Mary Jane Dunbar lay still upon her bed and listened to the silence that had now engulfed her home. Once peaceful, the silence now it was all but deafening. The left side of her face still pounded from the black eye her boyfriend had given her only three hours ago. Instead of becoming closer and more trusting in their six-month relationship, James Stafford had become more controlling and even jealous at times. Now, memories of her late husband flew through her mind like so many sparrows through a pin oak.
Nobody dies from a fall in the bathtub, she thought as tears begin to well up in her hazel eyes. “Too quick,” she mumbled. “Terry was taken too quick. Eight years is not long enough to be married to someone like him,” she sobbed as she pushed her long, red hair back from her face. Some company might help, she thought. I just can’t let myself get this depressed.
The petite, twenty-eight year old raised her head from the mound of pillows at the head of her bed and listened.
Not a sound coming from Jenny’s room, she thought as she
slipped her feet from the top quilt and eased them down to the cold floor in search of her slippers. Upon finding them, she reached to the foot of the bed and pulled a heavy, dark blue housecoat over her shoulders. It had been Terry’s. His cologne still remained impregnated in it. Although it all but drug the floor on her five-foot-two frame, it was her favorite. Mary then eased from her bedroom and tiptoed down the hallway to the next closed door. As she eased it open, she could see a tuft of short, brown hair protruding from the seven-year-old’s pillows. Then, with a long sigh, she eased the door shut.
Television, she thought on her way back to her bedroom. Maybe there’s something good on.
Just as soon as she turned the little, flat screen on, a smile came to her face. A Charlie Chan movie was on and Sidney Toler had always been her favorite. She was just about to climb back into bed when she heard her daughter talking to someone in her bedroom. Mary quickly walked the short distance to her daughter’s door and eased it open again.
“Jenny,” called Mary quietly, noting she was still under the quilts and pillows. Strange, she thought as she backed from the doorway.
She was just about to close the door when Jenny’s head popped
up. “Don’t go,” she said. “There was a man in my dream and he
said he knew Daddy. I was about to ask him how when he told me that you were coming and for me to go back to sleep.”
“Ohhh, Jenny,” said Mary weakly as she rushed to her daughter’s side and took her in her arms. “I miss him to, but we’ve just about got our bills under control. Once we refinance the house, I believe we might be able to get another car . . . maybe a good used one.”
Jenny pushed away a little bit, looked at her mother’s face, and then said, “Is your eye still hurting? I don’t like that Mr. Stafford. He’s mean to you. I wish you wouldn’t let him come over anymore.”
“Don’t worry about him, Pumpkin,” replied Mary softly. “You just remember that your father loves you and as long as we remember him, he will live in our hearts.”
“I will,” said Jenny as she snuggled back into her pillows.
“Good night, Pumpkin,” said Mary as she left the room and eased the door shut.
Just as soon as she entered her bedroom, she stopped abruptly. The scent of Terry’s Jade East was faintly noticeable.
It took a little imagination with the housecoat, but now I do smell something, thought Mary as she eyed the bathroom.
She then stepped back and looked down the hallway. Jenny’s door was still closed and the front door was just as she had left
it--locked and latched. But as she continued toward the bed, the
Jade East taunted her again. Mary checked the television. Chan was easing through some dark and dismal mansion looking for who knows what.
“Snap out of it,” mumbled Mary as she pushed her red hair from her forehead, walked straight for the dark bathroom, and then turned on the lights.
The scent was now gone, she noted as she opened the medicine cabinet and took out the square bottle of Jade East. Although it looked a bit less, it was still there nonetheless and was right where Terry had left it two years ago.
“Back to bed,” she sighed as she turned off the light and slipped back in among the quilts and pillows.
With the ‘Chinese Ring’ playing softly in the background, she eventually drifted off to sleep...
In what seemed like only seconds, a voice spoke to her. “Hello Bright Eyes,” it said softly.
Mary woke up instantly and looked all about the room. Even though her curtains were drawn, the moon’s light still offered a tawny glow all about her. The television was now playing Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart, but try as she did, she couldn’t remember that line in the movie. Besides, ‘Bright Eyes’ was a pet name Terry had given her, but the voice wasn’t her late husband’s. It had more of a Scottish accent.
Here we go again, she thought as she slowly eased her feet
from the covers to the cool, hardwood floor and her slippers.
She then walked to the television, shut it off, and then listened. Hearing nothing, she walked to the bedroom door, opened it, and peeped down the hallway. The nightlight in the wall receptacle was on so she straightened up and walked to her daughter’s room once again and eased the door open.
“What’s this?” said Mary, noticing that Jenny was sitting upright, leaning against her pillows. Her big, brown eyes showed no sign of being sleepy. “No light, no television? Jenny?” she asked as she turned the table lamp on and sat down next to her.
Jenny just smiled, but said not a word.
“How long have you been awake, dear?” asked Mary.
