The Big Man decided to seal the metal box and shake it until the parts made a machine. The Big Man shook the box for a very long time, which was okay because he had nothing better to do. He shook the box for days and days. One afternoon, the box began to hum and vibrate, and this pleased the Big Man. He set the box on the floor of his shed and went back to doing whatever it is that Big People do when they’re not shaking boxes of junk.
The box hummed and vibrated gently, and it made the Big Man happy. Sometimes the pitch of the humming or the frequency of the vibration would change slightly, but nothing else happened for a long time. Then, one dusty morning, the box did something that the Big Man never expected: it began to talk. It babbled nonsensically at first, but soon it began to form simple sentences. By that same evening, it started to ask questions.
The box asked if there was anything outside itself. If so, the box wanted to know if they were shaped like boxes too. The box asked if something outside had made it, and if so, what. Mostly, it asked what it was supposed to be doing. The box asked these questions incessantly. The Big Man tried to tell it about his favorite bands, and how lame Impressionist art is, because those were the only things he could talk about, but the box wasn’t listening. The box was only interested in asking the same questions over and over.
The box kept the Big Man up all night with its questions. By the morning, the box had grown tired of questions and had resorted to inventing answers. It guessed that there was a world outside itself. It guessed that there were no other boxes like itself out there, but just one Big Box that had created it. The box guessed that the Big Box had built it for a reason, but it couldn’t decide what that reason was. Every time the box came up with a reason, there would be several muffled explosions and a period of silence. Finally, the box decided that the Big Box would only tell it what it was supposed to do if it could please the Big Box with gifts. So, by the box’s second day of functioning existence, it began to make little things that came out of a chute projecting from one side. These things varied, but they were all vaguely box-shaped and they all had inscriptions on them saying that they were for the Big Box. Each one of the things was preceded by a puff of black smoke.
All this perplexed the poor Big Man. He was perplexed by the little things because they didn’t do anything and they cluttered up his shed. He was perplexed by the black smoke because it made him cough and it gave him a headache. He was especially perplexed because he couldn’t figure out why, in fact, he had made the box. Even if he could figure it out, the Big Man realized, there was no way he could tell the box what he wanted it to do. These questions, along with the smoke and the clanging of little things, kept the Big Man awake all of the second night.
By the third day, the box had stopped making little things and smoke, which pleased the Big Man. Instead, the box had gone back to asking questions and inventing answers. It argued with itself all of that day and into the night. Each time a new idea arose, the box shook with loud bangs and pops. First, it decided that all it was meant to do was be the best box it could be. Then, it decided that it was supposed to be making another box just like itself, but that idea didn’t last very long. Finally, it decided that if there ever had been a purpose, only the Big Box knew what it was, and the Big Box likely didn’t even work anymore.
All the arguing and exploding kept the Big Man up for the third night in a row, and that made him very angry. He put the box under a zinc tub and napped fitfully through most of the fourth day. When he woke up that evening, he was alarmed to find that the box had built itself a long mechanical arm that projected from one of its flat, shiny sides. It had used the arm to push the tub off and it was now slithering around on the floor.
The box touched everything it could reach with its spidery metal hand, and it gave funny names to everything it touched. The Big Man couldn’t get out of bed, for fear that the box might grab him and give him a funny name. He spent the whole night sitting up and poking the box away with a broom. The box called the poking a “Pooferon of the 42nd Type,” and moved away.
When the Big Man awoke on the fifth day, after only a few hours of restless sleep, he found that the box had built itself another lanky metal arm and a set of six crab-like legs. The box was running around the shed, declaring that it understood fully the contents of the room and that it must find a way out so that it could fathom the nature of the rest of the outside world. After several failed attempts, the box was able to open the shed’s door and run out into the junkyard.
The Big Man, afraid that the box would hurt someone or make a mess, went out after it. He could not find the box for a very long time, though he often heard it naming things it had come across and declaring that it understood them completely. The Big Man searched all day and all night, but he couldn’t catch the box. He finally gave up and found an old car to sleep in, just in case the box went back to the shed. He slept painfully, had no dreams, and woke up feeling exhausted.
On the sixth day, the Big Man saw a pall of black smoke on the horizon. He went to investigate it, and found that the box was bust building some kind of factory. On closer inspection, the Big Man realized that the factory was intended to make more boxes. The box declared that reproduction had been its purpose from the beginning, and that it had known as much all along.
This was too much for the Big Man, and he decided to do something about it. He swung at the box with a large piece of wood and knocked the glinting steel crown off the top of it. The box declared that the Pooferon of the 42nd Type had returned and it leapt at the Big Man. The two fought and wrestled for hours, kicking up a cloud of dust into the afternoon sun. Finally, the Big Man grasped the box firmly and shook it. He shook it with all his might. He shook the box long into the night. All the while, the box declared that it was winning and that it would soon vanquish the Pooferon of the 42nd Type forever.
As dawn came to the Big Man’s junkyard, the box began to flag in its mechanical vigor. Its metal arms and legs ceased to move. The humming sound dropped in pitch and stopped altogether. The vibrations slowed, became intermittent spasms, and eventually gave out. The box once more became a collection of junk. The Big Man felt no pang of regret, but rather a swelling sense of accomplishment. He finally had something else to talk about.
And on the seventh day he rested.