“You’ll never know unless you try,” a voice called out, breaking the silence of this long-forgotten treasure room.
With a gasp, Sam dropped the box, letting it fall back to its hidden alcove. Only time knows how long the rusty old chest had sat there, and what was once elegant metal etchings adorning it, now show the tell-tale signs of a tarnished battle lost long ago. Sam knew a place like this would carry a curse, or perhaps at the very least, a memory, feelings so powerful and potent, unable to truly be forgotten. That’s how it always goes when hunting for treasures.
With a deep, steeling sigh, Sam once more picked up the chest.
The moment Sam lifted the chest there was a raspy sort of ghostly breath, and then another more lofty, feminine, and whimsical. The first spirit to manifest itself was on Sam’s left, and presumably the owner of the first voice. He appeared as an older male, but had the look about him of a rugged and grizzled wizard, with a look in his dead eyes that had seen far too much of the world. The next to appear was a younger, youthful spirit, like that of adventurous child; a spritely little thing who resonates a boundless energy even in her presumed deathly state.
She looked up at Sam with eager enthusiasm in her hollow eyes.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Go on and open it!”
Sam looked down at her, and then at the other curiously, then back to the childlike spirit. “So it was you who said that then?”
“Yep,” she answered with cheerful vigor.
“No.” the other spirit, answered, with a cold and stern response.
Sam’s attention darted back and forth between the equivocating spirits.
“Okay, so which is it then? Wait I’m sorry, who are the two of you? Are you the ghosts of this chest? ” Sam asked.
“Yes” she answered.
“No” he answered.
Sam promptly sighed, at which point the older being loomed forward, closer.
“We are not ghosts, not exactly. We were not alive, nor have we died. It is easier to say we are merely spirits, who watch those who would find this chest.”
“Don’t be so formal you old codger!” the younger spirit shouted, before gliding over next to her counterpart. “We are spirits, but we have names, ya know? I’m Ertha! And we call this grumpy coot here Ol’ Cig!”
Ertha extended a spectral hand out towards Sam. Sam reached out for it anyway, a gesture of kindness, knowing full well how intangible it was.
“Hi, I’m… Sam.”
“Hi Sam! Great to see you here! I love it when new people show up! Ol’ Cig and I don’t get out much these days, you know?”
“Right. Now that you have gotten your introductions done, Ertha…” Ol’Cig groaned.
“Oh, yes!” Ertha exclaimed, as she moved behind the chest. “Well go on then!”
Sam’s hand hesitated as it lingered over the lock… It could be so easy to just do it…
“What are you waiting for?” Ertha cajoled.
“You are afraid,” the perceptive Ol’Cig spoke with an almost calm understanding.
Ertha cocked her head towards Sam. “What is there to be afraid of? Don’t’cha think if we were gonna hurt ya, we would have?”
Sam’s hands began to feel shaky.
“I am not scared of you… This is not my first time with spirits and I see that you meant well…” Sam began.
“See? You get it! Nothing to be scared up of. So just open up!”
“I...think I am afraid of opening the chest,” Sam confessed
“What? Why? Don’t be silly! It’s a treasure chest!”
“You think it could be a trap.” Ol’ Cig commented.
“Or it could be treasure!”
“You will never know.”
“Unless you try!”
“Enough! Just stop for a moment!” Sam shouted, holding the box tighter, gripping it, shaking.
Sam didn’t understand why this was such a struggle. The journey here was so easy, so adventurous and fun; that is what treasure hunters do right, find the shining gems amid darkness and decay? But the struggle was always the same.
The meticulous and observant spirit of Ol’Cig studied Sam’s hesitations carefully.
“I know you, Sam. How you are right now, I have seen it before. Some would call it cowardice, some wisdom. All I see is self-preservation; the most basic of mortal instincts. There have been a hundred adventurers before you, who were reckless and went diving after a treasure before they have all the information. But that’s not you, is it Sam? You are not reckless. You are smart. That’s why you haven’t opened the chest. And that is it, isn’t it? Unless you know, you will never try.”
Sam, overwhelmed in the uncertainty, bellowed a groan of frustration, and dropped the box as they buried their face in their palms. The chest, landed in the small spectral hands before hitting the ground, and loftily floated back to its resting place. Ertha, then attempted to place her wrest Sam’s attention back.
