Heart of Gold

In the time that I spent looking for David Adcock, it never occurred to me that he was not human, but a spirit, a rumor. Maybe he had been human at one point, but time had eroded his name into nothing but a whisper on the wind. How did I even find myself in this place? Two years ago, a palm reader looks deep into my eyes and tells me the secret to living forever lies inside a man called David Adcock, and I just take her word for it? I must be completely crazy.

I didn’t let those words consume me at first, but then the accident happened. All it took was one boneheaded decision. I stepped out onto that street, not even bothering to check for cars, and the next thing I knew, there was a truck barreling straight for me, the driver leaning hard on his horn. I could barely make out the sound of the horn through my headphones. That was the last thing I remembered before waking up floating in the middle of nothing. I was hanging inside of some endless empty space. A cold wind blew through my body and shook me to the core. Darkness stretched out into eternity. I couldn’t breathe, move, or speak. I just hung there like a marionette abandoned by its owner. For a moment I thought it was all over, until a fluorescent light pierced through the nothing and washed over my clammy face. My eyes flickered open and I was lying in a hospital bed. My girlfriend, Sandra, was sitting next to me. She’d nodded off while gripping my hand tightly.

It’s a miracle I wasn’t killed, even if my leg was broken. The leg healed eventually, but I couldn’t go anywhere without the cane after that. The entire two weeks I spent staring at the hospital ceiling, those words from the palm reader floated back into my mind like low hanging clouds.

The secret to living forever lies in a man called David Adcock.

I didn’t want to die anymore. I’d gotten a taste of it. There was nothing there, and I could not stomach that. You can be as noble as you’d like, but the thought of death in any circumstance scares me more than anything else. I never wanted to go back to that pitch black darkness, hanging in that empty, hollow void, completely alone, no matter the cost.

The search for David Adcock started as a mild curiosity. I couldn’t afford to drop everything and hunt down this hypothetical figure. I still had too many bills to pay and I had no intention of leaving Sandra high and dry. It was a daydream, a fantasy, to one day run into this mysterious person and learn his secrets and let the fear of death wash away from me. Then one particularly boring day at work, I searched for his name online. The results were more than underwhelming. Each David Adcock was more boring than the next, a dullard living in peaceful obscurity. I went back to work, but the fantasy of finding the exact David Adcock that the palm reader had mentioned never left the back of my mind.

I noticed the daydreams becoming much more prolonged. I’d be staring into space for hours, never realizing it until my supervisor passed by my desk and clapped his hands in front of my face, reminding me all that important data wasn’t going to collect itself. I kept putting David Adcock’s name into different search engines. I actually started a file on my computer, just to compile all the information about all these nameless strangers.

That weekend, I went back to the palm reader. She had a little house on the corner of 10th and Miller Street, with a faded wooden sign reading “Psychic Readings” on her lawn. Underneath the poorly scrawled words hung the image of a hand with an eye in the middle of it. No matter where you stood on that street corner, it always looked like that eye was watching you. We lived a couple of blocks away and walked by it constantly, always joking about going inside. Finally, one day, Sandra had convinced me to actually do it. Now I’d returned, only to find out that another sign had been added to the front lawn, a sign that read “FORECLOSED” in big blocky red letters. The front door was open and the crisp October breeze was blowing the screen door back and forth as it playfully banged against its frame.

I glanced around the neighborhood. Other than a little child riding a scooter a few feet down the street, the area seemed unnaturally quiet. I strolled down the cement walkway and up the rickety wooden porch, and leaned my head into the house. The atmosphere was still, frozen in time. The last rays of evening sun gave the dusty front living room a golden hue while dirt particles danced through the air.

