Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Mystery Box

The box looked like it had been constructed in a hurry, even to my twelve year old eyes, It was rough and unpolished and made of cheap plywood, six panels forming a twenty-four inch cube. Little care had gone into the construction; the sides had been roughly screwed together and there were no hinges or latches to indicate an opening. Nothing was written on it and there was no way to glimpse inside without tearing it apart.

When I was growing up, the box collected dust in our garage. Its only official purpose was to serve as a pedestal for the short and stout Christmas trees that my parents preferred. In December the wooden box was lugged from the garage, brushed off and gussied up with a white sheet; only then could our tree be positioned on it. Over the years, the plywood cube came to smell like Christmas.

The box had unofficial functions; sometimes it served as a pedestal for neighborhood kids to stand on when we played “statue.” Or it would end up as the cornerstone for the forts we built from stacking stuff in our garage. Whenever I asked my parents what was inside it, the answer was inevitably the same: “Nothing important.”

I was a persistent pest. “C’mon, Dad, tell me; where did the box come from?”

Dad finally ‘fessed up. He ran a hand through his creosote hair. “I made it”

“What’s inside, Dad? C’mon, tell me…”

At first I didn’t think he was going to answer, but he said, “Inside are papers and photographs.”

“Anything from the war?”

“A few things.”

When I asked about “the war,” I meant World War II. The Korean War should have been fresher in everyone’s minds, but the Koreans and Chinese never captured my imagination like the Nazis. Defamed in film and vilified on many a TV program, they were deliciously evil, and as a small kid I relished being terrified by them. David, my grumpy older brother, liked to taunt me with the fact that they never actually caught Hitler. He swore the Nazi leader escaped to somewhere in South America, then fled to California where he was hiding out as a school janitor. Because of my brother, I always kept a wary eye on mustachioed Mr. Mestemacher as he shuffled along our school’s corridors with his push broom in hand.

“What kind of war stuff, Dad?” I knew he’d served in the Pacific, had joined the Navy at eighteen and had been shipped off to Guam. “Is there a Japanese flag in there? A chunk of airplane from a kamikaze?”

“Nothing like that.”

His reluctance to talk about the box only stoked my imagination. With pretend X-ray vision I conjured weapons of war, pirate’s booty and, on more than one occasion, fragments of a radioactive element from the home planet I shared with Superman—Kryptonite. The mysterious box was the depository where I stored my fantasies and heart’s desires.

One day I was hanging out in our garage with my best friend Ricky Delgado. His attention settled on the dusty box. We’d talked about it before. “I think it’s time to see what’s inside,” he said.

“Dad says it’s full of papers and old pictures.”

“And you believed him?”

“Of course.” I’d never known Dad to lie.

Ricky let out a long, “Hmmmmm…”

“Hmmm, what?” I replied.

“It’s just that he went to a lot of trouble building a wooden box just to store crummy papers and pictures in. He could have stored those in a shoe or cigar box.”

That was certainly true.

“Why don’t we grab a screwdriver and peek inside?”

I shook my head. “I’ll catch hell if we get caught.”

“Why? Did your parents tell you not to open it?”

“No, but I really don’t think we should—”

“You got a screwdriver around here?” Ricky asked, his eyes darting over to Dad’s workbench.

I picked up a screwdriver, and wavered before opening the box. I couldn’t count all the times I’d gotten into trouble because of Ricky Delgado, but after so much imagining I was suddenly busting to peek inside.

The screws didn’t come out easily and my shirt was damp and sticking to me by the time I removed one of the plywood panels and caught a glimpse of what was really inside. A seismic event was about to take place, a discovery that would shake my world nearly as much as when I learned the truth about Santa Claus.

(To be Continued…)


  1. You are a consummate storyteller.

  2. Was there a leg lamp inside? Or probably your dad's porn stash.

  3. Oh crap. There was nothing in the box except for a note: "If you are reading this, you're going to get your ass whipped".....I know it, I know it. Now I must return and you left no clue as to when it will be posted....

  4. Well told story! Look forward to the continuation.

  5. There was a dead body inside. Just kidding. I'll wait for the next installment.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  6. How dare you make me wait?!

    Janie Lola

  7. ooo, i can hardly wait to find out what was in there!

  8. Oooh...cliffhanger. I'm guessing there's nothing in the box though because of the difficulty in opening it. That doesn't seem practical to store anything. At least, I'd never store anything in a box that had to be opened with a screwdriver. Plus, having stuff in it would make it so that it was heavier to lug around (another impracticality).

  9. Oooh, Stephen, you are good at this cliffhanger stuff!

  10. I'm guessing it was a time capsule of sorts. Filled with stuff your dad had socked away for his future kids in case he never came back from the war.

  11. Dammit, man! "To be continued..." I hate choo! If I come back to find that it was a box of spleens and beef jerky I'm going to be so pissed.

  12. are a wicked, wicked man. To be better be good to make us wait.

  13. Huh! Now The Broad's started something!

  14. I've ruled out anything of animal or vegetable origin because of the lack of an odor. But what then? Petrified curiosity? ;)


  15. What???? Hey, is this a new trend? Now we're all going to be posting in serial form? Not fair Chubby...I. Want. To. Know. What's. In. The.!...pwitty pleeash? Smiles - A.

  16. Hmm. Treasure....clearly.
    SWASHBUCKLING treasure........!


  17. Arggghhhh! I hate it when you do this cliffhanger stuff! I've been known to skip to the last page of the book to see how it ends, but obviously I can't do that with your blog.

    Signed, Impatience

  18. Don't leave us hanging too long with the suspense! As always, a very enjoyable story~

  19. With all the rising action in that story , you've got my undivided attention.

  20. To be continued? What? This is like those episodes you see on TV that gets you gasping for breath for a whole week... Hope you don't keep us waiting that long.

  21. I'm busting to know what's inside, too!

  22. You do well to build suspense, Stephen. Now tell us what's inside!


  23. Ack! Don't forget to tune in tomorrow! (I hope it's tomorrow, anyway!) I would say that is a very interesting dilemma for that age... Heck, it interests me, now!


  24. Bugger the screwdriver it's taking too long. Use a hammer please :)

  25. Wow, such tension! The suspense is unbearable.

    Also, I love the suggestion from your older brother that Hitler is alive and well, and working as a janitor in California. Great stuff!