“Not very long. Gayland said he had to go, but he would try to speak to you before he left.” Jenny then sat up a bit more and added, “He’s never spoke to you, has he?”
“Uhhh . . . I’m not sure,” answered Mary as she took her daughter’s hand and added, “How long has he been speaking to you?”
“Just this week, maybe three times.”
Mary brushed her daughter’s bangs from her eyes and asked, “Did you ever see this Gayland?”
Jenny nodded and answered, “Just the first time when my stomach was hurting. He made it quit.”
“Does he look like Daddy?” asked Mary through a slight smile.
“A little, but his hair isn’t brown; it’s long and black. He
parts it in the middle and ties his ponytail with a silver cord.
“I see. Just as long as these dreams don’t scare you.” Mary then pulled the covers from under her daughter, tucked her in, and then added, “Now let’s see if we can go back to sleep. You don’t want to feel tired when we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house do you?”
“No ma’am,” answered Jenny. She then paused a bit and then added, “I borrowed some of Dan’s perfume.” Jenny then pointed toward the lamp. “I put it in that little bottle on my night stand.”
“That’s cologne, dear, and I don’t mind a bit. You gave me quite a start. I smelled the Jade East and thought I was imagining things.” She then brushed Jenny’s bangs back again and added, “That scent reminds me of him also. Tomorrow’s our Saturday with Grandma and Grandpa. I’ve got something planned I think you’ll really like.”
The crow of her neighbor’s rooster woke Mary early the next morning. She sat up, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and then looked about the room. The Big Ben alarm clock on her nightstand read ten minutes after six.
Where did Friday night go? she thought as she slipped out of bed.
Somewhat disappointed at the outcome of the Jade East mystery,
Mary smiled at her daughter’s antics nonetheless. She then sleepily made her way across the cold, hardwood floor to her daughter’s room, knocked on the door, and then opened it.
“I heard the rooster. Did you?” asked Jenny.
“I’m afraid so, Sweetie. Let’s wash our face and get ready to go. “I’ll pack some things for our stay. Tupelo is about an hour and a half from here. Mom said breakfast would be put on the table at nine and we don’t want to be late for that.”
In less than two hours, the two were rolling into the outskirts of Tupelo, Mississippi in Mary’s little, red Kia. As they pulled onto the Airport Road, Jenny sat up and looked for the huge, white farmhouse in the distance. When they finally neared it, She quickly sat back down.
“Ohhh mother,” she said in disappointment.
“I see him, Sweetie,” said Mary as she eased the Kia into the drive and stopped.
The huge, chow, now resting on the front porch, raised his head sharply, but did little else.
“What’ll we do,” asked Jenny, eying the animal like he was the guardian of Hades.
As Mary eased the car a little closer to the house, the orange animal stood and eased down the porch steps.
“Not good,” complained Mary as she watched the animal.
The subtle movements of the dog’s mouth made it plain he was
somewhat less than pleased with the car that had just invaded his domain.
“We can’t get out,” said Jenny. “He’ll get us. I wish Grandpa had found him another home. He doesn’t like us at all and I’m scared of him.”
Mary stopped the Kia again. Although they were only a weak stone’s toss to the porch, it might as well have been a mile. The chow was now directly in front of the car and awaiting the first victim to step out.
Then, without any visible cause, the dog started winching, flinching, and batting his eyes like some invisible giant was blowing in his face.
Jenny quickly released her safety belt and leaned close to the dash. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Mary. “His fur is being blown about like there’s a strong wind, but there’s not a leaf moving on the hickory tree we’re under.”
As soon as Mary said that, the chow wheeled around and ran around the right side of the house.
“What’s got into him?” spoke a loud voice from the porch.
The barrel-chested man then stepped gingerly down the steps and approached the car. Years of being a farmer had taken its toll. His once-black hair was now salt and pepper, and his steel-
blue eyes now always looked a bit more tired that usual. He was a chronic worker on all things outside, including the house. Inherited from his father’s hands, he had kept up the old place on an almost weekly basis. Never neglecting the fields, he sought to improve most everything there.
“Grandpa!” exclaimed Jenny as she opened the door, stepped out, and then checked where she had last seen the angry, orange animal. Upon seeing no sign of him, she then ran to her grandfather.
The old fellow knelt down on one knee and took the little one in his arms. “What spooked Bear?” he repeated.
“I haven’t a clue,” answered Mary as she also checked where the animal had retreated. “He already had us buffaloed.” She then looked at her father and quipped jokingly, “Why did you take in such an animal anyway. Aren’t there any more hawks, foxes, rabbits, or coyotes for you to rescue?”
Her father-in-law then smiled and stood, but only frowned as he looked at her bruised and swollen eye. “I felt sorry for Bear, I guess,” he replied. “Much like how you feel about that animal you’re going with. But at least he doesn’t bite me like that one does you. When the neighbors moved, they left Bear. He didn’t know another soul but us. We fed him almost as much as they did.”
