It was that time again. Around August, every year for the past two decades, Michael consulted the box. He had to. It was part of his job as chief forecaster for the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Some would say it was all of his job, but he would disagree. There were plenty of other chores he did around the office on Main Street in Dublin, New Hampshire that justified his salary, but this was by far the most important.
The box was kept in the editor’s office on the floor. It was unlocked – in fact, Michael was sure he’d never even seen the keys for it. The information inside it was too valuable to risk not being available when needed. Michael shuddered to think how much damage would result from an attempt to force open that black box. He might never be able to create the eerily accurate year-long forecast that the almanac was famous for. No, it was best to leave it unlocked, safely in the editor’s office. The office door could be locked, sure, but there was no need.
Nobody stole anything here. It just wasn’t that sort of town. What came first, the town or the almanac? Was the reason for the honest nature of the citizens due to the intentions of the founder over 225 years ago? Or did he choose to place his center of operations in this place because of its nature? Did it matter? The two went together like peanut butter and jelly, both making each other better by being together.
Michael had been carefully advised on the preparations he had to do before even starting to write the forecast. It was a carefully guarded secret handed down orally from meteorologist to meteorologist. Even the editor didn’t know what was involved. Even Michael’s wife, a kind lady who’d claimed him as her own when they were both in their mid-20s half their lives ago, even she who had seen his ups and downs and in between, even she didn’t know.
It was only after he understood and agreed to the very specific and arcane instructions that he was even offered the job. It was essential for everyone’s safety, no doubt about it. One step forgotten or performed in the wrong order and people would die. Not immediately, probably. He was by nature an inquisitive man, but on this point he knew better than to question any part of the litany, and never to write it down.
But what if he died before he found his replacement? Subsequent meteorologists were carefully selected and groomed for the job by the current occupant. How would the knowledge pass on if he wasn’t around? It turns out that this wasn’t a concern. In fact, it was one of the perks of the job although nobody else knew it. He couldn’t die from an accident as long as he performed the annual pre-prognostication ritual carefully and correctly. He wasn’t sure how closely the ritual matched the preparations the high priest made to approach the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple 3000 years ago but he was pretty sure it wasn’t far off.
That cool August day, he took the box from the current editor’s office and took it to his own. He sat down at his small wooden desk after he’d locked the door. It was best to not be interrupted. He made sure that everybody was out of the office so they wouldn’t need anything from him for the rest of the day. They understood how important it was to not interrupt him once he started, but they might forget and try to come in to get a refill on their coffee or to tell him the latest sports score. He often did his forecasts on a Saturday for this very reason, so he could be sure nobody would be there.
Michael took a deep breath in and opened the box. He took out all the papers and put them to the side. He kept the empty box in front of him. The box was what mattered after all. The papers were a red herring, put there to confuse and misdirect. That was the trick – anybody could open the box and look through the papers there. The instructions made no sense to anyone, even him. This was on purpose. The box was the secret. This is why it had never changed for all these years. It certainly wasn’t out of a sense of sentimentality or thrift.
The box was forged from a blend of steel, copper, and meteor. The tiny meteor had fallen behind Robert Thomas’ house all those years ago. When he touched it with his spade while turning the soil for his wife’s daffodil bed, it told him in his mind that it would tell him the future. Not meaningless trivia, mind you, not anything so banal as who would win the World Series or who would be president in 130 years. No, this meteorite would tell him what really mattered – the weather.
It was the weather that caused the crops to grow or not. It was the weather that made life pleasant or deadly. Balmy days were nice, but ice storms and floods were what really mattered. Robert knew better than to keep the meteor as is. It might get lost, or forgotten, or mistaken for a knickknack or a paperweight and get put in the rock garden or given to a grandchild. No, he knew what to do – blend it with molten metal and then forge that into a box. Nobody would think twice about a small metal box, like the kind you would use for keeping cash in at a garage sale or school bazaar. It was hiding in plain sight.
Michael looked into the box and knew everything all at once. Some people thought making up the forecast for the year for the whole country was difficult. It turns out that the hard part was separating it out. The information came all at once into his mind, like a zip file. It took him the rest of the afternoon to scribble the important parts of it down, and then a week later to fill in the details and sort it out into an acceptable shape.