Night had already fallen for some time when Maximilian climbed the stairs towards his bedroom. After having played with Arthur for almost an hour and a half they had stopped and gone back into the house to flee the freshness of the night. The call of a succulent meal prepared by Doris had also greatly contributed to motivate them. As a dessert she had prepared her famous American cake recipe: cereals coated with nougat, chocolate and marshmallows shaped in a rectangular mold. The American cake was as hard as sticky but it had infinite worth to Maximilian who ate each new bite with delight. As a present he received a drawing of himself from Arthur, which he decided to put on display in his room as soon as possible. It was very colorful but still very realistic, the young boy had done a good job in portraying his older brother whom accepted it with a big smile.
Even though From Jeff and Doris he received the complete set of the Mentalist, an old TV show from the early years of the century that Maximilian had discovered a few months earlier and was very much enjoying. He also got the first editions of the Blood Prince series’ first book that he had wanted for a long time. He thanked them with a warm hug, embracing all three of them. They ate the rest of the cake with delight while watching one of the episodes of the suspenseful TV show that he had received. Nothing of the talk they had had earlier in the day had been mentioned during the supper to prevent Arthur from becoming too curious. It was still too early for him to know the truth and it arranged Maximilian as it gave him time to think about it alone. He was thinking about what he had learned when he finally exited the dining room with his presents.
“I’m going to my room.” He announced. “I think I’ll go to bed soon so good night everyone.”
“Good night Max!” Exclaimed Arthur with a big smile, his mouth plastered with cake.
“Sleep well.” Added Doris while trying to clean her youngest son’s mouth.
“Good Night Maximilian.” Simply answered Jeff as he watched the young man climbing the stairs.
“‘Night.” Replied the teenager one last time as he disappeared on the upper floor, walking towards his bedroom.
It was only once he was in sitting before his desk in his room that he decided to look closer at the mysterious wooden box. It was made of oak wood and was about ten centimeters high, twice as long and fifteen in width. Set with iron, it resembled an old trunk sprung right out of the last century. What could it contain? He knew absolutely nothing about that but his curiosity had been piqued since the couple had given it to him.
He turned on the computer screen and saw that the program had sixteen more per cents to go before it ended. Turning it back off – he knew he would only be able to see the results the next morning – Maximilian decided to open that box now and see what was inside. He took it and put it down before him on his desk. It opened with a simple latch that was not even secured with a lock. His father must have really trusted his friend to not open it he thought. Max lifted the latch and felt his blood boil with excitement; he could barely contain himself enough to open the lid of the miniature trunk. What he then saw inside took him aback a bit.
The wooden box contained another box, smaller and made out of metal as it seemed and of a dark grey color. The teenager took out this second box and put it right next to the first one. He sat there for a moment, only looking at the new object, not daring to touch it again. What could that mean? Why put another box inside the first? Maximilian couldn’t think of an explanation so he decided to find out the easier way. He took the small metallic cube in his hand and lifted it to his eye level to observe it from up close.
He noticed that what he had first thought to be scratches were in fact very small engravings, almost invisible to the naked eye when one didn’t pay attention. One could read : “For Maximilian, A.D.”. This message, though very short, echoed through the teenager’s mind for a few moments. It was a strange feeling to think that it was the first connection that he had with his parents since their death, a tiny link to his father through this small box.
For the first time he really thought about his parents. His father, Alexander, and his mother, Sophia. Who were they? What did they look like? Where had they been? Why had they left him so soon? All those questions left without an answer were circling around in his mind, so many possibilities and unknowns. When he finally came to he couldn’t tell how much time had passed but he heard laughs coming from his brother’s room across the hallway and his parents quiet chatter downstairs. He looked at his alarm clock, it surprised him when he noticed almost half an hour had passed.
He focused his attention back to the small cube, taking it in his hands, turning it around to observe it under each possible perspective, feeling it with his fingers, looking for a way to open it, in vain. There was nothing, no lock, no socket, no button nor any handle, only a smooth little metallic cube. It was the only memory and link to his parents, his closest hope to learning something about them and there it was, taunting him because he couldn’t find the way to open it.
After an unsuccessful hour of observation with a magnifying glass, of light tapping here and there and handling repeated many a time he had to resign to the fact that he wouldn’t be opening it so easily, if it could be opened. And if indeed it could, he would have to resort to the hard way with the risk of damaging whatever it contained. He sat back up on his chair and, elbows on the desk, his chin resting on his hands, simply looking at the box, letting his thoughts wander by themselves around the meanders of his mind. He let himself flow away, imagining himself in an exact replica of his room in his mind and trying to find a way to open the small object.
At first he was looking alternatively at different objects in his room, which looked almost as real as they were when he had his eyes opened, before systematically turning back his focus on the box. As he passed over each object in his mind he analyzed its shape and its working. He was able to do that easily for any object that was electronic or mechanical, imagining the little gear spinning and the whole system starting to bustle about.
