– by Roger L. Poole
“For my next older brother, Richard”
This is the story of three brothers who set out for some innocent fun on a chilly, wintery day in late December 1945. School had let out for the holidays and Christmas Eve was just a few away. They’d been to regular church services and they’d eaten Sunday dinner.
Expecting only a short afternoon adventure, the boys soon found that one afternoon would not be enough. A discovery of an object in the woods made the difference. It was an innocent looking wooden packing crate. But, unbeknownst to them, the crate’s contents had a special history all its own.
At first, they couldn’t believe what they saw inside the crate. Their initial reaction changed as they slowly began to understand what they saw and how important it was to the whole world as they knew it.
The reader should be aware that as far as the events in this story are concerned, whether they are real or imagined, fact or fiction just depends on who you talk to.
A little history is required before our story begins:
In the early morning hours of Sunday December 14, 1941, the little town of Wilton, Arkansas was blasted awake by a horrendous thunder crashing, bone rattling noise. Two freight trains traveling at high speed met on the same track just north of town. People, iron, steel, and freight were scattered all about the train track right-of-way. Some of the freight found its way into the nearby creek and floated downstream before finding a resting place. Reclamation teams were dispatched to find and recover as much as possible. Some looked for bodies while others looked for freight. The freight fared better than the people on that date near Christmas 1941. For the next four war torn years, Christmas would be difficult to keep.
Now we can return to talking about 1945…
(Day One Sunday December 16 Begins)
“Hey, let’s go down to the creek before it gets too dark,” said 14-year-old Jay.
Wayne and Wesley, ages 8 and 10, followed their older brother’s lead. With an exchanged non-verbal nod, the race was on. The creek had everything a boy in 1945 Wilton could possibly want. With just a smidge of imagination, it could be a stage for the re-enactment of all that was or might someday be in history. Of course, the usual stuff was also there. Swimming and fishing in the creek were big favorites of the Poole brothers and their friends. They all knew well, the potential for real and imagined adventures along the banks of that little stream known as Lick Creek.
Jay got to the finish line first. In part, because he had started running first and thereby had established control of the impromptu contest. It didn’t hurt that he knew where he was headed or that unlike his opponents he knew where the finish line was. And of course, his legs were longer. This time he chose to run down the right-of-way alongside of the railroad track until he reached a likely cut-over spot to the creek. He stopped running which signaled the end of the race. He waited for Wes and Wayne to catch up.
When they got there, they followed Jay’s lead and armed themselves with a few appropriately sized rocks from the railroad bed. Each rock needed to have mass enough to take out a bird or squirrel and still be small enough to fit snuggly into the holding pouch attached by way of rubber inner tube strips to the “Y” shaped bean flip stock.
No self-respecting bean flip artist would tempt fate by using too large a rock. The embarrassment of having a misfire would be too much to bear. A shooter could only imagine what ridicule he’d face if he missed a target altogether because his misplaced support thumb had absorbed all the fury of the forward-flung missile.
Having taken on sufficient ammo, the boys headed out single file toward the banks of the mighty Lick Creek. Wayne being youngest and a bit of a lightweight might have taken on too much ammo as he was finding it difficult to keep his pants under control as he struggled to keep up.
I mentioned earlier the weapons and ammo used by the brothers were geared to a ‘bloodthirsty’ bird or ‘green-acorn crazed’ squirrel that they might expect to come across occasionally as they made their way into the wilderness. What they had not counted on was coming upon a blue racer snake.
This time of year, they are supposed to be hibernating, but that fact didn’t come into play this day. The only facts the boys cared about are these. Blue Racer Snakes are blue, they are extremely aggressive, and they will chase after you at a top speed of about 4 miles an hour. That can seem plenty fast if you are running backwards and trying to negotiate rough underbrush at the same time.
The three brothers were moving slowly and deliberately down a path that thankfully had already been blazed mostly by a bunch of some land owner’s cows. Even so, it was barely passable with a heavy layer of rotted fallen timber, leaves and the occasional brushy limb sticking out to swat at a person. The underbrush’s attempt at re-growth for the current season was also underfoot and had to be contended with.
On they marched these three little soldiers making all manner of noise as they tromped forward into the unknown. Jay was leading the march with Wes and then Wayne behind him. Jay was looking ahead, watching for low limbs and vines, and keeping the troops who followed informed of each new hazard as it arrived. Wes directed all his attention toward the ground a ways in front of them as he followed Jay. Wes was concerned with low crawling varmints whether with or without legs. Wayne followed Wes and did not concern himself with anything other than the back of Wes. Wayne did not want to get separated from his brothers.
