The ragtag group of fishermen was casting the day away. It was mid-June, and the sun was at full power. Hot and muggy, but not a turn-off for the kids. They didn’t mind the heat like older people did. The youngest, Joe, was only nine, and the oldest was Kayla at twelve. The ones in between were Eddy, who was just called Ed at ten, and Andy, who was on the verge of elven.
They were in their go-to fishing spot, a bank on the river. Just about every kind of fish could be caught in the river. Bass, Bluegill, Catfish, and everything in-between. They had been out here for almost thirty minutes, and the only thing they had was a bite that Joe said he got, but the others thought he might have just rubbed up against a stick.
“Man, why ain’t we catching anything?” Ed asked.
“Your smell is probably scaring them off,” Kayla responded.
“Very fun- Ed’s words were cut off by an enormous clap of thunder.
“Well, shoot,” Andy huffed as he looked up at the sky.
“You guys think we should head back home before it hits?” Ed asked.
It was well known that southeastern Kentucky was prone to random storms and showers in the summer.
“We don’t need to go home. We got the treehouse, remember,” Andy said.
“I forgot about that,” Kayla said.
The treehouse was something that they didn’t go to often, but it was great when they got caught by the weather. They had only been there one time this year when the rainy season hit in the spring. It had hit hard too. The friends had to help the old lady who lived down the street in an open field. The field sunk down and was prone to flooding. She had asked them for help moving some furniture because she had lived alone since her husband passed away when they were in diapers. She wanted to move some furniture upstairs just in case it got into the house. She said it had happened in the seventies, and she expected it to happen again.
The old lady turned out to be right. It had rained for almost a week straight and flooded. School had been called off, and the only two roads in and out of the area they lived in were also flooded. Keeping everyone stuck in a place without a choice. Water did get into the old lady’s house, but just to the front door, but she had paid the group for helping her when they moved everything back.
The four of them decided to put the money into a few things for the treehouse. Mainly things to entertain themselves when the weather turned bad. Joe had gotten a pair of Velcro gloves and a little ball that would stick to them. Kayla had gotten two coloring books and a pack of coloring pencils. Ed had gotten a bouncy ball to throw across the wall. Finally, Andy had gotten some newspapers for the Garfield comics and a Goosebumps paperback. These things were for them to use on a rainy day, much like today.
“So, what’s the deal, we race there?” Joe asked.
“I say we do. Even though it won’t matter, I’ll still win,” Ed said. Ed was the only person who played sports in school but still could get beat in a race.
They reeled in their poles and packed the tackle box. They wouldn’t race until they got to their bikes since they had to climb up the bank and get to the railroad tracks. Then they would walk across the train trestle over the river and get to their bikes parked under the massive interstate bridge.
They walked and talked, poles over their shoulders, cutting up while trying to keep their balance on the rails. Trains didn’t run on this rack much anymore, but you could hear one blow its whistle every now and then in the late evening. They were directly over the river when the first drop of rain hit Joe’s forehead. “Uh oh, we better hurry.”
They walked over the trusses as fast as they could, and by the time they got to their bikes, there was another clap of thunder. Ed was the last one on his bike. He had to put the tackle box in the milk crate he zip-tied to the front of the bike. He was only a few seconds behind the others, but they were all peddling fast down the dirt road. When the asphalt road came into view, the rain was starting up.
They all turned left when the dirt road ended. Right, you would cross the railroad tracks leading to the main road. Straight would take you to the hollow where a cluster of houses, including all of theirs, were located. They headed left, riding along a field with some cows lying down in it. (An old-fashioned, often correct, indicator that rain was coming.) After almost a minute of riding, they turned off what seemed to be a tiny hole in the massive tree line. Still, it was actually a pathway they had cleared out to ride their bikes through the woods to the treehouse.
The sky was already turning gray, and heavy rain clouds quickly moved in. They ducked into the woods; it could have been nighttime. They all had these lights on their tires that glowed in the dark and were bright in the dense woods.
Even though the path to the treehouse was grown up, the treehouse and surrounding area were cleared out, and there was a huge weeping willow tree located on the right side of the treehouse. They used the tree to park their bikes to keep them dry.
