by Roger Poole
(Day Two Monday December 17 Continues)
Mid-morning was approaching already, and the sun provided warmth to the morning that started out rather chilly. The boys took turns carrying the heavy bundle of tools as they made their way back to the Box. Jay took the longest shift with the tools since they were his responsibility. He watched after them even when it was Wes or Wayne’s turn to lug the makeshift tool bag. Or was it a tool wrap? Either way they found themselves far enough along that they were now behind the church house on the other side of the tracks.
“Hey where you guys going?” said a voice from the church side of the railroad tracks.
The Poole boys screeched to a halt and turned in the direction of the voice. “That sounded like Leon,” said Wes. Leon Warren was the next to youngest of three boys and two girls who lived just down the hill from our house. He was about equal to Wes in size and age but that is about as far as the comparison held up.
“Stand up and show yourself,” yelled Jay. Leon climbed the rest of the way up his side of the tracks to make himself visible.
“I got scared cause I thought y’all was hobos or something, carrying that bundle and all,” said Leon.
“We’ve business to attend to,” said Jay.
This sounded very important to Leon even if he didn’t understand why. The thing was his curiosity was stirred and it required a feeding of some kind. Jay sensed Leon’s dilemma and tried to toss him a verbal bone.
“Aw, Leon, these are Daddy’s tools and he asked us to bring them to him at the planer mill,” said Jay. He was trying to throw Leon off the trail.
Leon said, “How come he didn’t take ‘em hisself when he went to work?”
Jay pondered this for a second and said, “Because he was running late, and he didn’t have time to gather them up.”
“Oh,” said Leon. His curiosity apparently was now fed satisfactorily. “Well, can I go too?” Leon begged.
“No, sorry,” said Jay. “No kids allowed on the sawmill property you know.”
“But y’all are kids,” whined Leon.
“Yeah, but our Daddy is the boss,” said Jay. Leon took this as final and started to turn and leave. He looked so pitiful that Jay said, “Wait a minute, Leon.” Jay turned to Wes and Wayne and simply said, “What do you think?”
Wayne being the smallest and quickest to tire said, “He might be some help with carrying the tools and opening the Box.”
“Yeah,” said Wes. “We might need him to carry what’s in the Box, too.”
“Okay, it’s settled then,” said Jay. “Leon, come back we want to let you in on our project.”
Leon, of course, brightened up considerably and bounded over to join them to make it the three Pooles and one Warren. Up the right-of-way they went with Jay explaining to Leon some of the details of their adventure up to this point.
Leon was still a little confused. By the time they passed a point where they should have turned left if going to the sawmill, he stopped and asked, “Why are we not going that way?” He didn’t realize until that moment that Jay had lied to him. Far from being angry, Leon was impressed with the smoothness of Jay’s delivery. He was a pretty good liar himself who practiced his art with regularity.
Jay was feeling a little less than perfect with the recognition that he might be as good a liar as Leon. That wasn’t something he aspired to be. He made a mental note to do better.
On they went, with Wayne leading the way. What he lacked in size he more than made up for with his irrepressible enthusiasm for what was to come. After he got a little ahead, Wayne stopped. He looked back at the others and yelled, “Hey, Leon, you know how to tell if a train is coming around the bend?”
“No. How? Don’t you just look down the tracks?” Leon answered. Wayne got down on his knees and started to put his ear to the tracks.
“Wait, Wayne!” hollered Jay.
Wayne rose up. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I was just going to show Leon how to do something.”
Jay said, “I know, I know, but you might want to try another way.”
Wayne persisted, “This is how I do it and it’s what I’m showing Leon.”
“Okay,” said Jay. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
This only confused Wayne and he was starting to doubt his oldest brother’s wisdom. Wayne continued, “Leon, what you do is you stick your ear down on the tracks like this.”
It was at this precise moment that Wayne’s recently departed high regard for Jay’s wisdom returned. It was also the exact same moment that his ear touched the “tongue stuck to a flagpole” like, ice cold steel railroad track.
Wayne’s high-pitched young voice likely woke any late sleeping dogs as he squeaked out a blood curdling, “Yeow!” He then began to perform the universally recognized dance of someone in great pain. This is the one where the injured party jumps around and screams while demonstrating all manner of violent body language consistent with a person apparently trying to “shake it off.”
The others waited for the dance to abate. Leon was a little frightened by all this and as soon as he could be heard over Wayne’s pain-induced oral sputtering, he asked, “So does that mean a train is or is not coming?” Still not getting it, Leon gave his opinion of Wayne’s method, “Looks like that’d be hard on your ear to do that very many times.”
“That was not what he wanted to show you, Leon,” said Jay. “He was going to feel for vibrations only he forgot the rail would be real cold. Wayne, can I tell you the other way now?”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Wayne. He cupped his hand over his ear hoping somehow it would reduce the stinging.
Jay said, “Okay, if you think the rail may be too cold or too hot for that matter, what you can do instead of sacrificing your ear is sprinkle a few grains of sand on the rail. Then you watch the grains up close. If they start to jump around there’s a train a comin.’”
