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The Strange Box
"Whoa! Slow down, Watch!" six-year-old Benny Alden cried as he held tight to his dog's leash. "I can't run that fast!"
Benny's eight-year-old sister, Violet, laughed. "I don't think Watch can slow down, Benny. He's too excited!"
"That's because he knows we're going to the dog park," twelve-year-old Jessie said.
It looked like the girls were right. Watch's tongue lolled to the side of his mouth as he led the children up the hill. If dogs could smile, Watch was definitely smiling. But poor Benny could hardly keep up with him.
Fourteen-year-old Henry trotted up alongside his younger brother. A Frisbee dangled from one hand. "Do you want me to take Watch for you, Benny?"
"No," Benny said, huffing and puffing. He gripped the leash so tight his knuckles were turning white. "I've got him."
"Are you sure?" Jessie asked as she and Violet ran up behind Henry.
"Yes," Benny said. "We're almost there." They could hear dogs yipping and barking in the distance.
A few minutes later, the Aldens entered a large fenced-in area that was bordered by woods. A sign on the fence read: Welcome to Greenfield Dog Park.
"Sit, Watch!" Benny commanded.
Watch let out a little whimper. He clearly wanted to run and play with the other dogs. But he sat right there on the path. His tail swished the dirt from side to side.
Watch had been with the Aldens since their days of living in the boxcar. Their parents had just died and the children were supposed to go and live with their grandfather, James Alden. But they didn't know him. They were afraid he'd be mean. So they ran away and lived in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. Watch joined them soon after that.
Eventually, their grandfather found the children in the woods and took them to live with him. He let Watch come, too. The children found out Grandfather wasn't mean at all. In fact, he was so nice that he even had the boxcar moved to his backyard so they could play in it anytime they wanted to.
Benny unsnapped Watch's leash, then put it in his pocket. "Okay, boy," he said cheerfully. "You're free!"
That was all Watch needed. He dashed off toward a tall white poodle.
"Hey, that poodle looks a lot like Chester," Violet said, shading her eyes.
Chester was a dog that belonged to their grandfather's longtime friend, Cal Edwards. Cal ran the Greenfield Nature Center, which was located on the other side of the woods. He was also the person Grandfather called when he needed help fixing something.
"I think that is Chester," Henry said as he watched the poodle and Watch nuzzle noses.
"If Chester's here, then Cal must be here, too," Jessie said.
"There he is!" Benny pointed at a man who was just walking from behind a tree. He carried a large black garbage bag in one hand and a small red ball in the other.
Henry waved to him. "Hello, Cal," he called. The children hurried toward him.
Cal smiled. "Well, hello there!" he called back. "When I saw Watch, I figured you kids and James had to be here, too."
"Grandfather's not here," Violet said. "He had a meeting this afternoon."
"That's too bad," Cal said. "It's a beautiful day for the dog park."
"Yes, it is," Jessie agreed. The others nodded.
Chester nuzzled the ball in Cal's hand and Cal threw it as far as he could. Both Chester and Watch bolted after it.
"It's nice that your job is so close that you can come to the dog park with Chester," Henry said.
"It sure is," said Cal. "We just cut through those woods over there. It takes us only a few minutes."
"You must pick up lots of garbage on your way," Benny said.
"What makes you say that, Benny?" Cal asked with surprise.
"Because you have such a big garbage bag," Benny replied.
"Oh, this?" Cal said, lifting the big black bag. "This isn't garbage. It's—" But before Cal could explain what was in the bag, his cell phone rang.
"Excuse me," he said. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out his phone. He flipped it open and put it to his ear. "Hello? Yes, this is Cal." A look of concern flashed across his face. "Just a minute, please."
Cal covered his phone with his hand and turned to the Aldens. "I'm sorry, kids, but I need to take this call. I'll see you all later."
Cal whistled for his dog, who came bounding over. Cal continued his telephone conversation while he walked. The children waved good-bye as Cal and his dog walked back toward the nature center.
