The Box. Short Story.

“huh.”
“What is it?”
“We received this package this morning, did you order anything?”
“No, I don’t think so. Who’s it addressed to?”
“Both of us. Maybe it’s a gift from someone?”
Tom put the box onto the kitchen table, Angela passed him a cup of coffee, “Well, open it, or get it off the table, I’m almost done making breakfast.”
Tom dug through the kitchen drawer and took out a pair of scissors, he sliced the tape keeping it closed and opened it. Inside was a single envelope and another box, this one made of wood. He took it from the cardboard box, and put the wrapping on the floor. The box itself was about a foot across and a foot wide, there was a small latch keeping the lid closed.
“Well, what is it?”
“A wood box and a letter.”
“Oh Christ. It’s not from your brother is it? If it’s anything like the wedding gift just throw it in the bin. I’m not playing his silly game of opening a thousand boxes to get something.”
“It was a nice gift.”
“Yeah, I know, I enjoyed the weekend away but I could have done without the three hour struggle to get the damn thing.”
“Well I don’t think it’s from him. The first layer would have been wrapped in tape or something.”
Tom unfastened the latch and opened the box. Inside, about an inch down, was a smooth black surface with a small black button directly in the centre.

“…I don’t get it.”
Tom jumped, he hadn’t heard Angela walking over, she reached out to touch the button, Tom grabbed her hand, “Don’t.”
“Ow. What the hell?”
“We don’t know what the button does. What if it’s a bomb?”
“…A bomb. A bomb sent to us? Who’d want to blow us up? We’re no ones.”
“That’s not the point, you never know what a nutter might do. We should at least read the letter first.”
“Ok but, shit, the breakfast!” Angela ran to the stove and pulled the frying pan off it, “I don’t think it’s too burned. Maybe just singed.” She put the bread onto the plates and added some rashers. When she returned to the table with the plates Tom was still looking at the box.
Angela put a plate in front of him, then sat down, she poured them both some orange juice, then she took a sip of her own.
“Right, breakfast first, then we figure this out.”
They mostly ate in silence, both half looking at the box but trying to ignore it. When the were finished Tom stood from the table, “Thanks, it was delicious.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Tom picked up both their plates and put them into the dishwasher. That done, he sat down at the table again and grabbed the envelope, “Right, let’s see what this is all about.”

He pulled out the letter, then after a moment of silence, “Well, what does it say?”
“I’m not sure. It’s kind of…odd.”
“Odd how? Like we got this by mistake odd or it is a bomb odd?”
“Uhh, odd like I think it’s some kind of weird joke or something.”
Tom took a breath,

“Dear Angela and Tom,

I hope my letter finds you well. You will probably have found the box by now, it is my sincere hope that you read this before you do anything.

I am the inventor of the box that you have, most likely, in front of you, it is a special box but it is also dangerous. See, it contains a button, which appears to be very simple, but if my calculations are correct, which I think they are, it will do one of two things. The first, the best outcome, is that it will do nothing at all. It is just a simple curiosity. There is no danger in pressing the button again if this happens, it will, or it wont work. The second option, one that is much more dangerous and frightening is that it will reset the universe. I know that seems a little strange, so bear with me. The reaction inside the box will reset the universe back to the big bang, at the moment of its creation. After that I don’t know what will happen, the universe might repeat itself in all events and you’ll find yourself with this letter again, or humans as we know them may no longer exist. If you do press the button the results will be instantaneous. No one will ever know what you have or have not done.

Unfortunately, the box was created before I realised what it may or may not do.

The box itself cannot be destroyed as any attempt to disable it will have the same result as pressing the button.

I’m sorry for putting this choice upon you, good luck with your decision.

