‘How’s the new apartment?’ Alex’s Dad asked. It sounded as if it was a difficult question to ask.
‘Dad, you’ve asked me that all week,’ she chuckled. Her Dad is such a softie. He always feels the need to protect her but he doesn’t impose any rules of any sort on her. Alex still has dinner with her parents every night. It’s not that she can’t afford it but she wanted her parents to adjust to her new living arrangements.
‘Well, if you both must know, I am still settling in. The kittens have made themselves at home and they have their own corners,’ she informs them happily.
‘Dear, you should get a new boyfriend or people will start calling you, ‘Crazy Cat Lady’!’
“Too late mom, I had that nickname since grade school,’ Alex laughs.
‘By the way, I got this envelope in the mail! Alex opens her bag and shuffles through the contents. She manages to find it and waves it around for her parents to see. ‘THIS. This was among the pile of letters that weren’t mine. BUT,’ she looks at her parents’ undivided attention towards her. She likes it.‘But it had my name on it. No return address and, get this Mom, no stamp!’ Her mom brings her hands to her open mouth as if Alex just told her some ghost story.
‘Well, that’s strange. May I see it?’ her Dad asked. Alex hands it over to him. Her Dad is a local cop and he inspects the letter as if his eyes were made of magnifying glass.
‘Nothing out of the ordinary,’ he tells them as he sniffs it and licks the envelope on the tip. ‘Taste like paper.’
Alex’s Dad opens the envelope and takes the letter out to read it.
‘Yeah, you know anyone named Boon, Dad?’ Her Dad shakes his head. ‘Mom?’
‘No, I don’t know anyone named Boon.’
‘Maybe it’s one of those charity envelopes from the neighbour, could be,’ her Dad concludes.
Alex is tired. As she brushes her teeth, she remembers her parents talking about her grand-aunt passing away about a month ago.
Grand Aunt Hera lived quite far. In fact, she lives in Belgium. Her lawyer contacted her parents, telling them that he’s sending over documents and things that she’s signed over to them. Before her father can ask what the items are, the lawyer named Mr. Santiago, told him the contents are not be to discussed over the phone and that he will contact them shortly after they receive the box.
‘A box of inheritance,’ she tells herself in the mirror. I wonder what could be so mysterious that they couldn’t talk about it over the phone. She gurgled and wiped her face clean. She left the bathroom and turned off the light, not knowing that her reflection was still standing in front of the mirror, watching her leave.
In less than a week, the box arrives. Her father did not open it until she got home from work. It was all she thought about while she punched holes in papers and folders. She practically ran home.
‘Alright, are you ready?’ her father looked at her then to her mom then back to her again. Alex and her mother nodded in unison.
‘It’s quite a big box, dear. You think she sent some sculpture of some sort?’ Alex’s mother asks her father.
‘Perhaps, it is. It’s not as heavy as I thought but..,’ he looks underneath the box carefully then carefully putting his head on top of the box, ‘It’s not ticking…’ he teases and laughs out loud. Alex laughs along but her mother was not amused.
‘Alright, alright, let me open it up then,’ he announces. He places the box down carefully and goes over to his writing table. He takes a large cutter from one of the drawers and goes back towards them. He slowly cuts the box on the tape where there was a dotted line, showing where to cut. Alex feels a bit excited about this. What could be in that box?
When her father opened the box, there was another box.
‘Huh…what do you know? A trick, perhaps?’ her Dad looks at her, with an eyebrow raised up.
‘I don’t know. Is grand Aunt the tricky type? Or is Mr. Santiago a bit off his rockers?’ Alex asked her parents. She helps her father take the closed box out of the already opened one. When her father opens the tape, it revealed yet another box.
‘You have got to be kidding me.’ Alex says a bit exasperated.
‘It’s beginning to feel like I’m opening some Russian doll,’ her father tells to no one in particular.
Her mother coughs and her father stammers, ‘I mean a Matryoshka doll…honey, sometimes your mind is deep in the dirt.’
