My students had class today. We're a hard-working school, working through the holidays. The students don't often complain-- at least, the majority don't-- and the teachers get used to it. I don't mind, myself. As I said, I have no one to return to, so I like to just invest myself in a world of numbers.
Today, one of the students asked me why we had to go to school on Boxing Day. Rachael Truman, smart girl, commonly gets the highest marks in the class. Her parents work her too hard, have done ever since their firstborn died. They invited me to the funeral, and it was a rather surreal experience. Michael Truman was buried with a doll of a little girl (he was a student in my class, but I didn't question his personal habits), and the procession actually looked rather faked. The parents seemed to be the only people who were legitimately upset over the matter.
After Rachael asked her question, some other students began taking the predictable next step in questioning: "What is Boxing Day, anyway?" This was a question I could answer, so I turned to face the class, put on my best "Let's all learn something" smile, and began my daily monologue.
"Well, back in the middle ages, when the rich had peasants and servants of their own, it was common sense that the rich would have much better Christmases than the rest of us. But by some sheer act of goodwill, they decided that the rich should give presents and money back to their people; this was traditionally done in boxes on the day after Christmas.
"Of course, this is but the most common theory. No one is certain as to where the date originated or even the name."
In response to this, a young Edward Johns raised his hand. Edward's clearly a bright student, he knows his maths almost as well as I do, but he doesn't do his work. On test days, he never shows up. I admit, I was surprised to see him walk through the door, considering today was a holiday. But at the same time, I know his parents pushed him too hard growing up, and I know what that does to a young lad's mind, so I usually just let him off. Besides, he knew his maths.
Edward stood up and gave a Boxing Day theory he had heard when spending Christmas with his grandparents.
"My pappy used to work in the local library, but this was back in the forties, so everything was different. One day, he was putting some books back and had to wander into the area of the library where the lights didn't work. He never liked going back there, said that's where they kept the Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe and all these other books he found too creepy. But someone had left a Lovecraft book up front, so he had to go and put it back.
"As he was wandering the darkened aisles, he heard people quietly discussing something. They were discussing what to do with a certain box. Pappy looked to see who the people were, but he could only see the back of one of them, and he was wearing a gas mask.
"The man in the gas mask mentioned something about 'eating' the box or.. or something. Eating in the box. The other person quietly said that the boxes were never meant to be found; they were buried underground after the day thousands of humans were stuffed into them.
"The man in the gas mask turned and saw Pappy, and all of a sudden, Pappy felt frozen with fear. The gas mask didn't look like any mask he'd ever seen before. The other man came around, and Pappy saw the other man was blind and clutching a box big enough for a gramophone.
"The gas mask man told the blind man to 'make him forget,' but the blind man replied with 'No. He will look in the box, and I will make him never forget.' And then both were silent.
"Inside the box, Pappy said, was an endless maze of doors. Behind every door was something entirely different, one leading to an endless forest, one leading to a puppet shop, one leading to a tower larger than the sky, but there was one.. particularly odd one. It took Pappy to a quiet room. There was a man facing the other way. Pappy stepped forward, and the man said 'Come no further. I am The Camper Who Gave. I give you knowledge, I give you suffering. I give you everything I never had, and all I take from you is the ability to forget.
"'Sleep now, Robert Johns. This has been a nice visit. Your children will amuse me.'
"And then Pappy was back in his home. Pappy told me that story last night, and he told me after meeting The Camper Who Gave, he suddenly.. knew. He knew many things, impossible things. He told me that Boxing Day was the day the gas mask man and 'the thing above The Camper' buried thousands of humans in those impossible boxes, the day The Camper Who Gave gave all the humans things no human should ever be given.
"And it was not out of goodwill, but out of sheer curiosity. The Camper Who Gave wanted to see what would happen.
Edward sat down, and the whole classroom was in complete silence until it was time to go.