I feel so grateful for the generosity of Jamie and Eli Potter and AutoDesk. The following short story is my winning submission written for The Blockchain and Crypto Currency Scholarship for the 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference. I’m looking forward to attending the SFWC 2019 and the chance to thank my benefactors in person.
The writing prompt was – “Kate and Jacob stumble upon 50,000 Bitcoin while traveling to X country. They decide to use it to build Y, that would benefit writers and the world in way Z.”
This was a lot of fun to write and research, though a challenge, for sure. I hope you enjoy the story…
One Man’s Legacy
“Really, Jacob? More?” asked Kate. While tapping her foot, she waited a third time for him to finish at the drinking fountain. “At this rate, we’ll never make it out of JFK.”
“I’m so thirsty,” he said. “Planes do that to me every time. I think it’s all the recycled air.”
“We’re going to be late. What if he refuses to see us?”
Pulling out his phone, Jacob checked the Coinomi app. “We still haven’t received payment.”
Kate hugged the paper wrapped package she was carrying. “It will come through soon. This is all happening so quickly. He only messaged us last night.” Kate flashed a 100-watt smile at Jacob and he smiled back. Her joy was contagious. “My first book, can you believe it?”
“Baby, I believe you can do anything.”
They’d avoided checking their bags, so, aside from the frequent water breaks, it was a quick trip from the landing gate to the taxi pick up. “I wish Lyft took bitcoin,” teased Kate.
“There’s still hoping.” When their Yellow Cab pulled up, Jacob helped the driver load their carry-on bags into the trunk and Kate gave him the address.
“You sure you want to go here?” he said.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Just don’t seem like your sort of neighborhood.” Shrugging his shoulders, he put the cab into drive. Slowly, they inched into the flow of traffic leaving the airport behind.
Kate had never been to New York, the city or the state. She watched the boroughs slip by as the taxicab crossed the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Jacob kept pointing out landmarks and points of interest. “There’s Staten Island’s famous ferris wheel. Look, in the distance, you can see the Statue of Liberty.”
The taxicab smelled like old coffee and body odor. Rolling down the window, Kate took a deep breath, “That smell is just as funky.”
“It’s the smell of the ocean.” Jacob watched her with her curly brown hair flying about. “Seaweed mixed with salt and the scents of the city.”
“Maybe it’s something you get used to.” Rolling up the window, she looked at the package wrapped in rough brown paper that lay in her lap. It was thick and compact, about 12 by 16 inches. Placing her hand on the stiff paper, she imaged what rested safely nestled inside. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever completed.
The picture book had been a laborious process combining oil and acrylic paints that melted on the pages. The oppositional nature of the paints formed an eye-catching array of colors, textures and brush patterns. The real magic came from the words, though. While the paints burst off the page in bold colors and shapes, the letters built into sentences framing emotions, hopes, and memories which resonated soul deep.
The book was a retelling of the annual fall festival. Set in her hometown at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, it told the story of a young girl who loved where she lived, but dreamed of finding something more. While growing up, Kate had ached to see the world. She’d always assumed that the small town she came from would hold her back in her success, but, instead, it had made this moment possible.
When the cab pulled up outside an old townhome, she was a little surprised. The building looked dilapidated and worn down. “Do you think we messed up the address?” she asked Jacob.
“This is here,” the driver said, pointing to the house and then the address Jacob was showing him on his phone. “Want me to wait?”
Jacob looked at the house and then at the meter that was still ticking. “No, I think we’ll be fine.”
While shuffling their bags and the paper wrapped package, they cautiously climbed the hill of stairs leading up to the front door. The old wooden door’s grungy brass knocker echoed loudly in the crisp morning air. When an elderly gentleman opened the door his view panned from Jacob to Kate, and then a smile spread across his face.
Dressed in an old worn out housecoat, with patches on the elbows and gray hair shooting off in every direction, the man looked more like a mad scientist than a literary connoisseur or art collector. “Welcome! Come in,” he said, and stepped back to direct them into the house. Kate flashed a cautious glance at Jacob before he gave her a small nod and she walked inside.
