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The Box

By William Powell

I found it in the usual place, where I always find them.  Under the rock.

“Hello,” I said.  “What’s your name, little feller?”

No answer.  But I expected that.  It takes some coaxing with these things.  You have to get down to their level, win trust.  Names come later.

So I left it a saucer of water and a little bit of bread, and replaced the rock.

I really didn’t think about it much for the rest of the day.  Just before I went to bed I had a fleeting I-wonder thought.  Suppose I creep down, see how it’s getting on.  Maybe the water wasn’t enough.  Maybe the bread might have been a little stale, a bit too dry.

I’d had some bad experiences, too, with giving too much.  The things get greedy, or lazy.  And I see them grow, and I think ‘this is going to end badly’, and it does.  But even if I could, I don’t have the heart to kill them.  I just put them in a box, leave them be.  I don’t know what I’ll do with them.

Next morning, when I awoke, my mind did turn to the rock, and what might be under it.  Patience, though, I told myself.  They don’t like bright light.  They don’t like to be examined.

But I yielded, as I knew I would.  It took my eyes a little while to get used to the poor light, but there it was.  A little larger, for sure.  The water was gone, and so were the crumbs, but in their place was a small loaf of bread.

“Hey, little feller,” I said, softly as I could.  “You did well.”

And I took the loaf out, tasted it.  It was good.  Really good.

“I guess you’re learning what you can do, just fine,” I told it.  And I tried to put all the pride and enthusiasm that I could into my words.  But it was so small, still.  I’d never seen one so tiny.

So I gave it some more water, but not quite as much as before.  I also tore off a corner of the loaf, and left it next to the water.

“See you tomorrow, little feller,” I said.  “Same time.”

Next morning I was pretty excited, I have to say.  But I’ve been disappointed before, and bit back on my feelings.

But there it was, and it had grown.  There was no mistaking it.  The water was gone, and the little corner of yesterday’s bread, too.  But the loaf that rested in its place was warm and soft and sweet as I bit into it.

“You’re a keeper, little feller,” I said, and I meant it.  But all the same, it was time to put it with all the others.

“I got to,” I explained.  “If it were just me, I’d keep you forever, teeny as you are.  But your place is with the others.  And it’s going to be rough.  They ain’t goin’ to treat you well.  They’re going to steal all the water, and they ain’t goin’ to give you no bread.  But you are who you are, and you’ll get by.”

I didn’t say anything after that, ’cause I was a bit choked up.

But I picked it up, and I took it over to where the others were.

I got my voice back, and just before I popped it in, I asked “What’s your name, little feller?”

They don’t always answer.  But this one did, in the tiniest of voices.

“Hope,” it said.  “What’s yours?”

“Pandora,” I answered, as I closed the lid.

✸✸✸

Next morning, I lift up the rock, and there you are.

“Hey, little feller,” I say to you.  “What’s your name?”

William Campbell Powell lives in a small Buckinghamshire village in England. By day he works in software development. By night he writes YA, Speculative and Historical Fiction. His debut novel, EXPIRATION DAY, was published by Tor Teen in 2014 and won the 2015 Hal Clement Award for "Excellence in Children's Science Fiction Literature" - and Gabrielle de Cuir's narration of the audiobook won a 2016 AudioFile Magazine Earphones award.