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The big piece of the first semester. Everyone in the class created their own character, and we each had to create a story using at most four of those characters. This is what I came up with:

Treasure Hunt

Of all days to be awoken by a phone call from one's boss, a wet and cold Sunday morning should not be one of them. For Christine, Sundays were sleep-in days; no-alarm days; late breakfast days. The only thing that happened on Sundays was the occasional improv group meeting. Work does not happen on Sundays. In all her one and a half years of working at Blȧ Kafe, Christine had never once been asked to work on a Sunday. Christine never called it into question – she figured it was a silent law between herself and her boss. A mutual understanding. Apparently this was not the case, for when she stretched across her bed to grab the phone and check the caller ID through misty eyes, Alec's named flashed on the screen.

Christine answered. “Hello...?”

A voice rang on the other side of the phone. “G'morning love!”

“Whaddya want?” Christine mumbled into the phone.

“Well,” he began, his cheery disposition only adding to Christine's frustrations. “I need you to come in today.”

“Why on a Sunday?” Christine asked, peering around the curtains to get a peek at the sky. Gray as slate. “Can’t ya usually handle yourself?" And it was true. On Sundays, there were hardly any customers. Alec could run the entire place on his own.

“I’d like to run a new flavor by you.”

Alec was always inventing new coffee combinations, and whenever he found a particular mix that he though customers might enjoy, he immediately went to Christine to ask for a second opinion. This hardly happened on non-work days though, so this request came as a surprise to Christine. As Christine rubbed the sleep from her eyes, she considered what her response should be.

“Just give it to one of the customers, they’ll tell you if it’s any good.”

“You know you’re the only person I trust when it comes to finalizing my menu,” Alec said, a pleading tone in his voice.
Christine sighed. “Bossman, I have plans,” she said, hoping that throwing in the old nickname would make him change his mind.

“Your improv meeting, right?” Alec replied. “Look, it won’t hurt your amazing skills as an actress to come in just one day.” Alec was teasing her, but when she didn’t reply immediately, he worried he’d gone too far. “Please? I really think I hit gold on this one.”

Christine rolled on her side. A chill went up her spine as her shoulder was exposed to the cold air. The walk to work would be a chilly one. “And this can’t wait another day?”

“I… well…” Alec replied. There was a sad, slightly agitated sigh that made it apparent that he was counting on Christine to come in, and hadn’t given much thought to how she’d react. Christine sighed, worried that she had upset him.“One drink?”

“One.”

“And then I can go home?”

There was no immediate response from Alec. “Yes,” said Alec.

“Alright,” Christine said, giving in. “I'll come and try your dang coffee.”

Alec gave one of his signature cheers, thanked her, and hung up. Christine spent a few more moments in bed, waiting for wakefulness to come in full. When it didn't, she forced herself out of bed and got dressed. She gave her pillow one last sad, parting glance before heading out the door.


She had been right about the walk to the shop. The sun was hidden behind gray clouds which kept the air cool. The wind was particularly bitter, blowing up against Christine and making her tense up and shove her hands deeper into her jacket pockets. As she approached the shop, she quickened her pace, now eagerly anticipating the welcoming atmosphere of the shop and Alec’s warm drink.

When Christine entered the cozy shop, she discovered that there was only one patron present: a regular, sitting in his usual spot in the corner, his decaf coffee in hand. Their eyes met for a moment, but she did pay him much attention beyond that. She was too focused on Alec to give him much thought. She walked up to the cashier counter where Alec was slouched over a book of Sudoku puzzles. He looked up at the sound of her zipper as she removed her jacket. “Oh, you’re here!”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here, surprise,” Christine responded, joining Alec behind the counter. “Now what’s this new flavor you want me to try out?”

“I decided to bring back one of my seasonal drinks. Fall is soon upon us, you know,” Alec said, ducking into the back room. Christine stood at the door while he prepared the beverage in his expert way. “It’s last year’s pumpkin spice, but with a mocha twist, cinnamon whipped cream, and maybe chocolate drizzled on top. Haven’t quite decided.”

