Over the next few months, Satsky grew more disturbed and agitated as time went by. When Sam asked him what was wrong, he said, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
Sam paused before asking the question he’d already guessed the answer to. “What are we lookin’ for, Doc? The treasure?”
“The treasure, Burro?” Satsky laughed harshly. “The treasure waits to be found but you don’t believe it, now do you?” Satsky didn’t wait for an answer as he kept on rambling seemingly to no one. “It waits for me, Burro. The treasure waits for me and maybe for you. It knows I’m looking for it, it wants to be found, but it also wants its fun. It plays hide and seek with me.”
Sam stared at him.
“You think I’m crazy,” said Satsky. “You’re not the only one.” He looked at his boots. “Maybe I am.” He looked up again at Sam, his eyes gleaming. “But I know what I have seen.”
Piecing together Satsky’s mumblings, Sam learned that when his six months were up, he wouldn’t be replaced. He was Satsky’s last Burro. After that, Satsky would have to carry his buckets of rocks alone to continue his crazy search for . . . whatever. When he asked why, Satsky wouldn’t tell him.
That night, as Sam sat outside his tent, Satsky began to cry, then sob. When Sam unzipped the tent and entered, the old man was on his knees, his back to Sam. He didn’t turn around. Sam stared at him in wonder. Everyone he’d ever known who could rightly be called a genius had had the emotional skills of an abused dog, and Satsky was no exception—then again, in five months Sam had seen no evidence of genius. All he knew was hearsay from older professors in the department who’d known Satsky before he “found the treasure and lost his rocks.” No one who told the story knew what the treasure was supposed to be, or where it had come from, or who had made it. Most doubted there was a treasure at all. Some thought there might be, but that Satsky had never found it. And now the old man was breaking down in front of Sam. Jesus.
“Is everything alright, Doc?” asked Sam.
The old man didn’t respond. He shook with tremors that seemed to ripple up and down his body. Sam worried he might be having a breakdown. Perhaps worse. They were in the middle of nowhere. How would he get the old guy help if something did happen? If he stroked out?
There was a sudden change in Satsky as if a switch had been flipped. Tears and sobs were replaced by a maniacal grin overtaking his face. He wiped his eyes with the back of his long john’s sleeve and got off his knees. He walked the few feet to the far side of the tent to the tall stacked piles of books and manuscripts teetering on the brink of falling over. His hand reached high atop the tallest stack and carefully grasped the worn handles of a brown leather satchel which he gingerly placed in front of Sam on the small metal table next to the lamp.
Satsky pulled from his satchel a black box and motioned Sam forward to sit. “Come into the light. Let me show you something no one has seen. Well, no one but myself, Burro.” He snorted.
Satsky dug through his box, muttering to himself in what sounded like a language Sam had never heard.
“Here. Look here, Burro. What do you see?” In his hand was a bone, brown and twisted. It looked like part of a human femur.
“What is it?”
Satsky giggled and gingerly handed it to Sam. “Look at it, Burro. Tell me what you see.”
Sam turned the bone in his hand, carefully examining it. The top of the bone, the ball that would have met the hip socket, had been neatly cut away. In its place was affixed a replacement hip joint ball of some perfectly machined black material. Whoever this femur had belonged to had had his or her hip joint replaced. Sam scratched at the material with his nail. Steel-hard. He had no idea what it was.
“It looks like half of an artificial hip,” said Sam. “So what?”
“So what?” Satsky threw up his hands and looked up at the tent’s ceiling. “May the ancient ones have mercy on me.”
“What ancient ones?”
For the first time in five months, Satsky looked as if he were actually trying to be patient. “The ancient ones. The ones who grafted that piece of machined material onto that thighbone. What if I were to tell you that 100,000 years ago, humans not entirely unlike us built a civilization that rivals our own?”
“I’d say,” said Sam, “that you’re nuts.”
Satsky giggled. “Better nuts than crazy.” With one hand he grabbed Sam’s sleeve and pulled him close. With the other he clasped Sam’s hand that held the bone and shoved it in his face, too close for Sam to focus on it. “This is 100,000 years old, Burro.” He shook the bone in Sam’s hand. “This island has been covered in ice for 100,000 years. I came here because this is the first time since the last ice age that we can find untouched evidence of the ancient ones. I found it. There’s more.”
“What are you talking about?”
Satsky glared at him. “Come with me tonight, Burro. I’ll show you the treasure.”
“It’s midnight, Doc.”
“No matter. I’m not tired.”