What compelled me to step into the home like it was my own, I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but as I moved my way through the living room, my eyes were drawn to a large box in the corner of the room, overflowing with old photographs. I knelt down and began to go through them. All the pictures seemed to be of a large family living on a quaint farm ranch. The further I dug, the more generations I uncovered. A few generations in, I found a portrait of a man that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. He was tall and burly with harsh eyes staring right into the lens. A pointy gray goatee with peppered specks of white wrapped itself around his pursed mouth. On the edges of the portrait, someone had lovingly written the name “David” in cursive. I scanned the room to see if I was still alone. No one was there, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. I pocketed the picture and raced out of the house and down the street.

I had a frame of reference now. The search became a minor obsession, growing steadily, day by day. I was going back through all the other Davids and making sure the photo didn’t mirror their own images. It got to a point when I was coming into work late, and never working on anything but my research. It didn’t take long before I was discovered and promptly fired. Sandra didn’t understand, but I never really expected her to. I hardly understood what I was doing myself. I told her I’d start looking for another job right away, but most of my days ended up being spent in the library, doing more research on some arbitrary figure I wasn’t even sure existed.

My research never went anywhere and my savings were dwindling into nothing. Sandra offered to help out, although she was growing suspicious about whether or not a job hunt was actually taking place.

I’d been through every single name. Nothing helped. At this point I really should have reconsidered whether any of this mattered. I should have gone back to my everyday life. I should have appreciated what I had with Sandra. I didn’t. I couldn’t. My next thought was to find out more about the palm reader. That was a little easier. After a little digging at the library, I found out her name was Ruth Balan. I was able to track down the real estate agent in charge of her home. He informed me she’d left the state to return to her family home—all the way to the deserts of Albuquerque. The rest of that day was spent trying to figure out how to explain to Sandra that I needed to leave town to hunt down a woman who’d given me cryptic advice a little under a year ago. Sandra made the process much simpler for me that night by letting me know the relationship was over. She couldn’t do this anymore. I didn’t blame her. I didn’t try to fight this conclusion.

Considering the fact that I didn’t have a penny to my name anymore, the trip to Albuquerque was made through hitchhiking with long bouts of walking along highways in between. Needless to say, starting from Seattle, this took a fair amount of time, but I did it. I tracked her down, finding a little home that was almost identical to the house at the corner of my old neighborhood. When I’d approached her home, I was tired, sore, hungry, and just a little crazy looking, with my unwashed clothes and weathered pack thrown over my shoulder. I stepped onto the porch and saw the front door was swinging open. I walked inside to see her sitting at a small round table in the middle of a comfortable living room. That fragile skeleton of a woman looked up at me with her beady dark eyes and immediately recognized me. Her wrinkled lips spread to reveal a pleasant smile beneath all the cracks.

“You’ve been thinking about David,” she said after looking me up and down. She knew exactly who I was, even after all this time.

Without warning, my eyes watered and my lips trembled. “I just don’t want to die anymore,” I sputtered.

My knees were buckling, and I needed to sit down. She pulled out a chair, and I collapsed into it. She kept studying me with her eyes. They were warm and friendly, but a serious glint illuminated them.

“Are you sure? There’s a lot more baggage to living forever than most people take into consideration.”

My response was swift. “I’ve been on the other side. I’ve seen that void, and I’m never going back.”

We stared into each other’s eyes. She knew I meant what I said.

“You can find David out in the western mountains of North Carolina. I wish I could tell you more than that, but that’s the last bit of information he ever gave me.”

I stayed with her a few months. In exchange for room and board I helped her with chores and tasks around the home. She’d tell me stories when she wasn’t seeing to clients. Most of them were about David.

He was a dear friend of her family. He’d stumbled onto their ranch as an orphan boy and had grown up with Ruth and her siblings. When he was seventeen, he died in an accident, falling from the rafters of their barn, and had been pulled back into life, just like me. He’d once been an amiable, free spirited boy, but after coming back his temperament was dark, cloudy. He’d disappeared one day, and no one saw him again for years. He returned home with a strange light in his eyes and a skip in his step. He claimed he’d found what he was looking for. But he only stayed in town for a day or two. Early one morning he’d just disappeared. Ruth had woken up that morning to find him standing outside her bedroom window. He told her where he was going, to the mountains of North Carolina. He told her he still had a promise to keep. He’d only returned to say goodbye. Ruth watched him disappear into the foggy dawn with tears brimming in her eyes. It was the last time she saw him.

