If he’d had twelve dollars, Simeon would have bought the better coat, the one with the working zipper and without the stain on the left elbow. But he’d been two dollars short, so he bought the one with the stain on the left elbow and the broken zipper. It would be a halfway decent layer for about a month, until it snowed.
With the remaining three dollars he bought lunch for himself and a crow that followed him from the thrift shop down the block to the gas station. The bird seemed happy enough with the scraps of his meal but did not leave the boy alone afterwards.
Simeon kept walking and the bird with dark eyes and oily wings kept following him. He looked over his shoulder every thirty seconds or so and, like a poorly played game of hide and seek, the crow would be only partially hidden behind something: a lamppost, the foot of a bench, or a spilled can of soda. After several minutes of this, Simeon turned around to face the bird, who was boldly standing in the middle of the sidewalk and staring back at him.
Simeon was getting annoyed. “Go away! I don’t have any more food!”
The bird cocked its head to the side.
“Get lost, you dumb bird. You ate all I could spare today. Find someone else to feed you.”
The crow hopped forward a couple feet and looked up into Simeon’s eyes and apparently did its best to impersonate a sad puppy. A chilly breeze blew through. The spilled soda can bounced and rattled down the empty sidewalk until it bumped into a tree trunk and the noise stopped.
Neither the annoyed human nor the annoying corvid had taken their eyes off each other. The crow tilted its head the other way.
“Geez, I’m sorry, dude. I’ve got nothing for you. It’s a brand new coat.” Simeon stuffed his hands into the coat pockets and tugged the left pocket lining out like a tongue. A single seed fell out and blew away before the bird saw it. “See, nothing.” His right hand wrapped around a small slip of paper and pulled that out instead of the lining. “There’s... something in the… pockets.” He broke eye contact with the crow and looked down at the paper between his hand.
It was yellowed and brittle and blank on one side. But not on the other. He turned it over and pulled it closer to his eyes to try to read the words. No, not words—numbers. Three separate numbers:
Simeon knew he wasn’t looking at phone numbers, but beyond that he was clueless. He read the numbers aloud. They didn’t make any more sense that way. It might have been some kind of equation.
The crow watched him. The boy forgot about the bird and slowly turned back around and started walking again, reading the numbers to himself over and over. He pulled out his phone and searched the internet for the first two strings of digits. A screen and a half of useless results containing partial phone numbers in Illinois.
As he walked and thought about the numbers—and the age of the paper, for that matter—he didn’t notice that the crow continued to follow him. He remembered the joke about someone’s mother being so old their social security number was just “1.” He chuckled to himself and wondered if it could just be a really old social security number, before they reached ten digits?
He glanced up as a truck roared around the corner in front of him, the flash of the driver’s face emitting angry noises toward Simeon. He flipped the bird at the truck and pocketed the paper, his face flushing hot as he thought he saw the truck driver slowing down. He wasn’t ready for a fight. Simeon reached for his coat zipper and fumbled with it for a few seconds before remembering he’d bought the coat with the broken zipper and a stain on the left elbow. Failing to zip up his coat, he grabbed his pocketknife from his jean pocket and just took off running across the street and down several blocks.
The fall air caught up with him quickly and his lungs felt like they’d been scraped raw. He really didn’t want to get in a fight right now. He looked over his shoulder for the truck. There was no sign of it. He exhaled.
And then he saw the crow, watching him from a branch only ten feet away.
“Seriously? What do you want?” He stepped toward the bird and raised his arms, shouting gibberish. The bird finally flew away.
The boy watched the sky and didn’t see the bird turn back. He pulled out his phone to look up the hours of the local library on a Saturday. They were still open for another hour and a half. He could go by and ask a librarian for help with the numbers. Or, at least, he could use a desktop computer to try to do a better search.
And then he noticed a string of numbers underneath the library’s address. Well, there were a couple letters, too. But he thought it was worth a shot to put the numbers in his map app. He flicked from the maps app to the internet and copied the string of numbers into the search bar.
Nothing came up. He removed the 7. Still nothing. Then he looked back at the paper again and realized there were two periods. He added those.
“Oh geez! China? Well,” he sighed, “that was pointless.” He slipped his phone into his pocket and kept walking to the library.
Somewhere overhead, a bird swiveled its head and kept an eye fixed on the boy in the jacket with a stain on the left elbow.
