The Borrow Box

📅 Published on April 29, 2021

“The Borrow Box”

Written by Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.42/10. From 12 votes.
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The box was delicate and ornately decorated.

As Todd Fowler held the small object, no bigger than a matchbox, he knew it would be very easy to destroy.  One wrong move of his palm, a finger gripping its surface too tightly, and the tiny box would break into even smaller splinters.  Meticulous patterns marked its surface, painted in red and brown with what must have been a magnifying glass and an impossibly fine paintbrush.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking back to the old woman who had given it to him without so much as a word.

“A borrow box,” she replied, her weathered, wrinkled face drawing up into a warm, yet sad smile.

A borrow box.  Todd rolled the idea around in his head and tried to make sense of it.  The two of them sat in Doctor Eichmann’s waiting room, a minimalist, antiseptic environment devoid of any interesting features to focus one’s attention on.  Even the framed paintings on the walls were shades of off-white, displaying nothing more than basic geometric shapes.

“I don’t understand,” Todd smiled back awkwardly.  “You want me to borrow it?  What for?”

“No, no, no,” the old woman shook her head, taking his hands in hers and closing them carefully over the box.  “It’s yours to keep.  It helped me for the longest time; now I think it can help you.  I got it for my husband, but he’s no longer with us.”

“Ah,” Todd nodded.  He reasoned to himself that this was some sort of religious trinket.  It seemed like something elderly folks picked up at church yard sales or through Christian newsletters.   Perhaps you were supposed to write out a prayer and put it in the box, or maybe its empty state represented a heart clear of wants and desires.

“Well, thank you.”  Todd put the box into his jacket pocket.

“Is your boy sick?” the woman asked kindly, but bluntly.

Todd looked to the office door.  Moments earlier, his wife and son had passed through, leaving him behind to wait.  The child had always felt more comfortable getting check-ups with his mother.  He told himself that it was probably that way for every family out there.  Kids love their moms – Dad is there to keep the rules straight.

Still, it would eat him up inside, sitting in that room for an hour or more, wondering if there would be good or bad news at the end of it.  His thoughts would race with visions of emergency rooms, medical machines, and a funeral that would come way too soon.  No matter how hard he tried to push those images away, they always found a way to sneak back in through the cracks.

“Yeah,” he responded quietly.  “Very sick.”

A loud clatter made them both sit up straight with a jolt.  The receptionist had returned to her desk and had flung open the partition that separated her office from the waiting room.

“Ma’am, are you ready to schedule your next appointment?” the receptionist asked flatly as the old woman pressed her cane to the ground and slowly pushed herself into a standing position.

Todd let out a deep sigh and shook his head, disappointed in himself yet again.  He should have returned the old woman’s sympathy and asked how she was feeling.  He suspected that she wasn’t concerned with that, and even if she had noticed his lack of interest, the moment had passed, regardless.

As the woman left, she stopped in the doorway and turned back to him again.

“You’ll know what it’s for soon enough.  Even I figured it out!” she laughed.  Then she added, “These things tend to work themselves out.”

Not long after that confusing encounter, Todd stood to greet his wife, Theresa, and son, Donald, as they returned.

He looked to her with a hopeful glance, eyebrows raised.  She pursed her lips and shook her head, causing his expression to drop again.  It was a silent discussion they’d have many times before, never speaking, in order to keep from worrying the child even more.  Still, Todd received the message loud and clear.  There had been no sudden turnaround.  No unexplained regression of the mysterious illness taking root in his son.  There was no miracle.

“Dad!” the boy called, pointing to the office window.

Todd turned and looked out to the parking lot, unsure of what he was supposed to see.

“What’s up, Donny?”

“Dad, there’s a butterfly trapped inside!”

Todd refocused his eyes and searched the window frame.  Sure enough, a moth was at the corner, perched quiet and still against the glass.

“We gotta let it out,” the child insisted as if every second mattered.