“Well, don’t worry about James. This bit of anger was his last hooray. When I told him he was not to come back, this eye is
what he left me with.”
Jenny then tugged on her Grandfather’s arm. “Will you tell Bear that we’re his friends too?” she asked as she held tight to his hand.
“I’ll do my best, Pumpkin, but he usually chooses his own friends and they are few at best. Perhaps you can help me take him his supper. You can carry the bowl and I’ll go with you.”
Jenny nodded reluctantly but said nothing.
As the three went into the house, Jenny kept a watchful eye out for the ‘orange terror’, but there was no sign of him.
“Well you did make it,” exclaimed her mother from the dining room door.
Estelle Wade embodied the perfect figure of a country wife—always flowers in the yard, seeds in the bird feeders, and was responsible for the pine sol scent on the freshly mopped floors.
“Come sit in the kitchen and talk to me,” she added as she stepped closer and then stopped abruptly. “Ohhh my,” she said just above a whisper as she noted her daughter’s eye. “That brute needs a good lesson. I hope you got rid of him.”
“I did, Mother.”
“Good,” she replied, shaking her head in disgust. “Now, let us go in the kitchen. I’ve got Raymond some perked coffee on and that’ll keep him her with us a bit also.”
“That works for me,” responded Raymond as he looked at Mary
and added, “Why don’t you three visit for a little bit while I go
and get your bags. I’ll put them in the front bedroom. It’s
always yours anyways.”
“Thanks, Dad, but be sure to come back and join us.”
Raymond smiled, nodded his head, and then added, “I’m glad you came early. There’s a storm due in her later this evening. Looks like it might be a hum-dinger.” He then turned and headed back toward the front door.
As Mary and Jenny followed Estelle through the dining room and into the kitchen, Estelle’s little Jack Terrier, scrambled from the kitchen and then ran down the hallway. The little house pet never uttered a sound until he was under Estelle’s bed. He then stuck his nose out and barked a quick but shore disapproval.
“Well I never,” said Estelle as she looked down the hall at her little ‘rabbit chaser’. “He knows you two,” she said through a chuckle and then added, “He gave you the same reception he gives Bear when Raymond lets him in.”
Jenny then slowly walked down the hall making kissing sounds and clapping her hands gently. Peanut only came out when she entered the room but still eyed the kitchen suspiciously.
Estelle laughed at her granddaughter’s antics and then went back to the stove to check her biscuits. She then turned to Mary and said, “Raymond should have your things in your room by now. By the time you get them all put up, I’ll have everything on the table.” She then paused, smiled, and then added, “You know, Raymond’s ordered a new bedroom suit for the third bedroom. It’s French--white, trimmed in gold. Jenny will really like it.”
Mary smiled also and then said, “Ever since Mom and Dad passed, you two have stepped right into the void they left. I don’t know what Jenny and I would have done without you always being there for us.”
Late that evening, while they were preparing for bed, Mary brought an extra blanket from the hall closet and said, “Jenny, I’m going to place this at the foot of the bed. The old floor heater sometimes falls a bit short on these cold nights.”
Mary then turned and watched Jenny as she fidgeted with the television. “Why won’t this thing work?” asked her daughter. “All I can get is snow and this no signal sign.”
“They have a satellite, Sweetie. I guess the storm Dad mentioned earlier is finally getting here. Bring the remote to bed with you. When I turn the lights off, we can see the lightning a little better.”
Mary then leaned across Jenny, turned off the lamp on the little table next to the wall, and then climbed into bed. Jenny was already under the covers and picking out her pillows. They could now hear the thunder in the distance as the lightning lit up the room.
Jenny quickly snuggled up close to her mother, but still jumped every time it thundered. “It’s really close isn’t it?” she whispered as though the nearest thunderhead could hear her. She then added, “He’s here, Mom.”
“Yes, dear,” responded Mary through a yawn, “but it won’t last long and this old house has stood against worse.”
“No, Mom,” she whispered again. “It’s Gayland. He’s here.”
However close Mary was to dozing off vanished among the words
of her daughter’s last comment. Mary raised her head from the
pillows and slowly looked about the room. Upon seeing nothing added or out of place, she was about to lie back down when a shadow moved across the window on Jenny’s side of the bed. It was so vague and silent she couldn’t tell if it was inside or outside.
“Ohhh God,” she whispered to her daughter. “Someone is here.”
“Shhh,” hissed Jenny. “Maybe he’ll say something.”
“Say something?” echoed Mary just above a whisper. “This isn’t a game.”
“It is to him,” added Jenny. “Just wait a minute and don’t be scared.”
Mary looked toward the lamp, but it was on the far side of the bed, and somehow, getting out from under the covers didn’t seem advisable.
I’m letting everything I have in the world ride on the faith
of a child, shethought. Then, as she looked about the dark room one more time, someone spoke, and it wasn’t her daughter.
