Is that dried blood?
Pierre Deveraux handled the document his friend Joe had handed him with great care. The intriguing piece of paper looked genuinely ancient. It was yellowed and had been rolled up for years, if not decades—a century, even? Its edges kept threatening to resume their curled-up state.
The brownish-red ink—the suspected dried blood—revealed some kind of treasure map. It was a simple drawing suggesting a forest, a boulder, a cabin near a stream with a waterfall, and perhaps a cliff.
There was an X marked near the cabin.
If the paper didn’t look so convincingly old, Pierre would have shrugged it off as a worthless doodle, a prank, or a treasure hunt map created for a kid’s birthday party.
But the document the thirteen-year-old boy was examining felt real. He wasn’t the type to go hunting for treasures, but the age of the document, the possibility it was drawn in blood, and its mysterious purpose piqued his curiosity.
“That looks like dried blood,” Pierre finally said out loud for the benefit of his friends Joe, Richard, and Timothy.
It was morning recess, and the four friends huddled over the map in a far-end corner of the schoolyard, not only because they were fascinated by the drawing but also because they didn’t want any of the other students—or worse, the Fathers—seeing what they had. As the tallest one and the gang’s designated lookout, Richard threw glances around the yard from time to time to ensure they didn’t catch anyone’s attention, that no one was coming their way. A group of younger boys near them was absorbed in a game of marbles and posed no threat.
“Blood?” Joe spat out in a hushed tone. “What the heck are you saying?”
Timothy leaned closer to the map for a better look. “You don’t think it’s just ink?”
“Have you seen this shade of red at the store?” Pierre asked him.
Timothy often stocked shelves at his uncle’s general store, and the stationery section was by far his favorite. As a budding artist who loved drawing and painting, he had a keen interest in every art tool available out there and was familiar with every shade of ink they had in the inventory. “Hmm. It’s not a common tint. But…” He shook his head in disbelief. “Why would someone use blood to draw a map?” He pursed his lips in disgust.
“Yeah. Why would someone do that?” Pierre mumbled to himself.
Pierre’s mind raced, and the more he brushed his fingers over the ink, the more he inspected the original hue—there was a morbid vibe to the shade—the more he was convinced that it was blood.
A light shudder went through him.
Under what circumstances would someone go through the trouble of using blood to draw a map? And was it their own? Someone else’s? An animal’s?
Why use blood instead of a pen or a pencil, instead of going to the store to get a writing tool? Even if the store was closed, how desperate would one have to be to fall back on blood rather than wait for the store to open? That seemed a little extreme.
Maybe if the snowstorm of the century was raging outside, and you were trapped and desperate. Dying, perhaps?
And then it dawned on him.
“This looks like the location of the old Wilson cabin,” Pierre said regarding the map.
“Wilbrod Wilson’s cabin?” Joe frowned.
“Yes. Wilbrod Wilson’s cabin.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s not creepy at all,” Timothy whispered.
The thought of the Wilson cabin being a part of the map was disturbing. The cabin—or rather, the memory of the cabin and its sacrilegious history—was well-known in the village of Mont-Sacré-Cœur where they lived, a small community lost in the middle of a mountainous countryside with its fair share of woodsy areas. For decades, a chilling story surrounding the cabin and its infamous murderess had been dutifully passed down from one generation to the next as some kind of cautionary tale. It wasn’t that young brides from the village were itching to behead their husbands; rather, it was mostly to discourage teens from going into the woods by themselves to do stupid crap.
And most of the time, it worked.
Perhaps it was because the story became embellished—or uglified—as it was passed down, and by now it was believed that a demented female ghost roamed the woods wielding an axe.
Rumor had it that back in 1899, a young girl named Joséphine was forced by her own family to marry against her will. Her husband, Wilbrod Wilson, was a handsome and charming brute decades older than her. He had made a small fortune as a traveling salesman and retired soon after their wedding.
For unknown reasons, he soon became antisocial and unstable. On a whim, he sold the couple’s opulent house in the village and dragged young Joséphine to live with him in a cabin deep in the woods, where he kept her captive.
On the rare occasions when he came to town to pick up goods, she was glued to his side, an invisible leash keeping her tightly tethered to him. A keen observer could have spotted various scrapes and bruises on her, but back then, beating one’s wife was an acceptable, unwritten right around those parts. So, despite pleas for help from Joséphine’s imploring, glassy stare when she visited the village, despite the pity she inspired, her silent requests remained unanswered.
They said that Joséphine eventually snapped and beheaded her husband with an axe. She set fire to their cabin—her miserable home—and it burned to the ground. The charred corpse of Wilbrod Wilson was found amid the ashes, with the exception of his head, which remained missing to this day.
It was hard to believe that Joséphine, a petite and meek woman, could have found the guts and especially the strength to deal a deadly blow, one clean cut across the neck of her despicable husband with an axe.
Could she even lift one? Pierre wondered. He often chopped wood and knew the strength it required to work with the heavy tool. It would likely be a challenge for a dainty young woman to use one effectively, let alone administer a fatal blow to anyone with it.
Some sharp tongues suggested the husband wasn’t the only one who lost their head—to do such an unthinkable thing, Joséphine must have been mad as a loon and possessed by some extraordinary power to kill the man. The village folks concluded the devil must have made her do it, and surely she was now rotting in hell for what she had done. As she should.
“But the cabin’s long gone. Why would it be on the map?” Richard asked.
Pierre took a moment to answer, first exploring the possibilities. “Perhaps the map was drawn before the cabin burned down.”
The prospect of the document predating Joséphine’s act of arson thrilled Pierre. What an interesting thought. And what would that mean?
Did Joséphine herself draw this, to keep something precious or secret from her horrible husband?
Or was it her husband, to keep something from her?
What if he and his friends were to discover some new facts about the doomed couple that would shed new light on their tragic lives? On their tragic fate?
Pierre swiped his thumb over the ink once again as if hoping for an answer.
What in the world had his friend Joe stumbled across?
The night before, Joe had found the map by chance in the bedroom he shared with three of his brothers. He had lifted a floor plank at the back of their small closet to hide his brother Carl’s prized baseball cards as sweet revenge when he came across the rolled-up document hidden underneath the floor.
He was so excited by his find he couldn’t wait to go to school the next day—a first—so he could show it off to his friends and try to make sense of it. He could see it was some kind of map—that part was obvious—but he wasn’t savvy in the woods or particularly observant, and the drawing made little sense to him. But he knew Pierre would figure it out.
“But if this map predates the cabin’s disappearance,” Pierre mused out loud, “then how could it have ended up in Joe’s house? How old is your house, Joe?”
Joe shrugged and made a face. How was he supposed to know? “What does it matter? The old Wilson man was loaded, and he was a Scrooge. His fortune was never found. Where do you think it went, hmm?”
All four pairs of eyes whipped back to the map.
Joe grinned. “So… Who’s in?”