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Sam considered that strangling Ashley would be one way to shut her up.  Who knew anyone could walk through the Pine Barrens for three miles and talk continuously?  He remembered her old boyfriend had drowned in Lake Hopatcong last year.  Probably quieter there.  No yak yak except from the ducks.


“If she would’ve come,” Ashley chattered, “I would’ve found the stuff, but she didn’t so I didn’t.  She probably coulda gave me, like, some advice.  I think the sand is soft, but it’s a lotta work.  Know what I’m sayin’?”


Yak yak yak.  “What’s that mean?” he asked.  He didn’t care what she thought from the tone of his voice.  Quarter mile further to find Joey and Carol who’d already driven up to the campground.  He’d chosen to hike up with Ashley.  Joey had the beer.  He had Ashley.  He really needed that beer.


“I mean, I thought me and her were pals.”


“Ashley, what the hell are you yakking about!”  That wasn’t a question, and he punctuated it by turning around.


“I told Brianna about when I got done my work, I was gonna dig up the treasure.  Like, did she want to help me?”


“A Goddamn treasure?”  She’d finally captured his interest.


“Don’t talk like that.  It isn’t nice.”  She held her hands, palm out.  “That campground you’re takin’ me to is where the pirates used to hang out and bury stuff.  Why’d you think I came along today?”


He couldn’t believe it.  “Are you nuts?  There’s no pirates in Jersey.”


“Oh, yeah?  I seen it.  I think it was with Johnnie Depp.  Maybe that other guy.  The one who said that thing, you know, that time with Angelina Jolie.”


“Keep walking, Ashley.  We’re almost there and I’m exhausted.”


“See, me and Brianna were at the 7-Eleven last week.  Knew we should of gone home early, but Tuesday was kickin' her butt so bad she said it felt like Monday was gangin’ up.  So I saw this old man on the curb.  Said I’d give him ten bucks if he’d get Brianna some vodka.  He said twenty and I’ll give you a king’s ransom.  And Brianna says, ‘What’s a king’s ransom?’ and he says it’s on the map.”


Sam put his hands on her little chicken-bone shoulders.  Ashley was a hot-looking high school senior, but thoughts spun around in her head like ice cubes in a blender.  “You were hitting on a geriatric creep to buy you…?”  He finished his line of thought.  “You gave him twenty and he gave you a pirate map?  Think, Ashley!”


“So, why’re you askin’ all these questions if you know the answers?”


Sam confided to Joey that Ashley was Mother Nature’s mistake when she forgot to issue the girl a brain.


Joey grimaced.  “Ashley once told her teacher that Marshall Field in Chicago might be where the Cubs played.  And she prays to Harold, like ‘Our Father who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name.’”


Sam should have said something in Ashley’s defense, but he figured she could take care of herself.  Or it wouldn’t matter once they were together in a sleeping bag.


“You’re always thinkin’ of stuff, Sam.  Why do I have to be thinkin’?  What makes you believe I know where the old guy got this pirate map?  I don’t have any ideas.  You’re the college boy.  You got enough brains for a whole block of people.”


Something must be going on in your brain.  A person doesn’t just turn out the lights when they’re not talking or doing something.  I took Intro to Psych and our professor said the brain is never idling in neutral.  Freud also said….”


“Sam!  Shut the hell up.  I gave the old guy forty bucks ‘cause he was dyin’ of cancer.”


“You’re shitting me, Ashley.  Are you out of your mind?”


“And he give me this Spanish coin.  Said he liked my eyes.  I was polite and respectful.  And you shouldn’t talk dirty.  It’s in the Ten Commandments.”


Ashley got a cagey look and reached in her bra.  She pulled out a coin that looked like the foil-wrapped chocolates Sam saw at Christmas.  This one shined like real gold, or what he thought 24 karat might look like.  “When I find the treasure, I’ll help hungry people, and maybe give some to the poor people in Tent City.”


“Let me see it.  Give it to me.”


“I don’t think so, Sam.  You been snotty the whole time you had me walkin’ up this dirt trail.  You think I’m stupid, and Carol says you told Joey I was a trailer park hoochie and my body was just oozin’ sex.  So how much do I have to put up with to have you be nice to me?  Whatta I gotta do to get your respect?”


“Start by letting me see the map.”


“You know I like you mostly, but where’d I be if I give you the map and you decide that’s all I’m good for.  That and — you know — making out.


“The map’s not going to change anything, Ashley.”


“It’s not that, Sam.  How long have you known me?  Seventh grade?  All that time you ever wonder what my life was like?  About my folks?  Why I am who I am?  Nobody here ever looks beyond the obvious stuff, like what’re they’re wearin’ or what they said.”


He looked at her standing defiantly.  She was totally unequipped to deal with events whipping by her head, and yet she might have a meal ticket for life in the map and was ready to give it with people who’d crapped out.


“I’m walkin’ up to see Joey and tell him to take me back home or to the highway,” Ashley said.  “I’ll hitch if I gotta.  You’re a loser, Sam.”


Feeling a sudden wave of isolation, Sam remembered his professor who said a math genius in Darfur hasn’t a chance of applying a theorem when his concern is staying alive one more day.  But a slacker in the U.S. could fall into a job and live on Easy Street.


“You got guts, Ashley.  Like some kid in Darfur.  I like it.  Really.”


“What’s Darfur?”


“There’s a space between us greater than you being some kind of Mother Theresa and being nuts enough to follow a treasure map.  I know I’m just drifting through college.  My Dad’s left home.  Mom’s getting crazy and she drinks too much.  I just get confused sometimes.”


“My folks would say that’s sad.”  She put her hand on his chest.


“Well,” he said, “okay.  Why can’t there be treasure?  There were a bunch of pirates and we have the whole weekend to talk about it.”


“I knew it!”  She jumped up and down.  “Now, what’ll we do about the curse they put on the treasure?  The thing about whoever discovers it will succeed in love and have lots of children.”


“That’s a curse?”


“Not if you’re a woman.”

#  #  #

Bio:  Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, Every Day Fiction,Gumshoe Review,OG Short Fiction, Over My Dead Body, Paradigm Journal, Pif Magazine, Pill Hill Press, Pulp Modern, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, and, of course, Short-Story.Me. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble and other retailers


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