Treasure

treasure chest picture

“Jim …. Jim?”

Sheila’s voice rebounded against the cave’s dank walls, the rising panic irritating me slightly.  A hike in the Pyrenees had seemed like a good idea a week ago, but the long days had highlighted several flaws in our new relationship, including a nagging, clinginess on her part that I found stifling.  I needed a break.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I replied, “Just having a look around.”

“Be careful, OK?”

I did not reply, and turned back towards the depths of the cave.  My little head torch cut an inadequate line through the dusty darkness, but was enough to help me find a rough path.  The walls converged and soon I was walking through a water-worn corridor which sloped down gently.  I heard Sheila call out again, this time her voice faint, but ignored her.  She could wait.

The corridor opened suddenly into an large space so I stopped, shining my torch into the gloom, but was unable to make out the cavern walls or ceiling.  I took one step forward but then hesitated.  I could not afford to get lost, so reluctantly I turned around.

“Help me.”

The voice whispered out of the darkness behind me.  I stood, rooted to the ground, unable to move.

“Please.”

Slowly I turned, peering intently into the darkness.  Something glinted faintly in the light, so I stepped forward gingerly whispering, “Hello?”

The voice replied, this time louder, hopeful.  “Here.”

Then I saw him, or should I say it: a small chest, gloriously emblazoned with gold and jewels, sitting on the lap of a crinkled old man clothed in dusty rags.  I could not bear to take my eyes off the chest but looked at the man enquiringly.  “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story,” he replied.  “Would you please help me up?”

“Sure,” I replied, “I’ll help you with the chest.”  I leaned forward hungrily, my torch now revealing the full extent of the wealth before me.  I could make out diamonds and rubies, and an ornate gilding that spoke of great age.  It must be worth millions, I thought.  The chest was surprisingly light so I lifted it with ease, my heart pounding, my mind racing with unmentionable possibilities.

The old man leaped up with unexpected agility and danced around gleefully.  “At last,” he cried, his eyes flowing with tears. “What year is it?”

“Er, 2012” I replied.  “How long have you been here?”

“83 years … with that accursed chest,” he replied.

I laughed nervously - the man was clearly insane.  “83 years?  You must be mistaken.  Why did you stay in this cave for so long?”

He stopped leaping around and looked at me intently, his eyes glinting in the light of my torch. "You’ll see.”

And then it happened.  The chest suddenly became immensely heavy, causing me to groan under its weight, but I was unable to release the handles.  I felt myself sinking slowly to the ground until I was sitting with the chest uncomfortably on my lap, my hands still inexplicably glued to the handles of the chest. “What’s going on?” I shouted.

The old man approached, his head cocked to one side.  “It was the same with me,” he rasped.  “So many years ago, a young man, like you, full of greed.  I stumbled upon this place, this God-forsaken cave.  And there was a man, of great age, 200 years he said, and the chest.”  He looked at the chest longingly. “That chest, so beautiful, but so terrible.  I took the chest and it claimed me as its master, as its slave.  The old man then left me to my fate, unable to move, unable to die, until you came.”

Then he laughed and ran off into the darkness, his voice gradually getting softer until all was quiet.  I sank my head in despair, my hands still unable to move.

And then I heard it, my salvation, a voice, slightly whining, but not so irritating.  “Jim?”

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