I’d been staring at the box for nearly an hour contemplating the consequences of opening it before the time was right. The beer in my hand was half empty, warmer now from being held so long and hardly as satisfying as it had been when I started drinking it. The whole world had gone mad but here I was, sitting in the living room of my little apartment staring at Pandora’s Box and wondering what madness still could be waiting inside. The floor was covered in fresh mud and dirt, streaked brown and green from where I’d drug it inside. I’d vomited twice at the memory of burying it, at the smell that came crawling up through the earth as I disinterred it. It might have been easier to move if I’d had some help and who better to help than my brother? He’d been more than happy to bury it with me two months ago but he never would have agreed if he’d known what was coming, of the questions I’d have. Once it had been done he refused to ever speak about it again so I was left no choice but to dig it up and drag it back here by myself. Even so, I knew I’d be seeing him soon. I was certain of that much.
I had sent him a picture of the box an hour ago, fresh from where I’d dug it up.
As if cued by my thoughts on the matter there came a desperate banging on my door. I gave a wry smile and took another sip of my beer. It was somehow less bitter now.
“It’s open,” I called to him from my recliner.
My brother Roger barged into my living room, his face flushed red, hands trembling as he glared at me. He was twenty eight, the baby of the family with those generic good looks that had always driven the girls wild in school. He’d gotten by on those looks for a long time but now, shaking in my doorway, his charm was useless. He would have leapt into the chair with me, those quaking arms swinging fists towards my head except that his eyes caught the box and froze him dead in his tracks. Pressed down by the unfathomable weight of his guilt he fell to his knees beside it and covered his mouth with his hands.
“What have you done?” he whispered.
“I recall asking you the same question a few months ago.”
I took another swig of beer.
“This isn’t funny, Steven!” The rage was quick and loud. “We don’t have time for this. We should be getting out of town and now we’re going to have to bury it again.”
“Bury it? I’m not burying anything. We’re damned, little brother. Where do you think we can run to avoid our judgment? Besides, aren’t you curious?”
“No.” he said sullenly.
“You came to me with tears in your eyes and asked me to help you make it all go away.” I said. “Looked just like you did when you were six and you accidentally crushed your pet mouse. You remember how you cried when Narf died in your little hands? You remember coming to me to help you? You wanted to hide what you’d done, hide from the consequences that would come your way. Can’t very well hide now, can we?”
“This isn’t a joke, Steven.”
“Does it look like I’m laughing?”
“We’ll have to ditch it on the way,” he muttered to himself. “There are lots of woods between here and dad’s cabin so we should have plenty of places to dump it.”
“There’s no ‘it,’ baby brother. There never was an ‘it.’ Always a ‘who,’ though.”
He ignored me and yanked the handle of the mud caked foot locker as if his rage would make it fly out the door and into the breezeway. Instead it barely budged. Something inside though began to rattle and scratch.
“You ever hear about Schrödinger’s cat?” I asked, polishing off my beer.
“I don’t have time for a lecture. Get up and grab your shit so we can leave.”
“And go where, Roger? They’re everywhere now. Looking for her I bet. Yeah, God woke ‘em all up just to find her. Where do you plan to run to when the cemeteries are spitting out bodies to hunt for us, huh? Where can we go when the dead are scouring the earth for you and me?”
“I’d rather run than wait here like an idiot.” he argued. “Now let’s get up and go.”
“We’re not going anywhere until we talk about the cat.”
“You’ve lost your damned mind.” he shouted. He stood, kicking the box as he did. He turned to walk off, to storm away like the spoiled little child he was. I snatched my revolver off the end table beside me and fired a shot into his leg. Blood spurted as Roger yelled and collapsed in the floor.
“The cat is locked in the box with a vile of poison,” I said. “There’s a Geiger counter and a piece of radioactive material inside. When it reaches a certain level of radiation a trigger snaps and breaks the vile, killing the cat instantly. From outside, there’s no way to know if the cat is alive or dead. At that moment the cat is in two separate states of existence, both alive and dead. Only when we open the box does reality manifest, does the cat become either one or the other. With everything that’s been going on, what do you think that means for what’s inside our little box here?”
“You’re crazy.” he sobbed, clutching his wounded leg.
“No. Crazy was getting drunk and trying to drive home in the rain. Crazy was helping you clean the blood off your hood and hide the evidence in the woods. This is an exercise in thought. Now tell me, is it alive or dead?”
I reached down and popped the latch on the foot locker.
“Crazy was seeing her little face on fliers and milk cartons, in papers every day and going about my life as if I didn’t know where she was. Crazy was pretending that I could ignore the grief I saw in her mother’s eyes when she pleaded for someone to bring her baby home on the ten o’clock news.”
I lifted the lid.
“Even now, opening the box doesn’t answer the question. Alive or dead; one or the other? Or neither? Or both? Or is it something new entirely?”
“Please, Steven,” Roger cried. “Not like this.”
Tiny hands reached up from the box, mottled skin gray with putrid veins rippling black lightning across the marbled surface of her arms clutching at the open air.
“She was dead when we buried her,” I continued. “No questions there. So now what is she?”
Dirty pigtails crested the lid, milky eyes staring lifelessly at us. Crusted patches of maroon formed a river of red from her nose and mouth that ended in a lake on a molded pink jumper. Slowly, the little girl, her frame twisted, broken, crawled into the carpet towards Roger.
“Even when observed she’s alive and dead. Schrödinger’s cat refuses now to conform to the laws of reality and existence.”
“Please, Steve,” Roger sobbed. He tried to crawl away but only managed to back himself into the corner. Little hands pulled a broken body across the floor, tiny teeth chattering hungrily towards her killer.
It was a strange new world I had created, opening that box, but it would all be over soon.
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