The old man snored quietly in the corner of the porch, his left arm hanging down past the armrest of his rocking chair. The boy tiptoed close enough to the old man to see the faded tattoo on his grandfather’s left forearm. He wanted to touch it but he was afraid he’d wake his grandfather and get into trouble. So, he just stood there and stared at the part of the tattoo that wasn’t covered by the shirt sleeve. Even at his age, he knew a map when he saw one.
Just then his mother yanked him away by the arm and back into the house behind the old screen door. Out of the old man’s earshot, she scolded the boy, saying, “Jessie, didn’t your daddy tell you never to bother your grandpa when he was napping on the porch? Didn’t he? And didn’t we tell you never to bother about that tattoo, neither?”
The boy nodded; his head bent downward. He’d been told, just like all his brothers and sisters had been told. But he was different from them. He wasn’t afraid of the tattoo like they were. He’d risk a whippin’ just to get another look at it. He just needed to see the part under the shirt sleeve, that’s all. The part that showed where he figured something was buried. Something of value.
Grandpa was sick and everybody in the house knew it. That’s why they let him sleep on the porch all day. But the boy had heard his mother and father talking late at night when they thought everyone else was asleep. They’d sit around the table near the old wood stove and talk about grandpa and his tattoo. He’d heard his dad say things like, “The others will come someday and we have to be ready with our part.” His mom would shake her head and say, “But he’s goin’ to die soon and the tattoo will be buried with him.” And then he’d answer, “Well, I think I got a long term solution for that little problem, dear.”
And then one day the old man died just sitting out there on his rocking chair. It happened quietly near midday. He was drinking some lemonade and then his glass fell on the ground and he was dead. Both of the boy's parents were home and they gathered the kids together in a back bedroom and told them not to move. Then they both went out on the porch, and he wasn’t afraid and he followed them as far as the old screen door without them knowing it. And he saw them out on the porch looking at the tattoo and talking.
And then another man drove up and came up on the porch. And the boy heard his dad say to the man, “It has to be an exact copy.” And he heard the other man reply, “No problem, but it’ll cost you extra ‘cause I’m doin’ it on a kid.” And then his mother came into the house, caught him watching the whole thing, and she dragged him out. And that was the day he got the tattoo on his left forearm. The same tattoo his grandpa had except his was brighter. And his dad told him that he was a brave little boy and to never show the tattoo to nobody.
And he didn’t until the day his dad took him to his Uncle John’s house where he met six other boys he didn’t know. And his dad and Uncle John brought all the boys in, had them all roll up their sleeves and stand together in a line just so, with their left forearms all held out in front of each of them.
And his dad and Uncle John were real happy, happier than he’d ever seen either of them. And then the other boys left and his dad told him to forget about those boys. They’d got what they wanted from them, but they were taking him camping with them. Up into the mountains, they said, looking for something of value.