“Hey! Don’t listen to Ol’Cig, he’s nothing but bad noise. Sure, ya can play it smart, and go for self preservation, but that’s what animals do! And you are not an animal! What kind of life even is that? I bet ya didn’t become an adventurer just so you could get this far and go home empty handed, huh? Fortune favors the bold, Sam! So be the person you know you want to be! Pick up that chest and just open it. Even if it’s dangerous, then at least you will know! I don’t mean to speak for ya, but if I were in your boots, I would! Because to me, a life of never knowing is far worse than whatever trap or curse may or may not be inside. For better or for worse, you will at least have an answer to this mystery. The only way to get closure is to open. So go on Sam… Unless you try, you will never know!”
Sam looked up from their hands to see the semi-opaque child-like face of Ertha making direct eye contact. The spectral aura gave off a warm and calming glow, the kind that would settle the nerves and inspire confidence. This of course, was interrupted by the chilling breeze of Ol’Cig’s cold calculations.
“What do you even know about the people or the world, Ertha? Nothing. How many have been led astray by your misguided whimsy? I have lost count! You are a child, a speck among the grand scheme of the cosmos. You act on whim and speak without genuine consideration of consequences. You hope for the diamond in the rough adventurer among a sea of grave robbers. You greet and guide them all to a treasure, and recklessly expect the results to be different. My tact may be cold and brash, but I am trying to keep another adventurer from their grim fate!”
Ertha turned around and stood her ground against the looming old wizardly specter, in all the hands-on-hips, matter-of-fact sass one might expect from an ancient childlike spirit of whimsy.
“Hey! I may not have been around as long as you, but that doesn’t make me any less valid than you! I keep helping adventurers because people are always different! Don’t be so bitter and jaded because you lost your artifact an eon ago! This is the only one I have left, and I’m going to make sure the right hands find it! There is nothing you can say in your Old self that can stop me from trying again and again! It’s not reckless for me to keep hoping!”
Ol’ Cig looked down at her, a focused gaze. Sam would never notice it, and Ol’ Cig in his stubborn self would never admit it, but the smallest of smirks tugged at the corner of his ghostly mouth. He didn’t agree with Ertha on nearly anything, but he did appreciate the fact that if he was going to be stuck with a rival for all of eternity, at least it was someone he could match wits with.
“Reckless, maybe not. Foolish, certainly,” he said, a little more calmly than before.
“I would rather be a happy fool, than be smart and bitter and miserable for all of eternity,” she replied sharply.
Ol’ Cig nodded; he didn’t have much of a retort for that.
A moment of inspiration, a revelation finally hit Sam, who had been awkwardly caught in the crossfire of these two eternally-bickering spirits, finally speaking up.
Ertha and Ol’ Cig, realizing how caught up in their own battle they got, turned their attention back to the adventurer who started this whole debacle. They addressed Sam in, speaking in perfect synchronicity.
“You are going to open up then?”
“You are going to count your losses then?”
“No… Well yes, but no, that’s not what I mean… I’m talking about the box. That’s the riddle of chest isn’t it? Every great treasure has a puzzle to solve, and this is no different. Each of you are a piece of the puzzle.”
Sam shuffled along and grabbed the treasure chest. Ol’Cig in his wizardly glory looked down at Sam with a curious and knowing glance. The free spirited Ertha was less, subtle, her gaze transfixed on Sam, and beaming ear to ear.
“What you say, both of you is valid. Your arguments are both correct… And that makes the both of wrong… Neither of you can truly tell me what I should do. I got this far from my own wits and instincts, and, that is what I need to listen to. ”
Sam’s hand moved across the old weathered lock of the chest, keeping eye contact with the spirits.
“After all, I will never know unless I try."
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This story was very engaging. I was holding my breath to find out the riddle of the treasure chest and the ending was great! You have a wonderful way with characters and I don't know where you get your ideas for names but it's great. Ol' Cig (was it a Marlboro or a Camel?) Great story. If you get a chance, I would greatly appreciate your taking a moment to read my new story "Writer's Block". It's on my profile page. It's kind of rough but its a first draft. Thanks!
Thank you! If I'm being honest, the names are anagrams that represent the ethos and theme of the story. Ol' Cig has nothing to do with cigarettes haha. And yeah, you know sure thing. Writer's Block is a concept we can all relate to so I'll check ot out
This was brilliantly done! I LOVED the voices of Ertha and Cig. They were wonderfully distinct and I got such a sense of their characters from merely the dialogue. The puzzle of the chest was so well done. I loved the “answer” at the end 😁 good job! 👏👏👏