With his wife at the receptionist’s desk, Todd took the opportunity to waste a few moments making sure this new problem was solved.  The last thing he wanted Donny to think about right now was death, even one as routine and meaningless as the eventual demise of an insect.  Feeling his pockets, Todd retrieved the small wooden box and scooped the moth into it.  The almost microscopic hinges let out a barely audible, high-pitched squeak as he cautiously pressed the lid shut.

“There we go.  No problem, kiddo,” Todd winked before walking to the door to set the bug free.

As he stepped out onto the sidewalk and pried the lid open with his fingernails, he found that the box was empty once again.

“Did it fly away?” Donny asked as he and his mother exited the building behind Todd.

“Uh…” Todd looked to the ground to see if the moth had already been dead and had somehow fallen out.  Then, he briefly checked the air around him.  Finding nothing, he returned the box to his pocket and put on yet another false smile.  “Yup.  It took off right before you came out, and I think he said ‘thank you’ before he left!”

That night, the full gravity of the situation once again hit him.  Standing over his son’s bed, watching the frail boy sleep with weak, labored breaths brought to mind a sort of final rest that he was in no way prepared for.  Forcing the chill out of his spine and the clutching fear out of his heart, Todd kissed Donny’s cold, damp forehead and left to endure yet another sleepless night of his own.

He was taking too many days off from work, even though his boss was more than accommodating given the situation.  Even the most gracious and understanding person would have to fire him eventually.  Nothing about this whole ordeal was benefiting anyone.

“Is he okay?” came Theresa’s slight, trembling voice as Todd stepped into the bedroom, leaving the door cracked open.

He knew what she meant.  She wasn’t asking if he was any better, but whether or not he was worse.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” he responded.  “Nothing new.”

She sat on the bed in her white nightgown, reading one of many books on the subject of parenting a terminally ill child.  Todd watched her weary green eyes move across the pages, admiring the strength and calm he often found absent in himself.  Pulling off his boots, then undressing, Todd pulled his phone out and moved to check his missed calls before turning in for the night.

To his surprise, however, he found that he wasn’t holding his phone at all.

It was the box.

The same box that had fit in the center of his palm only hours earlier had tripled in size and now required a full hand to grip it.  The painted patterns were clearer and more defined.  He could see the tiny nails, no larger than thumbtacks, holding the bits of wood in place.

“What the hell?” Todd muttered, studying the much larger item with a critical stare.

“Hmm?” Theresa asked, her attention still on the book.

“Uh, nothing…” Todd stammered.  “Just…yeah, nothing…”

The box went into a drawer, crammed between rolls of socks, where it would supposedly remain untouched and intentionally forgotten.

The next morning arrived as they all had, with parents rolling out of bed just as exhausted as they had been the previous night.  As was tradition, Theresa would sit by Donny’s bed and coax him awake while Todd handled breakfast as best he could.  Eggs and toast were the usual choices since they were the hardest to ruin.

The two of them were awestruck by the change.

There, sitting at the dining room table, was young Donny.  He was all smiles.  He seemed energetic and enthusiastic about starting the day.  He wore a jumble of mismatched clothing that he had obviously picked out himself.

“D-Donny?  What’s going on?” Todd rushed to the boy’s side and knelt next to him.  Theresa covered her mouth in shock.

“What’s for breakfast?” Donny asked casually, as if nothing had changed.

“Feel his forehead.”  Theresa joined Todd, placing a hand on the boy’s head.  “Do you feel hot?  Were you sleep-walking?”

Donny pulled back from her hand with a frustrated groan, as if all of the worry was completely unnecessary.

“Please don’t make eggs again, Dad.”

Neither of them could explain it.  Doctor Eichmann couldn’t explain it.  The specialists they had been in contact with insisted that the boy must have been misdiagnosed, because such a sudden and perfect recovery should not be scientifically possible.  Todd wondered if, somewhere along the line, one of his countless promises or threats aimed at God had worked.  After all, he had gotten that miracle he was so desperate for.

