Ariana looked out over the snowy hills behind her house and sighed. Why does this world need a winter? It already has three other seasons, is a freezing fourth one really necessary, she thought. Most ten-year-old children get excited about fluffy white snow, they spend hours playing in it, but Ariana has never seen the fun in it. As a matter of fact, she has always thought winter is a punishment to those who do not appreciate the beauty and warmth of summer.
She tucked a few stray hairs under her woolen hat, and pushed her hands deep inside the pockets of her fleece jacket as she trudged through the snow to the old woodshed on the other side of the yard. The air felt crisp and snow crunched under her little feet. Best to hurry along, the sun was almost gone, being out in the yard after dark was always scary, she thought.
“Make sure you get a large bundle of wood,” Granddad had said. “This winter will be colder than all the others, and we need to keep the house warm at all times.” Right, like Ariana had not noticed yet that this winter is colder. Her dripping nose and cold hands were normally a good indicator of winter.
The old woodshed was a sturdy building, built by Granddad well before Ariana was born, and it was designed to keep wood and hay dry. The old door was starting to sag a bit on its hinges and the roof bent under the weight of the snow, but it did a good job of keeping rain and rot away.
The door slowly opened as Ariana put her weight behind it, groaning and protesting in the process. She had to stand in the doorway for a little while to allow her eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. The old woodshed had no natural light. The sound of little feet and rustling of hay told her that mice had once again moved into the shed.
“Well,” Ariana said to herself, “it makes sense, mice also don’t like winter, and they too need a place to keep warm and dry.”
Ariana walked to the back of the shed as soon as her eyes adjusted. She sighed. Granddad had almost used up all the wood. She’ll need to help him in the next few days with the chopping of fresh wood. Ariana rolled her eyes. Great, she thought sarcastically, more time in the freezing snow, more time to enjoy frozen fingers and toes.
She quickly gathered up an armful of wood and was about to walk back to the house, when she heard a strange buzzing sound. The type of buzzing you would hear when you stood near a beehive, except there were no bees around in winter. Ariana stood very still to listen, her frosty breath hanging in the cold air. There, it was coming from that dark corner behind the woodpile. Curious, Ariana dropped the wood and carefully walked over to the buzzing sound. She had not imagined it, lying in the far corner was a strange object, no bigger than Ariana’s shoe. Strange I’ve never noticed something there before, she thought. Then again, it must have been lying under the wood for years and years. Ariana could not remember the last time the woodpile was this low.
Her heart pounding in her chest she slowly crept closer. The tips of her fingers were tingling and her scalp itched under the wool hat. The buzzing sounded eerie in the dark shed, and Ariana felt more scared than she would like to admit. What if something jumped out and bit her? Or what if this something grabbed her and dragged her into a dark hole? Stop it, Ariana said to herself, you’re just scaring yourself more! Granddad always told her she had an overactive imagination and scared herself more than necessary. It was probably just another prank played by Billy, the irritating freckled boy from next door.
Last winter he hid behind the woodshed, and when Ariana walked in to get more wood he whacked the snow on the roof with a broom handle, and the whole lot fell on top of Ariana. Billy thought it was very funny but there was so much snow that she thought she would suffocate. Putting something in the shed to scare her would be so typical of him.
Ariana picked up a piece of wood, better to be prepared than sorry. At least this way if it tried to attack her she had something to defend herself with. The closer she got to the object the louder the buzzing became, almost as if it could sense her creeping closer. Common sense told her to leave the object alone, and return to the house to find Granddad. But curiosity is a strong motivator, and Ariana had always been a very curious girl.
With the buzzing vibrating in her skull, Ariana crept closer and went down on her hands and knees to have a look at the strange object. It is a box, she thought. Just an ordinary wooden box with a black lid. She almost laughed. You were scared of a box, imagine what Billy would say if he knew. She put the piece of wood she was holding on the ground and stretched a hand out to touch the box.
The moment she did the buzzing stopped. It felt warm, smooth and soft. Wait, that can’t be right. It is not possible for a wooden box to feel soft. And yet it did as if the box itself was covered in velvet. Ariana picked up the box, enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling it gave her. It was light, so light she thought it was full of air. She wondered what was inside it.
