‘The Anything Box’ by Zenna Henderson

My dad read this story out loud to my family while we were driving from our home in the north Bay Area to visit family in Ogallala, Nebraska when I was seven or eight years old. I remember the fugue we’d been in, driving for days across empty beige land in Utah and Wyoming, start to dissolve as I became captivated by the unsettling story: a teacher in a small town finds that one of her sweet, quite students has come into possession a box which holds visions of the viewer’s deepest desires. Of course, things become complicated when the box goes missing, and the teacher must grapple with duties to children, the cost of escapism, and the question of whether anyone, regardless of age, is entitled to innocence. 

First published in the Magazine Of Fantasy and Science-Fiction, 1956, and collected in The Anything Box, Avon Books, 1977