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Thursday, 2016-12-08, 3:02 AM
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CLEAR UNDERSTANDING

The Box

Short Sci-Fi Stories

    The box had been in the family for generations. Nobody knew exactly how many years that may have been, but it was recorded in an old diary belonging to my great grandmother.
    I often spent time reading her diary, and found her words and imaginings closely in tune with my own. To read of her life and times in the days when this house stood at the edge of a rural village, filled me with longings for those simpler and quieter times.
    Staring at the page that recalled the box, I mouthed the words she’d written from memory, rather than actually reading them. She said, "Today I’ll spend with the box. Everybody’s out and I’ll dream a little, and travel perhaps."
    The diary, written for the complete year of eighteen ninety-four, lay open at the twenty first of May, and although I’d read every word within its covers, I could find no other reference to the box.
    How strange and enchanting were the words she’d used. Why there were no further descriptions of her encounters with it, I could only guess at. One reference however, two months later asked, "What would it have me do"? But whether this "it" referred to the box or not, isn’t clear.
    As a child, my mother would say to me that if I behaved, the box would bring me presents. When no such gifts arrived, I’d be told that it was because of this or that naughty boy I had supposedly been. In fact the box had never treated me at all until I became a teenager.
    That it was a box was not in doubt, but the hinges and clasps of its lid, although free from corrosion, refused to operate. Nobody it seemed had ever been able to open the box.
    There it sat now. It had occupied the central position on the window chest for all eternity, or at least that’s how it seemed. I’d moved it once as a child and suffered not only a disproportionate spanking from my mother, but also a summer fever close to death I’m told.
    It bore some odd markings on both sides. The wood had been carved away to form very precise and script-like curves, inside of which a bronze coloured metal had been deposited. What language the shapes represented, if it was a language, has remained a mystery?
    Some years ago, a visiting friend knowledgeable in antiques, thought that it could date from well before the civil war. He added however, that as a one off, his judgement of such artifacts was a little doubtful.
    The lid of the box gave a picture of a children’s playgound. In the foreground of this view however, was an image infinitely more sinister than the overall effect. There upon a seesaw, were two figures. To the left, a dunce complete with hat, and to the right, a classroom swot with books and spectacles.
    Upon the hat of the dunce were arithmetical formulae, whilst the hand of the swot concealed a simple crayon drawing. The dunce although portly, soared high, and so grounded, though of meagre dimensions, remained the swot.
    No illustrations or markings adorned the rear face, but the front contained an ever-changing pattern. One day to the next would leave a vastly different impression on the viewer. At first glance, the front of the box appeared as blank as the back. Closer inspection would reveal the lines, dents and scorings of perhaps two hundred years in this house.
    Then the marks would change shape. You could blink to erase the imagined symmetry, but there it was again. Why it couldn’t be seen a moment ago, eluded all those who’d experienced the effect.
    A whole picture would emerge before your very eyes. More staggering still was discovering that as the eye moved to a different point, so too had the image progressed to a new point in an unfolding story. It was not a motion picture as such, but more like the turning of pages.
    Many times, fearful that the stories were an invention of my own perhaps unstable mind, I’d break off mid session. I’d even go outside to further undo the spell, before returning once more to gaze at the box. Again the blankness would give way to score marks, and then too moving shapes of the same or another adventure.
    I can’t recall if the underside bore any marks, and was reluctant to investigate as that would amount to having to move it. I supposed movement must occur during cleaning, but when this chore fell to me, I certainly would not risk the manoeuver.
    My parents never spoke openly about its alleged powers; in fact nobody had ever really done so. It was not uncommon though, for me to find one or another of the family staring into its depths. Upon such an intrusion, all those discovered would feign indifference to their true intentions, by diverting their eyes to the view out of the window beyond.
    I wished we could talk more of the mystery. As a youngster I’d tried many times to bring the subject up, but any mention of the box was glossed over with such a rapid changing of subjects, that I soon accepted its users preferred it to remain a personal experience.
    The way I dealt with the non-communication around this taboo subject, was to record my encounters and feelings in a diary. From the start I vowed not to tease those who might read my journal, and therefore gave the fullest descriptions to all my entries, paying particular attention to the subject that my grandmother had so scantily described.
