OPENING THE BOX • by Jonathan Pinnock

I like it in here. It’s dark, but it’s snug and warm as well. Cosy. I can curl up and go to sleep if I want. I like sleeping, and I’ve got a full belly and it’s been a long day. But for the moment, I’m going to spend some time thinking. I like to think, too. Thinking is good.

As it happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about quantum superposition lately. This might seem a little odd — in fact, an independent observer would have trouble believing that I have even heard of the subject, let alone be sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject to give it serious consideration. But an observer is never independent. That’s the problem with observers.

Anyway, the reason I know about quantum superposition is that it’s something that the Prof keeps going on about. He says that, in isolation, everything exists in all possible states simultaneously, and it’s only when an observer takes a look at it that one of those states is selected at random. If a tree in the forest falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a cat in a box meows and no one can hear it, does it make a sound?

Well, I heard it. But I’m just the cat, part of this closed system, so perhaps my opinion doesn’t count for anything.

Before they shut the door to the box and everything went dark, I had a good look around, and I have to say that there are definitely some odd aspects to this box. There is a strange apparatus in one corner, and the more I think about it, the less I like it. It seems to consist of a tiny sample of some material, a Geiger counter and a device connected to it that’s designed to smash a flask if it detects anything. Something tells me that what this flask contains won’t be good for me.

I’m going to think about this a little more. Let’s say that this sample of material is slightly radioactive. So over the course of a short period of time, one atom might decay or none at all. But if the Prof’s right, within that atom, all the quantum states are superposed, aren’t they? So until that observer checks it out, it’s going to be decayed and not-decayed at the same time.

It’s bad enough trying to get my head around that, but it gets worse. I’m getting seriously worried now about that Geiger counter and the device that’s connected to it. If it’s designed to smash the flask when an atom decays, then the entire flask is going to be smashed and not-smashed all at the same time.

And if that flask contains something bad, what about me?

Hold on, I think I heard something. Or did I? My God, I’m choking. But… I’m not choking. I’m choking and I’m not choking. I need to work this out. Give me a moment. I definitely am choking. I’m gasping. I’m… dead? But how can I think that I’m dead? Unless I’m not dead as well? At the same time? Give me a moment. Don’t do anything rash. Stay calm. I can resolve this myself. I can do this. I can. I’m sure I can.

I hear rustling by the lid of the box. Wait. Please wait. I really can resolve this. I really can. Please. Don’t open the box. Just don’t open the box.


Don’t. Open. The. B —

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedfordshire, England, and — despite having so far visited over forty other countries — has failed to relocate any further away than the next-door county of Hertfordshire. He is married with two children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental jukebox. His writing has won a number of prizes, short-listings and long-listings, and and he has been published in such diverse publications as Smokebox, Litro and Necrotic Tissue. His unimaginatively-titled, but moderately interesting website may be found at

Rate this story:
 average 3 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction