This is a bit of a different type of story in an apocalyptic vein. Comments and reviews are welcome.
The call informing me of the death of my maternal grandfather was not unexpected. Although he was reclusive, the family had known that he was in poor health for some time. What was unexpected was the certified and registered letter that came requesting my presence at a lawyer’s office for the reading of the will and subsequent transfer of assets.
My single visit to the home of my grandfather with my mother had been when I was perhaps four or five years of age. I vaguely remember tall ceilings and a dark curved wooden staircase and railing that creaked loudly with every step. Heavy drapes on the tall windows and thick carpets made the interior of the house cool and dark. I can just recall quietly exploring shadowy hallways that led to huge dark wooden doors that had clear crystalline door knobs that I could not turn. Occasionally, in my youthful explorations, I would become frightened and flee to my mother’s side for reassurance.
Although I was usually described as introverted and shy as a child, my mother steadfastly maintained that I was precocious. She often related an incident from that visit in the following years that had happened during a lapse in a conversation between my grandfather and her. I had appeared at her side and crawled up on her lap to get her attention when I unexpectedly settled myself and silently regarded my grandfather. She said her father had silently returned my gaze and we sat there for several minutes in the cool shadows of the old house. I then, without comment or request, got down off of her lap to make my way towards some other object of my interest. She would then say that my grandfather had uttered one word.
“Extraordinary”, he had said.
I was never quite sure of her intent when she would relate that experience to me, but she always maintained that although it was totally out of character for her father, it had been a good thing. When I would ask what she had meant by this, she would just smile and change the subject. The years have passed; she is gone and now it’s far too late to ask for that explanation.
I caught an early flight, took a commuter to the local airport, rented a car and followed the directions in the letter to the lawyer’s office. I had arrived one hour before my appointment time as I had planned and decided to buy a coffee and stroll around the downtown district to take in the local flavor. There were the usual banks and business offices with an assortment of small retail shops tucked in around the edges. Some were undoubtedly new, taking the place of a former failed occupant; but one book store and an antique dealer had been there long enough to take on that truly archaic feel and merited closer inspection. The door of the book store was made of oak and thick glass prisms that cast rainbows across the interior when it swung open while a little bell announced another visitor. The air inside was cool and dry and smelled of the old books lining the shelves while the floor was bare wooden planks and creaked musically with every step. After a quick inspection, I decided that I would return here later when I had plenty of time to explore and read. The antique store a few doors down also held attractive items that I would have to return to under a less restrictive time schedule. Checking my watch, I saw that I had fifteen minutes left to make my way back to the lawyer’s office for my appointment.
I was surprised to find that I was the sole heir named in my grandfather’s last will and testament. My grandfather’s estate directives and funeral arrangements had been exhaustive and complete and the reading of the will actually seemed to be a formality. An itemized list of specific actions was read, the dates were stated when the actions had been completed and I was shown an authorizing signature of the lawyer’s office indicating compliance with my grandfather’s wishes. That completed, the lawyer stated that there were only three final items. A set of keys and the deed to my grandfather’s house was produced that I signed and accepted.
A bank book containing what I considered to be a substantial sum was produced and I signed a bank form transferring those assets to my name. Finally, with a flourish, the lawyer indicated an ornate urn on the corner of the desk and said, “Within this vessel lies the last earthly remains of our client which I place in your hands. Our business is hereby concluded.” I shook the lawyer’s hand and thanked him for faithfully administering my grandfather’s final wishes and took my leave. I dropped off the signed account form at the bank and noted by my watch that it was still just midmorning.
After checking the address on the deed and getting some directions, I was able to drive directly to my grandfather’s house. As I looked through the archway, down the narrow stone walkway that led to the steps; a great gulf of time seemed to wash away and I was here once again in the memories of my youth. I was struck by how little the house seemed to have changed from what I remembered. Going up the steps and crossing the porch to the wide front door, I noted that there were only two old fashioned skeleton type keys on the ring which I assumed were the front and back doors. Selecting a key and putting it in the lock and turning it, I noted how smoothly the lock mechanism operated. I was rewarded with a loud satisfying click and upon pressing the lever of the door handle, the door swung open into the cool dark interior I remembered as a child.
The house was in good order and in remarkable condition for a piece of real estate that was as old as this one must be. I recovered my grandfather’s urn and placed it in the center of the mantel above the fireplace in the formal living room. I explored the lower areas, opening doors to discover storage rooms and utility rooms and an amazingly well stocked wine cellar. The kitchen was well stocked and contained many modern appliances and accessories. In the exploration of the upper story hallways, I discovered not only several bedrooms and baths with linen closets and storage rooms, but I also found a single room with a locked door. As I stood in front of that door and thought about all the events that had transpired today and the mysterious circumstances under which I had become the sole heir and owner of my grandfather’s estate; I had a sudden recollection from long ago of becoming frightened and running down this very hallway in fear.