    The room housing the object, itself had an aire of wonder about it. Whenever I would enter this room, my spirits were in some way lifted. The sensation was similar to the feelings I’d known as a child when trying to sleep the night before a summer vacation.
    Despite the sanctity and warmth of the room, my family had never used it as a living room. All guests were entertained in another room which adjoined the kitchen and overlooked the garden. This other family room, although much harsher in ambience and homeliness, has served us well it seems in the keeping of our secret.
    The name that had always been used to describe our special room, was the sitting room. The quaint old phrase had surely never been so literally applied as in this household.
    As a teller of stories, the box reigned supreme. Although its subject matter might overlap, it never ran repeats and was never boring. It seemed to vary its style and method to suit the needs and preferences of each viewer.
    There was no lighthearted content, each episode taking the form of parables containing deeply profound images and teachings. In its presence, I’d often felt to be the recipient of a sermon or lecture. It was very much a teacher-pupil relationship.
    An interactive guide to greater understanding, the user would often, if having misunderstood the plot, feel a sense of frustration as the box sought to clarify the point. Later, if one regained the thread, tensions would ease and the pace of the narrative accelerate in apparent joy.
    Today, gazing into its emptiness, felt unusually foolish. Minutes passed revealing nothing at all. Even the dents and scars of its ageing were absent. Time seemed to stand still, with even the tick of our old clock, labouring over each moment.
    Slowly, the shapes at last began to appear. Perhaps the box was uncertain of which subjects might best suit me today. It could even be that my education might benefit most, with silence and reflection; qualities often promoted within the tales.
    The unfolding pictures revealed a young man looking at a small box. The young man was in a room identical to this one, and the young man was clearly myself. The picture on the box observed by myself, contained a picture of a boy also looking at a box.
    Within the picture observed by myself as a boy, lay an image of my mother as a girl studying a picture of her mother as a young woman and so on. I became less of an observer and more like a participant in each picture.
    Travelling backwards through the years, I could see the changing image beyond the box in the street outside. Gone now were the shining cars and the bustle of pedestrians. The whole main route through town had returned to its former frontier days.
    Onwards I progressed, and to a point where even the space occupied by the old forge house across the way became an open prairie once more. Around me, the house itself appeared at first under construction, and then gone.
    Next came the fleeting scenes from a canvass covered wagon, as with others it bounced and jerked along a forgotten virgin trail. I felt the dryness of the air and dust, which thrown aloft by the wheels of the cart, clogged in my throat.
    Darkness followed the image of the trail. Not a sound or single ray of light could invade the times before the construction of the box. It had not yet been born, and so its record of times before its beginnings ended there.
    Though in darkness and silence, there remained a sensation of movement or some progression at least. With the exception of an occasional sourceless noise, the void through which I traveled yielded no information about itself.
    After a lapse in time that felt both instantaneous and forever, a pale white luminescence began to form around me. Within the half-light, familiar shapes and positions of objects developed; I was back in the sitting room.
    Through the window I could see an unfamiliar main street, upon which a continuous monorail passed by. Where the old forge should be, stood a metallic green coloured building. All the shops had gone, replaced by similarly metallic looking structures, whilst the street itself supported such a mass of humanity, I thought it might soon solidify.
   The clothes upon the people, the transport systems and the futuristic buildings, must mean that I’d come full circle. This scene, surely was the view from the sitting room as it would become in generations after myself.
    In that moment, as I studied the pictures on the box, my journey resumed. The feelings of the current viewer faded, and I became the young man in the picture, forty years the junior of the former viewer.
    Through the window, the main street, although still vastly altered from my life’s recollections, did have some familiar sights. The old oak tree, a feature of the Town Square for centuries, had returned. Further in the distance I could see the twin towers of the local radio stations transmitter.
    On the ever-changing face of the box was a girl. I became that girl and sensed the buoyancy of her adolescence, as the furnishings within the room began to remind me of my own. Upon the box was another girl, looking at a picture of a man who in turn looked upon an older man that I knew to be myself. As I entered my room, the gaze upon the picture gave a deeply warming sense of oneness with the occupant, much greater than with the others; I was home.
    And so the magic bubble of this particular tale ended. Our old clock gave the elapsed time as just one minute; it seemed incredible. Whether this was daydreaming or a reality was never clear, perhaps the two states were in fact one and the same condition.