"Anyone want to play Frisbee?" Henry asked, holding the Frisbee up in the air.
"Sure," Jessie said.
They walked to the edge of the park, away from most of the other dogs, and Henry threw the disk to Jessie. Jessie threw it to Benny and Benny jumped as the Frisbee sailed over his head. But he couldn't jump high enough. The Frisbee landed in the grass behind him.
"Sorry, Benny," Jessie called.
"That's okay," Benny said. He and Watch raced to the fallen Frisbee and Watch barked eagerly when Benny stooped to pick it up.
"Do you want to try and catch it, Watch?" Benny asked the dog. The children had been trying to teach Watch to jump up and catch the Frisbee in his mouth.
Benny pulled his arm back and let the Frisbee go as hard as he could. The Frisbee wobbled in the air, bounced twice on the ground, then rolled until it hit the fence.
But Watch didn't mind. He ran after it, his tail wagging.
"Cheer up, Benny," Jessie said. "You'll get the hang of throwing a Frisbee."
"Watch me, Benny," Violet said as she took the Frisbee from Watch. "You have to sort of flick your wrist like this." She let the Frisbee go, then watched in horror as it sailed over the fence and into the woods.
"Oh, no," Violet said, clasping her hands to her cheeks. "I didn't mean to throw it out of the dog park!"
"That's okay, Violet," Jessie said. "We'll just go and get it." She pushed on the gate and Watch squeezed through the opening before she could hold him back. He plowed ahead of them into the woods.
"Uh-oh," Benny said. "Shouldn't Watch be on a leash when he's not in the dog park?" He pulled Watch's leash out of his pocket.
"I'll get him," Henry said. "He's just going after the Frisbee. I'll put his leash on and we'll go right back to the park as soon as we find it."
The children hurried into the woods. They found the Frisbee just a few feet in, but they didn't see Watch anywhere.
"Where is Watch?" Violet asked, turning her head from side to side.
Henry leaned over to pick up the Frisbee. "I don't know," he said.
They were on a dirt path that was covered with pine needles. Trees and bushes grew all around them.
"He wasn't that far ahead of us," Jessie said.
"Yeah, but he runs fast," Benny said, growing worried. "And he might have chased a squirrel or something off the path."
"Don't worry, Benny," Jessie said. "We'll find him." She put her hands around her mouth and called, "Watch! Here, boy!"
They heard a short bark in response. It came from a cluster of trees off to the right.
"There he is," Violet said with relief. They all hurried over to him. Benny snapped the leash to Watch's collar.
Watch stood on his back legs, digging at something in a pile of brush between two trees. He hardly paid any attention to the children. He was more interested in whatever was in the middle of the brush.
"Hey, he's got something!" Benny said as Watch uncovered a square metal object in the brush.
"What is it?" Jessie asked.
"I don't know," Henry said.
All four of them brushed the sticks and leaves away from the metal object and Henry lifted it out. "It's a box of some kind," he said. The box had some black lettering on the outside. "Official Geocache," it read.
"Geo ... geo ..." Benny tried to sound the word out, then gave up. "What's that word, Henry?"
"I think it's pronounced 'geo-cash,'" Henry said.
"Geocache?" Violet asked. "What's that?"
"I don't know," Henry said. "I know cache means hiding place. But I don't know what geocache means."
"Since it's pronounced geo-cash, maybe it means there's money hidden in there?" Benny said.
"Maybe," Violet said.
"Well, there's only one way to find out," Jessie said. "Let's open it up and see what's inside!"CHAPTER 2
It's Called Geocaching!
"It's just a box full of plastic bags," Violet said when Henry opened the metal box.
"No money?" Benny asked. He stood on his tiptoes so he could see inside the box.
"No money," Henry said. "But it looks like there are things inside the bags."
"What kind of things?" Jessie asked.