As I turned to leave, the keys within my pocket clinked together and I pulled them out to examine them in the dim light of the upper hallway.
The second key slid into the lock with noticeably more hesitation than the first key had shown on the front door. Attempting to turn the key met with resistance and at first I thought it must not be the right key but it grudgingly turned and there was a muted click as the lock released its hold on the dark door. This lock was probably used seldom if at all and the knob turned with a squeak to reveal a dark bare undecorated room heavy with dust and smelling of long disuse. I cautiously crossed the darkened room to the window and drew back the heavy drapes; practically choking from the clouds of dust that fell from them to dance in the sunbeam slanting across the room to land on the floor. The only set of footprints in the deep dust was mine.
The room was rather ordinary aside from its locked door and disuse and I almost would have passed it off as an unused extra room had I not noticed a peculiar semicircular header of bricks in the wall that would usually be above an alcove like the ones that hold religious figurines. I explored the edges of the lintel and found that the masonry below it was loose and crumbling. I was able to remove enough of the old mortar to pull out the first brick revealing a dark recess beyond. Using only my fingers, I was able to pull out additional bricks until I had removed the entire false wall to uncover an object lying on the floor of the alcove hidden in the wall. I reached into the alcove and lifted the object out to discover that it was a heavy old dark wooden box completely covered with engraved symbols.
I brought the box down into the kitchen and placed it on the table to inspect it in better light. The only feature that I had not seen in the dim light of the upper room was a small ornate keyhole for a lock contained within the box. Just out of curiosity, I tried both keys on the key ring but neither would even start to fit. I searched drawers and cabinets looking for the key but never found another key of any kind. I had no idea what the ornate box contained but I was dead set against trying to use force to open it. The box belonged to my grandfather and he must have had a good reason for hiding it.
Wrapping the box in a sheet, I carried it out to the car and drove back along the same route to the downtown area. I suppose that I planned to take the old box to a locksmith to inquire about having a key made but I saw the antique store first and decided to stop in and see if they might be able to give me any information about just what exactly I was in possession of.
The old front door to the antique store opened easily on well oiled hinges and I walked in and carefully set the box down on the counter still wrapped in the sheet.
“Oh, hello! Can I help you?” came the cheerful call of a clerk from a back room behind the counter. “Are you looking for something in particular…,” he trailed off when he saw the sheet wrapped box on the counter. “What do we have here?” he asked inquisitively.
“Actually, I was hoping you could tell me. I acquired this box in a deal I just recently completed,” I tried to lie convincingly while disclosing as little of the truth as possible as I unfolded the sheet from the box.
“Well, it certainly does appear to be well made. What’s in it?” asked the clerk genuinely interested now.
“Well, that’s the problem. I don’t know what’s in it and I don’t have the key,” I stated flatly.
“No key, huh? Do you have a bill of sale for this box?” the clerk asked becoming suspicious.
Since I could see no way out of this particular line of questioning without revealing the whole truth and admitting that I had been a little less than completely honest with the clerk, I elected to just leave.
“Never mind. I’ll just take it to a locksmith and try to have a key made instead,” I explained. “That’s what I originally intended to do but saw your store first,” I tried to explain but only succeeded in digging myself in deeper.
“Yeah, you do that. I’m not a fence for stolen property, you know. I have a good reputation in this town now. If you come in here again, I’m calling the police!” he yelled as I went out the door.
“Well done”, I thought nervously as I loaded the box into the passenger seat of the car and threw the sheet over into the back seat. “You’re in town for four hours and you have store clerks threatening to call the police if you show up again. Real smooth”, I thought bitterly. As I pulled out into traffic and drove down the wide city street, I had to lower the sunshade in the car in order to see in the bright afternoon sunshine.
“Who else would have the expertise or maybe just the basic curiosity to help me find out just what exactly I have here?” I thought out loud. Just then the bright sunlight was eclipsed by a large grey building with the words, “Museum of the Antiquities,” in two foot tall metal letters on the side.
“Hmph. Just what I was looking for,” I thought out loud. I parked the car in the lot, retrieved the box, walked into the museum and asked the receptionist politely if I could please speak with the curator. I explained that I did not have an appointment but that my question would only take a moment. I was instructed to please take a seat and the curator would see me shortly. After a short wait, I was shown to a small second floor office and invited to sit down.