“Sounds good,” Christine replied. He handed her the steaming cup and she took a whiff. As was typical with Alec’s coffee creations, she could tell just by the smell that it was going to be divine, and took a sip as Alec eyed her with anticipation.

The smell had not deceived the contents – it was delicious, beyond what Christine had expected. Perhaps one of Alec’s best. But she wouldn’t let him know right away. She took another gulp, and pulled a thoughtful face. “Well…” she started, and Alec’s face dropped a bit.

“It’s darn wonderful,” Christine laughed, and Alec smiled.

“Is it missing anything?” he asked.

“No, no, it’s great just the way it is. Keep the chocolate.” Christine took another sip.

“So I guess you’ll be leaving then?” Alec asked, disappointment on the edge of his voice.

Christine gazed at the world outside the big glass windows of the shop. The clouds had gotten darker, suggesting rain. A man walked by the window, hunched over as he fought against the wind. “You know,” Christine said, thoughtfully, grabbing one of the shop aprons from off a hook. “If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to stay and work.” Alec gave her a look of deep appreciation.

“Can you work the cash register? There are a few more drinks I’d like to work on and get your opinion of, if you don’t mind.” Christine nodded and took her position at the counter, taking the drink with her and leaving Alec in the kitchen to work his magic.

On regular work days, Christine passed the time people watching. Blȧ Kafe was a relatively popular coffee shop, at least on week-days. It had many devote customers, and was a popular spot for certain crowds at various times of days. In the mornings, New York businesspeople would stumble in and emerge energized and ready for the day. At lunch, aspiring poets took their lunches behind their computer screens, tip-tapping away for hours at a time. When night fell, it was the ideal student hangout, and popular with employees who worked night shifts. Christine would eye these people, silently judging and making predictions about their lives. The habit started when she first started taking acting classes, and was told to observe other people her daily life to work into characters on stage. As a hopeful actress, Christine drew inspiration from the people she watched, incorporating them into her acting. If their visit was short, her analysis was short. “That man lives with his dog and, in all his life, has never been the dumper.” The longer their stay, the more animated and real they became. She could make up a person’s entire lifetime.

But today, there was only the regular customer sitting in his regular corner and drinking his regular order. She had already made his story up a dozen times. She had grown bored of him. The few other customers that rushed in dashed off just as quickly. The only customer she made an interesting story for was a woman in green scrubs who had a particularly long order of a “double Ristretto venti nonfat organic chocolate brownie frappuccino extra hot with foam and whipped cream upside down double blended, and fast”(a ridiculous order to which Christine wanted to respond: “We ain’t a Starbucks, ma’am. Go to the nearest corner if you want one of those,” but managed to hold her tongue). Christine created her story as the woman drank her coffee in solitude, staring out the window. This woman grew up poor and decided to prove her worth through education and success. She had a very successful medical school career and was now on her way to being a world famous brain surgeon. Her holier-than-thou attitude prevented her from having a boyfriend for long, but that didn’t matter because she couldn’t have children anyway. Even when the maybe-brain surgeon left, Christine was molding her story, staring out the window at nothing in particular, lost in thought.

It was the banging on the glass door that caught Christine’s attention. She knew who was there before he even snaked through the door, and she wasn’t pleased. Whenever this individual arrived, trouble was quick to follow. “I’m sure Alec won’t appreciate you slammin’ on his windows, Andrej,” Christine snapped.

“Is this how you treat all your prospective clients?” Andrej replied while making his way towards the counter.

“Only the ones who could cause potential property damage,” Christine said, eyeing Andrej as he toyed with the selection of chocolate bars placed beside the cash register.

“Dude, I didn’t even do anything yet.”

“Yet,” Christine emphasized. There was a moment of silence between them, broken by Christine’s harsh slap on Andrej’s hand as he attempted to sneakily open one of the chocolates by the register.
 
