The Box's Pandora part 11

I was at the shooting range, with my arm extended and my hand firmly gripping the pistol. My finger pulled on the trigger and a moment later, a hole appeared in the target. I hadn’t hit dead center, but if I’d been shooting at a person instead of just a silhouette, I would have hit his shoulder.

“You’re getting better,” Theressa told me.

“Thanks,” I responded with a faint smile.

I looked around the shooting range, if it could really be called that. The nearest shooting range to the cabin was an old outdoor range, that had dirt berms all around it to catch any stray fire. This was a far cry from those shooting ranges that you see in all the cop movies, with the machines that sent the targets out or brought them up to you. Still, I guess it did the job, because I’d been able to practice shooting, which was the entire purpose.

Theressa and Jake stood a short distance behind me, keeping guard and giving me advice on how to improve my form and aim. My form wasn’t bad at all, which may have been due to that whole inherited muscle memory thing, but I still had to work on my accuracy. I was improving though, and could actually hit the target four times out of five. Now, if I could only get the center of the target where I was actually aiming.

I cleared the gun, then stood back to let Theressa take a turn shooting. I watched her hit the target dead center, three times in a row before one of her shots went off and hit two inches away from the others. While growing up, I never would have imagined that my mom would know how to use a gun, or that she’d be such a good shot. As I was learning, there was a lot about her that I didn’t know.

“If I can learn to use a sword,” I mused to myself, “I can learn to shoot a gun.”

My thoughts turned to the sword lessons from yesterday and this morning, and how quickly I’d been learning. In a way, it almost felt like I was simply relearning something that a part of me already knew how to do. Then again, if Theressa was right about my inheriting some of Aunt Dora’s muscle memories along with her body, then that was exactly what was happening.

However, I couldn’t help but remembering that dream where I’d met the previous Pandoras, and I wondered if there might be even more going on than just muscle memories. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anyone I could ask about this. The only expert that I really knew, had been murdered a few days ago, putting me into this situation in the first place. Whatever was happening to me, I was pretty sure that I’d have to figure a lot of it out on my own.

“I’m not completely on my own,” I quietly reminded myself, looking to Theressa, who had been extremely helpful with everything. If she’d been killed along with Dad and Aunt Dora, then I really would have been in serious trouble, or at least, even more than I was already in.

Once Theressa and Jake had finished shooting at their targets, it was my turn again. My aim was improving, and I was definitely getting a little closer to where I was actually aiming. Was I improving on my own, or was this more of that muscle memory stuff? I had no idea.

When we were finished, we cleaned up all the spent casings, then cleaned the weapons. It was only after we were done with this, that we finally left to return to the cabin.

While Theressa, Jake, and I had gone shooting, Cliff had remained behind to keep an eye on things at the cabin. When we returned, he came out front to meet us, giving a courtesy nod but not saying anything at first. However, he gave me a curious look, then glanced to the others.

“Pandora is picking it up rather quickly,” Theressa said, in answer to his unspoken question. “Not as quickly as with the sword fighting, but perhaps a little faster than normal…”

“There’s less muscle memory involved in learning to shoot,” Jake added.

Theressa nodded agreement. “There’s also the fact that Dora had probably been practicing with the sword for a good century or two before she began using firearms, so those reflexes might simply have been more ingrained.” Then she shrugged. “The truth is, as with so much about the box, we just don’t know enough about it to be sure.”

Mention of the box brought my attention back to it, not that it was ever far from my awareness. It was still floating behind me, invisible to everyone but me, and intangible as well. I couldn’t go anywhere without the thing, and it was starting to annoy me. The box didn’t interfere with my being able to move around, but it was beginning to feel like a ball and chain anyway.

After this, Jake and Cliff began to do another security sweep around the property, while Theressa went to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. I was about to offer my help, when I saw the look in her eyes and realized that she needed some time by herself. It was easy to forget, that I might have lost my dad, my body, and my very identity, but Theressa had lost her husband and her best friend. It amazed me that she wasn’t a total mess after that.

Since I didn’t have anything else to do, or at least, anything that I wanted to, I went to my room and picked up my DS. I flopped down on my bed and began to play, trying to distract myself with a little Pokemon. However, no matter how hard I tried, reality kept intruding into my thoughts.

Tears started to form in my eyes, and my hands shook a little as I tried to play. And then, there was the ache in my heart, which hurt even more. Dad and Aunt Dora were gone, and wouldn’t ever come back. Mom…Theressa was still here, but my relationship with her had changed in ways that I was still trying to wrap my head around. She was still here, but in a way, it was like I’d lost my mom too.

My whole life had just been flushed down the crapper, and I had no idea where I was going to go from here. Hell, I didn’t even really know who I was going to be from here. I was Pandora, but what did that mean besides being stuck with the box? Who was Pandora going to be?

“You’re a grown-up now,” I told myself, with my voice shaking just as much as my hands. “Put your big girl panties on and deal with it.”

Of course, that didn’t really help any, but it did remind me that I couldn’t afford to hide away in my room and playing video games. I was supposed to be an adult now, and that meant I had to act like one, whether I wanted to or not. With that in mind, I put away my DS, wiped my tears, then went to go see if there was anything productive I could do.

