I like to make people’s birthdays special. For instance, I have a tradition of forcing my friend, Nat Sylva, onto a scavenger hunt to find his birthday present. This year I didn’t see him until weeks after his birthday. We barely crossed paths before Halloween, and on that day the poor guy had jury duty.
When he got home, though, I had a note on his war chest. On the outside it read, “Your present lies within.”
Inside the note read: “I said it lied. This was going to be a clue about Lies of Locke Lamora, but I can’t find that book. Can you find a book I lent you years ago?”
It was on, and it went a little like this.
He went upstairs, passing the bucket of Halloween candy, and after searching around for a few minutes Nat located my copy of Stephen King’s Cell. I suspect he will never finish it. Inside was a note with at least two references to Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Now a couple years ago, I gave Nat a copy of the special edition of The Dark Knight for his birthday. It has Ledger on the cover, and I hid a clue in there last year. This one was a gimme, but inside lay another note.
“Wrong Batman villain. You don’t want to get warmer with him, but colder. Maybe he’s in his hideout.”
Nat deduced Mr. Freeze and checked his freezer in the other room. Inside was a note that read, “No sir, the OTHER hideout,” which was a superlative reference to Batman Forever, and sent him down two stories into the basement to check his emergency fridge. On an empty shelf in that fridge he found a note saying that all this searching had tired me out and that I was going to bed.
This brought him up two stories, again passing the bucket of Halloween candy, to the guest bedroom where I’d been sleeping the last few nights. After rummaging under my pillows he found another note:
“No time to sleep. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. Why don’t we try getting to the bottom of John? (Don’t be lewd)”
After worrying that he’d have to extract my socks, he came downstairs and asked to check the sofa I was sitting on. Sure enough, my classic lame move of sitting on a clue persisted. Beneath the cushions was a note: “Been sitting here long enough. Should probably check e-mail for work.”
So he went back into the basement to check his e-mail, where he found a cryptic invitation: “Come back to Silent Hill (even though I hear the movie is awful).”
Nat had actually intercepted this e-mail earlier, but mistook it to mean to check my copy of Silent Hill 1. But the movie is based on Silent Hill 3, and has the same tagline of “Come back to Silent Hill.” I’d been trying to get him to play with me for days. Now he checked that case, and sure enough, he found his next note. I feel he was a very good sport as he read, “It’s all safe at home now. You can go to bed safely.”
And so he passed the bucket of Halloween candy by the stairs for the third time, up to the top floor and into his room. He checked his pillows, where he’d found his penultimate clue, “Maybe it’s in his tiger trap.”
Now Nat owns the enormous three-volume Complete Calvin & Hobbes. If you’ve read the early ones, you know the first strip was about Calvin checking his tiger trap and finding the stuffed tiger. Nat came downstairs one more time and went straight for that volume, while complimenting my ability to lift that thing off the shelf. Sure enough, on that page, was a note:
“Happy Halloween! A bucket of tricks and treats for everyone.”
He went over to the room near the stairs and checked the candy bucket. Beneath was his wrapped birthday present, the edges of the wrapping paper sticking out the sides.
Now the present was something that only has sentimental value – scissors he can snap apart into two knives and pretend he’s an assassin – but it’s the chase that’s meaningful. I can tell it’s meaningful because he didn’t use the present to murder me.