The funeral wasn't quite as bad as he had expected. In fact, it flew by rather quickly, and was far from the laboured, strung-out affair he had anticipated in the days prior. The support from friends of the family, and his fiancé, were precisely what he needed, and helped him to get through the unexpected loss of his Grandfather.
This was the first family member he had lost as an adult, the only other relatives he knew to have passed away were from his childhood, and he couldn't really remember them particularly well anymore. His Grandfather, on the other hand, was someone he was very close with. He would often visit and talk about nothing specific, which was good for them both. For him, it was a way to speak out loud without fear of judgement, and for his Grandfather it was enjoyable to hear about his life and vicariously live through him.
Alan was pondering all of this, remembering the times he would stay far later than he had ever intended, having done little more than sit and talk whilst drinking copious amounts of tea, when he was drawn back to the present by Diane, his fiancé, tugging at his left arm to grab his attention. It took him a second to come around and he was a little sad to have been dragged away from the pleasant memories.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, I was just remembering some good times with Grandpa." Diane pursed her lips slightly, keeping her eyes locked with his. Alan loved that about her, how incredibly direct she was, even in gentle moments of concern. It had him appreciate her even more every time he saw it, and he would always take in her soft cheeks, her long, brown hair, immaculately brushed and tied, and he would always embrace the stare from her eyes, a deep, dark brown.
Diane did not pursue the matter any further, and intertwined her right arm with his left. They did not say anything further for several minutes, and stood with each other in silence.
"Alan." The soft, yet stoic, voice of his Father was unmistakeable, and Alan turned to face him.
"Dad?" His Father had always been a gentle person, but was ever-decisive, and even in the face of his own father's death, he was no different, being the first to get the whole process in motion for the funeral. Alan was confident that keeping busy was his Father's way of coping with a great deal of things, this being no exception, but there was a real concern that after everything was finished, when there was nothing left to do, that the calm exterior would deteriorate rather rapidly.
"It's nearly time to go and have the will read."
"I'm afraid so." His Father's matter-of-fact tone was another indicator for Alan, telling him that any further questions would be an unwelcome hindrance.
"Okay, I'll make sure we're ready." Alan turned to Diane quickly, before turning back to face his Father.
"Good. I'll get your mother." With that, he stepped past the two of them and headed towards the kitchen. Alan watched him disappear in-between the other darkly dressed mourners and out of sight.
"You ready?" Diane still had a look of concern on her face.
"As I'll ever be." Alan did not turn to face her, keeping his gaze locked on where his Father had just been.
* * * * * * * * * *
The four of them sat patiently as the executor cleared his throat to begin speaking. Alan was allowing himself to daydream, continuing to reminisce about his Grandfather. This time, he was thinking about when they both went to see a play together, and were stuck in debate for most of the evening about the principal characters and their true meaning.
It wasn't long before he was displaced from those thoughts by the mention of his name. The executor had already gone through some of the main items, such as the house and money, all of which were being passed down to Alan's Father, but it was now that he had moved on to the more specific items that some odd points were being made.
"While I leave the majority of my estate to my son, Edgar, I have some small items that I leave for my Grandson, Alan." Alan's Mother and Father looked over at him, and Diane gripped his hand tightly. "First, I leave a small, wooden lockbox. This is of immense sentimental value, and I ask that Alan open the box in private and read the note I have left inside for him."
The executor paused to lift up the box in question. It was heavily carved with ornate symbols that Alan did not recognise, and it sounded like there were several items inside, clattering around as it was placed on the desk.
"I left this here to be handed to Alan during the reading as I wanted it to be kept safe, ready for this unfortunate eventuality." Alan's Father was leaning forward to try and get a better look at the box, his brow furrowed in confusion. His expression did not change as the executor brought out another item for them to see. "Second, I leave this key, which should always be kept separate from the lockbox. After you read the note inside, you will understand why this is."
The key was heavily rusted, and hung from a large metal ring, also rusted. It looked like it was designed for a gate or shed, and as if it had not been used in many years. There were some engravings, similar to the lockbox, all along the shaft, and the bow was in the shape of a square, rather than a circle or oval.
"Finally, I leave Alan my everlasting thanks and eternal gratitude for his love and companionship over the years. I am honoured to have known such a good-hearted man, even more so to know he is my own flesh and blood. I wish you and Diane all the luck in the world for the future."
There was silence as they all waited for anything further, but the executor placed the will gently on his desk, took off his glasses and looked up at them all.
"Is there anything else?" Alan's Father had a slight crack in his voice.
"No, that was the end. Were you expecting anything else?"
"No, I just…that was…" Edgar could not seem to find the right words, something highly uncharacteristic of him.
"I think what my Dad is trying to say is that the last few items, specifically for me, were a little odd." Everyone had turned to look at Alan, and he had a slight feeling of regret for speaking up. "I appreciate that whatever's on that piece of paper is what my Grandfather wrote, but I guess we just wanted some clarification on the sudden change at the end."
"Well, I don't know what to say. That was everything he had put. It seems to have mirrored a lot of what he'd said to you earlier on, Mr. Reed," the executor replaced his glasses on his nose and was skimming through the will, and peered up at Alan's Father when he mentioned him, "but I'm afraid I can't do much more than read what is written and hand out the items left with us."
