Gold Rush
Amrita, Age 13, Menlo Park, CA

So there I was, standing in the entryway to the house. My father set down his bags and spread his arms to emphasize the house we would be living in for the next month. My brother and I groaned. Our father is a history buff and is always dragging us to historical “vacations.” This one happened to be in the Sierra foothills in the California gold country.

After settling in, I ran off to explore. I was in the basement when Dad followed with a brochure in his hand.

“You know there’s a historical house somewhere around here. We can go gold panning too. Do you want to check it out before dinner?”

I shrugged. There wasn’t really anything else to do around here.

On the way to the historical house, dad told us the story behind the house. The house dated from the 1800s and had been occupied by a man who had lived there with his wife and children. He came to California to find gold and spent years searching for a way to strike it rich. One day he claimed to have found gold. He buried it somewhere and planned to retrieve it later. But, other people wanted the gold and threatened him. He refused to give it up and was killed. To this day his gold is undiscovered.

The historical center was a small building with a big white sign that said, “Welcome to the Pinewood Historical Center!” A lady who volunteered there told us that it was a preserved house from the 1800s. We climbed the rickety stairs to explore the rooms. I came upon a room that looked like it belonged to a little girl. The room was mostly bare except for a small bed, a chest of drawers, and a table. The only thing on the bed was a doll. There was no DO NOT TOUCH sign, so I assumed it was okay to pick up the doll. It had rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes, stringy blond curls and was wearing a blue satin dress. I turned the doll over in my hands thoughtfully. The gold digger’s story was still in my mind as I absentmindedly pulled at a ripped piece of cloth on the doll’s dress. Something fell out. I dropped the doll in surprise and bent to pick up a yellowed piece of paper. It had a crudely drawn pattern of squares with an X marked in one them. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it looked interesting enough that I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture. Then I put the paper back inside the doll’s dress.

Days passed and soon I forgot all about the picture. Then, about a week later, I was exploring near the historical house and I came upon an abandoned well at the back of the property. The outside wall of the well had an arrangement of stones that seemed vaguely familiar. Suddenly, I remembered the picture I had taken. I whipped out my phone and examined the picture. The patterns appeared to be similar. I studied the picture and then the stones on the well and figured that there were at least ten stones that could match the one marked X in the picture. I walked around the well gently, trying to push each of the ten stones in turn. Eventually one gave way and popped out. I reached my hand inside and discovered an old folded paper with a map drawn on it. I stared at the map in amazement. “Could it be the map to the hidden gold?” I wondered.
As I studied the map, I realized it showed the house and the well and a path leading from the well into the woods that ended in a spot marked with a circle. The map had distances marked in feet and a direction marker saying “N.” Using my phone for navigation, I followed the path shown in the map, counting the distance as I went. Finally I ended up in a clearing in the woods. Around me were trees, bushes and rocks. I could see nothing out of the ordinary. Then I carefully studied the scene around me, observing each minute detail. I noticed a large rock that had something carved on it on one side. I went closer and dusted the side of the rock with my hands. I uncovered the faint marking that showed an arrow pointing downwards. My heart raced. I ran back to the Pinewood Historical Center. I breathlessly told the lady what I had discovered, starting with the paper in the doll upstairs. The lady was intrigued by my story. I handed her the map and she promised to follow up with the historical society.
The next day, the park rangers dug under the rock. The whole town was buzzing with the news. Two days later, the story was released.

But, the thing was, it wasn’t gold buried underneath. It was a small metal box with this letter inside.

Dear Family,

I hope that you will not be upset to hear the truth: I never actually found gold. I looked for years and was ashamed to come home empty-handed. So I made up the story about burying it. But, that only caused me more trouble because now some men are after me. They want the gold. I fear they will kill me if I don’t give them what they want. I gave dear little Katrina a map and told her to hide it. I hope someday you will find this letter and also a way to forgive me. I just want to let you know, dear family, that even if I die, the only thing that matters to me in my life is all of you. I love you, sweet Margaret, my dear wife, and Katrina and Billy. I must go now. The men are coming.

I shook my head and smiled sadly. I knew that finally, after 150 years, the truth was now revealed.

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