The librarians all seemed busy and he didn’t want to bother them, but he must have looked lost because one of them asked him if they could help with anything.
He told a rambling story that began with “Um, so I didn’t have twelve dollars” and ended with “but it was in China.”
Though the librarian looked like he might have gotten a bit turned around himself, he stuck out his hand and asked if Simeon didn’t mind showing him the piece of paper.
“Oh, yeah, sure.” He fished it out of his coat pocket for the third or fourth time in half an hour. The librarian was a kind-looking grownup, so he felt safe handing him the paper. Simeon still didn’t know what it was, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he was holding one of the most important pieces of paper he’d ever seen. And that was counting the 50-dollar bill his grandma gave him for his 13th birthday.
Simeon’s mind wandered to when his older brother had tricked him into burying that 50-dollar bill in a lunchbox and saving it for later. Exactly one month later, Simeon decided he'd waited long enough and went to look for it where he’d buried it, but it was gone. His dad had gotten annoyed with him for the nine new holes in the backyard that also didn’t bring back the lunchbox. Simeon had punched his brother and gotten grounded for two weeks. When he wasn’t grounded anymore, his brother felt so bad for the trick going so wrong that he gave him 20 dollars to try to make it up to him. Simeon told him he forgave him but he wasn’t sure that was true until his brother bought him a new lunchbox, too. Simeon spent half his brother’s money on a used soccer ball from the thrift store and played with it all summer.
“Here!” The librarian smiled at Simeon and Simeon tried to remember what he had been talking about.
“Here, take a look, Simeon. I think you missed this negative sign here. I tried the numbers again and added that. It’s a spot just a little south of here, actually, in a park.”
Simeon still couldn’t believe his eyes. As he got closer to the park, he stared at the point on his map app on his phone. Most of the numbers were coordinates to a place right here in town. The number 7 hadn’t fit with the coordinates, so he didn’t really know what he’d see when he got there. Maybe there were seven trees in a circle, or seven flowers, or seven names carved into one tree, or...
He pulled his coat tightly around him as he started humming to himself to keep warm. The Saturday-at-1pm sun was nice, but it wasn’t enough against the October-15th-in-Akron chill. From half a block away, he studied the trees beyond the dead-end road. He spotted the trail entrance.
A dog ran barking toward him from a yard on his left. Simeon’s heart pounded as he stumbled over the curb and fell onto the street. The dog stopped short, apparently inside the bounds of an invisible fence. A sharp whistle from the front porch silenced the dog.
The boy and dog looked toward the sound and saw an old man with a quivering lip. “Are you alright, son? He didn’t—”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Simeon laughed a little. “Just surprised me. My bad.”
“I’m really sorry, son. You sure you’re okay?”
Simeon nodded to the old man and glanced at the dog as he stood up and quickly moved on toward the trail. He rubbed his right elbow and found a torn sleeve. Now both sleeves were ruined. This coat wasn’t going to make it through the day.
He was now sure he was standing within inches of the coordinates. And the place was pretty ordinary. Simeon had walked off the trail to the south for a few yards or so. He heard only the wind pushing through the trees, their branches scraping against each other.
Then he heard big flapping wings fly right past his head. He ducked and held his arms up to block whatever it was. He wobbled and fell over into the leaves and the mud. Laying on his back on the ground, beginning to feel cold, he opened his eyes and lowered his hands from his face. He stared at the treetops and caught his breath for the second time in five minutes.
That’s when he felt the wetness of the mud under his jeans. He shot up onto his feet and scrambled away from the mud puddle, annoyed with whatever knocked him on his back. He was in for a cold walk home. He took deep breaths and tried to wipe the mud off his pants to keep from getting colder. But his hands were just getting cold now. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his coat and stood still.
Simeon counted the trees nearby. There were either four—if he looked right around him—or twenty—if he looked out a little farther. So, it wasn’t seven trees. He couldn’t see any big rocks on the ground. He studied the small plants on the ground that he hadn’t trampled. And then he realized flowers bloom and die and don’t always stay in the same place, so that wasn’t very likely. He picked his phone up off the ground after a few seconds of panic when he went looking for it in his pockets. Looking at the screen, his heart sank. “It’s underground. I can’t dig seven feet down. How’d they even do that?”
He kicked and scraped some of the mud away with his toes before he decided he’d get too tired before he even made it six inches. Seven feet was almost twice his height. He didn’t have a shovel or a ladder and he was beginning to remember that it might be illegal to dig a big hole in a public park like that. Had this place always been a public park?
