The Journey Begins

“The steps of the righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

Psalm 37:23

South Louisiana, April 1982

It is a beautiful, sun-filled spring day. I woke up extra early this morning to do something I have been putting off doing for over two weeks. My twenty-year-old lean frame slides easily and silently out of bed, so as not to wake my wife sleeping beside me. As I get ready for the day, I find that my heart is heavy. I do not usually find myself overly burdened. In fact, I have always considered myself a lucky guy—an average man in almost every imaginable way, except where I believe it counts most, my ability to provide for our future children. I am happily married to Mary Melerine.  We have an adorable mutt named Muffet, one alley cat called Midnight, and a tremendously large network of family and friends. We live on a five acre tract of land which was part of a large farm owned by my family in the little town I grew up in.  One of eight children, being a closely knit family was a very important aspect of my life. As with any large family, however, the closeness came at the price of having to work together to overcome the competing personalities of ten different people at any given moment.

 In addition to family, helping others has always meant a lot to Me. As far back as I could remember, I have been a dreamer at heart, someone who loved the heroes that came into his life. When I was a young boy, I was often found running through the house with a towel tied around my neck, “flying” from place to place saving my older sisters’ dolls from the clutches of the bad guys. Although not completely aware of what exactly I was saving them from or why it was so important to be able to save them, I instinctively knew I was good at it. With the passage of time, my heroes evolved from Superman and Captain America to the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and John Wayne; real people whom, at least from my point of view, everyone could count on to be there when tough things needed to be done.

Still too young to fully understand what it meant to really be a hero to someone else, I began to develop a keen understanding of the difference between right and wrong. This set the stage for the importance of mentors in my life and the growing need inside my young heart to be a mentor to others.

Of course, my very first mentors were my parents, Jules and Josephine Morrison Jr. Thanks to my mother and father, I was taught the difference between good and evil. It was instilled in each of the kids early in life. Through this lens, my family embraced the teachings of God as guiding principles of how one should live his or her life.

From my earliest memories, both my parents were viewed as community leaders. Growing up in a small rural town, everyone knew one another and it was hard not to be active in the community. Our family would have been considered low on the middle income scale in most areas of the country; however, for southern Louisiana in the 1960s, they were more like middle to upper-middle class. Both parents had been married before, bringing together a Yours, Mine, and Ours family. Josephine had one son and two daughters. Jules Jr. had two sons, and through their union they had one son (Joe) and two daughters. With a family of eight children—four boys and four girls—life was never boring around our house.

But lately I have been facing some challenges. My beautiful wife Mary and I have decided to begin trying to conceive our first child. As a soon-to-be father, I want to increase my income to better provide for the family. My income isn’t bad, but it is not enough to allow Mary to stay at home with the baby, which is what we both want. The machine shop I work in is primarily supported by the oilfield industry. As the shop foreman, the money is good when there is work, but in the early 1980s, the oilfield is slow and it is not uncommon to be laid off for a few weeks at a time. I have to work fifteen-hour days for eight or so weeks until the next slow period comes along.

On top of all of this, my father passed away unexpectedly three months ago, and I am still coping with the loss of my first and best hero in life. It is an outcome of this loss that has me up early today.  Two weeks ago, a man dressed in a business suit, came to our door wishing to speak with Mr. Joe Morrison.  “I’m Joe Morrison.”  “May I come in?” the stranger requests.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table with Mary and this unexpected guest. “What is this about?” “Before we go any further, I must ask to see identification please.  I have been instructed to speak directly with Joe Morrison.”

Removing my license from my wallet, I hand it to the gentleman. The gentleman looks the document over, nods his head, reaches into his interior jacket pocket, and hands me a plain brown envelope along with my license back. “I represent the law firm which handled your father’s estate. Your father left us explicit instructions for us to deliver this to you in person two to three months after his death.” The stranger who never even told me his name stood up and began to walk toward the door.

Looking down at the envelope with nothing more than my name printed across the center I ask, “What is inside here?” Turning with one hand resting on the doorknob the man says, “I have no clue, I am just the messenger.” He opened the door and was gone.

Sitting in silence at our kitchen table, Mary and I both look at the envelope resting in my shaking hands. After what seemed like an eternity but in reality was only seconds, I ease open the flap and pull out a single sheet of white paper, another sheet that may have been quite a long time ago, and a single key. Laying both sheets of paper side by side on the table, I read the white page out loud.
Dear Joe,

It is with much love and equal part trepidation that I share our mysterious legacy with you. It now becomes your responsibility as to how you use what you will learn. Just as my father passed it along solely to me at his death, so I do to you. As a child, I saw a lot of your Granddad in you. I believe that was a sign to me as to which of my children should be the keeper of this family secret. Now it becomes your choice as to whom you share this knowledge with. As you will soon see, my personal fears caused me to not explore the full potential of our amazing gifts and only time will tell if that was wise or not. I trust you will do what is right, my son.
With this letter you will find a map and a key which were given to me by your Granddad right after he died. Follow the directions on the map completely and carefully to learn what your destiny holds. The key will unlock the mystery and open a door that you will find impossible to close.

