I sat up in bed, and without consciously meaning to, I whispered, “I am Pandora.”
With those words spoken, I instantly remembered my dream. It had been so clear and vivid, that I had no doubt that it was more than just a dream. I could feel the truth of that through every fiber of my being, all the day down to my soul. I was Pandora, even though I didn’t fully understand exactly what that meant yet.
When I climbed out of bed, I wasn’t surprised to find the wooden box sitting on the floor beside me. The truth was, I’d known it was there already. I could…feel it, even if I hadn’t consciously realized I could until that moment.
Then, as I considered the strange connection I had to the box, I was suddenly able to see it. A thick strand of golden light, stretched between me and the box, almost as though we were tied together. One end came out of the front of the box, while the other end, went straight into my navel. I ran my hand through the strand, but my hand passed through it as though it wasn’t even there. But in spite of the fact that it wasn’t there, I could still see and feel it.
“What the…?” I started to ask, but the answer was obvious. I’d been told that I was now connected to the box, but this was a little more literal than I’d realized.
A few seconds later, I turned my attention away from the thread, and it faded away from my view, so I could no longer see it. However, I could still feel it…and the box. And when I focused on the thread again, it once again became clear and visible to my eyes.
“So, you really are the new Pandora,” Cliff said, making me jump because I hadn’t realized that he was awake. He sat up in bed and carefully touched his injured shoulder, and the bandages covering it. There was a wince, but he made no sound. “I’m sorry for that.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said.
Aunt Dora was the one who’d died, leaving me to get stuck with it. That Alexander guy was the one who’d murdered her. And of course, the box was the one who’d picked me, though how a box could pick anyone, or even have an opinion, still didn’t make much sense to me. However, there was magic involved, and I had absolutely no idea how that stuff really worked.
After letting out a sigh, I went to the bathroom to take care of my business. I could still feel the box and my connection to it. When I looked back at the thread, it had stretched out and actually went through the door, even with the door closed. It was there, yet it wasn’t. I shook my head at that, suspecting that I was the only one who’d be able to see it.
So far, I’d only been awake for ten minutes, and already, I’d been faced with some pretty strange things. However, I quickly discovered that as strange as my morning had been so far, it was only going to get worse. When I relieved myself, I was immediately struck with the sense that something was wrong with my body, but it was hard to pin down what. But then, I looked into the mirror and gasped in surprise.
“My eyes,” I blurted out, reaching to the mirror. Normally, my eyes were a bluish-grey, but now, they’d changed color. They were dark, nearly black. “Just like…”
I was shaken by the realization that my eyes were now the same color as Aunt Dora’s…and every Pandora in my dream. It wasn’t until then that it dawned on me, that every Pandora looked the same…except for me. I was the only one who didn’t look exactly like Aunt Dora. A cold knot formed up in my stomach as I considered why they all looked alike.
“No,” I whispered.
I ran my hands though my hair, which was noticeably darker than normal, as well as a couple inches longer. My skin looked a little pale, which wasn’t a big deal, except I also noticed that several of my scars from childhood accidents were gone. For the last five years, I’d had a long and nasty scar along my left ankle, courtesy of getting caught in some barbed wire, but now, I could barely make it out at all. I was changing.
“I’m turning into Pandora,” I whispered in dread.
Suddenly, I knew what Mom hadn’t told me last night, and I understood why. From what I saw in my dream, every Pandora looked like Aunt Dora, and if I was now Pandora… I closed my eyes, screaming in silent frustration. It was no wonder Mom hadn’t wanted to tell me. I couldn’t imagine any easy way of telling me that I might end up turning into a girl.
“Maybe I won’t turn into a girl,” I told myself hopefully. “Maybe I’m going to turn into a boy version of her…” However, I had a hard time believing that. I was already starting to look a little feminine and girly, which included my junk being smaller than normal.
When I came out of the bathroom a couple minutes later, I was in a sour mood. Cliff was already dressed, and gave me a worried look. He glanced to the box and scowled, though he still didn’t say anything. Instead, he pulled out all his weapons and spread them out on his bed, and began looking them over, as if he wanted to make sure that he knew exactly what he had available.
I got dressed, and just in time, because Mom arrived just a couple minutes after that. She came into our room and took one long look at the box, not seeming the least surprised to see it there. Unhappy, but not surprised. Then, she stared at me, and I could see the worry in her eyes.
