When I was 12 years old, I would visit a hidden village. I say village due to its location. The houses were modern enough, but they just happened to be surrounded by trees and over-growth. It reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie “the town that time forgot” or something like that. On one such trip to this destitute place I happened upon a little black book. It was in a pile of soot caked debris. I picked it up brushing the dirt and grime from the cover turning it over in my hands. It appeared to be in fair condition given that I found it amongst the debris of an old house that burned down long ago. I flipped the pages with my thumb thinking that it may crumble and blow away like dust in an anime. I tossed it backed in the rubble not finding anything interesting about the book other than it survived the fire remarkably well. I began looking through the other piles of charred remains that once were the house. I really couldn’t tell you if I was searching for anything in particular. I only knew I wanted to find something. Through the other piles I found a spoon, tarnished, and blackened, an oddly shaped key, and small bag made of leather. These visits could be all day affairs and I quickly learned to bring food. After what felt like hours of rummaging, I placed the four items in a line in front of me while I sat down against a tree and ate the lunch.
As I sat staring at the items, one then another, then another, I heard a faint whisper “Choose One”. Not believing I had heard anything at all at first, I took another bite of sandwich. “Choose One” seemed to echo in different locations still softly and just barely heard above my chewing. A small breeze had begun and slowly gained strength with each additional echo. There began a distinction in the whispers, a discernable difference, like separate voices urging me to choose an item. My eyes darted back and forth pausing equally among the four prizes.
A fifth voice entered the chorus but this one did not chant the same words. No, in addition to “Choose One” I heard “Choose with care” the fifth voice was slightly higher pitched and off tempo. It sounded like a round. “Choose Choose One with care” I thought of my father when he would sing Row Row your boat to me as a child. Not thinking I asked “why” I cleared my throat and asked a little more confidently. “Why one?” The breeze surged whipping everything around me into chaos. The cover on the little black book flipped open to a page somewhere in the middle. The voices in unison said “look”. Getting to my feet I went to the opened book, there on the top of two pages I saw the images of each item that lay before me. Side by side in vertical rows were the descriptions of the Spoon, the Key, the Bag, and the Book. I read the descriptions carefully several times. The first time through I could tell I would need to think about each in turn.
The Silver Spoon, elegant and sleek, once belonged to a wealthy man. He had cherished it believing it brought him luck. His fortunes changed on the day he found it.
The Skeleton Key, black as night fitting tight, one way is right the other you fight. In a bind don’t leave behind, many ways for which it pays. Hold it near and hold it dear, to the end the time is near.
The Bag, a simple bag of leather. Looks are always deceiving. A lady’s companion for every occasion. A man’s accomplice for the road. A monk once stopped a war by draining a lake into the bag. That same monk accidentally drowned when he fell asleep next to it forgetting to tie it closed.
The Little Black Book, pages unfold a life untold carefully, beautifully, bold. Think hard, think twice for what you write may also bite. The last to hold is now long cold. Follow the instructions to the letter and your life could be so much better.
I stood still as the wind seemed to be at gale force levels. I looked again to the items then read the details. The voices chanting together howled “CHOOSE!!!”
As I walked home, I read the instruction in the little black book. Committing them to memory and pondering all the ways my life could be better. Do I really need anything? My parents provide the necessities and I have some extras. I may not have the finest clothes or the best things, but I am reasonably happy. It struck me to test the book. As carefully as I could and as small as I could manage, I wrote “My life would be better if I had money”. I’m not sure why I was holding my breath but when I finally let it out nothing happened. What had I missed? I read the instruction again.
“On one line only you may write, lest you temp fate to bite. On that line to which you scribble, payment comes in a dribble. One line and no more or limbs will be tore, each word set in stone is the fate you shall own.”
I tried to erase my words only to discover them clean and clear, almost like they had been etched in hard material. It occurred to me I may need to add an amount. I carefully placed a dollar sign as close to the “y” in money as I could followed by a one. By the time I reached my block I had picked up one hundred pennies. Precisely one dollar. I opened the book and placed a zero just as close to the one as I could. This time I immediately saw another penny. Several feet away lay another penny. Beyond that another and another. A line of copper coins leading to my house evenly spaced. I thought about that dot munching classic arcade game my dad insisted on playing all the time. By the time I made it to my house my pockets were full. Every where I went after that, pennies, pennies everywhere.
After I turned 20, I had less than one inch of space left on the line I started all those years ago. I still get pennies everywhere I go. I no longer pick them up. I guess I should have been a little more specific or perhaps concise. I learned unbelievably valuable lessons that first year. First no one cares about pennies; I would pick up every penny I found. I would take them to a store or exchange them at the bank. Hundreds and then thousands at a time until my back and legs were sore. I was constantly bending, kneeling, and squatting to collect the tiny metal disks. Second, space and size are everything. Every zero became smaller and smaller as time went on. I next learned magnifiers and a small diameter pencil lead are essential to space saving. Perhaps I will try to add a zero inside another zero or perhaps I will look to the spaces between the zeros at the top and bottom.
I think back from time to time about the other items I found. I could have used that bag to carry all those pennies. I could have written in the book to deposit the money into the bag directly. I will forever wonder at all the possible ways I could have changed my life with the Silver Spoon or the Skeleton Key. For now, I will be content knowing I will never run out of money so long as I have the strength to pick up a penny.