He heard the flapping noise again and looked up to see a crow fly twenty feet over his head and land in the tree next to him. Once it landed, the bird looked right down at him.
He cursed and yelled, “Are you serious, dude?”
The crow looked up and around to other trees, as though it thought Simeon was talking to someone else. Then it looked back down and cawed at him.
Simeon looked around him again and bent down to pick up a stick about as long as his arm. He hurled it up into the tree, but it just crashed against the lower branches and flipped and fell back down, barely missing his own head. After ducking, he looked for a shorter stick. That one made it a little higher and the bird hopped to a higher branch. Once the second stick fell again, the crow hopped down a few branches and was closer than before.
“I don’t want to play this game, you dumb bird! I’m cold and wet and I wanna find my treasure and I wanna go home!” Simeon picked up a rock about the size of a golf ball.
The bird cocked its head, then flapped to the end of the branch it was on, directly over the boy’s head. The boy wound up his throw and aimed directly for the bird. And then he froze and dropped the rock.
“What the heck?” Simeon spotted something square-shaped hanging from the branch, right where the crow was perched. The crow looked at Simeon and flapped its wings. Simeon jumped for the lowest branch.
He was cold and fairly stiff and his first attempt failed. Then he jumped again and managed to hold on this time. He changed his grip and started swinging back and forth until he could reach a higher branch on the upswing. His heart pounded. He swung his way up to a third branch. The crow watched him from its perch directly over the square object. Simeon figured it was some kind of box as he got closer. The branches were closer together now. He climbed quickly between them.
As he stood below the bird’s perch, the boy reached slowly out toward the box hanging below the bird. The bird watched him and only stepped back when the boy struggled to pull the box off the branch.
Simeon realized the box was held in place by three zip-ties. He steadied himself between three branches as he stood up and reached a hand into his pocket and unclipped his pocketknife. He flicked it open and walked out on the limb a couple feet, to get himself closer to the box. He watched the crow. The crow watched him. The lower branch wobbled under his feet. He held onto the higher branch with a sweaty hand and began to saw at the zip-ties.
He whistled the song of the seven dwarves to himself and tried not to look down. The bird looked around and then back at him as the first zip-tie snapped in two. The contents of the box rattled as they shifted. Simeon kept sawing. The box was small, maybe less than a foot on the long side. It was wrapped in a green camouflage tarp, with stretched coat hangers holding the tarp on tightly. The second zip-tie snapped and the box rattled some more. Simeon kept sawing.
At the base of the tree, a bird waited next to a box while a boy climbed down seven branches to reach the ground again.
It took Simeon a minute to work the bent hangers off the tarp. His fingers were getting cold again. And they were covered in pine sap. Once the hangers were out of the way, the tarp basically fell off. There were red lines of rust along it where the wires had been for probably years. Under all this was a simple metal box that was even rustier. Simeon laughed as he realized it might be some kind of lunchbox.
“Who would keep food in this?” he chuckled.
The bird started walking around on the ground as the boy eyed the box from different angles.
He tried to open the lock on the front before he realized the little rusted thing was probably locked. Simeon pulled out his pocketknife for the third time that day. He flicked the blade out and then saw the words "elbow grease" written above the lock. The crow snapped at him suddenly.
“Hey!” Simeon's heart raced--the bird had gotten too close. The bird snapped at him again, biting at his left elbow. Simeon covered his elbow with his palm to protect himself. Then his fingers touched something small in the lining of his sleeve, under the stain. He slipped out of his coat and looked closer at the stain and then at the crow, who had stepped back.
He thumbed the little object through the material. Then he turned his blade on his own sleeve and cut out a little key hiding behind a stain of superglue and thread. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Simeon shook his head.
At the base of the tree, a cold boy in a coat with a broken zipper and holes in both elbows unlocked a little box under the watchful eye of a bird.
A few minutes later, while standing in his front yard, an old man petting a big dog watched his son’s last coat go walking by. The boy in the coat was holding a baseball card and feeding a bird from his hand with what looked like an ancient brick of birdseed. The boy was smiling and laughing at the bird perched on his sleeve.
As he got closer, the boy called out to him, “Hey, excuse me, sir. Do you know who Barry Bonds is?”
The old man blinked and smiled. “He was my son’s favorite baseball player. I bet that card is worth something, son.”
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