Combination

Combination

They say it takes two to keep a secret. Whoever “they” are, never said that the second person had to be human. That is where I come in. I was fully assembled in Rochester, NY in 1872. My purpose was simple. Protect my contents at all costs and permit those with my unique code to see what I held within. I wasn’t the fanciest safe in the world. My most elegant features were my brass fixtures and I wore them with pride. As the years went on, though, they began to wear and I showed my age. But after all these years, I’m still as trustworthy as the day I was made.

My first job was the one I was actually designed for. I was tasked with traveling onboard a railroad car and storing valuables including large sums of cash, various pieces of jewelry and countless bonds. All the while, I sat in a secluded corner of a railroad car. The task was simple enough and I had the opportunity to experience something that many of my brethren never even have the chance to dream of. Although that railroad car was normally empty, I got to see the bustling cities on both the east and west coasts of the United States and the barren prairies in between. Everything about the job was routine until one fateful day in 1874 when the train was filled with a surplus of ruckus.

Just like every day before, I sat in my secluded corner and went about my own business. But on this day, the door to the train car burst open. A man, covered in thick brown dust and a dirty bandana covering all of his face but his sunken, hazel eyes that immediately made contact with my facade barged in. In his right hand, he carried a revolver. In his left, was the employee that tended to me and supplied the contents that I protected. Going back to the secret comment from earlier, it taking two to keep a secret, I upheld my end of the bargain. A simple revolver did not threaten my thick iron skin. But, that revolver sure did scare the living daylights out of the man in the bandit’s left hand. There was nothing I could do to protect my contents from being stolen. I felt abused and violated as my efforts to uphold my sole purpose crumbled before my eyes while the railroad employee blurted out the combination to that vile man. That was a rough day and I’ll never forget it.

Soon after, the railroad company decided it need newer, more advanced safes to protect the contents of their passengers. I was hastily sold at auction to an older couple for pennies on the dollar. For awhile, I felt like this was going to be the lowest point in my life. But, that soon changed when I was given a new purpose. The older couple, the Joneses, they gifted me to their bright son who just turned 18 years old. It was the summer of 1918. It wasn’t long after that when the young man was drafted into the army and sent over to Europe to fight in the war. They called it the war to end all wars. The only thing I held for the next three months was a single document: the last will and testament of Steven Jones. Although I wasn’t traveling the country or storing precious valuables, I felt like I was helping a good cause. I had a purpose again. That was until the day when a pair of men, wearing full dress blues knocked on the door. Watching Mrs. Jones’s knees buckle out from under her as they sullenly delivered the news was the hardest part to watch. I released my precious document to those men without any regret. I had served my purpose.

After that, I was sold again at auction. Mr and Mrs Jones no longer needed a safe in the house without their boy. This time, I ended up in Chicago, Illinois. His name was Frank. Frank was something else. I never saw what he did beyond the few visits he made to the apartment that he kept me hidden in. But, I did keep track of everything that he kept tucked away inside of me. The one constant was a black, leather ledger. I have no idea what was inside of that ledger but it was certainly important to the man. Next, was the stack of photos that was added to on a weekly basis. These pictures were not the type of picture you would want to be seen just laying around on a coffee table. No. These were very intimate and very private. Finally, came the single most interesting item stored inside of me. Ever. For two days a single, severed finger was stored inside my thick metal shell. By the end of the second day, a large crowd of men filled the apartment. They all had identical jackets on and they all had large, bold letters on their backs: F.B.I. As they crawled through Franks belongings, I heard the agents constantly refer to my owner as Franky-Two-Fingers. It wasn’t long until one of the men, equipped with a stethoscope, listened intently to my inner workings and cracked my code. Once inside, the entire room exploded in chaos. Apparently, I was guarding the valuables of somebody very dark and very sinister.

After an extended period of sitting in an evidence warehouse, I was finally dusted off and taken to auction for one last time. This time, I was sold to Ms. Fields. She is an elderly woman. A widow. And as I sit here in her beach house and watch her reminisce about days long past, I catch myself doing the same. It’s been a long journey to this point and, even though I may not be as pretty as the day I was assembled, something tells me I’m not done quite yet.

