05 Jul A Box of Desires
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"A Box of Desires"Written by
Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Omnia cum pretio.
“Everything at a price.”
This is inscribed on a golden plaque inside the box. I feel I should have considered this phrase more carefully, and would if I had the chance again.
My name is Vincent, and this is my suicide note.
I’m not writing this to get your sympathy. I’m putting this on the internet so someone can know why I never came back. I’m leaving my surname (and some specifics) out so you can’t identify me, but my few loved ones will know. I know they will be tormented by not knowing where I am, but I promise it’s for the best. Please understand.
I will start months back with the box. It belonged to my uncle on my dad’s side, a boring and slightly unpleasant man who died aged 64. Thinking back to it that is pretty young to have a major bleed on the brain, but I didn’t care. Never liked him much, anytime my family saw him was an effort to remain polite and respectable. I would sit and nibble on those shitty biscuits that parents have with tea and coffee, while mum and dad pretended to care about why the recent Reserve Bank interest rate cut would stimulate the market. I pretended to care when he died too, because that’s what you do. Not to the point of crying uncontrollably, but showing up at the funeral and nodding politely at all the assholes he knew at work. Putting some flowers in the grave as they lower the coffin, and knowing I’ll never visit the cemetery again. Discretely tossing all the mail-order flowers in the bin because we knew how empty the sentiment was with which they were sent. I guess I was slightly surprised when the lawyer in charge of his estate called us to his house once more to read the will. Mum and Dad got given a few thousand dollars and some furniture that would be taken straight to the Op Shop. I got nothing at all, stupid old fuck. Not like I had lots of cousins or anything, he just gave most of it to charities I hadn’t even heard of. While the lawyer was droning on I decided to wander off and swipe something that looked valuable, figured it was my right. I just heard the lawyer mention “nobody is to go in my study” as a condition on the will, and decided that was exactly where I would go. Much to my disappointment, the study was empty, besides a large desk and a small wooden box. Dust covered everything which told me my uncle hadn’t set foot in here in years. I could hear my parents calling for me from downstairs so grabbed the box and left.
Grabbing that box was quite legitimately the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, which is why I’m cradling a 9mm handgun someplace isolated. Before that though, I need to explain a bit more about my uncle. He had a pretty shitty run at life to be fair to the man. His parents worked unskilled jobs, and sent him to a rubbish school. He got average grades and ended up working an average finance job in Melbourne. His parents both died when he was only 24, leaving a sizable sum of money they didn’t even know they had. Some screw up on his grandfathers will or something. He got married at 30, had four children (two girls and two boys) between 1985 and 1988. His run of luck continued in 1991, when the whole family was in a serious car accident. His two older boys survived the impact with a drunk-driven Land Cruiser, but the two girls did not. He was a broken man for years after that which I guess explains his dreary nature. His wife stayed by him and died at 66, just months before he did. I guess I felt sorry for him to a degree, but he still ended up with two successful sons and a reasonable amount of wealth. Some had it worse.
I don’t think my parents even noticed that I took the box. They were irritated that they hadn’t got more money out of the estate, with my dad gesturing repeatedly to the “CHECK ENGINE” light in our aging Nissan. When we got home I chucked the box in the cupboard, and heard something rattle inside. Odd. I pried the box open and exhaled sharply when I saw the occult contents. Seven small bones, two old coins, a small glass vial filled with dark coloured dust, a piece of fraying rope, a small, ugly dagger and an ancient looking book bound in some sort of leather. What the fuck. What sort of weird shit was my uncle into? I flicked through the book lazily, and was surprised to find it half full of short entries. They were all very simple in wording:
“I desire a promotion.”
“I desire love.”
“I desire a cure to my pain.”
There were lots of different people’s writing in the book, with the entries dated back hundreds of years. Some weren’t even in English. I shivered, this creepy box clearly had a long history with whatever cult it belonged to. What I was curious about though was how my uncle had anything to do with this sort of material. He wasn’t a religious man (outwardly at least) and every time I tried to ask my mum, she shut me down. I didn’t exactly want to say I stole his creepy cult box so it was hard to push the point. I spent some time examining the box, which was unremarkable. It was about the size of a large jewelery box, made of dark solid wood and quite weathered. It had no clasp or lock, and very little decoration besides the strange coat of arms on the front. The items in it, however, were more remarkable. The bones were extremely old and yellowed, and disturbingly appeared to be carpal bones. From a person. The coins were typical of the Roman era, and the vial quite possibly used to contain blood. It was dried to dark dust now, but given the other contents of the box I wouldn’t be surprised. The other concerning item was the small dagger. Only around 3 inches long, hardly a weapon. The hilt was made of bone and the blade from some extremely sharp, dark metal. The front of the leather book also seemed to contain some basic instructions in Latin. They roughly translated (thanks Google) to:
1) Wait upon a waning moon
2) Make an offering of blood
3) Transcribe your greatest desire
4) Receive what was asked and accept what was taken
It all seemed particularly clichéd horror movie material to me. What bothered me though was “accept what was taken”. What the hell did the instructions mean by that? Did people believe that they could sell their soul or something in exchange for worldly treasures? There were an awful lot of desires written in the book, and something told me that there wouldn’t have been so many repeat entries (same handwriting) if the box did nothing at all. That thought concerned me a lot.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I decided to try the box, out of some sort of morbid curiosity that had been gnawing at me. I looked up what a waning moon was, and at the right time of the month set to work on transcribing a desire. I thought it was logical to start with something small first, not world peace or ending world hunger or anything. Something tangible so I would be able to work out if the box worked or not. I had a nasty feeling that the offering of blood would involve the little blade inside the box, so took a generous swig of whiskey to relax my nerves a little. I was home alone and not quite sure what the box would do (if anything, was probably just going to sit there and be a weird old box), and my nerves were definitely on edge. There was something convincing about the amount of repeat entries for different things in the book. Surely, if it didn’t work, wouldn’t you try the same thing again? Not something else entirely?
