Chapter Three ~ Be Careful for What you Might Find
Twenty Years Earlier
It was a lazy summer’s day in the middle of July. The sky was nearly perfectly blue with the exception of a few cotton ball clouds. The outdoor temperature was pushing 98 degrees and the heat index was close to 107 degrees. Air conditioners hummed. In homes without air conditioning, portable fans worked overtime to give residents relief. The Astore household had the air conditioner running on 78 degrees. Eight year old Joe and his two friends, Tony and Tony’s older sister Anna sat in the living room watching TV. Tony was a year younger than Anna.
“Turn off the TV. You kids need to play. Go outside and get some fresh air,” Joe’s mom called from the kitchen.
“It’s too hot, Mom. Can we have some ice cream?” asked Joe.
“No, you may not have some ice cream. It’s for dinner. And, how many times have I asked you to say please?” said his mother, making more of a statement than asking a question.
Joe picked up the remote and turned the TV off. The four kids looked at each other as if life support tubes were disconnected from their bodies.
Joe said, “We can go outside and ride our bikes over to the school parking lot and race around the light poles.”
Anna said, “Are you serious? It’s too hot to do anything.”
“We can go to the playground and see who can go the highest on the swings,” said Tony.
From the kitchen, his mother hollered, “That’s too dangerous.”
“Does your mom hear everything?” asked Anna.
“Sometimes, I think she has a hearing super power,” said Joe.
Anna whispered, “Let’s play hide and seek inside. We’ll be cool and the TV will be off. Since I thought of it, one of you two will be it.”
Tony and Joe looked at each other and nodded. Tony said, “Can we hide outside?”
Joe said, “Mom is in the kitchen. We can hide in the garage, the basement, the bedrooms, or the attic. We’ll stay out of the kitchen. If you’re found, you’re out. We can’t run, mom will send us outside for sure. Since I came up with this, you’re it, Tony.”
“Why do I have to be it first all the time?” asked Tony.
“You won’t be it in the next round. Come on, let’s have some fun. Tony, lie face down on the sofa and count to one-hundred by 5’s,” said Anna.
Tony lied down on the sofa. Joe gave him a throw pillow to hold on top of his head. Tony said, “Ready, set, go. Then he started counting, “Five, ten, fifteen …”
Joe and Anna scattered. Anna headed into the garage. Joe quietly opened the door to the attic and stealthily climbed the stairs. When he reached the attic door, he twisted the knob slowly and gently pushed the door open, closing it behind him. He looked around the attic for the perfect hiding place.
“Here I come, ready or not,” hollered Tony.
Joe could hear Tony scurrying around below him. He had to think fast. The attic was nearly barren with the exception of his dad’s old footlocker from the days he was in the army. Joe walked over to it. He unclipped the hinges, and opened it. He thought he could fit inside if he curled his knees up to his chest. The only items he saw were his dad’s army uniforms, that was all. He lifted the top two uniforms out and saw a small metal box at the bottom. He was about to take it out and set it on the attic floor, when he heard Tony say. “I got you Anna. I think Joe’s in the attic.”
Joe stepped into the footlocker. He picked up his dad’s two uniforms and placed them on top of himself. He carefully stuck an arm out on the side of the uniforms and lowered the cover. He then pulled his arms under the uniforms and curled up in a ball. His head rested on the small metal box.
Joe heard the door to attic open. He heard Tony say, “I gotcha. You might as well give up. I know you’re in here.”
Joe held his breath while he lied in the box. He heard the attic floor creaking. At first the sounds moved away from him; then they came toward him and stopped next to the footlocker. Tony gave the footlocker a kick and said, “You can get out, Joe. I found you.”
Joe stifled a laugh and squeezed his eyes shut thinking if he couldn’t see Tony, Tony couldn’t see him. Joe heard the locker open. He heard Anna say, “I told you, he’s not in there. There are only old army clothes. He’s not in the attic. Did you look under his bed?”
Tony said, “No. Let’s go.”
Joe heard Tony and Anna close the door to the attic. He heard their footsteps walking down the stairs. Each step growing further away. He waited another minute. Then he pushed the footlocker open and sat up. Joe climbed out of the footlocker, turned and began to rearrange the clothes. He spotted the small metal box. He picked it up. He shook it. Something was inside. He could feel it sliding back and forth as he shook the box. He sat down with his back against the footlocker and put the metal box on his lap.
The metal box had a small, hook clasp with the hook under a protruding metal ball holding the top secure to the box. Joe tried to slide the hook to the right, it didn’t move. He tried to wedge the fingernail of his right forefinger under the hook, that didn’t work. Joe stood up and carried the metal box around the attic looking for something to push the hook. He spotted a wire coat hanger lying on the attic floor by the heating unit. Joe was hurried to get the coat hanger, in his haste he tripped over his untied shoestring. The metal box fell out of his hands. He picked it up, and remained still, hoping no one heard him. He didn’t hear any sounds. He retrieved the coat hanger, walked back to the footlocker and sat on the floor, resting his back against the footlocker. The metal box sat on his lap. His right hand held the coat hanger.
Joe straightened out the hook part of the coat hanger and jammed it against the hook on the box. The hook moved. He hit it again, the hook slid to the side. Joe put the coat hanger down on the attic floor, and turned the metal box so that it would open facing him.
“What are you doing?”
Joe turned and saw his mother standing in the attic doorway, her arms akimbo. He said, “Nothing, Mom. Just looking through things.”
In a flash his mom was standing next to him and grabbed the box out of his hands. She held the box close to her chest and gestured toward Joe with her right forefinger extended, “Don’t you dare go snooping up here again. Tell your friends to go home and you go to your room.”