“Faith is good, Mary,” responded the person from the far corner of the room. The tone was as kind as if it were her own father.
How could he know what I was thinking? pondered Mary as she pushed back into her pillows.
“See?” whispered Jenny. “I told you.”
“Who are you?” asked Mary as she looked to where the voice was coming from.
“A friend. Your daughter has said. I am Gayland.”
Mary wiped the sleep from her eyes, but somehow, that corner had become so dark she could barely make out the big, upholstered chair sitting there. Then, as the lightening lit up the room briefly, Mary caught a glimpse of a man sitting in the old chair. He was trim, middle-aged, and as Jenny had previously described.
Mary pushed back over her pillows until her head rested against the headboard. “How did you get in here?” she asked weakly.
“Alas,” answered Gayland sadly, “I am not supposed to be here. I’ve known your Terry for only a little while and in that short time, he has impressed me to where I am now sitting. His selfless pleas now have my undivided attention. I will help you for his sake.” Mary’s heart began to pound as the darkened silhouette got up from the easy chair and walked to the foot of the bed.
“I can hear your heart beat from here,” he said softly. “How is it your child is more comfortable around me than you are?”
“Children are easily influenced by good and evil without knowing the difference between the two,” answered Mary. “My Terry was a very good man. I can only guess you are also. How would you help us?”
“Life can be very cruel and at times, completely unfair. But you already know that. Know this: It is not always guided
through every turn by the Master’s hand. Many more times than not, human free will takes over and the outcome can be most confusing. In Terry’s case, he was taken before his time. So . . . three weeks ago I came to see what I could do. It was a fool’s errand, but I still came nonetheless. You and your daughter are every bit as beautiful as he described.”
Mary then checked her daughter. She was sitting up in front of her pillows and looking at Gayland as she would her Grandfather.
“When did you last see my Terry?” asked Mary as she placed a hand on Jenny’s arm and then let her left foot fall gently to the floor.
“Rest easy, My Lady,” said Gayland as he looked toward the bedroom door. It then slowly opened. “If you wish to leave, I will not stop you. But if you do leave, you will not hear the answer to your questions. Do you wish to hear it?”
Mary paused at the edge of the bed, but didn’t let go of Jenny’s arm. “I would like that,” she managed to get out.
“I saw him where we all must pass--those with souls and those without. He was on the Trillium Trail in the Forests of Abnar just outside the fields of Elysium.”
“I don’t know those places,” admitted Mary. “Is this a good thing?”
Then, before Gayland could answer, she heard the telephone ring in the living room.
“This could be the week of ‘good things’,” said Gayland as he backed into the dark corner.
Although Mary followed him closely, it quickly became evident that she could no longer see him at all.
“Are you awake?” said Estelle as she opened the door a bit wider.
“Yes ma’am,” answered Mary as her stepmother turned the hall light on.
Mary quickly glanced at the easy chair, but there was no sign of Gayland.
“You had better take this call,” said Estelle as she handed her the cordless phone. “It’s your neighbor, Cindy. She sounds a bit excited.”
“Hello,” said Mary.
The one-sided conversation left Mary with little to say. Then, with an appropriate “Thank you,” she handed the phone back to her mother.
Estelle stood there, smiling for a moment and then said, “Don’t keep us all in the dark. From the look on your face something important has happened. Will it mess up our weekend?”
“Not at all,” replied Mary. “Cindy’s husband works with my ex boyfriend, James Stafford. It seems James has been in a wreck on Austin Pea Highway just north of Memphis.” Mary then leaned back against the headboard and added, “They can’t find what or who he
hit, but it tore the front of his car up pretty badly. Cindy’s husband went out there and he said the car looked like it hit a telephone pole. The air bag blackened both James’ eyes. He’s got four broken ribs and a fractured wrist. They put him in Baptist Main.”
“Well,” smiled Estelle, “looks like he got a dose of his own medicine.”
Cindy’s husband said he was ranting about hitting a man who came out of nowhere, but the police couldn’t find a soul.
At that moment, Jenny turned on the lamp on the nightstand. “What’s that?” she asked as a glittering object caught her eye on the far side of the room.
As quick as a flash, the seven-year-old jumped from bed and
ran to the easy chair. Once there, she picked up a long, red necklace, which was dangling from its right arm.
“They look like Mardi Gras beads,” answered Estelle. “They’re certainly not ours. You must have brought them with you.”
“Mardi Gras beads,” echoed Mary weakly. As Jenny hung them from her neck, Mary added, “James had some just like them hanging from his rear view mirror.”
“Mom,” added Jenny excitedly with a bit of a smile, “This is where Gay--”
“Ohhh Jenny,” interrupted Mary as she glanced at her mother-in-law, “let’s not trouble Mother with our imaginary friend.”
“That’s cute,” said Estelle through a little chuckle. “She’ll soon grow out of it like you did.”
“Well I hope so,” added Mary, “but this one may be a little tougher.”
