“Aw man this sucks!” said Jake, “We’re back at the box again!” Jake kicked a rock and it bounced off of the box.
“Go Away! We don’t want any!” Came a shaky but angry voice from the box.
The boys looked at each other in surprise. “I’m gonna go check it out” said Mack taking off towards the box.
“Wait!” Jake yelled, “It might not be safe!” But Mack was too quick & got to the box before Jake could stop him. Peering down inside the box Mack shouted, “There’s a man in the box!”
“What?” asked Jake, slowly walking towards his brother who had stepped back a few feet from the box. “Tell him to come out.”
Mack turned back to the box and said, “Excuse me, Sir? We need help. Can you come out?”
“No.” Came the curt reply from the box, “I quite like it in here.”
Jake had a feeling this surprise package wasn’t going to be any help whatsoever. Afterall, he’s been hiding in a box for who knows how long thought Jake. But he took a deep breath & asked, “Can we at least see you to ask a question?”
A bare foot popped out of the box, bowing to the boys. The Man in the Box replied, “Proceed.”
“Ok, fine, whatever,” said Jake rolling his eyes. “We’ve been in this forest for hours & keep going in circles winding up here at your box. Can you please point us in the direction of the Clockmaster?”
“Sure!” Another foot popped out of the box & both feet began marching through the air. “Just follow the path you’re on& you’ll end up at the clockmaster’s door, just before you get to the village.”
“The path we’re on?!?” Jake yelled at the box. He felt his temper was about to make him say something he might regret so instead he closed his eyes & counted to three. He opened his eyes & looked at Mack who smiled encouragingly, and then back at the box. In a much calmer voice Jake tried again, “We have been on this path for hours & can’t find our way backwards or forwards. And now you say we just need to stay on the path?” Jake shook his head and walked over to the nearest tree. He smoothed out a spot to sit and plopped down on the ground, resting his back against the tree. “I hate to point it out to ya, Special Delivery, but I’m guessing we’re just gonna be stuck here with you.”
“Why won’t you come out?” Asked Mack, intrigued by the strange Man in the Box.
“There are things out there,” said the man in the box quickly drawing his feet back inside. “Scary, hurtful things.” Mack could hear the fear rising in the Man in the Box’s voice. “And worst of all,” he gasped and whispered, “things that are different & new!”
“For crying out loud!” Jake said, sitting up straight & butting into the conversation, “So you would rather just stay in the box?” He couldn’t believe a grownup would choose to live in a box instead of being in charge of everything and bossing people around which is pretty much how he viewed what being a grownup meant.
“Yes!” Said the Man in the Box. “Nothing scary in here, I’ve checked every corner!” The boys watched the box tip back and forth; apparently the Man in the Box was doing another quick inspection. “See?” Said the Man in the box triumphantly, shooting out his hand giving them the thumbs up, “Safe & sound!”
Jake gave his brother a sideways look & sighed, “He’s an idiot.”
“Ha!” came the smug reply from the man in the box, “You say ‘idiot.’ I say Safety Prioritizer.”
“Ugh,” moaned Jake, “Just c’mon out already.”
“How long have you been in there?” Mack asked.
Two things flew out of the box and landed at Mack’s feet.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Said Jake as Mack reached down, picking up a rattle & a squeaky bear.
“Yes! I mean no,” said the Man in the Box. And with a nervous laugh he added, “Can you toss those back in? I’ll never get to sleep tonight without them.”
“Well,” said Mack, throwing the items back in the box. “If you won’t come out, then can we come in?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous!” said the Man in the Box, “I haven’t had a chance to clean all week!”
“Us be ridiculous?” Asked Jake coming to stand by his brother, “How about you tell us who put you in there?”
“No one,” said the Man in the Box sadly. “I just remember seeing how hard and tiring it looked to grow up and be an adult; learning new things, making decisions, taking care of people day after day. I crawled in here for a nap but found it so quiet and peaceful I decided to stay.”
Jake hadn’t expected to hear that and it made him stop and think. Maybe the Man in the Box had a point. Look at what had brought them to the Forgotten Forest. Life can be scary & hard & tiring, but by Refusing to come out of that box it was pretty much guaranteed that the Man in the Box would be safe from those things. Wasn’t that one of the reasons he had wanted to run away from everything that had happened back at the cottage?
“Look!” Whispered Mack, shaking Jake’s shoulder and pointing at the box.
Slowly the Man in the Box raised his head out of the box, and rested his nose on the edge. His eyes were wide and bright, darting back & forth between the boys and he shouted, “What’s this? Why is it so quiet? Who are you?”
“Hi Sir!” said Mack smiling cheerfully, “We’re the ones you’ve been talking to!”
“Funny,” said the Man in the box, “I pictured you much taller with sharp pointy teeth & big bushy tails.”
Mack thought there was something so very sad about the idea of living your life in a box and wondered if there was any way they could help. Just then Mack had an idea and said, “Can we cut holes in your box so you can see out? That way you can still be safe inside your box but you can also see what’s going on out here.”
“No thank you,” the Man in the Box replied matter of factly.
“But why not?” Mack asked, thoroughly confused by the situation, “Think about all you’re missing!”
“Mack, we should just go,” said Jake, who had an idea of his own to try and lure this odd fellow out. “We’re better off walking in circles. At least we’re trying to do something. And Besides, some people just can’t think outside of their box & it looks this guy is one of them.”
“What? Are you saying I’m boring? That I have no imagination?” scoffed the Man in the Box, “Wait just a tick…”
After much rustling & knocking from inside the box, the boys smiled to see the man was now sitting with his legs out in front of him and the box on his head, “Ta da! There. I’m out now. Happy?”
Mack took a pencil out of his backpack & walked over to where the man was sitting & started drawing on thebox.
“What are you doing out there?” Cried the Man in the Box, “What’s that scratching noise—is it a big gnarly rat?!?”
“Nope,” Mack said laughing at the idea of a rat holding a pencil. “I’m just drawing a face on your box so people will know you’re in there. I know you don’t want to come out, but I think it was very nice to meet you and I think other people would like to meet you, too.” Mack added, “I’m making it a smiley face so they know you’re nice.”
“Did you give me a moustache? I’ve always wondered what I’d look like with a moustache…dashing I’ll bet!” Gushed the Man in the Box, as Mack added two curly lines underneath the nose.
“You look great.” Jake said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. As much as he hoped this would work, Jake had just about had his fill of Mr. Scared in the Box and was ready to be on their way.
“Oh! Now I REALLY really wanna see!” Said the Man in the Box patting the face on the box.
“Well,” said Jake, shrugging his shoulders, “I guess you could always come out here & take a look?”
“I, um, I supppse I could,” the Man in the Box answered in a shaky uncertain voice. He put his hands on either side of the box and slowly lifted it off his head. He turned it around to look at the face on the front. “Why, I’m gorgeous!” He exclaimed, “I had no idea! Thank you boys. Wait until I show everyone the new me!”
Mack smiled at his big brother and gave him a nod. Jake smiled back and they watched the Man in the Box head down the path with the box tucked under his arm, chatting with himself about everything he passed. It felt good to have helped the Man in the Box take a new look at things thought Jake, even if he’s just going to end up right back here with us in a little while.
“I guess now he’s gonna be called the Man WITH the Box, huh?” said Mack.
Jake’s eyes widened in disbelief. “I don’t believe it! How could I have missed that spot?”
The boys watched as the Man With the Box who was traveling down the very same path they had been on, suddenly veered right and disappeared through an opening in the trees.
Excerpt from Work in Progress—Spring 2015, dde