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13 Chilling TalesA Collection of Fantasy
By Edwin F. Becker
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Edwin F. Becker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat you see isn't always what you get
Kevin walked through the flea market looking about intensely, as if he were a cat stalking his prey. What he was searching for, he didn't quite know, but he knew there was something there waiting for him to come and find it. Once a month an open market was held, where vendors from all over the county could display and sell everything from antique furniture to swizzle sticks. As he passed each table, he scanned the contents. He saw things that brought back memories, as old toys and even jelly jars initiated immediate images of days gone by. But nostalgia was not all that he was searching for; Kevin felt the anticipation of discovering an unknown treasure that he knew was there, but couldn't yet identify.
Within his mind, he imagined something very old, rare, and in nice condition, to display on his desk. He wanted something that made the statement that he appreciated antiques. A subtle conversation piece that would inform the world that he was deeper than just a "suit" stationed at a desk. It might be an old clock, or a pen set, or possibly an antique paper weight, but whatever it was, it would make a statement that he had more interests than what was on the surface.
He watched in amazement as hoards of people moved swiftly from table to table, booth to booth, grabbing up magazines, plates, radios, bottles, and everything else, as if there was a shortage of old, used objects on this five acre parking lot, which was filled to capacity with hundreds of tables. He felt as if he was the only one who wasn't sure why he was there, as he brushed against people carrying armloads of their perceived treasures.
Then, he spotted it—something that caught his eye and sparked his curiosity. It was a small wooden box, maybe four inches square, about the size in which you would store a few articles of jewelry. It was intricate, with hand carved inlays across the top. There was no question that it was very old. He moved in toward the table and picked it up, pretending to have only a passing interest. Immediately, he noticed that it was locked. "Do you have a key to this old box?" he asked the man sitting behind the table. Almost disinterested, the man replied, "Nah, what you see is what you get." The man then reached over and examined it, as if he, himself, was seeing it for the first time. "Hmmmmm," he mumbled.
As the old guy handled the box, Kevin scrutinized him. Appearing older than his years, the man's face held the tracks of a hard life, with the sunken eyes of an alcoholic. With only about half his teeth, the other half were so rotted that they looked to be almost painful. His clothes looked lived in for a week, and made him appear as an old, homeless bum. 'What a crappy life, just surviving by selling this stuff,' Kevin thought. The old man handed Kevin the box and either smiled or grimaced, as Kevin could not tell the difference.
"As is, it would make a classy paper weight, wouldn't it?" the old man responded.
"How much?" Kevin probed.
"Well, with no key, how about six bucks?"
"Where did you get it?" Kevin asked.
The old man smiled. "Hell, I can't remember where I got every item. Could have been a house sale, or auction, or garage sale—who knows?" Looking behind the old man, Kevin observed a whole camper trailer, filled with junk.
Kevin thought about it for a minute and replied, "How about five?" The old man behind the table picked it up and shook it, confirming it was empty. He quickly responded, "Sold."
He handed the old man a $5 bill, and observed that his hands were filthy and scarred. The old man smiled as he put the money in his cash box. Kevin felt a bit sorry for him, and looked the table over to possibly find another item to purchase, as he felt the old guy really needed more money. Although his camper was filled with junk, his table was almost bare, and Kevin saw nothing else of interest. So he thanked the man and moved on.
He cradled the box, and realized he now resembled all the other people hugging their treasures. As he walked, he studied the box, and decided it appeared as if it were imported. 'Perhaps English,' he thought. There was no doubt that displayed on his desk, it would be noticed as antique, and become a conversation piece. He was thirty-eight years old and single. Although he dated, there was no serious relationship in his life. He spent his days sitting at a desk as a loan officer. His professional life was completely spent in an office building, isolated at his desk, staring at a vast sea of cubicles.
Maybe this little box would help him maintain an identity in his sterile world of suits and paper pushers. At 5'10", he was not short and was not tall, and was slightly overweight at 180. He seemed the stereotype of every banker or broker, with a receding hairline, carrying an attaché case, and hustling to and from the office. At times, he wondered if his education had been worth the dividend. In his office he evaluated loan applications and stamped them either approved or not. With only a few distant friends and no immediate family, his life was spent almost entirely on his career. So taking work home was almost a must, as, except for television, it gave him something to do.
His life was lonely, and in this day and age of superficial evaluations, Kevin was at a disadvantage. He was a good man with no vices, but plain as white rice. He was the one sitting at the bar that no one noticed. He was not quick with words, so he had no great opening lines for meeting women. Much of his time was spent alone. He felt he was doomed to be a solitary man.