Estelle then started to leave, but paused at the door and added, “Charlie Grimes found out you would be here this weekend. I told him it would be all right if dropped in after church. I hope you didn’t mind. I expect he’ll be here for dinner.”
Mary squinted her eyes and replied, “Expect? Mother, you’re doing it again. Charlie is a nice guy but he can be a bit insistent at times. Sitting at home taking care of the seven or eight babies he wants is not my idea of a life for Jenny and me.”
“Ohhh, Mary,” quipped Estelle. “It’ll be a change from
teaching at the High School. Give it a try.”
As Estelle closed the bedroom door, Mary looked back at her daughter. She still had on the red beads.
Jenny slowly took them off, looked at her mother, and then asked, “Do you think Gayland hurt Mr. Stafford?”
Mary slowly shook her head. “I don’t know, Sweetie. I certainly didn’t like what James did to me, but I wouldn’t have wished that on him.” Mary sat down on the edge of the bed and was quickly joined there by Jenny. Mary then added, “I don’t know what Gayland wants. I don’t even know who, or what he is and that’s what really scares me.”
Jenny smiled as she quickly replied, “Maybe if we go to bed, tomorrow will be all different.”
“That’s my line,” quipped Mary as she grabbed her daughter and tickled her ribs. She then added, “Let’s leave the nightlight on. I don’t want any more surprises.”
Then next morning, Mary woke up with Jenny playing tag all through the house with Peanut. Jenny was pretty quiet, but Peanut was a whole different story. It sounded as if Jenny had been his only release of energy for the past month.
At least he isn’t shunning any of the rooms, thought Mary as the little Terrier slid under her bed with Jenny hot on his heels.
“Mary,” called Estelle from the kitchen, “are you going to
church with us?”
“Ohhh gee, Mother. I think Jenny and I will just take a little walk about the farm this morning. Will you please get Dad to put Bear in the pen?”
“Mom,” interrupted Mary, “some of those ‘good’ people in that church are exactly why I didn’t go to Old Miss. I didn’t fit into their click and they all but shunned me in church. I had no hopes of Old Miss being any better. I had just as soon not see them at all.”
“Your Dad will be disappointed, but I can’t say as I blame you
much. I’ll get him to put Bear up until you and Jenny finish your jaunt.”
“Thank you, Mom. Jenny and I are going on a treasure hunt. I remember Terry saying something about hiding a ‘time box’ when he was a teenager.
“Treasure hunt?” echoed Jenny as she stood up from behind the foot of the bed. “What’s a ‘time box’?”
“It’s a box full of things you want to remember, and save,” answered Estelle. “You hide it, put it in a cornerstone of a building, or implant it in a floor with a stone marker that has the date on which it should be opened. That should be interesting to find. I remember that very box, but I don’t remember him ever going back to fetch it.” She then looked at Mary and added, “If I were you, I would look in the old barn. He and his friends spent a lot of time there. As I recall, when he went to hide it, he headed in that direction.”
Shortly after her parents pulled from the driveway and headed to church, Mary laid out Jenny’s clothes on the bed. Hearing her daughter splash about in the bathroom, she knew her little mind wasn’t on the coming adventure.
“Finish your bath, Jenny,” prompted Mary. “I didn’t take half that long. I’ve got your clothes laid out on the bed. It’s a little cool so I’ve added a sweater.”
As Mary fidgeted with a towel and her wet hair, she heard
something move about in the rear of the house. The old home had hardwood floors set on a conventional foundation. Its squeaking was quite evident at times. As she stepped toward the bedroom doorway, she heard something again. The rustling of the towel around her ears had almost caused her to miss the opening and closing of the back door. But the loose panes in its windows had a distinctive rattle when closed, and she caught that.
“Daddy?” she called as she looked down the hall and past the bathroom. “Jenny?” she called again.
“Yes ma’am,” came an answer with a little head peeping from the doorway and into the hall. “Is Grandpa back already?” she asked as she stepped into the hallway with a towel draped about
“Not sure, dear. Come in here and dry off. I thought I heard someone in the kitchen.
Mary then eased down the hallway and through her parent’s bedroom. From there, she could see down the back hallway, past the back door, and into the kitchen.
“Dad?” she said again, noting the back door was still bolted.
“Are we still going treasure hunting?”
Mary jumped and looked back. “Geeze, Jenny,” replied Mary through a sigh. “Your Gayland is just about to freak me out.”
“I’m sorry, Mother, but he doesn’t scare me at all.”
“Well, you can’t go outside wearing a towel. Let’s go and get dressed. Mom’s left us something covered on the stove. We’ll have
us a little picnic in the barn during the treasure hunt.”
“Whoosh!” exclaimed Jenny as she wheeled around and ran back toward their bedroom.
