The room fell silent. John William let out a yawn. “Well, I think I’ll head off to bed.”
“Not quite, John William.” His father glanced up at the mysterious hatch in the ceiling. “You are the perfect size to fit through that opening,” said his father with a raised brow.
“What? Must we do that tonight?” John William whined.
“We must.” John William’s father snagged the lantern from on top of the mantel. “That book contained the most valuable information in this study. I have been dreaming of Copia since I was a boy. Now, I have a map.”
“Half of a map,” John William muttered.
“Maybe the other half is up there. We need to find out whatever it is. Courage, my boy… you must show your courage here. This is the best part of our lives! We are making an extraordinary discovery in our own home.”
John William huffed and dragged his feet over to the ladder. “I don’t like climbing this old thing.”
“You’ll be fine. I will be right behind you with the lantern.” His father gave him a nudge.
“Fine…” John William clutched his hands around the rails.
“Relax, son.” He rubbed John William’s white knuckled hands. “This is just another walk in the park. You can do it.”
“Okay, let’s get this over with.” John William took one step, then another; then he closed his eyes and climbed until his head hit the ceiling. He pounded the hatch with his fist repeatedly with no results.
His father climbed up behind him. Thud! He gave the ceiling one good hit. John William ducked his head and the hatch flew open. “Here, take the lantern.”
John William looked at his father’s excited smile. He swallowed the lump in his throat and grabbed the lantern. A chill hit his arm the instant it moved across the threshold. He used his elbows to boost his body through before he could talk himself out of it. “It is tight up here. My head hits the top; and the smell… it reminds me of Uncle Andrew’s old tree fort.
“Yes, yes… but do you see anything?” His father huffed.
John William moved the lantern around every part of the opening. “Aside from some scratch marks in the wood, it is completely empty – not a single trace of anything.”
“Maybe I should come up.” His father took another step up the ladder.
“Those scratch marks – they are from a rodent, right? Like a cute little mouse?”
“Yes, John William; don’t worry.”
John William crawled deeper in. Something in the wall caught his eye. He narrowed his eyes to a squint. “I, I think I see something. No, it can’t be.”
“What is it?” His father blurted.
Thump! “Did you hear that?” John William gasped. He jolted the lantern around. “I’m not alone up here.” A dark shadow darted across the wall, accompanied by more thumping.
“Look out! I’m coming down!” John William stumbled through the hatch in a frantic fit, barely getting one arm around the ladder to secure himself. The lantern hit the ground; glass shattered everywhere.
“Fire!” His father slid down the ladder and covered the wreckage with his coat, followed by a vase full of water and flowers, extinguishing the flames.
John William perched at the top of the ladder, watching his disappointed father catch his breath. “I’m sorry.” He closed the hatch and stepped lightly down to the floor.
“It’s okay; I was never really fond of that coat anyways.” He paused and smiled at John William. “You did well; I’m proud of you.”
John William felt his dad’s reassuring hand ruffling his curls. “Now can I go to bed?”
“Of course, we have an early start tomorrow… rest well.”
“Thanks, you too.” John William glanced up at the ceiling, and shuffled out of the study.
“John William… you are certain you did not see anything?”
He paused before turning the corner. “Yes. I just heard something. Maybe it was a rat?”
“Most likely; goodnight, son.”
John William waved and continued on. He did see something; at least he thought he did. What he saw was so peculiar it must have been his eyes playing tricks on him. It was a small red door with a well-used brass knob set in the wall on the other end of the space where there was enough shadow to keep it out of sight… but there was no way he was going back up there tonight. His father would have to find out another time.
Thanks for reading! You can find BANDITS OF BASSWOOD on AMAZON and other retailers...