Published in Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II
The apocalypse began with a game of hide and seek.
Up until then, I was having an awesome day. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be playing games because I needed to study for an Algebra exam, but my dad is a museum curator and he brought me and my two younger brothers to work. Museums are great places for hide and seek. They’re filled with countless rooms, and little nooks and shadowy corners to hide inside. My dad’s museum specialized in 16th century Spanish Exploration of the Americas. So that meant loads of Spanish artifacts like swords, coins, and conquistador armor were on display. In some galleries, paintings of famous conquistadors lined the walls. Though, like most museums, my dad’s place also included additional exhibits—like one for astronomy and another for dinosaurs.
Pretty cool stuff.
Now, I know you’re thinking, Wow, I wish I could play hide and seek in a place like that and blah, blah, blah, but you don’t understand. If my dad found out me and my brothers played games when we were supposed to be doing homework, he’d kill us. He’s a nice guy and all, but he has this rule: No running in the museum! The artifacts are priceless. If we bumped a display case and broke something ancient inside, then that would pretty much be the end of our lives as we know it. Bye-bye, Maddie. Nice knowing you while you still breathed air.
Ugh, not a good way to go.
But that never stopped us once dad got engrossed in his work. He’s the type of guy who can only focus on one task at a time. Once he gets his nose in a conquistador’s journal, you couldn’t budge him even if a two ton truck crashed into the museum.
Which meant hide and seek for us.
Oh, I guess I should introduce myself before I keep rambling. My name is Madalyn, though most call me Maddie. I’m fifteen and I have two younger brothers named Jason and Zac.
Jason is a big nerd in the seventh grade. He has these boy band looks all the girls go crazy over, which doesn’t make sense because he reads all the time and plays way too many video games. Usually, he’s so absorbed in his novels and games he doesn’t even notice when the girls fawn over him. He’s kind of like dad in that way. It’s really annoying, especially when my friends want me to ask him out for them. Don’t they know he is three years younger than us?
Zac is my curly haired bull. I say bull because he bulldozes his way through sports. He’s only nine years old, but he plays soccer, basketball and football, and he’s really good at all of them. I don’t have an athletic bone in my body, so I’m kind of envious of him in that way.
Both of them are annoying as heck, but they’re my brothers so I have to claim them.
And I’m the girl who came up with the game of hide and seek because Algebra became a bore. So if you need to blame somebody for the apocalypse, then I’m your gal.
Our game began innocent enough. I counted to one hundred, since the boys chose me to count first, and they ran in different directions. I shouted, “Ready or not, here I come!” Then I looked around the main lobby. It was empty since the place closed at 5:00. Water burbled from a fountain at its center. Nighttime had fallen beyond the glass door entrance.
I tip-toed into the dinosaur exhibit. Jason often liked to hide behind the brachiosaurus—you know, the one with the really long neck.
I didn’t find him there, though, so I crept into the Spanish conquistador gallery. There wasn’t a good place to hide, since paintings simply hung on walls. But it led into the armory display, which held shadows and niches, perfect hiding spots. As I made my way past the paintings, I saw Juan Ponce de León discovering the Fountain of Youth; Hernán Cortés conquering the Aztecs; and Francisco Vázquez de Coronado on his ill-fated quest to find the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.
Neat and all, but where was Jason?
The conquistador armory exhibit was the museum’s crown jewel. Dozens of swords, spears, and halberds rested inside protective glass cases. One wall held a set of crossbows with copper plaques beneath them. Another area housed two cannons. At the heart of all the weapons, a full set of conquistador armor shone with one pale light to illuminate it. The breastplate gleamed, an oddly shaped helmet set above it with a feather plume sticking out the top. Puffed sleeves and trousers bulged from the armor. Gauntlets and leather boots covered the hands and feet. A slender rapier was strapped at its waist, while one hand gripped a halberd—a fancy axe with a ten foot handle. A large plaque beneath the armor read:
ARMOR OF FRANCISCO VAZQUEZ DE CORONADO, 1541
My dad once told me the armor was the most valuable artifact in the entire museum. Coronado was an explorer who led an expedition from Mexico into present-day Kansas between 1540 and 1542. He searched for the mythical Cities of Cibola, also called the Seven Cities of Gold. He didn’t find them, of course. Instead his expedition returned to Mexico empty-handed. His men blamed him for their loss of time and finances. Coronado died a mysterious death in 1554.