In less than fifteen minutes, the two were on the back porch, looking across the yard at the huge, red barn her father had built four years ago. In comparison, it made the old cypress barn just east of it look like an antique with its tin roof and overlapping, boards. The front and back hayloft had always remained opened, but was shielded from the elements by an overhanging roof. As the two girls walked past the new barn, they paused at the cattle gap that
connected to the old barnyard.
“What is it?” asked Jenny, noting that her mother was somewhat reluctant to enter.
“I don’t know, Sweetie. Something just doesn’t feel right here.”
Jenny smiled and said, “You’re still thinking about Gay--” Jenny stopped mid-sentence and then exclaimed, “Look at that!”
A good number of pigeons and barn swallows seemed to be in quite a hurry to fly out of the front hayloft opening.
“Let’s not go just yet sweetie,” whispered Mary. “Let’s see if a hawk or an owl comes out after them.
Although nothing came charging out in pursuit of the smaller birds, the sound of a massive set of wings made it quite clear something was still inside.
With her mouth slightly agape, Jenny looked up at her mother.
“I heard it too,” replied Mary as she took her daughter’s hand and eased through the cattle gap.
“It sounded awfully big,” said Jenny as they approached the barn door.
Mary chuckled at the way her daughter was clinging to her hand. “Come,” she said calmly as she raised the old, wooden latch and pulled at one of the doors.
“All the way open,” suggested Jenny. “It’s dark in there.”
“Think you’re right,” added Mary as the two stepped back,
pulling at the door.
Jenny watched above them for anything that might decide to leave, or do something worse. A sunny morning would have afforded them a better look into the old building, but the gray, snowy-looking clouds offered them little in that respect. Not a sound came from the loft as the two peered into the dark corners of the old barn.
“You want to go first?” whispered Mary.
“No way,” came an immediate, albeit weak response.
Suddenly, the sound of the wings came again, sending dust and loose hay pouring through the loft opening which stretched out above them to the back of the barn. The two immediately stepped back and shielded their eyes and face. Mary quickly looked at her daughter. Her hands were at the sides of her face and her eyes
were closed tightly. There she stood, stiff as a board with her lips pursed.
Mary chuckled as she looked down at her and said, “You look as if you’re waiting for some dread animal to swoop down and pluck you from the ground. Are you all right?”
Mary waited for an answer as she brushed the hay from her daughter’s hair.
“Is it still in there?” she finally said.
“I’m not real sure. I had my eyes closed too. Perhaps it flew out of the back loft.”
Mary then eased inside with Jenny all but glued to her right hip.
“Do you think Daddy’s box is in here somewhere?” asked Jenny as they both eyed the loft opening.
“Yes . . . but where? It wouldn’t be in some place like Dad’s toolbox or the corn bin. That’s too obvious. Besides, he would have already found it and Mom said he stopped looking a long time ago.” Mary then eyed the old tack room to the left of the front door. “Let’s eat a bite of something,” she suggested as she opened their little sack and looked inside. “I have two pint jars of cold milk and two sausage and egg sandwiches,” she added as she offered a sandwich to her daughter. “When we finish, we can start in the tack room and then work our way around to the other side.”
After an hour of dodging spiders, flying wood roaches, and the occasional field mouse, Mary sat down on a wooden keg outside the tack room and eyed the loft opening.
“Do you think it would be up there?” asked Jenny.
“I think we’re more likely to find our flying friend if we go nosing around up there. Besides, I’ve seen it empty, and there’s no place to hide anything up there besides hay.” Mary then turned and looked toward the front doors.
“Quitting so soon?” spoke a familiar voice from somewhere in the loft.
“Gayland!” exclaimed Jenny as she spun around and looked up through the opening in the loft floor.
Mary’s heart began to pound as she slowly turned and peered
into the darkness of the rafters.
“Sadly, I can still hear your heart pound from here, My Lady,” spoke Gayland softly. “I wish you had your daughter’s opinion of me.”
Mary took hold of the back of Jenny’s sweater and then started backing toward the front door. As she peered into the darkness above them, she noticed a shape in the shadows above the rear loft opening. The man’s head was there, but the rest of the silhouette was a bit puzzling. It looked as if he was wearing a cloak, or long coat.
“Who . . . what are you?” she finally asked.
“I am Gayland, My Lady.” His voice was soft and kind as he added, “I have never thought of myself as a ‘what’. What your husband has left will help you indeed. He knew that, but I cannot just give it to you. That would show preference. You must find it for yourself.”
“Then it’s really here,” said Jenny as she grinned and glanced at her mother.
“Yes, little one,” said Gayland, “it has been since your father was sixteen and discovered girls. “I will give you a clue,” he added. “Inspiration would not break the rules, but I will bend them a little nonetheless.”
“How will you do that?” asked Mary.
“You now every inch of this place. I will inspire your mind toward the goal you wish. Now listen closely.”
“Wait, wait,” said Mary as she quickly pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket and a pen from her shirt.
Gayland then spoke in rhyme, and he said:
“What you seek will not be easily found.
It rests upon a pile six cubits from the ground.
