Sacred Precious Things
by Gerald Budinski
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“AAAAARGHHH!” There was a horrifying scream from the cold storage room. Jason ran back in panic toward the light only to see Denny peering into an open coffin.
“Ha! I thought that might bring you back.”
Jason stood in the doorway, afraid to move in either direction. The room now smelled vaguely like something spoiled, far away yet all around him.
Fortunately Denny was blocking his view when he said, “Aw, this one is sad. A woman — not that old — but skinny, like she died real sick.” He reached his hand into the casket and touched something. “She only has this sad little pearl around her neck — no wedding ring, no nothing. See what a good guy I am? I’ll let her keep it.”
“C’mon, then let’s go — it’s freezing in here,” said Jason.
“It’s warmer than outside and there’s no wind in here.”
But there did seem to be a frigid waft of air emanating from the tiny coffin near the far wall. Denny closed the lid and walked over to the second full-sized coffin, closer to Jason’s view. He picked the lock, as he must have done for the first, and opened the lid.
“Eww. This one’s a scary old coot. Even the undertaker couldn’t make him smile.”
Jason could see the old man, totally bald and with a face like a Halloween skull. He wore a black suit and gray tie, and his flesh glistened like faded brass in the dim light. Jason was sure the face would give him nightmares — all scrunched like he was feeling the cold.
Denny was moving his light around looking for loot. “Jackpot! This guy is wearing a fricking Super Bowl ring! ”
“You’re crazy. No old guy from Lindendale was ever in a Super Bowl. Let’s see,” said Jason baby-stepping toward the coffin. But Denny already had the ring in his hand. It had a big dark-red stone set in dark metal with intricate carvings. Jason started to reach for it but remembered where it had been.
“It’s just a Masonic ring or some such. They’re a dime a dozen.”
“It’s an old man’s club, but they have a weird history, like with wizards and secret ceremonies with dead bodies. You better put it back.”
“Oh crap. You’re trying to play chicky-chick again. It must be worth at least a hundred, with those diamond chips on the sides.”
“Denny! It was something precious to the poor old guy. Please, leave it!”
But Denny had put the ring in the pocket of the parka and closed the coffin.
“Well, I’m going now,” said Jason, but he stopped and watched Denny approach the child’s coffin. It was like looking at something you knew would make you retch, but yet you couldn’t turn away from.
“Aw, this is terrible sad,” said Denny. “A real tiny little girl.” Jason let his eyes dart over quickly and away but registered the ivory doll-like face and corn-yellow hair before Denny closed the lid, saying, “Nothin’ worth a dime.”
“What’d you expect? Let’s go now,” said Jason heading out the door. He waited in the dark a while before he heard a thump. “Are you coming?”
“Just a minute,” called Denny, and it seemed a full minute before Jason heard a second thump, and his friend came out.
“Did you take anything else besides the ring?” Jason demanded. He watched Denny try to make the outer lock look normal again.
“Nothing,” said Denny, but Jason snatched the glove protruding from his friend’s pocket, and the pearl pendant came tumbling with it. Jason jumped back as if he were burned.
“You’re a rotten thief. You got no shame at all.”
Denny picked up his glove and the pendant. “Rotten? You’d talk different if your Ma had to worry about losing the house for taxes every month. After all that work I deserved more than just a hundred-dollar ring.”
The competing crackling of boots on ice was their only communication all the way to Church Street.
“See ya tomorrow?” Denny said like a plea, but Jason wasn’t giving in this time. He whirled around to face his lifetime friend.
“I don’t think so. Not till I hear you took that stuff back where it belongs.” Jason watched Denny’s face turn red in the glow of the street light. He wasn’t scared of getting hit. Denny never hurt him when he got mad. He just got nasty.
“Then you can stuff it — everything,” Denny shouted.
Jason crossed the street, but stopped at the doorstep when he heard Denny laugh and say from just behind him. “Too bad, and I got something for you in there too, chicky-nerd.” From inside his parka he pulled out a furry little teddy bear.
“You are fricking evil,” said Jason. “A poor baby’s precious toy!”
“It looks real old; and I seen on TV that old toys are valuable.”
