Go and find the missing tomb,
for the keepers of the secrets,
are after the treasure of the stolen blade
Howard saw this crudely written message as some kind of sign. He needed to get out and play, using the world as his playground, just as he had in summers past. He had played with the neighborhood kids, staging battles with enemies that were friends over territory that didn't belong to anyone. They fought battles in the Ohio summer heat with water balloons and super soakers that were never quite big enough.
It was time to reclaim that glory that must have been 10, 12 years behind him, so said this crudely written note, scribbled by what Howard estimated to be a clumpy 9-year-old too naive to realize how profound his poem would seem in the wrong hands.
This summer was the end of the world. A college degree and employment were once happily married, but seem to be unhappy with each other, leaning toward divorce. He was caught in this separation. What's a degree in environmental sciences good for in a state that is characteristically not progressive? A job that pays $13.00 an hour apparently, all tips considered, as a server at the Olive Garden. Howard used to love eating at the Olive Garden. It would soon provide him enough to money to move out of his parents' home, if all was to go according to plan.
Shelve that, he thought. He changed into his oldest pair of worn sneakers and loosest fitting jeans, and set off into the forest that fondled his old high school, where Howard and his more persuasive friends would smoke pot after school on half days and climb trees to unintentionally ward off any female attention. No pot today, just a piece of paper that probably was snatched up too soon before it could arrive at its fated destination, where it would be of some use to somebody who could benefit from relishing their youth instead of a college grad who didn't fit into the future's extensive plans, internships and entry-level positions he should be focusing on unearthing— nevermind. Shelve that.
As he looked around the patch of trees — it had become much less of a forest as Howard grew older — for something to do, he read the note again and felt bored. He ran his hand through his coarse, bronze-brown hair, and rubbed the gristle on his chin, and thought about going home. But he had already invested nearly an hour into this foray back into his childhood, and was determined to do something worth telling friends about, or at least his mom at dinner.
He circled around a large rock that seemed to be partly lodged into a bank otherwise covered in sticks and negligible, green brush, and his focus was drawn to the rock. He decided to push it. Because that's where the buried stolen blade probably was. And because he would have wanted the strength to push over such a rock when he was younger. He exerted himself quite a bit, but was able to dislodge the rock with an awkwardly angled push with the rock pressed against his hands and right shoulder. The rock tumbled down the bank, moved for what was likely the first time in years, exposing a cavity the size of a full backpack. He pressed his hands against the tender, damp dirt.
He looked at what the rock had left behind, and again looked at the note, which had, along with his hands, become dirtier already. He hadn't found a tomb. He wasn't worried what the keeper of the secrets were up to. And the treasure of the stolen blade sounded as far away to him as it would to the mayor of New Jersey — this effort was fruitless, he thought.
He grabbed for his cell phone, and saw that he had nothing to attend to, and carried on. Twenty feet away, he spotted a Miller Lite bottle and looked down at the cavity he had just created in the embankment. He sat beside it and laid back, letting his head land on the mostly soft ground, he reached back and flipped a stick away from where his head was, and exhaled as he looked up to the trees, flush with color, huddling over him.
He began to sing and noticed his head lean from side to side, to make sure high schoolers weren't smoking pot behind a nearby pine, busting a gut at his expense. Finally he let his eyes close and his voice lost its vigor, and his singing diminished into a hum, and he sat up, spotted a tree he could climb, and situated himself on a branch that sturdily hung almost parallel about eight feet above the ground, with one arm hanging off the tree and the other acting as a pillow, Howard once again closed his eyes and let the breeze, which he wished was a tad stronger, blow through his hair.
As he opened his eyes, he slid off the branch, landing on his feet, ready to turn back, when he saw another piece of paper. This piece seemed to be a brighter, less dirty white. He walked over and picked it up.
Nothing was written on it, but a corner had been ripped off. Howard gave it a crumpling squeeze, and dropped it, striding for home. He stopped by where he had pushed the rock away. With his already-dirty finger, he drew a smiling mouth, two eyes, and inwardly tilted eyebrows to give his face a menacing look. He then grabbed a patch of leaves, and placed them under the mouth, forming a sort of beard. The leaves would probably blow away, but that's ok.
As he walked back headlong into the lowering gaze of the setting sun, he saw a child run down the opposite sidewalk, and turning over his right shoulder away from the dull wind to watch the kid's awkward jaunt, he pulled the paper out of his pocket, ripped off a tiny portion of the top, gave the rest of the paper a crumpling squeeze and released it into the wind, where it moved lazily along in the direction of the child. The child turned left and slowed to a stroll. The paper continued to tumble away from Howard, and he turned forward and walked on.
Howard washed his hands and changed into athletic shorts and a clean shirt. He put the ripped piece of paper in the top left drawer of his personal desk. He made dinner for himself and ate in his room. He wondered where the paper had blown to. He grabbed a copy of his resume that had been sitting on the top of his desk and looked it up and down.
He balled it up and threw it across his room and banked it off a wall into his trash can. Again he laid his head back and closed his eyes. "Fuck," he exhaled. He decided he would print another copy in the morning.