The plane fell from the sky. The pilot survived, but was in the hospital at Trebek a hundred miles from here. My folks got the stuff out of the wreck, since it was on our land, and it got stored in the barn. Then it was forgot.
I was a child then, living with my Pa, his new wife and all her kin. They all were busy workin the crops, such as they were in that arid prairie. No one paid me much notice, not that I minded. A young girl just gets in the way of farmin. I had my kitchen chores and chickens to feed, and that was about all my life was. There was no other kids around anywhere.
I never knew my mom. She died when I was born. Pa raised me at first, but with Janis, he sort of let me alone. I realize now that I probably looked too much like my mother for his comfort. We both bein redheads with lots of freckles an all.
Pa said life was hard, and back then I didn’t know it. Nobody had an education. Not one of them could read, but Janis could write her name, I think. Growing up in that place and time, school was never thought of. If I wanted to go to school, it would have been forty miles and back every day just to go.
Me? I was dyin for something to do. Chores and chickens jus don’t make good company. I stayed away from the grownups all I could. If they saw me they would think of some chore for me to do. Guess they paid me no mind. I got what I could to eat. There was always eggs to suck.
Sometimes when it was hot, an it was always hot, I would go to the cool of the barn. Lofts were fun to play on. Pa put a rope up high sos to bring bails into the loft. That was my swing. Birds would build their nests up in the roof, and I had lots of good times watchin their chicks.
One day, with nothin to do, I thought to look under them tarps where the crates was stored from that plane wreck. Not much there was any use to me. There was books an stuff, but they had no pictures. There was also a funny grey box with a window in it.
I know now that the things belonged to a missionary who had sent for them. Guess he thought they were lost in the wreck of the cargo plane carryin them, cause no one ever came to see. Pa and the rest looked it over when they brought it in, but none of it was any use to them either. Bunch of dumb ol books and stuff.
That box had me curious though. I couldn’t figure it out. What was it for? I set it up back in the corner of the loft away from the daytime sun. I had a little bench there, so I cleaned it off and looked it over.
There was two thin flat holes under the window, and some kind of hole with wires in it on the opposite side. I went back down to the crates and looked some more. I found a little carboard box with some little books and two funny shaped flat grey box things, some little flat card things, and a kind of a rope. They looked to be the same gray color as the box, so I took it all up to the loft with me.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the rope went into that little hole with the wires in it. Those funny flat card things looked like they would go into the little flat holes under the window. What was this new window thing?
Somehow I knew this was friendly, cause it had a little tiny apple in the front of it, in rainbow colors. I looked at the books, but they was mostly words, and I couldn’t read. They had pictures though, and I figured out that this funny box with the window had to have ‘lectricity like the icebox in the kitchen, and the lamp in the living room.
It took a while to get the wire down from the top of the barn, but I pulled it off its nails and brought down the light at the end of it close to my little bench. This was not a problem, for nobody went to the barn to get the tractor less it was daylight.
I had a bad problem figuring out how to get that rope’s end into that light’s handle. Being a child, I was unaware of the danger of the electricity in that wire, or the fact that it could have caused a fire. I just knew this was what it was used for.
I found something I could use on the work bench down below. It was a bulb screw thing, but it had a flat part with holes on the other end. When I took the light bulb out, and screwed the new thing in it, I saw that the rope thing could now go into the top of it.
I hooked it together and looked at the box with the window. Nothing happened. Looking some more, I figured out that the funny flat grey box things also had little black ropes which fitted into tiny holes in the window box. I put them in their holes and waited, but nothing happened.
I looked at the window box some more and saw a little something sticking out on the back. I pushed on it, and heard a sound! It was a loud, friendly sound, but it scared me. What if Janis heard? I went to the front of the loft and looked at the house. I could see the kitchen window there but no one bothered to come out to see what I was doing.
I was excited and thrilled to be doin something I never did before, and maybe gettin caught doin it. I went back to my window box and saw a light coming out of the window! This was magical to me. I just starred at the pretty gray picture for a long time. In the center was a little square turning on and off.
I did not understand what this box with the window was for, but it was very new. It could have fallen off a space ship for all of me, that is, if I had known such a thing could exist as a space ship. I was just lost in the presence of this alien artifact. Just being there with it somehow changed my life forever.
I then understood that there was more to life than what I had seen and owned up to that time. There was a world out there, beyond our land, and it held great and wonderful things in it, just like this strange magical box sitting on my bench.
I put my hand on the top of it and felt heat coming out. It was now getting late and the barn was cold. The heat felt good. This was one more thing to like about this little box with the apple on the front.
It only took a few days playing with the artifact that I discovered what those flat card things were for. Putting one of them into the flat hole for it, something happened. I got little pictures on the side of the window. I found the littlest grey box in my hand had a thing you could push, and a ball inside the back of it. It made an arrow move on the window.
You can imagine that it did not take me long to make something happen on the window, using this little grey box and its thing to push. I put another flat card thing into the other flat hole under the window. this time I touched the little box picture on the window by moving my little flat grey box in my hand. I learned to move this little flat box around on the bench.
The bench didn’t work too good cause it was just wood. I got a smooth book from one of the crates and used it to push my little grey box around on top of. It worked much better then.
The other flat grey box thing was bigger and it had lots of buttons on it, with letters. One of the pictures that was on the window had letters on it. I knew what letters was cause somebody told me that is what they were. I touched with my little box moving around, one of the big letters on the window. The box spoke to me! I jumped! This was new! The box spoke and said “A.” I touched that letter again. The window box spoke “A.” This is what that letter was? I could hardly contain my excitement!
This was amazing to me, and soon I was learning, without knowing I was, the letters of the alphabet. I also learned that with another flat card thing in its hole, I could touch words and they would speak.
