Todd Halford died a rich man, according to sentimentalists. He had a kind wife and two decent children when he departed for the great beyond. According to others, he died poor. Todd rarely owned more than two nickels to rub together, and what rubbing he could afford he did in the secrecy of his pocket, since anyone who witnessed him with any kind of currency insisted he pay his debts. Todd owed money to more people than most towns have as citizens. Yet, he managed to scrape by. Todd was a whale of the debt ocean, able to come up for air rarely before diving into the blackest depths for extended periods. If his family suffered from his fiduciary fiascos, they never, in testament to their character, complained. In fact, it is unlikely anyone in the history of expenses has ever been as unflappable in the face of red ink; Todd Halford didn’t give one squirt of piss for money.
Naturally, people inquired as to how he remained so unflinching so deep in the hole. He didn’t appear to drink or take any copious amounts of drugs. No one knew if he took antipsychotic medications, though the likelihood seemed to increase whenever he explained his calm. For all intents and purposes Todd Halford was a relatively sober man who got along without concern for money. He confessed to the need not the desire for it, and his wife often prayed people would settle for that much. However, folks love to hear how they might escape their own wants. Hoping to help them, Todd, to his wife’s dismay, would tell his tale.
(Let the record show that while Mrs. Halford may have routinely asked her husband to stop telling his story, due to the embarrassment she felt every time he told it, that does not mean she complained about money.)
To any who asked and all who listened, Todd would say, “I tried to strike it rich when I was younger. I didn’t plan, I expected to make my fortune before I turned 25, which would give me plenty of time to enjoy life, free from monetary concerns. So I went looking for the fastest route to fortune. For some reason -- don’t ask me why -- I thought the ocean would be a good place to start.
“I had designs on things like salvage, rare mineral deposits, treasure, and oil… mostly treasure. I cashed in what I had and bought a rusted hulk, looked more likely to sink than float, and started combing the Caribbean. Not a bad place to hunt for fortune. If I couldn’t find lost gold then maybe I’d wrangle tropical fish to sell; and if I still came up bust, I figured I could turn my adventures into a novel of some sort. I was always scheming back then, figuring any which way to turn what I did into a profit. Now I look back and can’t help smiling: fools are good for a laugh, even if they’re you.
“So about six months go by. I found a lot of wreckage, but nothing that’d sell. Nobody wants some old fishing yacht, or the bones on it. The only fish I ever got close to either I ate or they tried to eat me. One got close, but that’s another story. In any event, things were shaping up like I’d just been on a long vacation. Nothing wrong with that, I don’t care what you say. Six months drifting on cobalt blue, summer breezes all the time, and when I put in at some port or another, drinking the nights away.
“But I worried too much about what I wasn’t doing rather than what I was, if you catch my meaning.
“One evening I’m lounging on deck, off the coast of Jamaica near Kingston, when I hear this voice. It’s a whiskey ravaged growl mumbling away this song. I can’t tell what the person’s trying to say, though the melody sounds familiar. There’s still enough light I can see this fellow in ratty jeans, wearing no shirt, standing ankle deep in the water. He’s rolling a smoke and staring out at the water. He sees me and waves. I don’t figure any reason to be impolite, so I wave back, which he takes as an invitation, and I can’t help thinking, “Ah fuck.” But he turns out to be a cool guy. Name of Ramses. We get to talking, and he wants to know what I’m doing there abouts, aye n aye. I tell him. He shakes his head, a strange little grin spreading. Says if I want riches I should head east for two days, drop an anchor at the start of the third, and take a look underwater. Says that’s where all the wrecks no one wants to find are.
“Now, by then I’d half decided my fortune wasn’t going to be made on the waves. As such, I was planning to head to Puerto Rico, and from there figure my next move. So heading two days east was sort of in my future regardless.
“I won’t lie. Notions of Fate crept into my head. I was heading east anyhow, and along comes this fellow tells me to head that way -- your mind can be a terrible influence. I left Jamaica as soon as I woke.
“Two days. Straight out. On the third day, I dropped anchor. Even though I’d wanted Ramses to be right, I was still surprised when my gear started going off. I strapped on an oxygen tank and didn’t think twice, went right over the side. After all, it was the only way to really know what was down there.
“I don’t know how to tell you what I found down there. The ocean doesn’t take care of what it claims. Wherever it can, the water picks a thing apart. Sometimes it leaves enough the carcass is obvious. Other times you can only guess what something’s supposed to be. Down there was a tangle of trawlers, tramp steamers, vacation boats, fishing ships, small freighters, and just a mess of rusted metal. I swam past cannons, like a pirate ship might have, and knew this had been a graveyard for a long time. All kinds went down there; and I never once considered why.
“Snaking my way through this industrial corral, I came across an iron box. It didn’t look like a chest out of some film. It looked like any square box. There was no lock on it, so I tried opening the lid. Top flipped up easy enough, and I almost shit myself. Inside was a collection of bones. Looked like hand bones. About then I started thinking, ‘Fuck this,’ when… I can only say I heard a whisper. Doesn’t matter how much you think something’s unreal, you still look around for it. So there I was, on the bottom of the ocean, floating around looking for someone calling out to me. I even began swimming towards where I thought it was coming from. It kept repeating over and over, ‘Here. Here. Closer, closer. Come down to me.’ Can’t say how long I was searching for the source of it, when -- thank Christ for habit -- I checked my oxygen gauge. Seeing it dipping into the red shocked me awake. I aimed straight for the top, kicking hard… only the voice gets louder the more I swim away. ‘HERE. HERE! CLOSER, CLOSER. COME DOWN TO ME!’
“I stopped for a second, turned to look back. To this day I don’t know why, though I felt this vague like hook pulling me towards the bottom. But when I turned back, I saw the piled mess of boats stirring, like something underneath them was moving, shifting to come out from beneath.
“Terror, fortunately, is a great motivator. In about a blink, I was back to the surface, on my ship, and charging off as fast as the motor would take me.
“Over the next couple of days I got to thinking. I cycled through all the reasonable and less likely explanations, from bubbles in the brain to deep sea demons. But in the end, all I could think about was one thing: almost dying for something puts its value in perspective. Sure, I wanted to be rich, but I didn’t want to die for it; and if I didn’t want to die for it, did it really matter all that much? I figured no. And to this day I don’t give a fuck about a dollar.”