Charlie rarely got any mail. So, when a package came addressed to him one Saturday, he eagerly opened the box. It was from Aunt Doris, and inside there were three wrapped presents. The wrapping paper was decorated with brightly colored cartoon animals.
“I think she forgot when my birthday is,” Charlie said.
“Or maybe she’s just being nice,” Marianne said.
“Can I open them?” Charlie asked, shaking the largest present. It rattled.
“Of course,” Isaac said. “The package was addressed to you.”
Charlie smiled and ripped open the first present. It was full of plain white socks. Marianne smiled. “How lovely. Socks are always useful.”
Charlie set the socks aside. “If they’re unlucky socks, I’m making them into sock puppets.”
“Wouldn’t they be evil sock puppets then?” Isaac asked.
Charlie thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. I think changing them into a puppet changes the luck.
“That’s good to know,” Isaac said.
Charlie picked up the second present and opened it. It was a bow tie. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s so cute,” Marianne said. “You can wear it on school picture day.”
“I wanted to wear my dinosaur shirt,” Charlie said.
“It has a hole in it,” Marianne said. “It’s too worn to wear to school at all.”
“Can’t you fix it?” Charlie asked.
“We’ll see,” Marianne said. “So…open the last one.”
Charlie opened it. Inside there was a metal box with a handle poking out one side. Charlie shook the box. It rattled. He tried opening the lid. “It’s stuck,” he said.
“Turn the handle,” Isaac said.
Charlie turned the handle. Music started playing. He stopped. “Oh, it’s a music box,” he said.
“Keep turning the handle,” Marianne said.
Charlie kept turning the handle and the music played. Da dum da dum da dum dee da dum… When the song ended, the box popped open. Charlie dropped the box. “What was that?” he asked. “I think there was something in there.”
Isaac and Marianne laughed. Isaac picked up the box. “It’s a jack-in-the-box,” Isaac said. “It’s supposed to do that.”
Thunder rumbled. “Oh no,” Marianne said. “Everyone help me bring the laundry in and close all the windows.”
Isaac set the jack-in-the-box down on the counter. They ran outside and brought everything in just before the rain started pouring. “I thought it was supposed to be sunny all week,” Isaac said.
“Well, I guess predicting the weather isn’t an exact science,” Marianne said.
Charlie picked up the jack-in-the-box. “It looks old,” he said. “I think it’s a little creepy.”
He handed it to Isaac. It did look old. The paint was worn and faded. The little man inside had a thin, frowning face. His hair and eyebrows were made of fluffy, dark fibers that poked out of his head as though he was carrying around his own static electricity bubble.
Isaac carefully held one of the tiny hands attached to a flopping cloth arm. “I think his face and hands are made of wood,” he said.
“Is he a wizard?” Charlie asked. “He’s in a blue robe thing with silver stars on it. He just needs a hat.”
“Maybe he is,” Isaac said. “Would you like me to put him on your dresser?”
“I don’t know. He looks angry,” Charlie said.
“I think he just looks sad. Maybe he doesn’t like being in a box,” Marianne said.
“Maybe,” Charlie said. He frowned. “I’ll leave him out of the box. I’ll go put him and the other stuff away.”
“Hurry back. You have a thank you card to write,” Marianne said.
“Okay,” Charlie said.
A week later, Marianne and Charlie were in the garden. Isaac was inside vacuuming. When he got to Charlie’s room, he saw the jack-in-the-box on the dresser. He looked at it. While it didn’t look happy, it did look a little less sad.
“Hmmm,” Isaac said. He shoved the little man in the box and turned the handle. Da dum da dum da dum dee da dum… The little man popped out of the box at the end of the song. He looked like he was glaring.
Thunder rumbled and suddenly it was pouring. Through the window, he could see Charlie and Marianne running inside. “I’m sorry,” Isaac said. “I won’t do that again. I just wanted to know.”
The little man stopped glaring, but he was still frowning. Isaac left to get towels for Charlie and Marianne. The each rushed to take a shower and wash off all the mud. Isaac went back to the jack-in-the-box.
“Do you need help? Were you always a jack-in-the-box?” he asked. The little man looked at him. “Can you blink?”
Slowly, the jack-in-the-box blinked.
“All right. Blink once for yes and twice for no,” Isaac said. “Were you always a jack-in-the-box?”
“Do you need help?”
“All right, I’ll call a friend,” Isaac said. He took a business card out of his wallet. It was a small card, with the words Wendell, Wizard Extrordinaire written above a phone number. He dialed the number.
As soon as he’d explained the problem and hung up, Wendell was knocking at the door. Isaac took the jack-in-the-box with him to answer the door. “Is that him?” Wendell asked. “Wait. That’s a silly question, of course it is.”
Wendell held out his hands and Isaac handed him the toy. Isaac inspected the jack-in-the-box. “Oh, he is really unlucky. Hopefully changing him back changes the luck. This will probably take a lot of work to figure out,” he said. “Can I take him with me?”
“Of course,” Isaac said.
Wendell unzipped the air and stepped through, taking the jack-in-the-box with him. Isaac was left alone on the front step. He went inside to finish the vaccuumming. Later that day, Charlie asked about the jack-in-the-box. “I sent him to get fixed,” Isaac said.
“Oh, okay,” Charlie said. “Can we watch a movie?”