The Box

A Short Story by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu

Danny lived in a box. Perhaps you would be surprised to learn that he was reasonably happy, most of the time anyway. It may have helped that it was a very pleasant, well-constructed sort of box. Danny's box was roomy, well-lit and ventilated and equipped with all the necessities and many of the superfluities of life.

Or perhaps Danny's acceptance of his situation was due to the fact that he had no sure knowledge or memory of anything or anyone outside his box. When he was a small boy, it is true, he had vivid memories of a short time spent in a cozy room with a big picture window, and of running about an open field. There were also vague memories of certain smiling and helpful figures. Sometimes, as a boy, he would get lonely and blue remembering this. But by and by the memories faded and Danny at last decided the dim remnants were only childish dreams.

There was a computer in Danny's box with some first rate educational software constructed in the form of amusing games. So Danny learnt to read. This was a good thing because there was also a fair-sized library in Danny's box. Several shelves of beautiful hard-cover books lined one whole wall. These books were full of wonderful tales about amazing people and places outside the box. At first, Danny half believed these tales and they made him feel happy and sad at the same time. But as he grew into his teen-age years he began to believe them less and less, although he still enjoyed them.

For our Danny had the gift of a rational and skeptical mind, and he reasoned thus; "I know I exist and I know this box exists. The only evidence I have for a world outside is in these books, and they are fantastic, unbelievable and contradictory. In the lack of any other evidence I refuse to believe in anything so far-fetched as a world outside my box." The reader must admit this was a sound and sensible attitude.

So Danny decided and so he made peace with his captivity. As he grew to manhood, he developed his reasoning further along these lines. He decided by long deliberation that the only logically acceptable hypothesis was that he and the box and grown up together, developing from smaller and simpler forms, via a process he dubbed "bio-cubical complexification." It is true that there were many details that this theory couldn't explain. For example, his daily food arrived by dropping out of a metal chute in his little pantry. But since he had already reasoned irrefutably that it was quite impossible for anything to exist outside his box, then somehow the food had to be created by an unknown mechanism contained within the walls of the box. Since his waste disappeared into another chute in the toilet, he suspected the two processes were related but prudently declined to think too much about it.

As Danny aged into his middle years he began to investigate some of the books he had previously regarded as too difficult. One was a thin volume ominously entitled "How to Escape from your Box." Many times Danny had picked up this book with trembling hands and some unnamable foreboding, only to glance through it hurriedly and to briskly replace it on the shelf loudly exclaiming, "Nonsense!" or "Poppycock!"

But one day after many years, Danny decided that as a rational man he had to at least investigate this foolish and disturbing book, so he forced himself to read it. To his surprise, there were no more of the wonderful tales of a mythical life outside, instead there was only a concise, methodical exposition of how to dismantle the box from the inside, complete with diagrams.

In a spirit of scientific inquiry Danny proceeded to follow these directions. According to instructions, he located a small toolbox hidden in a secret alcove. He took out the special screwdriver as indicated in the directions and began removing screws from a particular wall panel indicated in the book. After removing several screws, the panel shifted inwards a little and a cold wind began to whistle into the box.

Danny jumped back in fright but quickly recovered himself and hastily replaced all the screws. "What a good thing," he thought, "that I came to my senses before doing irreparable damage to the box. What was I thinking of, following the dangerous instructions in that ridiculous book?"

Danny pushed the book into the back of the shelves and after that day, never opened it again. For several years after this he would spend many hours a day sitting at his desk writing long eloquent essays proving again and again in many different ways the impossibility of anything existing outside the box. He tried to imagine counter-arguments and would then soundly and sarcastically refute them. After penning an especially witty retort to his imaginary opponent he would slam his fist on the desk and laugh aloud "Ha! Ha! You fool!"

Many years passed and Danny began to notice that some things in his box were not as perfect as they had been. The faucets dripped and the lights sometimes flickered. He often felt stiff and for some reason he had to hold the books out at arm's length when he wanted to read them. Most disturbing of all, sometimes the wall panels rattled in an alarming way, especially the one he had so foolishly loosened so many years ago.

As time passed, Danny spent more and more time in bed. On the worst days he left his bed only to shuffle painfully to the pantry or the toilet. The computer hadn't worked in years and the once beloved books were gathering dust. Occasionally he thought he could feel the cold wind again and he would wrap himself in a blanket and close his eyes.

One day something truly awful happened. The panels had been rattling persistently all morning and Danny had remained hiding in his bed until he could no longer ignore the calls of nature. On his way back from the toilet chute, just as he shuffled past that panel there was a loud thumping noise and with a whoosh the whole thing flew inward, painfully banging his shin. Danny stood there dumbstruck. There was an open square a meter wide in the side of his box. Outside he could see green fields, blue sky and hear the singing of birds.

Danny stood still for just a moment, blinking back tears and then he began to tremble all over. Quickly, he went for the long neglected toolbox and with palsied hands he worked painfully to replace the errant panel, being very careful not to look outside. His heart beating wildly, he returned to bed and curled up in a tight ball under the sheets.

Danny's health collapsed altogether after that and his trips to the toilet and pantry were more and more difficult. At last he couldn't move at all and lay in his own mess. Towards the end, the top of the box blew off and Danny was exposed to sunlight. He pulled the filthy ragged sheet up over his face, closed his eyes and died.

In a little while some people came and moved Danny into another box. Much smaller this time.