You can imagine, in my empty world, with no one to bother me, I spent all my time in that loft in the barn with my new little friend.
No one knew. I was never going to tell anyone about my new friend, especially an adult. They would be fearful of my artifact, and of me using it. Somehow I just knew this was true.
Learning to read was exciting, for those ominous books in the crates below soon were read by me! Many of them were hard, because I did not know many of the words in them, but some were for children, and these I devoured.
My world almost came to an end one day. Someone had seen a postman bringing something to the box out on the dirt road to our farm. It was a letter, all official and cryptic. Pa kept turning it over and over in his hands. He couldn’t read it, and no one else was a volunteer to take it from him.
“I can read it!” I piped up. Immediately regretting what I had said. Suddenly Pa had his hand on my shoulder, bringing me into the circle of his wife and her kin. “Where do you get readin?”
I stammered, almost cryin, “From books.” It was all I could answer.
“Where you get books?” I knew I was in for a whippin then.
“In the barn, Pa.” Thinkin fast, I spoke again, “You want me to read for you?”
Janis came and took Pa’s hand off me, and held me close. “You ain’t gonna whip her for doin good!” She took the letter and gave it to me.
I was ready to bawl, or to run, but still, I wanted to show them I could read. Looking at it, I read the front of the container the letter was in. “It says its for you Pa. Here’s your name. It be from a Bank.”
Pa jus looked at me, and then the letter. I saw fear in his face. Letters never had good news in them. He took the letter from me and put it on the mantle. That was the end of that. Once something got there, it was forgot. I was curious about what it said, but I knew I would never touch what Pa had put away.
I had a broach there on the mantle. It belonged to my mother. When Pa saw me wearin it once, that is where it went. I loved that broach, but it might as well have been down the well. It was lost to me forever.
Pa turned to me again, and told me to show them the books I was readin. I was scared then cause my little box with the window was on, and its light would attract their eyes when they got to the barn.
I did the only thing I could. I ran. I knowed they would foller me, but I was fast gettin to the barn and in the side door. I was up the loft and had the box off before any of them got to the door. I was down by the crates waitin for them when they come in.
It was dark there in the barn. Pa tried to find the light overhead, but couldn’t see it. Moonlight was streaming through the spaces in the boards bright enough we all could see a little. I pulled some of the books out of the crate I had opened and gave them to Pa and Janis.
Back in the house, the books went on the kitchen table. I was set on a stool by the stove. It was a family council. I knew my fate was being decided that night. No one ever had read in our family before, least-wise our generation. Janis was my one defense, but I could see where it was all goin.
Not much was said while we were all in the kitchen. Pa finally took the books and one by one, put them in the stove. I was scared bad. If they had found my artifact, they would like to put me in that stove too. I understood my crime and the punishment without a word being spoke.
I would never pick up a book again, and I would forget readin. Guess it was too much for their men pride for a child, a girl, to be high and mighty readin. I never made a face, nor said a word. Janis was the only one to cry, but I was too young to know why she cried.
In silence, I went to my bed in the coat closet behind the kitchen door. Everyone else went to bed too, I guess. No matter that Janis was takin my side in this, I knew she would not speak to Pa about it later. Pa’s word was law. I don’t think I slept that night. I was scared about that little box in the barn.
Next morning, afor anyone was up, even before it was light, I went to the barn as quiet as I could. Even the chickens made no noise when I came up to the loft. Taking all the parts off my window box, I carefully put them into one of the crates down below, hiding them under the books.
I did the same with the little window box too. I dearly loved that thing, but I would go into the stove if it were found. Or worse, onto the chopping block by the well. I knew I could not leave it there in the crates, for Pa was sure to come to burn those books too.
I was in great danger being near them crates, but I had no where to put my alien artifact but there for now. Late at night, I might could move it somewhere else. That day was a long day for me. Pa and the boys went to the field. I helped Janis in the kitchen. She hardly spoke to me, and didn’t want to look at me neither. Guess I scared her, or Pa did.
That night I took a shovel and went to an empty stall in the back of the barn. I didn’t know how hard it would be to dig a hole, but I dug one there in the dry and soft sandy soil. The moon was goin down in the west when I finished. My artifact was hid inside the smallest crate, wrapped in a horse blanket. The extra dirt was spread out the back door of the barn in the muck. My secret was safe, but was I?
Not too many days later, a strange woman came to our home. Pa called me from feedin the chickens late in the morning. This woman was very stern looking in her dress, but had kindly eyes. I knew before they even spoke that my life there was over. Whoever this new woman was, I was going with her. Janis cried some more, but said I would be very happy soon. Whatever could she mean?
I was ten years old when I went to the Shaddbrook Orphanage. My peers did not take to me right away. I was dressed funny, by their tastes. But the new woman was the headmistress of the Orphanage, and she was kind, very kind to me. I went to school there, and she said I was very bright. She not only let me read, but I could read any book I wanted that was in the library room .
I never did tell her, or any of my new friends, about that alien box back in my barn. Would any of them have believed me?
Years have passed. I am grown and I run this Orphanage now, a gift from my mentor. The farm sold soon after I left there. It was foreclosed for unpaid taxes. I never knew where my Pa or Janis went. I bought that place though, not long ago, and I now have my alien artifact with me, in my bookcase. I don’t use it though. I have a new iMac instead.
There are many more of these “Artifacts” here at the Orphanage. Each of my young students has one. They are called Macintoshes. My young charges also learn to read with them, and do their math. They also learn that the world is much bigger than this place where they live. I encourage them to dream big dreams, and to use their little window boxes to explore the boundaries of their dreams, and beyond.
Looking back, I wonder where my life would have gone, had I not found the very first of those Macintoshes, as alien as could be, hidden in my barn?