As a straight, white, middle-class male, I didn’t encounter a lot of prejudice in life, but being dead is a whole different ball game. My friend, Dave, shivers with disgust when I sit next to him on his comfy old couch. I peer at his laptop screen.
“Not that bullshit again,” I say in response to an inane post on treasurehunter.com. “If the loot were in Brown’s canyon we’d have found it already.” In the old days, Dave would have chuckled and replied, “losers.” Now, clutching a blanket around his body, he looks warily in my direction.
“Please, please talk to me,” I say. But, he shakes his head with the puzzled expression of a mother panda whose cub has just sneezed.
Desperate, I transport to the office where I used to work and type a rapid reply into the forum.
“Dude, have you even read the fucking clues?” I return to Dave’s side the instant I press send. Being dead is not without its advantages. On seeing activity under my username, Dave gasps and covers his open mouth with a hand. But again, like an old guy with Alzheimer’s, he loses track and, with an air of embarrassment, moves his hand back onto the keypad. The conversation on the forum moves on, but everyone ignores my post.
My girlfriend or I suppose I should now call her Dave’s wife, wanders into the den. I stand close to her, and she shivers and holds the baby tighter in her arms.
“Hi, honey.” I say. Jen closes her eyes for a second, and I move closer, almost to kissing distance, and whisper, “It’s me, Paul.” With all physical sensation gone, emotions are all that’s left, and my hope is crushing me. But, when her eyes open, I see her determination to reconnect with her crappy, humdrum existence.
“You’re not on that stupid forum again?” she asks.
“Yeah.” Dave sighs.” Sorry.”
“We’ve already lost Paul to that wild goose chase. Give it up.”
It’s no wild goose chase. Dave and I have been working on interpreting the clues in Fenn’s poem since my first day as a resident in Montana. I’d watched Dave sitting on a bar stool, chewing on a pencil and reading a battered copy of Fenn’s autobiography. Occasionally, he scribbled on a folded map that was growing damp on the beer-sodden bar top.
”Where the warm waters halt.” I said. He looked up with narrow eyes. “Some folks think that means the treasure is at the source of Boiler creek,” I added with what I hoped was a guileless smile.
“Some folks will believe any simplistic bullshit,” he replied.
“Right answer,” I said and bought him a beer. We circled one another warily, determined to protect our dearest theories, but also desperate to share. We each gave a little, then a bit more, until five beers down the line, we were dissecting Fenn’s poem line by line. That weekend, we shook on a 50-50 split at the trailhead before embarking on our first joint treasure hunt in the Rockies. As with the many trips that followed, we scrambled up mountains, traversed narrow caves on our bellies, and slept under the clear Montana sky. While we talked constantly about the treasure, we never discussed what we’d do when we were rich. That was never really the point.
Dave stands up and takes the baby from Jen’s arms, presses his nose upon the little bald head and takes a deep breath.
My death wasn’t epic or heroic. It was just a stupid slip on slick, wet rock at the worst time. Afterwards, Dave and I stared at my battered body, and a profound sense of loss gradually overtook my animal panic.
Dave grabs Jen, and they clutch one another in a group hug with the baby.
“Screw the Fenn treasure,” he says. “Everything I need is in my arms right now.”
“No,” I shout. “You need the amazing sunrises, the trail beneath your boots and glimpses of black bears cubs on their first swim.”
The little family unit hugs tighter, and Jen cries happy tears onto her husband’s neck.
“We need the thrill of the hunt,” I whisper.
I transport to the trail and imagine feeling the stony path below my feet, and the joy of using muscles trained to hike for miles. The weak warmth of the glowing sunset acts as a balm to my aching sadness. I’m alone, but there is treasure to find.