Rich walked down the street, his earbuds tucked snugly into his ears, looping a playlist of his favourite songs. His head was tilted slightly upward, gazing wistfully at the stars. For as long as he could remember, Rich had wondered about the stars. How far away were they? What made them burn? Does each star have its own planets? What about their own “Earth’s”? These were the kind of questions Rich had thought about throughout his younger years. From age six he could name every planet in the solar system and could name their moons by nine.
Rich continued staring at the stars. With every step he took, more questions shot through his head. What if a star disappears? What if it was for a major constellation? Would he be alive when one disappears? Would he even notice?
Rich’s thoughts were violently interrupted when he was suddenly thrown to the ground. Something had grabbed his foot. His earbuds fell from his ears, leaving him in complete silence. If he weren’t about to die, it would have been peaceful. He imagined what horrible monstrosities had reached up from the sewer to drag him down. Rich decided if he would die here, he would die fighting. He quickly turned around, clenching his hands into fists, ready to fight for his life. However, upon surveying the area, he found himself to be alone. Nothing was trying to drag him into the sewers – nothing was bringing a knife upon him. He looked back to the spot he had fallen to find his assailant.
A large, black duffel bag sat where he had fallen. He laughed silently to himself. If he hadn’t been so caught up in the stars he would not have tripped over it. He looked around, unable to find an owner to the duffel bag. He quickly grabbed his earbuds, stuffing them into the pocket of the fleece sweater he’d bought from his university, the words “University of Arizona, were written on it in white, bold words. He crawled over to the duffel bag, not caring if his movement made him look like an overgrown child as his overwhelming sense of curiosity surely made him feel like one.
Rich reached for the bag’s zipper. He hesitated at the thought of what he may find in the bag. He vaguely remembered the sensation of kicking it. It was heavy and didn’t seem to budge much. He feared the worst as he carefully gripped the zipper and began pulling it across the bag. He sighed heavily upon the realization that the contents were, in fact, not a person. He pulled the two sides of the bag apart to reveal several large stacks of money. There were too many to count, but he guessed it had to have been at least twenty-thousand dollars in the bag. Looking around one last time for a potential owner, Rich zipped the bag closed and slung it over his shoulder, quickening his pace to return to his apartment.
His walk wasn’t long, mostly a straight stretch from his apartment to the university. He arrived quickly and closed the door, taking a deep breath. He tossed the bag on the floor and quickly looked out his window. The streets were empty. He pulled his curtains closed and flicked on the lights before descending upon the duffel bag once again. He reveled in the several stacks of money. This would no doubt help him pay off his student loan. He began pulling all the money from the bag to count it all but quickly found himself distracted by another item in the bag. He reached in and pulled out a small black notebook.
Curiously, he flipped open the first page of the notebook and immediately found himself confused. There was a simple word-search. The title at the top of the page was an incoherent jumble of letters, and the words listed below seemed completely random to him – Meters, Meter, Miles, Circle, Inches, Feet, Border, Eight, Earth. He stared at the first two words on the list for a minute, confused as to why anyone would include two words so similar in a word-search, but shrugged it off. He flipped to the next page but noticed a curious theme among all the rest of the pages in the notebook: they were all blank. He furrowed his brow at the discovery and sat on a chair in the corner of the room.
Looking up from the book, he found himself staring at a poster hanging on the wall across the room from him. It was a chart of the solar system his parents had given him just before he left for university. They had thought it a fitting gift for someone studying astronomy.
Rich looked back down at the word-search and found himself quickly completing it. It was a simple enough task to locate each word, the puzzle was fourteen columns by fourteen rows. He had solved larger and more complex word-searches in his life, but this one still provided enough entertainment to be worth the time spent. He looked up from the notebook once again, this time at the duffel bag, and mulled over the thought of putting the money toward his student loan once again.
“Would that be wrong?” He thought to himself, “Would I be a thief?”
He looked back down at the notebook, this time focusing again on the word-search's title “icnceferrumec”. He looked at the jumble of letters, his mind breaking it down on its own. He quickly picked out the letters c and f. There weren’t many thirteen letter words with both of those letters in them. He pulled a pen from his pocket and flipped to the next page and began jotting down thirteen letter words he could think of that contained those two letters. Officializing, subjectifying, factorization – He found himself becoming less willing to continue as time passed on – Infrequencies, Liquefactions, Circumference.
He stopped. Setting his pen down, he may have found the answer. Most of the words seemed to line up with it. Circumference is the measurement around a circular or spherical object. Five of the words in the puzzle were measurements of distance, Circle and Border both related to Circumference as well. Earth had a measurable circumference and then… eight? What did the number eight have to do with the circumference of an object?
