The Column Clue

A treasure of historic fame awaits ... but first, the hula!

It’s treasure day, the one day in the year the PIErat’s treasure can be found, but first the clues on the Astoria Column must be solved and the markers uncovered ... all before sunset!
Published: 2014
Artwork: Kathy Hayes
Characters: Nichol, Skyler, Olivia, Silas, Zahra, Georgie, Trinity, Anika, Kyra, Faith, Henry, Amara, Lily, Gabriel (mention)
Character Order on Cover: (top down, left to right)
Skyler, Georgie
Silas, Trinity, Gabriel
Nichol, Olivia, Lily
Kyra, Zahra
Amara, Faith, Henry
Story Location: Real: Northern Oregon Coast—Astoria Column, Fort Astoria, Fort Clatsop, Fort Stevens.


The Shubin cousins visit Fort Astoria and meet a goat named Bloke. This is because when I visited Fort Astoria while location scouting for the book there actually was a goat living across the street from Fort Astoria—although I don't think his name was Bloke.


The Column Clue on Amazon

First Chapter

The Legend

“Kites! Kites! Kites!” chanted Henry, youngest of his six siblings: Georgie, Trinity, Anika, Kyra, Faith and Henry Shubin.

“Kites! Kites! Kites!” echoed Zahra, youngest of her five siblings: Nichol, Skyler, Olivia, Silas and Zahra Shubin.

“Marshmallows! Marshmallows! Marshmallows!” countered Lily, middle of her three siblings: Amara, Lily, and Gabriel Hayes.

The fourteen Shubin cousins were camping together on the Northern Oregon Coast with their families. Today they had talked their parents into letting Nichol drive the cousins into Astoria. Gabriel—the youngest of the cousins—was too little to join the other thirteen. The plan was for the cousins to buy supplies for a kite flying and Bonfire on the beach that evening as well as pick up any souvenirs that caught their fancy.

That was the plan.

However, the cousins packed their imagination capes in hopes of an afternoon of adventure.

They drove into Astoria and found a parking spot central to all the fun shops, restaurants, and haunts of the oldest settlement in Oregon. As if a herd of cattle on the trail to town, the Shubin cousins could not be missed as they started down the streets looking for their first stop.

“Kites!” insisted Henry.

Lily refused to back down from what she considered their most important mission of the day: supplying sweets for the Bonfire. “Marshmallows!”

“Kites!” said Henry suddenly turning into a dragon.

“Marshmallows!” said Lily transforming into a teddy bear big enough to smother any dragon.

“Both!” Nichol commanded.

The dragon and teddy bear rapidly deflated to their normal size as they turned to their oldest cousin.

“Both?” asked Lily.

“Where?” Henry added looking about.

Nichol pointed to a have-it-all store on the next block where the front entrance was crowded with rainbow flags and spinners next to a box of firewood and sign for available cold drinks.

The Shubin cousins flooded into the shop, swamping the narrow aisles. Lily, her sister Amara, and Kyra made for the marshmallows where they argued if they should buy the package of mega-sized marshmallows and have fewer or buy the regular-sized marshmallows and have more to share. Henry went exploring for the kites with his sister Faith and cousins Silas and Zahra. Nichol and her sister Olivia went in hunt of an “I ♥ Oregon” t-shirt. Trinity and Anika set themselves the task of exploring the farthest corners of the store. Georgie and Skyler hovered over the glass display of fancy pocket knives.

Trinity came charging up the aisle and nearly barreled into Nichol. “You’ve got to see this!”

She pulled Nichol back the way she came. Olivia followed.

“You won’t believe what I found.”

Down the aisle and around a sharp corner, Trinity stopped and flourished her hands at the wall full of cages—some glassed, some wired.

Trinity’s eyes glowed. “Aren’t they the cutest?”

The wall of cages housed an assortment of hamsters, rats, mice, turtles, frogs, and lizards. There was even one cage holding a small snake.

Olivia asked, “Are you talking about the rats or the lizard.”

Trinity gave her cousin a punch in the arm. “The hamsters, silly.”

Trinity moved closer to a cage. Inside a caramel-colored hamster was right at the cage’s opening. He seemed as curious about Trinity as she was about him.

“Who’s the wootzi-cute-cutie-pie?” she crooned.

“Listen, sister,” growled the hamster in a voice that could not be described as cutie-pie, not even as cute, and absolutely never as woottzi, “you can call me anyt’ing yous wants if you just gets me outta here, see? But it’s gotta be today.”

The hamster’s request launched an avalanche of cries from the other cages. “Take me!” “Someone’s getting out on Treasure Day?” “Treasure Day? Is someone heading to Battery Russell?” “It’s under the big M, I tell you.” “Pick me!” “No, pick me.” “Let me out!” “I want out on Treasure Day!” “Me! Me! Me!”