By the time she walked outside with the box it was dark. Ariana carefully walked back to the house, the box snug under her jacket. She pushed open the door to the house and smelled Granddad’s pipe the minute she walked in. Granddad looked very relaxed sitting in his favorite chair next to the fireplace, staring into the flames, smoking his favorite pipe.
“Oh Ariana,” he said. “I’m glad you are back. You took such a long time that I was getting worried about you. And where is the wood I asked you to get?” He frowned at Ariana with his bushy eyebrows, and she blushed.
“Granddad,” she said, “we’re nearly out of wood but look what I found.” She took the box out from under her jacket and put it on Granddad’s lap. Granddad stared at the box for a little while. It was still buzzing, and the wood still looked like wood and not velvet. Suddenly, Granddad jumped up so fast that Ariana got a fright. His eyes were huge, and his face had gone very pale. He held the box in his large hands and could not stop staring at it.
“Granddad,” Ariana said, “what is wrong?” She had never seen Granddad like this, he was normally so quiet and calm. Ariana felt her eyes prickle, she must have done something terribly wrong. But she won’t cry. Billy said only little girls cry, and she was no little girl.
“Ariana, where did you get this box?”
“I found it in the shed Granddad, but I’m happy to put it back. I should not have touched it I’m sorry.” Ariana’s lip trembled. Oh, if only she could turn back time she would never have touched the box, she hated seeing Granddad upset. He was old, and it could not be good for his heart.
“Did you open it?” Granddad stared at her with his bright grey eyes, long and hard making Ariana fidget.
“No Granddad, I did not. I just touched it, promise.”
Granddad sighed in relief and sat down again, the box on his lap. He gestured to Ariana to sit down in front of him.
“Sit down my dear, and let me tell you a story so you can understand why this box is very, very dangerous. Once I am done with the story, we will bury the box and forget about it. Ok?” Ariana nodded. Anything to make Granddad smile again.
Ariana sat down at his feet. She knew this was going to be a good story.
“Once upon a time,” Granddad started. Ariana smiled.
“Granddad, all stories start with that.” She laughed. Granddad laughed as well.
“No Ariana, only good stories start with that,” he said, “now listen, because this is important. You have to understand the dangers of the Unigon box.”
Ariana gasped. “Is that what this is called, a Unigon box?”
“Yes, and this is not just any box. This is the original Unigon box. Only the original box feels like velvet.”
Granddad had put the Unigon box on the table next to his chair, and it sat there buzzing quietly.
“A long time ago a creature called a Unigon roamed this earth. It was part unicorn and part dragon; it had the strong body of a horse but instead of horse hair, its body was covered in beautiful, shiny dragon scales. It had a unicorn horn on its head and dragon wings that enabled it to fly great distances. The unicorn horn is called an alicorn, and is a very important part of the Unigon; it keeps them healthy and strong. Should a Unigon lose their alicorn they would die.
When threatened, the Unigon was able to breathe fire, and when sad it has been known to cry. It was a magnificent beast and unbeatable in a fight. Just like today’s horses, they lived in herds and each herd had its own leader. Leaders were easy to recognize, their color was beautiful and shiny gold. They lived peacefully across the world for many years, simply minding their own business.
Until one day, two of the biggest leaders had an argument about something nobody can remember, and a fight broke out. One leader was a Unigon from the North named Nordick. The other leader was from the South, and he was called Sadeel. The argument between Nordick and Sadeel caused a horrible fight, and everything within hundreds of kilometers was destroyed in the fires created by these two Unigons. People’s houses were destroyed, forests burned for days, and all the land went to waste.
People at the time were very disappointed with the Unigons. Humans and Unigons had lived side by side for centuries without any problems, and this terrible fight scared the humans. If it happened once it could happen again. The human leader was a woman called Aronas, and she decided that all Unigons should be banned to a secret island far away from everything else. The creatures were so ashamed of their leaders that they listened to Aronas, and went to this island without arguments.