Tick Tock

Tick Tock

The city streets were quiet at this time of day. At 10-till-2, the lunch rush had just finished and everybody was back in their offices working diligently again. The man in the blue muscle car was not one of those people. At 9-till-2, the driver pulled the sleeve on his jacket back to check his watch. It was only a matter of time until all hell was about to break loose. He sat back in his seat and listened to his watch tick loudly every half second. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he prepared himself for what was about to come.

After a few seconds of meditation, he leaned over to the passenger seat, popped the latch on the glove compartment, and pulled out a set of leather driving gloves. Sliding them onto his hands, he clenched both fists and let the fresh leather squeak as the gloves stretched under pressure. He moved like one of the many parts in his ticking watch. Like a machine. Every moment was calculated. Every movement part of a well rehearsed routine. He now glanced back down at the watch. 6-till.

The driver listened to the city for a few moments more before rolling up his window. With the last rotation of the window crank, the sounds of the city were sealed away. The only sound left in the car was the familiar half-second tick of his watch. He reached up and flicked the volume knob of the police scanner on the dashboard. A slight static now accompanied the sound of the watch. The radio remained silent, otherwise. The driver checked his watch again. This time it read 5-till. He gripped his steering wheel and turned to look down the alleyway he was parked next to. A vent ejected steam out the side of the building. But, no other movement was to be seen. He let out a long sigh.

Before sealing the glove box shut again, he pulled out a small paper map. It was folded over several times but the front of the folded packet had the road that he was currently sitting on. A large, red-markered circle sat on 7th street. A red line was drawn across the road, zig zagging across the city. The driver studied the route one last time. Satisfied, he threw the map back into the glove box and clicked the small door shut. He looked back out the passenger side window to the alleyway.

Suddenly, the scanner began to squawk.

“2–9 robbery in progress. Corner of 8th and 109. All available units please respond.”

The driver’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. He stared at the police scanner and listened to several patrol cars responding to the call. Even with the windows sealed shut, he could hear several sirens begin to wail their familiar cry, echoing off the walls of the concrete jungle. He let one hand off the wheel and pulled his left sleeve back again with one finger. His watch now read 3-till.

He glanced down the alleyway yet again. The sirens grew louder as he looked down the alleyway, waiting impatiently. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Suddenly, a door burst open at the far end of the alleyway. Two men dressed in all black with ski masks came charging through the now open door. They struggled with the large duffle bags that were hoisted around each of their shoulders. As they wheeled around the corner, they struggled to keep their balance as the bulging bags threatened to topple them. They continued their sprint down the alleyway as the driver reached over to the passenger side door and pulled the latch to click it open. He gave it a shove so that it swung wide open.

“Where’s the third man?” he yelled out the door.

The man in the lead ripped off his mask and yelled back, panting between each word “Don’t know! He was right behind us but we might have lost him in the restaurant. The cops were right on our tails.”

The driver tossed the lead man the keys to the car. Catching the keys, the lead man made his way to the back of the car and popped the trunk open. He threw the two duffle bags off his shoulders and into the trunk. The suspension squealed as the back of the car sagged down with the extra weight. The two men scrambled to get into the car after they dropped off all four bags. The man in the back seat left the door closest to the alleyway open. The man in the passenger seat tossed the car keys back to the driver. He immediately threw the keys into the ignition and fired the old but powerful engine up. The carburetors flared as he fed the engine gas and the car roared to life. The two men in black looked to the alleyway. The man in the back tapped his foot quickly on the floor while the other bit into a nail.

“Come on. Come on. COME ON! Where is he?” The man in the back yelled frantically.

The driver slid his sleeve back and checked the watch again. 1-till.

“He’s got one more minute” the driver announced with a grizzled voice.

Sweat dripped down the foreheads of each man in the car. The sounds of sirens now overwhelmed them, blaring from all directions. The driver looked up to the rear view mirror and watched the intersection behind him. Finally, the third man charged through the door and sprinted down the alleyway. He threw the bag into the car before hopping in.

“About time!” the driver yelled out.

Finally, he slammed the shifter up into first gear. All 8 cylinders fired as fast as possible. The tachometer arm surged into the red. The back tires spewed thick smoke. The treads gripped the road. The chase was on. His heart raced. Somebody screamed.

“Drive!”

