Growing up in sleepy St. Helena in the late 1960s and early ‘70s I became fascinated by Greek mythology. I spent hours reading the ancient tales of adventure and many more hours imagining what it must have been like to exist within such a fantastical world where magic and gods engaged with humanity on a personal level.
Of particular interest was what it might be like to be one of the less-developed characters within the sagas. For example, for months, after reading the story of “Pandora’s Box” I wondered what life must have been like inside the box before it was opened. I’d learned that Pandora had been given a box (actually a jar in the original story) by a vengeful Zeus intent on punishing her lover’s brother. When a curious Pandora opens the box, all the “evils” of the world are released, with only “hope” left behind. Here’s a three-part story that came from those musings.
Inside Pandora’s Box — Part One
by Tim Carl
“Look, it's just a matter of balance,” said Plague Virus.
No one was listening except Envy, who examined Virus up and down, thinking he looked pretty good with his spaceship-shaped body, all hexagon and transparent. “I wish I had a body like that,” he said under his breath.
From a distant corner a trembling voice called, “I'm scared.”
The group paused for a moment and then erupted in a roar of laughter.
“I can't believe Fear is afraid again -- what a wimp,” said Tapeworm.
“You can tease me all you want, but I am just being honest,” Fear said, lowering his little pointy head, his wee beady eyes wet and glassy.
The light began to fade and everybody looked up.
“Hope, keep your damn light on. We have work to do down here,” said Tick, who had taken it upon herself to become the de facto leader. “How can we get anything done with you continually fading?”
The light brightened, but only slightly.
For what had seemed like many hours, maybe even days, years or longer, they had all found themselves together in the dark, the only light coming from the glow of Hope as she hovered above, keeping her distance from the others. The floor was smooth and shiny, probably some type of polished metal. No walls or ceiling were visible from where they stood. Stacked nearby, Centipede had found crates of food, water and some wool blankets. Using a few of the crates, Tick had built a makeshift table around which the group now gathered. Jealousy had been put in charge of rationing the supplies. Hope’s dim light made the whole scene look like a seedy card game.
“OK, who remembers how we got here in the first place?” Tick snapped, sliding a limp mouth tentacle along the top of one of the crates.
“Please don’t put that thing on the table.” said a dark wispy creature with long, sharp fangs "It’s the only place we have to eat, and you’re putting your slimily mouth parts all over it.”
“Who the heck are you anyway?” asked Tick.
“Me? My name is Passive Aggressive. Not trying to offend, but I think a little more decorum would go a long way.”
“Please keep your opinions to yourself. My mouth parts are not slimy and are certainly cleaner than your breath, which I can smell from here.”
Envy slipped back into the darkness.
“Hey, Wasp, have you gathered your search party together?” asked Tick.
“Yes, sir ... ma’am ... anyway, I’ve got both ground and air patrols ready for orders,” said Wasp, rubbing her barbed mandibles back and forth.
“Great. With a floor like this, seems to me we’ve got to be in some sort of building or some sort of container. So get out there and see if there is a ceiling to this thing and if you can find any walls or exit points. Be careful, you might find other groups. No idea if they’ll be hostile. It will be dark and difficult work. Report back within the hour.”
Wasp gave a quick salute and flew off to gather her troops. The light flickered above.
Time passed slowly as they waited for Wasp’s return. They could hear sounds out in the dark, as if they were surrounded by other beings just out of the light’s reach. Tick once noticed the glaring reflections of eyes beyond the puddle of light but said nothing about it to the others, not wanting to cause alarm.
It was getting cold. Fear shivered.
“Who’s been hoarding all the smokes?” asked Bedbug, nervously preening his legs.
“Yeah, and where’d all the doughnuts go?” added Gluttony, who had just then crawled into view.
Everyone turned accusingly toward a limp green man with long thinning hair.
“Why’s everyone looking at me?” he asked, briefly looking up toward Hope.
“Look, Gluttony, we know you got the stuff. Hand it over,” said Rattlesnake, flicking her tongue in and out slowly.
Gluttony looked around at the glaring eyes surrounding him.
“OK, OK. Here. Take 'em,” he said as he handed out cigarettes and doughnuts. “They’ll kill you, you know. Just trying to save you guys from your bad habits.”
