Finn always saved her house for last, not just for the chocolate, but the love of mischief that had been his standard all these long years. It was tiring work, visiting so many homes in one evening, and if it wasn’t for the folderol of that last house he would have been bored a long time ago.
Rose was a conundrum of a human being. Since childhood she had shown a predilection towards the sciences, constantly experimenting with the world around her in order to make sense of it.
The first time he visited her home, he was met with dozens of erector sets in various manipulative forms that he surmised tested gravity, centrifugal and centripetal force, and propulsion systems. On the dresser top were several pieces of colored glass and prisms, kaleidoscopes, homemade telescopes, and plastic containers filled with liquids of many colors. Hanging from the ceiling on pieces of string were several origami birds and balsam wood models of Da Vinci’s inventions, paper airplanes, and miniature kites.
He had been in wonder during that initial visit in the middle of the night, tip-toeing between the contraptions as if they were robots that would magically come to life and reach for him, and then to see the box and stick trap taking up the middle of the floor with scattered quarters and pieces of chocolate beneath it was…well, it was laughable.
In fact, he might have uttered a chuckle or two at the pure absurdity of its simplicity.
Finn was a bit more mischievous than usual for that first encounter. Perhaps it was his way of proving that he was cleverer than she thought, or maybe he wanted to make her feel dumb. Either way, he went to work with a glee that he hadn’t felt in a hundred years.
The first thing he did was take apart every contraption that Rose had built, putting all the pieces of the erector sets into a large pile in the middle of the floor, topping the mountain with the box trap like a jaunty hat. He then emptied all the bottles of liquid into the tub and toilet. After that, he took a permanent marker and colored all the pieces of glass, as well as those in the kaleidoscopes and telescopes. Finally, he tangled and knotted up the strings of the objects hanging from the ceiling.
When he was finished, he sat back and surveyed his work, congratulating himself on the great job. Finn knew he’d be talking about this mess for the rest of the year, maybe the next decade, and when he finally left the house and began the trip home, he was wearing a smile on his face so wide that it pained the edges of his mouth.
He thought it would end there. Maybe one more trip and that would be that. After all, the girl was not the usual believer. But sure enough the next year he was met with the same trap, surrounded by roughly the same type of contraptions. There were a few different things here and there, but the general gist remained. Everything in the room spoke of a girl who was concerned with the science of the world and how things worked.
That time, he was slightly annoyed. The same simple trap, when he knew for a fact that she was far more capable. It was almost as if Rose thought him an idiot. After the wonderful display he left for her last year, he expected something more intricate, but this…it almost mocked him.
In retrospect, Finn had to admit that he went a bit overboard in his zeal. By the time he was finished, he was panting with exertion and sweat was coming out of every pore. He even stuck around to see the cacophony of the next morning when the girl’s parents saw the mess. Of course they blamed Rose, and the ensuing punishment was deliciously satisfying to witness.
He went home that day and just knew it would be the last time he needed to visit Rose Abalean.
But the girl was persistent. He had to give her that. And no amount of maturity seemed to dissuade her from the course. The years passed and he was drawn to her house each time, always to find that same simple trap. The surroundings changed a bit, especially once the teen years hit. The walls were surrounded with posters of singers and actors, replacing the diagrams of the water cycle, volcanoes, and the plate tectonics, but like all things Rose soon returned to what she loved the most…science.
By the time she was sixteen, the contraptions in her room became even more confusing. Beakers and bulbs, microscopes and flasks, lamps and centrifuges, burners and clamps, littering every surface and almost every inch of floor. But sure enough, like clockwork, whenever March 17th arrived so would that damnable box trap.
Over the years, Finn had scaled back his destruction, mostly because he couldn’t top the first two visits, but he always arrived and left with a sense of bemusement. He just couldn’t figure out why she kept the gag going.
And then came the year Rose turned eighteen.
He knew right away upon arrival that something was different. It took a moment or two for him to figure it out, and when he did, the bemusement was replaced with confusion.
The room looked as it did upon his very first visit.
The chemistry stuff was gone, as well as all the trappings of her teenage years. The birds and models were hanging from the ceiling as if they’d never left, and the erector set things were again laid out on the floor, except this time it was a bit more crowded, as if Rose had purchased more of them.
And he noticed one more thing. The erector set contraptions seemed to be interconnected, a large mess of wheels and cogs, sheet metal and girders, bolts and nuts sticking out everywhere in every direction, but all attached in one way or another.
Finn shook his head. Perhaps what he had always thought of as simple childhood amusement, was in fact a mental illness of sorts. It would certainly explain the continued sham. Maybe it was time that he just stopped coming by.
He was about to turn away, possibly say goodbye forever, when he spied something else other than the usual chocolates and coins beneath the box. Creeping closer, he saw that there was a small piece of folded paper sitting on a little round plate.
Finn smirked with amusement. In all these years there had never been a note passed between the two of them. He wondered if an explanation would finally be had.
It was only a few steps more to the box trap. Finn reached out and plucked the note from the plate, so insatiably curious that at first he didn’t hear the whirling sound. By the time he took note of it, he was far too late.
He wasn’t sure what happened next, but all of a sudden the world exploded into movement. All those erector set gadgets shot into action, swinging and springing, clicking and whizzing, as if some sort of slumbering giant was awakening.
Self-preservation finally kicked in, but just as he readied himself to run, a giant cage came crashing down on top of him from some previously undisclosed location…and he was trapped.
In horror, Finn rushed to the edge of the cage and attempted to lift it, only to find he didn’t have the strength. He tried squeezing through the bars, but only succeeded in getting his head stuck, a few moments of panic to wiggle it out again.
Then a light flashed on, blinding him, turning his eyes into slits and forcing him to use the spaces between his fingers to make out the details.
Rose lowered the flashlight so that Finn could see beyond the light. She wore a smile that he couldn’t define.
“Looks like my experiment worked,” she whispered in a deeply satisfied tone.
She stood and walked over to the wall, flicking on the light switch. Then she opened her closet door, where Finn could see all the chemistry equipment she had cleared out of the room placed neatly in stacked plastic tubs.
“You might want to make yourself comfortable,” she said over her shoulder, as she began to haul out all the stuff. “It’s going to be a long night.”
Finn turned away in horror, trying to blot out the sound the glass beakers made as they clinked together. On the floor, he could see that the paper he had picked up from the box trap had unfolded enough by itself that he could make out a single word written in Rose’s scrawling hand.