“Well this has been a fun chat,” Andrej tapped a beat out on the counter and started looking around the shop. “Where’s Alec?”
Christine was hesitant to answer. Andrej’s visits were rare, but he always managed to screw something up. Christine shuddered as she recalled the Spilled Coffee Incident of 2009. But, Alec was always excited to see Andrej no matter how much of a bad luck charm he was for any breakable objects around him.
 
Before Christine could respond, Alec burst from the back room, with one of his new creations in hand. “Now, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I think I’ve made the perfect mint mocha for winter time,” Alec was about to go on one of his coffee spiels when he spotted rare friend. “Andrej, my man! I didn’t know you were in town,” Alec handed the cup to Christine and proceeded to engage in a rather long and complex secret handshake with Andrej. While they were busy with that, Christine occupied herself with the coffee.
 
“Yeh, I decided to take the semester off and go on a little personal road trip. Just me and the van.”
 
“Alec, this could use more coffee, less mint,” Christine interjected.
 
“I’ll consider it,” Alec replied, only half listening. He turned his attention back to Andrej. “What will it be for you then? Typical Nose Warmer, I assume?” Christine wrinkled her nose at the mention of that particular beverage. She never liked alcohol mixed with coffee all that much.
 
“Thanks, but that’s not what I’m here for.” Andrej reached into his pocket, removed a folded up piece of paper, and handed it to Alec. He leaned against the counter as Alec revealed it to be a map, and a rather large on. Christine pretended to be occupied with rearranging the chocolates, but couldn’t help stealing a curious glance.
 
It was a map of indiscernible age that covered a good portion of New York, with Central Park in the middle. Her eye was immediately drawn to a red x located towards the southeastern corner of the park. On the outside border of the map was a highly detailed sketch of a tree, and an x on the ground in front of it. Christine couldn’t help but let the question escape her: “Is this… a treasure map?”
 
“Somethin’ like that,” Andrej said. “Found it in some junk store for a dime.”
 
Alec remained silent as he studied the map, his brow furrowed with concentration. Christine grabbed one end and pushed Alec aside, so that they held up the map together.
 
“This looks old,” she said, fingering the well worn edge. “What if someone’s already found… whatever this thing leads to?”
 
“The map may be old,” Alec replied, thoughtfully. “But the marks could have been made at any time.”
 
“But why would someone just leave it at a thrift store?” Christine asked, puzzled.
 
“What, how, why… You are a curious one,” Andrej teased. Unlike Alec, however, he was not deterred by her glare. “You don’t seem the type for adventure.”

“Please, I grew up on a southern farm tamin’ wild horses and scrapin’ my knees out in the woods. ‘Adventure’ is my middle name.”
 
“Children, settle down,” Alec said, stepping in. “So. Andrej. You have brought us a mysterious map. I assume it’s for a reason?”
 
“I want to find whatever it is this map leads to, and I figured I’d take my best New Yorker friend with me.” Andrej gave Alec a few pats on the back. “What’d’ya say?”
 
“Sounds like it could be fun. The shop isn’t going to be busy today, anyway.” Alec turned to Christine. “What do you think?”
 
Andrej began protesting, and he and Alec had a back and forth while Christine ignored them and studied the map. She visualized the route in her head. She was drawn to this red x, enticed by its mystery. What was buried beneath that earth? Surely it would be worth putting up with Andrej and the horrible weather, Christine hoped.
 
“Alright,” Christine said, interrupting the quarrel between Alec and Andrej. “I’ll go.”
 
Alec grinned while Andrej let out an agitated sigh. After closing up the shop, they packed into Andrej’s fan and made their way to the park.
 
