Winter’s Frost (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)
“It has to be here,” Paxton tells me. I don’t believe this is going to work, but it’s our last chance of redemption. We have little time to spare before the trial begins.
“What’s the map say again?” I ask him.
“I’ve read it to you ten times,” he barks, pulling out the hand sketched artifact found in the attic of the abandoned home we’d been hired to clean out last summer. We kept it as a memento, more of a joke than anything, until we heard rumors from a local historian that there are golden coins hidden somewhere in the northern hills. Mrs. Joss swears she had overheard the miners when she was a little girl. I don’t trust her. I don’t trust anyone anymore, but I refuse to give up without a fight.
“Something about a tree and a…”
“In the trees you will find the markings of the commander,” he quotes. “Beyond the tracks and above the reminders. The hammers and ashes reflect the times. When the sun is hidden with the day of crimes.”
We should have waited for nightfall. I told him this before we left the village, but my accomplice didn’t want to get lost and die of frostbite. I believe the riddle is the key to finding the treasure, but he insists the markings on the map will get us close enough to find it.
I shake my head and watch for unwanted visitors as Paxton digs through the stones of the ancients in hopes of buying our way out of this. It might be too late anyway, but I agreed it was worth trying. Neither of us would last a week in The Corridors.
“Quiet,” I tell him. He stops digging. “I think I heard something.” He pulls out a small pistol, the one he’s been hiding in the floorboards of the house he’s been crashing in since our last hearing. I don’t know how he convinced those idiots to let him crash in their own home, but everyone thinks he’s kept his nose clean since our arrest. They think I’m the mastermind. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was next to him when, well, I didn’t do it, so it doesn’t matter, does it?
“I didn’t hear anything,” he snorts before going back to his project. “Shut your mouth and watch my back. You’re in just as deep as I am, so remember your role and keep quiet unless you see someone.”
He’s right. We’re in the same boat until we buy our way out of this fiasco or we hang. My throat is sensitive to rope so I do my best to comply. We’re five miles out of town and anyone would be foolish to go so far without a plan to get back before the wind kicks in. I’m wearing my thickest coat, but I wouldn’t be out here except that it’s my only chance to survive this mess.
“What’s this?” he nearly shouts, restraining himself before his voice escalates any further. “Come here, you worthless sack of meat. Help me pull this box out of the ground.”
It can’t be. Those are the markings on the map. A hammer and a sun, buried below the snow and a thin layer of dirt. I don’t know what’s more confusing, how he found it or how they would have been so careless. It has to be a trick. It’s a trap. It’s going to be empty. “Open it up,” I whisper, coughing as I look back over my shoulder.
“It’s here!” he laughs in the frozen afternoon. “It’s all here!” But I don’t answer him. I can’t answer him. My speech was muted when my hands went up in the air with the barrel pointed in my direction.
“I told you to do your job you piece of,” he trails off when the gun’s aim finds it’s way to his own face. “Come on. We need this. Who do you think you are to take this from us?”
She doesn’t answer him. Valerie looks at me and sneers. “Is it all there?”
“I didn’t get a good look,” I tell her, my blood ripping through my stiff veins. “But I think so.”
“Was it all there, worm?” she asks. Paxton spits in the ground, refusing to answer her. “I asked you a question, vermin.”
“I didn’t count it,” he grumbles. “But it’s all there. Every last piece of gold. The box is stacked from top to bottom. You could at least let us keep enough to get out of our predicament.”
“Oh, you’ll get out of your predicament alright,” she says. “Toss it to me.”
“Just a handful,” he begs her.
I stay silent as she takes a step closer, not that she needs it. Everyone in town knows she’s a crack shot.
“Stop talking,” she says, her voice colder than the air. “Turn around and do as I say.”
Paxton kicks the snow. He turns around and grumbles something about “one measly piece.”
I’d say it’s a shame, if I thought anything of him at all, that those were the last words of this man as two shots enter the back of his skull.
“Let’s go,” she says. “Before the frost gets us too. There’s no point in burying him. He won’t be found out here until we’re across the border.”
She’s right, in part at least.
“I knew it was real,” Val laughs. It’s a shame those were her last words. Unlike Paxton, she had her favorable features. But I have plans and no one is going to get in my way. Not this time.