Four steps into the room, she stopped and gasped. Slowly, she spun. Every single wall, table, nook, and cranny was covered in some form of book or art. It looked like an overzealous museum curator had unpacked all of their precious possessions in their grandmother’s attic. Curtains hung across every window, only allowing thin rays of damaging UV light to sneak by. Instead, the foyer and adjoining rooms were lit using incandescent and LED lights, carefully installed and directed, to supply proper illumination.
“Not all artisans can appreciate an array of art forms. I’m glad to see that you can recognize how special this is.”
“This is amazing. How did you do it?”
“Decades and decades…” he said, before reaching his hand out to her. “May I see it?”
“Sure,” she said, handing him the package she’d so lovingly carried. “It’s the one you wanted.”
Delicately he placed the parcel onto the foyer table. Like a Christmas gift, he slowly unwrapped the paper. One at a time, he folded back each corner until her book sat looking up at him. His fingers hovered over the cover, almost stroking the faces of the people looking back at him. From his pocket, he pulled out a white pair of cloth gloves that he pulled on before flipping to the first page. Image by image, word by word, page by page he turned the paper. Slowly absorbing each one. “You have given me something very special today.”
Uncertain how to reply, Kate remained silent. Jacob, though, took the lead. Stepping forward, he asked, “Should we be expecting payment soon?”
“Yes,” The old man paused. “I put in the payment request earlier today. It should have enough confirmations soon. It’s rather large so, I imagine, there will be some patience required.”
“Watch your account,” he said.
“May I look around?” asked Kate
“Most certainly! Let me show you the really good stuff.” Like a child heading into a candy store, the old man waved for her to follow him.
While Jacob stayed in the foyer, constantly refreshing the app, the old man walked Kate around pointing out the art around his home. There was a Faberge egg, an original pencil sketch by Picasso, one of Degas’ ballerinas, and a stunning lily by Georgia O’Keeffe. Mixed among the art was a first edition compilation of Shakespeare’s plays and a collection of poems by Robert Frost. There was an entire wall covered in hardback books that ranged from The Odyssey to Steven King.
“Purchasing all this must have taken everything you had.”
“I was blessed to be part of many loving artist communities. Quite a few of these I received as gifts directly from the artist or author.”
A holler from the front of the house caught her attention. Worried by the cry and concerned for their safety, Kate turned to look at the man with fear filled eyes and then ran back to the foyer to find Jacob.
He was standing there with his eyes wide and his mouth dropped open. “This is too much,” he said, pointing to his phone.
“What?” asked Kate.
“Where. Is. He?” Jacob punctuated each word as he began frantically looking for the old man.
“That way.” She pointed. “He’s just down the hall, past the kitchen.”
Before Jacob could leave the foyer to look for him, the man walked into the room smiling. “The transaction must’ve cleared.”
“50,000 bitcoins?” said Jacob. “I’ve never even seen so many!”
“I’ve been in this game for a while.” He gave Jacob and Kate a small wink. “Plus, in the art business, there is a benefit to transactions that are untraceable and swiftly processed.”
“Why? What are we going to do with this?”
“Well, that is up to you, but I have a few ideas.” The old man walked back to the table where Kate’s picture book rested. “See, you’ve given me something that I can never repay you for. You gave me back my past.”
“It is not just a one of a kind book. Not to me. I grew up there, too. At the base of those tree filled mountains. Those faces, they are the faces of my family. They’re my nieces and nephews and cousins, my old friends and their children. I can’t go back home.” Opening his arms to gesture around the room, he said, “I could never leave this place. However, you brought my home back me. That is the power of words and art.”
“If you had said how important it was to you, I’d have helped you for free.”
“I’m sick…dying. There isn’t enough time to use all those Bitcoins or find a home for all these works of art. I’m asking you to bear the burden of that responsibility.” Turning away from the book he looked at Kate. “I’d like you to continue my legacy. Use those coins to fund scholarships at universities, set up a foundation and a museum to make all types of art available to everybody. Buy more! I would like new artists to have the resources they need to improve their work. Can you use the funds to build a community of people who are writing and painting for their children’s children?”
“It’s a lifetime’s worth of work…” said Jacob, while Kate stood at his side.
“Yes, it is. Today, you have done something for me, but tomorrow you will do something for the world.”