I swallowed hard and gently pressed the blade onto my thumb, making a small prick. I winced, more from the sight of it than anything, the blade was impossibly sharp and hardly hurt at all. A single large drop of blood fell into the box, and seemingly immediately disappeared into the surface. I raised an eyebrow, questioning how my blood could be absorbed so quickly by the aged wood. Fuck it I thought. “I desire a new car for mum and dad” I scrawled quickly into the book. I slammed it shut and put it back in the box, half expecting some demon to rise and steal my soul. Nothing. In fact, nothing happened that night at all.
I had convinced myself the box was just a useless box for almost a week until I awoke abruptly at 2am. A shuddering crash ripped me back to my senses, and I heard glass scatter across the asphalt out front.
Looking out the window, I saw pieces of car strewn across the road. What used to be a Commodore lay on its side in our garden, spewing steam from the crumpled bonnet. Our poor old Nissan had been rear ended so hard it skidded across the road and embedded itself in a street light. Someone groggily crawled out of the ruined Commodore just as my dad burst out our front door, yelling and swearing. I sat down hard on the edge of my bed with my heart in my mouth. It couldn’t be the box. But I asked for a new car, and ours has been completely written off. The thought caused a wry smile to cross my face. It worked. The fucking box worked.
Three days later a brand new Renault wagon rolled into our driveway. Apparently, there was an issue with our insurance company and they had kept our Nissan insured for almost thirty thousand. Mum and Dad were as happy as I’d seen them in a long time and we had an awesome looking new car. How could I have known that the Commodore driver wouldn’t walk again? I guess that gives something away, doesn’t it? It wasn’t until some months later that I would come to understand.
Omnia cum pretio.
Everything at a price.
The next few months had me thinking about how best to use the box. I could only use it a few days a month anyway, so had plenty of thinking time. My school got a grant for a new basketball court that it wasn’t expecting, which was mad. Our cranky old Maths Methods teacher resigned, and was replaced but an energetic and impossibly cute graduate. The box made me feel special, like I had some sort of gift. I could really improve people’s lives (or just mine) with it. Small improvements were great and all, but obviously I started to yearn to try something bigger. Something to test the box and its occult powers. I really shouldn’t have tested its limits. At the supermarket it makes sense that bigger items carry a bigger price. That really should have occurred to me before I wrote in the box that I desire Katherine McGowan as my girlfriend.
I don’t know what I expected to happen. Was she going to start noticing me at school? Was she going to say yes if I asked her out? Katherine was a literal babe, nothing like me. Every guy in school stared absently at her as she passed, and she knew it. Enough to be cute and alluring, not enough to be one of the stuck up, self-proclaimed models. You can imagine my surprise then, when she dragged me into an empty classroom one lunch break and we did the obvious. I was on cloud nine for days, and was as happy as I had ever been. I was the envy of every other guy at school for the first time ever, and I soaked it up. I loved the box and everything it had brought me, particularly Katherine. We would spend the long, summery nights just sitting together, watching rubbish on Netflix and talking about life in general. It felt like we had been together forever, even though it had been three weeks at most. It was a Tuesday, I think, when she seemed really quiet and withdrawn for the first time. Every time she made eye contact with me she would look at the ground and turn away. It hurt, not just because I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted, but because I worried the box had taken away what I loved. Like it had given me a taste but decided that was enough. She was like that for three days before I got the worst text message of my life:
Vincent, I’m pregnant.
I literally felt the whole world swallow me up. I was eighteen, no stable job, and not ready to take on any responsibility of that nature. I should have sat and thought it through, but I ran upstairs in a blur. I pulled the box hastily from under my bed, and with little care plunged the dagger into my palm. I gasped at the pain, and looked down to see an unexpected amount of blood spatter the box and its contents. Immediately, as before, the blood seemed to be absorbed as soon as it touched the box. I hate myself for not stopping and thinking about things more now. I wrote “I desire Katherine to not be pregnant.” Sitting there on my bed, cradling my hand and sobbing about how my life was over, I had absolutely no idea what I had done. I didn’t even notice the box faintly glowing under my bed, as if energized by my latest request.