There were so many small bags stuffed inside the box that it was hard to see what was inside any of them. But Henry managed to pull a couple out.
"There's a notebook and pencil in one," Henry said, holding it up. "And a stuffed armadillo in this other one."
"Oh, he's cute!" Violet said, taking the armadillo from Henry.
"I see a toothbrush in the bottom of the box," Jessie said, peering inside.
"A toothbrush?" Violet laughed.
"Oh, and look!" Jessie reached in and grabbed another bag. This one had two copper-colored coins in it. "There is money in here. But it's not American money."
Benny opened the bag and pulled out one of the coins. "It says 'one peso,'" he read.
"That's Mexican money," Henry said.
"It's kind of hard to look at all this stuff out here in the woods," Jessie said, giving Watch a pat on the head. "Maybe we should bring the box home so we can get a better look at it."
"Good idea, Jessie," Violet said.
The children stuffed the bags back inside the box and closed it up. Henry picked up the box and the children started to leave.
But as they were walking away, they heard a voice call out, "Hey, you kids. What do you think you're doing? Where are you going with that box?"
They turned and saw a man in a red jacket walking over from the nature center. He was tall with short dark hair that circled a bald spot. A dark-haired boy around Henry's age hurried along beside him.
"I didn't mean to scare you," the man said in a friendlier voice as he and the boy came closer. They both smiled at the Aldens. "I just wanted to make sure you're not taking that box with you."
The Aldens glanced at each other.
"Well, actually," Henry began. "We were planning to take it with us."
"We found it in that pile of brush over there," Benny said, pointing behind him.
"Is it yours?" Violet asked.
"Not ours, exactly," the dark-haired boy said. "You might say it belongs to everybody."
"Everybody?" Jessie asked. "What do you mean?"
"Let me explain," the man said. "I'm Ned Robertson, by the way. And this is my son, Andy."
The Aldens introduced themselves and Watch, then Mr. Robertson asked, "Have you ever heard of geocaching?"
"You mean like it says on the box?" Violet asked.
"Yes," Mr. Robertson replied.
"No. What is geocaching?" Henry asked.
"It's a kind of treasure hunt," Mr. Robertson explained. "Do you know what this is?" He held out the small yellow gadget in his hand. It had black buttons on the sides and a screen in the middle.
The children shook their heads.
"It's a global positioning system—GPS for short," Mr. Robertson said. "It shows you where you are on the planet. If you're out in the woods, you can use it to help you find your way so you don't get lost."
"I've read about those," Henry said. "They use radio signals from satellites to pinpoint where you are, don't they?"
"That's exactly right," Mr. Robertson said.
"Cool!" Benny said.
"And," Andy continued. "If you're into geocaching like my dad and me, you can use a GPS to help you find a hidden treasure box."
"How?" Jessie asked.
"Well, there's a website that lists all the caches in the world," Mr. Robertson said. "It's at www.geocaching.com. You can go to that website and enter in a zip code. That'll show you all the caches that are in or near that zip code."
"There are more than seventy-five of them hidden within about ten miles of here," Andy said.
"Really?" Benny's eyes grew wide.
"Yes." Mr. Robertson smiled at Benny. "They're all listed on the website. And they all have names. For instance, this one that you stumbled upon is called 'Walk in the Woods.' If you want to try and find a certain cache, all you have to do is hook your GPS up to your computer, then enter the waypoint that's listed there on the site—"
"A waypoint?" Violet asked.
"It's a way of marking a particular spot on the earth. In this case, it marks where a cache is hidden. Once you enter the waypoint into your GPS, the GPS will help you find it," Mr. Robertson said.
"You still have to look around for the cache, though," Andy said. "A GPS doesn't tell you exactly where it is. It tells you which direction to go and how far away you are from it. See?"
He held the GPS so the Aldens could see the screen. An arrow in the middle of the screen pointed behind them. And the distance above the arrow read 102 feet.
