This story is by Steve Rush and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Thomas hadn’t expected to be alive when the town’s time capsule was opened. Everyone in the town of thirteen-hundred souls, and many others from throughout the countryside, jostled for the best position to watch the event in Bastion, Georgia’s City Park. Anticipation, curiosity, and excitement purred among the crowd while Thomas Reever, at age ninety-six, agonized over the secret he stuffed inside an envelope and dropped in the celebrated pod one month after his twenty-first birthday.
He watched the assembly from the security of a red oak older than him by thirty years. The massive tree’s rough bark jabbed through his jacket and shirt. It reminded him of the oak he should have become after his wife’s murder but failed for fear no one would believe his story. Not any longer. Wisdom ruled his mind. Not fear. He stepped away from fear the day the killer opted to flaunt success and bathe in luxury.
A few minutes passed before Thomas hobbled on arthritic knees to a picnic table tucked amidst a scattering of red maple trees. A few attendees shot glimpses at him. Second looks swiveled heads. No citizen of Bastian had ever seen Thomas Reever in a two-thousand-dollar suit, black Prada sneakers, and a white fedora. He dared not make eye contact with anyone.
Although considered neither outcast nor societal elite, not one person offered a nice-to-see-you-made-it nod. No more ignores or chats cut-short once the mayor authorized the canister opened and the designee revealed his envelope’s contents. Everyone would look for him amongst the crowd. Thomas imagined their wide eyes, open mouths, elbow nudges, and finger points upon learning the truth. And expose those who choose to hide it.
A breeze became the only salvation on the hot and humid morning in an out-of-the-way town known for nothing more than its plentiful pecan orchards and Midland Pecans, the company which harvested and packaged them for purchase. Thomas shook his head and chortled at the thought of a town identified by its nuts.
Nuts. He scanned the crowd and spotted several townspeople he and a few others considered dubious characters. Thomas had heard their chatter. That was expected in a small town where everyone acted as though they knew everything about everyone else’s personal lives and gossiped about them. They missed a few important facts. The facts Thomas had sealed in the capsule had somehow escaped the gossipers of long-ago generations.
The town council buried the pod in keeping with a tradition held for a hundred-fifty years. The celebrated openings kicked off each seventy-fifth summer. A few fortunate, or in this case unfortunate, folks in Bastian lived to witness the capsule sealed, and seventy-five years afterward, observe its contents revealed to the world.
Bastian’s six-member Time Capsule Committee rose from their seats on the pavilion for their honored guest. A white Cadillac circled and stopped at a right angle. The driver’s door opened and a man in a black suit slid out. He acknowledged no one on the pavilion nor in the crowd and opened the rear door. He extended a hand. Thomas watched his brother, Wilfred, sporting an off-white sport coat and royal blue necktie, wave off the man’s hand. Wilfred Reever leaned forward, straightened, waved to the crowd, and promenaded up to the pavilion.
Thomas pushed to his feet. Wilfred grabbed a support post at the pavilion’s steps. He paused and turned as if drawn by an invisible force. The man gave what Thomas took as a well-well-well-you-did-come wrist flip. The crowd cheered the business icon when he paused at a portable lectern and lifted his arms. “Another beautiful day. A momentous occasion for me and a great day for Bastian. Will our history be re-written by the capsule’s opening? Or will lack of surprise force commonplace idioms on us for another seventy-five years?” Wilfred bowed to the crowd before taking a seat next to the mayor.
Thomas rested his left hip against the picnic table and crossed his arms. He lost the woman he loved to the honored guest more years ago than he cared to remember. The loss haunted him every time he entered the master bedroom in his quaint home, and the looks he received from most townspeople who saw him every time he went out.
The mayor set the unopened capsule on a table for all to see and removed a crimson cloth The sight of the capsule magnetized the crowd to fixed gazes and perches on the edges of their seats. It prompted a smile from Thomas Reever. Eager attendees cheered and clapped.
The crowd quieted for the first item’s removal. The mayor reached in the capsule and withdrew a yellowed envelope. He handed the envelope to Wilfred who stood at the podium and waved the item overhead before he tucked it to his chest.
“I take great pride in being the person asked to disclose the contents of Bastian’s time capsule. As you well know, I have lived in Bastian longer than any other citizen. But this isn’t about me. I do this for Bastian and you, its fine inhabitants.”
Wilfred lifted a gold-plated letter opener designed for the occasion and inserted it beneath the flap on the envelope. His face beamed in reflected sunlight. He leaned closer to the microphone and tugged the opener through the paper. The microphone magnified the rip.
The paper crinkled when Wilfred pulled out a page from a diary marred on the reverse side by a bloody fingerprint and a handwritten note addressed to Bastian Police.
Wilfred Reever slumped forward. His hands trembled. His face rotated left and right until his gaze stalled on Thomas.
The mayor called two men forward to assist Wilfred. He looked at the note, whirled, and stared at his guest of honor. When he turned back to the crowd, Thomas Reever stepped to the front. Hands fisted, he glared at the mayor.
“Read the note, Mayor. The residents of Bastian have a right to know.”
“How did this get in our capsule?”
“I put it there to protect it. The police investigated me for Charlotte’s death. They interrogated me for hours. They ransacked my home. When they found no proof, they returned her belongings to me. The page out of her diary was among them.” A buzz rose amidst the crowd. Thomas turned to face them and gestured toward Wilfred, who wilted on the pavilion.
“The police refused to investigate my elder brother. I guess his status in this town became too important to blemish. The information addressed in the note is this: ‘The fingerprint on the diary page belongs to the person responsible for the assault and murder of Charlotte Whelan Reever. I suggest you test the blood to confirm it came from Charlotte. Her killer will be the eldest Bastian citizen if he lived long enough to witness the reading of this letter.’ The eldest identified here is Bastian’s own Wilfred Reever.”
The police chief approached Thomas. “Mr. Reever.” She held up the envelope and documents. “Are you sure this is Charlotte’s blood?”
“Positive. An analysis will confirm it.”
She gave a terse nod to an officer on the pavilion. The officer handcuffed Wilfred Reever and led him to a police cruiser.
“We’re taking your brother to the station to compare his fingerprints to the one on this paper. If we get a match, we’ll hold him until we confirm DNA on the blood, even if it means we must obtain an order of exhumation.”