Lou regretted opening the box her gran left after she died. Not because it held a spider as she thought, or toenails as she feared. Inside was a person, an impossible miniature man, and her life would never be the same.
I check one last time to make sure Mom is still working on supper downstairs before closing the door to my bedroom and crouching next to the cardboard box in the middle of the floor. The thing looks completely at odds with the super clean white carpet, light pink walls, and matching white dresser, bed and night stand. Other than a couple of paintings, the dance trophies displayed around the room, and the few Taekwondo medals I’ve managed to put up without Mom noticing, every other object is tucked neatly away in dark pink containers, making the cardboard seem much grimier and much more interesting than it might otherwise.
I stare at the folded flaps covering the top for a long time without doing anything.
I should put it back and leave it alone. It’s what Mom would prefer. When she set the box in my closet a week ago, she made a point of telling me she wanted to be the one to go through the contents, but she needed time. I doubt it will stay in my room much longer. As upset as Mom is about Gran’s death, she’s already starting to come to terms with it, which means the box of stuff Gran had at the hospital will be organized and most likely tossed out soon.
Although I know from the weight of the thing there isn’t much inside, I can’t help being curious about what Gran chose to keep with her up until the end.
I pull the flaps apart and peer within. The space is almost entirely empty except for a few folded articles of clothing. Set carefully on top is Gran’s watch and a small wooden box I’d never seen before. Just to make sure there’s nothing else, I take everything out and carefully spread it over the floor. A pair of cotton pants, two blouses, underwear, a comb, and then the watch and the box.
As I put everything away exactly as I’d found it, I can’t help feeling disappointed, though I’m not sure why. What did I expect? Her collection of toenails? And if she kept it with her, would I want to find it?
I smile and shake my head. I should be relieved there’s nothing else in here. I’m sure her house is going to have enough odd objects to sort through to make up for the lack here.
I’m about to set the box back on top of the clothes when I stop. Why a box? At the size of my fist it can’t hold too much. Maybe some jewelry, but that doesn’t seem likely since this is Gran we’re talking about.
After glancing back at the door and considering my options, I make a decision. Instead of putting the wooden box away with the other items, I set it on my bed and then return the rest to the back of my closet. After quickly examining everything to make sure the room looked exactly the same as before, I flop down on my bed and reach for the box.
I twist it around in my hand, lifting it above me as I lie back on my pile of pillows. It’s actually kind of pretty. How have I never seen it before? I visited Gran every weekend with Mom after she got sick. My sister Cindy, on the other hand, went once and then refused to go back. She said it made her uncomfortable or something equally selfish.
My hand tightens in anger at the memory and my thumb jerks across the front of the box. Seriously, who does Cindy think she is? Couldn’t she take one day out of her busy schedule of getting drunk and making out with boys to visit our dying grandmother?
And in the end, Gran still decided it would be a great idea to give her car to Cindy. She doesn’t know anything about responsibility, and completely ignored Gran and yet she’s the one who gets rewarded.
Without meaning to, I flick the latch and the lid flies open. I scramble to keep it from dropping out of my hands. Something about the size of my thumb falls out onto my stomach and gets lost in the folds of my salmon-colored top.
Damn it. What would Gran leave in there that would be so small? It wasn’t shiny like a ring. In fact, it kind of looked like a…
Movement. I saw movement. Don’t tell me a spider was living in that bloody box. I hate spiders. Especially the kind that climb into your ear and lay eggs on your brain. I’ve heard stories.
Every muscle in my body is tense and ready to spring, but I hold myself in place. No need to freak out. It’s only a spider, after all. More afraid of you and all that. And if I start flopping around like an idiot, it might get mad and bite.
Slowly, I reach down to the hem of my shirt. Even more slowly, so as not to frighten the thing into doing something rash like bite me or run for the excellent hiding spot of my ear, I pull the material down, flattening out the folds.
My heart flutters as I finally catch sight of the thing. I’m about to flick it off me and throw myself in the opposite direction when I notice the bug is staring straight at me with a look more horrified than my own. Not only that, it seems to have only two legs and two arms, not the eight I’ve been expecting.
When my ears start to ring I realize I’ve been staring at the thing on my stomach for a very long time without breathing. I gasp and it takes in a similar breath.
A human. An impossibly tiny human crouches on my stomach.
No, it must be some sort of figurine. It was a trick of the light, my imagination that made it move. It’s well made, very lifelike, but it’s just a figurine.
It straightens a little and runs a shaky hand through its shaggy blond hair. It scans the room, taking in as much detail as it can before quickly returning its attention back to me.
Finally it speaks, and despite the fact its voice is a little shaky with nerves, I can tell the thing is male. He’s much louder and has a deeper tone than I would have thought possible from something so small. Though, to be fair, I’d never imagined something as tiny as him being able to speak in the first place. Even so, he sounds like a full-sized man.
“Hello.” He bows his head a little, his eyes never leaving mine.
This cannot be happening. He did not just bow at me and say ‘hello’ as though landing on a giant person’s shirt is an everyday occurrence for him. I want to say something else to let him know that none of this is right, but I can’t squeeze any more words from my tightened throat.
“Might I say, right away, before there’s any confusion, I’m sorry.” This time his bow is deeper, and his eyes break from mine as though he realizes it’s rude for him to stare. “Very sorry. Words don’t express how sorry I am.”