“No, I don’t believe you quite understand the implication of what I am saying. This box… this relic… this artifact is not merely old, it is almost certainly ancient”, he whispered. “This writing here is in Hebrew while these symbols here are Babylonian while this group may be ancient Thessalonian but I’m not sure. This group of symbols over here resembles Hieroglyphics in some ways”, he said pointing to another spot on the side of the ornate wooden box. “No records of an object decorated with this many ancient written languages exists outside of perhaps the Rosetta stone.” He said. “Tell me, please, how exactly did you come to be in possession of this artifact and would you be willing to part with it?” the museum curator begged.
I was too tired and stressed from my encounter with the antique store clerk and in no mood to try and negotiate with the man. “I inherited it and I really haven’t considered anything beyond trying to find out the value of the box and whatever it contains so I’m not ready to sell it yet.” I explained.
“Oh no, the museum would not make an offer to buy this artifact, you misunderstand me,” he quickly added. “I was hoping that you would like to donate this magnificent item to the museum in exchange for...say... continuing updates of the investigation into the meanings of the inscriptions purely in the interest of archeological science, perhaps? I assure you that it would be placed on display in a prominent position here in the museum for all to see,” he beamed.
“No. I think not.” I said abruptly and started to gather my things. “Thank you for your time and good day.” I added in the most agreeable tone that I was able at the time. I was quite certain that if the box contained anything of value that I would never see it if the museum saw it first.
“Wait, wait!” he wailed. “At least allow one of our language specialists to examine and photograph this artifact for further study, please!” he asked emphatically. “This is obviously a rare opportunity that we dare not lose.”
“How long would it take?” I asked shortly looking at the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the office windows.
“Only a few minutes. I can have someone from the languages section here immediately and I’ll do the photography myself to save time,” he added. “Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes, I suppose so. But I really don’t have any more time to waste on these details at present, ” I stated although actually I was eager to find out more information about the ornate old box.
The museum curator spoke briefly on the phone and said, “My best languages man is on the way and we are in luck! He is bringing a locksmith with him!” “Perhaps we can actually open the artifact and photograph the inside as well if you would permit that?” he practically begged. I made a show of reluctant agreement while inwardly I was excited that I might find out if there was more to my grandfather’s last will and testament than it seemed.
The door to the office opened and a rather tall, thin man with small glasses perched on the end of his long nose came in with a look of exasperation on his face from being pulled away from his own important research so abruptly. That expression quickly changed to interest when he saw the box sitting on the desk. Behind him carrying a small bag of tools came the locksmith who also became curious about the object on the desk at first sight.
“Oh my! What do we have here?” exclaimed the language specialist. “How interesting! Wait a moment, how can this be?” he said pointing to the different language characters in the inscriptions so close to one another. Digging in a pocket of his lab coat, he brought out a small magnifying glass and looked closely at two different parts of the inscriptions on the top of the box. “Can we touch this?” he asked.
The museum curator looked a question at me and I nodded. “Use care”, he said. “It does not belong to the museum but is the private property of this gentleman here,” he said gesturing to me. The languages specialist pulled gloves from another pocket, put them on and gingerly raised the box about an inch above the desk.
“It’s quite heavy. I’m not the right man to say for sure but this doesn’t look like a native species of wood to me,” he stated. “It’s interesting that just judging from the wear on the edges that all of these inscriptions appear to have been cut into the wood at about the same time, and yet they represent the written languages of races and cultures widely separated in time”, he mused. “No matter, if a hoax is being perpetrated here then we will get to the bottom of it soon enough,” he said with a grin.
The museum curator looked at me again and cocked his head as if to ask if I were being completely forthcoming about the box.
“Actually, you know as much about it as I do right now”, I said with a shrug.
“That’s odd,” said the tall, thin man. “A similar phrase appears to be repeated here in the Babylonian as in the Hebrew, and unless I am mistaken, which I doubt,” he said smugly, “and again here in the Thessalonian in even greater detail!” he said. “This is most interesting; I do so love a mystery!” “Here the inscription begins with a warning or a caution as it does here as well and here, too,” he explained.
“Yes, yes, but what does it say?” asked the museum curator impatiently.
“Oh, of course, sorry,” apologized the tall, thin man. “Well, it’s really quite simple actually other than being repeated in at least four ancient languages, “he explained.
“Please continue, “requested the museum curator aloud and silently from me.
“Well it appears to be a warning to beware of the machine…no, that’s not right…the device within that can make…no…unmake creation”, he translated, “if I’m not mistaken.” “That is certainly a large claim for such a small box!” he exclaimed. “If we only knew what was inside we might be able to shed some light on this mystery,” he concluded.
“Well, I guess that’s my cue,” said the locksmith setting his small bag of tools on the desk next to the box and bending down to examine the lock more closely.
“You can open it without damaging the box I would hope,” I said.
“Perhaps. If it appears that my attempt to defeat the lock will result in damage to the box, I will stop immediately,” he explained patiently.
“Very well. Please proceed,” I said.