He was so absorbed by it that anything else was wiped away little by little, of his room and all the object around him only remained the little metallic cube. Maximilian, who had been unconsciously focusing on the box up till now, suddenly jumped as if he had remembered something important and obvious. A smile broadened on his face as he focused his attention back to the box, this time consciously. The teenager had noticed, quite some time ago now, that when he focused his mind enough on an object, mostly metallic objects, he could somehow picture it and “understand it”.
He could create a very precise image of the said object in his mind and could “make it work” to study its working without much difficulty. It was partly because of that, that he had a great interest and facility with any mechanical or electronic object or mechanism. At that moment he was trying to recreate the feeling of contact and understanding he always had when he was doing his “thing”. After a few minutes he finally managed to discern the shape he was looking for amidst all the ones present in his room. He focused on it, his mind doing something resembling a zoom and he found himself floating before an enlarged version of the small box exactly reproduced by his mind.
The young man had woken up a few minutes earlier but he couldn’t muster the motivation to get up. He lay there looking at the white ceiling of his room and thinking about the previous day’s events. He had learned that Doris and Jeff Bell were not his real parents and strangely it didn’t bother him that much. But suspecting and knowing were not the same thing and Maximilian knew it. Having the certainty of it brought up many questions that hadn’t seemed so important before. Who were his parents? Where had they lived? What was in that box? And why had his father decided to give it to him on his sixteenth birthday?
The young man slowly understood that he wanted, that he needed, to know who really were his biological parents. Maximilian looked at the clock, it was already 9:27 pm. He shook his head in an effort to motivate himself to get out of bed and decided that he needed to ask these questions to Jeff and Doris as soon as he would have the opportunity. The teenager dressed up quickly, putting on a worn pair of jeans and a brown tee-shirt with a single large dark grey stripe in the center. He passed a hand in his hair, ruffling them more than combing them as walked over to his desk. He sat in front of his computer and pressed a key to turn the screen back on. It had worked all night to check his program and to find any error in his code and Maximilian wanted to see the result of the night’s work displayed on the analysis report.
Two days before the program had done its job perfectly but without finding any error or problem in the young man’s nonfunctional code. After testing his code and invariably coming across the same “Wrong phrasing input” error each time he had decided to test it a second time, just to be sure, and was finally about to see the results.
He opened the window in which the debugger would display what it had found and was bit surprised to find exactly the same one as two days before : the result was negative, no error whatsoever had been detected in the code, it was completely functional. Strange, he thought, how can a program without any error and theoretically viable bug like this? He decided to try to run his code once more to be sure that it hadn’t changed anything but he was as successful as each and every previous time. He should have known : he would have to start everything again from scratch. The last viable backup he had made was already from a few weeks ago and he had done so much in these few weeks… he cursed himself for not thinking of backing it up more frequently. Now it would take hours to rebuild the whole skeleton and to re-write the code. Great, just great! Maximilian turned the screen back off and decided to go down and eat his breakfast, it was already getting late, plus he didn’t have the courage to start again right now and he was hungry. He took the strange metal box with him downstairs, hoping he might have an idea as to how he could open it while looking at his cereals.
As he came down the stairs and came in to the kitchen he was still smiling at that ridiculous idea and almost didn’t notice Doris and Arthur, who was sitting at the table, eating his cereals by order of color, while Doris was washing the dishes. He hugged the blond woman and said hello then ruffled the young boy’s hair before sitting down next to him. Arthur looked up and a big smile spread on his face as he saw Maximilian.
“Hi Max!”He exclaimed himself.
“Hello Arthur.” Maximilian smiled in return, happy to see his brother so merry. He saw that most of the red cereals were still in the boy’s bowl. “Why don’t you eat the red ones? Don’t you like them?”
“I do, they’re my favorite! So I keep them for the end!”
“Oh I see, well then I’d keep the green ones, they seem so much tastier…” Maximilian teased the young boy.
“No they’re not! Red is the best!”
Maximilian stuck out his tongue playfully at his brother. He knew that this gesture, as childish as it could be, would make him laugh. And he was right, Arthur didn’t waste time to crack up and burst into laughter. He also started to answer, making all sorts of faces to his elder. Which, of course, Doris didn’t miss.
“Well, well! How can it be that such a refined young boy as you could make such ugly faces to his own brother?” She had said that in a disapproving tone and with a serious face, eyebrows furrowed, but Maximilian knew she was only making fun of Arthur. The young boy turned over to his mother, looking so ashamed of himself that she couldn’t help but crack a small smile.
“But mom! He’s the one who started!”
“I know darling, but you know he does it on purpose to toy with you. Now eat your cereals or you are going to be late for the cartoons!”
