‘Squandered on the Young’ By T.L. Messegee

Todd Messegee

Todd Messegee is a professor at Northern Virginia Community College.

No one would be so mad as to cut off their own thumb, not even him, not even Marco. Alone on that island that his grandfather had bought nearly a century ago, Marco did as he pleased. The rest of the family had died or moved away. As the last man standing, Marco was happily collecting dust among his dozens of buildings jam-packed with junk, antiques and cast offs, just like him. His only human contact was the young man, Davy, who would come across the bay in his little powerboat bringing groceries. It was from Davy – and bits of evidence found after the fact – that we were able to piece together this account.

Marco hardly spoke a word to anyone when he’d come ashore, and wouldn’t even return a wave to those he knew in town. He was happiest alone on his island. Still, when Marco accidentally mangled his thumb with a monstrous drill press, his screams of pain were heard by no one but his cats. As we all know, cats couldn’t care less if you cut off your head, let alone your thumb.

So Marco stood there, looking down at the mangled bit of meat where his thumb had been and apparently he calculated how long it would take for him to get the boat ready, then motor across the bay and then make his way by taxi to the hospital. He must have figured that the loss of blood and expenditure of energy would have made the journey too perilous, so in his own way, he took care of it. Suffice to say, he stopped the bleeding, but the thumb was gone.

It was recorded in his diary that the next morning when he unwrapped the bloodied bandages his thumb had returned, grown back, but not as it was the day before, but as it was when he was young. The wrinkles were gone. The scar from a previous shop accident had disappeared and best of all, the arthritic pain in his knuckle was miraculously cured.

He marveled for days at the miracle that had taken place and recorded several of his thoughts, brief as they were. “How could this be? My thumb is alive in a way it hasn’t been for years.”

Who knows when the next thought came to him. Who knows what all of those years living alone on an island with cats and old buildings can do to one’s mind. Days went by where the only sound was the whistling from the ocean breeze. Marco only wanted to spend his final years with his collection and he collected a little bit of everything; tools, chairs, signs, tractors, books and guitars, so many guitars. But his precious instruments made him sad now, since the arthritis had made it impossible for him to play.

Some of his most highly prized possessions, of course, were those he found washed up on the beach of his beautiful private island. Perfectly positioned in the gulf stream, the beaches were in the direct path of the Atlantic weather and were continuously graced with the remains of sunken ships and storm-tossed artifacts. It was Davy, his young helper who had found Marco’s most prized item, a small cedar chest with copper edges and silver bindings. It looked like a treasure chest but was empty when Davy spotted it near the dock. Empty as it was, Marco filled that little chest with wishes and dreams. He often carried it with him from room to room as he moved through his day on his never-ending quest to repair, catalogue and organize the thousands of objects that filled his buildings and his life.

Maybe if he had had some friends to talk to the next step would not have been taken, but it must be reported that the next step was taken.

He decided on a toe. Like the others, it was twisted and ugly, with a yellowed nail and thick knuckles. But this toe hurt him more than the others. It shot spasms of pain through his foot and up his leg without warning. It was as if a constantly attacking enemy had attached itself to his left foot.

He used a mallet and a wood chisel. One swift blow, a dull pop and it was off. He regretted it immediately. A stubbed toe hurts all day. A chiseled-off toe? Well, one could only imagine.

He had difficulty bandaging that one. Since he was in his mid-seventies his lack of flexibility made it a challenge to bend down to his foot and tie off the wound. He made several tries at it then simply passed out. When he woke, the pain was gone.

The toe – of course – had returned. Once again, with the revival of the digit came a youthful perfection. Marco was pleased, but pleasure often leads to foolishness.

The next morning a call came from Davy’s mother. She spoke in a rush, saying only that Davy wasn’t well and wouldn’t be able to bring the groceries out to the island. Sensing her state of mind, Marco quickly thanked her for the call and hung up.

Within an hour, Marco had readied a boat.

Returning from his shopping, Marco retrieved the bottles of Vodka. It had taken an extra taxi ride to get the brand that he wanted, but it was worth it. He had plans for this bottle’s contents and he didn’t want to skimp, not with something this important.

He prepped the hatchet and made sure that it was extremely sharp. He had surgical equipment of a sort that would help him stop the bleeding and ensure his survival. He was ready. All he needed was the courage to do something that mad, and the courage was sitting in a bottle of vodka on the kitchen table.

He drank it all and started into the second. It must have done the trick as far as the courage was concerned. Once the deed was done, however, no amount of alcohol was enough. He wrote in his diary one single line, “What a hopelessly stupid thing I’ve done!”

The next morning he woke to the sound of a phone ringing. He couldn’t believe what he heard. It was Davy’s mother and she was in hysterics. Davy had an accident, she said, a bad one. But this morning when she went to see him in the hospital the hand that he had lost in the accident had been replaced, overnight, by Marco’s old, arthritic hand.

“How do you know it’s my hand?” He said on the phone.

“Because it has your wedding ring on it with the engraving from your wife!”