He lived in an upscale apartment, where neighbors rarely even said 'hello,' as they passed each other in the halls. Most were professionals, absorbed in their work. Their strongest relationship was with their cell phones, as they would travel the hall conversing to what appeared to be nothing, oblivious to those around them.
Once home, he sat on the couch, studying the box. He wondered to whom it had belonged to. Could they have been rich? Could it have been a king? He shook it and it seemed empty, as there was no sound from inside. But, curiosity began to surface, as the fact that it was locked bothered him.
There was no way he would pry it open, as he didn't want to ruin it in any way. Could he pick the lock? It couldn't be that complicated, as it wasn't a strong box, only a lock that was simply meant for privacy. He went for his tools and began inserting things into the lock, trying to have them "catch" on something, so that he could open it. The more he tried, the more obsessed he became, as minutes turned into hours.
It was a small screw driver that finally did the job. It seemed to catch onto something and with a quick twist, the lock was free and box was finally unlocked. He opened it slowly. Though it seemed empty, for that moment, he could imagine anything in anticipation. Once open, to his surprise, it was not empty, as a single piece of neatly folded paper was stuffed inside. The interior was lined with red velvet, and he carefully pulled out the piece of paper and unfolded it.
There was no question that the paper was very old, and appeared to be a page from an accounting ledger. It was an inventory list, and the hand writing was so perfect that it would take a calligrapher to duplicate it. 'This must have been a rich man,' he thought, as he perused the list.
350-twenty dollar gold pieces, 221-ten dollar gold pieces, 85-five dollar gold pieces, 200-gold dollars, and finally, 425-silver dollars.
'This was a very rich man, depending on how old this is.'
He began to calculate the value in his mind. Just the precious metal value of the gold and silver was well over a million dollars. The coin value could possibly be astronomical, depending on the condition and type of these individual coins. If this cache still existed, it could be worth upwards of millions of dollars. 'God, I wish I could get my hands on this.' He continued reading.
"Take the main road south passed Reed Spring to the main road going west."
He was astounded, as the directions were from Springfield, Missouri, where he lived. Even today, this description could only match two highways that cross at Reed Spring; these had been the main roads for a hundred years. He continued reading.
"Take the main road west 4 miles to the double curve in the road. Go just beyond the curve, and facing south, look for the large oak tree about 100 paces from the road. On the south side of this tree, measure off 6 paces. The box is buried about 3 feet below the earth."
'Impossible,' he thought. 'Imagine if this box is still there? What if it lay there untouched for the last 100 years?' He thought about it and calculated that it must weigh at least 50 pounds, plus whatever the box that holds the treasure weighs. 'Easily handled by one man,' he reasoned. This area could still be wilderness, as most of the land west of Reed Springs was still undeveloped Ozark mountain terrain.
He eased into sleep with dreams of finding this huge treasure. "Take this job and shove it," is what he would say, if he could. 'No more three piece suit, no more cubicle, no more attaché case, no more boring routine for me,' he dreamed. He could supplement his income with just the interest of this treasure, and work at any kind of job he liked. This represented a freedom like he had never imagined. He slept soundly in dreams of riches.
When he awoke, it was if his subconscious had already made up his mind that he would take the drive and follow the directions on this map to satisfy his curiosity. He called his job and said he was feeling ill. It was a beautiful sunny day as he drove south on the main highway, headed for Reed Spring. Once at Reed Spring, there was only one main road west. A quick right, and he was now watching his odometer measuring off four miles.
Within one mile, he was surrounded by wilderness. As he hit the four mile mark, he was faced with an almost 90 degree curve, then back again with another 90 degree curve onto a mountain plateau. He pulled the car over on the shoulder. He surveyed the area, and there was not a building of any kind in sight in all directions. As he walked across the highway and looked south down a slight hill, his heart jumped, as he clearly observed an enormous old oak tree, almost exactly 100 paces away. With a trunk that was 4 to 5 feet in diameter, this tree was well over 150 years old. Now his heart began pounding. Could it be that this treasure was still out there, untouched for all this time?
Whose land was it? His mind raced in all directions. Maybe the land belongs to ancestors of whoever wrote the list. 'Who cares?' he thought. Because if he asked permission to dig, whoever owned the land could claim ownership to what was found. In fact, just asking might tip off the fact that there is treasure on the land. No; he wouldn't tell a soul. He looked around, and there was nothing in sight. Going back to the car, he drove miles in the surrounding area, finding no structures of any kind. The last gas station was four miles back at Reed Spring. The next one headed west was five miles further, in Cape Fair. With the exception of the railroad tracks, all that was in-between was Ozark wilderness.
