As Thom tumbled through the darkness, shingles surrounding him like sharp-edged snowflakes, he covered his face with his arms and tensed his body for the impact he knew would come. He hoped it would arrive sooner than later and more gently than he deserved after such a foolish mistake.
After only a few terror filled moments his wish was granted as he landed with a muted thud on what felt like a very large bed. Thom winced as several shingles glanced off his back and legs but felt deep relief to have gotten away so lightly. He took a deep breath to collect himself...
And fell into a violent coughing fit as dust filled his nostrils and caked his tongue. The spasms racked his body and made his eyes water for nearly a full minute before mercifully subsiding. Thom sat up slowly and wiped a grubby sleeve across his eyes.
The weak late afternoon sun that peeked through the gaping hole in the roof above revealed a small, circular room that was covered with more dust than Thom had ever seen. It was like a dust blizzard had descended upon it and relented only when it was utterly spent. It looked to be several inches thick in several places!
But what was hidden underneath those filthy layers? Thom slid from the bed and felt the rich fibres of the carpet between his toes. This was of much finer stuff than the tapis that covered the floor of his room at home. Home... mom and dad would be worried when he didn’t return for supper.
This momentary distraction was cast away when Thom came upon a heavy wooden chest covered with archaic runes and faded grey images. He leaned closer and gently blew away the veil of flakes, careful not to inhale the new cloud he created.
With the removal of the concealing layer of dust Thom saw that the images were not faded at all – they were bright and vivid, like they had only just been painted. The depiction of a man cloaked in a red robe with dark black wings sprouting from his back caught Thom’s eyes immediately. What hand drew such dark beauty, what land could this treasure have come from?
Treasure! There must be treasure inside that chest, else it wouldn’t be much of a treasure chest. For what else could it have been? With eager fingers he felt around the top of the trunk, searching for a latch, hoping not to find a lock. Surely there would be no lock, this remote room should have been protection enough?
At last his fingers found purchase and Thom lifted the lid without a second thought. With a mighty creak that caused him to check over his shoulder for watching eyes, the lid came free. He placed the lid softly on the floor to his right and peered inside, his eyes wide and wild with excitement.
But before he could discover the wonders hidden within this ancient chest he heard footsteps emanating from below. Thom leapt to his feet and stared at the floor as though his eyes could see right through the carpet and wooden boards. He whipped his head from side to side, then looked up at the partially caved in roof ten to fifteen feet above. He had to make a choice and he had little time to decide – the footsteps were growing closer and closer, faster and faster.
What would he do - hide or climb?