If one took a second to look at the shaking hands, they would conclude that it was age that caused the trembling. These hands were shriveled remnants of strength long since passed. Skin that was wrinkled and scarred was loosely wrapped around bone and withered sinew.
That would be the safest assumption for the hands shook against the plain brown paper. A safe assumption but wrong nonetheless. It was not age that caused his hands to tremble. It was fear. Fear of the box clutched in ancient hands, which grew heavier with every step.
The box was a smallish thing, even wrapped 4 times in plain brown paper. It looked like it could be held in one hand with room to spare. If not for the weight, the man would have done just that. Plain brown paper surrounded the box with crooked lines. The paper itself served a dual purpose. The first was camouflage, if the box looked like a thousand other packages few if any would remember its passing. Wrapped like it was, not even wear and tear would accidentally reveal its secrets. The overkill also served as comfort. Four layers of paper separated his skin from the box. There is nothing as satisfying as the thought he would never need to lay his hands on the old wood again.
There were few things in his life where the old man, Micah, can claim to be the first. But in this he was going where no one had before. No one had passed the burden on through anything except a direct handoff to the box’s new owner.
The information had been given to him far too late. The age in his limbs precluded him from making this last journey that the Gods demanded. So the mail system would honor the promise that Micah had never made but was bound by blood all the same. The next owner of the box would be warned once the burden had been sent on its way.
There was little Micah knew of the box’s new owner; just a name, a phone number and an address. Due to the promise coded into their bloodline, that was all Micah needed. She would feel the restlessness of the box drawing nearer. Once the box had passed into her hands the unease would calm for a few days. Then the true struggle would begin.
Micah had long since drained the poison of his anger at his circumstances. That had not always been true. For many decades he had cursed his ancestor and her promise.
The physical manifestation of that promise was the box. It was a thing of yew and olive wood, worn smooth by the centuries. It was a cursed thing that tore at his every weakness. The years he lived bearing its weight intertwined his nightmares and dearest dreams irrevocably. His mind grew old long before his body and the curse kept his body young far too long.
The anger of those days had long passed. It had taken more than a century but finally he was an old man. He had fulfilled his purpose, the promise of his ancestor. His duty, to hold the vast sum of the horror contained in the box, was nearly done. His hands had grown weak from age and accumulated shame.
Micah was far from the first to hold the box. His was just the latest life fed to an ancient pact between his ancestor and the Gods. Their lives held the line against the horrors of the box in balance against a mistake so terrible that the price of it could only be paid in lives. One for every sorrow released.
Micah had been barely 16 when he had been sought out by the box’s previous owner. The stranger had been a distant relative driven to him by instinct, knowing only a name and a place. They had met just once and he had never gotten her name.
The woman had been old, weathered in a way that it would take decades for Micah to understand. Looking back he imagined he could feel the chains wrap around him when she had shoved the box into his smooth hands.
Though the years had blurred the rest of her face into anonymity, he had never forgotten her eyes. They had been a few shades darker than his own made even darker by the intensity of the relief in them.
Her words had been no less forceful, etching themselves upon her memory. “The burden is your now.”
The postman barely looked up from his magazine. When his spoke, his voice was a flat monotone of boredom, “This package weighs 14 pound, the price is $45. Express delivery is another 15. Your total with tax is $65.”
Micah nodded and paid the price without complaint. The shaking worsened as he walked away from the box that had been in his hands for nearly 150 years. For the first time he felt every one of those years.
It felt like an age to get back to his small rented room. For so long he had nothing but the box and it’s curse. That was reflected in the sterile nature of his room, there was nothing of his. Nothing of him.
Micah sat heavily on the bed, letting gravity drag his limbs down. He picks up the cheap phone he had bought for just this occasion. His fingers shook but dialed the number he never learned without hesitation.
The caution of the new owner radiated off of the line. Micah approved, caution would serve her well. “Is this Angelica?”
There was a pause that stretched along the distance between them. “Who is this?”
“You’ve been feeling restless lately, haven’t you?” He asked in response to the wariness of the greeting, “and your dreams have been odd at best.”
Micah could almost feel Angelica’s fear flash over him. Her voice sounded distressingly young when she spoke, “How do you know that?”
“A package will come soon. It should arrive on the first day your lilac blooms. It’s your burden now. Tell no one.”
The pause on the other end of the line felt like it was made of spikes made up of confusion. From Micah’s past he felt confusion arise. The boy he had been wished he could explain better, could help Angelica bridge logical disbelief to contradictory instincts. There was nothing he could add to make what he was inflicting upon her better.
The click of the line going dead echoed. Even sitting Micah almost staggered under the simultaneous feeling of weight and weightlessness. The burden he had been carrying through the decades was lifted at last. At the same time, the artificial youth of the box drained away and Micah felt every one of his 160 years. Death encroached and he could tell it would claim him before the box reached its destination. That didn’t scare him though.
There was only one thing in all the universe that Micah feared. It was the box of olive wood and yew. If there had been carvings they had been rubbed smooth with centuries of history. The only thing to interrupt the unbroken line of the box was a single clasp. The box itself was forever unlocked, waiting to be opened. Begging to be opened.
Micah could not count the amount of times he had sat on the edge of a bed and ran his hands over the smooth surface. There appeared to be no seam for the box to open. He knew though, knew that if the clasp would ever lift box would open and he would have failed.
Made worse were the whispers from the box to his mind, unblockable. Sometimes he had heard promises pulled from his greatest dreams. Sometimes threats from his harshest nightmares.
Even as exhaustion set in Micah could not help the pride that filled him. Not once had he given in and opened the box. In fact it had only been opened once. At the very beginning, back when it was still a jar. When it was still full.
Micah was descended from a myth, the blood in his veins calling to an ancient pact proof enough. The box proved it, even if Micah wished for ignorance. Pandora, the ancient greek, the first woman. It was her pact that carried through their blood.
The myths echo from the past, trying to give their knowledge to the future. These legends speak of a sealed jar, of a vocation given by the Gods, of curiosity’s damage. Some say Pandora broke her vow. Some say Epimetheus broke the seal.
It matters little whether it is the mother of Micah’s blood or the father that cursed him. It is a curse wrapped in a broken promise all the same. When the jar was opened and it’s evils poured into the world it was said that all that remained was hope.
This was patently false. A sweet dream to protect the rest from what lurked within. Things that twist in the darkness and purr sounds that echo like screams. Things that break and rebuild humans like one would mold clay.
Things that even the Gods fear.
It was Pandora’s promise to Hope that sealed the jar and the fate of her descendants. All the ills of the world escaped from the Jar, fleeing the things buried deeper. Hope reamined caught, trying to remain between the darkness and humanity. Pandora’s words sealed the Jar, trapping Hope in the darkness.
Hope tried to drown out the whispers. Dark promises first, then harsh rebukes. Centuries shifted the jar to its current smooth box.
Through his years Micah wondered what would happen when the box no longer had blood to bind it. Whose years would be stretched and eaten when there were no descendants left. It would have to happen eventually.
Micah had certainly never touched another person after the box came to him, nor could he imagine any of the others being able to love past the horror that gripped them.
The moment his connection to the box fully broke, Micah’s gaze was swallowed by darkness.
But this time the darkness was a beloved friend.