I didn’t go to school for the rest of that week, too scared and ashamed to either see Katherine or anyone else for that matter. I pretended I was sick, and since I wasn’t the kind of child that feigned it very often, my parents accepted it and left me alone. On the Friday, my Mum came upstairs with that apologetic look on her face that she does when giving bad news. “Vince, there is something I need to tell you. The school called me earlier today. The Police found Katherine in an empty classroom at school.” She broke down sobbing “she’d taken her own life”. It hit me like a brick wall. Omnia cum pretio. Everything at a price. It was like a light bulb moment, where everything in my head fell in to place at once, but not in the wonderfully enlightening sense. This light bulb moment was like a florescent tube being brought down on my head with immense force; the understanding of what I had done washing over me like an agonising rain of fragmented glass. I had killed her. My stupidity and ignorance of what I was dealing with had killed someone. I hardly remember what happened next, but I remember finding myself at the quarry which was over ten kilometers from my house. I must have run the whole way because I was heaving for breath, tears streaking down my face and my nose running like a faucet. That box was pure evil; it had taken my life away from me and more literally Katherine’s life away from her. It had lured me in and I played directly into its hands. First the small desires were granted, with minimal (if any) tangible cost. Greed and complacency then led to me making requests that came at a price. A horrible price that I would never have agreed to pay if I had been given any choice in the matter at all. I fell to my knees, feeling the cold stones dig into my flesh, and felt hopeless.
I was like a shadow of myself for weeks. Katherine’s funeral came and went, and I couldn’t even bring myself to go. I felt so impossibly guilty that someone with everything to live for was lowered into the ground because of me. My greed for something so basic and carnal, and my inability to live with the comparatively minor consequence my decision had come with. We could have been happy together forever, maybe. Even if we split up and it was horrible and ugly, she would still be alive. Maybe once I child was born I would have changed? It was partially mine after all, like a piece of myself. I could have hidden that evil box forever and accepted what my life had become. But I didn’t, and could never fix it. I had obviously tried to destroy it, too, but to no avail. Fire had no interest in charring it, and stones couldn’t leave a mark. Its individual items couldn’t be tipped out of the box no matter how hard I shook it, and any time I tried to leave the dagger outside of the box it somehow appeared back inside. I couldn’t tear pages out of the book or cross out any entries already made. Every time I tried it was like the box was mocking me, daring me to try a new means of futile destruction. It completely exhausted and destroyed me, so I had no idea that a knock on my door days later could make my life worse than it already was. It came at the hand of a police Detective, who firmly requested that I come with him to the station. Katherine’s death was being treated as suspicious after the autopsy found she was pregnant, and I was obviously now the prime suspect.
I knew that physically I hadn’t killed her, but I felt that wouldn’t matter too much. I had a sick feeling that the box would have made sure all the circumstantial evidence fell into place. The medication she took in copious quantities would be the Alprazolam from my Mum’s cabinet, in her name. There would be text messages on my now seized phone encouraging her to get rid of the child. They might even be threatening, I don’t know. My night in the police station gave me time to think and I think I have the box worked out. It was forcing my hand; putting me in a situation where I have to use the box again to escape my current predicament. It was what it did to everybody that used it. My uncle had first desired satisfactory grades to get a job, which was provided with little cost. He then wrote I desire wealth which was provided at the horrible cost of losing his parents. I can only imagine either him or his wife was infertile, causing him to use the box again. I desire two male children. The box provided them, of course, but at the cost of the two daughters he never expected but would have loved dearly. This broke him, and no doubt caused him to ask his final desire I desire freedom from my guilt. The box killed him days later. I swallowed hard because I knew there was no escaping what the box wanted. It would subtly force you into using it, only to leave you worse than where you were. But I had a plan that might be able to defeat it once and for all, a plan that was too simple and terrible for any before me to have tried. But I needed to get out of the police station cell first.
It turned out that part was easier than I expected. Given my age and history, I was released on bail under strict conditions, which didn’t worry me too much because I wouldn’t be facing the consequences. Not the ones they had in mind at least, likely something much worse. I can’t tell you how I snuck out of the house with the box, and more importantly can’t tell you where I am going. They will find the Renault wagon near a bus stop somewhere, but the trail will go cold. No CCTV, no witness accounts. I could be anywhere, which is exactly what I want. The box felt oddly heavy as I wondered to the spot I had chosen, as did the item in my jacket pocket. The 9mm handgun, as I’m sure you guessed. Again, I can’t tell you where I am, only know that it is nice. The stars glitter above me, and the ground is subtly lit by the waning moon. The air is crisp and clean. It is a wonderful place to die. I sit down on the ground and place the box next to me. I can feel it eagerly awaiting my next request, but somehow I don’t think it will like this one. I make a small cut in my hand with the dagger, letting the blood be absorbed by the evil timber. I write in the book I desire to rest together forever, and for my remains to go undiscovered. I close the box and smile. I can almost feel its anger and that puts me at peace. It’s time for me to go now, though, my desire has a price.
Omnia cum pretio.
Credit: Callum Burton
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