I released a deep, slow breath. Even though I didn’t know what was in the box, I sensed deep within myself that this was important. With a nervous smile and shaking hands, I grabbed the edge of the lid and pulled. The lid felt frictionless as it rose, as if floating in space and the slightest touch would send it drifting until another force stopped it.
The lid came off in my hands as a faint musty odor reached my nostrils. I cupped the top of the box in my hands like a snowflake, hoping nothing would ruin it, but expecting it to melt away. Laying the lid on my bed with care, I released the tension that was clenching my jaw shut. I turned back to the box and peered inside for the first time not knowing what I expected to find. What I saw hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility. Inside the cavity of the box was a pile of paper, yellowed with age. A black clip in the top left-hand corner held the pile together in a neat stack.
I wiped my hands on my pants to remove any sweat caused by my anxiety and cautiously reached into the box to remove the papers. A thump from the other side of the room caused me to jump. I pointed my flashlight in the sound’s direction; it came from the window. I crept in that direction and stopped in my tracks. I heard another thump and gulped as I raised the flashlight.
A robin hovered outside. He shook the rain from his beak and slammed his head against the glass. The bird flapped his wings and smacked his head into the pane again, harder this time.
“Shoo!” I waved my hand at the bird.
“Go away. Stop that.” Since the wave didn’t work, this time I tapped on the window.
The bird still didn’t leave. Instead, he turned his head and looked at me. Then he slammed his head again and again. Cracks spider-webbed across the glass.
“Ahh! What the...” I gasped.
The bird hit his head one last time and fell to the ground. With a sharp intake of breath, I raised the sash. There in the bushes, I could just make out the form of the dead bird through the raindrops. I closed the window and felt the cracks caused by the bird. With my hand over my mouth, I stumbled back to the bed and sat down.
After taking a few moments to collect myself, I looked at the cracks one last time and shook my head.
The incident thoroughly creeped me out, and I just wanted to forget it. My heart still raced in my chest, but I turned my attention back to the pages in the box. I reached in and grabbed ahold of the book. As I lifted the papers out, two things happened. My nerves immediately calmed, and the storm intensified with a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder.
I sat on my bed, careful to avoid the lid to the box, and examined my treasure. The top page had one corner bent down, and three lines centered on the page. It read:
Adventures in Khôra
“A book?! Why did he leave me a book?”
I didn’t even enjoy reading, other than the occasional comic. Disappointed and unconcerned about any damage I might cause, I shuffled the pages like a flip book with my thumb. The bottom half of the pile was blank, but the same neat handwriting from the title page filled the other pages. I plopped the pages down on the foot of my bed and sat beside them in a huff.
With slumped shoulders and a pout on my face, I cast the beam of my flashlight around the room and looked for something to entertain myself with. Nothing drew my attention. As I slouched back against my pillows, the light fell once again on the manuscript.
My eyes were half closed and dulled with boredom when I sat up and sighed.
“Well, I guess there’s nothing else to do.”
I picked up the disappointing treasure the box had revealed and prepared to read. I propped myself up against the head of the bed and positioned the flashlight so the beam shone on the pages in my lap and read the title aloud.
“Adventures in Khôra.”
Pressing my lips together, I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. I turned the page and began to read as the lightning crashed and the window panes rattled from the thunder.
Even though I didn’t expect to, I found myself enjoying the story. There were storms and spirits; mysteries and magic; curses and consequences. Never had I been so engrossed in a story. The words leapt off the page and took root in my mind. The dark and dreary landscape came to life. I envisioned the perilous feats and treacherous climbs. When the victims hid, I cowered with them. If death seemed imminent, I trembled with fear. It was as if I became the hero. All the while; the storm continued to rage outside.
The story called to me. It began as a whisper.
I shivered as the hairs on my arm stood and goosebumps broke out across my body, but I continued to read, feeling drawn to the story. The voice increased in authority and volume.
“ISAIAH! READ! ISAIAH! FINISH!”
There was an urgency to the words now. My stomach dropped, and I began to sweat. The veins in my temples pulsed as the blood rushed through my body. Reading wasn’t a choice any longer; it was a compulsion. The words became louder still and a jolt shot through my torso.
My awareness of the real world returned with a gasp. Dad stood over me with wide eyes and a wrinkled brow. His hand, gripping my shoulder, shook me.
“ISAIAH!” His voice quivered. “Are you okay?”
My face fell at the realization the story wasn’t speaking to me. My dad’s voice must have pierced my concentration. I realized how silly it was for me to think the story spoke to me, actually called my name and implored me to read, and a flush crossed my face. I looked down at the book to hide my embarrassment and replied,
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just reading.”
“Didn’t you hear me knock? Or call you?” He removed his hand from my shoulder and straightened up. “I asked what you were reading.”
“Yeah, sorry. I was just really into this book.” I dog-eared the page to hold my place and held up the manuscript.
“Where did you get that?” He looked at the pages as he took them from my hand.
A ray of sunlight broke through the cloud cover and shined through the window, brightening my room. Glancing at the square of light reflecting off the floor, I hoped this meant the storm would pass soon.
“Oh, yeah. I opened the box. This is what your uncle left for me.” I smiled as the embarrassment left me and the excitement over the box returned.
“Hmm. Good for you.” Dad replied with arched brows, pursed lips, and a slight nod.
He thumbed through the pages and scanned the text. Dad looked at me sternly and said,
“I guess you can read it. I don’t see any bad language. But I’m trusting you to stop and bring it to me if you find anything inappropriate.”
He flipped back to the cover page.
“What’s Khôra?” He asked as he handed me the pages.
“A made up land where the story takes place.” I answered as I placed the book back in my lap. “What did you need?”
He hesitated before responding because the room darkened as the thickening clouds blocked the sunlight. The storm intensified beyond its previous level and the very foundations of the house seemed to shake with the thunder. Dad looked away from the window and back at me and replied,
“I just wanted to see if you had finished unpacking your room.” He shined his flashlight as he glanced around my room.
“Looks good. Enjoy the book. I hope it doesn’t have lots of spelling mistakes like on the cover.” He nodded in my direction and closed the door as he left.
I had noticed no spelling errors on the cover. I examined it again and saw it.
Adventures in Khôra