Lightly, he grazed an old razor over errant stubble. Earl liked to keep a clean beard, although he never really looked at himself in the small mirror. He cared little for his physical appearance; he was a man of the mind, but this time his reflection caught him off guard. Where did the years go? When did I get old? Suddenly, his mind and body connected. He was desperately in need of human connection.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “No one’s going to recognize me. They didn’t recognize me last night; how do I expect them to recognize me when I leave here?” He stood. “No, no… I can’t be deterred. I’m going. You can’t stop me. Even if I have to go up to them and say I’m—.” Earl paused not recalling his own name.
With his hands on his hips, he scanned his shack. I could stay here. I could die here. He sat on his cot and thought of the life he had forgotten. Should I give up and say goodbye to life? Maybe my next life will be better. He stood and swung his arms back and forth. “No, I’m not ready to give in, not yet.”
Earl lowered to his knees and spied a dusty trunk under his cot. It had been there for as long as he could remember. He was not even sure how it got there. Did I bring it here, or was it already here when I arrived? Earl removed the trunk from underneath the cot and stared at it for some time before deciding to open it.
Pandora was inside this box; he knew it. Opening this box would expose the world to many ills, but he knew it held the key to his past, and his future. “Now where is that key?” he asked, flicking at the lock.
Not able to recall where the key was, he used a butter knife to pry it open. He squatted before the trunk and sighed heavily before opening it, fearful of what he might find. When he lifted the lid, he stared blankly seeing his neatly organized past. One thing that remained constant through his beginning was his tidiness.
On top was a pair of neatly folded khaki coverall. Leather army boots set alongside. Earl fingered the coveralls and the boats. “I know this.” He pulled on khaki coveralls with patches ripped off above the chest pockets and a pair of weathered leather boots.
Digging around the trunk, he found a comb, which he slicked back his hair and donned an old leather Snoopy-style airman’s cap. The uniform straightened his posture and broadened his shoulders. He even sensed he was a few inches taller. In this khaki armor, he felt strong and capable of taking on the mightiest of foes.
Rummaging through various objects, he discovered a survival pack consisting of a one-quart canteen that still contained liquor. He sniffed the liquor and grinned. Scotch: the good stuff. Setting the canteen aside, he delved into the rest of his personal possessions with faint recollection—a busted wrist compass that no longer worked, netting with large holes. He opened up a tube of something. He sniffed—lip balm. Opening another tin, he tested it with his fingers. Sunscreen, boy could I have used this.
As he continued to fumble through his past, he uncovered a pair of goggles, a strange looking mirror and some other stuff he was not sure what it was. He read the label on one item, “Shark repellent?” He scratched his chin and looked around his desert abode. “That’s strange. I know there’s no sharks in the desert. I’m not stupid.”
He retrieved a machete from the trunk and stared at his reflection in the tarnished metal. “No, I didn’t kill anyone.” Again, he reflected unsurely. The machete felt awkward in his grasp, and he knew for sure.
Earl packed it all in a leather satchel, including the machete. In a drawer next to his cot, he retrieved a weathered canvas bag with stacks of hundred dollar bills. Earl gave no thought to the money. He did not even know how he earned it, only that he had it for all this time. He spent it occasionally at a store down the road on can meats and booze, but as he was now about to venture back into society. The money would be most useful.
He looked down at his empty locker and spied dog tags. They haunted him most of all. He picked up and cupped them in his hand as he read the numbers, “39859052.” What did it mean? Believing the tags to have some significance, he strung them around his neck. Perhaps at least they will bring good luck.
Leaving was harder than expected, like there was a force keeping him there. The spirits of the old mine did not want him to go. He was their company for many years.
“I have to go,” Earl said. “Perhaps someone will come and make this place their home.” He looked around the room as if looking for someone. “It’s not for me.”
Earl strode through the shack, the place that gave him a home throughout the years and a retreat from the world. He stepped outside. The sun’s intensity had already begun to heat the earth, but Earl had grown accustomed to the heat as well as the blinding sunshine. It was a good day and about time, Earl set upon his next adventure.
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