“That’s good to know,” replied Wayne a bit frostily. He wished he had listened earlier when Jay first offered to tell him.
“Let me try it,” said Leon. He scooted down to the lower edge of the right-of-way and used his hands like a front-end loader to scoop up a double handful of sandy dirt. Determined not to spill any of the sand, Leon sort of waddled back up the side of the right-of-way. He tried his best to keep his balance while keeping both hands cupped together under his earthen load. “Here you go,” said Leon. He dumped his double hand load of sandy dirt on the nearly flat top surface of the track.
Jay looked at Leon’s composite deposit of sand, dirt, and rocks and said, “Leon, we only want to know if a train is coming. We don’t want to stop it when it gets here. You only need a little so you can watch the individual grains of dirt or sand dance on the track.”
“I got it,” said Leon. He brushed away most of the dirt and watched intently. “It ain’t doin’ nuthin.’”
“Good, no trains,” said Jay. “Now maybe we can get on to our destination.”
Town was becoming less visible behind them as they rounded the bend in the railroad tracks. Wes and Jay were walking in the graveled outer edge. Wayne and Leon took turns with one of them stepping from one railroad tie to the next while the other tried to best their own personal record for rail walking. When they got too far behind, Jay yelled, “Come on you two. We’re cutting over through the woods here in a second and you’ll get lost.”
Leon heard the word “lost” and he immediately called in all his available resources and applied them toward catching up to the leaders. Wayne found his own supply of resources having momentarily been left in Leon’s dust and he caught up as well. “We’re just about there aren’t we, Wes?” asked Jay.
“I think so,” said Wes. “’Cause that looks like one of those cows up there a ways that made the trail we’re looking for.”
“Okay guys be watching for the trail,” said Jay to the whole group.
“There it is,” said Wayne as he recognized the spot where he had loaded his pockets with rocks the day before. “Leon, you got a bean flip?” Wayne asked. We might need to pick up a few rocks.
“Sure do. Good’un, too,” Leon said with obvious pride as he pulled out his bean flip from somewhere deep inside his overalls.
“Why don’t you just put that in your back pocket?” asked Jay.
“Okay, but I gotta’ be careful I don’t poke my frog with it,” said Leon.
Jay started to ask about the frog that may or may not be in Leon’s pocket, but decided it was best to just keep moving. Following the smaller Wayne who was now in the lead again, the group of four turned off the right-of-way and began the short trip once again, down the cow trail to the banks of the mighty muddy waters of Lick Creek.
Jay started immediately to coach Leon on the need for absolute secrecy about all that he was about to see, and that Leon was to count himself especially honored to have been included in the adventure. There was no worry on this point because Leon genuinely felt himself lucky to be a part of “this thing” whatever it was. Jay further told him that he could not tell anyone or talk to anyone about their adventure outside the group of four. This part would be hard for Leon, but he was willing to give it his best effort. Soon they reached the cleared area near the creek. Wayne, still in front, ran to the monument he had almost single-handedly constructed of decaying forest refuse.
“Here it is!” said Wayne. He was unable to contain his excitement as he started peeling back the layers on his own pyramid of poop.
Leon asked, “What is that and what’s Wayne doing to it?”
Jay explained quickly as Wayne attacked the pile, “That happens to be our prize. Under that pile is a Box, and on that Box is a label, and on that label it says in German, ‘Do not open until Christmas 1941.’ We are a little late, but we are going to open it as soon as we get it uncovered.”
With the prospect of a share to some sort of booty to be found within the Box at the bottom of that pile of muck, Leon joined the fray with Wayne.
As the refuse fell away and the Box became visible, Jay asked, “Leon, where are the tools you were carrying?” Jay had a sudden sinking feeling realizing it was probably bad judgment on his part to have entrusted the carrying of the tools to Leon in the first place, but he waited for the answer.
Leon unconcernedly answered, “The tools? Oh, I must have left them back there by the railroad tracks when I went down to scoop up some sand.”
Jay thought Leon should be showing more unease over the tools he had lost, so he yelled at him. “LEON! You get back to that railroad track and get those tools right now or you won’t be a part of this deal anymore!”
Leon apparently read Jay’s temperament correctly. He didn’t wait for the echo of Jay’s voice to land before he lit out for the tracks. He put aside his fear of the unknown and going it alone. He replaced them with his immediate fear of Jay. If that wasn’t enough to motivate Leon to action, the sudden realization that he might lose out on a share of the booty, put fire in his feet. By all accounts, Leon went away and came back so fast that his footprints gave off steam wherever his feet touched the ground. Leon dropped the tools still wrapped securely onto the ground. Then he dropped to his knees and with his hands now on the ground he gasped a nearly inaudible, “I’m sorry.”
Jay patted Leon on the back and repeated something he’d heard the preacher say the day before, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” Leon nearly beamed, but his batteries were just too low at the moment.
