The Last Treasure Hunter
The Journey of Thanatos
One, two, three, I don’t know why I count these over the sink four, five, I just know one is going to slide down the drain eventually six, seven. Not that it’ll matter soon; I can feel the sickness setting in and my vision is beginning to fail. Eight, “8!” My once lucky number, eight teeth have fallen out in total now. The radiation is too strong here and I don’t have the strength to run any longer. Preparations must be made. The goal now is to die in comfort or as comfortable as one can make themselves here at the end of days. I am seeking a way to wash and maybe one last half decent meal. Is that too much to ask? A check list of items needs to be gathered and there’s no time to waste. Welcome to my funeral.
After walking away from the old, run-down barn that gave me shelter during the terrible electrical storm last night, I head straight towards the main house. Looking around I can see this house was abandoned in a hurry like the rest and the only item left in the pantry was an old jar of peanut butter. I was hoping for steak and fresh boiled corn covered in butter and salt but seeing as how half of my teeth are gone this sweet treat is considered a blessing. Last meal, check, now to take advantage of that claw foot bath tub.
I found a hose in the back yard so I could drain the hot water tank directly into the tub and promptly build a fire underneath for warmth. But first I had to block the main sewage pipe leading into the house and fill every drain, toilet and sink I could find with all of the cooking oils I had gathered from the kitchen. The last thing I wanted was to blow myself up starting a fire in the bathroom and igniting all of the methane gases that had been filling buildings for weeks.
It took a few hours but I was able to submerge, soak and calm my nerves. I haven’t seen anyone else in days and there was no reason to think I ever would again. I could relax and day dream about my Staffies, Winston and Franklin making it out okay. Not just safe but playing with other dogs and creatures in a hidden place, safe from this ashen world, teaming with other animals, thriving, surviving. They were my greatest comfort in those last few days of the virus spreading, my only friends when everyone else was buried and gone. There’s a Hell in itself outliving all your loved ones. Watching children go, friends suffer and some would just disappear one night in a dream. A dream, I wondered and meditated on the thought that it would be the best way. A smooth transition from here to there never quite knowing what’s real. A distraction from the pain of dying itself, I thought how wonderful it might be.
Floating there, suspended in time, I was surprised to find silence and peace. Hearing only my own breaths in and out I slipped into a dream. I was young, too young to reach the branch on my own so my father helped me. The sun light blinded me as it bounced off of the locket he always wore that was usually hidden.
I remember this being the first of only a handful of times I had seen the necklace but we both knew it was there, always. Dressing him as he aged I could feel the callus on the back of his neck that had built up from the weight of the antique charm dangling for 50 odd years.
Almost embarrassed he quickly tucked it back into his shirt and I don’t ever recall him opening it. I asked him why it was so important but he would never say. He instead would answer my question with another and a sly smile, “why do you think it’s so important to know?” I never could come up with a response. In this way he gained my silence and would promptly change the subject. I suppose it was the only secret we had, the only thing we didn’t share, days like those he was quiet, more focused on his work than normal and I would wonder if he missed her.
She died when I was born, they tell me it was a blood clot. Some freak accident after child birth that stole my Mother away. I climbed to the top of the canopy, I could see the entire town and wondered if I was any closer to where she was. I could see Bull Creek where we would fish for Trout, my school, my best friends house, the trail along the railroad tracks where we would ride our bikes, build fires in the woods and hide away from our parents. We use to steal coins from the collection plate on Sundays, take them to the tracks afterwards and wait, sometimes until sunset, for a train to come down and press and stretch the coins. Sometimes they were still hot when I would rescue then from the railway.
I would store these keepsakes in a small wooden box that I kept all my precious things. I always thought if something bad were to happen and I needed to leave my home quickly, if I could just take that box everything would be okay. That sentiment did not fail me when it came time to abandon hope and leave the only home I’ve ever known.
