Of the three barns on his grandfather's property when he was a boy, only one still stood upon his return in 2014. He had left the City early enough that the sun crested just as he was leaving the Bay Bridge to navigate the maze and send himself through Oakland towards Livermore. Why everyone else was on the freeway this early on a Saturday, he couldn't imagine. But then, he couldn't imagine why last night he suddenly decided it was time to return. After ten years back in California, living in the Mission, why today to visit the old homestead? His phone narrated instructions, but they felt unnecessary. Although twenty-five years had passed, every intersection was familiar once he passed the new Targets and Costcos and whatever. The house had been painted: yellow walls, white trim, red door. No answer, so he walked back through the picket fence and along the old dirt track, past the 1950s John Deere, still rusting, to only one barn. He wasn't sure which it was. Some cattle grazed in the distance, but clearly the new owners of the property never housed them here. He lifted the heavy steel bar on its hinge, opened the side door, and slipped into the smell of decayed hay and ancient manure. He closed the door and stood, listening to a pair of mourning doves as his eyes adjusted. The windows were boarded, but that may have been true back--- No. They were shutters. He walked to one and found the small latch embedded in the swollen wood. He tried to turn it, but it snapped off in his hand, the screw rusted through. He pushed up the shutter, and found a small board by his feet to prop it open. He stepped back into the middle of the floor and looked around. Some of the stalls were still standing. The upper level seemed intact, though the ladder leading up to it lacked half its rungs. He rubbed his jaw and stepped in a circle, trying to remember. If this was the right barn, it would be . . . that corner. Where the bales of hay had once been. He walked over and crouched down, brushing the rotting wood floor with his fingers then paused, tapping his chin with an index finger. He pulled out his keys and unfolded his penknife to try prying up the boards. The second one gave. He grabbed it with his fingers and lifted it out. Paper was stuck to the bottom of the board, tracks of insects and mold affixing it to the wood. He didn't need to hold it to the light to know it was Bill's half-a-Playboy, found on the side of the road one summer and kept here in the cousins' cubby. He tossed it and the board aside and reached in. Out came Chad's Skeletor and Steph's coffee can of rocks. He pulled them out and set them aside. Maybe he would hit the post office before driving back, send them on. Depending on how much rocks cost to ship. Next he found a small canvas bag with tangrams inside---no idea whose that was---and a rat skull. Probably belonged to Jeff. Plastic bits of dolls and dinosaurs, and broken sawblades and bent horseshoe nails from Grandad's shop, and other junk they had loved and passed among themselves each summer. Otherwise just dirt and fuzz . . . should have brought a flashlight-- Then there it was. Something smoothish and triangular and cold. He pulled it out. The seaglass he'd found at Point Reyes the summer he turned nine. He'd left it in the cousins' cubby and regretted it all year, something about the texture and the shape and the color haunted his fourth-grade year. But that April, Grandad went bankrupt. Mom had flown out to help. Then Grandad's stroke and he'd ended up in the center near their house. Grandma went with Aunt Beth. And clearly none of the cousins made it back to raid their treasures. He wondered if any of them thought about this stuff anymore. The board popped from the shutter, and it slammed with a sudden bang. He fell to his knees and felt his heart gallop through the darkness. He took two deep breaths and popped the seaglass into his breast pocket. He ripped the Playboy off the board, then dropped the board back in place. He pulled a Rainbow Grocery bag from his back pocket and placed the rest of the cache into it. He stood slowly and brushed his pants. Nothing to do now but walk out, run his fingers along the pickets on the way back to his car--maybe touch the mailbox nostalgically--and drive back to the present. After anonymously mailing everything with a Livermore cancellation. He hefted the bag and looked through the darkness one last time. Then he stepped carefully to the door, pushed it open, and walked back into the sun, brightly colored squares of yellow and red and blue and green flickering before his eyes as he walked blindly along the same path that had always been.
Theric W. Jepson is is an editor, writer, teacher, anthologizer, and erstwhile performer of literature both pretty good and reasonably okay. He lives in El Cerrito, California with two pomegranate saplings.