“Hey, you kids!” A store clerk appeared from around the corner. “What are you doing to those animals?”

Nichol, Trinity, and Olivia had stepped back when the hamster first spoke up. The man could see they were nowhere near the cages, and that made him pause. Caught off guard at not finding any mischief going on, the store clerk got grumpier. “Get a move on. Buy something or get out of here.”

Nichol stood up straighter at the rudeness of the man. “We’ll leave then, if that’s how you feel about it.”

“And we won’t buy anything, either,” added Olivia.

The cousins walked away from the rude clerk to go find the others. Trinity looked back at the wall of pets. They all looked miserable. A white mouse put its paw on the cage as if trying to reach out to the Shubins. “But it’s Treasure Day,” it squeaked piteously.

Trinity turned to her cousins. “What do you think they meant by it being Treasure Day?”

Nichol shook her head. “Let’s just get out of here.”

There were some protests from the others, but when the girls told what happened each one agreed they should leave.

Once they were outside, Lily moaned, “Now we’ll have to find marshmallows all over again.”

“And kites,” added Henry.

“Marshmallows first,” protested Lily.

“Kites first,” demanded Henry.

“Marshmallows,” shouted a large teddy bear.

“Kites,” yelled back a dragon.

Trinity walked between the two. “Pet store, first.” And she took off down the street forcing the others to follow. Ahead Trinity could see no obvious prospects for a pet store so before the others could catch up with her, she turned a corner to hunt down another street.

A quick glance down the quiet side-street told her she wouldn’t have much luck down this road. She was just wondering if she should head left or right at the next intersection when the others caught up with her.

“Trinity,” her brother Georgie demanded, “where are you going?”

“I need to find an animal to talk to,” she replied.

Nothing in that statement surprised her brother. Not only was Trinity the biggest animal lover he knew, virtually all of their past adventures with their imagination capes involved talking with animals. However, Trinity’s current determination seemed a little sudden.

He laughed thinking it must be her strange idea of a joke. “Are you looking for a specific animal or will any do?”

“Any will do,” she replied instantly.

Amara spoke up. “How about a birdie?”

Trinity stopped so suddenly Georgie, Silas, and Faith all bumped into her. She didn’t seem to notice. “Where?” she asked eagerly.

Amara pointed up to the sky. Just as all the cousins looked up, a large rodent streaked through their group causing some to squeal as it bounced from one cousin’s leg to another. It suddenly stopped in the middle of their group. The cousins tried to spread out away from the rat to get a better look when overhead they heard a shriek that would freeze the heart of any rodent: a very determined bird of prey.

The cousins once again looked up. They stared in shock. It was not only that the birds were clearly aiming for them, but it was the types of birds that made up the group: a bald eagle, a crow, and a pigeon.

“Stand firm,” yelled Georgie. “Birds won’t hit us.”

But he was wrong.

The huge eagle crashed into the cousins like bowling ball making a strike. All of them went down. The crow flew in next, but he pulled up at the last moment and zipped back and forth so low over the group none dared stand up. The pigeon, helmeted with a leather racing cap and goggles, darted into the prone cousins peeking under one and then another. Each time it gave a frustrated coo and hopped to the next sometimes whacking the nearest cousin with its wing.

“Where is the thieving creature?” called the crow with a slight French accent.

“I can’t find it,” rattled the pigeon in her high-pitched coo. “You could get down here and help look.”

The crow hesitated. After an instant too long he said, “One needs to stay aloft, in case we need someone to go for help.”

The pigeon looked up, “You get your tail feathers down here, or I’ll teach you the meaning of needing to go for help.”

The crow landed.

Without the black bird flying over their heads, the cousins slowly began to stand up. The kids had met their fair share of trustworthy and lying creatures and never tried to make snap judgments. If the rat was hiding from the birds for a good reason they did not want to help the birds.

“Why are you after that rat,” asked Trinity.

“He stole something of mine,” replied the crow.

The large eagle spoke up, “He’s after the treasure, eh.”

The Shubin Cousins all perked up. “Treasure?” Henry asked eagerly.

The eagle nodded. “The PIErat treasure.”

By the way the eagle spoke the words the Shubin cousins knew it couldn’t be ordinary pirate treasure, but some exotic PIErat treasure.

Trinity instantly cut in. “Does this have anything to do with Treasure Day?”

“Of course, silly,” chirped up the pigeon. “It’s the one day in the year the PIErat treasure can be found at sunset.” She looked up into the sky. “And it’s not cloudy, for once.”

If you have the markers,” added the crow.

