(Listen to an audio reading of this story on YouTube here!)
“I want to go home.”
“And I want to go to the moon. It’s not happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that.”
“Don’t call me that.” She hated his sarcasm sometimes. Looking around, she perused the hundreds and hundreds of buttons. Blast the whole thing. Why couldn’t any of them have labels? She scanned, once again, through the selection. Perhaps some of the buttons would show more wear than the others? But no, they all were immaculate and frustratingly perfect.
The large box in which they stood glided above Times Square now, peacefully drifting over the chaos and traffic below. It was a little unnerving, given the fact that much of the floor they stood upon was transparent via a large glass window. Most of the box seemed to be made of glass, with brass on the edges and around the buttons. Emma, however, didn’t focus on her surroundings, like Thomas had been doing. One of these buttons had to take them back home to Indiana, and she would find it, no matter how long it took.
The two of them weren’t quite sure what to make of the strange box when it had appeared suddenly in front of their house that morning. “The Amazing Sightseer” the top of the box said in silver calligraphy over the doorway. And under that, the words ‘Step inside and prepare to be amazed!’ After they had stepped in, however, the door shut and seemed to disappear, and in its place an imposing wall of countless buttons.
They had been in the box for quite some time now, exploring the world with the occasional push of a button, at first they were fascinated at witnessing so many historical buildings and monuments all over the world, but enough was enough. It was hard to comfortably sit down in the box, between the two of them. Besides, Emma had a date that night.
After a careful minute of consideration, she chose a possible suspect, and pushed the button.
The box immediately lurched into motion, launching upwards once again and throwing Emma and Thomas to the floor, somewhat sprawled over each other in the confined space. Soon it slowed its ascent and started speeding further east. Emma saw a speck shaped like the Statue of Liberty through the ground as the box raced on its way.
To Emma’s surprise, Thomas didn’t complain this time. Instead, he untangled himself and returned to where he had stood before in the corner, staring down through the glass to what was now the Atlantic Ocean, rushing at an unimaginable speed. Soon, the smell of sea salt wafted into their noses as the whole world around them turned blue.
“Looks like that was the wrong button,” Emma said by way of apology.
“We’re never going to get home if you do it that way. Do you even remember what button you pressed?”
“I do, too!” she retorted. Looking back at the wall, she tried scanning the mass and realized that her fall had completely thrown her off. It was impossible to tell which button was which once more.
Thomas sighed. “The only way to we’re going to get home is if we apply an algorithm.”
“A what?” Emma asked.
“It means we systematically press every button until we get home.”
“That’s going to take forever!”
“It’s going to take a lot longer if you press any button more than once.”
“Alright, genius, let’s see you get us home.”
Thomas, by way of reply, cracked his fingers and walked up to the wall. Emma rolled her eyes when she watched him simply press the upper left button.
Their momentum slowed, and soon the box was moving in the opposite direction from which it had come, though it was hard to tell over the rolling waves of the Atlantic. In that moment, their only point of reference was the Sun, but Emma could have sworn it sat far lower in the horizon than it was a minute ago. Even still, as they started to fly in that general direction, it almost seemed as if it was going back up.
“Thomas!” she shouted. “I think we’re going back in time!”
“What?” he replied. “That’s ridiculous, what makes you think that?”
“The Sun’s going back up!”
He sighed. “That’s because we’re going west incredibly quickly. Going back in time is impossible.”
“So is a magic box that takes us anywhere in the world,” she pointed out.
“Anywhere except where we want to go, that is,” Thomas muttered. Eventually, land came into view, but it didn’t look familiar.
Thomas tried the button directly below the first. They launched south. The next one started to take them further west, but before they got to the Pacific Ocean he tried again. This time the box finally took them north, and after several minutes of the soft humming of the box, they got to Los Angeles.
He kept trying. West. East. South. East. Thomas concentrated on his task, systematically trying every button on the first column, while Emma tried to forget about her date by staring out the windows. Thomas had taken a lot of the fun out of the experience, not waiting for the box to arrive at each individual destination before pressing a new button, but soon she stopped caring about that. There was no way she could be on time for a date if they didn’t get home soon.
When Thomas got to one of the middle buttons on the second column, they slowed to a stop. This hadn’t happened before, so it piqued their interest. After a moment of stillness, the box started to launch upwards. It went up and up, accelerating until eventually the horizon started to curve inwards and they left the atmosphere, breaching the cold, dark nothingness of space. They stared down the floor window, gazing at the ever shrinking Earth as the view expanded, mountains being covered by the shadows of clouds and the soft blue of the sea enlarging to compete with the wondrous sight. For a few moments, they forgot their predicament as the sheer vastness of the world presented itself before them.
After they finally managed to tear their eyes from the planet, they turned around to something even more astonishing: the impossible infinity of the stars. Every corner of the cosmos was filled with dozens upon dozens of stars. There was only one small area in which they couldn’t see any stars, and that was the enlarging circle of the Moon.
The box, arriving at its destination, drifted around so the moon was below them. Slowing down, it scattered dust around it as it landed with a soft pat. Earth was just a small disc, now, barely bigger than the size of Emma’s thumb. If the wonder of the box wasn’t quite apparent before, it didn’t escape them now.
“Well, you did say you wanted to go to the Moon,” Emma smiled, incredulity betraying her demeanor.
“It’s,” Thomas began, awestruck. “It’s amazing.”
At that word, some of the buttons started flashing red. In a line, the ones that turned red spelled out ‘AMAZING‘, and after they flashed off and on a few times, one singular button flashed green. Soon the red lettering changed to spell out ‘HOME‘. A few moments later, the red lettering faded, but the green button stayed lit.
“Shall we?” Thomas asked, moving his hand to the green button.
“Actually,” Emma said, date forgotten. “I think I can stomach one more. I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal. I wonder how long it’ll take us to find the right button.” She pressed one of the buttons adjacent to the flashing green one, and it didn’t take long before they were hurtling through space once more, back towards the giant blue circle they called home.