Marco glanced at his new, perfect young hand and realized that his wedding ring was indeed missing. In his drunken haste, he had forgotten to take it off. His wife, Melinda had been gone for nearly twenty years but he still wore the ring out of habit.

He then heard Davy’s mother screeching, demanding answers, demanding that he come to the hospital at once!

Marco hung up the phone. How could he explain such a thing? And how would he explain what he was considering next?

Marco knew that no one would listen to the rants of Davy’s frantic mother. He had no reason to be afraid. He was in control now.

He spent that day playing every guitar he owned.  Davy’s fingers performed beautifully as they danced up and down the strings. But now, Marco wanted more.

He wanted to run. He wanted to travel. He wanted to tour the great cities of Europe and most of all, he wanted to buy more stuff. He knew for certain that in order to do that, he needed young legs.

He must have realized that it was the old cedar chest that had brought the magic because he kept it close now, closer than ever before. Why it allowed him to trade his old worn out parts for Davy’s young limbs, he would never know.  It had been nearly a century before that a dying Voodoo woman had used her final breath to fill the wooden chest with a dangerous power. She was long dead and buried now, but her magic lived on. Marco didn’t need to know how it worked, he just knew that it did and that was enough to drive him to the place where he stood ready to cut off his twisted and bent old legs.

He had prepared a horrible device. He stayed up all night working on the thing, made from a sharpened sheet of metal in a gauge that was thick enough so as not to bend as it plummeted from the ready position, twelve feet above the shop floor. Weighted by steel anchor links that tipped the scales at fifteen pounds each, the blade fell at a speed that allowed it to make a clean slice through a three inch thick hardcover book and a hardwood dowel without even slowing down. By dawn the device was ready.

Marco was halfway into another bottle of vodka when he heard the motor. Dashing toward the dock as quickly as his old legs could take him, he saw Davy in his little boat, speeding toward the island. Marco knew in an instant that this time, Davy wasn’t bringing groceries, he was coming for his hand.

The old man ran. He didn’t want Davy to find the “leg cutter” as he now called it. He dashed from the shop and heard Davy’s voice call to him as he raced between two old buildings. Marco had to find a place to hide and the best place was in the barn. He must have been terribly out of breath as he dodged the dilapidated tractors on his way into the century old building. He hurried past a wall adorned with farming implements and there he found a weapon.

The scythe was sharp enough to cut through a limb if he swung it right, but he had to find high ground. Scanning the barn he was shocked to hear Davy call to him from just outside. Marco charged up the stairs. As he neared the top, however, an old plank snapped and his leg crashed through the step.  The scythe slipped from his grasp, its handle shattered as it slammed against the hardwood planks of the barn floor. The commotion alerted Davy. Marco glanced back to see Davy rush into the barn. He then instantly spotted Marco stuck in the broken stair. Davy hollered up at him, “There you are you old thief!”

Marco pulled his old leg from the broken stair and forced himself forward, crawling up the final steps into the hay loft.

The final events were reported by Davy from his hospital bed.

By the time Davy made it to the top of the stairs he saw Marco slip out of the third story window and disappear out of sight. Davy rushed to the window only to see Marco descending a rope ladder, using his young hand to assure his escape. Davy watched as Marco gently dropped to the ground and ran, but Davy kept up the pursuit.  He followed out the window as well but Marco’s old hand could just barely grip the ladder and Davy fought the pain of the arthritis as he worked his way down to the ground. By the time he finally looked to see where Marco had gone, the old man was running off into the distance.

Davy couldn’t believe where old Marco was going. It was the cliff side of the island. As Davy hurried after him, he saw Marco quickly slip over the edge.  Davy ran hard. He knew that Marco kept a small sailboat tied up far below, on a rocky shore at the base of the cliff. Why Marco kept the boat there, Davy had never known, until now. It was the perfect place to hide a boat if you ever needed to make a quick escape. He charged to the spot where he saw Marco descend. Davy’s lungs were burning and his young heart hammering in his chest by the time he reached the edge of the cliff. As he looked over, he saw Marco working his way down a long series of ropes and latters on his way to the boat, three hundred feet below. Davy knew that he could never make it down in time to stop Marco, not with Marco’s left hand slowing his pace.

That’s when Davy realized that he was still holding the axe. He knelt down, grabbed at the earth with Marco’s old hand, and raised the axe over his head. He then prayed that the magic worked both ways.

It was a few hours later that Davy came to us in the hospital. He had his severed left hand in a cooler. We were able to reattach it to the clean cut that he had made with the axe. He will regain some use of his hand,  but it will take a long time before he will be “normal” again.

As for Marco, Davy didn’t think that he had survived the fall. He took his time going down the side of the cliff, going down to retrieve his hand.  He found it, unharmed, laying in a patch of sand amongst the sea-slapped boulders.

After he had gathered up what was his,  he saw a powerful wave take the rest of Marco’s body out into the sea.

When the police went to the island to investigate, they found Marco’s diary, the “leg cutter,” but little else to corroborate Davy’s story. Even the small cedar treasure chest has never been found.

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