Thursday, April 1, 2010

"The Box on the Porch"

"Hey, Eleni. What's that?" Dori pointed at the far end of the portico.

Eleni paused in her weeding of the temple's front flower bed. She put a hand across her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun. The object was tucked into a corner, hidden from the noonday sun by the portico's tiled roof, and shrouded in shadow.

"I have no idea."

"Well it wasn't there when we came out this morning." Dori got to her feet.

"Dori, don't. It isn't our place to look. We're supposed to finish weeding this bed before lunch."

"It won't take long." Dori brushed off her hands on the front of her acolyte's dress, smearing dirt and debris across the fabric. Eleni sighed. If her friend could just channel some of that endless curiosity into energy for their chores they would finish them much faster. Dori climbed the temple's steps to the portico and practically skipped to the the object's location. She bent down and tugged. A black cloth came up with her hand. Dori squealed with delight.

"Oh, Eleni, you've go to see this!"

"Dori, shhh!" Eleni hissed. She kept her voice low. "The priests will hear you. We're supposed to be working!"

"Then you best hurry, so we can get back to work before they find us. Hurry up, this is amazing."

Eleni sighed again. She knew Dori wouldn't be swayed. Her friend was even more stubborn than she was curious. The best way to get her back to working would be to follow along - as quickly as possible. She got to her feet andrushed up the stairs. Her thought was to quickly look at Dori's
find, and then dash back to the flower bed. What she saw on the porch, however, froze her in place.

It was exquisite. A box, approximately two podes to a side, made of what looked like mahogany. The wood was polished to an extraordinary sheen, such that it seemed to radiate its own light instead of reflecting what was in the environment. The sides of the box were carved with intricate designs that twisted about with loops and whorls. The pattern didn't make sense, until Eleni looked closer. That's when she realized it wasn't a single design, but several nested one inside the other. Trying to follow it with her eyes was making her dizzy. She shifted her attention to the lid.

It was no less fantastic. The entire top was inlaid with tiny squares of nacre. The color palette was an incredibly subtle variation in white, but the image was clear - a pastoral scene. As she shifted her weight to the right to get a better view, the tiled picture also changed, this time showing a grand, cloud wreathed mountain. Eleni gasped. She moved back and the picture shifted once again, back to it's original image.

"Who could have put it here?"

Dori's question brought Eleni back to herself. Before she could respond Dori continued.

"I mean, we were here all morning, right? Surely we would have seen if someone had carried something this large onto the portico. We haven't seen anyone at all."

The answer came to Eleni immediately. It escaped her lips before she could stop herself. "The gods...."

Dori's eyes grew wide. "Do you really think so? It makes, sense, I guess. This is a temple, after all."

It didn't make _any_ sense. The gods didn't just leave their things lying about for anyone to find. They would have left it _in_ the temple, where the high priest could find it. Wouldn't they? But what other explanation was there? No mere mortal could have created _that._

"Let's see what's inside!"

"No!" The very thought of touching the box filled Eleni with dread. "Dori, we have no idea what it's for. We don't ever touch the relics of the gods. Not ever! Even the priests keep their distance."

Dori paused. Eleni could see the war in her eyes, Dori's natural curiosity contending with Eleni's warning. The result was inevitable.

"I have to know what's in there."

"Dori!" Eleni lunged for her friend, but she was too late. Dori's hands closed on the lid. In an instant she had thrown it back.

A shriek, loud enough to wake the very dead pierced them. The shadows of the portico seemed to deepen, drawn to the dark interior of the box. Dread seized Eleni, grasping her about the heart with ice cold fingers.

"What have you done?" she gasped. "Oh, Pandora, what have you done?"

There was a sudden moment of stifling silence, then all Hades broke loose.