After a few more minutes of thinking, Rich looked up from the notebook, setting his gaze on the clock. It was now quarter to midnight, and Rich found his eyelids getting heavy. He set the notebook on the arm of his chair and went to bed, telling himself he would come back to it in the morning.
The next day, Rich woke up to a warm Saturday sun pouring through his bedroom window. Against his better judgment, he managed to roll himself out of bed and walked into the kitchen for breakfast. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and placed it on the table. He was just sitting down when the black notebook caught his eye once again. He quickly walked over to it and brought it back to the table with him. He looked it over trying to figure out once again, what eight had to do with circumference while simultaneously eating his cereal and checking social media. He had briefly considered making a post saying he had found a bag of roughly twenty thousand dollars, but quickly realized that that would be a horrible idea. Instead, he opened his internet browser and searched up the circumference of the earth. Twenty-four-thousand-eight-hundred-fifty-four miles. He frowned upon seeing such slim correlations to the number eight. He set his phone down and placed his attention back on his breakfast. That number, Twenty-four-thousand-eight-hundred-fifty-four kept bouncing around in his head. Was there a significance about it? Is that why Earth was one of the words in the word-search? He tapped his fingers on the table and closed his eyes for a moment, imagining more about the word circumference; like the equator, an invisible, measurable, line that runs around the edge of a circle or sphere. He opened his eyes again and looked down at the notebook. He looked carefully at the words he’d found, specifically the measurements. Meters, Meter, Mile, Inches, Feet.
Suddenly, an idea flashed through his head. What if, like the equator, what he was looking for wasn’t something he could see. Meters and Meter were both Metric and meant the same thing, but Mile, Inches, and Feet… The puzzle was missing yards. He grabbed his phone again and searched for the circumference of the earth in yards. Forty-three-million-seven-hundred-forty-four-thousand-five-hundred-thirty-one yards with decimal points. He sighed and placed his phone on the table once again. This number as well had nothing to do with the number eight. He imagined himself devoid of these useless puzzles, living comfortably with a six-figure salary, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
He froze. A sudden rush of adrenaline washed over him. Six-figures. A hundred-thousand. Two more would be ten-million, which would be eight digits long. He grabbed his phone again. Forty-three-million-seven-hundred-forty-four-thousand-five-hundred-thirty-one. He looked back at the word-search. Fourteen by fourteen. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves and grabbed the pen. Eight digits… what if they were coordinates? He took the first two digits of the number. Forty-three, four, and three. He traced four letters from the left and three letters down and circled the letter. He continued doing the same for the other numbers. Seventy-four, forty-five, thirty-one. When he was finished, putting the letters in the order he found them in gave him a word: LONG. He stared at it. Yes, it was a long distance, but he doubted that had anything to do with it. Could “Long” be a name? He closed his eyes and began thinking of the people in town. None of his friends had “Long” in their name.
“Long… Long…” He thought to himself. The only person he knew who would have that much money is… “Robert Long…” He whispered to himself. A millionaire who lives in a mansion at the edge of town. He sighed and finished his breakfast before slipping on his sweater. He tucked the notebook into his pocket and slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and walked to Robert Long’s residence.
Robert Long’s mansion was surrounded by a large wrought iron fence. It encircled his entire residence, except for a gate on the driveway. Rich approached it and a voice spoke to him from one of the concrete posts the gate was attached to.
“What do you want?” A man's voice asked. Rich examined it, finding a small hole that was likely a microphone.
“I’m looking for Mister long… I found a bag of money that might be his.” There was a long silence. Rich expected he had been ignored, but the gates opened, allowing him to enter. An older man stood on the doorstep. He was well beyond Rich’s years but had a kindly expression to him.
“Mister Long?” Rich asked. The man shook his hand dismissively
“Robert, please.” He replied. Rich took the bag off his shoulder and handed it to him.
“I think this is yours.”
“It was at one point,” Robert replied, “I’m surprised you got it back to me so quickly.
“I guess I’m just that smart.” Rich smiled, stopping himself from commenting on the ease of the puzzle, wanting to avoid bragging.
“I’m glad you were able to solve it, and that you actually brought it back to me… You know what young man, keep it.”
“What!?” Rich asked loudly, “But … it belongs to you.”
“Think of it as a reward for the puzzle.” Rich stared at him for a minute before nodding.
“Th-Thank you.” Robert smiled warmly.
“Would you like to come in for some tea? We could speak of what you plan to do with the money.” Rich stared silently before accepting the offer.