Alex laughs at her parents’ petty arguments and helps her father take the closed box out of the opened box. When they lifted the box off, it revealed a more detailed design but it looked like a regular box from underneath.
‘Do they make such fancy boxes in Belgium?’ Alex asks, perplexed at the detail of the box. She touched it and realized it’s made of wood. It looked old but sturdy. ‘Doesn’t it remind you of those smaller treasure boxes in the movies and stories?’
‘I guess but it’s not exactly your typical box,’ her father says playfully.
Her father starts fiddling with the box. He stalls and pulls a side and pulls the other side in another direction.
‘Oh! It’s a trick box!’ Alex half-shouts when she realizes what the box is.
‘Not just any trick box, it’s the very same one that my grandfather, your great grandfather had.’ Her father was still poking the box in places and she actually wanted to try to open it.
‘Why can’t we just smash it open?’ her mother asks. Her father stops with what he was doing and Alex turns to look at her mother in shock. ‘It was a question, I didn’t say we had to do that,’ she says, shrugging. ‘Go on, dear.’
HALF AN HOUR LATER…
‘Dad, have you ever opened this box before?’ Alex asks.
‘Never did. Your great-grandfather didn’t let us near the box. It was locked up and sealed,’ he tells her, sweating a little, as he continued to twist the box around.
There was a click and a snap. Alex and her mother hear it and turn their attention to her father.
Her father sits upright and takes a deep, relieved breath. ‘As I said before, are you ready?’
Her father slides the wooden panel off and peers inside. He retrieves a bunch of letters from inside the box. There were three sealed white envelopes with each of their name on it. Her father distributes it among them. There are three other larger and thicker envelopes with no names in it. The first one is about a substantial amount of money left for her parents. Her mother is quite surprised about the news that she looks as if she won the lottery. The second envelope is about the family’s mausoleum in Belgium. She instructs Alex’s father to oversee that she is buried in the family plot safely and to make sure that she is inside the ring.
‘The ring?’ Alex wonders but didn’t ask.
Alex’s father didn’t even question this strange request because he knows all about it. A brief flashback of his youth bombarded his mind, his younger self asking the same question about the location to his own father a lifetime ago. Why is it so far? What is it doing the very edge of the continent?
He opened the other envelope and he stared at it, his facial expression turning into shock to happiness. ‘Look at this, bub, it’s for you!’ he says to Alex, handing her the papers. Alex quickly took and read it.
She didn’t know what to say.
Her aunt left her money, a lot of money.
‘Was I nice to her?’ she asks her parents, stammering, wondering if she deserves the lump sum.
‘You looked like her when she was young, and you’re always approaching her to play with you when none of the other children wanted to get close to her,’ her mother says a matter-of-factly.
‘I guess I was too young to remember but at least, I know now that I was nice in some way,’ Alex says, still staring at the piece of paper, flabbergasted.
‘She’s written me a nice letter,’ her mother informs them. She reads it to them:
‘Dearest Nancy, I’ve always been quite distant from the family but I do hope you all know that I care about you all deeply. I will not pretend that I have anything in common with you but please do know that I think of you. Alexandria has grown into a beautiful young woman with brains, a rarity in our times. I wish I had enough time to spend with her and perhaps, got to know you more.
With Love, Hera
‘Mine is quite short,’ Alex’s father informs them. He reads it to them:
‘Dearest Sebastian, take care of the family as you always do. You make me proud.
With Love, Aunt Hera
P.S. The miniature trick box is for Alexandria.
Alex manages to take her jaw off the floor and put down her first letter.
‘What box?’ she asks, curious.
Her father goes through the larger trick box and fishes at the bottom. He pulled out a small box that resembled the bigger box, only this one is more compact. Her father hands it to her, smiling.
‘It’s cute,’ she tells them.
‘I think it’s quite a nice touch.’
Alex picked up her envelope and opens it. Then she slowly closed the envelope.
Her parents are looking at her, waiting for what the letter says.