It was Wes who saw the snakehead directly in front of him at the edge of the trail.
As the snake’s head came into view through the grass and leaves, Wes yelled, “Snake!”
When frightened, Wes’s voice might begin a word on one key and finish it on another. When he said “snake” it was more like “SNaiAKE!” Well, whatever he said, it was understood by the other troops. Jay looked down and stopped a few paces from the snake. Wes and Wayne stacked up behind him. Nobody moved or said anything for a long moment. The snake apparently was in the mood for a little fun because his raised head was turned staring toward the brothers Poole, and they would later swear it looked like it gave them a sort of snaky grin.
This prompted Jay to whisper over his shoulder, “We got to get out of here; that looks like a Blue Racer snake and he’s going to chase us.” Back pedaling from whence they had just come they commenced to tripping, stumbling, and outright falling over one another.
When they managed finally to get their collective feet in front of them, they ran all the way back to the railroad tracks before they felt safe enough to stop. Panting and wheezing, they discussed their next move. Wayne wanted desperately to quit and go home. Wes wasn’t sure but he would go with the group. Jay wanted to go back in, but not before taking some target practice to get the sights of their bean flips corrected for accuracy. This was the agreed upon plan.
With plenty of rocks to choose from up near the railroad, they took turns hitting a snake shaped stick that was lying on the ground near the trail entrance. Each had fairly good luck at shivering the twigs timber. Wayne, the youngest and smallest, was the best shot. He could put a rock on the “head” of the “stick-snake” almost every time.
They now possessed a renewed confidence in their arsenal of rocks. Having just conquered the evil stick-snake, Jay decided it would serve them well as a walking stick. Ready for whatever came next, the brothers re-entered the trail. Cautiously they advanced; this time all three of them were scanning the ground for the slinky blue menace that had chased them from their own private play area. Maybe because he was closer to the ground, Wayne saw the offender first and announced its presence ahead.
Wayne babbled, “Snu snu gick gick.”
Well that was alarm enough for Wes and Jay. The three of them, without consulting, aligned themselves shoulder to shoulder. They raised their weapons. In unison, they reached in a pocket for a rock, placed it in the leather rock-holder, raised the stock to arm’s length, and pulled back the rubber launching strings. The rock-laden leather pouches were right by their ears. King Arthur’s archers displayed no better form. Upon release the result was not so perfect. Jay’s load went well beyond the target, dusting the leaves on a blackberry bush. Wes’s rock did no better. It took a little wood from his stock on exit, nearly hitting Wes’s stock-supporting thumb in the process. Wayne’s shot, however, was on the money. His missile whistled straight to the head of the offender. It hit with enough force to apparently kill the snake and roll it over on its side at the same time. Soon a vigorous display of congratulatory backslapping and general celebration ensued. Finally, they decided it was time to gather up the defeated warrior. They tried, as they were able, to show some respect for the fallen combatant. Jay approached the evil serpent slowly. With his new walking stick brought from beside the tracks, he stood as far away as he could and still be able to reach the snake. He poked at the snake. No response. He edged closer. Again, he probed the snake. Still no response. He got much closer. This time he was close enough to see the pattern on the snake’s back. This snake was not blue. This snake had skin like the bark of a tree. Jay came to the realization of what had happened. What they feared was about to chase them and what they had just attacked and “killed” was in fact a three-and-a-half-foot long tree branch that had a knot on the large end. It bore an uncanny resemblance to a blue racer snake head.
