The next day, when I stepped outside my apartment to get my mail, a large box was sitting off to the side of my door. I stared at it for maybe an entire minute. The shipping label had no return address and no markings except a large sticker with a familiar typeface and words:
Unspeakably Scary Things.
The cardboard box itself could be worth money, so I took it inside as carefully as possible. My mind was reeling—how had this arrived? How’d they know where to send it? I carefully cut open the tape, got the thing out, put it on my table, and looked at it for a while.
The Phobia Box was, as the name would imply, a large box with a dial on the top and not much else to it. It seemed like it was made of wood, or maybe some hard plastic. The soft shininess could be lacquer or some gloss. When I’d picked it up, it didn’t weigh much. Under a pound. Maybe enough for some little computer parts to be shoved in there.
On its side, in the same typeface, were only a few words:
Spin the dial for fear! Pick your intensity!
The dial itself was a little more complicated. Some of it was obscured, with only the first three settings demarcated by little triangular stickers, like a pie chart.
The three options visible were the number zero as a starting position, a symbol for fire for the second, and the third was a squid tentacle.
Had things been different, if things hadn’t been so weird, I would’ve probably spun the dial immediately. But after the phone call, after the mysterious way I got Unspeakably Scary Things, after the paranoia-inducing way I got the box, I spent a long time deciding.
The side of it had some kind of seam. The outline of a little door. It reminded me of a washing machine. I debated getting a screwdriver and forcing it open, but I didn’t want to break it. It could be worth as much, if not more, than Unspeakably Scary Things. It was practically an antique.
Eventually, curiosity burning, I grabbed the little circular handle with grooved edges and spun it. It clicked as it passed each section, going all the way back to a tenth symbol.
It was a silhouette of a cockroach. Mostly an oval with little legs and two antennas. I’d never been bothered by bugs, but something about that symbol sent a crawling feeling up my spine.
The Phobia Box started ticking like I’d set an egg timer. Then, with a clunk, a single sheet of paper shot out of the bottom of the door outline.
It was a white sheet of generic printer paper. It took a little work to tug out of the machine, but it didn’t rip.
Written at the top were the same words as on the side of The Phobia Box, but below were a few more.
You have chosen Hard Mode.
Last until the end for a prize.
The Phobia Box gave a loud grinding sound, like an engine turning over, and then stopped clicking.
Nothing else happened, not even after a tense half-hour.
Well, nothing then.
In what was to become one of the worst decisions of my life, I assumed it was broken and stepped away from it. The box was very different when I checked on it again.
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