And that’s it, there’s no signature or anything.”
“That is weird. I don’t get it. Seems like a strange practical joke.”
“What if it isn’t though?”
“A box that destroys the universe? Don’t be daft.”
“What if it’s real though? You see it all the time on the news, so much stuff is being invented lately. Even with the atom bomb they weren’t sure if it would do what they wanted or kill everything. You never know what some mad bastard might have made.”
“Why send it to us though? We’re not anyone. Surely if it was that important it should be somewhere under lock and key.”
“Maybe it needs to be pushed.”
“Well, the letter didn’t say that.”
“Maybe this is their way of hiding it. After all who would ever think we’d have something like this?”
“What if it is a bomb or something? Some kind of punishment if we try to push it?”
“Well, then we don’t push it. Simple as that. It’s probably someone messing about.”

Tom moved back from the box slightly, Angela stood from the table.
“Should we call the police?”
“For what? No one is threatening us or anything.”
“This doesn’t seem vaguely threatening to you? Who ever did it is probably insane at the very least. What if they’re dangerous and they come for us?”

Angela took a deep breath, “Ok, we have to take a moment here, we’re getting caught up in it. Whether or not this is real, we should treat it as such, agreed?”
“Agreed.”
“Ok, then we should put it somewhere out of the way. It’s better that what ever happens when you push that button doesn’t happen at all.”
“What if someone finds it?”
“Then we hide it, bury it or something. If anyone digs it up well, we’ll be dead by then probably.”
Tom smiled suddenly, “I figured it out.”
“You have?”
“Yeah, it’s one of those thought experiment things, where they put you in a situation to see what you’d do. The only thing in there is probably a transmitter that says the button has been pushed. I’d say a few hundred people were sent these, just to see what happens.”
“Why?”
“Well, you said it yourself, didn’t you? We’re ordinary, perfectly normal, middle of the road. They’ll want a large group of people from all over the place. That’s why we got one.”
“Well, what should we do then?”
“Nothing. In a few hours someone is going to call around and take it back, you’ll see.”

They spent the rest of the day moving around the house, avoiding the box. By lunch time Angela started to get nervous, by the time six o clock came, she was feeling ill. The house was small, just the perfect size for the two of them really, but since the arrival of the box it seemed like the house was getting smaller. No room was safe from its influence. There wasn’t much to do to keep from thinking about it. They both had the day off from work and they had planned to spend it doing nothing, just a day of relaxation, but that was ruined. Angela didn’t even really want to have the Chinese they were planning on ordering.
“You said someone would come pick it up, why haven’t they?”
“Maybe it lasts a few days, see how long we can hold off the curiosity of pushing it.”
“But that’s so stupid though, it looks like it was expensive to make, why would someone spend all that money for something so pointless?”
“Well, probably because it’s easy enough and it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“But wouldn’t we need to agree to take part in something like this?”
“maybe. But then you fill out all those prize forms, maybe one of them said you’d give permission for stuff like this.”
“I think I’d remember that. Besides, there was nothing about it on the news, if so many people got one, someone would have said something.”
“They probably thought it was some weird prank, or they didn’t want to sound crazy. I mean, think about it, a box that has the power to restart the universe? It’s pretty impossible, right?”
“But earlier you said that they invented all kinds of things now!”
Tom sighed, “I know, but I was still half asleep earlier. Look, this is obviously upsetting you, so how about we just press the damn thing and get it over with. Nothing will happen and we can move on.”
“What if it is a bomb though?”
“Jesus Christ. It isn’t a bomb ok? Who would send a bomb like that through the post, all that jiggling and bouncing. It would have already gone off.”

“I don’t know, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Ok then, I’ll press it and you can stand in here, away from danger if it is a bomb, then we’ll order our dinner and move on with our lives.”
Tom walked into the kitchen, Angela trailing behind him nervously and wringing her hands. “I don’t know why you’re getting so worked up over it all, you said yourself earlier it was probably nothing. What changed.”
“Nothing. I just think pressing it would be a bad idea.”
Tom opened the lid of the box, “Maybe we should ring the police? They can find out who sent it, then we’ll know and there’s no danger there, right? Right Tom?”
“Nah. That’ll take too long. Trust me, you’ll feel better after I do this, you don’t want to spend the night tossing and turning, right?”
“I guess.”
“Then we’ll sort it out now.”
Smiling at Angela, Tom pressed the small, black button.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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