Well they’d come this far. It didn’t seem fair for them to turn back now and not make it to the creek before leaving for home. The sun was easing over toward the western sky giving the brothers pause to consider the time. It was getting closer to sundown. If they had good luck, there was just enough time to reach the creek. This meant they couldn’t be deterred by any more beasts of the forest, wooden or real snakes. Once there, they could test their bean flip skills further by taking aim at the odd frog perched atop a log here and there. After annoying the frogs, who were in no real danger except maybe from Wayne, there would be just enough time to scamper home in time to join the rest of the family for Sunday night church and supper afterwards. They knew that Sunday supper was mostly always leftovers from Sunday dinner. They also knew that Sunday dinner leftovers were usually a cut above weekday meals. This sort of basic survival knowledge helped them to keep track of time so they would not overstay their limit. From the spot of the ‘blue racer’ incident, they needed only to travel a few yards before the trickling gurgle of the creek water made its presence known. They ran the last little bit and came upon an earthen shelf that overhung the water a little. From their place atop the overhang they were positioned on the outside of a bend in the creek. The water was below them about five feet and flowing vigorously from their left to right. This was a perfect vantage-point from which to launch their rocky bullets toward the unsuspecting frogs, lizards, and water bugs below. The next several minutes were consumed in doing exactly that. Wes and Jay eventually ran out of ammo. They didn’t even think about the possible need for it on the way back. Wayne still had plenty of rocks. Recognizing this fact, Jay suddenly regained his right-thinking role as the leader and declared group ownership of Wayne’s remaining cache of armament. Wayne did not protest the seemingly prudent decision and handed over his remaining rocks for equitable distribution. For this sacrifice, Wayne was given three extra rocks. With these he would have the honor of taking the last three shots before they must surely strike out for home.
Wayne decided his target would be an oddly shaped protrusion about twenty yards upstream from them. A turtle was sunning on top of the object. Whatever this thing was below the water, the part that was visible above the water looked like one of those pyramid things he’d seen in a geography book. Wayne placed the first rock in the bean flip pouch, pulled back, and aimed at the object below the turtle. The rock hit the object with a resounding hollow pa-thunk. The combination of the sound, the vibration, and the nearness of the rock ricocheted too close to the formerly sleeping turtle’s head. That gave the turtle enough of an adrenaline rush to raise him off the water-bound object. He swam in the air even before he landed in the water. As much fun as a flying turtle might normally be, the brothers’ attention was more focused on that object that produced the odd sound.
“Do that again,” said Jay.
Wayne reloaded and aimed again. “Fire!” said Wayne trying to add to drama. He released his load and once again the sound came back, “PA-THUNK.”
“Now this is getting interesting,” said Jay.
They moved down from their high vantage point to a grassy spot of ground more at the same level as the water. As they got closer to it, the object began to look more like a shipping crate that was nearly completely submerged in water.
“Let’s all have a go at it!” said Wes.
He was anxious to have another shot at anything. They were directly across from the object now and only a few feet away.
“Load up!” shouted Jay. He followed the first order with a predictable succession of others. “Ready, aim, fire!”
They fired in unison, and all hit the target, just not at the same time. The target protested with an echoed “PA-THUNK, PA-THUNK, PA-THUNK.”
“We got to get a look at that thing, whatever it is,” said Jay.
Wes reluctantly agreed but Wayne being ever cautious said, “How we going to get over to the other side?”
Looking up and down stream for a suitable crossing point, Jay saw none. At its widest, Lick Creek might be twelve feet across. In other places a good jumper could leap across it. No such places were in sight either up or down stream. Jay studied on the object a bit.
“Wes, can you see in the water to the front of the Box well enough to see what is holding it in place?” asked Jay’
Wes gave it his best eagle-eye once over. With the memory of his blue racer snake spotter mistake still fresh on his mind, he tentatively offered up his opinion. “It appears to be snagged on that root that’s coming out of the bank there and goes into the water there’” said Wes as he pointed hither and yon.
“That’s what I thought,” said Jay. “Wayne, do you think you could hit that root hard enough to cut it loose from the Box?” asked Jay.
With typical sureness of his own ability, Wayne said, “Sure I can.”
Jay and Wes moved out of the way giving Wayne free access to choose from the best possible launching position. Wayne studied the root, searching for a weak spot. He would prefer shooting at the part above the water. He knew if he shot into the water, the rock would slow down on impact. Even worse, it might bounce right off the surface and fall harmlessly on the opposite bank. As he watched the object being forced by the creek’s flow, he began to see a rhythm in the back and forth motion of the root as it strained against the weight of the Box. The root was bending at a single spot just barely above the water line. If the root were going to fail, that was the spot that it would happen. Wayne decided that if he could get a hit on that particular spot at precisely the point in time when the push cycle of the water against the Box was at its maximum, then he had a pretty good chance of dislodging the Box. Wayne got into firing stance, which looked a lot like the Heisman trophy statue. He explained his plan to Wes and Jay as he rifled through the few rocks they had left. He was looking for that one rock that might do a little cutting as it crashed into its target. He selected the best specimen available. Jay and Wes watched in awe of their little brother as he very carefully loaded the rock into the pouch. He then took aim between the forks of his bean flip stock and pulled back the loaded pouch. He hesitated a moment or two and then he started to move the stock up and down in a predetermined cadence. Wayne would not have known the word, synchronization, at that time, but that is exactly what he was doing. He was synchronizing his movement with that of the bobbing tree root. Once he got the rhythm right, he let go of the pouch. The rock zinged through the air and hit the root at the precisely desired location. The precisely desired result occurred.
