Jack and his father set off in the early morning, after a breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. They hadn’t said anything to the rest of the family — Jack’s father just kissed his mother as they left, didn’t say where they were going, just that they’d be back.
Jack had a feeling that his father had done that for his sake. But Jack was prepared for whatever they might find.
“What do you think is there, Dad?” Jack huffed as they climbed over another fallen log.
“This is your treasure hunt, Son. Not my place to go guessing at what you’re going to find. I’m just along for the ride.”
They hiked for nearly an hour, the air warming enough that their breath no longer clouded. Barely.
“Couldn’t he have picked a spot closer to home?” Jack’s father said, pushing past the thinnest part of the overgrowth.
It was quite a ways out of the way, in a darker, older part of the woods. Jack and Beth had explored the stretch closest to the properites, but that was younger, the trees spaced further apart. The professor’s coordinates pointed to a spot deeper into the woods than Jack had ever gone.
“Jack, come look at this.”
Jack looked up from his thoughts, taking his eyes from the leaf-choked forest floor, where he’d been looking to keep from tripping over hidden tree roots.
His father had squatted down close to a particularly rough tree trunk. The bark was thick, looked nearly armor-like, shielding the tree that measured further around than Jack could stretch his arms.
Snagged in the bark, and trailing to the groundcover was a string. Or rather, red yarn, still relatively bright, and weathered, but not overly so.
“Someone has been this way before,” Jack’s father said. “This hasn’t been out here much more than a month, if even that long.”
They carefully fished the yarn up and off the forest floor, not surprised that it led in the same direction they were heading.
* * * * *
The trail led them to a small clearing, a lone tree standing in the middle of it, blackened and twisted from a long-ago lightning strike. They circled the tree completely, but found nothing else remarkable about it. There was nothing in the branches.
“Hold on, look here,” Jack’s father said, brushing at the leaves accumulated at the base of the tree. The trunk was forked, a patch of earth beneath the opening looked as though it was recently worked.
Jack hesitated only a moment, then started to push the dirt aside, this way and that.
“I knew we should have brought a shovel,” his dad said.
It didn’t take long for Jack to expose the coffee can. It hadn’t been buried long at all.
“Well?” Jack’s father said. “You want to open it here? Head home and open it there?”
Jack took a deep breath. Then he hooked his fingers around the plastic lid, peeled it up.
Inside were two envelopes. One marked “Dr. H.” The other had Jack’s name written on it, in large, squared off letters.