FLASH FICTION

Honeysuckle Gold ©
by
David Pearce
for MSH

“Why is the house so cheap, Mr Haskins?”
“The owners want a quick sale. They cleared out all they could and moved away. Everything’s above board though. Don’t worry, Mr Farley. By the way, Mrs Farley, did you notice the lovely garden out back? Just the thing for your little nipper there to play in.”
“Little nipper! Ha! Cody, he called you a little nipper, did you hear?”
“They told us not to say that word, Mom.”
“No, dear, but this is another word. Like a garden nipper to cut roses in the bud.”
“Any other questions from you folks?”
“That room upstairs – we didn’t go in. What is it?”
“Storage closet, I think. It’s locked and I don’t have the key. Must have got lost. If you need to get a locksmith for it, just send the bill to me.”
* * *
“Cody! Where – oh, there you are.”
“These branches make a wonderful hiding place, Dad. Look how they hang down like this. You couldn’t see me if I tied them all shut, could you?”
“No, but listen, I think I’ll have to cut this bush way back before fall. This honeysuckle grows like wildfire, and it’s already way out of control.”
“Before you do that, Dad, could I make a honeysucker fort in here? Just for a little while to play in.”
“Just don’t get too dirty. Your mother’s so busy still cleaning up the house.”
* * *
“Shane, have you seen Cody? I want to show him some things I found. You, too. Come up here. I’ll show you first.”

Amanda and Shane went to the door of the locked closet. Amanda now opened it.
“It wasn’t locked at all! Just painted shut. I cracked it open with a putty knife. Now look inside – just look!”

The closet was a large, windowless room, nearly as big as Cody’s bedroom. Inside were piles of children’s toys, clothes, games, furniture – for every age from birth to about ten years old – Cody’s age.

Shane went to the edge of the pile, picked up a catcher’s mitt, and said, “Just like Christmas and birthday presents hidden away and forgotten. Were you thinking of asking Cody what he wanted to do with these?”
“But these presents were given – they’ve been used.”
“Or they were already used when they were bought. I don’t think we should show Cody – at least not right now. These came with the house, so they’re ours, but still – they’re not ours either. I need to think.”
* * *
“Hey, Dad!”
“Hey, son!”
“I’m digging for treasure. I think there might be gold under this honeysucker. That’s why it’s called that, ’cause it sucks honey, and honey looks like gold.”
“You striking roots yet?”
“Don’t worry. I’m being careful.”
“Don’t you worry, son. Hurt ’em all you want. Saves me the trouble of getting rid of them. Boy, yeah! Look at those! Real stranglers, like the vines are. Be careful.”
“OK, Dad!”

Cody had perfect weather that week for excavation. He had dug right around massed knots of roots, freeing up some of the ends and loosening others. This seemed to encourage the overhead branches to grow thicker, twisting and turning on each other like tangled hair.

The dirt that Cody dug out was piled loosely next to the base of the giant bush. As the hole got deeper, the mound grew higher. Cody could squeeze himself right up under the main clump of roots. The summer was hot, and the earth surrounding Cody was cool and had that wonderful cloddy smell he liked so much.

The hard work might be fun for the lad, but it also made him hungry. That evening when he went in for dinner, he forgot to clean off his shoes, and his mother scolded him. Then at the table, he knocked over the water pitcher and got his father all wet. Cody got told off again. This time he smart-aleck answered back and was promptly sent up to his room – “And NO computer games, son!”

When Amanda went to Cody’s room later to say good night, he was not there and his window was wide open. She called for Shane. They searched the house, then went into the garden. The sun was sinking, so Shane went back to get flashlights. All they could discover was that Cody had apparently got angry and had filled his treasure hole back up again to let off steam, tamping the ground well down. There was still no sign of him.

“Well, he knows the neighborhood. We’ll give him a while longer to come home.” After an hour, they started searching the nearby streets and the park and the schoolground. Then they called the police. The search lasted through the night to the next morning. The police issued a media advisory bulletin for a missing child. Then they sent a digging team to investigate the ground by the honeysuckle. Shane was there to direct them.

“Yesterday, you say, Mr Farley? This ground’s not been dug for a long time. Too solid.”
“There was a deep hole here! I tell you! I saw it. My son was – inside. He dug it! And he filled it back up again. There’s no way he could be under there, I know, but please! You’ve got to look anyway.”

Amanda came out and stood by Shane. They watched as the men dug, just as Cody had dug, shallow at first, then around the twisted knots of roots. The overhanging branches were swirling around in sudden gusts of frenzy. As the hole got deeper, the mound of dug-out earth rose higher, and the lashing branches were whipping the loose soil back into the hole.

Then a shovel clodded against something softer than a root. One man took over and dug more carefully now. It was a root, wrapped tightly around a soft bare leg, the other leg twisted next to it. Gently, slowly, the boy’s body was revealed, commingled in roots of honeysuckle gold, entwined in the underground branches, not of yesterday’s growth. but old shoots.

Amanda had looked away, sobbing, but Shane’s eyes pierced the air between him and the body in the hole he had seen his son dig.

“That’s not Cody!”