Out of sight, and thus far out of mind,
it once had a purpose but never came to find.
So it sits upon this mighty oak with hands frozen in time,
to hold nothing of its own, save what’s on it’s master’s mind.”
As she wrote down the last line of the poem, Jenny lightly nudged her. “Look,” she whispered as she nodded toward the rafters.
Mary immediately stopped and looked where her daughter was staring. The darkened figure she had noticed just minutes ago had now moved forward into the light of the rear loft opening.
“Ohhh God,” she said weakly. “He doesn’t have a cloak on.”
Mary just stood there, frozen in place, with her eyes transfixed on Gayland.
“You’ll find what Terry has left you,” he said softly. “Don’t give up. It is within your grasp and the prize is well worth the effort.” He then looked down at Jenny, smiled, and then added, “Have a good life. I will trouble you and your mother no longer.”
Gayland slowly spread his wings as he looked toward the tin ceiling. Then, without even raising the dust from the loft floor, he sprang upward, passing through the roof like it was only a shadow.
Jenny leaned heavily upon her mother as they both looked toward where the angel had departed. “He’s gone isn’t he, Mother?” she asked softly. The little tremor in her voice caught Mary’s attention.
“Yes, Sweetie, I think so,” she answered as she watched a tear track down her daughter’s cheek to drop from her chin to the floor. “Don’t cry, baby,” she added softly. “I’m sure he’ll still be watching over us. We’ve certainly made a friend in him.”
“OK,” replied Jenny as she wiped her face with her sweater sleeve. “But, I don’t understand some of the things he said.”
“Neither do I, baby,” admitted Mary as she looked at the piece of paper in her hand. “Well,” she finally added, “the first line says it’s not going to be easy. I think our first clue is in the second line. It tells us the box rests on a pile, five cubits from the ground.”
“What’s a cubit?” asked Jenny.
“Uhhh,” Mary plopped down on a wooden keg and scratched her head. “I think it’s an old-timey, almost ancient way of measuring things. I believe it’s about a foot and a half, but that’s not all. Gayland said it rests on a pile.”
“Of what?” asked Jenny. “I don’t see anything piled up except hay.”
“I know. Dad keeps a tidy place doesn’t he?” she added as she looked about the old barn. “I think what we are looking for is about eight feet from the ground and on top of something.”
“That’s as tall as the ceiling,” noted Jenny. “I don’t see a pile of anything. Granddad’s entirely too neat.”
Mary laughed as Jenny plopped down on an old milking stool. “I don’t think we’re giving Gayland enough credit,” added Mary as she stood and continued looking. “We need to think outside the box? A pile can also be an object of support. See? There’s one,” she said as she pointed to a corner beam of the old pole barn.
“I get it,” exclaimed Jenny as she jumped up and pointed to another beam that supported corner rafters.
“Alright,” agreed Mary. “That’s another big beam. The fourth line said it had a purpose, but indicated that it never found that purpose.”
“And it said it had arms, didn’t it?”
“Yes, baby, but--” Mary’s voice trailed off to a whisper as
her gaze found its way to what Jenny was already looking at. “My God, Jenny,” said Mary weakly. “I think you might have just found it.”
The huge, twelve-inch square beam stood in the corner against the wall of the barn and near the tack room. It held two wooden pegs on each of its three available sides that were hammered into drilled out holes about head high.
As Mary slowly walked toward the huge beam she added, “Your Grandpa put this upright beam up to support the loft floor, but he never brought it this far over. I guess it was just too much trouble to take the beam up, so he made a hat rack out of it and . . . it never found its purpose.”
“There are its arms!” exclaimed Jenny as she bounced on the balls of her feet and pointed to the dowels.
“And it held what’s on its maker’s mind,” added Mary weakly as she lifted her father’s old, tan-colored hat from one of them.
“That’s Grandpas,” said Jenny as they both stepped close to the old beam. “Do you think we’ve really found it?”
Mary hung the hat back up and then looked to the top of the beam. The huge pile was placed against the outer wall, but the angular roof cleared the object’s front side a good ten inches. Given there was a four inch notch cut into the top of the beam for the rafters, the old support offered a good hiding place for a watchful teenager.
“I’m almost afraid to look,” said Mary as she picked up the wooden keg she had been sitting on and placed it against the
front of the beam. “It’s no wonder it’s evaded Dad’s eyes this
many years,” said Mary as she stepped upon the keg and took hold of one of the beam’s dowels. Mary then stood and peered into the dark recess of the little alcove. “I’m not sticking my hand in there,” she said just above a whisper. “I’ve seen Dad’s spiders and this place is one, solid web. Get me something, Sweetie. I need to clean it out a little so I can see.”
As Jenny quickly looked about all that was near, her gaze finally rested upon an old flyswatter hanging just under her Grandfather’s hat. “How about this?” she asked, holding up the wire insect fighter.
“That’s perfect,” said Mary as she took it and then bent the end of the handle at a right angle.