As his mother said that Arthur completely forgot his silly face contest with Maximilian and started eating again with renewed vigor. Not for the world would he miss an episode of Ferguson in Fergland, his favorite cartoon. He ate his remaining blue letters in a flash and started devouring his red ones before drinking the remaining milk and putting down his bowl. He then took off his napkin and fled towards the living room without wasting a single second. Doris barely had time to remind him to brush his teeth and wash his face before getting dressed and he was sitting on the couch in front of the TV, already zapping through the channels. He muttered a faint “Yes mom!” when she repeated herself, knowing he hadn’t listened at all, and he was gone to Fergland with Ferguson Reed, the kid adventurer.
Maximilian was looking at the box while he was eating his cereals, trying to understand what it was exactly. The previous day he had managed to feel its presence and to completely visualize it in his mind but he hadn’t managed to “see” past that point, it was like the box was resisting his ability. Either that or it was truly a simple metal box with nothing inside. But the young man knew it couldn’t be, why give him an empty box ? He had found no obvious way to open it nor any hidden mechanism. Nothing. He had found nothing even though he had focused as much as he could, he had explored each square centimeter, each engraving and each detail for almost two hours but with no success. There was no lock, no button to press or turn, no hidden discernible mechanism that he could activate. Exhausted by all this effort of concentration and his long day he had decided to leave it at that for the evening and to see if sleep would enlighten him. He had put the box down on his nightstand, turned off the screen of his computer and had lain on his bed, drifting off to sleep almost immediately. Unfortunately Maximilian had not progressed much by morning. He was now aimlessly stirring his milk as he was looking at the box when Doris came and sat down next to him.
“So, have you managed to open it yet?” She asked. The young man jumped at that question, he hadn’t noticed his (now foster) mother coming next to him. His surprised reaction made Doris smile.
“Huh? What?” It took a few seconds before he realized she was talking about the box lying in front of him.
“Oh, the box! Uhm no… Not yet. I looked but I couldn’t find any way to open it, there’s no lock, button or anything that could help. I’m not even sure it can be opened.”
“Can I take a quick look?” Maximilian gave her the small metallic cube. Doris looked closely at it for a few minutes, turning it around, touching and tapping here and there. Then she noticed the engraving on the top and smiled. The blond woman put it back on the table in front of the teenager and turned herself towards him.
“Yep, that’s what I thought…” Maximilian shot her a half hopeful, half questioning look.
“You see,” She continued. “your father, Alexandre, had one just like it in his house. He told me it was a present for your mother made by him. It had a similar engraving on the top. And knowing him it isn’t easy to open.” She paused for a moment, reminiscing old memories of his parents.
“Alexandre had always been a great amateur of puzzles and riddles. When he had some free time in college he would either be trying to solve or create one. I would bet anything that this box is one, a riddle I mean, that he meant for you to solve. Only he and Sophia knew how to open her box he had said to me when I asked him about it. So it must have a secret mechanism or a unique way of being opened, you’ll have to find that yourself I think.”
Maximilian looked alternatively at the blond woman and at the small box. He hadn’t thought of it like that. Did his father want to deliver what was inside the box only to him? Or perhaps did he have to prove himself by opening that box?
“So, he liked the Rubik’s cube or the Towers of Hanoi and all these things a lot then?”
“Yes, the Rubik’s cube was one of the first puzzle that was presented to him and since then he collected any he could find, even those he couldn’t solve. Though there weren’t much…”
The young man looked at the box again. He had guessed he would have to find the keyhole but now he also had to find what the key was. He was starting to doubt his father wanted him had ever planned for him to open it. Seeing as he looked lost Doris encouraged him to continue thinking about it, if the Alexandre Desrhodes she knew had given this to him there must have been a reason and he would find out what it contained sooner or later. She pecked him on the cheek and offered her help if he ever needed it before joining her son in the living room on the couch. Maximilian smiled at her and finished his cereal bowl before they got all soft.
As he finished his breakfast and put his and Arthur’s bowls in the sink he walked to the stairs, towards his room. He was about to put his foot on the first step when Jeff called him from the office.
“Max, can you come here a second?”
“Coming dad!” He answered as he rushed upstairs silently, thanks to the thick beige carpet on the floor, and went to his room to put the box back on his desk. The whole first floor was also covered with the same carpet and Maximilian made the most of it by walking barefoot year round. He passed by the bathroom on his right and Arthur’s bedroom on his left and went in the second room on his right. The door to his bedroom was already opened and he only had to take a step in to reach his desk. On the walls could be seen many posters of old and new movies, sports trophies and a few bookshelves completely filled. The attic room was lit by a large window facing the wall on the right of the door, the bed was placed alongside the wall opposite from the door, under the sloped part. His desk was placed near the door on the left side of the window. On the other side was a large wardrobe full of clothes and a shelf full of books. As he put down the box he noticed that the screen was turned on, though he could swear that he had turned it off before going down. Strange he thought, I must have forgotten. He put it back to sleep mode before going back down to see what Jeff wanted to tell him.