Matthew released a heavy sigh as he stared blankly across the field that stretched before him. So this is it, he thought. My new home.
Since the moment his parents mentioned moving house two months ago, Matthew had detested the idea. The thoughts of swapping his comfortable suburban life for one on an isolated farm filled him with dread. Though, despite many hours of tears, shouting and door slamming, his parents didn’t budge. And so, Matthew had to. He was forced to surrender; to trade his friends, his soccer team and his favourite milkshake shop for a lonely life in the countryside.
He brushed his floppy brown hair off his face and listened as birds jostled over some grain in the farmyard behind him. He longed to return inside to play his video game but he knew that his mum would soon boot him back outdoors.
“Some fresh air will do you good,”she would say, for the fifth time that week.
Matthew wasn’t so convinced. In fact, he felt that it would do the opposite. The stench of farmyard, silage and horses was so powerful that he feared it would poison him to death.
At least then I wouldn’t have to live here anymore, he thought bitterly as he kicked a stone around the yard.
His parents just didn’t understand. They didn’t know what it was like to be a friendless ten-year old in the countryside. They had ruined his life. The only slice of home that he had been able to bring with him was his games console and they had even turned that off on him. Just as he had finally reached level 8. The cheek of them!
They just didn’t get it. So Matthew devised a plan, one to make them realise how cruel they were being. He would run away for a few days! His parents would be filled with worry, unable to sleep as they feared the worst. Then when he finally returned, they would wrap their arms around him and press their worried faces against his, vowing never to let him go.
“We can’t stand to see you unhappy,” Matthew’s Mum would say, his father nodding in agreement beside her. “Let’s go home.”
Matthew knew his plan would work. So the next morning, long before the rooster had even crowed, he escaped across the soggy field and began his journey to nowhere. He didn’t care where his path led him as long as it eventually brought him home.
Matthew trudged through the long grass, his eyes fixed firmly on the rusting metal gate that sat ahead of him. Beyond lay a dirt path, shaded by a canopy of trees. After what seemed like days of dragging his feet through thick grass, all the while trying to avoid puddles and imaginary bulls, Matthew was relieved to spot the track.
Using every ounce of his strength, the skinny ten-year old pulled open the stiff bolt. He allowed it to swing open slightly, giving himself just enough room to slip through before he creaked it shut again.
Matthew was stunned at the sight that met him on the other side. Usually he showed no interest in nature, unless it involved something exciting like a great white shark or a ravenous tiger. But this place was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
Huge trees towered on either side of him, enclosing him inside this secret haven. Their branches threw dancing shadows across the path as they swayed in the light breeze. The air was filled with the whoops and cries of birds, who dived around the branches as they fled from the view of their unwanted guest.
And then he saw it. At the end of the path, nestled in the thick arms of a mighty oak tree, sat a wooden tree house. Layers of thick ivy scrambled up its outer walls and crept into the darkened window slots. A rope ladder dangled below, just begging any passer-by to venture inside.
Matthew bounded towards the tree, ignoring the flurry of irritated birds that emerged from the nearby undergrowth. He grabbed either side of the worn rope ladder and began to pull himself up. Although the movement of the ladder created difficulty, along with the burning sensation of the rope on his hands, Matthew was determined. He fought his way up to the tiny slot in the bottom of the tree house.
Slightly fearful now, he poked his head in cautiously. It was nothing spectacular. The smell of damp leaves engulfed the inside of the small wooden house which was carpeted with a layer of bird droppings. The only thing that lay inside was a tattered metal box, resting on the floor in the corner.
Matthew doubted that it contained anything worth seeing but he couldn’t leave without finding out. He clambered inside the tree house and crawled towards it. He gently lifted the lid and peered underneath it. He was gobsmacked. Inside sat an old crumpled map, unlike anything Matthew had ever seen before.
Matthew traced the map lightly with his finger as he tried to make sense of the winding lines and symbols that were sprawled across the page.
“This point here must be the treehouse,” Matthew muttered to himself as he placed his finger on a small box-shaped symbol. He slowly traced the line that led away from it. He gasped. An X! Surely that meant buried treasure!
He couldn’t waste any time. What if the owner of the map found him here? He tucked the map into his back pocket and quickly clambered back down the ladder. Once back on solid ground, Matthew pulled it back out to examine it further. He turned on the spot several times until he figured out his intended direction. When he was certain that he knew the way, he trotted back down the dirt path and into the shadows.
Matthew forgot all about his runaway plan. Sure, if he found some treasure, he could buy his own mansion in the city, complete with a swimming pool, servants and as many computer consoles as he wanted. He wouldn’t need to live with his parents ever again!
Map in hand, Matthew traipsed through tangled briars and across muddy fields. Though the air was growing cold and his feet were aching, he didn’t grow disheartened. He was determined to find his treasure.
However, Matthew soon began to recognise things around him. That hill looks familiar, he thought. So did that gate, that tree, that yard. His heart sank. The map hadn’t led him to any buried treasure; the map had led him back home!
Before Matthew could plan out his next move, he saw his parents racing across the field towards him. That’s it, he thought. I’ve been caught. Anger bubbled from within him. His runaway plan had been ruined. His treasure map was worthless. Now he was stuck here!
Yet the moment his parents wrapped their arms around him, these feelings melted away. He gazed up at their tear-streaked faces. Matthew realised something. Home is where your family is. And as long as they were here, this was where he belonged. He hugged his parents tightly and smiled to himself.
“I’ve had my treasure all along”, he whispered.