Uncle Lou's Treasure
Matt stood beside his uncle Lou's bed. He watched him breathe, each breath more ragged than the last, until finally the breathing stopped altogether.
Uncle Lou was dead.
Matt had promised Lou no machines or CPR, so he waited a moment before calling the hospital. Matt's mother would not have approved of his presence here, had she been alive.
"Stay away from Lou" she had told him many times during his childhood. "That man is evil." Matt's mother knew things, things she never spoke of and secrets she kept to herself. It was no way to treat a brother, Matt had always felt, and there had been many arguments over the matter. Still, even on her deathbed, Matt's mother had refused to see Lou. Now she would have little choice in the matter as Lou joined her in death, though probably in separate places. Matt looked around Lou's house. You could hear a pin drop. Matt glanced at the picture of Aunt Viv, still resting silently on the night stand. He reached down and picked it up, cradled it close with his hands touching each opposite shoulder.
"Where are you?" he whispered aloud as the paramedics arrived.
A week later, Matt attended the reading of the will. Also present were Lou's brother Raymond; Lou's daughters Tracy and Sandy; and Lou's lawyer, Allen Davis. Aunt Viv was no where to be found. She had left Lou months before his death. Who could blame her, with the drinking, gambling, and extramarital affairs? It was a miracle that Aunt Viv had stayed as long as she did. Matt, the only relative who could even stand to be around Lou, had taken care of him in his last days. The others had never given Lou a chance. They had all written him off as the son of a bitch that he sometimes was, and yet here they all were, hoping to lay claim to a piece of the pie.
Lou had been born into money. When Lou's father was young, he started a restaurant in the city. He named it "A Taste Of Italy" and had turned it into a chain that stretched down the East Coast. After his father's death, Lou had sold the chain of restaurants for a large sum of money. Lou had one brother and one sister. The sister was Matt's mother. The siblings split the money, which was enough to last a lifetime. Matt's mother's fortune dwindled down to nothing during her losing battle with cancer. Lou had managed to go through a great deal of his inheritance with his party lifestyle. Raymond never had a chance as three ex-wives and six children had taken any shot he had to remain a wealthy man.
Just before the reading, Allen Davis, Lou's lawyer, motioned Matt over to the side.
"Matt, I need to see you after the reading."
"Why?" Matt asked.
Mr. Davis whispered back."Your uncle has instructed me to present you with a letter that is only to be read by you. The content of the letter is unknown, even to me."
Matt nodded his head in agreement and went back to his seat. Raymond shot a dirty look in his direction, not approving of his private meeting with Allen.
The will was read, and much to Raymond's disappointment, the only thing left behind was Lou's house, his car and a surprisingly small sum of cash. All of this was divided between his two daughters, Tracy and Sandy. Raymond stood up.
"Mr. Thomas, do you expect us to believe that a man once worth $25 million has let his fortune dwindle to this?"
Allen's face reddened. He didn't enjoy being questioned by this leech.
"Well, Raymond, I don't expect anything. I'm here to read the last will and testament of Lou Satori, which I have now done."
Raymond didn't like Allen's tone. He didn't like it one bit.
"What about Viv? Has anyone heard from or attempted to call her? Why isn't she in the will?"
Allen's patience was wearing thin.
"No, Mr. Satori, we have not heard from Viv, nor do we have any information as to where we might reach her to inform her of her husband's death."
The frustration of being left out of the will and Allen's sarcasm was wearing on Raymond. Raymond lowered his voice and added some fake compassion to his next question.
"There's no mention of anyone else in the will? For God's sake, I was his only brother."
The corners of Allen's mouth contemplated a smile and then reconsidered.
"Maybe you should have thought of that while your brother was living, Mr. Satori."
That was more than Raymond could take. He sprang from his seat and lunged toward the young lawyer with hatred seething in his eyes. Matt stopped him a few feet from Allen. Allen made his escape, sliding out a side door, away from all the excitement.
When the room cleared out, Matt knocked on the door of Allen's retreat.
"They're gone, Allen; you can open the door."
Allen opened the door slowly and closed it quickly behind Matt. "Quite a show, huh?"
Matt shook his head and sat down in the leather seat.
"Well, Matt, here's your uncle's letter."
Allen handed him an envelope with the word "Matt"written in red ink. He opened the envelope and read the contents, as Allen stepped cautiously out of the room.
Matt couldn't hold back the tears, and they flowed freely down his cheeks. He was rich and would never have to worry about money again, but all he could think of was his uncle and how things could have been different. A wasted life, he thought. Matt put the letter back in the envelope and headed home. He would worry about his new fortune later. For now, all the day's events had exhausted him. He could use some rest.
That night he dreamed of fancy cars, a new home and a life of luxury. Matt was not above all the worldly pleasures that could come with the money. No one was more deserving. He had never really recovered from his mother's death, and it nearly broke his heart when his father remarried and moved away. Matt had lived a life of seclusion. No girlfriend, no friends: just him, his dog Simon, and, of course, Uncle Lou.
Matt decided to go on his little treasure hunt at night. Much like Lou, he didn't trust the others. He knew they might be suspicious after his little private meeting with Allen. Matt gathered up all the tools that he would need. He put on a backpack in order to carry it all and he set off.
Matt drove his '81 Olds Cutlass down the long stretch of road leading to Uncle Lou's land. The car rattled as he reached the speed of 55. He couldn't wait to get a new car. He had sneaked over to Collins Chevrolet and checked out the new Corvette. His father had always wanted one. Not a day went by that Matt didn't miss his parents.