"Why does it say we're 102 feet from the box?" Jessie asked. "It's right here!" She tapped the box in Henry's hands. The Robertsons' GPS couldn't have been more than 7 feet from Henry.
"The GPS doesn't know the cache is here, in Henry's hands," Andy said. "It'll take you to the spot where the box was originally hidden. If it's been moved, you're out of luck. You won't find it. That's why it's so important to put the cache back exactly where you found it. So other people can find it after you."
"We'll put it back right now," Henry said, turning around. The others followed him back to the pile of brush.
"Before you put it back, you might want to sign the log book," Mr. Robertson said.
"Log book?" Violet said.
"Yes. Every cache has one," said Mr. Robertson. "You choose a nickname for yourself and then you sign the log book. You can write about your adventure finding the cache on the website, too, especially if there's something wrong with the cache or if something interesting happened to you while you were looking for it."
"But we weren't looking for it," Benny said. "We just found it!"
"Then you can write that, too," Mr. Robertson said, laughing.
"And you can always take something out of the box if you leave something else in its place," Andy said.
"There's never anything very valuable in the containers," Mr. Robertson said. "People don't do this to try to get rich. They do it because it's fun to see whether they can find a hidden treasure with a GPS."
Henry leaned against a fallen tree and opened up the box again. "I remember seeing a notebook in here," he said, pulling out the plastic bag with the small blue notebook. He opened it to the first page. "Hey, it says here, 'Geocache site. Please read. Congratulations! You've found it.' And then it goes on to explain everything Mr. Robertson and Andy just told us."
"If we had only looked in the log book, we'd have known all this and we wouldn't have taken the box," Jessie said.
"That's okay," Mr. Robertson said. "I'm sure you kids would've brought it back as soon as you realized what it was."
Henry flipped through the pages in the notebook until he came to a blank sheet. "So, we're supposed to write something in this book?" he asked.
"Yes," Andy said. "You might want to say that this is your first find."
"And you can make up an interesting nickname for yourselves," Mr. Robertson added. "For instance, when Andy and I sign a log book, we call ourselves the Trailblazers."
"What nickname should we use?" Henry asked.
"I've got an idea," Benny cried. "How about the Boxcar Kids?"
"The Boxcar Kids?" Andy said. "What does that mean?"
The Aldens explained about their boxcar.
"I like it," Violet said. "Let's call ourselves the Boxcar Kids."
"Yes, let's!" Jessie put in.
Henry wrote, This was the first cache we ever found. We found it by accident. We're looking forward to more geocaching!
"Do you want to take anything?" Mr. Robertson asked.
"I don't know." Jessie scratched her head. "We don't have anything to put in there, do we?"
The Aldens checked their pockets. Nobody had anything to leave in the box.
"We always carry a few trinkets for geocaching," Andy said. He pulled a little wind-up frog out of his inside jacket pocket. "If you want to take something, you could leave this in its place."
"That's nice of you," Violet said.
"Go on," Mr. Robertson urged. "Pick something. You have to take something to remember your first find."
"Hmm. What should we take?" Henry asked the others.
"Take the coins! Take the coins!" Benny cried, jumping up and down.
Henry pulled out the bag with the coins and handed it to Benny. Then he wrote: took coins, left frog.
"You should sign the log, too," Henry said, handing the notebook to Mr. Robertson. "You would've found the box if we hadn't. Plus you gave us the frog."
"Okay," Mr. Robertson said. "I'll say that the Trailblazers were here with the Boxcar Kids." He smiled as he jotted a few lines in the notebook. When he finished writing, he sealed the notebook back up in the plastic bag, put it in the box, and closed it. Then the Aldens and the Robertsons buried the box back in the brush between the two trees just the way they'd found it.
"There's supposed to be another cache not too far from here," Andy said. "It's called 'Edge of the Forest.' Do you want to come with us and see if we can find it?"
"Sure," the Aldens replied eagerly.
Excerpted from The Box That Watch Found by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2007 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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