William Enderby sat alone, hunched over his patio table as he watched the shadows from the willow trees dance to the tune of the wind. It reminded him of the days when his body could sway so lithely, back when he would hold Maggie tightly under the stars and twirl themselves silly to a rhythm only they heard. Maggie was gone now and the only dancing done in his yard was by these flowing trees. Whether the willows danced on any given day, or drooped or wept, depended on the mind of the viewer. These days, he was the only one looking, and they wept more often than not.
Before him sat a stack of calligraphy paper, a quill, and an inkpot. It amused him to complete this letter using the implements of a time long past. Sure, he had a laptop he could use or a lawyer that could write it for him, but dipping his eagle’s quill slowly into the pool of black was satisfying in a way the youth of today would never know.
With this ink, he cast judgement on those that survived him, threw a thread of chaos into their overindulged lives. He didn’t hate his family, not be any means, but he was acutely aware that their moral characters, as with those of their generations, were inferior. He had to test their mettle, if they were to take his hard earned treasures. Not so easily would he hand over his home, jewels, nor collections, not even the fine china his beloved Maggie had cherished so dearly.
William’s heart thrummed pleasantly as he wrote the letter that would decide his family’s fate.
You are gathered for a reading of my Will.
I, William Enderby, of sound mind and sound body, have set out my Will and Testament on the 10th day of August 2018. Any previous Will is null and void.
This document is not that Will. You will be led through a series of clues that will lead you to the Will. The first instruction is inscribed on a large boulder found at 49.360443, -122.451745, British Columbia, Canada.
You may not hire anyone to follow this chase for you. Pool what knowledge you have together, work as a family, find the legacy I leave for you.
A few of the less slow-witted among you may realize that you can get a court order to nullify this ridiculous game and divvy up my assets as the court sees fit. I have planned a contingency for that. This Will is in effect for 120 days after the date of the reading of this letter to my family, the date of which will be witnessed and notarized by the lawyer reading it. If the 120 days pass, or a court deems this will to be null and void for any reason whatsoever, an alternate Will has been created that will then become my final Will and Testament.
You will be read the contents of this alternate Will, which will not please any of you, my family. You are all better off playing my game and finding my Will dated on the 10th day of August, 2018.
Some of you are wondering why I would put on this charade instead of passing all my hard-earned possessions to you like the good old fart you think I should be. If that is you, you clearly never bothered to get to know me, and probably don't deserve what you stand to gain from my death. The treasures you have waited so long for will not be handed over easily. Earn them, I say to you. Prove that the genetics of our family have not degenerated so far as to render you useless.
Go forth, good luck, and may the fortune be yours.
PS: I have multiple independent medical assessments proving I am of sound of mind, so you will not nullify both by falsifying my infirmity.
PPS: If you choose to gamble on the courts throwing out both, which my lawyer has assured me won’t happen, know that you will be fighting for years in court when you could take a few measly weeks out of your life to do this right.
William held the paper in his shaky hands, blew lightly on it, careful to dry but not smudge the writing. He would take the letter to his lawyer the following day, pass it on to the trusted hands of the son of a close friend. That was important to him, knowing and trusting who would have control over his estate when he could not oversee it himself.
His only regret, was that he would not be here for the reading of his letter; he would not get to see the reactions of those that had waited so long for him to finally kick the bucket. He could imagine it though. His nephew Phil would attend the reading expecting to be left at least enough cash as he needed to pay off his deplorable gambling debts. His granddaughter Carol would assume she’d finally be able to pay off the credit cards that had been fueling her frivolous spending. His family, particularly his extended family, those that had not known him well, lived large and well beyond their means, waiting for their inheritance as the man in the mansion approached his own century of life. As one, they would all arrive garbed in their Sunday best, clutching monographed handkerchiefs for their crocodile tears. They’d walk in with a spring in their steps, believing their burdens lightened by his passing. They might be, that would be up to them.
William had lived longer than he had any right to, he knew that well, felt it in his bones. Aches and pains dogged every laboured step and loneliness made misery of his nights. He had been alone far longer than the number of years he had been allowed to spend at Maggie’s side. Illness had stolen her from him, taken from them both the life they thought they had. It would have been so easy to slip into despair, to rail against the cruelty the God, to rush towards the grave for an eternity in her arms. Maggie knew him well; she exacted a promise to root him to the world that he may not follow her so easily. She asked him to live, to love, to strive. Then she slipped out of his life, leaving a hole that could never be filled.
He had tried so hard to be the man she wanted him to be. He lived the life she wanted him to have, traveling, learning, striving to be the man that deserved her love. His children, grown as they were, were a great comfort in the early years. They’d come and bring their own families to picnic under the dancing willows. In those years, he felt her with him, felt her pride in the warmth of the sun on his face, felt her love shining from the stars above. His heart was full, scarred yes, but he had found a new way to be happy.
Life had other plans for him. The scars he carried had not been enough; life's jealous claws hollowed out what was left of his heart. Two sons lost to the agony of cancer, a granddaughter to a drunk bastard driving when he aught not to have been. No man should endure the agony of surviving past his children, especially not past the child of his child. In a few short years, the joy in his life had shrivelled up, rolled down his bank to sink in the river. For days on end he would lie on the river edge feeding the water with his own tears, begging his wife to release him from her promise. It was too much for him, he could not bear to suffer more than he had. He wanted the sweet release that the thinning of his skin and the weakness in his limbs should have brought.
Time passed uncaringly. The family that at first comforted, began to tire of his grief, his unending sadness. The familial bond had stretched thin, bound on their end by the obligation of niceties that would ensure they retained the future right to his earthly possessions. He had no such obligations, for the courtesies they bestowed had no appeal to him, and his cranky nature did not encourage any sincere care. He knew he shouldered much of the blame, he was the head of the family and it had been up to him to find the strength to lead them all in times of loss and pain. But he hadn’t the strength left in him and not one of them had stepped up.
So here they were. He was willing to give them what they want, or almost what they want, if they were willing to step up and meet him halfway, to put time and effort into achieving their wants instead of expecting them to be served on his finest silver platter. The idea of any of them treking into the wilderness for the first clue, dirtying their polished shoes and soft hands, brought him a flicker of joy, like a candle lit into darkness. It had cost him little to have these clues scattered afar, to set the game he would play from beyond the grave. The small smile forming on his dry lips felt foreign on his face, reminded him he was still alive, and could still strive, to be better and to help those around him to become better, in the short time he had left.
A serenity had filled him of late, a weight lifted from his shoulders. He knew his time was finally approaching, even if the doctors still swore he was healthy. His end was coming, and he offered a prayer of thanks each night.
If only he could be there when his Will was read, to be with them as his legacy was shared. Who knows, maybe he would be, who can say what really happens after the veil lifts.
William looked to the dancing willows, longing for the day he’d be able to dance with Maggie again.