Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing Sample: "Treasure"

Another writing sample for you, and another story that was originally done for the Creative Copy Challenge.  Once again, this is a site that gives 10 random words for you to create a story around. Here are the words from the prompt that led to this story:

     1.  Exhausting
     2.  Thankful
     3.  Koala Bear
     4.  Speaker
     5.  Positive
     6.  Flashlight
     7.  Cactus
     8.  Squeeze Ball
     9.  California Raisin
    10. Lighthouse

As with the previous sample, this story has been edited a bit from the original rough-draft version.  If you’d like to compare with the original post, it is HERE.

Here’s a little tale of treasure: 



Rupert squatted next to a rough, damp boulder, listening intently for any sound that might mean someone was coming.  He heard only the steady wash of the waves crashing against the ragged shore.  No whispered voices, no shuffle of shoes sliding along the cliff face, no puffing exhales of someone climbing down behind him; nothing but the surf.  Relieved, Rupert took a deep gasp of the moist ocean air, thankful for a brief moment of rest; the climb down the cliff had been exhausting.
Rupert took out his lucky rabbit’s foot from his pocket and stroked the smooth fur with his thumb.  Its coat was thin and worn, but he’d never get rid of it.  He’d had that rabbit’s foot for over ten years and it rarely left his side.  When he was sentenced to prison, he’d had to wait weeks before his girlfriend was able to smuggle it in to him.  That was the longest stretch apart from the foot, and Rupert had hated it.  But now he was out of prison again, and while the girlfriend might be long gone, he still had the rabbit’s foot.
When his pounding heart slowed to just an adrenaline-fueled race, Rupert re-pocketed the rabbit’s foot, stood, and squinted into the mist.  He could barely tell where the short strip of sand shown in between the jagged rocks.  It was too dark in this cove.  He could see the flash from the lighthouse on the point reflected far out into the bay, but no light penetrated here.  He needed to be able to see if he was going to find the entrance to the tiny cave; he flicked on his flashlight and risked a scan of the base of the cliff.
Rupert swept the light along the bottom of the cliff, but saw only rock and shadow.  It had to be here.  Johnson was crazy, but Rupert firmly believed that the box existed.  Johnson had been so detailed when he finally confided in Rupert about where it was hidden.  Rupert was positive that it was here.
Rupert moved to the side, being careful not to slip on the rocks, and swung the flashlight wider.  The area was just as Johnson had described — a rock-strewn section at the bottom of the cliff alongside the old coast highway.  Right under mile marker 43, and uncovered only at low tide.  Rupert had heard a lot of wild talk in prison, and most of it was pure bullshit.  But Johnson had been different.  For one thing, he was huge; a muscled giant of a man.  For another, he rarely spoke.  He’d usually just sit and glare at most men with a wild-eyed look that warned off casual conversation.
When Rupert had been thrown in to share a cell with Johnson, Rupert had feared for his life, certain that he’d get a shiv jabbed between his ribs while he was sleeping.  But Johnson had left Rupert alone, and a mutual sense of quiet tolerance had slowly developed.  Johnson would mainly just watch Rupert stroking the rabbit’s foot, but Johnson never said a word about it.  It took months before Johnson ever said anything.  Then it was just a few words here and there at first, but over time Johnson became more and more open with Rupert.  And in prison, time was all either of them had.
In some ways, Rupert preferred the quiet.  Some of Johnson’s stories scared Rupert to death.  Johnson would talk about witnessing things of such outrageous violence that Rupert had a hard time even visualizing them, let alone believing them.  Still, when Johnson was the speaker, Rupert could believe almost anything.
Eventually, late one night, Johnson calmly claimed to have killed ten people.  With his bare hands.  He said he’d eliminated every trace of the bodies, and had built up a ‘treasure’ from their ‘most precious things,’ as he called them.  Rupert was terrified and couldn’t sleep for days.  The rabbit’s foot rarely left his hands.  But over time, Johnson kept talking about how huge the treasure was, and how it was enough to last for the rest of Johnson’s life, and eventually Rupert’s terror turned to interest, and then finally to avarice.  Johnson would never say exactly how much the treasure was worth, or even what it was.  Gold? Cash? Jewlery?  Johnson wouldn’t say.  He’d only smile and claim it was, ‘more than you’d even need.’
Rupert moved the flashlight quicker, getting frustrated that he couldn’t find anything like the entrance of a small cave.  Johnson had been transferred almost a year before Rupert was paroled; maybe Johnson had already gotten out and come here long ago to reclaim his treasure and had hidden the entrance.  Or maybe the whole story had been bullshit after all.
Then Rupert raised the beam off the ground, and there it was.  About six feet up, it was more a dark recess than a real cave, but Rupert knew the box was there.  He scrambled over the rocks, almost breaking an ankle as he slipped on the damp stones, and reached the base of the cliff.  The he stood underneath the opening.  His eyes could just see in, and when he raised the flashlight, he saw a flicker of reflection off the box.  Damn!  It was there!
Rupert dropped the flashlight and reached up to pull the heavy box out, struggling to free it from the tight rock opening.  It was a metal and plastic cooler, with faded green and white sides, about two feet long, sealed with stretched bungee cords, and it had to be nearly full to weigh so much. With one final gasp, Rupert pulled it free and it slipped out of his hands and landed on the rocks with a thud.  He scrambled for the flashlight to shine it on his prize, then tucked the flashlight under his arm and used his hands to pull off the bungee cords.  He held his breath as he released the metal clasp and opened the lid.
Inside was a jumble of...junk. 
A stuffed Koala Bear that had a T-shirt with “Come Down Under” printed on it; a small plastic California Raisin with a guitar in his hand and a big stupid grin; a squeeze ball with a face on it with eyes that bulged out when Rupert squeezed it; a plastic cactus in a pot shaped like a Cadillac; it went on and on, and it was all just useless trash.  Rupert couldn’t believe it.  He dug deeper through the contents looking for anything of value — cash, jewels, anything that he could even get a dollar for if he pawned it.  There was nothing.
Then he heard a sound; heavy boots stepping up onto the rock behind him.  He spun and Johnson was in front of him, a huge towering presence. Before Rupert could move, Johnson grabbed the flashlight and pulled it out of Rupert’s hands.  Then Rupert felt a sudden sharp, piercing pain between his ribs.  It sucked the wind out of him before he could even speak.  Then there was another, and another, and another, as Johnson held him pressed against the cliff.  Then it stopped, and Johnson let go, and Rupert collapsed to the rocks.
He could feel the blood seeping out across his chest and sides and onto the damp rocks, and he couldn’t pull any air into his lungs.  Through blurry eyes he saw the beam of the flashlight pass over him, fading, dwindling to a point. He felt a tug at his pocket then heard Johnson’s voice booming above him.
“Now I get to add a rabbit’s foot to my collection.”
The darkness began to close in around Rupert, and Johnson spoke again, his deep voice sounding far, far away, and fading with each word.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

* * * 

(c) Copyright 2011 Christopher J. Fries.

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