Chapter 1: The Box
Qwerty Stevens found the box at four o'clock in the afternoon on October 18. He would always remember the date because it was the day after his thirteenth birthday.
He found the box right after he'd had another one of those arguments with his mother. She said he had gone over to Joey Dvorak's house without getting permission first. He said he had asked for permission. She said "maybe" did not mean "yes."
He said, she said. The next thing anybody knew, Qwerty's mother was saying that he was grounded.
Mrs. Stevens wasn't mean. She just seemed mean sometimes. It was hard for her, bringing up Qwerty and his two sisters all by herself. Six years earlier Qwerty's dad had been killed in a car accident. He was driving home on Franklin Avenue in West Orange when a teenager lost control of a Jeep Cherokee and plowed right into Mr. Stevens's little Honda. He was killed instantly. The teenager walked away with a few bruises.
"Robert Edward Stevens!" Mrs. Stevens called out in her firmest voice. "Don't you ever go anywhere without getting my permission first, do you understand me?"
Mrs. Stevens called him by his real name only when she was mad. And she used all three names only when she was really mad. The rest of the time, she called him "Qwerty," like everyone else.
He had gotten that nickname when he was in third grade. The whole class was in the computer room practicing keyboarding one day. The computer teacher told the class to put their fingers on the keyboard and type -- without looking -- the top row, left hand (QWERT), then the top row, right hand (YUIOP). Then they were instructed to type the middle row, left hand (ASDFG), and the middle row, right hand (HJKL;). Then they had to move their fingers down and type the bottom row, left hand (ZXCVB), and the bottom row, right hand (NM,./). Then they had to print out their work and turn it in.
Robert Stevens had a problem lining up the paper in his printer. Somehow he clipped off his name from the top of the page. When the computer teacher was going through everyone's papers, she held up Robert's to show what happened when you didn't load the paper into the printer correctly. This was what the top line said:
From that moment on, everybody had called Robert Edward Stevens "Qwerty."
Qwerty slammed the back door on his way out. Mom's just being overprotective, he thought. I'm thirteen now. I'm old enough to go over to my friend's house by myself. She's just afraid the same thing that happened to Dad will happen to me.
When Qwerty was mad, or when he was in a bad mood, he liked to dig. He'd take a shovel out of the garage and go to a corner of the backyard where the grass never grew. Then he would dig a hole. He never had a goal in mind. He just liked to dig holes. He found it relaxing.
Qwerty never dug up anything good. One day he found a rock in the shape of a triangle that looked like it could have been an old Indian arrowhead. More likely, it was just a rock in the shape of a triangle.
While he was digging, nobody ever bothered him. He didn't think about anything.
Mrs. Stevens figured digging gave Qwerty an outlet for his anger. And to be honest, it kept him out of her hair for a little while.
It was while he was digging that Qwerty found the box.
The ground was well worn. He had dug holes out in the backyard many times before. Maybe if I dig deep enough, he thought, I can climb in and nobody will ever bother me.
Qwerty pointed the shovel at the earth and placed his right foot on top of it. He leaned in, and the blade sliced into the dirt. And then, less than a foot below the surface, something stopped the blade from going any farther.
Thunk. A definite thunk. It wasn't a clank, which would have told Qwerty he had hit something made of metal. No, it was definitely a thunk.
Qwerty pulled up the shovel and placed it a few inches to the left of the mark he'd just made. He leaned on it again, just enough to cut through the soil without damaging anything that might be down there.
Thunk. There was something down there. It didn't feel like a rock.
He placed the shovel a few inches to the right of his original mark. When he leaned on it -- very carefully -- he felt something stop the shovel and heard the thunk noise again. Whatever was down there had to be at least a foot wide.
Qwerty got down on his knees and began to loosen the dirt with his hands. It came away easily. In a few minutes he had cleared off enough dirt so he could touch the top of whatever was down there. It felt like it was made of wood.
"Whatcha doin', Qwerty?"
Qwerty looked up quickly. He had been concentrating so hard on digging that he hadn't noticed anyone standing there. It was Thing One and Thing Two -- his sisters.
Madison, the little one, was six. She was curious but harmless. Barbara, the bigger one, was sixteen and nosy and had achieved her full potential to be annoying.
Qwerty didn't say anything about what he was doing. Whatever was buried down there, he didn't want to share it with them.
"Nothin'," he lied.
"Whoso diggeth a pit shall falleth therein," Barbara recited dramatically.
"Nobody asked you, Barb."
Barbara had recently discovered a love of poetry, which made her more annoying than ever.
"It's a free country, Nerdy. Ever hear of freedom of speech?"
"Aren't you going to get in trouble for digging up the backyard?" Madison asked.
"I never have before. And besides, trouble is my middle name," Qwerty replied, getting up and clapping the dirt off his hands.
"No, it's not," Madison said. "Your middle name is Edward."
"Come on, silly," Barbara said as she took Madison by the hand. "The only thing dumber than digging holes in the ground is watching somebody else dig holes in the ground."
When Thing One and Thing Two were out of sight, Qwerty got back down on his knees. He pushed the shovel all around the hole he had made and figured out that the object had to be a rectangle about two feet wide and one foot long -- about the size of a backpack. He couldn't tell yet how tall it was.
Dirt was packed around the thing pretty tightly, and Qwerty was having a hard time getting it out. There was no handle or anything on top to grab on to. He scraped more dirt around the sides and tried to rock the thing back and forth. Dirt was getting under his fingernails, and his hands were filthy. He knew his mother would get on his case about that, but then, what else was new?
Finally Qwerty removed enough dirt on all four sides to free the thing from its grave. He lifted it out of the ground.
It was a wooden box with a curved top, sort of like one of those carriers people used for bringing their cats to the vet. It wasn't too heavy. Qwerty could lift it easily. There was a small lock on one side. Part of the wood was rotted away. This thing, whatever it was, had been buried in the backyard for a long time.
Dirt was still caked on the sides of the box. Qwerty brushed it off with his hand, revealing these letters in flowing gold:
Thomas A Edison
Copyright © 2001 by Dan Gutman