Aronas was the only person who knew exactly where the island was, and she created a magical map which would allow her future ancestors to find the Unigons. She hid the magical map in a wooden box and covered the box with invisible velvet to ensure this box could not be confused with any other. However, nobody has ever used the map because it is far too dangerous, and nobody knows what happened to the Unigons after they were banned. Many fear until this day that the Unigon leaders are angry with Aronas. We doubt humans would be welcome on the island so the box was hidden for safety.”
Ariana stared at Granddad. She was so caught up in the story that she didn’t even realize her legs had gone to sleep. She shifted to a more comfortable position, and thought a bit. “Then why was the box lying in your shed Granddad?”
Granddad smiled. “Because you and I are ancestors from Aronas, and the box was given to me by my father.” Ariana’s eyes went big. “You mean, we are ancestors from people who knew how to use magic?”
“Yes that we are.”
Ariana eyes widened as an idea struck her. “Does this mean we can create magic as well?” Her tone was shocked.
Granddad sighed. “I’m afraid nobody has ever been able to use magic after Aronas. Perhaps she was the last in a long line of magicians, perhaps her ancestors simply forgot how to use it. So, no my dear, as far as I know we can’t create magic, and I prefer it that way. Now, let us bury that box!”
With that Granddad stood up. He held out his hand to help Ariana on her feet, put the box in his pocket and slowly walked to the kitchen door. Ariana noticed Granddad no longer walked as quickly as he used to, and she felt a bit impatient with the slow pace. She wanted to bury this dangerous box as quickly as possible, but she also enjoyed holding it. Granddad removed the torch from the hook next to the kitchen door and walked outside. It was even colder now than earlier. Ariana shivered and slowly followed Granddad.
Granddad walked to the corner of the woodshed where Ariana first found the box, picked up a shovel and started digging. Ariana held the torch to give him enough light and settled in for a long wait. This hole was going to be deep and it would take a long time. A long time to think about this box and a long time to get very cold.
After half an hour the hole was deep enough. Sweat poured from Granddad’s face, and he stretched his aching back.
“There you go my dear,” he said, “this is deep enough, very soon nobody will even know the box is here. You can place the box in the hole. Nice and easy now, be gentle with it.”
Ariana took the box and admired the soft velvety touch one more time. What a shame, she thought. Such a beautiful box and it will end up under layers of cold dirt for eternity. But Granddad is right, it is far too dangerous for it to lie around.
She lay down on her tummy and gently lowered the box in the big hole. The hole was dark and smelled of damp leaves and sand. As soon as her fingers scraped the cold earth she let it go. The box buzzed one more time, as if complaining about its dark resting place, then Granddad shoveled the big mount of earth back over it. It was done, and life could go back to normal. Ariana and Granddad stared at the floor one more time, each thinking their own private thoughts. Then Ariana grabbed Granddad’s hand and together they slowly walked back to the house.
Later that evening Ariana lay in bed thinking about the box. She had so many questions about her ancestor and made a mental note to ask Granddad more about these mystical Unigons. They sounded beautiful, exciting and dangerous. With all these thoughts spinning in her head Ariana finally fell asleep and managed to sleep the rest of the night without any dreams.
The next morning Ariana was up bright and early to feed the chickens and collect their eggs. Granddad had already gone to the forest with his axe to chop more winter wood. She happily skipped along the path to the chicken shed, egg basket dangling from her arm. The sun had just appeared above the mountains and it promised to be a beautiful sunny day. Ariana sang a little song to herself, she loved warm days. And warm days meant the chickens would lay more eggs.
The chickens were already out and about scratching around the yard for worms. Ariana opened the little door to the chicken shed and crawled inside. Oh good, she thought, the girls have been busy; four large eggs and one little one. The little one must be from Henrietta. She was Ariana’s favorite chicken but Henrietta was getting old and not laying as well anymore. She carefully put the eggs in her basket, closed the door, poured some food in the chicken bowl and wandered back to the house.
When Granddad came back from the woods she would make him a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs and herbs, his all-time favorite meal. Ariana thought about poor Granddad. Five years ago Ariana’s parents died in a plane crash and Granddad had looked after her ever since. She was too little at the time to remember much of her parents or the accident but had always been very grateful Granddad decided to look after her. In return Ariana cooked, cleaned and helped out with the farm as much as she could, and seldom complained.