When they call the treehouse the treehouse, they use the term loosely. The house wasn’t actually in a tree. They would have to build one if they wanted that, and none of them knew how to make stuff, let alone know where to get the material for the project. However, they did find an old house tucked away in the trees, so they all agreed that it was justified to call it a treehouse. None of them knew who owned the rundown house, but it was abandoned what must have been over twenty years ago. They even asked their parents if they knew, and they didn’t even know a house had been that deep in the woods. Since even their parents saw no problem with it, the group claimed it as their headquarters.
The house was little more than a wooden shack. The front porch had a gaping hole in the floor on the far-left side, and the right window had been broken long ago. Other than the place being old and dirty, everything else had been okay with it. The last owner had left a lot of stuff in it. They had found out that the person’s favorite chewing tobacco was Prince Albert. They found four empty tin cans around the house. Some plates and bowls had also been left. It had no running water or electricity, but they had brought a few battery-powered camping lamps if it ever got dark enough. They also made sure to keep snacks stocked inside if they got hungry. Overall, they loved the little treehouse. It was their own little haven from the bipolar weather that Kentucky had to offer.
They all burst into the treehouse, on the verge of being soaked.
“I was the first in. I win,” Joe said, giving a little victory dance.
“Doesn’t look like any of us won,” Kayla said, pointing at his dripping shirt.
They all stood there, soaking in the dampness and darkness of their rundown treehouse. The house had three rooms, a bedroom, a small second bedroom (that mostly had junk piled in it), and the biggest one in the kitchen and living room area that they were now standing in. Andy went started turning on the battery-powered lamps throughout the room. The dark clouds had now blocked the sun. Even though the house had three rooms, they only used the big one. There was no mattress on the bed, so any naps had to be taken on the couch, only big enough for one.
The rain came in full force now. It was hard and with big droplets. Along with claps of thunder and lighting streaks, they said they would be here a while. Andy already had his Goosebumps paperback open and started reading. He was the only one out of the group who enjoyed reading just for fun. Kayla busted out her coloring book and pencils and went at it. Joe and Ed played with the velcro ball game.
Only thirty minutes had passed by, but the boredom was spreading fast. Ed and Joe had already quit playing. Kayla would grow tired of coloring in the next few minutes. Andy, however, was still engaged with his book. The rain showed no sign of stopping. There was no hope of going outside soon, and their stash of actives was running dry.
Ed had gone and got his big bouncy ball. It was white, now turning black because of how dirty it got. It was big enough that he couldn’t get his hand around it. It was all rubber and had some weight to it. He was bouncing it off the wall while hovering around the room.
“Ughhhhh,” Joe said. pacing around the room. “This sucks.”
“Tell me about it,” Kayla said.
“I got an idea,” Ed said.
“What’s that?” Joe asked.
“Dodge ball!” Ed through the ball at Joe. Ed only wanted to scare Joe and aimed the ball to go in-between his legs. Joe was standing on the opposite side of the room.
Ed launched the ball. It did go through Joe’s legs but didn’t stop there. There was a weak spot in the lower wall, and instead of bouncing off the wall, it went through it. There was a loud bang like the ball had made contact with something. Something inside the wall.
The group didn’t know what to think for a second.
Andy looked up from his book. “What in the world did you do?”
“I…. I don’t know exactly,” Ed said.
“Why did it just go through it like that?” Kayla asked.
Joe got down on his knees where the plank broke. “Look, the plank wasn’t nailed. It…it was placed there, and it ended up dry rotting.”
“That means there could be something in there,” Andy said. “The last person to live might have a hiddy hole.”
“Or a rat the size of Joe lives in there,” Kayla said. With her being the oldest, she was the voice of reason most of the time.
“I just don’t know,” Joe knocked on the surrounding planks. “I can’t tell if the others had been messed with. These might have been nailed back, but they are weak now.”
“Here, try this,” Andy emerged with an old hammer. “Found it in a toolbox under the sink,” and handed it to Joe.
There were no objections to doing this because they were mesmerized by the possibility that this old house held secrets from the past.
Joe grabbed the hammer. It looked almost as old as this house. He pried off some of the nails and used the fat part to break the boards. It wasn’t super hard because the nails weren’t in all the way. Almost like it was done in a hurry. The wood mainly was dry rotted, so it either came off the wall easily or broke off completely.