The night before I left, we were sitting on her porch and listening to the world fall asleep. I turned to her and asked “Why did you tell me about David?” She didn’t answer right away, staring off into the Arizona plains.

“I hadn’t thought of his name in ages, but that evening you came to my door, it bubbled back into my subconscious, and I knew you had to be told.” That was all she said. She fell back into silence. A few minutes later, she broke the silence and whispered, “When you find him, tell him I think of him often.” Her voice faltered and broke, and I saw a small tear slip through the lines in her skin. I promised her I would, and then helped her into her bed. I sat on the porch for a little while longer and then collected what little I still owned and started traveling again.

I didn’t care to talk to anyone on the second leg of my trip. It took me twenty days to walk all the way to North Carolina, often wondering if I’d even make it at all, but I did. I ended up in a little town in the middle of nowhere called Sylva. Against my stubborn defiance, Ruth had snuck a portion of her own savings into my knapsack. It was enough to live out of a run-down roadside hotel called the Gem Motel for a while. I did the best I could to hunt down anyone who knew who David Adcock was.

One day, I tracked down someone who claimed to be his daughter. She met me at the library. She looked even older than Ruth Balan was. In a secluded, empty corner of the building, she told me she wasn’t sure what I needed to know. I told her all I really needed to know was where he was. She stared at me for a long time, then finally responded.

“Well, then I really don’t know what to tell you. He left home when I was in high school. The last I ever saw of him he was hiking up the mountains behind the family house. He never came back down. We searched all over those mountains and found nothing. There’s no way he’s still alive.”

And there it was. The reality of the situation that I never even thought to consider. I was chasing a ghost, a dream, a legend. I’d wasted years of my life on this chase now. Now I was alone, with no money, no possessions, and no one to believe me, stranded in a place where I had only cemented my persona as a crazy hermit chasing a pipe dream. I’d come to the end of the line. But even so, it was impossible to believe there was nothing left of David Adcock. I couldn’t believe it. I laughed in the face of logic, only because I couldn’t imagine life outside of my obsession. I left all my belongings in the empty hotel room and headed into the wild of the mountains.

I searched high and low in those forests. Stepping into the forest, I sensed I had entered a supernatural realm. I could smell it in the air and feel it in my bones. I lost track of time. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. I grew haggard and mad. Yet I never died.

Then I found it.

Deep in the middle of that claustrophobic, unnamed forest, I came across a large house. It must have been elegant at one point, but it had deteriorated over time, although it still stood strong. The paint had cracked away, leaving an ugly dark hue. The windows were smashed in. Plants and vines entangled themselves all over the structure. The wood of the front steps felt soft and moldy under my feet.

I stepped inside the building and looked around. It felt like entering a tomb. Someone had lived here long ago, but whatever human remains had once been here were long gone. All that was left were faded pieces of furniture covered in dust and cobwebs. There was only one photograph. It was a portrait of what looked like a very young Ruth.

I climbed the stairs, all the while holding my breath and praying they wouldn’t collapse underneath me. Each intensifying creak made me seriously doubt those prayers were doing any good. Somehow I made it to the top. There was a long empty hallway before me. At the end of it was a doorway with an old rusted door hanging off its hinges. I approached the door with caution. Standing right outside the door, I heard the faintest sound of difficult wheezy breathing. Then I heard the croaking voice.

“Come inside already.”

It made chills run up and down my spine, yet I still did what it said and pushed the door open, walking inside.

