“Damn this heat!” I said loud enough to echo off the trees. Not that anyone was around to hear me, but I did feel better saying it.
I’m not one to complain much about good weather since the winters around here are brutal, but I’d had a hard time keeping the sweat out of my eyes. I dabbed them with the bottom of my t-shirt and continued searching.
I got a hit of 78 on my metal detector, that indicated silver according to its digital display, but, I soon found the object I had pulled from the ground was nothing but a mason jar lid with enough jagged glass attached to cut my hand had I not worn my gloves. I hate these misreads.
I got up from my knees and tossed the lid into a thicket a few feet away. When I picked up the detector, I inadvertently swung it back over the hole and heard more beeps in my headphones. I figured it more scrap glass and lids.
I checked it anyway.
I then heard some branches crack in the distance, Thinking it to be an animal, I look up and a blur of a figure appeared to loom in the distance. I couldn’t tell if it was a human, a deer, or what. It hid unmoving in the mix of trees and weeds. Who’d be out here on a Sunday afternoon, besides a weirdo like myself looking for a nonexistent motherlode?
I stood up from my crouch and tried to get a better look. I then see nothing. Paradolia maybe?
It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen things in the woods that were my imagination. This stretch of forest is about as rural as it gets here in Sullivan County, and a guy could become unnerved at this kind of thing. The only reason I even thought to hunt out here is that I heard a story that this area used to be a popular car racing track called ‘The Jungle’ back in the 1940s. I joked that If someone is out here they followed me, no doubt to rob me of my six wheat pennies that I found earlier.
It did occur to me that maybe I should carry a weapon of some kind to ward off any potential trouble, just in case. There are stranger things that happen every day.
I bent back over the hole and used my spade to turn up more earth and soon the bottom half of that mason jar came up. it was full of dirt and coins. I couldn’t believe it. I dumped it on a nearby tree stump. Several turn-of-the-century silver dollars tumbled out, also silver quarters and to my amazed eyes, a handful of Indian Head ten dollar gold coins. I must have found a depression era stash! I wanted to dance! In two years of hunting, I haven’t found anything of this value. The odd silver dollar and the occasional gold ring, but with this score, I’m in awe. This stash is enough to pay off my truck if I wanted to sell the coins online. I wanted to call Amy and tell her the good news, but cell reception out here is dubious. She’ll be so excited, and maybe it’ll ease the tension between us about our money woes. The fight we had this morning was still rattling around in my head. She was pressuring me once more to move somewhere where the jobs are better, it’s a constant point of contention with us. Our old house is in need of repairs but, we own two acres of land in the finest place in the Midwest, it was the gift my grandparents left to me, how can I walk away from that?
I headed back down the trail and to my truck. When opening the door, I then wondered, had this been only one of many caches buried out there? I put the valuable coins under the driver’s seat and locked the truck door.
I turned back feeling stoked. Did I miss anything? Shit, this could be the lottery win I’ve been playing for every week!
At that point, a quote I remembered came to me, something like ‘the only sure thing about luck is that it’ll change.’ Well, I have to at least know for sure, and I’ll bet there’s a saying out there for that too.
My euphoria was interrupted when I saw it again. Movements several yards to the right. it’s the same thing as earlier. This time I’m sure I saw something, it could’ve been a man in a brown shirt. Whoever it is they are damn good at staying just in the corner of my sight. Or maybe it’s just a leprechaun waiting to snatch my gold when I’m not paying it any attention. Feeling uneasy, I started to rummage around for a blunt walking stick, for extra protection, my spade might not be enough. I didn’t see him or it when I looked back up. Damn…It’s like I anticipated a struggle over my treasure because serendipity doesn’t come without a price. I had to laugh at myself, now I was making up shit. I walked the several yards back over to the honey hole and detected over the same area.
I was startled by a crow that cawed close by me, I hate that when my ears are under headphones. I felt a little paranoid. The wind rattled every leaf in earshot, I looked around, but see only the vast newer growth forest and this wide sunlit clearing. I searched for about 15 more minutes and had all but given up, but then got a hit at the edge of a hillside. This one had multiple signals with the needle jumping all around. I plunged my spade into the loose soil.
Something cracked in there, and I punched a deep hole nearly losing grip of my spade inside. A gush of musty air released from within. For God’s sake, what is this? I pulled my spade out and peered inside using a mini flashlight I always carry. The darkness is almost impenetrable but I do see outlines of what looks like wooden crates in a dirt-floored room. it was some kinda fruit cellar, like our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Fisk used to have detached from their farmhouse.
I had a flashback as a kid of how creepy it was in that cellar. I used to help out the elderly couple when visiting, but would be terrified when asked by Mrs. Fisk to retrieve jars of peach preserves from down there. I feared to stick my hand in the cloud of spider webs thinking my fingers would get gnawed off by a tarantula!
My hands were shaking like I was 10 again, but the adult in me was too curious to let this go, I wanted to go in. I rammed the spade down around the hole. I heard more of the rotting wood crack, and dust flew around me like the gnats I’d been swatting at all day. Soon there was a good size hole big enough to get a look inside. I stepped back and looked down into it where the sunlight penetrated the room. I looked for a way to somehow lower myself down into it. Then I heard a voice behind me.
“Well done Hinton, you dug your own grave.”
