THE BLACK BOX by Matt Wall
Abe Wardh wasn’t always crazy. Like most people, Abe’s descent into madness was more gradual. It happened later in his young life, little by little each day, until he was twenty-nine years of age. At that point the gradual maturation of his insanity was thrust upon with such force, that it nearly killed him.
So, what happened during Abe Wardh’s twenty-ninth year that made him the way he was? It was something that was passed down to him. Something that was passed down from his father. This “thing” though, was not hereditary, but tangible. This “thing” was a large, black, wooden box.
Abe came into possession of the “Black Box” when he received the news that his father, whom he hadn’t spoken to in years, had been missing for some time and presumed dead. The man that brought him the box was a weird character who seemed taller than he should be and also rounder in the middle. The girth of his stomach seemed to be pulling him towards the earth as if gravity had a tighter hold on it than anything else. The result of that made the tall stranger hunch over in a most unnatural way. The man wore a long grey coat, gloves and extremely large dark sunglasses that nearly covered his entire face.
With great effort, the man lifted the box by the iron handles on the side and handed it Abe while he stood in the doorway of his small apartment. Abe took the box and surprised by its heavy weight, stumbled backwards a step. The stranger then slapped a sloppily scrawled note on top of the box, turned and limped away. The note had no instructions or details, just that his father had left the box to him.
Abe placed the box on his coffee table with a loud thud. The legs beneath the table wobbled under it’s weight. He steadied the table, then sat on the dingy sofa and began to examine the box. It looked a box anyone could make out of six pieces of wood. There seemed nothing special to it. There were two brass hinges on the back for the lid, the two iron handles and a latch with a brass padlock that kept the box shut. He looked for a key, maybe taped to the note he thought, but there was none. He went to the closet and grabbed a small pair of bolt cutters and right before he was squeezed them shut on the lock, he noticed something on the top of the box.
There was what seemed to be small scratches on the lid, near the top left of the box. When he first saw them, he thought them to be nothing more than dings and scratches that may have happened over time, but after closer inspection, they seemed much more intricate. Swiggles, lines, dots, slashes and the like ran in perfect rows. He ran his finger over them and realized that they were in fact carved into the wood. It didn’t look like any text that he had ever seen before and assumed that it may have been middle-eastern of some kind.
He shrugged it off and continued to break the lock, which was much easier than he thought it would be. He tossed the lock on the floor, opened the latch and lifted the lid without any hesitation. A sudden burst of foul smelling dampness and decay filled his nostrils and the room. He coughed, gagged, then coughed some more before he was able to look inside at it’s contents.
He found things inside the box that were shocking. He found things inside that made him feel ill. Other things he found did not surprise him as things his father would have, but some of the things also made him think of his grandfather as well.
The contents of the box were as follows:
One long sharp dagger with a black hilt and a black jewel at it’s base that came to a point.
One long feather of some kind with what looked like dried red ink on the quill.
Many scrolls rolled tightly and tied with red or black string.
One locked, large, leather-bound journal.
Many glass vials different colored liquids and powders.
A few glass jars of what looked like different kinds of animal bones.
One large vial with a label that read, pigeons blood.
and finally, one human skull with a thumb sized hole above the forehead on the left.
Abe sat back on the sofa and stared at the collection of oddities on his coffee table, looking confused. He wondered if the items were used for witchcraft or black magic. He father was into some pretty dark things and due to that and his increasingly violent nature as he grew older, the family basically shunned him. Abe’s grandfather didn’t have to be shunned. He was constantly out in far off places on “expeditions” but most of the family, knowing he had no formal training of any kind, knew he was just a roaming con-man.
Not knowing what to do with the items, he placed them all back inside the box carefully, shut it and placed on the floor in front of the table. As the days went by, he saw the box and steadily wondered about it’s significance. Wondered why his father, whom wasn’t close with him, especially later in life, would leave him anything at all. He thought more and more about the characters carved into the lid and decided he would try to find out if that had any clue as to why the Black Box was now in his possession.
He took a piece of paper and a pencil, then, made an rubbing of the characters and headed to the Cyton Library. He spoke with three different librarians, showing them the rubbing and none of them could help him more than by saying that they had never seen such script. They pointed him to books on scripts from the middle east and far east and after hours upon hours of research, he came up empty handed.
Just before the library closed, one of the librarians brought him a book on cryptology and told him that it may be a cipher and that the book would help him if it were. He checked the book out and headed home.
He stayed up all night, the next day and the following night, so engrossed in trying to find the answer that he hadn’t even eaten or drank. The hardest thing for Abe in cracking the code was that most codes would only have twenty-six characters in it if it were in English; one for every letter. But this seemed to have much more. He opened the box and pulled out the journal and the scrolls. He untied all the scrolls and saw that they were all written in red ink in the same characters. His eyes jumped to the long feather quill with the dried red tip and then his eyes moved yet again, this time, more slowly, since he already knew the horror of it’s source. This time his eyes fell upon the large vial of pigeons blood.
With the dagger, he cut the leather strap that locked the journal shut and found the same characters. He was hoping to find some sort of cipher or legend to help him figure out the code but again found none. What he did find however was many more characters of script. It totaled in the hundreds and he he was sure that the characters weren’t letters, but sounds.
His bloodshot eyes could stay open no longer and he fell asleep on his forty-second try at breaking the code.
As Abe slept, he dreamt a dream that used to reoccur to him regularly as a child. IN the dream, he was enveloped in darkness. He would swing his arms and kick his legs but nothing would happen. He would feel his body lift into the air and quickly float around the darkness. Then, the darkness were removed as if it were a blanket covering his face. All he would see is the starry night sky and the fullest moon that he could ever remember. Finally, a giant in a brown or black cloak would appear above him speaking in a language that he could not understand. The giant would lift a giant sword up above his head with the blade pointed down at him. The knife would come down slowly and he would feel pain. Not a stabbing pain, but pain all the same. Then the giants hands would come towards him and lift him up into the air. Being held high above the giant’s head, all he would be able to focus on was the moon while the giant shouted louder and louder in the foreign tongue.
Abe woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for air. He held his throat with his hand and retched. His eyes were puffy and red and his beard had grown into a thick stubble. He was ghastly pale and even some parts of his face seemed to have a green tint. He replayed the dream in his head and noticed two things. The first was that the sword the giant held looked exactly like the dagger that sat on his coffee table. The second, was that the giant, looked exactly like his father. Then he realized that this had never been a dream, but a memory! His father was not a giant and the blade was not a sword. The events from the memory must have taken place when he was just an infant.
Other things in Abe’s head began to click. The characters flashed through his mind and he could suddenly make out what they were. He was correct in the fact that they were not letters but sounds. He knew them. He knew them all!
He slammed the lid of the box shut and began to read aloud what had been carved into the wood. It read as follows:
“Cursed is ye who opens the Black Box! Death shall fall upon ye in the most horrific way those who rummage through it’s contents! Curse and plague! The Black Death from the Black Box shall be with ye always.”