As the locksmith began to manipulate the complex inner workings of the lock, I and the two other men leaned in closer to get a better view in anticipation of glimpsing the contents of such an ancient artifact that was inscribed with so many dire warnings. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the slanting rays of light from the afternoon sun had taken on an odd greenish cast and I was about to comment to the museum curator that there might be a storm coming when I realized that I could breathe but not make a sound or move a muscle except for my eyes! I was completely paralyzed! Transfixed in witness to the attempt to defeat the lock which protected the device within the box.
I saw by their wild eyes that the same condition of instant paralysis had befallen all those within the small office except the locksmith busily attempting to open the lock.
“My, this is an amazing complex warded lock for an artifact of this age if it is indeed genuine!” the locksmith exclaimed completely unaware of the frightening situation that had suddenly and inexplicably frozen myself, the curator and the tall, thin man in place. The locksmith undoubtedly took our unwilling silence as respectful space for him to continue his work without unnecessary questions or interruptions. “There! That’s the first and second pins of what appear to be a total of seven in the lock! Five more to go,” he exulted.
What the locksmith could not see because of his complete concentration on his task and what I could see because of my position in the office was that the light of the sun outside had not only changed color to a sickly pale green but the disc of the sun itself had begun to blacken to the point that it was now possible to look straight at it without discomfort. It was then that I noticed that a complete pall of silence hung over the world as there was no traffic sounds or voices or wind to be heard at all.
“OK. I’ve got the third, fourth and fifth pins held in place and the wards for the last pins are secure,” said the locksmith. He was totally unaware that all of us except him in the little office silently screamed for him to stop and not open the box.
From the corners of the room, faint tendrils of dark mist like fog or smoke crept forward to encircle the group that stood frozen in witness around the locksmith busily attempting to unlock the box used to keep secure the single ancient device that could unmake creation as we all silently pleaded…no…begged for him to stop. Outside, I could see grey clouds piling up on the horizon as the light from the sun failed and an eerie twilight took the place of the former warm afternoon sunshine. Jagged lines of frost traced their way down the windowpanes as the temperature suddenly and inexplicably dropped in anticipation of the coming end.
“Say, I’m starting to get really cold for some reason and I’ve only got the last ward on the last pin left to go.
Would you gentlemen like to take a break and get a cup of coffee or cocoa to warm us up or should I just continue?” the locksmith asked and with that question he finally turned to behold the horrified eyes of myself and the other men bearing frozen silent witness to the event unfolding before us.
“What!” he practically yelled. “What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong? Have I damaged something? Why didn’t you stop me and tell me?” he wailed.
And with that simple loss of concentration and pressure on the last ward of the last pin of the complex lock, the tool he was using fell away and all seven pins and wards fell back into place safely securing the box and the terrible device that it holds from unmaking creation. Just as suddenly as it had begun, the strange paralysis ended, the dark misty tendrils vanished from the room and the inviting rays of the warm afternoon sun streamed into the little office once again as if nothing had happened at all. Traffic sounds, voices and the twitter of birds could be heard again as the silence lifted.
Simultaneously, the museum curator, the tall, thin language specialist and I, released from our paralysis, cried out to the locksmith, “Stop! Don’t open the box!”
“Oh, OK…sure…if…if that’s what you really want,” he stammered.
With shaking hands and an unsteady voice, the museum curator stated, “The museum has officially withdrawn its offer to study your artifact on the grounds that there are unknown safety concerns that I was not made aware of.” “Please sir, take your evil box, leave these premises now and never return!” he whispered.
I have since returned the box to its place in the wall with much more secure shielding than it originally had and relocked that dark door. I have taken up residence in my grandfather’s house to ensure that the box will not be disturbed while I still live and breathe.
Spooky story for sure! Would love more chapters on other treasures he finds in his grandfather's home, maybe a journal of the time his grandfather spent as the gate keeper of the box. Thank you for sharing your stories.
NOTICE: Timebomb2000 is an Internet forum for discussion of world events and personal disaster preparation. Membership is by request only. The opinions posted do not necessarily represent those of TB2K Incorporated (the owner of this website), the staff or site host. Responsibility for the content of all posts rests solely with the Member making them. Neither TB2K Inc, the Staff nor the site host shall be liable for any content.
All original member content posted on this forum becomes the property of TB2K Inc. for archival and display purposes on the Timebomb2000 website venue. Said content may be removed or edited at staff discretion. The original authors retain all rights to their material outside of the Timebomb2000.com website venue. Publication of any original material from Timebomb2000.com on other websites or venues without permission from TB2K Inc. or the original author is expressly forbidden.
"Timebomb2000", "TB2K" and "Watching the World Tick Away" are Service Mark℠ TB2K, Inc. All Rights Reserved.