The Toy Chest
On a late autumn evening, in a place not terribly far from here, a small town got everything it ever wanted; grass will probably never grow there again.
"What is that?"
The two small boys, grubby faced and already covered in dirt looked down at the little chunk of sky blue protruding from beneath the roots of the wizened old oak. The larger boy, with eyes like earth and thin, straw brittle hair was already losing interest, his eyes wandering to the bark of the old tree, appraising it for climbing opportunities. The other was more industrious, and he set to work unearthing the thing, dragging deep grooves in the wet earth with the end of a stick, prising at the mysterious object with dirty fingernails, tenaciously working it loose. Eventually, after some threats of friendly violence, the larger boy was persuaded to help. Despite this, it still took a long time to unearth it. The thing was surprisingly large - no shard of metal this, but something much larger. By the time they had finally worked the thing loose of the mud, it was already growing dark, the brightest of the stars clearly visible through the barren canopy above.
The two boys sat back, staring at their find. It was a large thing, perhaps a meter to a side with rounded edges, but light, like foam. The outside had an uncanny quality to it, like metal, but slick - the tightest of grips found no purchase on it, and no dirt clung to it either. The cube was a friendly shade of sky blue, and on one side, a small green hand-print was recessed a little into it. The larger boy, perhaps a little awed by the find, reached forward a little, and put his small palm against it. It did not quite fit. The size was right, but there were too many fingers on the print. After a moment, he withdrew, wiping his hand off on his jeans.
After a moment, the smaller one noticed a seam, running along the top of it. he reached up, and with a quick motion, flipped the lid of the box back. He glanced inside. For a moment, he saw nothing, but then, of course, he saw that it was just a trick of the fading light. Of course there was something in it. It was right there, as plain as day, a little bicycle.
Laughing, he lifted it out with some difficulty.
"Look at this!" he crowed, setting the object on the ground.
The larger boy shouted,
"Half of that is mine, you know."
"Get your own!"
He climbed atop, and began to peddle in circled around the other boy, laughing.
The larger boy glowered after him, and then stuck his foot into the spokes, tipping the bike over. The smaller boy skidded to the ground, skinning his knee and starting to cry. The larger boy, feeling guilty but not showing it, looked inside the box. It was not empty, as he had expected, but it has something at the bottom. He reached inside the box, and picked it up. It was a pocket knife, a big shiny one with an ivory handle and a big, sharp blade. He grinned, and then turned around to show it to his friend, then he remembered the bicycle, and he turned back. It was dark in the box. Who knew what else was in here? He began probing around with his fingertips, and suddenly he felt something. Reaching inside, he pulled something out. It was tremendously heavy, and shiny - a big lump of metal. Struggling to lift the cold lump, he peered curiously at the gold. He stuffed it into one pocket, and without looking at his friend, he picked up the box and began to run home as fast as he could.
His mother was waiting on the porch for him, looking strange in the flickering light of the single yellow porch light. He did not bother to feel guilty for the late hour. This was Important. She had already started though, so he endured the lecture for several minutes, hopping nervously from one foot to another, before he finally reached into his pocket, took out the lump of gold, and let it clatter on to the porch in front of her.
He would never forget the expression on her face. Her mouth continues to move for several seconds after she had seen the gold, but at steadily decreasing volume - within a moment, she had stopped altogether, and just stood there staring at it.
She turned to look at him, and then, without a word, she picked it up and walked into the parlor. He followed behind, carrying the box.
She got his father, and his father went and got the jeweler, and the jeweler went and got the bank manager, and eventually, all of them began shouting, while the boy sat waiting in the corner, hugging the box to his chest. They were all angry, and shouting. The jeweler was refusing to tell him how much it was worth unless he got a percentage, and his parents were having none of it, and then the banker said it was probably found on his land, so the whole thing belonged to him anyway. At this point, a little hush happened and they all turned around and looked at the boy.
His father approached him, voice cautious.
"Where did you find this?"
The boy looked up at him, and the pointed at the box gripped in his arms.
His father took the box from him, and opened the lid. The box was at an odd angle, so the boy could not really see in, but he could see his father's face, as it flashed up in shock and then delight. Without a word, he tipped the box over, letting the little scraps of green-gray paper spill out over the floor. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. They piled at his feet. He reached down, and picked one up, and turned to the others, saying, voice oddly flat,
"I think it's time for you gentlemen to leave, now."
The jeweler, still cradling the lump of gold, glanced up sharply and said,
"Hold on, now!"
A weird little smile spider-webbed over his face.
"This is probably stolen property. Can't keep stolen property You've got to turn this over to the police. It's a law."
The little smile stayed on the small man's face as he stood there, rocking slowly from side to side, eyes trained on the pile of money.
Now it was the banker's turn to round on him.
"You brazen little... your brother is the sheriff, and we all know it!"
"It's the law. You've got to turn stolen property over to the police."
He continued to rock back and forth.
"It's not stolen!" insisted his father, "It was buried. It had been there a long time. Certainly long enough for the statute of limitations to expire!"
"Let's check," interjected his wife.
She walked over to the box, and picked a quarter out of it.
She stared at it.
"The date is blurred," she said.
Her husband picked up the coin and examined it.
The other were gathered around, now, peering closely at it. The surface of the coin was perfect in every regard, except that the date was illegible. A small defect in the surface of the coin obliterated it.
The banker and the jeweler turned to rummaging through the box, both coming up with another coin within seconds.
"Ha!" They both shouted, staring at the coins they had found.
"1934!" the banker crowed.
"1999!" the jeweler shouted.
They paused, and turned to look at one another. They glared, checking each other's coins, and then turning away, frowning.
"Well, it doesn't matter. Clearly, some of the money is new, and we need to turn it in."
The boy's father was laughing.
"Go right ahead. Take your five cents and give it to the sheriff with my blessings. You can't prove a thing about the other million."
The jeweler turned red in the face.
"You can't prove it's not stolen."
"You can't prove it is!"
The two stood glowering at each other until the banker stepped between them.
"The point is moot," he said, "because it was found in the woods, and I own those woods. Legally, it's mine."
"Fine," said the jeweler, "turn it over to the police."
The banker grinned.
"Oh, I'll do that. First thing in the morning, I'll drive down to Charleston and drop it off at the police station, there. If no-one can prove ownership after six weeks, then..."
The jeweler was positively shrieking now, and the boy, ignored, ran to hide behind the blue box, touching it's slick surface, and cradling the ivory knife in one hand.
"It's stolen!" he screamed.
"It's mine! My own flesh and blood found it!"
His father was bellowing now.
The banker turned and started to shovel money into the box. The jeweler practically tackled him.
"We can trace the serial numbers! We can find out when this money was printed!"
He reached into the box, probing for a loose bill. His fingers found something, and he pulled out a long stick of black metal. There was a scream.
He glanced down, a little disoriented, at the gun in his hand. That was a coincidence... Without really meaning to, he pulled back the hammer and pointed it at the others.
"Everyone get out of the house, now."
The banker stepped away from the box, hands in the air, and he began to walk backwards towards the door.
"I'll have you in jail for this."
The gun turned to level at him.
"See you in Mexico, then."
The banker's face reddened as he backed away.
"You're not the only one with a gun."
The jeweler adjusted his glasses, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"Then I wish that god would come and blow you and the rest of this godforsaken town off the face of the earth!"
Behind him, the box began to hum.