“Forget everything you know,” Aunt Dora told me. “Forget everything you THINK you know. Movies and video games have little to do with reality, and if you look to them for advice and instruction, then you will surely be disappointed.”
With those words, Aunt Dora swung a broadsword right at me, and it was all I could do to bring my own sword up in time to block. Of course, she was holding back and moving pretty slowly, but for someone who’d never used a real sword before, it seemed pretty fast to me.
“Block like this,” Aunt Dora told me, demonstrating the proper movement with the sword. “And remember your grip…”
For a brief moment, I wondered how I’d ended up getting sword lessons from Aunt Dora, but then I remembered. I’d been playing a game on my DS, when she came and began watching me. I started to explain how my character uses a sword to fight, which led to her snorting in disgust and insisting that she’d teach me about real sword fighting.
“Keep your blade up,” Cliff offered from a short distance away. “Don’t lower your guard.”
Mom and Dad had come in on us, while Aunt Dora was showing me how to swing a sword. “I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” Dad said with a worried expression. “Someone could get hurt.”
“It’s fine,” Mom told him with an amused look. “And besides, it looks like Dora is having fun.”
“She’s having fun,” I pointed out. “But what about me?”
“What about you?” Mom asked with a chuckle.
I glared at her. “Traitor.”
When Aunt Dora was finally done, she put the swords away and gave me a nod of approval. “This is how a real sword works, not by pushing some buttons on a toy.”
“Why would I ever need to know how to use a real sword?” I asked her. “I mean, people use guns now, not swords…”
“Very true,” Aunt Dora agreed, with a faint smile of amusement. “But a sword has the distinct advantage of never running out of ammunition.”
With that, Aunt Dora went and joined my parents, while I watched them. Seeing Mom and Aunt Dora together, it was hard to believe that I’d ever thought they could be sisters. Mom had shoulder-length, auburn hair, and a natural tan to her skin. The two of them looked almost nothing alike.
Then my eyes moved to Dad, who had naturally reddish-blonde hair, which was almost entirely bald on top. However, he tried to compensate for this by having a ‘dignified’ beard. I took after Dad in looks, a lot more than I did my mom. I even had the same hair-color, though I hoped that was as far as it went. I didn’t want to start losing my hair by the time I was thirty, the way he had.
“I think it is about time for lunch,” Aunt Dora announced, bringing my attention back to what was currently going on. “Cliff, if you wouldn’t mind…”
Lunch consisted of soup and sandwiches, which were pretty good. After the workout that Aunt Dora had given me with the swords, I was sore and more than a little hungry. I wolfed down my lunch, then slipped away while everyone else remained behind and talked.
After grabbing my DS, I was about to head back to the guest room where I’d slept last night, when I overheard some of the conversation that was still going on. Being naturally curious, I paused and listened in a little more closely, wondering if I might be able to get some more details about one of those trips that Mom used to take with Aunt Dora. However, I was surprised to realize that they were talking about me instead.
“Unfortunately,” Mom said, “the only real interest that Byron shows in history or mythology, is when it relates to one of his games…”
“True,” Dad said with a chuckle. “When he was going through that Dungeons and Dragons phase a year or two ago, he asked me a lot of questions about mythological creatures he might encounter in his game…”
“And that is obviously why you kept encouraging him to play,” Mom pointed out.
“Of course,” Dad said, sounding rather pleased. “I just wish he would have stuck with that, rather than getting into music. My ears are still ringing from that electric guitar…”
“Now,” Mom said in an exasperated tone, “the only thing Byron really seems interested in, are girls, and those video games of his…”
“That is a pity,” Aunt Dora commented. “But Byron is still young, and may yet follow in your paths to become a scholar.”
“You might consider having him enlist,” Cliff offered. “A tour in the army did wonders for my son.”
I shuddered at that and muttered, “No thanks.” I wasn’t sure that I liked Cliff giving advice to my parents. In fact, I was a little worried that if our visit was long enough, he might even manage to convince my parents to send me to military school or something.
Since the conversation wasn’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped, and my eavesdropping was only giving me things to worry about, it was time to be done with that, and to get back to my game. I was looking forward to making a bit more progress, and maybe even getting further ahead of where my friend Scott was.
Suddenly, an alarm began going off, and I would have thought it was the smoke detector, if Cliff hadn’t exclaimed, “We have an intruder…”
Cliff burst out of the kitchen and raced into the living room, where he opened a cabinet and revealed that the inside of it was full of weapons. My mouth dropped open in surprise. Without even a moment of hesitation, he pulled out a short machine gun of some kind, and a sword. Then, to my even greater surprise, Mom reached into the same cabinet and took out a gun too.
