by Shana Byrd
A young lady sneaks into a warehouse to retrieve a bequeathed treasure stolen by her dad.
|Bree opened the door to her family's large warehouse. No sound came as the metal monster of a thing crept open. The smell of cars, burnt oil, and cat litter still hung in the air. The place still felt like the machine shop her grandfather owned when she was a child. Her forehead itched bringing her back to the present. When she reached to scratch it, she found sweat dripping.
"Hello?" Bree called out to the empty warehouse.
The word alongside drips from unseen leaks echoed throughout the darkness. Her heart pounded her ears. Being in the warehouse seemed eerie without the noise of yelling requests, pneumatic tools, and thumps of feet rushing back and forth. She grabbed her flashlight from the leather bag on her back.
"Okay," she whispered, "here we go..."
The rest of the family attended her grandfather’s wake on the other side of town. She left soon after getting there. There, people from all across the state came to say their goodbyes to the old war hero. No one would miss her. Considering that, and how her father had closed down the place a few months before, it did not surprise her to feel as hollow as this place looked.
She twisted the end of what could be mistaken as a knight-stick. It was the size of her forearm. The light did not want to work. She banged it against her hand twice, each time it flickered and died. After the third time, it flickered but stayed on.
Bree's light came as a conical beam passing through droplets and particles in the air. She wiped the sweat again from her brow with her sleeve. Her breath came in small, white puffs. She took a deep breath and coughed when the icy knives hit her lungs.
Finally, Bree stepped through the door. After a few minutes, Bree's target entered her field of view. A medium-sized box with painted hinges and metallic inlays glittered in the beam.
"Yes!" she whispered.
She raced across the empty space. Her foot hit a patch of iced-over oil. Her beanie helped little when her head hit. She saw bright lights alongside the light still spinning across the now apparent icy floor.
Someone picked up her flashlight. The beam focused on her. The footsteps came closer, and she stayed on her back, looking at the ceiling. Her arm inched towards her pack.
“Who are you?” said a younger male voice.
She remained quiet, arm still trying to get to the pack. The footsteps got louder and the beam brighter. The ice enveloped her, whether from the ice on the ground or within her own veins was unclear.
Bree’s body shivered. The footsteps came closer still. She had to squint as the man came closer. The light was pointed directly at her face now.
“I said: Who. Are. You.”
“Bree Vargas,” her voice was quiet, but it still echoed just as well as the man’s relative boom.
A hand? She saw the hand, but not the person attached to it. Her hand finally gripped what she wanted. She swung. The man caught her hand before she could spray her mace.
“I will not hurt you, Bree Vargas,” he said, forcing Bree’s fingers to go let go.
When the metal bottle clinked to the floor beside her, a whimper escaped her lips. He sighed, almost as if exasperated. He still shone the light in her face, but he stepped back, pulling her to her feet.
“I am Axel Wegner. I am here guarding the warehouse at the behest of your father,” he said, “Follow me.”
She did as he asked. Feeling at her wet backside, and hopefully masking the sound of her grabbing her backup mace.
“Please don’t do that, Ms. Vargas. I am not going to warn you a second time.”
She let her hand drop. They wove through the ice patches and stopped by the chest. He motioned with the light for her to take it. She didn’t move.
He gave her the light. She took it in a firm grip but did not yank it from him. The idea crossed her mind, though. He wouldn’t respond well to that, she assumed.
He undid the locks with a key he removed from his neck. She saw the man clearly now. He had to be her age. Maybe a year or two older, twenty-five at the most. She stared at his face. She recognized him. The memory was just beyond her grasp.
“He wasn’t trying to keep it from you forever, you realize.”
“What?” his voice startled her from almost remembering.
She almost had it. The memory was gone now, no use trying to go back. She said, “What are you talking about?”
“Your father,” Axel said.
When she didn’t continue, the man went on.
Axel said, “Your father did not think you were ready for what’s inside. So, he asked me to be here tonight, just in case you tried to come to take it.” He took a step back as he finished speaking.
“It’s fine that you don’t trust me, preferable really. However, you can only shine your flashlight in one direction. Either at me or at the chest. Not both.”
Bree took another icy breath. She kept from coughing this time. Barely.
She turned her light onto the chest. Only a scrap of paper lay inside the chest. She reached inside for it.
Her hand shook as she grasped the old, yellowed paper. She supposed it was paper, anyway.
It read, “My dearest Bree, my only granddaughter. I have left you the grand adventure that we always dreamed of. If you are reading this now, I have passed on and your father must take this responsibility on. When you are ready, I have instructed him to give you this chest. Yes, I do realize, it is a large chest for such a tiny prize. However, this will be the most important letter you ever read.
“You are important, Braelyn. The family has not had a blood female descendant in nearly three hundred years. I had hoped to take you myself, but alas, there is no more time for that. My dear, you are heir to a vast treasure. Not of monetary value, but spiritual. The coordinates below are particularly important. I suggest you go there with all haste. As you get older, you will need help. I wish I could explain further.
“With all the love I have ever given, Paw Paw.”
A tear hit the page. She lost herself in the memories of her and her grandfather sitting outside by the bonfire. Chatting about the grand adventures of the people in the folktales of her family. She could remember about Tamara; she supposedly had helped in some grand battle for her family lands in either Scotland or Ireland. Bree was seven, perhaps eight, years old when he told her the tale. She smiled, thinking of all the fantastical things her grandfather told her. None of it was real, she realized, even so, the memory was a warm one.
Another tear, then another one. She folded the paper and put it back in the chest. Her father did not believe she was ready so soon after her grandfather’s passing. She spent more time with him than with her own mother and father. He knew it would hurt her a lot. Bree closed the lid.
She was silent. Tears crystalized to ice as she navigated the old machine shop. She turned the light to the ground and walked back towards the open door.
Axel’s voice rang out behind her, “You forgot this.”
He stood beside her in an instant. How had he navigated the ice? Axel must have been behind her the entire time walking with the chest.
He held it out to her. “Your grandfather meant for you to go to the coordinates, Bree. Your father may not believe you are ready, but I’m not here for your father. I’m here for you.”
Confused, she took the chest. A small pop sounded when she bent down to put it in her bag. When Bree looked up, Axel was gone. A note with a phone number was left in his place. Her grief played tricks on her mind. That’s what happened.
The note seemed odd; the number appeared too long. However, the note said that when she was ready for an answer to call Axel at the number. She placed the night in the chest beside that of her grandfather.
She walked to her car and drove to her dorm. Bree sat there in the parking lot for another hour, just thinking of her grandfather and the stranger. At midnight, she woke up, realizing that she had fallen asleep. Memories of the night her grandfather passed in a hospital bed, pitiful and gaunt, tears rolled in force. It was too cold for her to do this in the car.
She walked up the familiar stairs in the dark. The power must have been out again. She knocked on the door. After the second time banging on the door, her roommate came to the door. Bree walked in past her, answering no questions.
The week ended as normal, with classes assigning homework and studying. Then a strange number popped up on her phone. When Bree answered, a male voice said, “It’s Axel. Are you ready yet?”