Ten-year-old Evette sat on the steps of her grandparent’s farmhouse front porch. Her brother, twelve-year-old Sam, and her twin cousins, Brian and Barry, same age as Sam, were playing in the tree-house nestled in the branches of the maple at the left side of the house. Its mate stood sentinel on the other side of the house, shading the walk from the driveway to the porch.
She’d been told in no uncertain terms that as a girl, she was not allowed in their club. Evette sighed. Their parents and grandparents were out back on the deck, having beers and talking non-stop about boring stuff. There had been nothing to do all day, all alone.
Last night she’d heard her Grandmother say that she wanted to start cleaning out the attic while she was still spry enough to do it. Grandfather Bob shushed her. “It’s a hundred eleven in the attic this time of year, Claudette. Leave it till fall when it’s cooler.”
Grandma had agreed and the after dinner conversation turned to other things. This morning while the boys had run out to the barn to dare each other to jump from the hay loft into the pile below, she had crept up to the attic to see what treasures might be up there. It was creepy and even at nine in the morning, already so hot the sweat began to trickle down her temples as soon as she managed to get in the stuck attic door.
Evette sneezed. A thick layer of dust covered everything. The only light came from a small, dust-clogged window at the end of the house. The wood was raw, unpainted and she got a sliver when she’d put her hand on a rafter to balance herself as she’d climbed over a pile of plastic bins in front of the door. She stood in an empty spot and looked around. A dresser with its mirror in front of it sat halfway down the right wall. The roof line came to just three feet from the floor there. No wonder the mirror was standing on the floor. Cardboard boxes lined the walls while taller stuff, a dressmaker’s dummy, for example, stood in the middle.
On the left wall, more boxes and bins but just a few feet from the window she’d spotted a large, old-fashioned trunk. Evette fingered the hasp, there was no lock, so she pulled it from the ring-thing and lifted the top. It was heavy and a cascade of decades’ worth of dust poured off of the lid and swirled around the trunk, making her sneeze again. She pushed the lid to the wall and let it rest there.
In the trunk, on top, were uniforms. She remembered Grandpa saying how he’d been in the Army. Someplace called Korea, far, far away. Under that was a metal box, about 4 inches square and about a foot and a half long. Army printing was on it and she tried to open it but it was locked. Placing it on the floor she rifled through other things, a shoebox of photos of soldiers, a packet of letters tied with a shoestring, the addresses faded.
Under all of that was an envelope, nothing written on it. She picked it up. It was unsealed so she looked inside. Once read, she stuffed it in her pocket and put everything back in the trunk and closed it.
This afternoon, she pulled it from her pocket. Checking to make sure her brother and cousins were busy, she opened it and studied it. Out here, where there was more light, she realized it was a map of Grandpa’s farm. Her little finger traced along a line that was labeled stream. She knew where that was. Two days ago all four kids had spent the day wading, the boys trying to build a dam or catch minnows in their hands. Away from that was a drawing of a circle of trees. An X was in the middle.
She looked at the tree-house. The boys were yelling through some make-believe game of Tarzan and attackers. Evette stuck the map in her pocket and drifted off of the porch and around the back. The adults were involved in telling stories about their childhoods and usually she’d stick around to hear that but not now. Now she walked to the barn, out of sight, and after stopping for a shovel, headed to the stream.
She thought she remembered that circle of trees from last year’s visit. Grandpa had told them that the fairies had caused the trees to grow in a circle. She’s spent the whole rest of the day searching the daisies and black-eyed susans looking for fairies. Now she wanted to see what might really be where the X was on Grandpa’s map. She found the stream and walking along it, spotted the trees. They were bigger than she remembered. Evette skipped across the flower-filled pasture, Grandpa had stopped keeping cows long ago, straight to the trees. In the middle it was cool and quiet, almost as though there were fairies here, keeping the world away. Studying the map again, she looked around. Right in the middle, she stuck her shovel into the ground and began to dig.
The next day the police were there searching the entire house. Grandpa had been lead off in handcuffs. Everyone else had been herded into the living room. Grandma was crying on the sofa with Mama beside her, arm wrapped around her shoulders.
Uncle Bill whispered to papa. “He stole it. Before he joined the army? How the hell did Evette find it?”
Papa shook his head. “She told the police she found the map in the attic and went to see what was at the X.”
Uncle Bill ran his hand through his hair. “Half a million dollars. I can’t believe it.”
Evette cried to herself in the arm chair. She didn’t know what she’d done wrong.