‘Mom, Dad, is it alright if I keep this for myself please?’ she asks sheepishly. Her parents looked at one another and smiles.
‘Sure thing, hon, that’s no problem,’ her mother assures her.
When she gets home, she locks the doors behind her properly. She likes how she’s got four locks. She locks two of them. The thought of someone breaking in, trying to open her locks and locking the other two every time that person tries, amuses her.
She sits on the sofa and almost immediately, she is surrounded by cats. She cuddles with them for a while, but her mind is still on the letters she received earlier. She sits up from the sofa, opens her bag and fumbles through to find the white envelope with her name on it. She went to her room and retrieves the other envelope she got earlier in the week. She put them down next to each other, side by side on the dining table and sat down on the chair.
It’s the same envelopes.
She breathes in deeply, opens the first letter and put it right below it.
It read: ‘Trust Boon’.
She opens the envelope she received tonight and put it right below its envelope.
It read: ‘Trust Boon’.
It’s the same paper.
And it’s the same handwriting.
‘This is so farking weird, man,’ she tells to no one, ‘A bit creepy but this…’ she fishes in her bag and pulls out the mini trick box, ‘this is fascinating.’
The kittens meow at her and she sighs loudly.
‘I am losing my mind.’
She stares at the trick box for a few seconds. She shakes it gently, wondering if there’s anything inside the box. She listens. She hears a faint ‘thunk’ noise and decided not to shake the box too much.
The only thing she can do is to open this. She has a moment of thought, wondering to herself if she remembers how her father opened the first trick box.
She fumbles with it, wondering where to start. She twists, turns, pulls, slides and listens.
FIVE HOURS LATER…
Alex is asleep on the couch. She fell asleep holding the box and the kittens are sleeping around her. She’s been trying to open the box the whole night, she even wrote down the combinations of what she already did and what she needs to test. Her laptop is turned on, the playlist of ‘how to open trick boxes’ is still playing on the screen.
The kittens’ jolts awake at the same time and meow at the kitchen area. Ariel looks at the same spot as the kittens and meows at same area. The kittens go down from the sofa, one by one and sat in front of the kitchen area, their gaze following something. They meow and follow to the right.
Then it went left and the cats went left.
A white shaped silhouette appears under the moon. It looks like a transparent floating blanket. It turns around and it looks like it has holes in the blanket for eyes.
‘Fēlēs*…pulcher animal*,’ it says. It had a low but kind male voice. The kind of voice that can reassure a frightened child to go back to sleep. It crouches and the cats happily bounce towards it, purring.
‘I hope she doesn’t manage to open that box, fēlēs* or her life will become very different,’ it says. It stands up and looks up at the moon.
‘It’s been a while since I saw you, lūna*,’ he says as he takes in the view of the night, ‘It’s strange how everything looks peaceful here…unlike the old days.’
It floats towards the dining table where the letters are still next to each other. It floats back, as if slapped, looking as if it was taken aback at what it read.
‘My name…they know it. I have not seen my name in centuries,’ it says, sadly.
This time, it was Alexandria who jolts awake. She looks slowly to the left and then to the right. He stood quietly behind her, caught off guard by Alex’s sudden wakefulness. He knows that she’s not supposed to see him yet. He floats back towards the kitchen, merging with the dark shadows of the kitchen. Alex frowns, wondering where her cats are, she looks back to the kitchen and they are all facing her, sitting on the kitchen table. He sees her and it took all his self-control not to come out of the shadows to greet her.
She looks like her, but she’s not her, he reminds himself.
‘You guys better not be hiding some rat or cockroach,’ she warns them, pointing a finger at them. She realizes that her laptop was still showing the clips. She turns it off, gets off the sofa and went straight to her room. The cats follow after her.
‘Arcus capillus*…strange times indeed,’ it whispers under its breath.
Fēlēs* – cats
pulcher animal* – beautiful creatures
Lūna* – moon
Arcus capillus* – rainbow hair