Based on a bunch of true stories, woven together....
She could hear them dancing on her roof again.
Skritch, skritch, scriiiiitch, hiss. Well, might as well get up, need to feed the cows soon anyway.
Four skinny bumps were watching from the edge of the roof when she emerged from the kitchen door, dressed for the cold. It might when be warm in the barn with so many large furnaces keeping their fires stoked by chewing the cud, but 'tween here and there, the late frost made for crunchy walking. The fresh owl pellets may have contributed to an occasional extra crunch.
A quiet hissss followed in her wake. They were used to her by now, but the peanut gallery had Opinions. At least there would be less mice to worry about.
Only four bumps, which means -
As if right on cue, a silent buff-and-brown swoosh swooped out the open top half of the Dutch door. It was followed by a second. Both had limp things dangling from their talons.
"Are you wool gathering again?"
"We don't have sheep, you know that."
"Ah, you must be deep in thought, to take me literally."
She shook herself out of her own mind. "Oh, yeah, sorry. What were you saying?"
"Are you going to try to get more pictures of our feathered guests before they take off for good?"
She shuddered. "Not on your life! You saw what mama did to my camera." The last image was clearly a beak much closer than anyone expected, with a fuzzy flurry of cream wisps and a raging dark eye. "Luckily it was the lens protector she cracked, not the lens itself, or that would be a rather expensive replacement. Next year, when we'd have the extra money."
"So not pictures. The treasure hunt again?"
The words seemed to tumble out in her frustration. "It makes no sense! We're farmers! Been that way since great-to-the-fourteenth grandfather came over on the boat as an indentured servant! Where would anyone get it, that the whole town wouldn't know what train was robbed and the exact time and date the money sack changed hands?"
"Like the whole town knew when you rescued those kittens, and were asking about them for weeks."
"Well, they can see those any time they come to call." She glanced over at the furballs curled up cosily on the sofa, now so much bigger than when she saw them first, scared as anything, crouched in the middle of the road where they'd been thrown from a truck that never slowed down. She didn't even think once she saw those lost and terrified eyes, just scooped them into her car. "Luckily Freya and Sif don't seem to remember how they got here."
"Neither do your ancestors, apparently."
She sighed explosively. "Exactly. All this information, all these memories I've written down, my family's and the town's, trying to figure it all out, and I can't even name the boat. Or how he got here from - wherever. Smuggled in a wine cask! Married a local Princess! Buried treasure! What nonsense. Maybe they were just feeding me fairy tales to keep me entertained as a kid. What child doesn't want to be descended from royalty when you have to go feed the chickens? Someday maybe that prince will come for you and take you away from pig slop and cow patties."
"Well, you warned this particular prince what he was getting into, before we even started dating. This prince knew about the pig slop and cow patties, and also the interesting smells that come with a barnyard, and what a farm girl's day looked like. In exquisite detail. And also how to welcome chicks into the world, and teach ducklings to swim, and the amazing smell from the milk house when we make up the supplemental cow's milk for the newborn calves."
She smiled. "You always know how to distract me. Or remind me of what's really important. Like sleep, and it's time." She kissed him on the forehead as she passed him to go upstairs, and he chuckled and followed.
Hisssss screech. Skitter skitter SCRATCH. Scrabble skitter hisssss.
There had to be a treasure! Where was it? Where could it be?
She should be in bed, but the conversation stuck in her head, and though she'd searched the attic dozens of times, she thought she'd try again. Maybe the rafters?
She tried to be quiet, tried to ignore the restless owlets she could hear in the old chimney. She was only using a flashlight, but that was still more than strong enough to night-sensitive eyes. For some reason her ancestors had installed a second chimney door in the attic, probably for a chimney sweep to get better access to the flue. But when the (now very old) "new" wood stove had been installed, with a new metal vent, the damper was locked in place for warmth. Generations of barn owls had been raised on it, but the little chimney door opened right above it, where the owls could see the light through the cracks around the door. It had never been very airtight, never needed to be.
It also happened to be what she opened to get those closeup pictures of the owlets, only to have mama owl pounce from above and take out what she could reach. The cracked lens cover was proof of her maternal ferocity.
She was crouched over at an eave corner when owl irritation ran over, and the hisses stopped for a moment, to be replaced by a blood-curdling SCREEEEEEECH!!
She screamed too, jerking around - and hit her head on the beam right above her.
That was enough for the barn owls. Hissing their displeasure, she heard them scratch themselves up the flue, and they were gone into the early night.
Rattle rattle scratch KA-PANGGGGG. A metallic clang made her jump again, and the chimney door was swinging open a bit. A - something - was in the way, jutting into the room.
She swung her flashlight around. She'd feel so guilty if an owl hurt itself over her obsession...
It didn't move. And it looked like dull metal. Rubbing her head where she'd bumped it, she cautiously scooted over.
By the time her husband had blearily realized where the sound had some from, and come charging up the narrow attic stairs (after charging downstairs, and outside, and checked the barn for good measure), she'd worked the old tin box out from between the damper and detritus of owl nest and was surrounded by papers. Bundles of love letters, war correspondence, diaries, old twigs and shell bits, newspaper clippings, an incredibly old book. He found a clear space to sit when she looked up with shining eyes.
"The smoke shelf! They were on the smoke shelf! And we never looked there, because after the wood stove was put in, we never used the chimney again! And the owls moved in! And I-"
He chuckled, and held the flashlight steady so she could read better.
Not the treasure they expected, but the treasure they needed.
About the author
Mix equal parts anthropologist, biologist, geologist, and artisan, stir and heat in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, sprinkle with a heaping pile of odd life experiences. Half-baked.