My dad said he was cursed.
Explorers searched for the Seven Cities of Gold for hundreds of years. Located in the deserts north of Mexico, the tales claim the cities hid a powerful artifact. Although gold is what Coronado’s expedition sought, many scholars, including my dad, believe Coronado coveted the artifact so he could rule the Native American tribes.
You might be wondering how I know all of this stuff. Well, being the daughter of a museum curator means hearing bedtime stories of Spanish conquistadors. It’s kind of boring, but kind of cool, too.
Anyway, I checked all the niches and recesses—no signs of Jason or Zac—then entered the tools of the conquistadors’ exhibit. This room always creeped me out, and I’m not even sure why. It simply housed compasses, astrolabes, and maps drawn by Spanish explorers. But something about the room felt strange, like a presence loomed in the dark.
One artifact in particular made me feel especially eerie—an orange stone centered in the middle of the room. From the adjacent room, Coronado’s armor stared tirelessly at the stone, which may be why I found the artifact so creepy. It was the color of orange flame, though not as bright, and jagged flaws brushed the edges. Its size reminded me of a baseball. A plaque beneath the artifact read:
SUN STONE OF CORONADO, 1541
Through the Sun Stone’s glass case, I saw the spiky blond hair of Jason on the other side. He knelt behind the display. The little twerp probably figured I wouldn’t look in this room, knowing the place gave me the heebie-jeebies.
But I gotcha this time, punk, I thought.
I approached the Sun Stone cautiously. I planned to sneak around the display case and tag him before he saw me. But right when I was about to do it, Jason bolted for the exit.
“Oh, no you don’t!” I shouted as I ran to cut him off.
He realized our paths would intersect before he could flee, so he changed direction. Now I chased him full speed around the room. We weaved in and out of museum displays. If our dad could see us now, he’d have a heart attack. Of course he would strangle us first. But he wasn’t here so we ran circles around the room, laughing and panting.
I eventually tagged Jason. I stopped running and put my hands on my knees, breathing deeply. “You’re it,” I said.
Jason stopped running and faced me. “No I’m not. You only tagged my shirt.”
“Whatever, Jason.” I walked to the room’s large opening and shouted, “Come out, Zac! I tagged Jason. He’s it!”
“You’re delirious,” Jason said. “You only tagged my shirt. That doesn’t count. We need to reset and play again.”
“Not happening,” I said. “You’re it next round.”
He crossed his arms. “Nuh-uh. Reset or I quit.”
He raised his chin in defiance.
“You’re a brat.”
Zac entered the tools of the conquistadors’ room, a smug smile on his face. “You walked right past me, Maddie, and didn’t even see me,” he said. “What are you two arguing about?”
“I tagged Jason,” I said, “but he won’t admit it.”
“She didn’t tag me,” Jason said. “She only tagged my shirt. Doesn’t count.”
“Ugh,” I moaned.
“Will you two cut it out?” Zac said. “Kiss and make up so we can play another round.”
“Gross. I’m not kissing him,” I protested.
“I’d rather fart in her mouth,” Jason said.
“Oh, real grown up, Brainiac.”
“You wanna say that to my face?” He stepped closer.
“Sure,” I looked him square in the eyes. “Brai—”
He shoved me before I could finish the word.
I shoved him back—
—right into the Sun Stone’s display case. He bumped the case and tumbled to the floor. The display wobbled. There was a moment where it felt like time slowed. I wanted to reach out and grab the case before it fell to the ground, but I couldn’t react fast enough. The case fell off its display. It struck the marble floor and shattered. The sound of breaking glass echoed throughout the museum. The Sun Stone bounced amidst the debris before coming to a rest.
Nobody said a word. Breaking glass still resonated in my ears.
Then Zac said, “Holy crap, you guys! Dad’s gonna kill us!”
Jason climbed to his feet. “Correction. He’s gonna kill Maddie.”
“What are you talking about?” I said. “We’re both to blame.”
“As if,” Jason shook his head. “If you hadn’t of pushed me I wouldn’t have crashed into the display case.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have pushed you if you hadn’t pushed me!”