“Take cover,” Mom ordered, popping out the clip, glancing at the bullets, and then slapping it back in. Mom looked like she actually knew how to use the thing. “Byron. Lucas. Get to the basement.”
Mom was starting towards the basement stairway with us, when the living room window suddenly exploded in, with a massive ball of flame coming through it. I gaped at the sight, momentarily wondering if someone was trying to break in with a flame thrower. All I could do was stare at the destroyed window in stunned disbelief and confusion. And of course, there was fear, but at that moment, I was more in shock than anything else.
I knew Aunt Dora had some valuable antiquities stored in her house, which was why she had the fence and security cameras around her house. Someone was trying to break in, to rob Aunt Dora. That was the only thing that made sense.
“Get down,” Cliff yelled, opening fire and shooting out the hole where the window had been.
A moment later, another ball of fire exploded through the next window over, and then to the next. What was left of the curtains were on fire, as were several bits of furniture. However, Cliff ignored the fire and continued shooting. Then, he abruptly stopped.
“I got him,” Cliff announced. “I’m going to go out and see who he was…”
“Be careful,” Aunt Dora warned him.
“I’ll go with,” Mom volunteered, holding up her own gun. I just stared at my mom, wondering when she’d suddenly become such a badass.
Mom and Cliff went outside, while the rest of us remained where we were. I went the hole in the wall, where there had previously been a window, and looked outside. Dad told me to back up and get away, but I ignored him.
I could see someone outside, lying motionless in the yard. He had something on the ground beside him, but it didn’t look like a weapon, and I couldn’t quite make out what it was. A minute later, Cliff bent down beside his body and began looking it over. Then, Cliff picked up the item beside the attacker, holding it up so that I could see that it looked like some kind of staff.
“What the Hell is going on?” I demanded, shaking a little now that the excitement seemed to be over.
I looked to Dad for answers, but he looked like he was just as stunned by everything as I was. He just stood there, staring out the window, without saying a single word.
“This is inconvenient,” Aunt Dora said as she came over with a fire extinguisher and began putting out the flames. “That was my favorite chair too…”
Mom and Cliff came back into the house, carrying that staff they’d found outside. Now that it was closer, I could see that it was made of some dark wood that was nearly black, and that there was some kind of metal head that held a red crystal.
“A fire staff,” Aunt Dora said with a grim expression. “I haven’t seen one of these in over forty years…”
I gave Aunt Dora a look of surprise. She didn’t look like she was even forty years old, which once again made me wonder just how old she actually was. The whole joke about being a vampire, suddenly didn’t seem so funny anymore.
“This was the only item he had on him,” Cliff said. “He didn’t have any ID.”
Aunt Dora let out a sigh. “It seems that someone has found me, after all this time…”
“It was bound to happen eventually,” Cliff pointed out. “You know that.”
“What’s going on?” I repeated my previous demand.
Mom scowled. “Byron, you need to go down into the basement where it’s safe…”
“No,” Aunt Dora said, giving Mom a flat look. “Your son has reasonable questions, and I believe he is old enough to understand…”
Aunt Dora held out her hands, and suddenly, she was holding a large wooden box. The box was about eighteen inches wide and across, and about a foot or so deep. The entire thing appeared to be made of dark wood, though not as dark as the staff, and the top of the box was intricately carved. As I stared at it, the carvings actually seemed to be slowly moving.
Without saying a word, Aunt Dora set the box on the ground, and then she opened the lid. The inside of the box, was dark, and seemed to be filled with swirling shadows and fog, so that I couldn’t make out anything beyond that. Then, Aunt Dora took the staff from Cliff, stared at it for a moment, and placed it into the box. The whole staff went in and vanished, and as soon as it had, the lid closed…without anyone touching it.
My eyes shot wide in disbelief and confusion. “How?” I blurted out. When Aunt Dora looked at me, I exclaimed, “That staff was like, five feet long… How in the world did it fit in that box?”
Aunt Dora gave me a faint look of amusement, and said, “It’s bigger on the inside.”
For a moment, I just stood there, staring at Aunt Dora and the box. Suddenly, I felt like I’d just stepped into the middle of some movie or video game, because whatever was going on, it was not normal. Not in the least.
After taking a deep breath to calm myself, I looked to Mom and then Aunt Dora again, before demanding, “What in the world is going on?”
“The answer to that,” Aunt Dora responded with a deep sigh, “is a long and complicated one. But for now, I will tell you that my name is Pandora…and this is my box.”
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