Silas’ attention had been completely captured with the eagle’s pronouncement. “PIErat treasure?” During the scuffle the rat had dodged under Silas as he fell against the curb. Silas had been trying hard not to let the birds see under him, but the excitement of treasure got the best of his curiosity. He jumped up.

There was nothing underneath him except the opening to a storm drain.

“He’s gone,” Silas exclaimed.

The birds all slumped. “My family’s treasure,” moaned the crow. He hopped over and looked down the drain. “He must have been working for the Sewer Illuminati.”

The pigeon blew a frustrated raspberry. “How many times do I have to tell you no one has ever heard of the Sewer Illuminati.”

The crow replied, “That’s just because the Sewer Illuminati are a secret cabal. They wouldn’t be that big of a secret if everyone knew about them.”

The Shubin cousins silently consulted each other. They still weren’t sure if they wanted to help the birds, but treasure

Nichol hesitantly said, “Maybe we could help you if we knew a little more. We are the Shubin cousins, by the way. My name is Nichol…”

The crow jumped high into the air and began to circle the cousins. “The Shubin cousins?! The Shubin cousins! I can’t believe it! These are the Shubin cousins! We’ll get the treasure yet!”

The cousins all looked at one another. “You know us?” asked Olivia.

“Know you? My friend Corbeau told me all about how you stopped the invasion of General Grenoule at Belknap.” He finally landed. “I’m sorry. I don’t know all of your names.”

The cousins introduced themselves then it was the birds turn.

The pigeon started. “My name is Mel. Well, Amelia. Well, everyone calls me Mel. I’m a racing pigeon. I’m the fastest pigeon in all of Astoria, and I—” Mel suddenly looked over her shoulder. “I think I left the oven on.” She turned back to the cousins. “Do you think this will take long? I really need to get home.”

“Always thinking you need to rush home, eh,” sighed the eagle. “You didn’t leave the oven on, and even if you did your house would already have burnt to the ground. Don’t worry about it.” Mel stuck her tongue out at the eagle. “My name is Hunt.”

“And you’re an American Bald Eagle,” piped up Henry.

Hunt ruffled his feathers. “I’ll have you know I’m from Canada, eh. I just came down to be a tourist.”

Faith squinched her eyes, “You’re a Canadian American Bald Eagle?”

This time Hunt hopped from one side to the other in agitation. “I am a Bald Eagle from Canada. I put my u’s in colour, I fly for kilometers not miles, and I call the last letter of the alphabet ‘zed’.”

Silas smiled, “We know a crab named Xed. Pretty nice guy. Also knows a thing or two about treasures.”

“Why,” Amara asked the eagle, “do you call Z’s after a crab?”Hunt threw up his wings. “Americans,” he said in disgust and flew to the nearest branch.

The crow stepped forward with a mysterious and elegant flourish of his wings. “My name is Bōn, Char…boneau, and I am a secret agent.” He froze his pose as if waiting for music to start playing.

Mel blew another raspberry, which pigeons are pretty good at by the way, “So secret no one else knows about it. You’re just paranoid. Imagining conspiracies does not make you a secret agent.”

Anika distracted the argument trying to get back to the important subject: the treasure. “What about the thing that the rat stole from you. What was it? And what is a PIErat treasure?”

The three birds looked at the cousins.

“Haven’t you heard of the legend of the PIErat treasure?” asked Bōn.

The cousins all shook their heads.

“Even I heard of the legend, and I’m from Canada,” boasted Hunt.

Zahra replied, “Well if you tell us then we’ll know too.”

“It was the late 1700’s when the Jolly Roger struck fear into the hearts of ships and ports alike…” began Bōn.

The PIErat brothers—Guy, Ichabod, and Kiel—were the most infamous rodent band of PIErats to strike the eastern Atlantic coasts. Their ship, The Mallow Moth, was an innocent-looking but blinding fast ship not threatening until they raised the feared red flag with black mallow moth on the bottom right corner.

The ship was not recognized because these clever rats never took their booty from the sea. They targeted the rich landlubbers on their native soil. If a ship were unlucky enough to approach The Mallow Moth on the ocean, the PIErats would raise their flag and the unlucky ship would know that soon not one of them would be left alive for they had seen The Mallow Moth and must suffer the consequences. Sailors swore they’d rather be eaten alive by sharks than fall into the hands of the PIErats.

How the PIErats gained their name and wealth was the story of legend—the legend of the Trojan Horse to be exact. The Mallow Moth would slip into port as innocent looking as a sea otter. Then they would scout the city. Specific mansions were picked out and times to raid were calculated. The PIErats would enter the mansions hidden in a pie. When the pie was served during a party, the PIErats would jump out, scare the wits out of the party goers, snatch all the sparkling booty they could grab, and then escape into the night. Each town could only handle a few raids, for quickly the pie-makers would lose all their business as word of rat infested pies got around.

