Shadowbox

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A young girl grows up with a magical box, which takes on strange new forms as she grows older.

There once was a little girl who had a magical toy box. 

Like any child, she was delighted with any presence of magic in her life, and never thought to question the appearance of this exceptional box. It simply materialized when she was four years old. 

From the outside, it looked like an ordinary antique wooden trunk, with intricate carvings of toy soldiers frolicking with ballerinas. Once opened, however, there was a shadow inside, and she could not see what the box held. When she reached past the shadow and blindly grasped a toy, it was sure to be broken: china dolls with spidery cracks, nutcrackers with broken jaws, and wheeled figurines too rusted to roll. 

Some days the girl was content to play with her commonplace toys. But there were times when her mouth was set into a frown, and her brow furrowed, and her regular playthings held no joy for her. On these days, she would pull a deformed amusement from her shadowbox and entertain herself for hours. 

In time, her regular toys gave her less and less pleasure, and she wanted nothing more than what her shadowbox would gift her.

She grew older, as children do - too old to play with toys - still, she did not outgrow the shadowbox. Instead, when she left preadolescence for a more turbulent age, she looked to the chest and saw that it had changed. No longer did its exterior show carvings of playful toys; they had been replaced with whittled dancing figures. If the girl had looked closely, she might have realized that the eyes of these dancers seemed mournful. Somehow, she never looked too closely. 

When she opened the box following this curious transformation, it changed shape into a tall cabinet. Reaching inside, she plucked out a black dress, and learned that she now had a wardrobe in place of a toybox. She still had her closet filled with colorful frocks, but her shadowbox held stranger attire: frayed dresses, blouses missing buttons, and shoes with uneven heels. These garments, all in black, were woven in rich fabrics that felt wonderful against her skin, so that she never minded their imperfections.

Whenever she felt that the day was not quite what she wanted it to be, she would take an article of clothing at random from her shadowbox. She found that what came up always suited her perfectly. She realized that when she dressed in whatever outfit the wardrobe chose for her, she was left quite alone, and that delighted her.

In a few years the cabinet changed again. No more dancing figures on the outside; now, it was decorated with predatory animals, roaring and stamping and growling. She opened the doors and stared in amazement as the depths of darkness drifted from the wardrobe and took over half her room, engulfing the cabinet in inky darkness. 

If she stayed out of the shadows, she was in her regular room, outfitted with a simple twin bed, books, her closet, and a few carefully curated pictures of things that brought her joy. She could see nothing past the darkness, but when she stepped into the shade, she beheld a larger, more glorious room. It had a four poster bed (draped in black), books with no covers, and all the twisted toys of her childhood. The walls in the shadowroom had decorations, too, and in the paintings she recognized the graceful ballerinas with their gallant toy soldiers and the dancing men and women of her youth. 

There were times when the shadowroom held no appeal for her. She was content to visit with friends, gaze at the pictures on her wall, or read books while lying in her small, though comfortable, bed. 

Weeks would pass like this, sometimes months; but there would eventually come a day when she would wake with a frown and a furrowed brow, and look upon her regular room with disgust. On these days, she would step inside the shadows, where nobody could reach her. She would amuse herself with the piles of books, which held intriguing yet incomplete stories of darkest magic or dragons that would devour little girls. She would dress in peculiar gowns of tattered silk, and wobble in uneven shoes. And if she ever did look upon the box that sat in the corner of her shadowroom, and observe how the animals decorating it seemed to look right at her as they roared, she took no notice. 

The day came when regular life held no appeal for this young woman. Her eyes had a distant look. Her mouth was set in a thin line. The more she slept on the shadowbed, the less refreshed she felt when she awoke. The clothes that had once felt so wonderful and luxurious started to scratch at her skin. The shadowbooks were missing pages, so that she never felt the fulfillment of a complete story. Perversely, the more she noticed these flaws, the more she felt compelled to spend time in her shadowroom, angry that it gave so much but still could not satisfy her. 

Years went by, until she was no longer a girl, but a shadowgirl. Even on the rare days when she ventured out of her secret place, she was left alone by the world. This irked her, though she could not say why, any more than she could determine how to take her place in the world once more. She would try a smile, and the smile might be returned, but to her it felt sour and false. She would read a book, but her mind would be with the shadowbooks, wondering about their lost contents. 

One day she paced restlessly between room and shadowroom, finding no contentment in either. She turned to her wardrobe, and saw that the decoration had changed a final time. Now there was only a carving of a girl, and in that carving, she recognized herself. 

Curious, she approached the cabinet, and threw open its doors, eager to see what would come next. The box changed shape before her: first shrinking to a height of two and a half feet, then stretching until it was just over five feet long and about two feet wide.

The shadowgirl expectantly reached into the shade, but grasped nothing. She looked around her shadowroom, and stepped outside into the regular room, but beheld no change. She placed herself back in front of the box, considering, then climbed inside and closed the lid atop her. She discovered that she fit perfectly.

Once the shadowbox closed, she could not escape. She was not concerned, though, for she found that she did not wish to leave. So she stayed, frozen in her discontent, yet feeling that this tiny shadoworld accommodated her more than the colorful one ever did. 

 


Submitted: November 13, 2021

© Copyright 2021 JPeaslee. All rights reserved.

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