Tobee felt her feet leave the path by the river as she started to float.
Slowly tumbling end over end, she tried to scream, but her throat closed and she could only gasp.
Weightlessness ended with a splash and this time she did scream. Fortunately, in late summer, the shallow river flowed slowly. She stood, easily resisting the mild current. The frigid water was at her knees as she struggled to balance and walk on the rock-strewn riverbed to reach shore six feet or so away.
That’s when she saw the Anything Box.
Tobee was sixteen-years-old, considered too independent by her mother, and liked to be alone with God, which is why she prayed by the river and not in church. She preferred the river to being around her drunken Mom, too.
She was soaked as she clamored up the dirt and grass bank to where the box was resting. It was perfectly square, a bit over four feet on each side, tilted at a slight angle on the uneven ground, and colored an astonishingly uniform black.
Tobee slapped her hands together to get off the dirt as she stood next to the box. “What are you?”
The box was fascinating, not because its presence was unanticipated, but because of the effect it had upon Tobee. It caused her to float for a few seconds and then rudely deposited her in the water. Tobee knew the box had done it but was unsure how she knew.
The box ignored her query as Tobee twisted the lower half of her t-shirt wringing out some of the water. She smelled like the river now, like humidity thick in the air before it rains, like slowly decaying vegetation.
She crouched down next to the box putting her face just a few inches from it. It wasn’t just completely black, it seemed to absorb light, like it wasn’t just colored or painted black, but was the soul of ebony, the essence of obsidian.
Tobee slowly reached out. Her right hand approached the top of the Anything Box.
Tobee jumped back, startled at the voice and the sudden flash of light. She fell backward and landed still staring at the box. It was black again, but in the instant the voice spoke she saw not just bright light, but visions.
There was a moment of intense, white light, and in that light, she saw her Daddy, saw him holding her hand crossing the street when she was two, saw him laughing at her as she took her first steps when she was one, saw him in the hospital bed dying of cancer when she was ten.
Then he was gone, the light was gone. The Anything Box was black and silent.
“Daddy?” Should she try to touch the box again? Would she see her Daddy again?
“Child.” This time the voice was softer, a woman’s voice. The box pulsed with light as she spoke, but it was milder this time, and there were no visions.
“Who…who are you?” Tobee was still sitting, oblivious to her wet clothes, to the mud where they touched the earth. She was shivering both with fright and cold. What is this thing? Where is her Daddy?
“I am here my child.” Still a woman’s voice. For a second, Tobee thought her Daddy was answering what she was thinking.
“I am anything and everything, child. Don’t be afraid.”
Same soothing woman’s voice. Same gentile light as she spoke.
“The Anything Box.” Tobee christened the miraculous object.
“You may call me that, though you have called me by other names.”
“I have?” Tobee was on her knees now, just a little closer, just a little bit less afraid of the box.
“You miss him, you miss your Daddy.”
Unwanted tears welled in Tobee’s eyes. She didn’t like crying, especially in front of anyone. Another reason to pray alone by the river. To tell God how much she still missed Daddy.
“Yes. How do you know? How could I see him in you?”
“My child, I know everything and everything is in me. Even your Daddy is in me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Fear and anticipation made her chest hurt.
“I have come to answer you. I have come to let you see him.”
The light flashed again, but instead of subsiding, it grew and grew and grew around Tobee.
Then she was surrounded by the light. Then she wasn’t by the river anymore.
Tobee was five-years-old. “Okay, Tobee. I’ve got the back of your bike. All you have to do is pedal.”
Daddy was teaching her how to ride a big girl’s bike. He’d taken off the training wheels because she had told him she was ready. She was grinning, gripping the handlebars so tight it made her hands hurt. She was terrified and thrilled.
“Go, Tobee. Start pedaling!”
She pushed down, first one pedal then the other, faster and faster. She didn’t notice when her Daddy let go. Then she was wobbling, losing her balance, falling…
Then Tobee was three and sitting on her Daddy’s shoulders. They were at the Fourth of July parade, and nobody had a better view of the show than she did.
Then Tobee was six and Daddy was holding her hand. It was the first day of school. He let go when the bell rang so she could go inside. Tobee looked back when she got to the door. He was smiling at her.
Then she was by the river.
“Can I see more of him…more of Daddy?”
“Child, you can one day, when you pass from this world. Then you will be in me and you can be with him.”
Suddenly, Toby jumped inside of the Anything Box and it engulfed her. It flashed a brilliant white, then blue, and then it was gone. Tobee was with her Daddy again. Tobee was inside of God.
James Pyles is a published technical writer and editor who is starting to break into fiction writing, particularly science fiction and fantasy, with a side of horror. His books on technology have been published by Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, O’Reilly Media, and others. Follow him on Twitter at @jamespyles and visit his blog https://poweredbyrobots.com/.
Image by David Kutschke