FINAL MOMENTS • by Ryan P. Standley

On his last summer day in Wisconsin, Eric dismounted his bicycle and hiked hurriedly into the wooded hills of Antigo Park. The teenager’s face dripped with sweat as he reached the giant fallen oak. He traced his fingertips along the log’s mossy surface, located the engraved ‘X’, and measured twenty paces west, squinting against the light of the setting sun. He knelt, cleared the mulch, and sunk his flexed fingertips into the loose black soil, tossing up dirt mounds like a dog. His chest heaved and his shirt soaked through as the hole widened, then deepened. With a stick, Eric stabbed, feeling for anything unbefitting the soil. The sun cooled, and the sky grew black.

Winded, Eric paused, inspecting his hands, fingernails sore and stuffed with black earth. He stared into the trees, moonlight showing through in rays, hazing the stars. He breathed deep, smelled fresh dirt and sweat, swallowed hard with thirst, and heard water rushing over a shallow creek.

Eric stood, brushed himself off, and followed a slope deeper into the forest. He removed his sandals, set them aside, and carefully stepped down, breaking the surface of the glossy stream, its coarse pebbled bed tingling his toes. The water chilled his core as it flowed briskly over his ankles. He peeled off his sweaty shirt and rung it out, gently splashing his face and back, scouring his fingernails in his palms, cupping a drink, and wetting his blond hair. He grinned inwardly, and climbed back onto shore. As he searched for his misplaced sandals in the dark, Eric stumbled upon a discarded plastic grocery bag.

Excitedly, the boy knelt at the stream and filled the open bag. He ran back to his hole and dumped the water,  the loose dirt, clearing as it sunk, exposing every foreign texture of the earth, and cleaning the shiny surface of an old coffee can. Eric howled in victory as he clutched the tin, hoisting it from the side of the hole onto his lap. Stale odors discharged as he popped off the plastic lid, reached inside, and trembling, removed the contents one by one, examining each before shoving them into his pocket.

Amongst dozens of buffalo nickels and wheat pennies, were two tarnished-black nineteenth-century silver dollars, in worse shape than when his grandfather had willed them away years ago. Eric laughed at the foolishness of buried treasure, something he nearly forgot he had done, until he saw the moving van roll up to the curb, and realized he was leaving for good.

Ryan P. Standley is founding editor of Word Slaw Online Journal, which can be viewed at Short stories of his will be published in June ’08 on and in print, spring of ’08, for Bateau. Ryan resides in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

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