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The Box and The Beetle

The box rocked violently between the two books which held it neatly in place; at one end a large hardback collection of artistic cat prints, opposing it an equally large dictionary. Both looked rather worse for wear, broken bindings, loose threads and gold type wearing thin. By marked contrast the box between them appeared brand new, or at least one presumed it was brand new: it had no scratches, no markings, no chipped corners or any of the usual injuries sustained either before or during arrival here. Instead it had a peculiarly smooth finish, which made it glisten in the dim, mote-filled light. When touched however, it felt neither smooth nor wet. But then again, it didn’t feel rough or dry. Really it felt of nothing at all. Those same fingertips could only sense that the muscles were being prevented from contracting further- no sensory information was available. Even the hairline crack running precisely between the halves of the box was too fine, the parts too perfectly flush, for the primitive agency of touch.

The box was naturally something of a curiosity, less that people would come to see such a curious object, rather that should someone classify it, it would certainly be as a curious curio from unknown parts of unknown parts. This though a classifier, when in fact none existed nor had one done so for a long time. Books aged and withered, creaking and cracking until the binding snapped, emptying volumes of paper flakes upon the shelves and floor. The books surrounding the box had not yet reached this stage of decay; a trifle worn they possessed sufficient weight to pin the curio down.

The rocking subsided once more, as it always did, apparently having rid itself of dead pages and dust. The glistening box grew darker, murkier in colour, slowly sinking through the spectrum of night until its intactile sheen was now complemented by its total lack of reflectivity. The box was to all intents and purposes invisible. But what were its intents, its purposes?

Content, as all immobile objects appear to be, simply to wait, unaffected by the continual erosion of the material beyond it. It was an age since anyone had even seen the box, let alone moved it from between the guarding tomes. The guards, however slowly were also decaying, it was but a matter of time before one or the other gave way and slowly collapsed into debris.

As the dust continued to pile up the box gave the distinct impression of impatience; shaking itself more furiously and more frequently to prevent itself from being buried. At last only the top of the box could be seen, or rather unseen, since it left only a disc of darkness nestled in the greying crater. Flecks of dust settled lightly on the exposure, plotting the box’s curve. Still the box remained. Finally, with agonising slowness the outside cover of the dictionary pulled itself free from the terribly worn and abused binding which split, threads splaying forwards and downwards. An avalanche of slow motion paper fell next, crumbling from the top of the dictionary, pulling more flecks free until whole pages disintegrated, heaping onto the shelf.

As it wasted away, there was only ‘A’ and the cover left, by a heap of decaying paper. The bulk of the fine book of artistic cat prints, no longer counter-weighted by the lexicon, fell hard onto the box. Its descent was somewhat slowed by the great dust drifts between them; but when forced down they burst out outwards like the exhaust from some terrific engine. The standing dictionary cover toppled, and tumbled off the shelf. The moment the obstruction was gone the grinning face of a cat slapped down upon the box, propelling it swiftly across the shelf on a platform of dust which it dragged behind, arcing into a shaft of thick sunlight; the box an impenetrable hole in the light.

Entering the shadows the box did not vanish as might be supposed, the box as it flew began to glimmer again, as if the moments of frantic activity had energised it, and its speed did not diminish but increase. The flawless and now luminescent box displayed an infinitely thin glowing yellow line about its perimeter as the box made first contact with a wall of brick and wood and passed through it without even a whisper, leaving a perfectly smooth and featureless hole behind it. The box stopped in mid-air, and could now be seen oscillating so rapidly that were it not for the slight distortion effected upon the yellow line it should have been perceived motionless.

As it hung there the yellow light distorted more wildly, weaving an erratic web around the box. The oscillation continued until the entire box gave out a uniform yellow light, easily discernible in the shadows next to the wall it had so neatly punctured. Cautiously the luminous box sank toward the ground, folding down long blades of grass. As it neared the ground the shaking lessened and the yellow light drew back into its minute groove. The light cast a neat halo upon the bare earth a few inches beyond the box, and the box’s colours began to run, from the top downwards; a slow running and dripping. The darkness of the box spread onto the ground, pouring like black coffee into the halo’s confines; once the area was filled, the halo vanished, leaving a disc of darkness on the ground. The rest of the box was now a brilliant white, the base pearlescent in its own shade.

It was a quiet day, a light breeze made the sharp blades of grass rasp against one another, and when that sound died there was the industrious racket of insect hordes determinedly approaching the interloper. The first was a beetle, with its shiny black oil-slick shell, marching over the uneven ground on six delicately articulated legs, its antenna waving in the air as it neared the disc of blackness. Abruptly the beetle turned and proceeded to tour the perimeter of the box. Soon the beetle arrived back where it began, having described a perfect circle. It settled down on the ground, squarely facing the box as if resigned to a long wait; the twitching of its feelers the only animation. Other insects also approached, ants- travelling in a solid file surrounded the box briefly before concluding that the dark halo was entirely unknown and thoroughly impregnable. The ants retreated in confusion, lacking the coherence with which they arrived in a rambling, rushing flood of armour. Other insects came and went with varying reactions: flying insects were unable to land on the box and buzzed ineffectually about it; gastropods found they could get no grip with their powerful feet and got no further.

Eventually all the insects left, except for that first beetle to come on the scene. Hours had passed and all manner of creeping, crawling insectile life had been unable to so much as lay a feeler upon the black disc or the white block on it. The beetle’s feelers waved feebly and it reared up on its hindmost legs, gesticulating in the air, weaving a complex of patterns with its segmented limbs, spread wide in appeal and calm, encouraging gestures. The beetle’s wings unfolded and re-folded producing a rasping rhythm to accompany its dance. Finished, the beetle hesitated briefly as it regained its footing and then shook its heavy carapace from side to side; the beetle rocked more and more violently, until it overcame its own sense of balance and toppled, rolling helpless onto its back.

The legs did not waggle frantically as might be expected; rather the legs extended fully and bent in half, bringing the sharp points of six feet to rest along the centre of the beetle’s abdomen. Those feet dug down, hard and swift into the beetle and the abdomen split, smoothly and cleanly with no outpouring of fluids. The two halves rolled back into the shell and the head flipped back as if hinged, leaving a gaping opening into the body of the bug. Its interior was faintly lighted, and became brighter, casting a tiny silhouette out over the beetle’s upside-down head. That shadow vanished, to be replaced by a powerful beam of light which passed over the black disc and onto the white box, not merely reaching, but piercing the smooth finish; ripples formed as the beam struck, suggesting motion. Simultaneously, the beetle rose into the air and towards the box. It passed the darkness and followed the beam of light into the whiteness: the beetle was smoothly enveloped as if sunk gently in a mildly viscous pool.

Still once more, all ripples caused by that beam of light now spent, the box gave no hint that the beetle had entered it. The black halo began to fall back, slickly running up over the white box, consuming it in blackness again, but this time broken by tiny, distant-star-like points, slowly moving in spirals about the box, rising ever upwards. As the spirals continued to rise, they coiled, their multicoloured specks fusing together, coating the box in vivid iridescent rainbows until the whole box was one spectral mass, the previous luminescence now rich and oily again. The box rose slowly into the air, grass beneath it straightening themselves and creaking with the effort, up and up it rose, above the holed wall, high into the air still visible as a dark, shining speck hurtling upwards past the limits of vision, and on.

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