“Hey!” Hamish reached for a tree trunk, something, to stop himself from crashing into his friend. “Sam! Why are you stopping?”
“Ssh!” Sam hissed, low and forceful.
Swiping bugs, branches, and drizzle out of his eyes Hamish growled, “Don’t hiss at me. Tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m listening – or trying to. All I hear is you stumbling and crashing. You can’t sneak for anything!”
“Well, Professor,” Hamish sneered, “why are we sneaking? These are our woods.” Whoo-whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo. “Oh, and now you want me to think you’re an owl. Cuckoo!”
“It is an owl – a barred owl. They like habitats near rivers. That must be what I heard.” Sam grabbed Hamish’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“I don’t get why we’re sneaking.”
“I told you,” Sam snapped. “I saw lights and they looked like they were around Dr. Stratford’s house and that is wrong and we have to check it out. She’s our friend.”
“Why do we have to do it now? It’s coming on to rain. I heard the thunder.”
“We just have to do it. Fast. It’ll be okay. Just keep going.”
“What if -”
They walked further along the river, deeper into the woods. Hamish felt the wind rise, tug at his sweaty tee and rustle the leaves. The sound made him think the wood itself had something to say about his and Sam’s presence there.
Thunder rolled overhead, lightning struck across the river. He and Sam jumped and yelped, but they saw their target, Dr. Stratford’s house, one hundred yards ahead.
“I give. You?” Sam asked. Hamish nodded and they took off in a sprint. He felt the mud from rains earlier in the day suck at his sneakers. His mom would be furious about ruined shoes and jeans. He could see Sam stumbling and sliding, too.
“Wait! Stop!” Hamish stretched out to stop his friend. Over the sound of the rain he could hear himself and Sam gasping and gulping for air. “I think I see something.”
“How can you see anything?” Sam demanded. “It’s raining pretty hard.”
“I don’t know – maybe a reflection or something.”
“Wait,” Sam urged, digging in her jeans pocket. “We said we wouldn’t use flashlights, but -”
“Yea, me too.” Hamish grinned and pulled a tiny flashlight from a back pocket.
They moved forward together, their twin beams of light traveling over a wet, rusted object. Hamish picked up a branch to scrape away debris for a better look.
“I’ve never seen this before, have you?” Sam asked. She turned her attention and her flashlight beam toward the woods between them and Dr. Stratford’s house. “It looks like it rolled downhill from where that tree fell.”
“Hey, there’s black stuff inside of this barrel. Some of it looks like, plastic, maybe, but some of it looks like the inside of a fireplace. Why would someone have a fire in the woods?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “Check out that tree. There’s something shiny.”
“More mud – and leaves,” he rasped, climbing toward the tree. “I’m telling my mom this was your idea.”
“Man, it’s just a bottle. An old Coke bottle -”
“That might be worth -” Hamish stopped mid-sentence and simply pointed when Sam turned to him.
“That is a bone. Geez! A bone.”
“Maybe it came from your owl,” he protested weakly. He bent to look over her shoulder as she trained her light on the soft gleam of bone resting among leaves and dirt and some black substance. “That’s the black stuff I saw in the barrel. Is that a chain wrapped around -”
“It looks like – like part of a bracelet, a charm bracelet maybe.”
“Oh. Sam, we have to go. This is really creepy and we have to go. I do not like this. We have to go.”
“No, no – wait! Look at this.” Sam crouched to study the bracelet. “Look, it is a charm! With numbers. It’s a year, I think. ‘1953.’”
“Sam, we have to go. There’s a light -”
“Unbelievable,” Sam muttered as she stood and gestured toward the light. “The light is coming from the direction of Dr. Stratford’s house. It’s probably her. Our parents probably called looking for us. They know we’re usually here.”
“See?” Sam flashed a smile at him. “Down here! Come see what we found!”
Ham sipped his hot cocoa. He and Sam were bundled in blankets and seated at Dr. Stratford’s kitchen table while their clothes were being laundered. She’d explained everything to their parents and they’d understood. Maybe it was because she was a professor. She’d only lived here since last summer, but he and Sam had known from the beginning she was someone they could trust.
Now they were cozy, clean, and dry, and they would be spending the night, a night too nasty for anyone to be out wandering. They watched the door anxiously. Dr. Stratford had found some plastic tarps and gone back to cover their discovery.
“Ham, who do you think she was?”
“Are you for sure it was a girl? I mean, maybe it’s just someone’s really old kitchen trash? You know, chicken bones, a stupid old bracelet they didn’t want anymore.”
“Maybe. But maybe not.”
“The police, huh? They’ll tell us,” Ham turned the mug in his hands. “They probably get this a lot. People buried their trash like that all the time in historical time.”
Sam wasn’t looking at him. She left the table and went to stare out the window in the door. She spoke quietly. “I think I’ll ask Dr. Stratford to light a candle. Just in case. So the girl with the charm can see.”
[[Some are found in car parks and reburied with kingly honors. Some are found near old crumbling walls. Some are found in mounds in South America. This is for the Lost Ones.]]
Barbara Butler McCoy, c. 2014