May God and Solomon be with you,


With tears in our eyes, we look at one another before turning our attention to the map lying before us. I quickly recognize the destination indicated by an X. It is a piece of coastal property which the family has owned for years. As a teenager, I had earned extra money trapping furs from parts of this land. My attention is drawn to the center of the map, a faded red X placed near the center of the only island shown. The island is not a great place to visit and was one area on the map that I wasn’t really familiar with. It is a breeding ground for water moccasins and alligators. I never trapped that area because even the fur bearing animals stayed away from the dangers of that God forsaken piece of land. The locals call the island by its French name, “Isle de Mauvais Choix”, the Isle of Bad Choices.

And so it is that today, taking advantage of being laid off work, I kiss Mary goodbye and head off to honor Dad’s wish; to learn what is the big mystery hidden away at Isle de Mauvais Choix. With the island being so remote, I pack enough food and water to last me up to two weeks. Being a person who grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping, it was not uncommon to be away for weeks at a time. With a citizen band radio in the boat as well as a base in the house, I could stay in touch with Mary. Sitting behind the wheel of my beat up truck, the heavy key from the envelope resting on my heart with a chain secured around my neck, I tow my sixteen foot skiff to the local boat launch. Once the boat is in the water, I still have a four hour boat ride before reaching the island. Plenty of time for me to imagine what I will find under that X on the island, but also to figure out what Dad meant by God and Solomon being with me.

By the time the bow of my boat slides into the short marsh grass surrounding the island, it feels much more like summer than it does pring. Though it is late morning, the sun is blazing hot, the mosquitoes are swarming like they haven’t eaten in days, and the lack of wind offers no reprieve from the smell of rotten swamp mud.  Easing the skiff into the slight slough indicated on the mad, I can see no evidence of anyone else being here. The small trench is deep enough to pull the boat into a slip like cove where it will be protected and completely out of sight from passing boats. As soon as my booted foot touches the soft foundation of the land, it sinks three inches into the putrid mud.

The slurping sound signals danger to a four foot long cottonmouth coiled on a half exposed cypress knee by my foot. After a long hiss it slides into the murky water, putting a more comfortable distance between us.   “Don’t hiss at me, I’m not wild about being here either. I remember why I disliked this place so much.” Talking to the retreating snake, I thank God that I remembered to bring my machete and .22  pistol with me.  Taking the map from my shirt’s chest level pocket, I once more read the handwritten directions found below the sketched picture.  They are very explicit and seem to be in order to protect the person from unseen dangers. The details are so precise that they require counting your steps in some places and walking along the trunks of downed trees in others. To make the journey even slower, I have to watch my every step in order to avoid upsetting the masses of snakes found on the ground and occasionally hanging from the low lying branches. Even while following the directions, in some areas, the swamp is three feet deep, making the trek perilous through alligator rich waters. Alligators usually do not mess with uninjured adults but if you scare them or walk on them, all bets are off.

It’s after 4 pm by the time I reach the last set of instructions. I didn’t plan on this walk taking so long. I only brought two bottles of water and a can of Vienna sausages. I do not look forward to spending a night on this island without my supplies but walking back through the swamp at night with only a small flashlight is not an option. I know I must be fairly close to the area I am looking for. At least I am finally standing on solid ground about three feet above the water level of the nearby swamp. Above and in front of me is nothing but a wall of green. The infamous kudzu vine has taken over this part of the island. The plant is fast growing, very thick and dense, completely masking whatever lies beneath its vines. Directly to my left, just as the map indicates, is what looks to be three big downed tree trunks, stacked one on top the other, creating what looks like a wall. According to the map, I am to climb on top of that wall and walk into the heart of that kudzu mass. Do you know how many snakes could call that vine their home? The map has not led me astray yet, so let’s do it. Climbing to the top of the six plus foot wall of “trees” I notice that this is not trees after all but instead is concrete cloaked to look like trees. The kudzu, however, is real and super thick and hearty. It takes me a good thirty minutes to cut through the external mass of vines.  There is no way to tell how long it has been since someone did what I am doing since kudzu is such a fast growing plant. They say that it can completely cover an area in a month, and once you cut it, the growth time speeds up.

Once I made it through the outer wall of vines, I was amazed and surprised by what I find inside. Turning on my flashlight, I shined it up onto what could only be described as a roof of vines. Very little light came through the vines and leaves making up this living canopy. About thirty feet in front of me were the trunks of this colossal covering. The trunks of these mighty vines grew on each side of the concrete walkway, making an entryway to a hidden building standing above the island floor. As I walked under the entryway it was clear that this building was well hidden from the outside world. The entryway gave way to an open air cypress flooring platform that was surrounded by a wooden cypress railing. Rustic chairs surround a heavy oak table and unlit hurricane lanterns hang on wooden rungs overhead. Across the entire back side of the platform was a large metal door, sealed by a lock hidden beneath a three sided iron box. Removing the key from around my neck, the lock springs open without the least resistance. As I grasp the latch in my trembling hands, I realize I am opening a door to a large, very old, iron shipping container, not a building. As the door swings open on well greased hinges, I stand back in complete and utter silence as the beam of the flashlight reveals what reminds me of an ancient library.