Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GREED (03/08/18)
- TITLE: The Cache
By Dennis Gallemore
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“I guess I'd better be about it then.” Sighing at his propensity to talk to himself, he tied a faded red handkerchief across his face. Slipping a battered, hand-cranked flashlight out of a shoulder bag, he whirled the handle and slowly stepped inside the entrance, the weak light just enough to see a few feet in front of him. The sound of dripping water echoed down the mine tunnel as he cautiously stepped forward, breathing in damp stale air. Small animals, just out of light, skittered beside as he made his way forward. A sudden flutter of bat wings halted his advance, his pulse pounding in his veins.
The fear that gripped him was nothing new. Since the Great Taking, when nearly a third of the world's population had suddenly vanished, fear had reigned supreme. Wars, the first of them nuclear, followed by plagues and hordes of rampaging demons, had ravaged the pitiful remains of humanity. Since then, he had wandered across the lands in search of what, he knew not.
Willing his heart to slow, he cranked the flashlight and continued with his quest. The air, filtered as it was through the rag, tasted of minerals, mildew, and rot. Nearly gagging on the smell, a wave of dizziness swept over him. He would have to hurry; the oxygen in the mine was marginal.
The bleached bones of a human skeleton, suddenly illuminated by his flashlight, appeared on the mine floor. Stopping short, he stared at the remains. It was not the first skeleton he had seen. Millions had been left after the Wars, but he had not expected to find any here. Casting the flashlight around, he noticed the remains of what had once been a large satchel. Squatting down, he unsheathed a hunting knife and poked through the satchel. Twelve bars of gold gleamed in the light.
“Poor fool; must have thought the cave would be sanctuary for him and his gold. Probably died from disease or a snake bite.” Picking up a bar, he flung it against the mine wall. “Worthless. Wouldn't even make a good paperweight, even if you could find any paper to put it on.” Laughter, long buried beneath fear, sorrow, and regret, bubbled to the surface. “What good will gold do you if there's nothing left to buy?” He glanced at the skeleton. “I guess you didn't know that greed's outdated these days.”
He staggered to his feet. “Got to keep going. The air's thin in here.” Making his way through the Stygian darkness, his mind drifted back. “The cache was stored in a mine before the Great Taking by a church out in the middle of nowhere. Said it would help those who were left behind. Guess they knew what was coming.” The grizzled elderly man he had first heard it from didn't know what the cache held, nor did any others he had talked to.
A stack of large trunks appeared out of the darkness, the lids gleaming gold in the weak light. Lifting one of the trunks, he set it on the ground. Opening the lid, he shined the flashlight inside. The trunk was filled with books, carefully wrapped in plastic bags. Taking one out, he gasped. “A bible! I haven't seen one of these in years!” He pulled out another and unwrapped it. “A book about becoming a Christian!” Stunned, he opened trunk after trunk. “What in the world will I do with these?”
Gasping for breath, he grabbed several books, stuffed them into his bag, and staggered back to the mouth of the mine. Ripping the handkerchief from his face, he greedily breathed in fresh air. Refreshed, he sat down on a fallen tree and glanced at the books. Finally looking up, his gazed shifted to the valley below, his thoughts drifting to the myriad of others, like himself, who were lost and drifting on an ocean of fear. A smile slowly spreading across his face, he nodded to himself. “What good in the world I will do with these!” Placing the books back into the bag, he stood, slung the bag over his shoulder, and headed down the mountain.
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