There was once a boy who died.
His body had woken him at dawn, the curtains betraying his eyes with an inch of sunlight.
His mother was nestled in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for his siblings- tea, toast, and orange slices. Later, he would remember those oranges- that bitter sweetness of warmth. He had devoured them that first time, eaten them without care or thought. Weeks, months later, he replayed that scene. Better controlling his memories, his imagination, he slowed down the chewing, the stickiness over his mouth, fingers, chin; the backrub his mother had given him.
"Your grandfather died five years ago," she said solemnly. "He was a traveler. Africa, India. See the Maharajah and the Himalayas. I think you'll be a great explorer too. Someday."
He lived entire days in this one moment of time.
Stumping back to bed, he laid back down on the couch, tried to sleep. His back sweating, his chest freezing, he finally sat up, slipping on his shorts, jacket, mostly clean shirt, grubby shoes. His mother bade to hug him, but he slung her off, traipsing down the stairs, runging his knuckles against the banister, and skidded out into the alley. Tossing rocks against bricks and window wells, he ran this way, then that, following a trickle of water from the back of the shop out to the street. Loading leafs with pebbles- thin ones racing skiffs, larger ones great barges, he raced them down the gutter and into the drain.
He had played alone, shying from adults out enjoying the sun, became Robin Hood saving Nottingham Forest and the captured band of thieves from King John, visiting the library, the local Underground entrance, speeding through London in time with the sun.
He missed lunch that day, exploring thickets and warrens. His city. Women were out shopping, civil defense workers trooping around, watched as castles of sandbags being erected, soldiers and sailors enjoying leave, seeing homeless dragons out begging, huddled within their deep shadows. Finally growing hungry, he started back for his lunch. He had a few coins. Some won, some pilfered, but wanted to save them for times unknown.
Six blocks from his neighborhood, he heard them blare against the blue sky. The street instantly emptied, leaving him alone, slightly lost. Panicking, he started to run, his socks slipping down his ankles as he sped past each block, trying to find his own. Breathless, his heartbeat merged with the sirens in staccato throbbing. Across this din of noise, a heavy thrumming droned beneath.
Tearing white gashes against the atmosphere, planes streaked across, pluming down low beneath the buildings, arcing up to glint the sun. The boy stopped, mesmerized at the sine waves of planes dropping bombs. He instantly sped down another block, unable to find shelter, each one disappearing before he could reach it. Another plane swooped low, too close, and he was on the ground, hiding his head against murky cobble stones. He got up again and ran.
There it was. Against the white and red and orange of the day, he saw the blue box. He grabbed at the handle, the lock, tugging, pulling to be let in. Unable to open it, he looked around, desperate for a tool or rock to smash it open.
Rubble scattered the road, and he saw it, sticking out from a wooden shelf fragment. He pulled at the screw driver, the handle broken, gashing his palm and fingers. It finally gave, and he fell back. He instantly shoved the screwdriver into the lock and twisted. The door gave way, and he fell inside, sliding the door closed against the world. Lungs heaving, he plopped onto the stool, holding his chest, screwdriver against his stomach, keeping himself whole as the sky continued to light up through the shuttered windows. He closed his eyes, the dull sirens thudding in time with the shrieks.
"There was once," he whispered, "a man. A medical missionary. A doctor. And he travelled with his granddaughter and he showed her the world… the universe."
Hours passed as his mind raced. He was no longer there in his safety box, but beyond everything that could hurt him.
Slowly. The droning ended, the sirens' decibels declining as he emerged from his dreams, and came back to himself.
Inhaling, he finally looked around the police box. Stool, desk, telephone that didn't work, and a string with a single key hooked around a nail. He plucked at the thread and looped it around his neck. Protecting the key beneath his shirt, the metal was cold against his skin, but quickly became warm comfort. Pocketed the screwdriver, he finally left his refuge. He tested the key to the police box- found that the locking mechanism still worked, and quickly left for his home amid the rubble, random people-some unknowingly carrying tea cups, assessing the damage, fighting to out the fires.
Turning the corner of a blown out street- glass, metal bits, brick tumbled everywhere, his neighborhood had been untouched.
His mother greeted him on the sidewalk. She was covered in coal dust; his siblings grubby in dirt, he in ash and smoke, but all embraced as she escorted them all back inside.