Coins in a Fountain

Inside the three-acre play-land castle, the woman wiped away tears as three exhausted boys passed the Coins for Charity sign and approached the fountain.

The oldest boy looked to be 9 or 10, the second a year younger, and the smallest about 4 years old. She held a hand to her mouth as all three waddled closer, reached into their bulging pockets, and grabbed coins by the handful. The deep plop of coins falling in water was louder than the light spray from the statue.

No one watched. No parent stood nearby.

Yes, there was some good in this world. The sacrifice these boys made for the less fortunate surely represented a lifetime of savings.

She rounded up her daughter and left the play land.

She vowed to be a better person.


Mom took us to Wylie Park in Aberdeen, South Dakota, a rare treat since it was an hour drive away. A center castle with nearby attraction was the most fun a kid could have. I was the oldest at 10, my brother Chris 9, and Joe was 5.

“Hey,” I told my brothers. “Check this out.” I led them to the bridge, crossed the moat, and headed past a sign I didn’t bother to read and stopped at the center fountain. Under the shimmering water lay a vast carpet of silver and copper treasure.

I let my imagination slip directly past my brain and gave it complete control of my tongue and body. In a few moments, I’d convinced my brothers to take part in the biggest get-rich-quick scheme I’d ever devised, and soon we were shuttling coins from the fountain to outside the castle and into a hole. We covered our loot with dirt and returned to playing.

When mom called us to return to return to the car, I’m not entirely sure how she missed our bulging front and back pockets, scooped shirts, and handfuls of coins. We started counting in the car’s back seat. $28, which was almost 28 times my life savings. My pounding heartbeat made me dizzy. The thrill!

“Where did you get that money?” my mom asked.

Two seconds after our explanation, we were back in the parking lot.

As we started back to castle, I think I heard my mom say “I wondered why the car felt so heavy.”

Returning money is heavier work than acquiring it, and by the time we made it to the fountain, we were played out. My imagination thought we should flick the coins in one at time, but Chris opened the pouch he’d made with the bottom of his shirt and coins poured in. I shoved in handfuls.

I didn’t even care a lady was watching. She was so mad at us, she was crying. She snatched her daughter’s hand and left.

We returned to the hole and dug up the other half of the treasure and returned the coins to the fountain. I think we got them all.

Nuances of writing mirror life. We want to see our pain reflected in characters. We want our experiences normalized in fiction. We want winners to be happy and evildoers to repent. But everyone brings different experiences with them when they read. Predicting what our readers take away from our work is impossible.

Takeaway values don’t come from manipulating the emotions of readers, but through depth of character, first in our life, then naturally appear in our work. Focus on writing about humanity. Because you never know what an onlooker will take away from the story.
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.