Stephanie Rael graduated from Boise State University in 2010, where she studied English literature and philosophy. Two of her favorite authors are Fyodor Dostoevsky and Witold Gombrowicz. She currently resides in Boise, Idaho
Outside the Box
There was once a mouse who lived in a box. The box was made of brown cardboard and had high walls, so high the mouse could not see anything outside save the sky, and only that because the box happened to have no ceiling. The mouse led a quiet life. He cooked his noodles in the evening, drank his tea, and went to bed early. He lived in peace. Sometimes, though, the mouse could not help but wonder what lay outside the four walls of his home. He wondered if there was something important to be seen out there, or learned. So one night, under a clear sky smattered with stars, he made a plan.
It took the mouse two months to build the ladder, and another couple of days to climb it. When he reached the top, he gripped the edge of the box with his small claws, touching the outside world for the first time. He looked around. The mouse was not so impressed with what he saw. In fact, he was rather disappointed. After a few moments, the mouse climbed down and dismantled the ladder.
The next two days passed without incident. The mouse did not give his journey a second thought. He cooked his noodles, drank his tea, and went to bed early. He lived in peace.
Then, on the third day, the mouse started thinking again about what lay outside the four walls of his home. He had the nagging feeling he had missed something. Had he looked in all directions while he was up there at the top of the ladder? He couldn’t recall. The mouse was unable to shake this feeling the whole night, and did not sleep well. The next day, he started work on a new ladder.
Two months and a couple of days later, the mouse stood again at the top rung of the ladder, and looked out. This time, he made sure to look in all directions. Down, up, near, far, left, right, left again. He stayed at the top a long time. Yet still the mouse was disappointed. He preferred his box, if he was completely honest with himself. He started back down the ladder and when he got to the bottom, he dismantled it. He cooked his noodles, drank his tea, and went to bed early.
Exactly three days later, the mouse had the nagging feeling again. I must have missed something, he thought. There is a whole world out there, after all. Who am I to prefer my humble box to the splendor that lies beyond? Without delay, he started construction on a third ladder.
The mouse went up, he came down. Still, nothing. He was growing frustrated. He cooked his noodles, but he had no appetite. He poured his tea but was not thirsty. He went to bed early, but could not sleep.
As he lay awake, the mouse tossed and turned in bed. There must be a lesson in all of this, he thought. And if there is a lesson, in all likelihood I will learn it out there. The mouse’s eyes moved slowly upwards to the top edge of his cardboard box, and beyond, to the clear sky smattered with stars. He would start work on the ladder first thing in the morning.