Due to traffic caused by the weather, the ride was a particularly long on. Christine sat in the back while Andrej and Alec caught up with one another. She decided to focus her attention to the van, fascinated that it still ran. It was the kind of windowless, beat up black van that old rock stars would get laid in back in the good old days. Now it was the kind of vehicle whose license plate you saw on missing children notices. Andrej practically lived out of the thing. The last row of seats had been removed and replaced with a thrown out mattress covered in moth-eaten blankets. All around it was stuff that Andrej had collected during his brief time as a roaming artist. Most of it was junk – thrift store clothes, random religious paraphernalia, stripped books with missing covers, in-progress art pieces, whatever Andrej had scavenged. Immediately upon entering the car, Christine’s nose had been filled with the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke, spilled alcohol, and perhaps the faint scent of pot. Christine attempted to buckle up for her own safety, but found that the seat belt had been removed.
 
They made their way slowly but surely to Central Park. Andrej wasn’t a particularly aggressive driver, but he did favor the horn as many New York residents do.
 
Because of the weather, the park didn’t have many visitors, so parking was fairly easy to find. Christine had just enough time to whip out her umbrella before the rain could soak in to her clothes. Andrej jumped out of the car and flung the back doors open, rummaging through all the clutter for a bit before pulling out a twisted collection of metal and fabric that form a partially working umbrella and a shovel.
 
“Now why on God’s green earth do you have a shovel in there?” Christine asked.
 
“Just in case,” Andrej replied, handing the umbrella to Alec.
 
“Don’t you have one for yourself?” Alec asked when he realized that Andrej didn’t have a way to keep the rain off of him. Andrej replied by pulling the hood of his shabby sweat shirt over his head. “Let’s go,” he said.
 
Due to a poor sense of direction, Andrej had let them out on the wrong side of the park, not to anyone’s surprise. They walked at a brisk pace, and the search was only made longer due to Andrej’s constant requests to stop so he could take a picture of something he thought looked artsy. As Christine had suspected by the lack of cars and the crummy weather, only a few people walked through the park. The trio got a few stares, particularly Andrej, whose suspicious appearance was only made worse by the fact that he was carrying a shovel with him. Luckily, they were not stopped, though, and they made it to the east end with no complications. Before them were nothing but trees and bushes. Andrej unfolded the damp map and scanned their surroundings. “Well, my friends. I think this may be the place.”
 
“It’s not gonna be easy to find this thing,” Christine said, shaking the water from her bangs. “Central Park’s full of trees. And if this map is old, then the tree is bound to look different now.”
 
Alec stared at the sketch a bit. “There are a few defining features,” he said, pointing to the trunk. “There’s a very noticeable, very large knot in the tree. Also, it has a very clean ‘V’ shape that begins almost in the middle of it, see?” He ran his finger along the offshoots of the tree trunk.
 
“So we’re looking for a ‘V’ shaped tree with what looks like a vagina on its trunk. Got it,” Andrej replied in his usual vulgar way.
 
Alec shot him a disapproving look. “Don’t be so crude, Andrej. There is a lady present.”
 
“Actually,” Christine said, nodding her head. “That opening does look an awful lot like a vagina.”
 
Alec’s face grew a scarlet, having not been used to Christine’s more open manner of speaking, while Andrej let out a boisterous laugh.
They decided to split up to cover more ground faster, now that they had an idea of what they were searching for. Christine took her time examining trees that could possibly fit the sketch. She found many opening in trunks, and many “V” shaped trees, but had yet to come across both on the same tree. She began to grow frustrated, wishing that the artist had spent more time drawing out other details, like the trees around it, nearby bushes, a bench, some kind of landmark that she could spot from further away. As the search grew longer, her aggravation only increased, and encapsulated more subjects. She was angry at Andrej for bringing in the map, angry at Alec for making her come in to work, angry at herself for letting him convince her to do so. She cursed the weather for making her job so boring that day, and she cursed the regular for being so uninteresting. While in the middle of her tantrum, Christine failed to notice a root sticking up from the ground, tripped, and landed on her knees in a muddy puddle.
 
“Augh!” she cried out, scrambling to her feet and jumping out of the puddle. She backed into a tree and began scraping the arms of her jacket on the bark to remove the mud, when she noticed the peculiar shape of the hole in the trunk. It had a very distinct slit-like appearance, and as she followed the line of the trunk upward, she noticed how it branched off to form a perfect “V” shape.
 