    I couldn’t imagine any drug as being so addictive as the device before me. A complete feeling of euphoria often accompanied the moments after such a tale. One felt enormously uplifted and enlightened in some way, but the subtle details and specific teachings, I could never itemize or fully recall.
    Once again my eyes were drawn to the box. This time the scenes upon its face were instantaneous and of a more urgent and busy nature than before. It was a birthday party, a celebration, but with nobody there.
    There were balloons along with cakes and wine for the adults. There was laughter, joy and expectation; but where were the people. Around and around I danced and laughed as we sang or teased her tender years. Friends joined us now in greater numbers, as we ran to hide or seek.
    Our hearts so full, our voices shrill in the games we played, for the day so gay. Upon the cake a name I knew. "Matilda", it said, "Four years today". How I cried, and how we all cried then, for my sister Matilda had died aged two.
     Back now, in the magic room. Through the window the world span on in a dizzy, endless blur of futile endeavours. Its occupants seemed unaware of the pointlessness of such toil against the backdrop of their own mortality. Did they imagine that by creating and keeping deadlines, that the ultimate appointments with death and sadness could be evaded? Perhaps they thought such orderly lives might cope more with, and plan for their eventual slaughter at the hands of time and inadequate science.
     Such was the philosophy of the box. Within its lessons its pupils grew, as those without its guidance, ran naked through the streets beyond. There on the chest by the window, in its refusal to move, lay the very stark contrasts of wisdom against folly.
     Who could have created such a device? I’d long been a student of Paganism, the Occult, and a variety of other much-maligned subjects. I knew their secrets held more than the primitive fertility rituals attributed to them, and understood the motivations of the christians, whose propaganda had destroyed their legacy.
     In its long history, our world alone had spawned many civilisations. The number of such races within the universe as a whole, could only be staggering. Whoever was responsible for the box, be they of this world, within it, or from somewhere else, were in my estimation, a truly enlightened species.
     As evening approached, birdsong replaced the noises of the day. Long shadows grew darker still and seemed to stretch like fingers of a hand clasping the last rays of sunlight across the carpet. I was not alone. I don’t believe anybody could ever feel alone in this room.
     In the corner, though rarely played, stood an old piano. My father had played well but refused to use the instrument. For reasons unbeknown to even the most experienced and professional tuner; the notes it produced were always flat.
     I remember one such attempt by an eccentric and rather disheveled looking gentleman, that was responsible he claimed, for a nervous breakdown, that he’d soon after encountered.
     On the first visit all was well, but upon calling for payment the following day, and discovering the piano to be sounding flat, he withdrew his invoice. A second and third attempt also failed. Refusing defeat, the now even more disheveled individual, began to employ all sorts of tricks and sciences to solve the riddle.            Every fixing screw and damper was checked. All humidity and vibration factors were skillfully examined and eliminated. At length he resorted to underhandedness, and decided to tune each string sharp to the same degree, by which it had previously fallen flat.
     I can see his smile now, as on the next days visit, it was evident, if not essential, that success would be his. How dismayed he then became. Mother insisted he take some payment for his trouble, but he would not. He would not, we soon learnt, ever attempt to tune another piano either.
     Another property of this special room, outside of its ability to unbalance piano tuners, was to propagate plants. As an extremely keen gardener, I’d discovered very early in my planting career, that any failed cutting, no matter how withered or dead looking, would immediately spring back to life if placed in this room.
     Such was the mystery and charm of this place, that one wondered if the longevity of my family was in some way connected to the serenity of this room. Perhaps time itself stood still here; I never once saw anybody wind the old clock.
     The household chores of dusting and vacuuming always seemed a waste of time somehow, and in all my years it had never seemed necessary to redecorate this particular room. I once spent an afternoon in search of old photographs, curious to see the sitting room with other furnishings and décor. Finding only two such pictures, I was greatly disappointed to find them both so under exposed as to render any detail indiscernible.
     Living here for the years I had, accustomed one to the oddness of the room. I knew the clock to be ancient, yet knew that maintenance would never be required. I knew that dusting the mantelpiece would not soil the duster, but took my turn with the rest of the family. I also knew the piano to be un-serviceable but said nothing, and that afternoon, spent in pursuit of the photographs, was a foregone conclusion.
     In any other place, the darkness at the onset of night would have unnerved me. Here however, I’d spent many hours without the slightest urge to switch a light on. From the street outside, an ugly industrial amber light filled the room, as the tortured sodium gas burned within the lamps. All the colours and depth of the room were now solely in the charge of my memory; at least until dawn.
     Slowly as the darkness and warmth embraced me, I slept. I dreamt that in a dream the box had opened and that I alone had discovered it. Approaching the opened lid, felt not unlike stumbling into an occupied, though unlocked bathroom.
     Just three steps away now and my throat drew tight and my limbs heavy. "Come on", I said to my reluctant right leg, urging it to respond and take the necessary step forward. God how slow it felt to move. Every inch of progress required a mass of willpower.
     Gradually I began to adjust. The altered skills required to walk here it seemed, were simply a state of mind. I found that the urgency of my curiosity, was itself guilty in hindering my advance. In fact, each step, was with practice, executed with the same ease as was normal for me.
     With the weight from my limbs now lifted, I began to run. Shivers of anticipation charged my spine with joy as I flew like a child through a summers meadow. I felt the rush of wind in my hair and the pounding of my legs on the ground, yet still I grew no closer.
     Was I running or was I standing still. It was no longer clear to me. At first it seemed sensible to assume that both were true, but then it didn’t seem important any longer.
     Resigning myself to whatever magic or science or both, that kept me from the box; I looked on in awe. For one moment it appeared that the room was full of light with the box as a dark silhouette. Next, the room would appear as dark as space with the box becoming a supernova, albeit rectangular, within the void.
     In the air, a most haunting melody began. This both was and wasn’t music, being in some way too pure and too perfect. The structure of its composition felt predictable, to the point where I felt it to be the mirror of my every thought. Not a single note or chord could I hear, but the sound of my soul played on.
     An intimate darkness added to the encounter. The tune became the very essence of understanding, and closer to my hopes, motivations and fears, than I’d ever been before. Now in the darkness so complete as to be blinding; I wept.
     Waves of joy as never before, crashed on a shore so barren and so full of sadness. Like two sides of a coin, flipped into space and spinning sadness and joy, sadness and joy. Over and over from black to white and to the twilight zone in between I tumbled.
     Once again the box appeared. This time however it didn’t glow. Nor did the room show any light, but I could see. From within the opened lid, now shone the others. I knew them all but couldn’t remember their names, nor could I recall our ever meeting.
     Sounds of their presence filled my heart as new music played. Through the touch of the colours they were, and the sounds of their souls we joined. All-learning we learnt, all-giving we gave. On and on we swam in an ocean of light and sound and knowledge.
     Towards the opened lid we fell, faster and faster. All of us tangled and spinning together, rushing headlong to the depths within. The opened box grew in size as we approached. Its sides and interior felt as the sides and interior of a football stadium must feel to an approaching mosquito; it was vast.
     Closer still now, and as the sides of the box withdrew to the horizon, still we sought entry. Behind us as we sped, the room lay motionless. An amber glow of the streetlights had returned and we’d left the sitting room for another place.
     The identity of my companions remained a mystery. To attach a name to any of them, or indeed a memory, would have shattered an unspoken trust and bond between us. I’d spent an eternity with these people, and the entering of the box, even though this was the first time, was an experience we’d all enjoyed many times before.
     The tingling sensation that filled my entire being, was like regaining ones memory after a period of amnesia. It was similar to coming home after years in exile or isolation; it was rebirth.
     We had now entered the box. All sensations of speed and falling remained, but alongside lay the reciprocal impressions of slowing, rising and stopping. To be motionless is only to have zero speed, and to rise is simply a display of negative falling.
     All paradoxical issues related to momentum, are connected to the point in space from where the measurements are taken. By engendering that monitoring point, with the truths of dual, multi or omni-presence, all states of motion can then exist simultaneously.
     Our hearts swam as our memories were born again and again. Although featureless, in the same way that motion is or is not, this void was ablaze with colours and scents, and was way beyond the capacity of the single eye or the single mind to appreciate.
     Here, I had no secrets. My friends also could not hide the follies of their worlds; all were exposed to each others weaknesses laid bare. Motives behind our darker and hitherto concealed activities, seemed so barbaric now, with greed, pride and vanity, all having no value here.
     How we all laughed at ourselves and at each other. How could anyone, let alone all of us, ever have been so fixated with such trivia. Such ludicrous pursuits and drives, forcing us through monumental efforts in search of nothing at all.
     So much for the innocence of youth. For before us also lay the images of each of our activities in more tender years. Here the qualities of jealousy, hatred and revenge, made the infringements of our more mature selves, appear positively tame.
     How could we have been so evil? I’d always thought of myself as mild tempered and compromising, yet it was obvious, as it was to all of the others, that each of us had developed a blind eye to hide our faults whenever they were employed.
     Was it the world deciding the steps we took against the backdrop of mortality, that led to our altered behavior? Or was it our natural behavior that dictated the production of a world in self-denial that consumed its occupants and so prevented immortality. The box, like the Garden of Eden, provided the evidence, while we were both the jury and the accused in our own trials.
     Deeper we fell, as onwards with the spell we rode, or onwards with the spell we wove, we fell. Beyond all guilt now, and beyond all crimes, we came to a new place. Here the skies, the air and the earth below, all were blue; this was the place of dreams.
     That a dream is a thought, is enough to make it so. Then to wake is but to dream another dream. For each thought or dream, a room to reside, and from each room a door or doors that are both open and closed or both. And from each space the ripples run, as ever widening they touch.
     To believe is to become, as to doubt is to fail. Yet belief itself cannot exist without that from which it came, for it is by its very definition, simply the mastering of doubt. The total universal sum of either doubt or belief is fixed. They cannot be destroyed, altered or damaged; only redistributed.
     As doubt is to belief, so love is to hate, and pain is to joy. But is doubt, pain and hate one and the same animal. Are belief, love and joy also equal? Could it be that all words and all understanding are but misconceptions of the woken minds eye. Could it be that there is simply just one emotion either in the negative or the positive, from which, in the same way as from the basic binary logic of yes or no, can be constructed infinitely more complex arguments.
     Within and without us all, are the answers to all individuality and to all oneness. The solutions lie clouded however, in a mist of such great diversity, as to defy comprehension. The box as our guide, knew we could never understand the answers, but also knew that without the assistance it offered, we could never have realized there to be any questions demanding of those answers.
     Imperceptibly, the blues and violets of the dream plains evolved into the silvers and greys of oneness. Here we began to see, that in the same way as words and emotions intertwine, individuals may also simply be different sides of the same coin.
     Until now, the strangers who were my travelling companions, had been individuals. I knew them all so intimately, and every one of us, having been exposed to each others inner most feelings, felt the strength of that bond.
     So in tune had we now become, that I wasn’t sure which one of us was me. Was I myself, looking at another form within? Or was I really that other person all the time. Could I actually be the other person, and merely be trying to understand or experience what it might be like to be studied by another from within. 
     This was the strangest and most beautiful sensation. To be the source of ones own joy and companionship or to be the shoulder that you yourself may cry on. The ultimate peace and solitude without the isolation of being alone.
     Outside of the box and away from the silvers and greys of oneness; I’d been a single entity. My traits had been that of a loner, and were driven by the false notion that the company of others could not supply me with fresh stimulus.
     I was nauseated by the mass of trivia in conversations. I felt that I could see through the masks of my piers into their ugly competitive inner minds. I found solace in the selective companionship of books and journals, where conversation and discovery ran unhindered.
     A book that is chosen, and its reader, co-exist for the duration and beyond. A friend that is unchosen, and the listener, form no such bond. I believed that all friendships and all conversations, were simply self-counseling sessions.
     Here, in the oneness of the box, companionship was pure. It was pure because one was alone. I knew and loved the others so well, because they were me, as I was them. To be a loner is to have experienced a crowd, and to be verbose is to understand the taciturn.
     The state of oneness as presented to me by the box, could best be compared to a house where the walls, ceilings and floors, were all mirrors. The reflections given however, were not of the image before them, but were of the inverted image, showing the reverse sides of all aspects of the subject viewed.
     The oneness faded to nothing. There were no longer any companions; only myself. I felt somehow grown in stature and self-esteem, yet the isolation touched me. All around me was now silent and without colour. The sense of motion had passed and I felt the weight of my body upon my legs and feet.
     Slowly my eyes adjusted to the new and darker surroundings. Taking a few steps, the sound of my feet on the wooden bottom of the box, echoed against its distant walls. Peering through the darkness, I could see the edges some two hundred metres in either direction, and towering some hundred metres high.
     I was standing in the middle of an empty wooden box. My height compared to the outside world, could now have been no more than three millimeters. Overhead, a huge opened lid allowed the glow of amber streetlights to invade the now sterile inner sanctum.
     Without thinking I began to walk towards one of the four corners. Slowly my pace quickened and echoed in the emptiness as onwards I strode. The corner to which I traveled, would be the one nearest to the fireplace in the room beyond; but how would I scale the walls.
     Suddenly my left foot struck an object making me jump and throwing me off balance. Down on one knee in the darkness to investigate, the spectacle before me sent shivers down my spine.
     There upon the floor was a box. The jolt of my foot had flung it across the floor and left its lid ajar. From within the box, a blinding white light shone into the darkness around me.
    For a moment I hesitated, but then lowered the lid of the box to avoid its hypnotic attraction. I felt no fear, but the tiredness already administered by todays events, outweighed my curiosity. I repositioned the box by the marks in the dust where it had stood, and moved on.
     Rapidly now, I approached the corner. Somehow, I knew it would be here, and sure enough it was. In the corner, scaling the distance from the floor to the top of the wall, or rather the side of the box, was a ladder. Its construction was much more solid than could be purchased nowadays, and its thick handrails and rungs felt very reassuring.
     I began to climb the ladder. After thirty or so rungs I stopped and looked back over my shoulder. From this height, the entire box could be seen and seemed to stare back at me like an empty football stadium. Even with its powers and insight gone or shutdown, the box still retained an aire of majesty and calm.
    Climbing still further, I could now see the rim of the top of the box up ahead. Glancing over my shoulder, I became anxious that the enormous lid that hung at a precarious angle above me, might come crashing down and trap me inside forever.
     It suddenly occurred to me that I was clinging to a ladder some ninety metres above terra firma. When painting the house or fixing the gutters, the infinitely lesser altitude of seventeen metres or so, would normally, even in the wintertime, generate beads of sweat on my forehead.
     The box, excluding the irrational fear of the slamming lid; had never frightened me. I scaled the remaining ten metres with ease and now found myself peering over the edge and into the old familiar sitting room.
     Placing my right hand on the rim resulted in such an outrageous response that I almost fell. My fingers, or at least the parts of them protruding beyond the box, at once assumed their normal size; I withdrew them immediately.
     More tentatively this time, I began to experiment with just one finger. By poking one outstretched digit out of the box and into the room, I slowly adjusted to the spectacle. The effect was identical to placing ones hand under a magnifying glass and reminded me of a close-up working glass I’d once used.
     The task concerning me at this point was how to get from the box and down to the chest upon which it stood. I knew from memory that no ladder existed on the outside face, but now the dynamics of the distances had completely redefined the problem. By simply increasing that part of my hand outside of the box to include all of it up to my wrist, I was able to curl my extended fingers down to touch the top of the chest, a hundred metres below.
     I began to experiment further, and then, rather stupidly, thrust my entire arm into the room. Straight away, the box began to tilt up on one edge. The angular momentum and weight of the full sized arm, being attached too and protruding from its interior, almost threw the box on its side.
     From outside this must have appeared a minor curiosity. But from inside, I felt like an occupant of a high rise apartment might during an earthquake. Just in time, and with reflexes that fear alone can produce, I snatched back my extended arm.
     With an almighty thud, the box was saved from toppling over and crashed back upon the top of the chest. Contrary to my earlier confidence, beads of sweat were now highly evident upon my furrowed brow. How could I ever re-access the sitting room?
     Somehow I had to overcome my fear. But what exactly was I frightened about. I wouldn’t fall far if I leapt from the box, because my full size would have been restored. Of course I’d still probably tumble from the chest to the floor, but would be simply winded and not dead.
     I was also more than a little concerned about man handling the box. For surely, at the moment of departure, with my full sized weight transmitted through one giant hand, the stresses on its construction would be damaging.
    There I stood upon the ladder. One hundred metres below was the emptiness of the sleeping box. Beyond its confines lay the familiar and beckoning warmth of the sitting room. Between the two worlds, I clung to the rungs of the ladder, wondering what in the world I could do.