Joe had made a hole big enough to get both hands into the wall. It was pure blackness inside. “Get me one of those lamps before I reach in here.”
Ed ran over to the counter, grabbed the lamp, and handed it to him.
Joe put it beside the dark hole in the wall. He didn’t see anything that would bite him. Turing the lamp sideways and pushing it in a little bit, he didn’t see any bugs or rats. He pulled the lamp back and reached a hand in there. He got up to his elbow, “I think I feel something.” He reached around a little more. “Might be a box. It’s heavy.” He pulled his arm out, positioned himself better, and put both hands inside the hole. He was able to pull out what had been hidden inside the wall.
It was a dark green military ammo box. Dust covered it, but it was easy to tell what it was.
“Woah!” Andy said.
The others sat there in stunned silence. Deep down, they didn’t think they would find anything, but here in front of them was something hidden by the previous owner.
The side of the box read: U.S.M.C., Colt 1911, .45 A.C.P.
“The guy was a Marine. That’s like the elite guys,” Ed said. “Pop it open there, Joe.”
Joe took his dust-covered hands and flipped up the handle that released the little bar holding it down. He took items out one by one, just grabbing and not looking inside first.
He pulled out a bunch of small handgun bullets but no gun with it. He found a few of what had to be bullets to a larger gun, a rifle, because they doubled the size of the handgun bullets. A deck of playing cards was there. A half-empty pack of Camels cigarettes and an empty tin can of Price Albert chewing tobacco. Then Joe grabbed something that scared him.
It was heavy. The heaviest thing in the box so far, but Joe could still get his hand around it. He pulled it out, and his eyes widened with fear. He knew what it was instantly and almost dropped it.
It was a hand grenade, and the pin was still inside.
“Wha… what do I do,” he asked nervously, his voice shaking with fear.
The group was silent for a split second, but that second went on for what seemed hours. None of them knew what to do with dark green explosive.
Finally, Ed spoke. “Hold on, it could be a dud….” He was cut off.
“Or it could be real!” Joe yelled. “It looks pretty real to me!”
“Listen to me, my papaw was in the army. It could just be a training grenade. Look at the bottom, slowly,” Ed said.
Joe carefully raised the potential explosive above his head. “There’s a hole,” he said. “What the heck does that mean?”
“It means we’re good; it’s a training grenade. They don’t practice with real ones.”
“Thank God,” Kayla said, “Joe could have blown all of us up.”
“Scared me half to death,” Joe said and wiped his sweating forehead with the back of his free hand. He set the harmless grenade down and went back to the box, looking before reaching in. His hand came out holding a handful of pictures. They were old and faded. Taken on a polaroid camera.
“My mom told me that this is how they used to take pictures. When she was in high school,” Kayla said.
The pictures were of a group of men in a jungle-looking area. The first picture was of some sort of army base. Tents had been strung up, and green jeeps were in the background. Another photo showed four rough-looking men standing in a dense forest with rifles hung over their shoulders. One man had a cigarette in his mouth, with the pack strapped to his green helmet that matched the jungle background. The man beside him looked like he had a joker playing card in his helmet. Another with bullets of all sizes surrounding his. The last guy had a can of Price Alberts secured to his.
On the back of the pictures, there was a date. The first one of the army base read: Nam June 25th, 1970. The other picture with the group of men read Nam June 29th, 1970. Both photos were taken a few days apart.
They all knew that this was their guy, the owner. There was no doubt about that. The group had concluded that the man with Price Albert on his helmet built this house. The other men must have his friends in the Vietnam war.
While the group solved one part of this puzzle, they soon realized this mystery ran much deeper.
By the time the rain had quit and the sun broken through the clouds, they all had questions. Questions that boggled their brains. Why was this stuff hidden? Where is the guy? His name? Why hide those items that reminded him of his friends? Why abandon your house and not take the items with you? There were many more questions to be asked about what they found. A lot of them would most likely go unanswered.
They did know for sure that their treehouse held secrets they couldn’t imagine, and all it took was a rainy summer day to find out.
Ethan Rose is a senior student at the University of the Cumberlands, majoring in psychology and minoring in creative writing. Upon graduation he plans to pursue a masters’s degree in Clinical Mental Health counseling. He also hopes to publish a short story collection or novel in the future. He was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys reading, writing, and fishing.