D. Paul Angel
20 October 2013
He paused in the hallway, just in front of the door. The single ice cube in his Bunnahabhain clinked against the tumbler as he studied the door’s laminate patterns. The loops and whirls reminded him of forgotten valleys and rugged, alien terrains; beckoning him to enter. He sighed, reached for the simple brass knob, and then stopped.
“Too soon,” he said under his breath, before starting to turn and continue on to the back den.
His turn was only halfway through when an embrace from behind stopped him. Smiling, he turned to complete the embrace with Genevieve. “You always say, ‘too soon,’” she said, “but have you ever considered if it will ever be too late?” The question hung as she smiled, lovingly brushed her hand across his face, and continued on down the hall.
Alone again, he took a sip of his Bunnahabhain and closed his eyes as he rolled the bead of Scotch around his mouth as he thought. She knew some of the room, but but didn’t really understand it. She knew of the books, and papers; knick knacks and forgotten swag; but not the notes, research, or most especially, the Box. She couldn’t really appreciate its magnitude and had always underestimated the strength of its call.
Even with the door closed he could still see the room in his mind as clearly now as he could if it had only been since the day before. The green shaded lamp on the desk, the old halogen torche lamp in the corner shining above the brown, overstuffed chair, and the small round table of liquor stood out. He smiled to himself as he remembered just how many stains and spills the chair’s muted tones hid. The books too, of course. Most of the wall space was given to the varied stacks which spanned the entirety of the catalog system. His desk which abutted the near wall. He could see the fountain pens he kept on the base of the lamp, the hand thrown ceramic cup of dice, the gilded framed picture of he and Genevieve on their honeymoon… and the Box.
It all came back to the Box.
He missed his games and miniatures, his mementos, his geeky knick-knacks; and most especially his books. He had, over time, replaced at least some of what was still within its walls, but his sense of loss had never quite overcome his fear of the Box…
Of the pull that the Box had on him…
Of the thoughts the Box allowed him to think…
Civilizations were born, matured, and died within it. Universes that were, weren’t, and were only possibilities lurked within its depths. Its finite walls confined blazing fields of infinity and could unflinchlingly roll the dice that God hisownself would not. It could touch almost the entirety of human kind’s collective wisdom, but remembered most of its sins and follies as well.
It was, overwhelming he decided, struggling for the word. “It’s just too damn much!” He turned and had only taken half a step towards the den before he saw Genevieve leaning against its door frame, her face both understanding and firm; sympathetic but resolved. He had been told once that a man would rather charge a machine gun nest with a knife than disappoint the woman he loved.
They had said nothing about facing doors, however.
Nor, for that matter, about the Box.
He was only cursorily aware of pulling the key out of his pocket and unlocking the door. Closing his mind before he could convince himself otherwise, he entered the room without a further glance in her direction. In a rush he clicked on the desklamp and then turned the torche’s knob all the way to its stop, draping the room in patchwork of familiar shadows and light.
He stood in the center of the room and slowly turned on the spot, taking it all in. When he completed his turn he raised his scotch to the books in toast and enjoyed a deep sip. He then turned to the desk, pulled out the ancient, creaky chair and sat. His Scotch was soon forgotten on its stone coaster, as was most everything else. He marked the spot that Noland’s Verbosity’s Vengeance had been left opened to with an old Powell’s receipt, only just aware of either’s identity. His focus now was wholly on the box.
It called to him. A link from the deepest recesses of his subconscious pulled pulled him towards the heart of the Box’s white shell. With it he could contour the epochs of entire universes, give both life and death to galaxies as yet unseen by Man; he could dance amongst the electron clouds of atoms forged in the Big Bang’s very hearth; but mainly he could give life to where there was none before.
That was the power that both called him and scared him. For wherever life was given, it must be eventually taken away. Nothing, not even the Box, could change that demand for balance.
He shaped their form as a sculptor would out of clay. But where the sculptor stopped, he continued, filling the empty vessel of their life with emotions, thoughts, and memories. A sculptor could make a thousand faces for one figure, but only he could animate those thousand faces in ten thousand different ways.
Such was the power before him. It was an overwhelming power: the canvas of infinity with colors beyond spectrum beckoning to be painted on its surfaces. He could almost feel the brush and palette; could see the broad swathes of color filling the emptiness; could feel the focus of thousands of pointellistic dots merging to a single, larger vision.
Genevieve was right, “As always,” he added aloud.
He turned on the box and, despite the siren call of the Internet, began to type…