“Honey,” Mom finally said, wincing at the sight of me. “I’m… I’m so sorry…”
With a nod, I sat down on my bed and let out a sigh. My eyes went to the box, and I stared at it for several seconds before saying, “Last night, I had a dream.” I looked to Mom. “I dreamed about Aunt Dora and the other Pandoras. They…they said I’m one of them now.”
Mom came over and ran a hand through my hair, obviously noticing the new length and color. “Everything will work out,” she said, though I suspected that she was trying to convince herself even more than me. “Everything is going to be fine.”
“Is it?” I demanded, with tears starting to form. “Those guys murdered Dad and Aunt Dora… Now I’m changing…” I clenched my firsts in frustration, not sure how to express what I was feeling, other than just screaming.
“If the Kraesses find out that there’s a new Pandora,” Cliff pointed out grimly. “Or that they still have a chance at the box…”
“I know,” Mom said. “We can’t let that happen.”
“So, what now?” I asked, just trying to keep from freaking out. “Am I going to keep changing until I look like Aunt Dora? Does that happen with everyone who gets the box?”
Mom was silent for a moment, then nodded. “I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But I believe so.” She took a deep breath. “Dora once told me that she used to look quite different. When she was young, she was a servant for her predecessor, the previous Pandora. When that Pandora died, the box came to Dora, and changed her so that she looked just like her predecessor.” Mom smiled faintly, though it was a somewhat pained smile. “She said that she took her predecessor’s identity, and just pretended to be her. It was easier than explaining who she really was…”
“And a lot better to be the rich lady, than the poor servant,” Cliff added with a forced chuckle of his own.
Mom nodded at that. “Dora believed that she and her predecessors all looked alike, because they were all modeled from the first Pandora, or at least, the woman who was first bound to the box. I don’t know if the first Pandora was bound to the box by whoever created it, or if the box chose her the way it did the others. However, Dora believes…believed that the box imprinted on her specifically, because she was supposed to be the only one tied to it, and that there was never supposed to be anyone else after her.”
“It obviously didn’t work out like that,” I pointed out with a snort.
“No plan survives engagement with the enemy,” Cliff stated.
“Things may not have gone according to plan,” Mom agreed. She gave me another worried look, and continued, “What I do know, is that the box tries to protect the person it is bound to. It tries to keep Pandora alive.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then stared intently at me. “Whenever it finishes changing you, you’ll stop aging. You’ll never age again after that. You’ll never get sick. And whenever you get injured, you’ll heal at amazing speeds. I’ve seen Dora lose an arm, only to grow it back in less than a week.”
“Wait,” I gasped, staring at my mom in disbelief. “Then that means…”
“You aren’t immortal,” Mom said quietly. “None of the Pandoras were. But…you won’t ever die of natural causes either. As it is, if you’re lucky and careful, you might live for a VERY long time.” She took a deep breath, looking almost pained again. “Dora was over four hundred years old…”
“If something doesn’t kill you right off,” Cliff added with a deep scowl, putting his hand on his pistol in order to let me know what he meant, “then you’ll be able to heal from it in no time at all, no badly how bad you’re injured.”
“But why is it changing me?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“Because,” Mom answered carefully. “The blueprint that the magic uses to…heal…appears to be based off the first Pandora. Dora thought that whoever created the box, never expected that she’d be killed, or that the box would then replace her.”
With a gulp, I stared at the wooden box, which was still where I’d found it this morning on the floor. “And it turns the replacements into her…like it’s trying to make a new part…that’s an exact copy of the one it’s replacing.”
“That is what Dora believed,” Mom said with a sigh. “But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. There are far too many unanswered questions about this thing.”
“Oh God,” I gasped, dropping my face into my hands and then crying. This whole situation was terrifying. “I can’ turn into Aunt Dora… This kind of thing is impossible…”
“I know,” Mom quietly said as she gave me a hug. “I wish it was. I wish you weren’t stuck with this. And I wish your father and Dora were still with us…” She was crying too at this point. “But wishing for something doesn’t make it true. Things are how they are, and we just have to learn how to deal with them.”
Cliff stood back, grimly nodding agreement. “We need to get going,” he finally said. “I’ve got a place we can go, a cabin I had built some time back. It’ll be the perfect place to lay low and figure things out.” He gave me a worried look, then glanced to the box and scowled.
Without saying a word, I wiped the tears from my eyes, then gathered the rest of my luggage. After only a moment of hesitation, I picked up the box, which was much lighter than I would have expected. It felt hard and solid, but didn’t weigh much more than a styrofoam cooler. A couple minutes later, we were all loaded up in the car, and then we were on the road again.
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