Story Slam Winner Aiden James: "How to Forge a Firestick"

When I was a young child, I would spend my Summers with my grandfather at his hand-built cabin along the Youghiogheny River. He was an avid storyteller and spoke them as if they were spells that had the power to draw, captivate, and bind all who listened (which was everybody). He would stage treasure hunts those Summers, appearing on the deck of the cabin on a random afternoon with a custom crafted treasure map that was complete with burn holes and singed edges rubbed with ash that he guessed aloud would lead to a buried treasure chest in the woods.

Looking back, it probably took him a week to plan each hunt, create the map, and find actual treasures to fill the chests with (or at least what passed as real treasure to children), old coins, a glass tube filled with imitation gold dust that was corked at its end, gold necklaces that almost proved authentic until they turned our necks green in the sun, and other mysterious trinkets.

I can still clearly remember him leading his troop of goonies on an adventure. He would read from his perfectly counterfeited map as we counted out the paces in search of the landmarks he described that might help to guide the way. For that moment in time, we really were miniature pirates on a quest for hidden treasure, trying to navigate an unknown isle and had forgotten the real world behind us.

His name was William, the same as mine, although everyone called him Bill. He had false teeth that he would pull out and make chatter if enough kids were gathered around to see it, a toupee dependably covered in a mesh trucker hat that matched the dark and dyed hair that ran the sides of his head, and he had a type of magic. A type of magic that is hard to find(especially in the south, where the heat slows, and things drag). A magic that likely still flows through the woods and the long-disappeared campfire sites we charted together throughout the Northern mountains of America, where he led his skeleton crew. It’s that magic I have spent my life learning how to bottle in hopes that I may acquire a vast collection, and someday share his wisdom of the art of storytelling with the world. In a way I am still searching for treasures. They’re still hidden, but I have been given the map as counterfeit as it may have been, and I was taught how to use it a long time ago.