He parked the car a distance from the land and walked the rest of the way. He watched carefully to make sure no one had followed him. There was no one in sight. He took the map from his pocket. The humidity promised him a sweaty adventure. The moon was just as uncooperative, as it hid behind a patch of clouds. The sky was overcast and the prospect of walking in the woodswith only the light of the flashlightdid not excite him.
The ground crumpled under his boots. He kept his eyes peeled for intruders and every sound made him jump. An owl in the distance chuckled as Matt's teeth began to chatter. He had not expected such a scary venture. The wind swirled through the trees, bringing the woods alive. The large branches seemed to reach for him as he took his steps very carefully. Matt couldn't wait to come to the clearing. Sweat stung his eyes. A dog in the distance barked out a warning to turn back. He questioned his idea to come at night. He had come too far to turn back, so he slowly trudged on, like a prisoner being led to his execution. Finally, Matt made it to the clearing. He took out the map and followed its instructions right to the spot. The ground was soft. Matt tossed the pick in the air and the ground obliged, breaking up easily. It was now the shovel's turn. Before long, he was standing in the depths of a large hole.
Why had Lou buried the inheritance so deep?
The shovel squealed as it hit wood. Matt's eyes widened. He cleared the dirt from the crate. How many coins could this crate hold? He definitely would have to make more than one trip. That realization was not too appealing, but after tonight he would reap the benefits. When he cleared the dirt, Matt placed the shovel under the lid of the crate, put one leg outside the hole and forced open the lid.
The smell struck him in the face. He gagged and disgorged his dinner onto the ground. The scent of death filled the air and Matt screamed as he stared down at the contents of the crate. It was Aunt Viv, adorned in her favorite Sunday dress. One side of her head was pulverized and her eyeball dangled from the socket, touching her cheek. Her hair, which had once been a beautiful shade of auburn, was now the color of mud and old dried blood. Some of her skin had decayed, showing her brittle bones. Her hands were folded over a small jewelry box that Matt recognized from Uncle Lou's and Aunt Viv's bedroom.
He figured the coins were inside the jewelry box. In order to retrieve them, he would have to move Viv's hands ... or what was left of them.
He considered running and never telling anyone what he had seen. Then again, he could reach down and get the box, cover the hole back up, and forget all about this night. There was even a third option. He could take the coins and go to the police, but there would be questions and then more questions. They could possibly even try to link him to Aunt Viv's death. That last thought scared Matt most of all. He could not survive a day in jail with the rapists and killers looking him up and down. He had heard the horror stories in the documentaries and the HBO specials. He knew what they did to initiate the new inmates. Matt decided he would take the money, cover Aunt Viv up and run like a bat out of hell.
He stepped down into the hole beside the crate. The smell threatened to extract more of his insides out onto the ground. He reached out, holding on to the grass with one hand for balance, and slowly moved the other hand toward the velvet jewelry box. He didn't dare look down. He had seen enough already. His hand reached the destination and he pulled the box away from Aunt Viv's corpse.
Then something stopped him.
Aunt Viv's tiny hand gripped Matt's wrist tightly. Matt screamed with all the strength and terror of a man about to die. He managed to jerk his arm away and grabbed onto the grass, trying to pull himself out. The ground gave away and Matt slid back down on top of his aunt.
"Louuuuu ... Louuuuuu." The cries ascended into the dark air. Viv pinned Matt down with both limbs wrapped around him. He screamed and wiggled but could not manage to get away.
Matt aggressively placed his elbow into her mutilated face. For a second, she let go. It was just enough to spring him free. He climbed from the hole and headed for the shadowed woods. He couldn't see a thing as the moon hid behind the clouds and thick fog. He reached the woods and attempted to somehow feel his way around. Maybe he could escape this ghoulish night. Maybe Aunt Viv would not come after him.
A cry in the darkness said otherwise.
"Louuuuuuu, don't leave me Louuuuuu!"
Matt cringed at his dead aunt's voice. He frantically ran this way and that, but he couldn't find his way out of the woods. Aunt Viv was close by. The crunch of the leaves announced her arrival. Matt desperately looked around for a way out. His prayers were answered as he spotted a small clearing leading out of the woods. It was a large field which led to the roadway. Matt could see the glow of the headlights as the cars sped past. It was not the way Matt had came in, but now it was his only means of escape. If he could get to the roadway, he could flag someone down and catch a ride back to his car. It all sounded so great. He didn't need the coins or the riches that they would bring.
Matt just wanted to live.
Matt hit the field wide open like an Olympic sprinter. His heart begged for mercy, but he didn't slow down. Aunt Viv entered the field. She cried out to him, still calling him Lou. The cries sounded more like echoes. Matt knew there was quite a distance between them. The road signaled safety and the finish line was up ahead. Viv must have realized this as well, as her corpse became airborne. The wind whistled in Matt's ears as Aunt Viv closed in. She laughed hysterically, as her prey came into sight. He was within fifty yards of an escape. A whirlwind surrounded him and nearly knocked him off his feet. Then he made the mistake that inexplicably sealed his fate.
Matt looked back.
The sight of his deceased aunt floating above him was more than he could take. His pace slowed for a second and then he lost his balance. Aunt Viv swooped down like an eagle spotting a field mouse. Matt's last thoughts were of Uncle Lou.
The others were right. He really was a son of a bitch.
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM