In a nameless fishing village on the shores of a nameless sea, there lived a young boy whose joy it was to run up and down the beach, collecting pebbles and shells. At the end of each day, he would keep only the most beautiful of those he had collected, and bring them back to his secret place in the village – an old cellar beneath the ruins of a hut swept away by a long forgotten flood. There he polished them with bits of cloth and ribbon he had scavenged from his mother’s sewing. He polished them until they gleamed and reflected the light, until he could see his blurred reflection on the surface.
One day, the boy was walking across the packed, wet sand, he saw a small box, no bigger than his closed fist, sitting on the ground. He watched it for a moment, curious, as the gentle foam rose and fell, covering it and uncovering it. It was deep blue in color, like the deepest parts of the ocean, and perfectly square. The day was growing late, and each wave that crashed was stronger than the last. The box trembled as the waters washed over it, and the boy knew that in a few more minutes it would be gone, pulled back to sea. Without giving it another thought, he leaned over and picked it up, and dropped it into his bag of shells and stones.
That night, he polished the box until it glowed in the candlelight, cleaning off the corrosion of the ocean. It seemed to be illuminated from within, its surface strangely iridescent, the light played across it almost as if something within were moving. The box was held closed by two latches, one on either side, both were heavily corroded. The boy painstakingly chipped off the ocean’s grime until the hinges gleamed. Almost subconsciously, the boy found himself building a shrine from the pebbles, decorating the shells. Almost reverently, he placed the box on top of this makeshift temple. And there it stayed.
It wasn’t until years later, when that young boy was almost a man, who had long since given up his daily collecting, that curiousity finally overcame him. He crawled beneath the ruins to the compartment below, that had seemed so much bigger before. The box seemed to be humming, to be filling the entire chamber with a strange blue light. He removed it from its pedestal and twisted the latches. Despite his careful cleaning of them, the left-most latch was stuck. He tried to unlodge it with the point of his pocket knife,but it wouldn’t move. Frustrated, he wedged the knife beneath the latch and slammed the hilt, hard, against the ground. The latch flew off, impacting the ground several feet away. The blue light in the room seemed to swirl and dim. Suddenly aghast, he placed the box back in its place on the top of the ‘altar’, and climbed out of the chamber.
Shortly afterwards, the dreams began. A voice would come to him in the night, though it didn’t seem to be talking to him. Many of the words he did not understand. The voice said, “Inside the box you will find happiness. Step inside and you will be filled with happiness for the rest of your days. You may leave the box at any time, though I must say, no one who has ever entered it has left. Why would they? They were happy.”
Just that, and sometimes he’d hear the ocean. As he grew older he kept having the dream, though his daily life, once one of play, was now one of toil. Each day he’d steer his boats and cast his nets, each day he’d haul in and clean the fish, and each morning he’d walk several miles to the market where he’d lay them on the stalls. He’d stand till the heat of midday touched him, then return to his boats and cast off again. All the young women of his village had long since found husbands and left, and he found himself growing old and alone, with nothing but his work. He wasn’t unhappy, but nor did he work with joy. Day by day, he began to feel more and more empty.
He still had the dream, though much less often now. More and more often he wondered why he had never opened the box, but the memory of the spinning blue dimness still warned him away. But what if it were true? What if by stepping inside the box he could be happy always? And end his daily toil? What if within that box were all the answers he had spent his life seeking?
But then he would struggle with the idea. For how could he know joy, if he had never known sorrow? What would happiness mean, if it was only a dream overlaid on his soul? But then reason would gnaw at him, for if he were truly ‘happy’, inside the box, such questions would not concern him. Only bliss. He’d worked hard for everything in his life, and it was the work he enjoyed. Yes, his collection of shells and stones was beautiful, but it was the years he spent perfecting him that brought him joy, not looking upon them now.
So the years went by, until the once-boy was now a bent and stooped old man, with long white hair. The last winter had been very hard, and he knew that he would not survive another. He forced his aching body to climb down into the hole in the ground and retrieve the box where it had stayed, undisturbed, for almost a century. And then he walked across the sand, up to the highest cliff overlooking the sea where the water breaks itself apart upon the jagged rocks below. It was evening, and the sun had just started to paint the distant waves a glassy yellow, the sky had just started to dim. He drove the end of his walking-stick into the ground, then stepped past it, to the edge of the precipice. This will be my only marker, he thinks.
And then, holding the box in his hands, thinking how small it seemed now in these old, decrepit hands, he leaned forward only slightly, but enough for the wind to pick up his robes and lift him aloft, and then he spiralled down, like a wounded butterfly falling to earth. His body was never found.
Was he broken apart by the rocks, and swept far out to see? Or did he open the box, in the last moments of his life, to accept the promised gift of happiness from within? Why did he bring the box with him, if not for this? Or maybe he sought to send it to the depths from which it came, so that others will not be tempted. No one will ever know what became of him or of the box that he carried.
The only answers we can find are the ones when we look within ourselves and ask:
“Would you open the box?”
This story was written by Naria Satrick. You can visit her website here.