The Mysterious Case of the Picture Box

Of the many odd things I have seen, one of the strangest is a certain habit I discovered during my visit to the people of the New Land. When I first arrived in the hotel I was staying at, I saw nothing amiss. Everyone there was quite pleasant, and aside from a couple incidents while trying to navigate their language, I got on quite well with most everyone. It was not until later that evening that I first became aware of an inconsistency in the otherwise normal environment.

I was investigating my room when I discovered an exceptionally large, flat box perched on a bureau near the foot of the bed. I inspected it, but could not figure out its purpose. I shrugged it off and continued about my business; however, I could not help wondering about that strange box.

The next afternoon, after a stroll around the city, I returned to the hotel, said a quick hello to the couple who were sitting at a table playing a board game, and then went upstairs to my room. As I was passing through the hallway I heard a loud crash from one of the rooms on my left. The door was closed, but upon hearing a loud yell I quickly strode over to the door and knocked on it. No one answered. I banged again on the door to no avail and was standing there uncertain as to whether or not to knock again or leave, when what could only have been a woman’s shrill scream emanated from the other side of the door.

Without another thought I reached for the doorknob and jerked on it. The door was unlocked, and I flung it open and rushed inside. Then I stopped in surprise. Nothing was upset in the room, no furniture overturned or broken, and the only people in the room seemed completely at ease. They were sitting on the large bed in the middle of the room—a man and a woman with a young boy between them.

I felt suddenly chagrined as I realized that I must have been mistaken about whatever it was I had heard. The only sound in the room was music playing softly in the background. I opened my mouth to apologize for my impolite entry, when I realized not one of the occupants of the room had taken so much as the slightest notice of me. I stared, then followed the line of their fixed gazes with my own eyes.

Sitting on a low bureau at the foot of the bed, just as in my room, was a strange black box. This one, however, had a picture of a dark alleyway painted on it. It was this picture that had the family so entranced. I was staring at it, trying to figure out what was so mesmerizing about it, when I became aware of footsteps sounding through the room.

I whirled around, looking for the source of the sound, but spun back toward the box behind me upon hearing a soft click. Instantly my eyes were drawn to the box with the picture on it. They widened in shock as I saw that two figures were now in the painted alley. As I watched, the taller figure, a man, appeared to stalk toward the other person, who scrambled backward in fright. I took a step forward, staring hard at the two people, trying to understand the bizarre scene that was playing out inside the box.

A small, startled gasp made me turn ’round. The woman on the bed was looking at me with shocked horror. “Who—who are you?” she asked. I stuttered, still distracted by the events occurring in the alleyway.

“I’m sorry,” I managed finally. “I thought I heard someone scream in here, and came in to make sure everything was alright.”

The woman glared at me, then reached down and picked up a small, cylindrical object off the bed. She pointed it at the box and pressed a small colored circle on it. The music stopped, the figures on the box, in fact the entire scene of the alley froze in place. I goggled in amazement, then turned back to the lady.

“Well,” she snapped, “clearly everything here is all right. You may go now.” The pudgy faced man next to her and the boy both frowned at me disapprovingly. I stammered out an apologetic reply, blushed, then quickly hurried from the room, closing the door behind me.

Out in the hallway I leaned back against the door, feeling completely humiliated. What had been going on in there, I wondered. And weighing more heavily on my mind…what was that box? I shook my head, perplexed. Could these strange people have, somehow, discovered some way to imprison their own kind in flat rectangular objects? It seemed to me as though they had. And what bizarre magic was this that they used to create moving pictures of things, which they could stop at will? Shaking my head, I made my way to my own room, and sat for a long time looking at the flat black box perched on my bureau. What a very strange place this was, I thought.

Isabel Nee loves reading, writing, science, birds, and mythology. She has had prose and poetry published in elementia magazine and WATC’s Showcase Selections. She is currently writing a YA fantasy novel, and hopes to some day become a professional novelist. Isabel lives in Gardner, Kansas where she hatches chickens and (she would like to think) great ideas. She has a Facebook page where she (very inconsistently) posts her poetry.

Isabel Nee loves reading, writing, science, birds, and mythology. She sporadically practices archery, and is known to research rare genetic disorders which she then inflicts on her characters. Isabel has had prose and poetry published in elementia magazine and Showcase Selections ~ 2016. She is currently writing a YA fantasy novel, and hopes to some day become a professional novelist. Isabel lives in Kansas where she hatches chickens and (she would like to think) great ideas.


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