"I understand," Alan's Father had regained his composure, "I'm sure you're used to a lot of unexpected situations in this job."
"A few, yes." The executor allowed himself a wry grin in an attempt to lighten the situation.
They all exchanged some final pleasantries before finishing up and heading to leave. Alan carried the lockbox and key out to the car, still puzzled by them.
"What do you think's in the box?" Diane was locking eyes with him once more. Alan's Father looked back over his shoulder towards the two of them.
"I don't know." Alan took a second to think, and his Father turned to face forwards again. "You think I should open it alone, like he asked?"
"Of course!" Alan's mother had been quiet to this point, and her voice was almost startling to hear. "Why wouldn't you obey his wish?"
"No, that's not what I meant," Alan held up on hand in protest, as if to shield himself from the verbal assault, "I was just saying it's an odd request. Diane and I don't hide anything from each other."
"Well I don't have a problem with it." Diane had not averted her gaze. "I'm sure he wanted that for a good reason, and who am I to stand between you and your Grandpa's wishes?"
"Thank you, sweetie." They had arrived at the car, and Alan's Father was already getting in the driver's seat. Alan and Diane got in the back, the box placed between them. No one spoke as they drove home, but Alan's Father looked back at Alan and the box several times on the journey.
* * * * * * * * * *
Alan did not open the box for four days after the reading. Diane had brought it up on the third day, asking why he had not opened it yet, but did not push the matter after Alan said he was not ready yet. On the fourth day, Diane was going out with friends and left Alan alone in the house. While he knew she would not have disturbed him in his office, had he simply asked, he wanted to have the house completely to himself before even entertaining the thought of opening the box.
It was mid-morning on a Saturday, and Alan had not dressed, instead getting out of bed, putting on the kettle, and then bringing the box out from the back of his wardrobe where it had been, untouched, since he got back from the reading. He placed it on the table in his living room before going to make a cup of tea from the boiled kettle.
As the steam rose from the cup, he blew on it and considered what might be in the box. Was it some kind of heirloom? Were there documents, or perhaps a notebook, or diary? He then began to imagine something more like a video, upon which his Grandfather had recorded a confession for some unknown crime, only to be spoken of after he was gone.
Alan knew that he could not go on with these unknowns, and must open the box and discover what it was his Grandfather had left for him. He sat down and stared at the box, trying to recognise the symbols that were covering it, but none of them were at all familiar to him. The ornate key was resting atop the box, and Alan picked it up to look at the symbols there as well. They were, indeed, the same as those on the box, but that was of little help to Alan.
Finally overcoming the apprehension and wonder of what the box contained, he placed the key in the lock and twisted. Initially, it would not turn, and he had to use both hands to get enough grip for it to finally do so. The rust was scraping on the inside of the lock, and Alan thought it would get stuck for a second, but then it sprang free and finished it's turn to open the lock.
It sprang open, just a crack, and a musty smell escaped. Alan, having leant forward to force the key, coughed from the smell and the dust. After composing himself, he took another sip of tea, a deep breath, and opened the box.
Inside were various objects that he could not identify. Some were metal, with sharp ends. There were also some vials with opaque liquid contents. Most prominently, he saw the note that was referred to in the will sitting atop the other items in a sealed envelope. It seemed to be in pristine condition, unlike everything else, all of them covered in several layers of dust. Alan lifted it out of the box, and realised it was like the paper was brand new, not as if it had been stored in a box for years on end.
Alan tore open the envelope and folded open the note.
My Dearest Alan,
It pains me that you are reading this, because that means I am dead. Not only that, but it's also a sign that I was unable to teach you the things I must tell you in this note. There is so much to tell, and so very little time to do so, so I must keep it brief.
Alongside this lockbox, you should have a key to a safety deposit box in the city. This is not important for now, but will be in the future, so make sure to keep that key safe above everything else.
Inside this lockbox are various artefacts and pieces of equipment you will need to use, and I will not have time to fully explain them all to you. Please trust in me that I would not ask anything of you other than that which is of the utmost importance. What I will detail below will seem strange, and I can only hope you believe me long enough to find proof for yourself that I am not sending you on some fool's errand.
On the back of this letter is a design that you will need to combine the items in this box. I need you to go to the address at the top and follow the design without deviation. When you get there, you will understand what it is I am asking of you.
Thank you, Alan, for all those years of visiting me when I would otherwise have been alone. You have exceeded every expectation I could have ever had for you, and that is why I am handing this to you and not to your Father.
Now time is of the essence, you must not wait any longer. Head to the address and follow the instructions as I have posed. I have every faith in you, my boy.
Alan looked up at the contents of the box, and then turned the note over to look at the design. As the letter stated, there were complex diagrams showing how to combine all of the items in the box. What they made, he could not see, but it looked like they all became one object or mechanism, and were then inserted into another object. The address at the top of the page was out of the city, in a small village in the middle of the countryside. It would take him a couple of hours to reach it.
He took a deep breath, and sighed to himself. What was this all about? Was this some sort of a game? Opening the box had not answered any of Alan's question, merely created new ones. Regardless, he knew he had to find out what this was all concerning, so he placed the note back in the box, sealed it shut and headed towards his bedroom to get dressed. After all, there was no time to waste.