Isaac was walking to his car after work and saw a toy box in the window of an antique shop. It looked like an old-fashioned treasure chest and was probably large enough for Charlie to fit inside. It was perfect. Charlie’s old toy box was overflowing.
Isaac hurried inside to check it out. It was made of wood and sturdy, but surprisingly lightweight. The price was absurdly low. How strange. When he brought it up to the counter, the clerk looked nervous.
“All sales are final,” he said as he rang up the purchase.
“But the sign by the register says…” Isaac began to say, pointing to a sign that said, “Full refunds for all purchases returned within 30 days.”
“It’s a new policy,” the man interrupted. “You can’t bring it back now. Here you go. Thank you for your purchase.”
Isaac took his receipt and the toy box and left feeling a little confused. As he carefully slid it into the back seat, his excitement returned. Charlie was going to love it! Maybe they could play pirates this weekend and have a scavenger hunt or something. A treasure chest like this was just begging to be part of some sort of pirate game, at least once.
The house was empty when he got home. Marianne and Charlie must have already left for swimming lessons. Isaac hurried into Charlie’s room with the new toy box.
He dumped out the old one, leaving a mound of toys in the middle of the floor. The toys Charlie didn’t play with anymore were all on the top of the pile. There were rattles and raggedy teddies and teething rings and books that had been colored all over with crayons and cars missing their wheels.
He put the new toy box next to the bookshelf. It fit perfectly. He looked at the pile dubiously. Perhaps all the things from the bottom of the old box didn’t need to go into the new one. However, it might be better if Charlie was the one to sort through everything.
He picked up a blue cow that he remembered Charlie hated because it was the wrong color and dropped it in the new box. There was a strange sound. He looked into the toy box. It was empty.
He looked a little closer. There was a scrap of blue fur stuck to a little line of ridges that ran in a line along one side. There was a matching stripe of ridges along the bottom of the other side of the box. He reached in to retrieve the scrap of blue fur. As he reached towards it, the ridges darted together to meet in the middle, attached to boards that came from nowhere.
They met like teeth and chomped together twice more. Then there was a brief thumping sound, like rocks being tossed together in a small wooden box. The boards separated and slid back into place. The bottom of the box looked sound, but Isaac was afraid to touch it. He felt along the outside.
There was nowhere for those sliding boards to go. There was nowhere for the cow to go. This made no sense. He picked up an ugly little snow globe filled with poorly painted candy. He tossed it in. Crunch, crunch, crunch. There was the sound of rocks and breaking glass. The bottom of the box wasn’t even wet.
This was not a safe toy box. He could try to take it apart or store it in the garage, but that might kill it. That didn’t seem fair. If it was eating things it was alive, right? Or was it some sort of magical garbage disposal?
Who could he call for advice? Great-Aunt Bethyl seemed to know all about strange things like this. He found her phone number and called. She picked up on the seventh ring.
“Hello?” she said.
“Great-Aunt Bethyl,” Isaac said. “It’s Isaac, Marianne’s husband. I was hoping you could give me advice.”
“What do you need help with?” she asked.
“I bought a toy chest at the antique shop, but it eats things. It chews them up and swallows them. Do you know who I should call?” Isaac asked.
“I think I still have some of my old contacts. Someone will be by shortly,” Great-Aunt Bethyl said. Then she hung up.
Twenty minutes later, a man in black pants and a green polo shirt was at the door. “Hello,” he said, smiling widely, “agent –I mean your great-aunt –called and said you had a box for me to look at?”
Isaac showed him the box, and the man seemed delighted as it crunched up a cheap plastic rattle. “Where did you get this?” He asked.
“The antique store on Hawthorne road,” Isaac said.
“Wonderful. Now, don’t tell anybody about this. Just pretend you never saw it,” the man said. He took the box and left.
Isaac looked at the pile of toys. He slid the old toy box back into place. If Charlie sorted through things and they donated what he didn’t want, it would probably all fit fine. They could work on it together right after dinner. That was better than getting a new toy box anyway, wasn’t it?