Theressa was still in the kitchen, and appeared to just be finishing up with dinner. “Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

“You can set the table,” she responded, giving me a smile.

“No problem,” I said with a nod before I went to work doing just that.

Ten minutes later, everyone was sitting around the table, plating up the meal that Theressa had cooked. There were pork chops, roasted potatoes, and some broccoli.

“Delicious,” Cliff said with a weak smile and a sad look in his eyes. I suspected that he was thinking of Aunt Dora’s cooking, and the fact that he’d never taste it again.

“Very good,” I added, knowing that this must have been awkward for her to make, since these pork chops had been one of Dad’s favorite meals.

We were about halfway through dinner, when there was a sudden, loud, beeping sound. Cliff and Jake immediately leapt to their feet, grabbing at their weapons. Theressa looked surprised and even a little confused for a second, before she leapt to her feet as well.

“One of the motion detectors was just tripped,” Cliff explained for my benefit. “We have an intruder.”

“It could just be a dog or wild animal,” Jake added, but the fact that he had a gun in his hand, suggested that he didn’t really believe that.

“What about me?” I asked, quickly looking around for a weapon that I could use too. I wasn’t carrying a gun like everyone else, but I was sure that there were several more around. And after the target practice from earlier today, I was confident in my ability to use one.

Before any of us could move more than ten feet from the table, the sound of gunfire suddenly filled the air. The dining room window exploded into shards of glass and bullets, along with half the windows in the living room. I dove to the ground for cover, as did everyone else. However, Cliff and Jake both popped back up again enough to shoot out the window.

“I don’t think that was a dog,” Theressa commented, before telling me, “Stay down…”

“They found us,” Cliff spat out angrily. “But how?”

“And why?” Theressa added grimly. “They must know we have the box, somehow.” She spared me a worried look.

Gunfire continued to erupt from outside the cabin, and I pressed myself flat against the floor, closing my eyes and ears in terror. The last time these people had come for the box, they’d murdered Dad and Aunt Dora, and now, they were back to finish the job. They were going to kill all of us.

“Come on,” Theressa exclaimed, tugging on my arm to get my attention. “We’re going to try slipping out the back.”

“I’ll provide cover,” Cliff said, crouching down beside the window.

I nodded at that, realizing that the shooting had stopped, though I doubted it would say that way for long. Then, I remembered what had happened when the shooting had all stopped back at Aunt Dora’s house.

“They’re gonna use that Peacemaker thing again,” I blurted out.

Theressa’s eyes widened, and she immediately dropped her gun. “She’s right…”

An instant later, the sky outside the window lit up with a green glow. Cliff and Jake both froze, caught in the power of that Peacemaker artifact that had been used during the last attack.

The moment the glow faded, Theressa muttered, “Damn...” Then she cautiously picked her gun back up again, as if afraid that even touching it would cause her to freeze as well. Fortunately, that wasn’t the situation.

Armed men burst through the front and back doors at the same time. For a moment, Theressa looked just as scared as I felt, but she quickly covered it up with a determined grimace and whispered, “Freeze… Don’t move.”

I immediately understood what Theressa meant, so stood where I was, pretending that I was frozen by the Peacemaker the way that Cliff and Jake were. I didn’t know how much good this would do, but was happy to follow Theressa’s lead. She obviously knew a lot more about this kind of thing than I did.

“Be careful,” A familiar voice said from the front door.

I immediately recognized the voice of Alexander Kraesse, and it was all I could do not to either run away in fear, or scream profanities at him. Instead, it took every ounce of willpower to remain motionless.

“Any violence will break the effect,” Alexander told his men.

My eyes darted to Theressa and the gun she was holding. I saw a faint flicker of a smile pass her face, as she realized the same thing I did. She had the power to snap Cliff and Jake out of it. That was what must have happened back at Aunt Dora’s house. When I’d begun shooting, Theressa had been unfrozen.

“Are you sure it’s here, sir?” one of the men asked Alexander.

Alexander held up a glass jar and stared into it for a moment. “Yes,” he responded with a satisfied expression. “The box is definitely close…”

A few seconds later, Alexander had come far enough into the cabin that he could see the four of us, standing there like statues. His eyes locked on me, and I could see the expression of surprise and confusion on his face, followed by one of cruel delight.

“You,” Alexander exclaimed with a cold smile. “Pandora… You’re still alive…”

“I thought the boss killed her,” one of the armed men whispered to another, though I could still hear it.

Alexander stared at me for several more seconds before carefully saying, “I don’t know how you could possibly still be alive, but I am grateful. Now, we will continue where we left off, with you bringing the box to me…”

“Bite me,” I spat out bitterly. I was so terrified that I was about ready to piss myself, but I was also angry, and focusing on the anger rather than the fear, was just a little easier at the moment.

“It seems that I will have to persuade you to do as I ask,” Alexander said. “And this time, I won’t make the mistake of killing you before I’m done…”

Theressa waited until Alexander was completely focused on me, then she suddenly snapped around and shot him twice in the chest. A medallion around his chest glowed and seemed to protect him from most of the damage, but he was still knocked backwards. A moment later, Jake and Cliff opened fire on our attackers too.