“Stop it you two!” Zac knelt and picked up a shard of glass. “We’re all in trouble unless we do something about this mess.”
I wracked my brain for ideas. We were dead meat. Sure, we could clean up the broken glass and set the Sun Stone back on the display, but there wasn’t another protective case lying around we could cover it with. I was just thankful dad had turned off the alarm system when we got here. This could have been worse.
I knelt and carefully picked up a piece of glass. “Jason, will you run to the Janitor’s closet and get a broom and dustpan?”
Jason just stood there, staring at the mess. He seemed to be in shock.
“Earth to Jason,” I said.
He finally looked at me.
“Broom. Dustpan. Pronto.”
“Oh, yeah. Right,” he said. “Actually, I know where the museum keeps its protective glass cases. I’ll run there and get one while you two clean up the mess.”
“Jason, you’re a genius!” I jumped up and hugged him. Maybe we wouldn’t get killed after all.
Zac suddenly cried out in pain. “Crap! I cut my finger on a piece of glass.” Blood trickled from the wound. He sucked his finger to try and lessen the pain. Then he crawled on his hands and knees closer to the mess. With his bloodied fingers, he picked up the Sun Stone of Coronado.
All the lights went out.
Strange whispers sounded throughout the room, deep and grating.
I couldn’t make out the words. They sounded Spanish. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
When the lights came back on, the voices quieted. Jason and I looked at one another, our faces white with fear.
“You heard them, too?” he asked.
We glanced at Zac. My stomach lurched. He lay unconscious, gripping the Sun Stone in his bloodied hand. I rushed to his side and lifted his head into my lap.
“Zac? Zac?” I yelled.
He moaned. Oh, thank goodness. He wasn’t dead.
“The desert sun is hot,” he said.
“What’s he talking about?” Jason knelt beside us.
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“Beware the conquistador,” Zac mumbled. “He craves the stone. It will destroy the world.”
Jason and I glanced at each other nervously.
Then Zac opened his eyes and blinked. “Hey, guys, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Zac, you blacked out for a moment,” I said.
I nodded. “And there were voices.”
“Let me see that stone.” Jason reached for the artifact.
I grabbed his hand. “Are you sure you should do that?” He shrugged my grip away. “Just let me see it.”
Zac handed it to him.
Jason paced the room while he scrutinized the stone. I helped Zac to his feet. He swayed, dizzy, but otherwise unhurt.
“This is weird,” Jason said.
“Of course it’s weird,” I said. “Who hears voices like that?”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” He showed me the artifact. “This isn’t a stone. It’s metal.”
“What?” I snatched the artifact from his hand. Sure enough, it felt smooth like metal, and when I flicked it, a hollow chime sounded. “You’re right. But don’t you think Dad and his team would have noticed this?”
Jason shrugged. “I dunno. I guess so. Do you think it’s really a Sun Stone?”
I pocketed the artifact so we wouldn’t lose it. “After what just happened, no.” Zac rubbed his eyes, still slightly disoriented. “Then what is it?”
I shook my head.
“I think I remember seeing a book about Coronado’s Sun Stone in the gift shop,” Jason said.
“Yeah, me too,” Zac confirmed.
“Oh, no, Brainiac,” I said. “We’re not getting into this. We’re simply going to clean up the mess and put the Sun Stone back.”
“Ah, come on,” Jason said. “The gift shop is right by the janitor’s closet. We’ll grab the broom and dustpan, and stop and check out the book. Where’s the harm in that?”
I groaned. “Okay, but make it quick. There’s no telling how much longer dad’s work will take.”
“Deal,” Jason grinned. What a nerd. He loved a mystery if it meant acquiring new knowledge.
We left the tools of the conquistadors’ room. When we entered the armory exhibit, I froze in my tracks. Goose-prickles crawled up my spine. Jason and Zac stopped and asked, “What’s wrong?”
I pointed. “It’s missing.”
Where the armor of Coronado had stood, the display case now loomed open and empty.
The suit of armor had vanished. How the heck does something like that simply disappear?
“Coronado’s armor,” Zac said. “It’s gone.”
“Well, duh,” Jason chided. “Dad probably removed it so he could—”
—a gut-wrenching scream sounded from the main lobby, a dark and ancient sound.