The Jars

The Jars


He gave the doctor credit for how he delivered the bad news. No sob story. No fluff. Just brain cancer. Non-operable and only 3 months left to live. The doctor told him that he should have enough time to get his affairs in order and sincerely wished that he could do more. The terminal man nodded and thanked the doctor.

He took it better than most because he knew this fate was coming. When both his mom and dad passed away from the same cancer, it was only a matter of time before he suffered the same fate. His brain was a ticking time bomb that was finally coming down to its last seconds.

When he returned home to his wife, she immediately broke down sobbing. But, he knew he didn’t have time for tears. He had to get to work immediately. It took two weeks to transfer the house and bank accounts into her name. He ensured that his wife would have enough money to never have to work. With that taken care of, the terminal man wanted to do one last thing for his beautiful wife.

His beat up pickup bounced along the dirt path. Swampland surrounded the road on both sides and stretched out to the horizon. It had been an hour since he last saw any inkling of civilization. As the tires slowed down and crunched against the dirt and stone, he pulled up to an old shack that sat atop stilts in the middle of the swamp. He got out of his truck and slammed the door shut. His boots were quickly covered in a layer of thick muck as he approached the old shack. In the distance, a cicada chirped its familiar tone as he knocked on the door. Behind the ancient, hole-ridden screen door, an old black woman in ragged clothes and long, dirty dreads emerged. She spoke in a heavy accent that reeked of creole.

“Ah, my dear, I have been expecting you” she creaked in her heavy, island accent and curled a bony finger from him to the inside of the shack, “Come in. Please.”

He crept into her house, having to slouch down because of its abnormally short ceilings. Inside, the house the putrid smell of decaying swamp burned his nostrils with every breath. The gypsy woman reached out a hand and dragged him across the house. He passed jars of small creatures preserved in sickly green liquids and then was brought to a shelf filled with empty mason jars.

“This is what you come for, yes?” the gypsy asked him in a curious, excited tone.

He looked at her, confused.

“You said that you had a way of preserving memories. How are these…?” He began to question but was abruptly cut off.

“Hush, dear. Watch now”

The gypsy woman grabbed a jar off the shelf with a frail hand, popped open the lock on the lid, and held her hand on the jar without opening it.

“Close your eyes. Take a deep breath for me. And, hold it,” she commanded.

Closing his eyes, he drew a lung full of the musky air.

“Think of the moment you and your wife first met, my love,” she continued “now breathe out into the jar, holding onto that memory.”

He thought about seeing his wife for the first time on a grass field in college and smiled as he let out his breath. After fully exhaling, he opened his eyes and watched the gypsy quickly close the jar. Inside, a soft green aura began to glow. The same shade of green from the grass field.

“Now, whosoever opens this jar will witness the same memory that you just recalled as if it was their own. How’s that for preservation, dear?” she asked with a smug smile.

A wide grin grew across the terminal man’s face. “How much?” he asked.

The gypsy woman shook her head. “No dear. You take these. All of them. They are yours.”

It had now been three months since he had received the diagnosis. His body was much weaker than it was three months ago and his thoughts were much more scattered. Constantly fighting the urge to succumb to the sickness, he continued to sit in his basement every day, deciding which memories should be preserved. The jar on the far left contained their first kiss. Another jar was when the two of them went to the shelter and adopted Chet. The jar three shelves in held the moment when he dropped to a knee and proposed to her. He held the final empty jar in his hands and knew exactly which memory was meant for it.

To most people it would look like any other morning. He and his wife were eating breakfast at their kitchen table and he quickly got up to leave for an important appointment. His wife kissed him on the way out the door. It was the last memory they had together before he was diagnosed with his death.

He heard the wooden steps behind him creak as his wife came down to look at the library of memories that he had built for her. He sealed the last jar and placed it on the remaining empty spot on the shelf. She held his hand and smiled. Then, he felt another presence in the room. He turned to the left and saw his mother standing beside him. A tear streaked down her cheek.

“It’s beautiful what you’ve done for her” she said to him without ever moving her lips.

He smiled and swallowed sharply. Turning back to his wife, he gave her a kiss on the lips and looked her in the eyes “I love you forever and always.”

“I know” she said with a smile while fighting back tears.

He heard his mom once again, “It’s time to go, honey.”

He turned back to the wall of jars with a smile on his face as a searing pain grew in his temple.