His longer speech reveals an accent. It’s not strong, but his punctuation is crisp.
“Okay,” I squeak. “Why are you sorry?”
“For anything. Everything. Whatever I did to annoy you.”
“Okay,” I repeat.
It would help if I could breathe properly, maybe then I could form full sentences, but there’s no way I’ll be able to with him on my stomach.
Out of the corner of my eye, on my bedside table, I see my clipboard where I keep all of my notes for dance. It’s the same pink as my walls, the cover decorated with a pair of ballet slippers. Much like the rest of the room, Mom chose it. Without twitching my stomach muscles, I reach over, grab the clipboard, and place it a few inches away from him.
He gives it a nervous look, but makes no move to get on.
I want to say, “Please step onto the board so I can safely set you on the nightstand beside my bed before I flip out for a couple of minutes,” but only a strangled choking sound comes out. He must understand, though, because he quickly makes his way onto the board, and I gently set it and him onto the table. The second I let go, I fling myself off the bed, body shaking in violent shudders. My hand repeatedly brushes off the area of my shirt where he’d been standing as if there’s something sticky on the fabric.
No matter how much I tremble or wipe, I can’t get the uneasy feeling to go away. After I don’t know how long, I find myself on the floor with my arms wrapped around my knees.
He watches the whole outburst with wide eyes. When I’ve calmed down enough to stop shaking, he speaks again.
“Better?” he asks.
He smiles for half a second, catches himself, and forces his face back into a concerned frown.
So there’s a tiny person on my nightstand, and he’s laughing at me. Great. I’m completely insane. I had no idea it could happen so fast. I thought insanity happened over time. I mean, I know I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, what with rehearsals and practices and school and Mom and Cindy, but I didn’t realize I was so close to cracking.
Really never saw that coming.
“Have I told you I’m sorry yet?” he asks.
“Yeah. Um, why are you sorry again?” He opens his mouth to answer, but I interrupt. “I know, for anything and everything. But what exactly did you do?”
“I…uh.” He swallows and stares at me. “I’m sorry. I’m not sure what I did. But it must have been something bad for you to put this spell on me.”
“Me? I did this?” I let out a nervous laugh. “No. Wrong. You did this. I opened the box and you…” My eyes flick to the box lying half open on my bed. “The box!”
In one fluid motion, I’m off the floor and on my stomach on the bed. My hand wraps around the box and I lift it up in triumph and smile like a maniac at the miniature guy. He’s not as happy. In fact he looks more terrified than before. His hand reaches for something on his thick leather belt while he positions himself into what I know well to be a fighter’s stance—legs spread apart with his balance distributed evenly between them, his weight is on the balls of his feet, ready to move in any direction.
Without thinking, my muscles respond and I’m up, ready for the attack. Great, now I’m prepping to fight someone I could squish with one finger. Things can’t get any weirder.
“The box,” I say again. “You came out of it, right? You can go back in and everything can go back to normal.”
I flash him another wild-looking smile and then rest the box next to the clipboard so he can climb inside.
His stance relaxes a little when he realizes I don’t plan to attack, but otherwise, he doesn’t move.
“Let’s go,” I say in an attempt to hurry him. “I’m so over this mental breakdown.”
“The thing is—“
“There’s a thing? Why does there have to be a thing? Why can’t you go into the box and I’ll go back to my life. Why can’t we do that?”
He holds himself away from the box, almost as though he’s more afraid of it than of me.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you.”
His hesitation is slowing everything down. Why won’t he get inside so this moment of insanity can end?
“Then what? Why won’t you get in?”
He examines me for a moment as though deciding how truthful to be.
“I don’t trust you.”
I open my mouth, but he stops me from arguing by adding, “I’m sorry. I really am. I simply don’t want to die of starvation while locked in a box.”
Starvation? Can hallucinations become malnourished? Possible or not, my conscience won’t let me take the risk.
“Fine. Get in and I’ll leave it shut for ten seconds, then I’ll open it back up. Like resetting a computer. Everything will go back to normal.”
“Rewhating a what?”
“You know. A computer. One of those big boxes with the internet and…you have no idea what I’m talking about.” Sigh. You’d think my imagination could have created someone with a bit more knowledge of the world. Though, I have to give myself points for creativity. Plus, he’s adorable.
No. Wrong. I need to get rid of the guy, not admire him.
“Get in the box.”
“Honestly, I think I’d rather be squished. Less drawn-out death.”
I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him. It can’t be easy being so tiny. Still, I’m definitely at an advantage for size and I need him to go away now.
“That can be arranged,” I say.
I raise my thumb menacingly, or that’s what I am going for at least.
“In the box?” he says.
He rubs his face while eyeing the thing with apprehension. His expression is pleading when he returns his gaze my way. In an instant, the emotion is gone and his face reveals nothing of what he’s thinking. Still, the one moment of vulnerability makes it impossible for me to continue threatening him.
He looks puzzled, as though he wants to say something, but changes his mind at the last moment. After another bow, he climbs in and I close the lid as soon as I’m sure his tiny hands won’t get caught. What I should have done is set it aside and never thought about it again. Instead, I count to ten, slower than I’ve ever counted to ten before and open the lid.
The miniature guy stares up at me.