He knew he was going to attempt to dig up this treasure. His only problem was not being identified while he was at the site. Anyone seeing him might call the police, should he be seen loading a box into his car. He could not afford to be traced and identified. He knew it wasn't an outright theft, but he also knew that should he be stopped on the land while digging, someone else might finish the digging for him and keep the treasure. Should the police catch him loading this treasure, surely it would be confiscated while ownership is determined, and it would be likely that he would lose the battle for possession in court.
As he drove back to the city, he thought it out clearly. First, he would rent a car. It had to be different than his car in color and size. Then, he would park it at least a mile away, on a side road. He could walk to the site, dig up the box, easily carry it to the main road, leave it stashed, and pick it up after getting the car. So someone might see a small rental car, so what?
In fact, he decided to disguise himself, with glasses and a hat. He could even hunch over a bit, so if an observer saw anything, nothing would match his description. He knew that if nothing interrupted his digging and loading of the treasure, he was home free, for no one would ever miss anything that they didn't know was there in the first place.
Okay, someone might observe a hunched over guy with glasses driving a little rental car, but so what? No crime was committed. Once the box is in his car, everyone understands that procession that is 90% of the law. Once Kevin had arrived home, the only message on his machine was from his job. They wanted to know if he was okay and whether he would be in the next day. He hit the erase button and laughed to himself, for no, he might never be in again! Dreaming of the stacks of rare gold coins was how he spent that night. Dreams of freedom and security made him sleep all the more sound. He imagined himself like Indiana Jones, searching for the lost treasure. He enjoyed every image, as they were far from his routine existence. He thought of all the lonely nights sitting at a bar unnoticed and ignored, and wondered how ignored he would be driving a fire red Maserati?
He didn't bother calling in to work the next day. His first stop was Wal-Mart, to buy a cheap—but noticeably obnoxious—pair of eyeglass frames. He also bought a knit hat that would cover most of his head. Back at home, looking in the mirror with the knit hat on, it almost made one assume he was bald. Now the glasses, and Viola! He seemed to appear an entirely different man. Should he stay a little hunched over, and maybe with a squinting of the eyes, that would be what one might remember if they saw him. Off he went to the rental agency to get a compact car, different from his large black sedan. With his new look, he called for a cab and a short ride later, found that there was no shortage of compact cars at the rental agency.
The rental agent really didn't take any notice of him at all, as she curtly processed the paperwork, slid the credit card through, and passed him the keys to the compact. Driving south, his only stop would at a hardware store to purchase a shovel and a pick, maybe some gloves and a canvas sack, just in case this box had deteriorated and would be prone to falling apart upon removal. He would wait until the sun sets to complete his journey. Minutes were never so long, as he waited for darkness to fall.
As the sun set, he made the turn going west from Reed Spring. Only a half mile beyond the double curve was a side road, where he parked the rental. As darkness fell, he began his walk across the road, and south to the giant oak tree. As he walked, his eyes scanned in all directions, but nothing came into sight. The only sounds he heard were those of the night creatures beginning to stir. It was only a half-moon, but with the clear Missouri sky, the ground was lit and visibility was good. His heart was pounding with excitement and anticipation. Now, he felt as if he was a secret agent on a spy mission. Get in, get the job done, and get out without a trace.
He approached the oak tree and pulled the piece of paper from his pocket. Using his flash light, he confirmed 6 paces from the south side. 'Whose size paces?' he wondered. 'If it were a small man, 6 paces might equate to only 15 feet or so.' He positioned himself at due south of the tree, and stepped out about 6 paces—or 18 feet.
He figured he would dig at that point, and continue toward the tree. He was surprised that the soil seemed soft and easy to dig through. This was highly unusual, for the Missouri ground is very rocky, which is why he had brought the pick. He continued digging until he reached a depth of about 3 feet. Disappointed, there was nothing to be found. Now, he began expanding the hole toward the tree. 'Somewhere, between the 18 foot mark and the 6 foot mark, that box must be buried,' he reasoned. He continued digging at a fast pace. It was when the hole was about 5 feet long, did he hit an object. His heart jumped with excitement. He could hear his own pulse pounding in his head. He began digging at a furious pace, but stopped when the object didn't seem to be as solid or as large as he expected. 'Rocks,' he thought, as he bent down into the hole. Shielding his flashlight, he turned it on.
Excerpted from 13 Chilling Tales by Edwin F. Becker Copyright © 2011 by Edwin F. Becker. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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