It came to me when I was eight years old wrapped for Christmas filled with candy and money from Santa. The first item was a piece of fools gold from a school field trip, thinking it was real of course. I coveted this over all things thinking it would pay for college some day or fund a trip around the world and I needed a fool proof place to hide it away. This item made this simple box my treasure chest. Throughout the decades trinkets would come and go and I would visit the chest less and less. Some items were worthless and heavily covered in sentimentality and some were quite valuable like rings and savings bonds from relatives that had passed. Ouch!
I scraped my knee on the bark. I could see smoke in the distance and then a storm, large and loud and fast. I was scared, trembling, I could smell the rain coming, I wanted down now, and my Father reached for me once again. BOOM!
A thunderous crash that shook the house around me and lungs full of water violently thrashed my mind back into reality and my body quickly followed suit. Coughing and feeling around for my towel I thought “what was that?” In this hibernation-like state I had tricked myself into normalcy, the dream or memory was so vivid. My Father use to call dreams like these treasures. Called such as they were buried, lost in time only to be rediscovered by brave and enlightened people. He would say, “you know you’re doing okay in life when you can sleep like a baby.” I felt like a baby in this tub.
I vomit one more time, so much for my last meal, get dressed and lay down with my wooden box on the bed upstairs. I say a few prayers for all my loved ones. I do wish there were lavender roses at my funeral, my Mothers’ favorite by all accounts. But, there are no flowers. There are no flowers, anymore.
The sun has set, it’s quiet beyond the walls now. It’s time. I take each object out, one by one, rediscovering every tiny detail of each and every item. I laugh to myself as I get to the bottom, the oldest things are there waiting. I can’t believe what I’ve been carrying around these past weeks. Wonderful and ridiculous things hidden now all these years later from my mind here now purely to bring joy. An oversized novelty penny from First Commonwealth Bank in Tarentum Pennsylvania from a bank opening I must have attended as a child, war metals from my Grandfather, a ticket stub to a Pittsburgh Pirates stadium viewing of Angels in the Outfield. Best movie ever I thought and kept it thinking it was going to be a valuable collectors item one day. Glued to the sides was money from Japan, the Phillipines, Korea, basically anywhere my grandparents killed someone during one war or another. Hard to keep track of them all now. Who hated who. Who stole what from where and who threw the first stone. Was it religion, politics, Illuminati? I’ll never know and those that died didn’t know. It was all so pointless. There was a long velvet box filled with gold pieces of jewelry and gems that I always meant to pass down to my Grandchildren. A silver pendant my Great Grandmother always claimed was blessed by the Pope, looking brand new, with one small flawless white pearl.
I kissed and touched every bobble and placed them on the bed all around me. Wait. What? How? There, stuck to the bottom, broken from its chain was the heart shaped locket my Father wore! I thought we buried him with this? Maybe he put it in there before he died, knowing his time was short. How did he know about the tiny chest? I put the questions out of my head and just appreciate the gift. I layback, straighten my clothes, place it on my chest and cry.
Hours had passed, the candlestick was no more. The sun is rising, high enough now to push light like a razor blade cutting through the room between the break in the curtains. I think, I saw, I, I…the locket! Frantically, I start tearing the sheets apart, I know it was here. It couldn’t have been a dream, it was too real! I stood up, scoured the room, grabbed the curtains, ripped them open and screamed a battle cry. A noise came out of me that I’d never heard before born of complete frustration and heart break. It stole my breath, my eyes began to water and I collapsed into the fetal position under the grand window.
Blinded once more, a reflective light dancing on my face and there it was, the locket was staring at me from beneath the bed. I army crawled as far as I could, stretched and stretched, even though my skin was now sliding off in fine layers, sticking to the carpet like wet tissue paper. There, as far under the bed as I could be I dug my finger nails between the golden seam carefully with tremors in my wrists.
There was only one photo, weathered over the years but unmistakably familiar. Once my eyes cleared a bit for me to focus the image of a mushroom cloud revealed itself. BOOM! This crash unlike the night before was much louder accompanied by a blinding light. I allowed my heavy eye lids to fall once more, curled my body around the last gift from my Father. Enveloped in light and warmth like an infant I escaped into the dream I had discovered hidden under the bed.