“A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”
— J. R. R. Tolkien
His shovel sinks into the stiff earth with a satisfying crunch. It echoes softly against the well’s sides, going round and round all the way to the top, and Joseph imagines the sound as a smoke ring slowly escaping a calabash pipe.
The well has been dry for years. There’s nothing inside except dead leaves and brown mold running up the walls.
Joseph knows it has to be here, because he buried it here himself. When the water had gone, but the well was still wet and oozing, he had put it inside carefully, and Mark had pulled him up with the rope. The place had stunk then, mildewy and dank. They had thought they would never return.
But they are out of money and out of time. There isn’t much of it, but the treasure will have to be enough, or they’re dead men.
And dead men don’t tell tales.
Mark tries to put a humorous spin on the whole situation, marveling that famed pirates would be interested in the likes of them, and isn’t it just like how you always dreamed of meeting swashbucklers when you were a kid, but Joseph had dreamed of monsters and murderers and never liked to leave the glow of the fire at night, and is terrified.
It was hard finding the well again, ten years apparently being long enough to muddle up places and events to the point of wandering around the woods for an hour trying to find it. When he did, it was much smaller and shallower than he remembered, but he still tied the rope carefully to a sturdy tree nearby and climbed down into its dusty depths.
Joseph has dug a sizable hole now, and there’s still no sign of it. The well is too high to toss the excess dirt over the top, and so he has to keep shuffling it around even as he digs. The shovel becomes heavy in his hands, and the crunch is no longer quite as satisfying. He wonders if this could be the wrong well, and when nothing miraculously appears at the thought, he continues to wonder it.
After the fifteenth time thinking the thought with an increasing suspicion that he may actually be right, the shovel doesn’t crunch so much as clunk, and he stops. Shifting through the piles of dirt, he kneels near the hole and begins digging with his rough hands.
A terrifying thought strikes him, and he bolts upright, breathing heavily. Joseph isn’t sure how much would be left after ten years, but neither is he sure he wants to find out. He takes the shovel in his hands again and slowly scrapes at the dirt. A glimmer of something round and brownish white appears, and Joseph relaxes a little.
Still using the shovel, he makes a wide area around the skull until only the face is still covered. It has clearly decomposed completely, and he isn’t quite afraid anymore. He wipes aside the dirt, and inside the sockets gleam two gold dubloons. Joseph is mildly surprised they hadn’t completely fallen out, but instead sunk in, as if once the eyes had gone, the coins took their place.
It’s a morbid thought, and he doesn’t like thinking it. He quickly pries the dubloons out, and covers up the skull again. Breathing heavier than he ought to, Joseph reaches for the shovel and begins the arduous task of filling up the hole. The coins sit in his trouser pocket, heavy with history and promise.
As he piles dirt upon dirt, Joseph finds himself thinking over and over, “Poor kid.” The stupid boy hadn’t meant to see what he saw, and though Joseph had tried to talk sense into Mark, it had all been too late, and the well had been there, open and inviting. All the same, Joseph is glad the body had sunk into the well feet down, as he doesn’t think he’d’ve been able to do the job if he had to dig up all those bones.
The dubloons had been his idea, too, and Mark, shaken with shock, hadn’t argued. Once they had placed the body in the well, Joseph had pressed the coins into the eyes and felt better about the whole thing. They had done wrong, but that was right, so it was fine. Perfect.
He stamps down the dirt until it is hard again, and pulls himself out of the well. Joseph is stiff and dirty, but he has the money.
Mark comes limping out of the house to greet him when Joseph gets home, and his eyes light up when he sees the dubloons.
“That ought to be enough, right?”
Joseph leans the shovel against the wall. “Should be.”
“If not,” Mark says, mouth twitching with mirth, “That well should be big enough for three, right?”
And he laughs.
Nothing special to say about this, just a quick flash story. It’s supposed to take place during actual pirate times, in the 1800s. I’m not too keen on the ending, but I wanted to keep it all under 1000 words and that was a decent enough place to stop.