Days passed, and Donny slowly gained muscle.  After a few weeks, he stood straight and no longer showed any signs of unnatural fatigue.  Within a couple of months, it was as if nothing had ever been wrong in the first place.  Despite Theresa’s lingering concerns, Todd taught his son how to play catch, how to climb trees, and how to socialize with others of his own age.  He felt a sense of pride that came with subtle pangs of shame.  Todd knew that he should have been proud of his son from the start.

Then, in the third month, it all came to a sudden and painful halt.

Donny was sick again.  Even though his symptoms were slight, and he tried his best to ignore them, his parents knew.  No matter how much they wanted to deny it…they knew.

Arguments flared up.  Theresa blamed Todd for pushing Donny too hard, for moving him out into the world before he was ready.  Todd bitterly insisted that if the boy was only going to have three months of relief, then it was best he had experienced a normal childhood.  Even if it would only be once.  The horror of outliving their son came flooding back like a repressed memory of existential torture.

Nights were sleepless again.  In those hours of darkness, both of them lay awake, but neither spoke.

The box greeted Todd as he reached the end of his clean socks.  Staying on top of the laundry wasn’t exactly at the forefront of their thoughts.

He pulled the box out and studied it again.  The question of how and why it had expanded to this size was enough to tie up his addled mind.  Pulling the lid open again, he searched the interior with his fingers, feeling for any sort of mechanical apparatus.  It seemed obvious to him that this was an illusion, a party trick or a gag gift meant to confuse onlookers.

“The magical, mysterious growing box,” he chuckled absently.  “Amaze your idiot friends.  Astound some drunk bastards at the bar.  Only available from Useless Crap, Incorporated.”

Todd considered showing the box to Donny.  A younger, fresher brain could probably figure the trick out more easily.  As he moved to close it, he noticed something had been painted on the inside of the lid.

Three tally marks, roughly scrawled with the same red paint as the exterior designs.

Todd’s heart felt as if it had dropped into his gut.  In an instant, a strange idea came to him.

Three months.  That was exactly how long it had been since Donny had made his recovery.  It had been three months since the box had changed its size.  Three months since he had put something living inside, only for it to vanish without a trace from existence.

On the face of it, the thought made no logical sense.  In Todd’s desperate state, it was entirely possible that madness had begun to creep in.  Still, he couldn’t help but repeat the words that strange old woman had said to him.

“You’ll know what it’s for.”

A borrow box.  Todd considered the idea that he might have unwittingly “borrowed” time.

That afternoon, Todd excused himself from the next visit to Dr. Eichmann.  He made an off-hand excuse about having to talk with his employer.  Since things looked grim again, he would of course have to ask for more patience and understanding from the company.  Instead, he spent that time testing the absurd theory he had come up with.

At first, he found garden insects to stuff into the box.  Finding that this did nothing more than upset the creatures, he came to the conclusion that a larger box might require more bugs.  Still, this yielded no result. Nothing vanished, nothing changed.  Somehow, he knew he still hadn’t come to the correct conclusion.

He fully embraced the idea that what he was doing was insane.  In the interest of leaving no stone unturned, he proceeded if for no other reason than to prove he had at least tried all he could.  There was no harm in trying, especially when his son’s well-being was more than worth going crazy for.

“All right.  A larger container doesn’t mean more things,” Todd mused as he stood in the backyard for what seemed like an hour, the sun slowly passing overhead.  “So maybe we need something bigger.”

He listened to the frogs croaking just beyond the property line.  The pond was full of them at this time of year.  He wondered how hard it would be to get a hold of one.  After yet another hour, with clothes drenched and shoes lost to the mud, he held his squirming prey with clutched hands.

“I just don’t understand any of this!” Theresa shouted as she returned home that evening.  She threw her hands in the air with frustration and collapsed onto the sofa.

“Is it…tell me it’s not worse than before…”  Todd swallowed hard, already feeling embarrassed at how he had spent the day.

The front door flew open, and Donny stomped through, running full tilt up the stairs and to his bedroom.  He was singing the entire way.

“Doctor Eichmann said it was grim.  He sat me down, and he asked if I was prepared for the day when we lost him.”  Theresa’s voice cracked, her mood was frantic, confused beyond all reason.  “Then on the drive home, Donny was begging for McDonald’s, and he was almost jumping out of his seat.  He’s full of energy again!  Energy and life and…it’s great, but what’s happening?!”