“Alec! Andrej!” Christine yelled loudly, unsure if they could hear her. “I think I found it!”
 
In a few minutes, an eager Alec came crashing through the bushes to join Christine. While they waited for Andrej, they examined the tree together, and Alec agreed that it was probably the one they were looking for. Finally, Andrej arrived, and they examined the map to make the confirmation. By this time, the rain had slowed considerably.
 
“This is definitely it,” said Andrej. He traced the lines of the bark with his fingers. He rooted around the hole in the trunk and removed a couple coins and shimmering rock. He placed these in his pockets. “So where should I start?” he asked.

Alec stepped away from the tree, arms stretched out holding the map before him. He moved a few paces backwards, then left, then backwards, then right. He shifted around so that at one point he was squatting and leaning towards the left in a rather uncomfortable looking manner. Finally, he found a spot, looked up and down and up and down a few times before stepping forward and placing his foot on the ground before him. “Right here.”
 
Andrej got to work digging. The job was made both easier and difficult due to the rain. It was easier to remove the mud, but every time mud was taken out, more oozed into the newly formed hole. Andrej got more aggressive in his digging while Christine examined the mud pile he was creating for any signs of what they were searching for.
 
After a while, they had a decent sized hole, deep enough to go up to Andrej’s lanky forearm. Christine was getting progressively more irritated as each subsequent movement of the shovel unsuccessful in unearthing anything.
 
Then the shovel made a quiet thunk sound as it hit something solid. There was a moment of shock from everyone in the group, as they had each become more discouraged.
 
“It’s some kind of box,” Andrej said, peering into the hole. “I can see the corner of it.” He began to chip away the earth that surrounded the supposed treasure until he could loosen it and remove it from the earth.
 
What they had uncovered a roughly made box, about the size of a cigar carton, made of now damp wood. It was not decorated nor adorned in any way. It was simple and plain, held closed by a small clasp. The group gathered around it anxiously, though Christine’s heart did sink a little. It was too small to hold any real treasures. Andrej opened it slowly.
 
The contents were simple: a skeleton key and a slip of paper. The key was black and heavy. Alec turned it around in his hands while Christine unfolded the paper. “What’s it say?” Andrej asked.
 
“It’s just an address,” Christine replied. “1745 Broadway.”
 
Andrej let out a very agitated groan. “An address? We did all of this for a key and an address?”
 
“Hey now,” said Alec, attempting his usual cheery attitude. “All this means is that this isn’t over. We have a key. We have an address. If we go to the address, we’ll probably figure out where the key goes to.”

Andrej shook his head, disappointment clear on his face. “I guess I just expect a treasure map to lead right to the treasure, ya know? I didn’t sign up for this to be a part of a scavenger hunt.”

“Well, we could end it here,” Christine said, gazing thoughtfully up at the tree. “We could admit defeat and leave, with just this box, a piece-a-paper, and a key. Or we can finish this thing properly, and figure out just what this thing leads to.”

Alec nodded. Andrej’s mood lightened a bit at Christine’s words. He looked at the box in his hand and imagined what he could use it for, what designs he could decorate it with. Reaching into his pocket, he removed the stone and dimes and placed them inside. “Well, what are you two waiting around for?” He said with renewed enthusiasm. “Let’s find this treasure!”

As they made their way out of the park and back to Andrej’s van, Christine stayed a few paces behind, examining the key and handling it with delicacy. Her mouth spread out into a grin on her face as she imagined all the possibilities that this single key presented to her. There were so many doors it could open, and it was no their duty to find that door.

Not realizing how far she’d fallen behind, Christine’s train of thought was interrupted as Alec called for her to join him and Andrej. She ran over to the pair, almost skipping, unable to contain her excitement at this new world of possibilities she now faced. She was ready for this new adventure, and ready to form her own story.
 
 
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einahsketch

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