It's time for Free Fiction Friday again! Here's a sweet little tale about finding a treasure.
The Goose Chase
Copyright 2016 Carey Burns
Everyone knew Eugene Carmichael was crazy. They’d honk their car horns when they’d see him riding the wrong direction on his bicycle and boy, would he holler. Not holler, rave. Illogical, nonsensical strings of words spewed from his frothing lips and people would laugh and keep on driving.
Eugene became a legend in the small town of Hanover. Parents cautioned their children to avoid his tirades and teenagers made a point to push his buttons. Getting a rise out of him was their pastime, especially since the arcade and skating rink shut down.
One spring evening, he stumbled into the city council meeting, howling about stovepipes and Ferris wheels and avalanches. The audience chuckled and tittered, but the elected officials just sat and glared. They were not amused.
He pushed past the rows of citizens and held up both hands high in either surrender or revelation. “Condors!” He shrieked, then when all grew silent, he scanned the faces of the crowd. “I buried the treasure! Safe, safe, safe!” He lowered his hands and pointed an accusing finger at a gray-haired matron before him. “You all want it. You can taste it, yeah? But where’s the key, Eugene?” He giggled. “Gone! Somewhere? Anywhere. Find it and get it.” He knelt at the matron’s feet, squeezing her knees as she squirmed. “Get it?!”
He pushed her backward and ran from the room, shoving more terrified citizens in his wake.
Once he was gone, soft hisses of whispers filled the room until councilman LaRue thumped his gavel on the tabletop. “Order, please, order! Now that Mr. Carmichael’s…outburst, is over, let’s get back to the business at hand.”
And they did, but the crowd was restless, wondering if crazy old Eugene really had buried a treasure. As soon as the meeting ended, the murmuring crowd spilled out into the night. Some went home to dream of Eugene’s riches while others hatched schemes to find them.
The next day, all three metal detectors on the shelf at Ace Hardware were sold and the clerks turned dozens of disappointed people away. Desperate (and perhaps confused) citizens checked out the library’s two copies of Treasure Island. Treasure fever had Hanover in its musty embrace.
Mothers strolling with their children in the park upturned flowers in their pots hoping to find Eugene’s key. Brazen youths turned over every rock on Eugene’s property, certain they knew where he had hidden the key. One school teacher shimmied up the center of the fountain in city park to see if the bronze cherub held the key in its grip. The key remained hidden.
Groups of old men lingered at the coffee shop, puzzling out Eugene’s words, certain they held the key…so to speak. Others took his nonsensical rattlings to heart, searching out logical stovepipes and chasing Ferris wheels.
All summer long, the people of Hanover followed crazy old Eugene, hoping he’d lead them to his treasure. They took note of every ramble, every exclamation as if it were the teachings of the Dali Llama.
One hot day in late August, a young boy of about ten wanted to get an ice cream, but had no money. He saw old Eugene pedaling toward him and blocked his path.
“Excuse me, sir?” He squeaked, remembering his mother’s warnings to steer clear of “that nut job.”
Eugene wobbled. “Cornbread!” He cried, crashing to the ground with his bicycle still between his legs.
The boy did his best to help him up. He cleared his throat. “Sir, may I have the key to your treasure?”
Eugene’s eyes flashed wide and a dreamy smile quirked at his lips. “You see me…you found the key.” With a stifled laugh, he sunk his hands into his too-deep pockets and pulled out a dull key. “Hanover Federal. All yours. All yours!” He dropped it into the boy’s hand and pushed his bike down the sidewalk, his bent wheel shimmying all the way home.
The boy stared down at the key and ran to Hanover Federal Bank. He burst through the doors, panting.
A beige woman approached him, her heels clicking on the buffed floor. “May I help you, young man?” She studied the sweaty child and forced a smile.
“Yes…ma’am.” He huffed. “I…have…this.” He opened his clenched fist to reveal the key.
She smiled, “Oh, a safe deposit box key. I’ll take you to the boxes.” She clicked the way to a small room where the walls were nothing but tiny doors and key holes. “What’s the number?”
He turned the key over. “Fifty-two.”
“Ah, here we are. Put your key in this slot…and I’ll put my key in this one…” She turned both keys and opened the tiny door. She pulled out a long, skinny box and set it on the solitary table in the center of the room. “Now, when you go to leave, slide the box back in and close the door. When you remove your key, it’ll be locked again.”
He nodded, licking his lips, waiting for her to leave. Alone, he lifted the lid.
He exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding and reached a trembling hand into the box. Two purple heart ribbons topped crinkled-up twenty dollar bills. He pulled them out, finding a small stack of larger bills and letters addressed to Eugene Carmichael from Paris and Geneva. Old gold rings with gleaming jewels winked at him from the far end of the box.
The boy grinned, marveling at his new wealth. He pocketed a twenty and returned each item to the box. With the box secured in its vault, he strolled out past the beige woman, through the lobby and out into the street. He picked up his pace and when he reached the ice cream parlor, he ordered two cones, one for him and one for Eugene.