Granddad’s rooster crowed. Ariana stopped walking and looked around. Strange for the rooster to crow this late in the morning, was he losing track of time? Ah, there he was, near the woodshed, his blood red feathers just catching the light of the sun. He crowed one more time, gave Ariana an arrogant look and scratched the sand. Yes, the woodshed. Last night’s memories were still very fresh in Ariana’s mind, and she thought about the box. It had seemed so alive, and the thought worried her. Surely it would not hurt to have one more peek in the shed, just to make sure everything was ok.
The woodshed didn’t look so scary now that the sun was up, and Ariana poked her head around the door. See, nothing to worry about, everything was just fine, she thought. She stood in the doorway until her eyes adjusted to the gloom inside and was just about to walk to the house when she spotted movement in the far corner.
Granddad was in the woods. She tried to shrug off the feeling of being watched. Perhaps he’d changed his mind and had come back to check everything was okay in the shed.
“Granddad, is that you?” Ariana heard the little shake in her voice. Don’t be silly, she told herself. The sun is shining and Granddad has come to check the box is still safe. She heard the shuffle of feet and a small head popped up from behind a pile of wood. Two brown eyes stared at Ariana, and she gasped. “Billy! What are you doing here?”
Billy, the annoying neighbor who always played pranks on her. What on earth was he doing in the old woodshed?
The brown eyes quickly looked away but not before Ariana spotted him holding something behind his back.
“Nothing, really?” She lifted her eyebrows at him. “Are you here to tease me again?”
Billy shook his head. “Nope, not me.”
“And what are you hiding behind your back then.”
“Told you, nothing.”
Ariana gritted her teeth. With Billy it was always nothing. It was then that she saw the big gaping hole in the ground. The same hole Granddad dug last night and spent a long time filling in. Her eyes went wide and her heart galloped so hard that it felt like she had a bolting horse in her chest. “Billy, what have you done?”
Billy shrugged, still looking at the ground. “I went to check on our cows last night and saw light in your shed,” he muttered, “so I came here this morning to see what you were doing. I saw fresh sand and wanted to know why you dug a hole. I opened the hole and found this.”
Billy pulled a dirty hand from behind his back, and with a shock Ariana realized he was holding the Unigon box. It was dull and dirty from the sand but buzzing louder than ever. Billy frowned and looked almost angry.
“Now why would you bury a box here, Ariana? What secrets are you keeping down here?”
“That is none of your business Billy. This is Granddad’s shed, he can do with it as he pleases.”
Billy looked down at the ground again and sulked. He knew he was not supposed to be here but his curiosity got the better of him. He looked up at Ariana with a little smile. “Don’t you want to know what is in here?”
Ariana shook her head. “Nope, absolutely not. And neither should you, Granddad said it is too dangerous.”
Billy’s eyes lit up. “Did you say dangerous? Cool.”
Too late did Ariana realize she should never have mentioned danger. She should have told Billy it was just a boring old box that used to belong to a stranger. But no, she had to say the wrong thing.
“Billy leave it,” Ariana pleaded, “you shouldn’t have the box, it is not yours.”
Billy shrugged. “Sounds like it isn’t yours either. Finders keepers.” As he said it he firmly grabbed the Unigon box and flipped its lid open. A bright light erupted from the box blinding Ariana, and the buzzing sound was deafening. She grabbed the box to snatch it back from Billy’s stubborn fingers and opened her mouth to scold him, but she never got the chance. The buzzing sound suddenly jumped into her head. At least that is what it felt like to Ariana. One minute she heard buzzing in the distance, the next minute it sounded like an entire bees nest was inside her head.
The world started to spin, and Ariana heard Billy scream. The spinning went faster and faster, and Ariana closed her eyes. Any minute now she would feel nauseous, and Ariana hated feeling nauseous. She clenched her teeth and swallowed. Now is not the time to throw up, she thought. Oh, please please don’t let me throw up. And then the spinning stopped...