There was a bright full moon on March 10th, 1894, covered by a thin layer of clouds that dispersed its light into an eerie halo. Spring had come early but on this night, the temperature was dropping towards freezing and ice crystals hung in the still air.
Beneath an enormous oak, three figures worked furiously with picks and shovels in a hole already five feet deep. A half-emptied bottle of whiskey and an old yellowed map were propped nearby on a pile of rocky diggings.
“We should have hit upon it by now, Bill,” said one of the Daniels boys, slumping to his haunches and wiping away the cold beads of sweat from his temples.
“Have another swig,” William grunted, “the professor said sixty years of floods would have added at least another foot.”
“Imagine, sixteen thousand doubloons ... how much is that in today’s money again?”
“About a quarter milli ...” William was cut short by an unearthly shriek from the trees across Shoal Creek.
The three men stiffened, raised their heads above the edge of the pit and peered out into the misty landscape.
“What the hell was that?” William whispered.
The others didn’t answer. They just listened, shaking in the cold.
A second screech, louder, echoed beneath the thickening dome of clouds and sent a fresh spike of terror up their spines. The moonlight dimmed and the shadows beneath the old oak grew darker and fatter.
The three men scrambled from the ditch and stared out into the frosty nothingness until a chorus of horrifying screams broke their trances. They ran then, as fast as they could, leaving everything behind them.
After this incident, William Sydney Porter, better known as O Henry, gave up his treasure hunting and settled down to doing what he did best – writing.