They’d told her not to open it.
It was the day of her 18th birthday when it first came into her possession. Like any 18-year-old she had celebrated with a party filled with friends, music, and of course, booze. Her friends brought her presents and she promised to open them all the next day, placing them carefully in her bedroom safe and sound from the festivities. She spent the night drinking and dancing, singing loudly (and badly) to the songs of her childhood, and ended the evening vomiting into a bowl whilst her friends held her hair back and tidied away the bottles and cans.
The next morning she awoke with all the symptoms you and I dread after a night of overindulgence, a queasy stomach, a throbbing head, and a dry mouth. Her young age was on her side though and after a quick shower and a bacon butty, courtesy of her ‘we were young once’ parents, she was merely left with the mild presence of grogginess. A blessing considering the continued celebrations that would take place later that afternoon on the actual date of her birth. It was a family tradition, her aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, siblings and any other relative one could think of would come around, bringing with them gifts and food dishes. They would spend the evening sharing stories of the celebrated individual and feast into the night. There would be dancing and drinking and loud out of tune singing, except unlike her party from the night before, it was unlikely that anyone would end up having their hair held back by the end of the night.
So she did it all again, she accepted the gifts, once again placing them carefully in her bedroom away from the bodies that filled her home. She laughed with her cousins and blushed when her aunties and uncles shared stories of her childhood. She played along whilst her parents teased her about moving out and paying rent and she ended the night wrapped up in bed, listening to the mumbles of the older generation still chattering away into the early hours of the morning.
It wasn’t until the next day that she noticed it. She was sifting through the pile of gifts, ensuring to match them up with the corresponding card so she could personally thank the gift giver at a later date, when she spotted the curious object. It had somehow blended in despite the lack of shiny wrapping paper. It was small, no bigger than a ring box and it was made out of a darkened aged wood. At first glance, it seemed quite plain but on closer inspection, she noticed the intricate swirls that were engraved into it, they were almost tribal. It was stunning. Picking it up carefully, she noticed it was lighter than expected yet somehow still felt sturdy. She looked around trying to identify which card could match up with it, but nothing seemed to go together with the unique gift, so she placed it aside not wanting to open it until she knew who to thank.
It was evening when she spotted the note. It could have been so easily missed, tucked between her mattress and her bed frame. The paper was yellowed and creased, so she knew straight away that it belonged with the box. Whoever the gift giver was they had really stayed true to the ‘aged’ aesthetic.
“Do not open the box. The hum will grow louder, but you must refrain. Your intrigue will grow stronger, but you must resist. Its presence will grow larger, but you must persevere. Do not open the box.”
She flipped the note around checking to see if there were more words, confused by the message and not understanding its meaning. Surely whoever had given her this would want her to open it, and what did they mean by humming. Shrugging, she placed the note on her desk with the box and continued with her evening activities, thinking no more of the cryptic note.
That night she couldn’t sleep. It was as if her bedroom was emitting a sound akin to white noise. Each time she was on the brink of dozing off the pitch changed causing her mind to go back on alert mode. ‘Time for a hearing test’ she thought to herself as she popped her headphones on, trying to drown the strange sound with acoustic guitar and melodic piano. It was no surprise to her the next morning when she found herself struggling to concentrate on her coursework. Her un-rested mind kept drifting to the box. What secrets did the small container contain? A ring? Earrings? What if it was something with an expiration date like chocolate or miniature cake. She rotated it in her hand, her fingers assessing the engravings. Shaking her head she placed it in her desk drawer, ‘out of sight out of mind’ she thought to herself.
The insomnia continued for weeks and turned into months. Her grades were beginning to deteriorate and her lecturers were expressing concern on a daily basis about her lack of concentration. Her parents commented on her dull complexion and dark eyes, their face’s filled with concern when they caught her staring into the distance with a glazed over look. She knew something was wrong. She had never had an issue with sleep and had always been rather smug of her ability to motivate herself. The exhausted unfocussed person she had become was alien to her. Each night her head was filled with the indistinguishable humming, growing louder and louder. Each day she found her mind drifting to the unknown contents of the box, unable to concentrate on anything else. She had never seen herself as superstitious however she had removed the box from her room, convinced that it was the cause of her problems. Slowly she moved it further and further away from her until it was locked in the shed at the end of her garden, but no matter how far she sent it was still in her head.
It was New Year’s Eve when she cracked. The family celebrations were subdued that year. The whole evening her relations had expressed their concern to her when she walked into a room hushed voices fell silent. She knew they were talking about her. She had lost her appetite a few months back and her bones jutted from her skin. She was failing at school and had stopped seeing her friends. Her parents had tried sending her to therapy but the therapist had told them she was refusing to engage. Her doctor had prescribed her sleeping tablets and antidepressants but they did nothing to relieve her foggy mind.
When the clock struck 12 and her family were consumed with setting out their new years resolutions she snuck out to the garden. She carefully opened the shed, not wanting for anyone to come to hear her. None of them would understand, they would just think she was even more insane for locking up the seemingly normal object. She retrieved it from its hiding place, hidden in a container filled with old garden toys from when she was younger. The words of the note flashed in her mind ‘Do not open…’. ‘What harm could it do?’ she asked herself, ‘its just some silly stupid box.’ She slowly lifted the lid, it was harder then she had thought as if there was a force pulling it down. It must be magnetised she thought to herself, yet the logical explanation felt weak. The inside was lined with a deep red velvet and she thought once again that it was the perfect place for a precious ring, but it was empty. There was nothing more than the velvet lining.
She shook her head in disbelief, it couldn’t be empty not after all the hours she had spent wondering what was inside. She pulled at the velvet hoping to discover a secret compartment but there was nothing. She turned the box over in her hands, frantically trying to look for some kind of clasp or seem that would lead her to the true contents of the box. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she scraped at the engravings on the box. She threw it away from her against the shed wall. Crying on the floor she looked at the once beautiful object. The velvet inside was torn from her searching, the outside was cracked from it hitting the shed wall, the lid was misaligned from her prodding for hidden openings. The beauty was gone and all that was left was a broken girl and an old broken trinket box.
That year started off with tragedy. Bushfires blazed in Australia endangering species and leaving nothing but scorched ground. Next came the virus, the world was forced to hide behind closed doors unable to say goodbye to the thousands of lives lost. Then came the protests, they marched to the streets with peaceful intention and were met with bullets and smoke. The world was crumbling. Fanatic’s blamed humanity, claiming these tragedies were brought on by greed, wrath and pride. The logical blamed society, stating that centuries of abuse to our cultures and our planet had caused such unrest. The leaders blamed each other using accusations as a way to deflect from their own neglect.
She watched it all from the common room, ignoring the words and the tears of the patients around her. They had admitted her to the hospital on New Year’s Day. Her parents had found her at noon. She was lying on the floor of the shed, her skin blue from the cold. They’d asked her what she was doing and she’d stayed silent. She wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t drink and she wouldn’t speak. So they drove her to the hospital and they’d placed her on observation. Her doctor called it a psychotic break but no one could figure out what had triggered it. As she watched the world go up in flames only she knew the truth. She had brought these horrors to the world. She was the one who had started the beginning of the end. Each night as she slept the voices whispered to her, thanking her for freeing them, divulging their plans of destruction. During the day they forced her mouth shut refusing her the opportunity to speak, she knew it would make no difference though. No one would believe her all they would do is label her with a new diagnosis and place her on a new batch of medication.
The world was ending and it was all her fault.