She gave up speaking and sunk into the sofa cushions with an exasperated sigh.

Todd looked at the shelf to his side.  The box, now roughly the size of a brick, stood there on its end.  The open lid wore six tally marks.

Those six months came and went in a joyful blur.  Donny never felt better.  Todd and Theresa had mended all but the smallest roadblocks in their marriage.  Any trips to the doctor only seemed to confirm, time and again, that the boy didn’t need to be there at all.

Todd never dared to question the strange process after that.

On the day he taught Donny to ride a bike, he found an injured bird that had been glanced by a passing car.  Its suffering was mercifully ended within the box, which then displayed twelve marks.  The sickness would be postponed for a full year.  As time progressed, Todd became accustomed to planning things out.

By the time that year came to a close, he had befriended a neighborhood cat.  Old and half-blind, the flea-bitten stray happily settled itself on a blanket inside the box.  Two years borrowed.  It was more than enough time to grow tired of the neighbor’s dog.  It was a vicious, loud mutt that they kept chained up and barely looked after.  Another easy four years.

After more than seven extra years in total, the box stood waist-height, pressed against the wall like a cabinet.  Its painted surface still as brightly colored as the day Todd had first laid eyes on it.  He opened the door from time to time.  What had once been a squeak of the hinges now echoed through the house as a deep metal groan.  Each time he stared into the shadows of the box, past the 48 tally marks on the inside of the door, his thoughts raced.

It was big, now.  Too big.  How large would the thing become?  How would he continue to meet its requirements, and what would happen once he could no longer fill it?  With Donny celebrating his 12th birthday soon, the days seemed to grow shorter and shorter.  Soon, he would need to find a way to solve the problem.

Through trial and error, he had learned just how limited his options were.  The box didn’t want anything unless it was alive.  Early on, he found that random inanimate objects didn’t work.  Meat, no matter the quantity, did nothing.  The box needed a life in order to give life.

What would that be?  A pig?  A small deer?  Could he even trap one?  He came to terms with the thought that he might have to physically injure some sort of larger prey.  He would need to keep it alive, and in pain, long enough to close it in.  The thought made him sick, but the idea of doing nothing could not be accepted.

Todd had tried to get in touch with the old woman years prior, but of course the doctor’s staff wouldn’t give him her information.  Routinely driving by the office in hopes of catching her there yielded no results.  He eventually settled into the idea that she had passed away some time after they had met.

Further, no amount of research shed any light on the box, and it had no marks to denote who had made it or where it had come from.

Theresa had become curious about the strange cabinet, but Todd explained it away as a woodworking project.  Something he had made while trying his hand at a new hobby.  The explanation seemed to work, especially since the box always looked new and definitely seemed to be hand-made as opposed to mass-produced.  She asked about making use of the thing, but he insisted he still needed to install shelves inside.

On the morning before his birthday party, Donny wasn’t feeling very well.  The fatigue was returning, and he had a pronounced cough that both of his parents recognized immediately.  Still, the boy insisted that the party not be canceled.  He claimed he was feeling fine, as most children would in his situation.  No one had the heart to postpone the party.  After all, if the illness had returned, there might not be another.

Todd was desperate.  He had waited too long, thought things over too much, and wasted precious time.  He became too comfortable and wasn’t prepared for the next step.

As he stood, sweating profusely, before the gathering of children who had come to celebrate, he found an unexpected sentence escaping his lips.  Something he hadn’t even intended to say.  The words felt dark and terrible in his mouth, and his heart raced as he realized what he had done.

“Let’s surprise him.”

He could barely utter the words without stuttering as he wiped the sweat from his brow.  Within an instant, the handful of other parents were turning to the kids and encouraging them to go hide.  Soon, Donny would manage to get his bearings and would drag himself down the stairs from his bedroom.  In the meantime, what could be more fun than hiding?

