by Melanie Bell
“On the other side of the mirror there’s a real forest,” Gavin said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You should know, Sabrina. You’re the one who gave me that box.”
A treasure box had seemed like the perfect birthday gift for a little brother who was always collecting things. At six, it had been hockey cards. At seven, the bones of whatever unfortunate animal carcass he could find around the yard or the beach. At eight, dried leaves shaped like needles and ovals and squares. At nine, the sayings from every fortune cookie received by family members in Chinese takeout packs. He’d needed a place to put all that.
◊ ◊ ◊
Sabrina had picked the treasure box out herself, bought it with saved-up allowance, and she was quite proud of it. The lacquer shone on the wood. She’d learned about the different types of wood and chosen oak because it meant strength. She’d picked this particular box because it was big and had a mirror inside.
“Let me see that forest?”
“Maybe later. I want to keep it to myself for now.”
“Then why are you telling me about it?”
“Because you gave it to me, stupid! I thought you’d like to know.”
He walked off, fists swinging, back to the room and that stupid box.
It was a year ago that they’d stopped playing pretend games. How many times had they hidden themselves in the big hall closet, hoping to run into talking beavers behind the bedsheets and cleaning supplies? It had all ended one day with Gavin’s folded arms and declaration, “Beavers can’t talk. That’s stupid.” The truth had struck Sabrina one night as she was failing to get to sleep, distracted by cars rumbling sporadically outside the window: she’d needed the games more than Gavin had. And now that there was some magic landscape in the box, he wouldn’t show her.
Forests weren’t that exciting anyway, she told herself. There was one just down the road. It had raccoons and skunks in it. If that’s what he wanted to imagine in his box, let him imagine it.
◊ ◊ ◊
First, Gavin made sure that his door was locked. His parents didn’t like him locking it, and would yell at him if they discovered he was keeping others out, but sometimes it was necessary. He ran his hands over the smooth, shiny wood. Slowly, he opened the lid and looked into the glass that lined the top.
His features stood out crisply, and then began to blur. Bushes bloomed over his nose. A spruce sprouted from his forehead. He watched as a tiny rabbit tracked across the ground—boing, boing, boing. Branches moved with the stirring of a minuscule wind. Soon there was no face in the mirror at all.
◊ ◊ ◊
Sabrina took her book into the yard, which smelled of decaying leaves and sounded like cars rumbling past. She was on the last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. The battle was bloodier than usual for that kind of book… Tash was revealed to be an evil god, Aslan a benevolent one…almost to the end now…
◊ ◊ ◊
It was past Gavin’s bedtime, and raining. The kids in Narnia ascended to heaven, a disappointment. Susan was excluded because of her interest in lipstick. Sabrina decided that if she ever wrote a book, the queens would wear lipstick and no one would care.
She wondered what was going on in Gavin’s forest.
She hadn’t meant to do it, but her hand moved to her brother’s doorknob. It wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t like Gavin to lock the door. “Best leave him alone,” sang her mother’s voice in her head, while a younger, stronger voice called out “Go in there!” She’d read a detective story that explained how to pick a lock once, and practiced on her old diaries until she could produce that satisfying click. She’d never tried it out on a real door, but she did have a hairpin.
Her feet clumped through the dark room, past the night light with its tiny flicker, to the lump on the floor that was the treasure box. On the bed, her brother stirred and Sabrina stopped in her tracks. His breathing remained even.
Slowly, slowly, she knelt beside the box. Lifted it. Stood up, careful not to make the floorboards creek. Carried the box into the hallway, where the light was on.
Fingerprints smudged the gleaming oak surface. If she’d known the box would smear so easily, she would have bought Gavin a different one. No—they weren’t fingerprints but paw prints, tracks left by an impossibly small animal. Her breath caught in her throat as she lifted the lid.