Before me sat the same tall man from the photograph I had found two years ago, sitting on a makeshift moldy wooden throne. He’d grown much older, and his body had warped into something to behold. His limbs seemed to have stretched and grown bonier over time. His tired arms hung from the chair like sick tree branches, and his fingers dangled and danced like crisp autumn leaves in the light breeze blowing through the far window. His round skull hung precariously from a neck that looked to be in danger of snapping in half. The small trimmed beard from the photograph had turned long and unkempt, spooling up in a large pile on the floor behind his long scrawny feet. His head, though, was still perfectly bald. The skin around his eyelids had grown puffy and had concealed his eyes behind little folds of skin. The head creaked upward and he looked me over with those folds. I started to speak, but he interrupted. Each rasping word forced from his throat sounded like it would be the death of this fragile figure that was once a human.

“No need to explain. I know why you’re here. And I won’t try to change your mind, because I know that’s impossible. But before we begin, is there anything you want to say?”

I couldn’t think of anything. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the immortality he guarded. I was about to shake my head when I stopped myself and blurted out.

“Ruth Balan misses you dearly.”

Even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I saw that what I’d said had affected David Adcock deeply. At first his thin lips frowned, then curled into a smile. With that, he stuck out his bony chest toward me and a loud snapping sound could be heard. I watched in awe as a tear in his skin opened up between his two lungs and grew wide to reveal a cavernous dark space. He didn’t say anything, but I heard a soft voice inside my head instruct me in what to do next. I reached out my hand and inserted it into the open cavity. I felt around the dark, wet space for a minute and found something warm, slimy, and pulsating. I gave a little tug and removed from his chest a shining, golden, still beating heart. I watched the heart pulse in my hand. The golden organ glistened in the fading sunlight and a strange, glittering juice seeped from its pores, soaking my arm. It dripped from my elbow into a little golden puddle on the floor. I looked up at Adcock one last time. He smiled and nodded his head, coaxing me on. I brought the heart to my lips, opened wide, and took a large bite out of it, feeling the juices drip out of my mouth and down my chin.

Nothing happened. I felt the mouthful of heart slide down my throat and into my stomach, but there was no revelation. David Adcock said nothing. He just kept staring at me with those invisible eyes. My vision started to fray at the corners and my legs grew weak as I fell to the floor. The last thought that passed through my head was, “I’ve been tricked,” and then I fell into darkness

But I did wake up. I wasn’t stuck in that void. Instead, I was sitting on that wooden throne I had found David on. I looked down at my arms and legs. My skin looked older, my fingers seemed longer. I tried to move my arms, but some invisible force held them back. I looked up and saw him standing at the end of the long hallway, silhouetted by the light shining through the window. It was David Adcock, but he was no longer the strange creature I had stumbled upon. It was the David Adcock from the photograph I had found so long ago. He gave me a grateful nod and disappeared down the stairs. I sat back in the throne and closed my eyes.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here, and while eternal life may not have turned out to be exactly what I expected, I’m content with what I’ve received. This life is not the black void I experienced long ago. The forest is alive with many animals and creatures that find their way into the strange house to visit me. And somewhere deep inside my heart, I know this is not the end. I have become the legend that David was once to me. I am a ghost, awaiting a stranger to relieve me of my post. I drift off into sleep every now and then where I experience the most vivid dreams. They are the most wonderful part of this new life. Most of them are about David and Ruth, sitting together on her porch, watching the sunset. I stand between the two of them and watch their faces glow while they soak up the rays of the dying red sun. I sincerely hope this is more vision than dream. I want only the best for those two, the ones who granted me the only wish I ever had.

Quentin Norris attended the North Carolina School of the Arts where he studied filmmaking and screenwriting, and received a Bachelor’s Degree in film direction. He writes short stories, comics, and screenplays, while also developing and directing film projects with his brother. His stories have been published in DOOM Magazine, Scrutiny Journal, One for One Thousand, and Devolution Z Magazine. He currently shares an apartment with his brother, a cat, and a dog in Austin, Texas. His other writing work can be found at www.qnorris.com


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Photo by Atlas Green