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The Puzzle Box

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The other girls were still asleep and Hiroko crept from her bed to the end of mine.

"What is it?"

"I don’t know,” I answered. I tilted the box slowly in my hands and heard the slidey rattle of things loose inside. I ran my palm over the top, eager to get in but not sure how. It was polished wood with no markings or decoration. The corners were sanded smooth, rounded, and though I found the seam easily I couldn’t lift the lid. The hinges were invisible, built into the inside somehow, and there was no latch or lock.

“Your sister is a prankster?” Hiroko suggested softly. I shrugged helplessly, handing her the box.

“Not usually.” I watched Hiroko feel around the edges of the box for a hidden panel, a secret button, anything. “She’s about as strait-laced as they come.” I read the card again. No clue, unless I saw this and thought of you counted, and if it did, it was a pretty crappy clue. “‘Thought of you’. Come on, Ange, that’s a given.”

“What does she think of when she thinks of you?” Hiroko whispered. She gave the box back to me, fresh out of creative solutions.

“Crumbs on the couch?” I tried to wedge my fingernail into the seam but it was too narrow and it wouldn’t give even when I pushed harder. “The DVD collection all out of order? I don’t know.”

“Time for a break."

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I decided to have another go Angela’s trick box. I fished it out of my drawer and tried again all the same strategies that had failed for me that morning. Pulling. Twisting. Prying. Pressing. I got no luck, and sat back against my pillow with an exasperated sigh.

Thought of you. How was that a helpful clue?

Thought… Maybe there was a mental element to getting this box open? I hesitated, looking at the simple wooden box. Sometimes Qasim gave my class puzzles like combination locks or knots as exercises. Couldn’t the same skills be applied here?

I closed my eyes and ran my fingers over the edges of the box, closing down my awareness of what was available to my physical senses and reaching out instead with those senses of my mind.

It was such a quick process, once I knew what I was looking for. An internal spring-loaded latch held the box shut. Anyone could close it; only a witch would be able to open it. Theoretically. I hadn’t moved anything with my mind before. I experimented with an uncertain push. Nothing happened, but I think I did press down with my thumb slightly.

“Where did you find this, Angela?” I asked aloud. I shook the box again and heard several loose items rattling about inside. I lowered it and regarded it. I could probably see into the box the same way I’d just found the latch. Was that cheating?

No, it was my birthday and I was entitled to know what was inside my present. Again I closed my eyes and sent the extremes of my awareness into the wooden box in my hands.

My vision of the interior was lightless and unhelpful, naturally, but like ethereal fingers roaming over an object I was able to make out vague shapes and textures.

My sister had packed another box inside this one, squarish and flat, maybe a CD or a gift box from a jewellery store, and had surrounded it with little treasures. Shells. Crystals. The things she knew I liked to collect.

I wanted them out. Hiroko, when she found very cool magic that she couldn’t access, went to one of our White Elm teachers or a classmate and asked for specific instruction on how to do it. That was why I had a magical snow globe and a silver ring on my little finger made out of thin air. Me? It seemed I kept throwing my stubbornness at it rather than doing anything productive, and thus I had not mastered magical snow globes or creating jewellery out of thoughts. It was a journey.