“The patrols should have been back by now,” said Tick as she slyly glanced over at Mosquito, who stood near a crate absentmindedly stroking her distended belly. “We need to figure out who put us here and how we can get out. I don’t know about you all, but I need to get back to my family -- they must be worried sick.”
Just then someone yelled, “I just hate waiting. Hate, hate, hate it.”
Everyone turned toward the speaker and then a collective groan permeated the air. Hate smiled a big toothy grin and took a deep bow, saying, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
More time passed. Everyone waited.
“Let's go over this again. Does anybody have a clue how we were all thrust into this situation?” asked Tick.
Everyone around the table was quiet.
“We’ve gone over this like a million times before,” said a completely flummoxed Streptococcus Bacteria. “No one remembers anything about how we got here or why. One minute we’re just going about our business and then the next minute we’re here.”
Something rustled from under a blanket near the remaining stacked crates, and a dark figure poked out his head. No one had noticed him before, and when they could finally see his face in the dim light everyone gasped and turned away, for it was the ugliest thing anyone had ever seen. It had a small, misshaped head with slanting black gashes where eyes should have been, and enormous broken teeth jutted out from its swollen red lips.
It spoke in a slippery voice, “Maybe I can help?”
“Go on,” said Tick, still looking away.
“I overheard a conversation just as I was being shoved into this place. I couldn’t see anyone, but it sounded like a man and woman talking. Something about a guy getting back at another guy. Something about a box filled with ... couldn’t make it out...”
“Who are you?” asked Tick, sneaking a quick look at the hideous creature but then needing to turn quickly back away.
“My name is Revenge. But my friends call me Justice.”
“OK, Revenge,” said Tick, “why didn’t you tell us this earlier? And what else do you know?”
Revenge shrugged his shoulders. “I only talk with friends,” he said and went back under the blanket.
A buzzing and flapping of wings could be heard coming in from the distance.
“Reporting back,” said Wasp as she landed near the table.
“What’s out there?” asked Tick.
Everyone waited anxiously.
“Looks like there are thousands of other things out there in the dark. Hard to make out just who or what they are, but they don’t appear hostile -- just as confused as we are by the look of it. Also, seems like we are in a container of some kind. After a long flight Crow found walls on all sides, same material as the floor, and Vulture reports a high ceiling. Cockroach found some symbols on the wall, maybe writing, but couldn’t make out the language in the dark.”
Wasp finished her report with a long list of navigational details that no one understood and then asked, “Anyone got a beer? I’d kill for a beer.”
“I’ve got one,” said Vice with a crooked smile.
“Forget the damn beer!" Tick stammered. “This is far worse than I thought. If all these things were put in here but no one can remember by whom or for what purpose, then we have a serious problem on our hands ... things ... appendages, whatever. Whoever did this must have an agenda. A plan. They are obviously not our friends.” Tick tapped her mouth parts on the table.
“What does it all mean?” asked Confusion.
“What does it mean?” Tick said, looking down hard at the table. “It means we have to be ready for anything. We’ll need to be ready for an escape or to defend ourselves or maybe even to attack whoever did this to us.”
There was silence as everyone pondered this revelation.
Bedbug lit up a cigarette and Cancer joined him.
“This is nothing,” said Bedbug, taking in a deep draw of smoke. “When I was younger I was in the war. No food and cold as hell. Only got out of there because...”
“I was in the war, too!” broke in Mistrust. “Double-agent duty.”
Then Mistrust looked up toward Hope and asked the others in a low voice, “Hey, why aren’t any of her family members here? I mean, I don’t see anyone else that looks like Hope around here.”
A few eyes looked up wearily.
“Probably think they're too good for us,” Envy chimed in.
Vulture stood at the edge of the table and whispered, “I agree. We need to be careful ... we might want to think about what we’d do with a spy.” Then, looking up, “Think about it, that’s all I'm saying.”
Everyone around the table nodded slowly.
Hope squeaked from above, but no one understood what she was saying.
As everyone pondered Hope’s allegiance, Tick quietly slipped nearer to Mosquito.
Just then the entire room started to shake, and everyone felt as if they were in an elevator, going up. Most fell to the floor, and Hope’s light suddenly went out.
“What the hell is this?” gasped Plague Virus as he was being squashed down on the floor due to the force of the upward movement.
“I don’t know, but something weird ... or weirder... is going on,” hissed Rattlesnake, who had slithered around the base of one of the crates.