     My feet and ankles began to tremble at supporting my weight for so long in an unusual position. The palms of my hand slid easily upon the handrails as the moisture and tension mounted.
     On two occasions, my subconscious mind, in an effort to solve the problem for me, almost had me flinging myself into the room against my will. Should I return to the floor of the box? Was I meant to enter the small box within; I wasn’t sure.
     At last, with courage greater than I knew I possessed; I flung myself over the wall. As I rose into the room, so it shrank to its normal size. For a single frozen moment I could see my sleeping body curled up alongside an unlit fireplace.
     In a moment the bubble had burst. There was I in full size, falling from the space on the chest that was now too small to support me. I rolled over and fell heavily onto the floor below.
     The loudness of my return seemed to startle my alter ego by the fire. His eyes flashed open just as mine slammed shut against the impact of the floor; at once we were re-united. I saw nothing of myself either falling from the box or arriving on the carpet. I did however see an opened lid of the box, just moments before it fell closed again.
     I rubbed my eyes and blinked. Rising from the floor I then stumbled over to the chest and tried to open the lid of the box. It wouldn’t budge.
     How cold it felt in my hands. The room itself, was if anything warmer than usual, yet the box felt cold, almost metallic. It felt lighter too, as if it were made from balsa wood or from nothing at all. I replaced it upon the chest. It had always felt so heavy for its size as antiques do, and never cold to the touch. I picked it up again, this time to find its nature restored in both weight and temperature.
     Once more returning the box to the chest, I turned, and noticed not unusually, that the elapsed time as shown by the old clock, had been barely four minutes. Perhaps the clock and the box were working together I thought.
     The thought stayed in my mind and wouldn’t leave. It had never occurred to me before, but the designs of the clock and the box were really quite similar. Although plain, the curves and symmetry of both could have been from the one common source.
     The magnitude of this revelation seemed to force me down upon the sofa. Both items were of unknown and unquestioned origin. So how could their allegiance have remained unnoticed for so long?
     One thing however that had not escaped my notice, was the curious alignment within the room of the three pieces. The chest stood in an ugly asymmetrical position in relation to the window. Its length jutting out, left of centre.
     The box upon the chest occupied the same place in the rectangle of the top of the chest, as the chest did in the rectangle of the room. An unusual mark on the top of the chest to the left occupied the same relative position as the clock did in the room. It was as if the top of the chest were a map of the room itself.
     Another mark on the chest suggested that something else should have stood in the room directly opposite the clock and alongside the fireplace. I can remember now, when as a child I’d lifted the carpet absent mindedly in search of the missing object, and was amazed to discover an outline of darker varnish on the floorboards below.
     That this missing item had stood there for many years was obvious. That I’d discovered its predetermined place in this world, as a result of the map on the top of the chest, was uncanny.
     Equally uncanny was my boyhood discovery that my scouts compass always showed north as being seventeen degrees east whilst in the proximity of the chest or clock. And when placed on the floor by where the missing object once stood, it would spin slowly in an anti-clockwise direction.
     As I matured, the compass anomalies I’d attributed to hidden electric cables. It was only now, with the rebirth of a connection between the pieces of furniture, that I remembered the compass. And it was also only now, that I remembered the missing item in the room.
     The magic and discovery in the lawnessness of childhood. How wonderful it felt to be re-living those emotions. But where would it lead. I felt sure now that not only the box, but the entire room held secrets I’d only just begun to understand.
     This had been my house for all of my life. Nothing beyond its walls had ever lured me in the ways that the sitting room could. Tonight seemed clearer than usual, and in the darkness on the sofa, I cried.
     Somewhere in the past I’d changed. In my minds eye, all of my boyhood days were crystal clear and magical. The school friends, exams and sportsdays, all were as if they’d happened just yesterday. I can remember a sweetheart in my adolescence and was sure we’d marry; perhaps we did.
     Some days I could see other things, but it was all so clouded. Some days, even in this house, I felt like a stranger, where I both knew the people, and didn’t.
     Just then, a familiar creaking told me that the door to the sitting room had opened. From the hallway, a brighter light stung my eyes. In the doorway stood a very young girl, and behind her was a lady I took to be her mother.
     I wondered what they might want when the girl said, "Daddy, please come to bed, I’ve poured your medicine".
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