Guy was the leader of the PIErats and chose when they would leave a port and where to aim next. Legend said he married three sisters and was always worrying how to make them happy.

Ichabod was the cleverest and was in charge of the raids. It is said he carried around a lucky stone and would never attack if the stone got wet, and every time the ship made land Ichabod would find the nearest boulder and knock on it for good luck.

Kiel made sure no one ever learned their secrets. It is said he would chop off the enemy’s ears and tongues to make a sandwich to feed them to the sharks while hanging from the bowsprit.

Eventually Guy, Ichabod, and Kiel felt they had tapped all that could be had on the eastern Atlantic and set their sails west. They heard the Far East held more wealth than even they could dream of, so they packed all their treasure into their hold and headed west. It was said the trip was more dangerous than expected, and they decided to make a stop. Some bloke named Drake spoke of the far western edge of the American continent was wooded but uninhabited…well, uninhabited by people interested in reclaiming their stolen goods anyway. They found a large river inlet, dropped off their booty, and headed to the mysterious East.

It proved too mysterious for them, for the PIErat brothers and The Mallow Moth were never heard from again.

Years later, legend claimed that they found the Columbia River years before Captain Gray and had actually buried their booty somewhere on the shore near Astoria.

…Or so they say.

“My great-great-great-great-great—” Bōn counted his pinions then added, “great uncle claimed he found and reburied the PIErat treasure. They say he was as crazy as he was brilliant. He buried the treasure but made three markers to be found by his family if anything happened to him.”

“Boy did it!” yapped Mel. “When you sell the Sicilian Sparrow Mafia bad seed…”

Bōn glared at Mel. “That had nothing to do with it. The Crows in Black were out to get him for years,” insisted the crow.

Mel rolled her eyes at Hunt, and he gave a shrug of his might wings.

“The Crows in Black must have found out about the treasure. Why else would he have gone to such elaborate measures to keep it hidden?”

“Um…because he was crazy? You said it yourself,” replied Mel. To the cousins she added, “Not like some other members of his family.”

Trinity jumped in to stop the argument before it got too carried away. “And what about Treasure Day?”

Bōn answered. “The three markers my great, great, great, great, great, great uncle made have to be positioned in a certain place at Battery Russell today at sunset. The angle of the sun only on this day at that place will make the markers reveal where the treasure is buried.”

Nichol asked, “But you don’t know what the markers look like, where they are hidden, or where they need to be positioned at the Battery.”

Mel nodded her head. “Like I said.” She crossed her eyes and made a circling motion at the side of her head. “What was that silly rhyme he made up? ‘At the hour before sunset, they will fly, the moths incandescent, and show where treasure lie.’ Or what about the whole ‘it’s buried under the Big M’ thing. Or…”

“Make fun all you want,” huffed Bōn, “but you can’t deny the diary page we found this morning.”

Mel stopped. She and Hunt both nodded. “He’s right,” admitted Hunt.

“What diary page did you find this morning?” asked Zahra

“The last page! It had been torn out and hidden.” Bōn leaned forward and in a fake whisper added, “Family legend said that the Crows in Black took it when they kidnapped him.”

Mel rolled her eyes again and sighed.

Faith said eagerly, “What did the last page say?”

“We all thought he had discovered the long, lost connection between aliens and the soda industry—all those fizzy bubbles sending subliminal messages. It’s like a sensory overload. You’ve got taste, touch, sound all working against you and for them.”

“What was on the paper?” Silas cut in. “Last year we talked with the aliens, and they said never heard of soda, so there’s no conspiracy.”

Bōn blinked. “Really? Oh.” He seemed to instantly believe Silas would know aliens. “Well, we also thought it might have been a map to the home of the Washington Yeti tribe who know the secret of herding cats.”

Trinity corrected him. “Yeti are in Tibet. Sasquatch are in Washington. Everyone knows that.”

Bōn winked an eye. “They want you to think you know that. In reality they are training a cat army to take over the German Rhythm Gymnastics Team. I know this gymnastics judge who…”

“But what was on the torn paper,” Nichol insisted with some frustration.

“Well, it wasn’t the secret of why duck quacks don’t echo. It was my personal theory as to why they took away my ancestor, because he finally figured it out.”

Mel gave Bōn a whack with her wing. “If you don’t tell them right this second, I will.”

Bōn gave her a glare, but saw she was in earnest. He cleared his throat and stood up straighter. “What was written on the last page was this…”

The Shubin Cousins all held their breath.

“He wrote, ‘I made up the names of the PIErat brothers.’”


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