The Christmas Bell (page 3)
The Christmas Bell
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
First try
We arrived in Emmaste and the old man directed me to a spot near an old farm where he said we would find our sought-after treasure. So, there our search began. Back and forth, back and forth, I went with the metal detector. The old man followed close behind and with every electronic beep, he jumped ahead with his shovel and started to dig. But alas, our search was in vain. When it started to get dark, I decided to give up.
     “Look,” I said, trying to be diplomatic, “Maybe you’ve got the place wrong or somebody else dug it up and sold it. At any rate, its not here and I want to go home.”
     The old man had a strange look of puzzlement and resignation on his face. “I don’t understand it,” he said at last, “its got to be here somewhere.”
     We stood in silence for a while, and then the old man waved his hand toward the car. We drove back to my apartment in silence. When he dropped me off, he said goodbye and shook my hand but his mind was clearly elsewhere.
     I wanted to just write him off as a crazy old man, but as I lay in bed that night my mind kept picturing the old man going back to Sweden and telling his sick, unjustly accused friend that the search had been fruitless. I kept seeing the old man’s piercing blue eyes as he gripped my wrist and said, “You have to help me.”
     I finally dropped of to sleep and as the next few weeks passed, I forgot about the old man and our strange encounter. Maybe he was crazy, maybe the “clock” really had been sold, or maybe it was just plain lost. At any rate, I was glad to be through with the affair, and the rest of the summer and fall passed uneventfully. With the coming of bad weather, the metal detector sat undisturbed next to the machine guns in the armory. All was well with the world.

Another visit
Then came December. I was sitting in the info center, watching the rain and sleet fall outside. Not particularly Christmas-like weather, but the radio kept assuring us there would ba a white Christmas. The tourists had long since left so I was a little surprised to hear the outside door open and someone stamping their feet on the mat. A head poked around the corner and a hand pulled off a wool cap to reveal the unmistakable bushy eyebrows and shocks of white hair. The old man was back and with a vengeance. He fairly bounded into the room and squinted at me with the trademark blue eyes.
     “Still here, eh?” he said, “I’ve got new information. The other living member of the group visited Sweden and he told me we were looking in the wrong place.”
     I scratched the back of my head as a sinking feeling came over me. This guy wanted to go back into the forest in the cold rain and sleet. Maybe I could politely beg off without hurting his feelings.
     “Could you come back?” I asked hopefully, “The weather’s kind of bad and I don’t think the ‘clock’ is going anywhere. Besides, the local National Guard folks have been kind of uppity about me using the metal detector.” But the old man would have none of it.
     “You HAVE to help,” he said with those blue eyes boring into me, “a man’s on his deathbed with his honor at stake.”
     What could I say to that?
     With a sigh of resignation, I took my coat, which the old man had already retrieved from the coat rack, and headed out the door into the cold, December rain. As I locked the door to the info center I thought to myself — what a sucker and I was probably going to catch pneumonia over some stupid clock.
     We rode in silence as the windshield wipers beat out a steady rhythm. Though it was only about one o’clock, the light was already starting to go and I figured that, at the most, I would have to run around in the forest for maybe two or three hours and would then be back in my warm apartment, practicing Christmas songs on my guitar. Maybe then the old man would give up and go back to Sweden. Everyone would write the whole thing off to the confusion of war and live happily ever after. The old man interrupted my thoughts.

New information
“First we get the metal detector out of the armory and then we go to another old farmstead about one kilometer south of where we first were. According to the new information that’s where it should be. The group member from Canada was absolutely sure.”
     Sure, I thought to myself as I hunched down in the seat for the ride, after fifty years this guy remembers just where to go, without even coming here.
     When we finally pulled onto a gravel road and stopped, the rain had let up a bit. I could see a grove of trees just 20 feet away, an old, abandoned car wash, and what looked to be a grain-drying facility. Hardly in the middle of the forest and it seemed pretty unlikely that anyone would try and hide something valuable in this particular spot. Apparently, my partner didn't share my skepticism. The old man jumped out of the car, grabbed a shovel from the trunk and motioned for me to follow him. I stuck my head out of the car door and squinted up at the sky, hoping to see a break in the clouds. Nothing doing — gray and rain. I sighed and grudgingly got out of the car, shouldered the metal detector and followed the old man towards the car wash.
     With the old man accompanying me, and no sound but that of the tone of the detector and the rain dripping off the leaves, I walked back and forth through the brush. I tried to walk in an organized search pattern, sweeping the detector around trees and through the ditch by the roadside, but the old man kept saying, “Try over here. Try over there.”
     After two hours of this I had reached the limits of my patience.
     This is ridiculous, I thought. as the light slowly faded and the wetness seeped through my clothes. The old man watched me silently, and I think he read my thoughts. He pointed at a small cluster of trees barely 15 feet from where the car wash had been built.
     “Please, just try that one last place,” he said.
     I crawled out of the ditch and mumbled out loud, “If this is really some sort of church icon and if God wants us to find it, we will. It is in His hands, not mine. I’m going to go home and forget about the whole thing.”
     Not thirty seconds later the metal detector gave a loud chirp. There was something really large buried between the small trees.
     The old man saw me stop and he came running over.
     “What is it?” he asked.

     “I don’t know but it’s big and pretty shallow and . . . damn, it’s some kind of brass or other light metal.”



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