Jason ran up the porch steps, and went inside without looking back. But he heard something go ‘thump’ behind him.
* * *
Jason couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the sad old maid who had lost her pearl and the little girl who couldn’t sleep without her teddy bear. Probably the woman only had one boyfriend in her life who died at war before they could get married, but she kept her last present from him. Probably the tiny girl got hit by a car and cried for her family heirloom teddy bear but they couldn’t get it to the hospital on time. Maybe the old man really was a wizard and he’d rise from the dead and come and snatch his ring back — that and everything. “I don’t have it, Denny does!” Tossing and turning, shifting pillows, then up for water, and pee and more water but nothing helped. And then he heard it.
Crunch-crunch. Then silence. Crunch-crunch. And silence— at first far off, but getting closer and closer.
He didn’t want to look, but he had to. It could have been any late-night walker cutting through the graveyard. But who would be walking when his radio-alarm said it was nearly two a.m.? His bedroom window was frosted over so he held his hand against it, and then peered through to glimpse a tall dark figure moving toward him, just briefly before the area fogged over once again. He could just make out that the man walked haltingly as if his legs were stiff from an old injury. Or were just thawing from a deep-freeze.
Crunch-crunch. The steps were moving closer. He could wake his father, but then what could he say? If it were nothing, he’d have to tell what he’d done to be so scared.
The front door was open. His father seldom locked it because he liked to brag to his city relatives that in this small town he didn’t have to. Jason tiptoed into the hall and down the stairs, then ran to latch the door. The crunch-step was very close now. There were two slim windows on either side of the door, and he was able to peek through a break in the frost. There was only one thing he could see. The dead girl’s teddy bear sprawled on the porch steps like a wounded animal.
Jason ran up the stairs as fast as he could, climbed under the blankets and covered his head. Still he heard the footsteps come very close, stop, then recede to the right, up Church street, north toward Denny’s house.
* * *
Sometime during the long night of terror and hiding, of noises and nightmares, Jason must have fallen asleep. It was nearly 9:30 on a bright crisp Saturday morning and unthinkable that he could have slept that late. He remembered a nightmare, and the reasons for it, but somehow it all seemed so far away and not as terrible as it once was. He heard his parents talking down below as if all was right with the world once more.
What about the teddy bear and Denny? Jason hurried downstairs in his robe and pajamas and peeked out to see that the furry toy was gone. Maybe Denny came and picked it up — or maybe it had never been there.
* * *
It was a normal winter Saturday, with his mother shopping, and his father tinkering in the basement, while Jason watched basketball on the TV. Normal, except he never called Denny. At four, he went upstairs and took a bath, because sometimes his folks would take him out to dinner.
Jason was just dressing when he heard the telephone ring downstairs. His mother was talking and she sounded upset before she said something quieter to his father. Jason could hear his father say, “Oh no.”
Jason’s stomach churned. It could have been the police. They found the break-in at the cemetery and footprints that lead right up to their front doors.
His mother and father were arguing and all he could make out was his father saying, “He’s old enough to deal with it.” Arrest, trial, prison. Then his mother saying, “They just have to know the one thing for now.”
Jason hurried to dress in his go-out clothes so he could go downstairs and listen. But they were coming up to him.
His mother came in first and sat on the bed next to him, something she never had done before. His father just stood by the door.
“Jason, Denny’s uncle just called, and they need to find his autographed baseball, the one with all the Red Sox autographs. He was wondering if Denny left it over here.”
His father walked over and said, “Helen, this is stupid.”
Mom said, “Tom, please no! I told Charley I’d call him right back.”
Then Dad grabbed the chair from Jason’s desk and brought it over to sit close to him. He said, “Jason, your friend Dennis died last night. His heart sort of just stopped, but they think it was probably brought on by asthma. We can talk more about that when you’re ready. But right now they want his baseball to give to the undertaker.”
His mother, now in tears, said, “It was his one most sacred, precious thing.”
“I don’t have it,” said Jason, choking on the words. He struggled to get out a raspy whisper, “But I think I know where it is.”
Copyright © 2007 by Gerald Budinski