Treasure for the Taking
by Edna C. Horning
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
She opened the box and rummaged the contents till she found a coin with a more recent date. Silver dollar in hand, she began retracing their steps until she disappeared from view around the corner of the house.
“Hey!” Stefan yelled. “Where ya goin’?”
A few moments of hesitation and he took off running, catching up with her as they reached the well. She lifted the cover, leaned over, and tossed the dollar in.
Stefan stared with open mouth. Then he shifted his incredulous gaze to his sister’s face and asked, “What the hellja do that for?”
“I’ve decided this is a wishing well, and I wished for luck because we if we want to pull this off, we’re going to need it.”
On the trek home, aching hands and arms required rest stops. The conspirators sat and discussed possibilities and eventually settled on their grandfather’s tool shed as a good hiding place, for now anyway. Their grandmother bought her laundry detergent in thick plastic tubs she stored once they were empty, and the coins could be put into those.
“Plastic doesn’t rot,” Stefan assured his twin.
“I know,” Sylvestra agreed, grinning. “Weapons-grade uranium couldn’t make a dent in that stuff. If the whole world explodes, it’ll be out there yet, floating around somewhere, gumming up the works.”
They began to giggle uncontrollably, their still-developing voices temporarily reverting to those of little children enchanted by their clever naughtiness.
Along the way they had also debated whether to secrete their stash in or under the toolshed but, upon arrival, realized they could have it both ways. The structure smelled of metal and oil and gasoline and housed a charming blend of hand tools hanging from hooks in a space shared with power mowers.
A rotting corner of the plank floor had been partially cut away, and the exposed underlying dirt supported a layer of broken bricks and baseball-sized stones. These they moved aside and, after digging a sufficiently large hole, they buried the bucket of coins, replaced the stones and bricks, and carried off the displaced soil in a second bucket.
Exhausted by their exertions, they cautiously poked their heads through the door and surveyed the scene. Their grandparents’ truck had been gone since 9:00 a.m. but was now parked beside the house in its accustomed spot.
“Jay-sus! They’re home! What if they see us coming from the shed?”
“We’re honor students. We’ll think of something. And don’t forget, the wishing well is on our side.”
“Wishing well?” Stefan snorted. “Wishful thinking!”
* * *
The moments ended, the flicker faded, and Dr. Rappaport was himself once again. “And exactly where did you receive this message, may I ask?”
Here it comes, Leonora thought. Practice notwithstanding, she uncrossed and re-crossed her legs and said, “Not where, sir. How. I got it in a dream.”
“Excuse me, you dreamed it?”
He considered this and asked, “And what makes you think I’m the brother in this dream of yours?”
“Because she said so. She made quite a point of it, repeating, ‘I am Stefan Rappaport’s sister. You know him.’ She gave her name only once; yours, several times.”
The professor shifted his gaze briefly and, upon making eye contact again, he said, “Describe her then, why don’t you.”
“Uh, certainly. Uh... very pretty lady, long dark hair, dark eyes, oval face. Now that I think about it, she resembles you a great deal. A female version of you, you might say.”
“Dreams aside for the moment, how do you know for sure that I even have a sister?” he inquired.
“So,” he said, reclining in his swivel chair, his expression bemused, “you’re one of those who put faith in dreams and visions and such. I wouldn’t have thought it of you, Miss Piper. In class you come across as intelligent and sensible. I must say I’m disappointed. Not even sure why you’re bothering to reveal any of this to me.”
“Well, uh, actually, this sort of thing has happened to me before. And until I do something about it, it gives me no peace, following me around like a begging dog.”
Leonora decided to draw matters to a close. Quietly and respectfully, she said, “Sir, I neither interpret nor evaluate. I merely deliver. What you do with the information is entirely up to you. Please keep in mind that not only do I have nothing to gain by telling you, I may have something to lose.” As you yourself have just demonstrated, she added silently.
She smiled and stood. “Thank you for your time. I’ve taken enough of it.” And she was gone.
Dr. Rappaport remained seated and all but motionless for perhaps half a minute before opening a desk drawer and removing a printout of Sylvestra’s obituary. He re-read it for the umpteenth time. It consisted entirely of text; there was no picture. The newspapers that had published it were out of state but, thanks to word of mouth supplemented by cyberspace, the professor’s university friends and associates had learned of it equally as fast.