I turned around shocked. it was a Sullivan County Sheriff deputy, whom I recognized as Len Gudyer.
I said “Man, you scared the hell out of me. What are you doing, following me?”
He looked at me with dead eyes, he drew his gun and pointed at me. Worry started to stir inside. “Why are you doing this, I’m I under arrest or something.” My first thought was I had trespassed out here, but I’m pretty sure it’s public lands.
He motioned with his gun “Shut up and get in there” It hit me then, this was personal.
I couldn’t fathom what I’d done so wrong.
I tried to lower myself down using the spade laid across the edges of the hole, but my hand slipped and I fell about 3 foot, landing on my ass. The spade fell onIy inches from goring me. I quickly got back to my feet.
Len looks down through the opening and pointed his gun at me, his face was shrouded in a shadow backlit by sunlight.
I asked him “Why are you doing this to me, what did I ever do to you?”
I was sweating profusely and my whole body shuddered.
He said, “I wanted only one thing in this life and you have it.”
I told him “You can have the money, Len, I don’t care, just don’t shoot me over it!”
He said “You’re such an ass! you don’t deserve a woman like her, you never have! You piss away your life chasing some treasure, or other petty pursuits. Not caring about her…I watch you, I know!”
“This is about Amy?” I ask.
“Of course it is, you prick! I would’ve killed to be with her in high school, then she married your lame ass afterward. Since then, have you done anything but make her feel lonely for the past twenty years? I saw it in her eyes. I would never have let her feel that way!”
I couldn’t believe my ears, I was quick with my response.
“You’re wrong about that. We’ve been arguing lately and I’m a bad arguer, so I walk away from it. That doesn’t mean I don’t love her…”
He interrupted me, “That’s bullshit!”
I continued “No, man, she means everything to me.”
He squinted at that. I told him, “Look, Len…she’s not the same person she was in high school, you wouldn’t even know!”
I paused, he continued to point the gun and his eyes appeared to get even darker.
I said, “C’mon man, I know how nostalgia can be. We all go through it, that’s what your feeling, I know it. I always wish to have those old days back again too, so I could go to college and give Amy a better life, but things happen that get in the way of that!” I pleaded with him, his stern face seemed chiseled in stone. he muttered, “You’ve gotten in my way!”
I then felt an even more terrible thought well up inside, I wondered then if Len was a not merely stalking us, but was a lover of Amy’s, and she had put him up to this. I hoped I was wrong, I love her dearly. For the last few years, I couldn’t be sure she feels the same for me. She has had distant eyes, but pride stops me from addressing the issues we have. I’m only trying to avoid fights, but maybe it’s because I don’t want to hear her words, or what’s between them.
Discussions need to be had with cool heads, if that is even possible with us.
I questioned myself hard. Maybe he was right, maybe I’ve become careless with her. I am a lame ass…I felt lower than the hole I stood in. But, I knew If I died right that minute, I’d only worry about her. This I knew was true!
He crouched there looking down at me, his unblinking stare was eerie. His hand flinched.
I shouted, “Go ahead Len, do what you came here to do!” I urged further, “Do it!!” I felt drained.
He spoke in a distant tone, “Don’t you even read the news?” He stares out at something to his left and lowered the gun to swing between his knees.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The silo explosion…in Hollandburg.” He replied.
I knew about the explosion, but I missed the connection to the situation at hand, did he want to finish me and make it look like an accident?
“I don’t understand ?” I said, wiping my sweat soaked face with an equally sweaty arm. He shook his head, his face contorted in a snarl.
“I’m her anger, you’re her guilt!”
He said in a voice deeper than normal.
I must have been owl eyed.
Len’s face just kept contorting, it stretched so unnaturally to the point of madness, as if his skin would snap off of his skull like a rubber mask. I couldn’t bear to look at that nightmarish stare, and I averted my eyes.
I heard an awful wet gurgling and jumped, instinctively looking up at something I’m sure I didn’t want to see. Len’s face was a blur, quickly moving out of my line of sight. I heard no steps crunching on dirt, just a gentle gust of warm wind. I stood there waiting to be shot like a fish in a barrel.
After several minutes I sat on a crate, thinking of Amy and me on our honeymoon in Niagara Falls, in particular about the moment of a photo taken of us by an obliging passerby. Her and I in bright blue ponchos, laughing and wet from the Fall’s mist. The photo sat framed on our mantle until about a year ago. I never thought enough to ask her why it was no longer there.
I guessed an hour had passed. I was weak from the heat, but managed to move the wooden crates on top of one another and struggled mightily to pull myself up and out of the cellar. I grabbed the metal detector and paused for an extended moment, observing the dried mud on its handle. I had been looking for the wrong things for a long time.
I tossed it down into the hole.
I walked back to my truck and sat on the hot vinyl seat feeling a chill.
I gazed into the grove of trees to my left, trying to comprehend what happened back there.
I wondered if I could fix any of this.
I didn’t know how far Amy was out of reach.
I do know there was a deputy that died with the two other people in that blast at the grain silo, but hadn’t paid much attention to the names of the victims. I hadn’t been paying attention to much of anything that mattered.
Artist and Writer from Los Angeles currently living in Indiana - the bulk of my writings are short stories and poems that deal with a range of subjects including: emotional distress, strange happenings, thrillers and suspense stories.