the heavy door open.
Hartley felt tingly with anticipation as she watched him enter.
“Haha! Hartley, you beauty! — Just look at this!” He yelled moments later.
She ran inside and broke into a triumphant smile. The room wasn’t large but big enough to contain five ornate treasure chests. Each gold-leafed and adorned with jewels. Dale had opened one revealing even more golden riches inside. “Oh, it’s incredible!” Hartley felt herself go teary-eyed it was so overwhelming.
“No, you’re incredible!” Dale turned to face her. His eyes meeting hers in an impassioned gaze. “I mean, this is your discovery. I just helped you access it.”
“Thank you for trusting me enough to come and see. I …” Hartley stumbled to silence as she watched him take a queen’s crown from the chest. Glittering with emeralds and rubies it was magnificent. As he placed it in her hair she was overcome with regal energy and enchanted by his smile.
“Thank you for trusting me enough to share it with me. Hartley, I …”
She watched him take a deep breath and look away filling her with curiosity. “What is it? What’s wrong, Dale?”
“I er— I have a confession to make. I wasn’t just exploring when I entered the building. I was looking for you. I’ve seen you watching me for a few days now and well … you bewitched me with your pretty dresses and silky hair. I wanted to meet you to know who you were and …” Dale reached in and kissed her.
Hartley stood wide-eyed with shock as his lips massaged over hers. ‘He loves me!” Shaking herself back to reality, she kissed back for a long blissful moment. “Dale, what does this mean?”
“Let’s reveal your treasure to the world and find out,” he said with the most endearing smile before they were kissing again.
Have a great day!