“Oh no you don’t,” Alexander exclaimed as he turned his attention on me. He still had that jar in one hand, but a gun was in his other. I was unarmed, and visions of him executing Aunt Dora flashed through my head. “You and that box will not escape me this time…”

“The box,” I started, my eyes darting to the box, which hovered in the air nearby, still invisible and intangible to everyone but me. My eyes went to the glowing chord that connected the box to me, and then I had a sudden idea. I had no idea if it would work or not, but I was terrified and desperate.

I grabbed the glowing tether, not only with my hands, but with my will, and used it to swing the box that was attached to it. The box swung through the air, right towards Alexander, and at the last moment, I let the box become visible and solid again. It slammed right into Alexander, sending him flying with a spurt of blood from his broken nose. Then, I immediately commanded the box to fade away again.

“What was that?” Theressa exclaimed in surprise.

The box had worked great as a surprise weapon, but I wasn’t sure it would work again, or that I should risk it like that. One of the armed men pointed a rifle at me, but hesitated, clearly realizing that Alexander wanted me alive. That was to my advantage, though I had no idea how to use it. However, Jake didn’t have that problem and opened fire, killing the man while he was momentarily distracted.

“We have to get out of here,” Cliff announced.

I nodded, feeling my heart racing even faster. I was still terrified, but at the moment, I was too caught up in things to curl up and hide. If I did that, I’d die, and I knew it. Instead, I grabbed a sword from where it was hanging on the wall, remembering my practice, and hoping that it hadn’t been wasted.

There were more of the armed intruders, but they were holding back a bit and weren’t shooting as much as they could. Maybe they didn’t want to kill me because of the box, or maybe they just didn’t want to risk hitting their friends and boss. Whatever the reason, Cliff and Jake didn’t hesitate to take advantage of this.

Cliff leapt forward, charging through the back door, using his gun to shoot at one of the intruders, while he slashed out with his magic sword, slicing another one clean in two. But then, bursts of blood exploded from his chest and he collapsed to the floor, no longer moving.

“DAD,” Jake cried out in horror, before snapping around firing several shots at the gunman who’d snuck up on Cliff from the side of the cabin.

Theressa dropped down beside Cliff, checking his pulse. She looked up with tears in her eyes and shook her head. “He’s…gone.”

“Bastards,” Jake snarled, dropping down to make himself less of a target while he shot at another intruder.

One of the intruders came out the back door of the cabin, following behind us. Jake and Theressa were both occupied, so I used my sword the way I’d been taught, and attacked him. He was so surprised that by the time he had his weapon pointed at me, I’d already sliced through most of his arm…and his chest. It was with a surge of triumph, guilt, and disgust that I then drove the blade straight through his guts, causing him to collapse to the ground.

“I…killed him,” I gasped, shocked that I could so something like that to another person, even one who was trying to kill me.

“Come on,” Theressa said. “We have to get out of here…”

We started making our way back around the cabin towards the car, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain tear through my back and stomach. I screamed and dropped to the ground, grabbing hold of my burning guts, which were now bleeding everywhere. I’d been shot.

“NO,” Theressa cried out, dropping to my side and shooting towards the attackers.

I looked up for a moment and saw Alexander had been following us, along with two of his men. His face was covered with blood, and he was furious.

“You won’t escape me again, Pandora,” Alexander announced. “I will have what’s in that box…”

“Over my dead body,” Theressa snarled, firing several shots at Alexander so that he and his men dove for cover. Then, she gave me a worried look, before turning her attention to Jake. “Get her to safety. You have to protect her…and the box. That’s the highest priority.”

“What are you saying?” Jake demanded.

“I’ll cover you so you can get to the car,” Theressa insisted with a grim expression. “I’ll follow once you’re in…”

“I should provide cover,” Jake started, but Theressa shook her head and cut him off.

“I’m not strong enough to pick her up and carry her,” Theressa pointed out. “You are…”

Even though I was hurting so bad that it was hard to focus, Theressa’s words got through. “No,” I whispered, unable to speak any louder. “You have to come…”

Theressa stared down at me with tears in her eyes. “You’ll be fine,” she promised me. “You’ll heal from this in no time…”

“No,” I started again, terrified that I was going to lose Theressa the same way I’d lost Dad.

“Here,” Theressa said, holding out the glass jar that Alexander had been carrying. “I picked it up on the way out. It might be useful.” She handed the jar to Jake, who accepted it.

“Whatever else happens,” Theressa insisted of Jake. “Keep her safe. Promise me…”

“I will,” Jake agreed with a look of fierce determination. “I promise. Now you make sure you get your ass in that car with.”

Theressa gave him a forced smile. “I’ll damn sure do my best.”

With that, Theressa started shooing back towards Alexander and his men, keeping them pinned down while Jake picked me up. The movement hurt like hell, and the next thing I knew, I was slung over his shoulder like a bag of potatoes. I was vaguely aware of him carrying me before everything sank into darkness.

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