The Angel and The Hourglass
The Old Attic
Dan was the first one up the tree. He was usually the first one anywhere we went. He walked faster, for one thing, and he ran faster, swam faster, and thought faster than everyone else, too. He was also better prepared. He never went anywhere without his trusty Swiss Army Knife, and not one of those massive clunky bits of kit, either, but a streamlined pocket-knife, with only the most useful parts: a flat headed screwdriver, a bottle opener, a sturdy metal pick, and a good sharp knife.
None of us imagined that we would need anything more than Dan and his trusty pocket knife to deal with whatever we were about to uncover in the attic.
Everything was going well, it was still early afternoon and there was plenty of sunshine left and climbing the tree turned out to be as easy as it looked, even for me. That little attic window proved to be no match for Dan, either. So, while we all clung to the branch behind him, he worked the screwdriver under the edge of the window, just where the two sides met at the latch, and soon, with a resounding crack, it split open. A second later, Dan launched himself off from the branch and somehow managed to squeeze through the opening, and jump down to the attic floor.
Before any of us could even gasp appreciatively, he turned around and reached out his hand for Missy, who was right behind him. Missy, short for Melissa, is just that, short. She's Dan's little sister and my best friend, but she's also extremely nimble and a fast climber. But now, faced with the empty space between the end of the limb we were on and the attic window, even she hesitated to lose her hold on the branch.
"It's all right. Don't be afraid, I've got you." Dan assured her, and before she could protest, he had grabbed her hand and pulled her right in beside him. Crap, now it was my turn. I was holding onto that branch for dear life, inching my way slowly toward the attic window. I'd felt safe enough with Missy just ahead of me and my brother, Sam right behind, but now, with no one in front, the branch suddenly seemed awfully spindly, and the ground... Oh no, don't look at the ground, I warned myself. I suddenly began to feel dizzy and I'd wished I'd never climbed up the stupid tree in the first place.
But there was Dan, leaning his head out the window, smiling his toothy smile, and reaching out to me until his hand was almost close enough for me to grab onto it. In fact, I did just that, thinking to steady myself for a moment. And before I realised what was happening, Dan was pulling me right through the attic window, too.
"Ouch!" I complained, standing up too soon and bumping my head on the window frame. No one paid any attention to me, though, for both Missy and Dan were watching Sam now, who was bringing up the rear, as usual.
My older brother Sam was as slow and methodical as Dan was quick and reckless. He was the same age as Dan, 14, but nearly twice his size in height and girth, but he wasn't stupid. He was merely extraordinarily cautious as well as exceedingly gifted, but he had a mind that needed to be allowed to follow its own logical pathways. This meant that sometimes it took him a few seconds longer then people were used to before he would speak. A lot of kids thought he was slow, but that was because they couldn't wait long enough to hear what he had to say.
He had stayed on the ground and waited for me to start the climb, because he knew I would be too scared to climb up that high without knowing he was there to catch me if I lost my grip. He was that kind of brother. But now, there he was, he had reached the end of the branch and he looked up at the window doubtfully, "Do you really think I can fit through?"
"You're gonna have to," answered Dan optimistically.
"Well, here goes then." and Sam reached up and grabbed the inside of the window frame with both hands and began force himself through, wriggling in kind of a hilarious way, so that I had to keep myself from giggling. But then, just when it looked like he had made it, he got stuck! His belt buckle was caught on the ledge.
"Whoops", he groaned, but Dan had already grabbed him by the back of his belt and somehow, with his wiry strength, managed to heave Sam right through the window, kind of like a big fish, so that Sam dropped with a thud, both hands on the attic floor to cushion his landing. One second later he was up and laughing and there we all were, finally inside the old house.
We turned around and began to examine our surroundings. The sun's afternoon rays shone weakly through the swirling dust motes from two tiny windows. The light they cast was much too dim for us to see very far into the depths of the attic. Gradually, however, our eyes grew accustomed to the dim light and we began to make out the eerie shapes around us.
"Golly," cried Missy, "It's just like a movie. Look!" she added excitedly, "There's the rocking horse!"
It was true, as the objects began to take shape around us, we could see the old rocking horse, motionless and spooky, just like in a film trailer. Missy ran over to it, jumping over stacks of old magazines, and began to pet it.
"I think its mane and tail are real hair!" She exclaimed, running her hand down its wooden spine and picking up the long tail. "Wow! it's beautiful!" But the boys weren't interested and were already examining a pile of old sleds on the other side of the attic.
"Just like "Rosebud" in that Orsen Wells movie, said Sam, knowingly. "I didn't know that summer crowd ever stayed here in the winter..."
But I had already begun opening a cardboard box nearby. It was filled to the top with lovely Christmas Ornaments. "Well, I guess they must have spent a few Christmases here, look at this!" and I lifted out a delicate glass angel, that sparkled in the dustmotes dancing in the last rays of light still shining from the small windows.
Missy picked her way towards me across some broken lamps and once useful objects strewn about the floor, and then, I don't know why, we all turned around, almost as one, and began to scan the attic space again. And again, almost as one, our gaze landed on the most attractive object anyone could imagine - a big old steamer trunk, sitting by itself underneath the window on the opposite side of the attic.
We all had the same thought. A trunk could be filled with all sorts of treasure. In fact, it could be a treasure chest! Dan reached it first, naturally, and tried the latch. "It's locked!" he called gleefully over his shoulder, but Sam was right behind him, and gripping the lid from both sides, tried to force it open.
No joy there. "Oh, we've got to get it open!" cried Missy, as Sam and Dan doubled their efforts.
"Wait! Don't break it!" I cautioned. "Can't you pick the lock, Dan? With that thingy in your knife? You could use it like a lock pick."
"Oh, yeah" agreed Dan, and he took the knife out of his pocket and opened the pick part of it and inserted into the old lock. "I don't exactly know what I'm doing, though."
He knelt down in front of the lock and I knelt down beside him, "Just kind of dig around with it," I instructed, "go slowly, try to feel for something. See if you can connect with a gear or another hole or whatever." I'd seen enough detective shows on TV to think that picking a lock was easy. It always looked easy, anyway.
"I've got something, Aimee!" Dan whispered, "I think I've got it!" and with a grumble and a creak, the catch gave way and as Dan and I stood up, Sam lifted the heavy lid.
"Oh", was all Missy could say. And 4 disappointed kids gazed down at the contents of the trunk. It seemed to be filled entirely with neatly folded fabric, just old linen table clothes, embroidered aprons and monogramed napkins. Dan shook his head and turned away impatiently and started rummaging through some boxes nearby, but Sam and I began to search through the trunk, feeling our way carefully and lifting bits out to show them to Missy, who laid them neatly on a hatbox beside it.
We tried to admire the embroidery and the lace we found inside, but, as beautiful as they were, they were'nt much of a treasure.
"Why would they lock this crap away?" wondered Sam aloud, methodically sorting through the trunk. It was only when he had finally lifted out the last of the lace doilies and handed them to Missy and me, and we had folded them neatly on top of the other linens, that he realised something wasn't quite right. "Wait a minute! Look at this!" He called out to Dan, who came back to take a look and we all grouped around Sam and stared down into the now empty trunk.
"What are we looking at?" asked Missy, finally.
"The bottom of the trunk! Look, the inside of the trunk is at least 8 inches above the bottom of the trunk on the outside! It has to have a false bottom!" He was right, we realised, excitedly. But, oh, why did he have to be so darn clever! If only he hadn't noticed, and we had just piled all the linens back in the trunk!
But then, we wouldn't have much of a story, would we?