Then, twirling it around to gather up the webs, she worked it deeper into the opening.
“Ohhh, my gosh,” she said weakly as it hit something just six inches inside the hole.
Raising it up, two inches or so, she noted she could then go a little farther. Eight inches more and the ‘L’ shaped handle dropped down on the far side of the same object she had just hit. With a weak tug, the object moved toward her an inch or two.
“I think I’ve got it,” said Mary as she tugged on the swatter’s handle once more.
As she did, something big, brown, and hairy jumped from the
dark hole in front of her and clung to the top of her hand.
“Spiiider!” she screamed, swinging her hand violently as the keg slipped sideways.
Mary made a grab for one of the dowels, but missed. As she fell, she caught a glimpse of her daughter. She was running toward the front door, screaming and flailing at her hair like it was on fire. The impact on the hard, dirt floor is a suitable trade for whatever the arachnid could have done, thought Mary as she slowly rolled over toward where Jenny had ran.
“Ooooo,” she groaned softly, rubbing where the monster had touched her. As she did so, she noticed Jenny was still checking her hair—one strand at a time. “Is it gone?” she asked weakly.
“Yes . . . At least I think so. I saw it scramble into the stall in the front corner.
As Mary managed to sit up, she laughed at her daughter still checking her hair. “It’s gone, dear. I think it was just as scared of us as we were of her.”
“Nuh uh,” responded Jenny as she shook her head.
Mary then looked back to the top of the beam. Before the swatter handle slipped from the hiding place, it moved its intended target to the edge and into the light. The major part of what she could see of one side of the box was of a red color. It had a yellow, oval-shaped design in its center. Mary got up, brushed the dust from her jeans, the grass from her hair, and then moved closer
to the mysterious box.
“Cuban Cigars,” she read just above a whisper.
“Get it! Get it!” exclaimed Jenny, clapping her hands quickly. Sitting the wooden keg back up, a bit farther from the hole this time, she eased back upon her pedestal. “Shoo! Shoo!” she said, tapping the swatter’s handle around the opening of the hiding place. She then grabbed the edge of the cigar box and jumped from the keg. “Got it!” she exclaimed as she gently waved the box at her daughter.
“It rattles,” noted Jenny as she ran up to her mother. “Open it quick and let’s see,” she added as the squeaking of the old barn’s doors caught their attention.
“There you are,” spoke a familiar voice.
“Grandpa! Come look!” exclaimed Jenny as she ran to greet him.
Completely changed from his ‘Sunday’s best’, the old farmer walked in with a smile no amount of sunshine could match. “What have you found?” he asked, eying the box in Mary’s hand. “I don’t remember that being in here at all.”
“No sir, neither do I,” said Mary. “It’s something Terry hid in here a long time ago when he was a teenager.”
“Great Day,” responded Raymond with a bit of a chuckle. “And I thought it was just his imagination that spun that story, but I do remember that old cigar box. I gave it to him to hold his
bubblegum trading cards.
Mary then pulled at the brass pin that held the box closed and opened the lid. “My God,” she managed as she stared into the face of one of baseball’s icons--Babe Ruth.
“How many are there?” asked Raymond.
“At least twelve of him,” she said, pulling at the little, red rubber band that still held them.
“Lord help us,” added her father as he picked up an equally large stack of Ty Cobb and one of Willie Mays.
“Yes,” agreed Mary as she moved her fingers through old marbles, countless Cracker Jack prizes, two pocketknives, a Teddy Roosevelt campaign button, and three solid silver dollars. “Here’s another stack of Hank Aaron also,” she added.
Mary paused a moment. When her father-in-law looked back at her, she said, “Do you think we’ll have enough to pay off the house and land?”
“Great day indeed,” said her father as he put the cards back into the box. “I wouldn’t know how to put a value on all of that. There are some card collectors who would pay a small fortune for just that stack of the ‘Babe’ alone. Come,” he added excitedly. “I know just who to call.”
“Do you think I can get a new bicycle?” asked Jenny.
“Yes, Pumpkin,” said Raymond as he chuckled. “You can pay off the farm, get a new bike, a new car, buy a new house, and still
have a considerable amount to last you for a good long while.
Come. Let’s all go and tell Grandma. She’ll be pleased as peas.”
As the little group walked out of the barn, Jenny slowed and looked back at her mother. “How can we thank Gayland?” she asked, glancing at her Grandfather. “He said he wouldn’t bother us anymore.”
Mary noted the puzzled look on her father-in-law’s face and then answered, “I don’t know, Sweetie, but I’ve just got to believe he already knows.”
“All right. I’ll bite,” said Raymond. “Just who is this Gayland fellow? I don’t know anyone around here by that name.” Mary laughed silently, “This will take some explaining,” she said as they started for the house again. “I want mother to hear this. I also know that you want us to move back in and live here with you. I think Gayland has just shown us the way back home.”