Jack Ketchum’s short story, “The Box,” is a haunting little story (the story is better than the movie). The premise is pretty straight-forward though the story is quite enigmatic. A man, his son, and his twin daughters are on a train. There is a man sitting near them who has a box on his lap. It is wrapped like a present. The son asks to see what is inside. The man agrees and cracks open the box just enough for only the boy to see inside. The boy’s grin fades to a look of quiet puzzlement. After that, the boy will not eat. For days he refuses to eat though his parents try desperately to get him to eat. He will not eat and he will not tell anybody what he saw in the box.
A doctor looks the boy over and can find nothing wrong. A psychoanalyst can find nothing wrong either. Some days later, the father catches the boy whispering to his twin sisters. They refuse to say what they are talking about. Now, they will not eat either. Next, they tell the mother. She will not eat. So the boy, the sisters, and their mother begin slowly to waste away. None of them will eat. Soon the man has to take his entire family to the hospital. They are all dying because they will not eat.
The man presses his son: “What did you see in the box that day? What did you see?” The boy says, “Nothing.” Shortly thereafter, the son, the daughters, and the mother all die. The story ends with the father spending his days on the trains trying desperately to find the man with the box.
The story has become something of a modern conversation piece. It is taught in many high schools and colleges. The great question, of course, is, “What was in the box?” Theories are rampant concerning what the boy saw. A popular one is that the boy saw quite literally nothing and that the story is a story about nihilism, the idea that the world has no meaning inside of it and, at its base, the world offers no compelling reason to go on. Others believe the boy did in fact see something and what he saw was so horrible that it made him utterly indifferent about survival. Who knows?
It is an effective little story. It makes one think. The idea that you could see something that would lead to the gradual and then ultimate loss of life itself is terrifying. As I watched and then read this story, it occurred to me that that story is the exact opposite of the Christian story.
Two thousand years ago a group of people claimed to have seen something. They caught a glimpse of something that suddenly gave them a reason to live, and only to live but to live in a way that nobody had ever lived before! They saw something that nourished them, that gave them a sense of vitality and growth and joy!