The rock landed with a solid sound like the chop of an axe. The root responded with a cracking sound of its own and immediately released its captive. The Box was free. Now at this point things started happening for which a little pre-planning would have served them well. Unfortunately, no such planning had been made. Up to this point all available resources had been committed to getting the Box dislodged. Now that it was dislodged, it was moving down stream and gaining speed as it went. Jay acted first.
He yelled, “Let’s go boys, she’s going to run off and leave us just standing here looking silly!”
Well Wes already felt a little silly because he just stood there for a moment still in shock that little Wayne had only taken one shot to cut the big thing loose. For future reference he told himself he needed to look at that David and Goliath story in the Bible one more time. Wes finally regained his senses and in no time was in on the chase to stop the Box. Jay had run past the Box and Wayne had followed not really knowing why.
“We have to get downstream enough to be able to throw stuff in its path to make it come to us on our bank,” said Jay to Wayne and to Wes now having caught up to them.
“Pick up tree limbs and stuff to throw as we run along,” Jay said.
This idea was soon abandoned. It became clear that anything they threw that would float. They were right as everything they threw in acted as a companion to the Box.
When they reached a bend in the creek, Jay said, “This will be our best chance. The Box will come to our bank as it comes into the bend.”
They all gathered at the bank’s edge and waited for the Box to show around the bend. They were about to retrace their steps when suddenly there it was. The Box bounced up and down in the water but oddly it never flipped over as it floated steadily toward the three brothers. Sure, enough the Box floated right up to their bank of the creek and they were even able to take hold of its outer boards. Wayne went about the task with a little too much enthusiasm and wound up on top of the Box thus adding to the difficulty of taking control of the unruly wooden beast. It was too heavy to drag clear of the creek without someone going into the water. This duty fell to Jay as the oldest. First, he removed Wayne from the top of the Box. Jay then removed his shoes and rolled up his pants as far as he could. Then as Wes and Wayne applied a death grip to the boards that were nailed all around the Box, Jay begrudgingly slipped into the water on the upstream side of the Box. The cold creek current was a little bothersome even though it was barely knee deep.
Positioning himself toward the lower end of the Box on the opposite side from Wes and Wayne. Jay said, “Okay, when I say pull, you two pull on that side as hard as you can and maybe we can get it up on the bank.”
He was taking on a little water, but he tried his best to ignore it. He moved his feet along the creek bottom to find a good foothold. The bottom consisted mostly of forgiving, smooth, round, creek-washed stones. He was able to dig his toes in between the stones like a batter digging into the dirt at home plate. He braced himself against the Box and then satisfied that he was ready he hollered, “Okay, pull!”
Well the two on shore tugged with all their might. With Jay getting leverage under the Box, it began to rise up toward the bank. They pushed and pulled until the Box yielded and came to rest on its side on dry land. Jay climbed out of the water with a great flair and gave an audible, “Ta da!” to pronounce the operation a success. As he looked at the Box it began to move. To their collective amazement the Box rolled over one turn so that the original ‘up’ side was ‘up’ again. They stared at it a little longer not knowing what it might do next. Was it going to sprout wings and fly off? They didn’t know but they thought it was a good idea not to anger it. The Box seemed to have a mind of its own. A few moments passed without incident so the brave three decided they were letting the day’s events get to them and decided to move in closer. It was obviously some kind of packing crate, but what was in it? It was a cube that measured about 3 feet on every edge. By Jay’s estimation, it weighed about 200 pounds. They eased up close enough to examine it but still maintained a readiness to flee the area immediately should the Box demonstrate any other unexplainable characteristics. Creeping to within a couple of feet, they could see that something was stenciled on top of the Box. Their spirits soared, certain now that the stenciled message would shed light on what was inside.
“Hey!” said Wayne, “What does that say?”
Jay brushed away a layer of mud and muck. In very faint black letters were the words,
“ÖFFNEN Sie BIS WEIHNACHTEN 1941 NICHT.”
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