From the next room, Todd heard the groan of the box’s hinges.  The deep, resonating metallic echo sounded like the hungry growl of some wild, brutish beast.  Amid the excited giggling and whispering, he heard the door click shut.

Eight more years.

In the Fowler household, the mystery and heartache of a missing child were overshadowed by yet another stunning medical recovery.

Donny would live to the age of twenty.

The time quickly came for Todd to explain why the cabinet he had supposedly built by hand was replaced with a six-foot-tall armoire of the same design.  He stared at the tremendous box for moments on end before telling Theresa that a larger one would be more useful.  It would have much more storage space for important things.

Technically, it was true.

From that point forward, Todd was cold and distant.  He watched Donny grow into a young man.  His son was always energetic, always grateful for every day he had on Earth.  Adversity had molded him into a caring and respectful person.  He even volunteered his spare time after school to help others less fortunate than himself.

Todd told himself he had made the right decision…but had he even made the decision at all?

Another thing the old woman had told him came back to rattle around in his guilt-ridden psyche.

“These things tend to work themselves out.”

Was she speaking in general, or did she specifically mean that borrow boxes would create their own opportunities?  The concept that there was more than one of them out there was a notion too chilling to consider.

It wasn’t until he almost lost his wife that he knew it all had to come to an end.

Todd came home early from work, exhausted from both physical labor and the mental toll of what he had done.  After unlocking the front door and stepping into the living room, he froze at the horrifying sight in front of him. Theresa stood with one foot on the carpet and the other raised onto the floor of the oversized box.  She had all but climbed inside of it, screwdriver in hand.

“Stop!” Todd shouted, unable to control the volume of his voice.

Theresa poked her head out of the cabinet, a mockingly stern look on her face.  She smirked.

“Nope,” she shook her head.  “You’ve had more than enough time…I’m putting the shelves in myself!”

The fear that rose from Todd’s stomach squeezed the air from his lungs, making him light-headed.  In that moment, he wasn’t afraid of Theresa climbing into the box.

He was afraid he would push her in.

The feeling seized him like the sudden and inexplicable urge to jump from a cliff.  He didn’t want to lose his wife.  He never would do anything to harm her.  Still, something insidious perched at the back of his mind.

Donny could live to be thirty-two years old.  That was so much more time than anyone would have ever given him.

“Get out of it!” Todd shouted again, pressing his hands together and interlocking his fingers in a desperate attempt to keep them from shoving her.

Theresa frowned, stepping out and thrusting the screwdriver toward Todd, handle first.

“Fine.  It’s your project.  Whatever,” she sighed.  “I have everything ready to go, so no more excuses, right?”

Todd walked past her to the box, heavy door still hanging open.  He squinted at it hatefully, then turned back to Theresa.  He let out a hot breath before finding the words he wanted.

“You know what, honey?  I’m getting rid of this piece of garbage. I can do better.”

Theresa stepped back in surprise as Todd gripped the box on either side, rocking it back and forth and walking it away from the wall.

“Todd, seriously?  You can’t do that by yourself.”

Distracted, Todd turned his head and gave a sad half-smile.

“I think you’d be surprised at what I’ve done.”

Suddenly, the box began to tip forward.  He had pulled too hard.  Too recklessly.  It fell, the weight of its open door helping throw off its center of gravity.  Theresa screamed as Todd threw his hands out in front of him, finding only the back of the box as it toppled down onto him.  He barely had time to let out a yelp as he stared wide-eyed into the shadowy abyss.

These things tend to work themselves out.

Theresa ran to find her phone, and called for help.  There was no way she would be able to move the wooden hutch by herself.  When she stepped back into the room, she fell silent despite the urging of the voice on the other end of the line.

She found that the box, still lying face-down, lid open, no longer appeared to be what it once was.

Now, it was no bigger than a matchbox.

Dumbfounded, she dropped the phone and slowly approached the box, scooping it up in her shaking hands.

She couldn’t understand anything that had just happened, but she would have sixteen additional years to think it over.

In time, she would figure out what to do.

Rating: 9.42/10. From 12 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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