Wayne was done with the task of earth, stick and poop removal. The four of them stood around the Box. Leon felt grateful to be included. They stared at it for a little bit. As they did, Wes noticed from his vantage point that another label was visible. There seemed to be a phrase that was repeated many times in as many languages. The boys all moved to Wes’s side where they too could see the lettering. With all of them looking together, a certain part of the list of phrases became more and more readable. It was the English version of the phrase. Could it be that by just looking at it and searching for their language that it appeared more visible to them? Was there some kind magic coming into play?
This was territory that Leon and his family were more familiar with since they believed in haints and other sorts of ghosts. Leon was not amused by this possible connection to another world. Regardless of their concerns, it was easily apparent to them that in English the label said, “This side up.” Another label again on Wes’s side reacted to their gaze in the same way. It said, “Remove from this side.”
Jay said, “Let’s get to it.” He got down on his knees to open up the tool blanket.
Leon saw Jay’s movement and he asked Wesley, “We gonna pray over the Box or something?”
“No silly,” said Wes. “He’s just getting set up. The blanket made an inviting surface since it was dry and it covered the ground, which certainly was not.
“All the tools are still safely in my charge,” Jay thought to himself. He continued the task of laying out the tools on the blanket and momentarily imagined himself a highly skilled surgeon doing a final check of his instruments just before beginning a great surgery. He didn’t know at the time how close his imagination had come. Jay studied the edges of the Box where the sides joined together.
“Wes, let’s try the nail puller first,” said Jay.
“Which one is a nail puller?” asked Wes.
“Aw come on, Wes, it’s that flat piece of metal there with a “V” notch on each end. One end is bent at a right angle for leverage.”
“Okay by me, said Wes, “I can’t wait any longer to get at this thing.”
Jay commanded, “Okay then, nail puller!”
Wes surveyed the array of tools laid out on the blanket and located the one that Jay just described.
Wes slapped the instrument into Jay’s outreached palm and waited patiently for the next order.
Paying close attention to the instructions on the Box, Jay wedged the sharp edge of the unbent end into the junction of two sides. He planted his feet for balance then he said, “Stand back y’all, I’m gonna pop this thing open.”
They did as told and gave Jay plenty of room. Jay made himself rigid as he gripped the nail puller tighter. He then gave out a mighty grunt – the echo of which, caused Leon to spin around in wonder as to where the monster was that uttered that sound. Jay put forth another grunt and all his strength into one big fast tug against the nail puller. The nail puller became dislodged. Jay went generally in the direction of a nearly fresh cow patty that even Leon had successfully avoided to this point. Jay landed with a squishy backside slide. To his credit, he still maintained his double fisted grip on the nail puller. He looked up in awe and recalled the previous day’s experience with the Box. He watched today as the Box tipped over and rose up off the ground. It was just high enough to allow it to spin end over end for several revolutions.
The group of four became the group of three again as Leon found this last bit of black magic just too much to handle. He left the area screaming repeatedly, “I didn’t see nuthin’!” That left the three Pooles to finish up the project on their own.
The Box finally stopped and resettled to the ground in the same position as before. Jay said, “Well, boys, looks like it’s up to us again.” Wes and Wayne joined Jay as he very carefully approached the Box again.
“Wasn’t that something?” said Wayne trying to catch his breath while trying not to show it. Wes nodded in agreement but said nothing.
“What we’ll do is have two of us sit on the Box while the third uses the nail puller. That way we can get the needed leverage,” said Jay.
Wes and Wayne knew who the Box sitters would be and who would man the nail puller. They reluctantly took their place on top of the Box. Once again Jay put the nail puller’s two teeth on its straight end into the joint. This time he tried pulling with a slow even pressure. All the time, he kept a firm grip on the nail puller. Finally, they heard the desired sound of a metallic nail scraping against hardwood fibers when nails start to come loose. “Scick-scick-sceck-sceek!” came the sound. The side of the Box fell away. They all scrambled to the opened side of the Box to examine its contents. The Box was empty.
“Empty?” yelled Jay. “I sat in a cow pie for ‘empty’? There’s nothing in there but a little smoke.” They stared at the smoke trying not to be too disappointed.
“Hey, something is happening in there!” said Wayne, getting itchy feet of the Leon variety. The smoke began to move in a very orderly manner. It was not doing it based on external air movements. This was movement that was somehow predetermined by design. The flow of the smoke was as though four panels of glass were projected to the center of the Box. The smoke moved toward the center.
It continued to do this until Jay said, “Hey, there IS something in there.” He moved in for a closer look.
“It’s another Box, a tiny little Box right in the center,” said Wes.
“No, no,” corrected Jay. “It’s like a little car or something.” Wayne moved to the front for his own close-up look. Suddenly he stood up. He turned around to face his brothers and turned white as a sheet. He had a look of wonderment on his face. “What is it?” asked Jay.
“What is it, Wayne?” repeated Wes.
Finally, Wayne spoke, “It’s… It’s a teeny, little Santa’s sleigh!”
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