“We’re all gonna die,” whimpered Fear, tears starting to stream down his face.
“Serves you all right,” said Revenge in a muffled voice from under the blanket.
The movement stopped abruptly, and in the next few moments everyone worked to regain their composure.
Then, “Shhh. Shh,” said Tick, “Quiet. I can hear someone coming.”
From high above they could hear a muffled melodic voice, comforting like a distant mountain waterfall. The sound was feminine and hypnotic, and almost everyone smiled and began to sway back and forth as if they were hearing an ancient hymn or maybe wind through pine trees.
“What is she saying?” asked Fear, who was rocking to and fro on his heels, smiling like a schoolboy experiencing his first crush.
“Quiet everyone. Hard to make out ... something about...” said Tick.
Everyone was quiet.
“A woman seems to be talking about Respect and the guy is talking about Forgiveness.”
Tick gazed around at the group. “Should have known those bastards – Respect and Forgiveness -- were involved with this. I bet they're out there organizing this whole damn thing. Those guys have so much hate...”
“Someone called?” Hate asked.
“No, no, no ...” stammered Tick, “What I mean is, those guys are so full of malice ...”
“Over here,” Malice said, raising her hand.
Tick sighed. “This is exactly my point. The entire system, even the language, is one-sided ... completely skewed.”
“I know, that’s what I've been trying to say, there’s no balance,” said a put-out looking Plague Virus.
“Well, I think we all know what all this means...,” said War.
“Unfortunately, I think you may be right,” said Tick.
Hope’s light was faded and gray.
High above a crack opened slightly and light streamed in. Everyone turned away.
“Quiet everyone. She’s talking again,” said Tick. “ This time she’s saying something about ... her gift? A box maybe?”
“I think someone wants to open a box,” said Greed, licking his lips. “Maybe we are in a large box and she is trying to let us out.”
A cheer erupted from around the table.
“We’re going to be saved!” squeaked Hope, filling the room with her bright golden fluorescence.
“It’s probably a trick,” yelled Mistrust.
“Agreed,” said Tick.
Just then a booming male voice yelled, “Stop! Please do not open that box!”
The crack of light quickly closed and then there seemed to be another earthquake.
It felt like they were all in the hull of a ship during a rough storm, everyone thrown to the ground, jostling this way and that, Hope’s light weakening.
The crack of light above seemed to be opening and closing as the room violently crashed right and left, up and down.
The male voice was pleading that the box remain closed, but the female voice was resolute.
“This is mine and I will do with it what I want,” the female voice said, sounding strong and confident.
The shaking stopped and the room rocked back and forth softly.
Tick: “Wasp, prepare the troops. Get them ready for the attack.”
Wasp: “Aye-aye, Ma’am.”
The rocking ceased, and then the entire roof -- or maybe it was a ceiling -- suddenly opened wide and light poured in, filling the space with warmth and blinding white light.
For a few moments everything paused. Nothing seemed even to breathe, anticipating what was next.
Then Wasp gave a war cry.
“We charge to fates unknown in the defense of our kinsmen!” But she was quickly drowned out and nearly trampled by the mad rush of creatures clambering to get out, up toward the light, forming what looked like a dark mist pouring toward the sky.
“I had no idea there were so many in here,” said Tick as she discarded the listless body of Mosquito and then quickly crawled to the leg of Vulture as he was getting ready to fly up toward the open sky.
From outside the box there was a deafening gasp followed by the sound of weeping.
“What have I done?” The melodic female voice was now cracked and scratched.
“Forgive me, for it was I who brought on this travesty, giving away a most precious gift for which now we must pay the heaviest of prices,” the male voice said mournfully.
Light streamed in, and it was clear that they had all been in a large metal box, the walls glistening gold with intricate symbols and fine hand-carved shapes covering all surfaces except the floor.
Within moments after being opened, the box had been nearly emptied of its contents except for a few scattered crates and blankets strewn about the floor. Hope, however, her light barely visible, remained lying on the blanket where Revenge had been hidden for those many hours. Now Revenge was nowhere to be seen.
All was quiet and the air was still and dry.
A shadow passed over the box and a female face framed with golden hair looked down at Hope, her cobalt eyes glittering with tears.
“What do we have here?” the woman said in a decidedly dulcet tone as she reached down, gently, cautiously.
Originally published in the Napa Register, Jan. 2018