And so, he concluded, had Miss Piper, her denials notwithstanding.
* * *
Stefan had done his best not to awaken Anna when he left the bed, but she’d felt it nonetheless. She kept her eyes closed and pretended to be asleep for her husband’s sake. It had been only two weeks since his sister’s death, and she allowed that the grieving are entitled to uninterrupted solitude when and where they choose.
In the kitchen, Stefan opened the refrigerator, sending a stream of light across the floor. Whereas the shelves were crowded with the leftovers of food kindly friends and neighbors had brought and, in a few instances, were still bringing, his favorite beer was reduced to one bottle. He wondered why, when there’s been a death, people didn’t have gumption enough to bring what’s really needed: liquor and lots of it.
He decided to quench his thirst on the patio, where he settled onto an upholstered glider, part of a new set Anna had purchased to replace the tattered old. A faint breeze was stirring. With closed eyes, Stefan began a slow, rhythmic rocking and let his mind run to Sylvestra’s service.
As husband and thus next of kin, Chuck had had the right to plan things but, aware of their closeness, had solicited input from Stefan and, in any case, they had been in perfect agreement on all the majors: no wasteful flowers, no spooky music, certainly no afterlife mumbo-jumbo; memorials to go to their alma mater. A sensible, rational, humanistic commemoration worthy of sensible, rational humanists such as themselves. Chuck and their children were pleased, he and Anna and the rest of the relatives were pleased, and the attendees, at least those who had bothered to express themselves in the matter, seemed pleased.
The only person whose pleasure Stefan was not quite as sure of, could she be consulted, was Sylvie. The two of them having been reared in an agnostic household, she had astonished her brother one snowy December eve when they were home from college at winter break.
A great-uncle had died earlier in the season, and Sylvie expressed a serene confidence that he was at last reunited with a long-dead daughter who had succumbed to an especially nasty, fast-acting strain of pneumonia at five years of age.
“Do you really mean that?” Stefan asked, astonished.
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t say it.”
“Syl,” he explained, faintly condescending, “after we die, there’s nothing, just like there was nothing before we were born.”
“And you know this how?” she challenged.
He was silent for a moment and then spluttered, “Well, I don’t know it, but there’s no evidence for it. There just isn’t.”
His petulance bounced merrily off her. She said, “If you think there’s no evidence, maybe you’re looking in all the wrong places. If you’re looking at all. What say we make a pact. You die first, try to get in touch with me. And if I die first, I’ll try to get in touch with you. Deal?”
Stefan had rolled his eyes in derision, but she would not be put off.
“Am I trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge?” She laughed. “Promise!”
“Oh, all right,” he had sighed, mildly exasperated, and then, in the hours, days, weeks, months and years that followed, had not given the matter another thought.
That is, not until this afternoon, when Miss Piper had sat across from him in his office and said what she said.
A bone-tired Stefan slowed his rocking to a bare minimum. His memory ran to the argument — no, the blazing row — he’d had with Sylvie a less than a year after they found the coins, one of the very few he’d ever had with her.
Sylvie had made a disparaging remark about a young lady Stefan was dating at the time. In vengeful anger, he had run to their mother and father and blurted out everything about the trove. From then on, the parents, aided by the county’s tax and property records, took firm charge of the matter. The kids were out of the running, and Stefan was sorry, sorry, sorry he hadn’t held his tongue.
Why did he pick such a bizarre, senseless way to lash out? Probably because shared secrets unite while revelation fractures, and fracture, if only for the moment, had been his intent.
The night was exceptionally bright for the late hour and exceptionally warm for so early in spring. He drained the few drops remaining and studied his surroundings. The outlines of every item in the yard — planters, table, chairs, rose trellis, gazebo, garden wall — were clear and sharp, their existence and identity and location unmistakable.
“It’s a trick,” he told himself, laughing softly. “I don’t know how she did it, but it’s all a trick. Eventually I’ll either figure it out or forget about it entirely.”
He rose to go in. But at the door, he stopped and, once again, turned his face up to the moon, the full, radiant Easter moon, a shining silver dollar in the sky.
Copyright © 2017 by Edna C. Horning