Buried Treasure - A 3:15 Story
By Paul Chandler
Clarence Buchanan was born in the small town of Marshall, Wisconsin all the way back when it was known as Bird’s Ruin, which is to say a very long time ago. So long ago, in fact, that people around Marshall were amazed he was still alive in the late autumn of 1941. It was a simpler time for a man of 91 to finally meet his maker.
They say Clarence was born of fire, and that’s true enough. As a younger man, he talked sometimes about the blaze that tore through Bird’s Ruin the year he was born, how it gutted the tiny settlement and scattered those who survived to the wind. But Clarence had a willful, arrogant father, a man of the woods who was good with an ax and a shotgun. Marshall Buchanan kept his family on, taught young Clarence to fell the tallest trees and gun down rabbits, deer, moose, and bear – anything with four legs that moved and didn’t bark or purr at the side of his leg.
The town grew and Marshall Buchanan, who loved his ax more than any other tool he owned, tried to change the name from Bird’s Ruin to Hatchetville, which seemed to him a very manly name for a town. All the way to his deathbed a long time later he complained bitterly about Asahel Hanchett, a business tycoon who tricked the mayor into something close to Hatchetville, but not quite.
After that Marshall and his son moved out into the forest for good and only entered Hanchettville to trade chopped wood for supplies. It was about five years later when the accident occurred.
Clarence should have known better. He should have been more careful. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near the clearing to begin with. But he was so excited he just ran and ran until he could hear his father’s ax hitting a tree. They’d voted to change the name of the town once more and Clarence carried the news.
Marshall, Wisconsin, just like Marshall Buchanan.
The family name was finally honored as it always should have been. How sad that Marshall was also the name of a real estate broker who purchased most of Hanchettville’s assets and had renamed the town after himself. This was a fact that eluded young Clarence as he ran through the woods with the grand news that the town had finally honored Marshall Buchanan as a founding father.
What a shame it was then as Clarence ran down the narrow valley just as a 150 foot tree came crashing towards the ground. Fifteen year old Clarence Buchanan couldn’t quite get out of the way fast enough. His hand, the very hand he waved with a piece of paper that told of the good news, lay crushed between a boulder and the gigantic fallen tree. Marshall Buchanan’s massive ax blade lay buried in the trunk as the boy’s scream filled the fog covered wood.
No one saw Clarence or his dad for a long time after that. In fact, no one ever saw Marshall Buchanan again. Only Clarence appeared now and then with two horses and a rusted out trailer full of wood he traded for flour and sugar and oil. And he never let anyone help him unload the cargo of fallen, cut trees. He did it by himself, hurling the sharp metal hook of his left hand into the heavy wood and putting his whole body into the effort. He was a huge man by then, bearded and tall and 250 pounds of woodsman. His small dark eyes watched the world and he nearly never spoke. The hook did the talking for him, or so it seemed, as he pointed it to a bag of rice or a pot of grease at the general store.
And then one strange day the claw on Clarence Buchanan’s hand changed. It is said that it happened after his father’s death; that Clarence melted the family fortune on the cast iron stove inside the hut in which they lived; that he fashioned an iron mold and poured the gold inside, that he made the golden claw and wore his treasure on his sleeve from that day forward.
For a time, people saw the claw and wondered about it, whispering when it passed by. The big man with the golden claw, lumbering through town with his burlap bag of provisions thrown over one great shoulder, was a mystery no one fully understood. They could not have guessed how much the claw was worth, because Clarence wore sleeves all of the time and only the hook itself was ever seen by another living soul.
Still, for a time the golden claw gained quite a lot of notoriety.
Time passed and Clarence grew more mysterious, visiting town less frequently, until one day he stopped coming into town altogether.
And so it was that many years later, when Clarence Buchanan finally did die, the golden claw had become more legend than fact. It had been somewhat forgotten in the preceding twenty years as Clarence became more and more of a hermit. Towards the end, very few people ever saw Clarence or the claw.
At 91 and alone in the woods, there was but one person who’d seen him much lately, and that was Cody Miller, who we turn our attention to now.
Cody Miller, a down on his luck seventeen year old, had the unenviable task of delivering groceries to all the shut-ins around town. It had fallen to him in recent months to trudge all the way out into the woods and bring Clarence Buchanan what he needed on Friday afternoons. Whoever had done it before Cody had left town altogether, and the golden hook had drifted farther still into legend. It was, in a very real sense, completely forgotten.
There was a short but meaningful conversation the first time Cody met Clarence Buchanan in the woods, which began like this: “Me and the last guy had a deal.” “And what was that, exactly?”
The deal had to do with getting ready to die, which Clarence Buchanan was busy doing when Cody came along. Cody Miller took notice of the desolate surroundings and the golden hook and decided he was fine helping the old man along.
It was Cody who helped Clarence dig the hole, Cody who helped him build the wooden coffin out of slats torn from the hut the old man had lived in most of his life.
“This here gold was my daddy’s,” Clarence said when the hole was dug and the coffin was made (which amounted to 7 Friday’s for Cody). He held up the golden claw, the weight of which had trained that left arm into a hammer of incredible strength over 50 years or more. Even at 91, the arm and the claw could rip things apart when the need arose.
“This town ain’t never give me or my daddy nothin. You best bury me with my treasure. Understand?”
Cody Miller nodded, staring into the dark eyes of a withered face. But in the blackest part of his heart lay a hidden secret he had told no one. He had a gold ring on his finger, a treasure of his own that had come into his possession by unsavory means. He turned the ring with the fingers of his other hand and bore down on an evil thought.
No one will know.
On that very day, Clarence Buchanan breathed his last, the gold hook resting on a decrepit table as the old man slumped in his chair.
Cody rolled the body into the wood coffin that lay in the hole he’d helped dig. He heard the body of Clarence Buchanan land with the dull thud of death. He took the time to lay the body out with care, then he rolled up the sleeve on Clarence Buchanan’s left arm. It was an arm no one but Clarence had set eyes on in a very, very long time. The treasure went up the arm farther than Cody could believe – half a foot of gleaming gold – a fortune of serious value. It was held tight to Clarence Buchanan’s skin by a wide leather belt, which Cody unstrapped with shaking hands.
The fog had rolled in as night approached, just as it had on the day a hand was crushed so long ago. Cody couldn’t be sure if he was shivering from the wet cold or from the fact that he was stealing the treasure off a dead man’s arm.
As the golden hook came loose and Cody felt the full weight of its value, Clarence Buchanan’s last words rang in his ears.
You best bury me with my treasure. Understand?
Cody put the cover on the coffin. He nailed it shut. He spent the next hour filling in the dirt. When he was done it was night in the wood and a bitter cold had set in. He took up his treasure, heavy like a block of iron, and ran.
When he arrived back home, Cody Miller prepared to melt the hook into a block of gold, pack his things, and leave the town of Marshall forever.
We find him now at the stove, the hook on the table before him, the deed about to be done.