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Pandora by Holly Hollander

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Pandora by Holly Hollander

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Author: Gene Wolfe
Publisher: Orb Books, 1993
Tor, 1990

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Contemporary Fantasy
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The box is heavy, locked, and very old. The only clue to its contents is the name written in gold upon its lid: PANDORA. Bright teenager Holly Hollander is understandably curious about what's inside, but when the box is opened, death is unleashed... and Holly is the only one who can solve the deadly puzzle.


Pandora by Holly Hollander


How the Box Got to Barton

THE German 88 mm. gun was undoubtedly the most famous artillery piece of World War II. It fired a 22 lb. shell and could pick off a tank a mile away. The Germans called it the "Gun Flak"; it weighed 5.5 tons, it had an extreme range of nine miles, and it killed thousands of Russian, British, and American soldiers.

I got all that out of a book.

A shell from a German 88 almost killed my father, twice. I didn't get that from the book--he told me about the first time.

My father is George Henry Hollander. In his company, which is Hollander Safe & Lock, they call him G. H. Hollander. Anyhow I guess they do, because he took me down to their headquarters one time--they rent four floors of this big building in the Loop--and that was what it said on his door: "G. H. Hollander, Chief Operating Officer." Only his business cards say: "G. H. 'Harry' Hollander." I used to have one of those cards around here, but I guess I lost it.

Anyway, he lied about how old he was and joined thearmy in 1943, when he was seventeen. He said he figured he never would get drafted, because his father was Herbert Hollander and had so much money, and he was going to this private school in the east, and he hated it. So one night he hitchhiked into New York, and spent the rest of the night walking around and sitting in bars and what he calls onearm joints. And the next day he told them he was eighteen and hadn't registered for the draft, but now he wanted to enlist. He trained in America for a couple of months, I guess, and then they sent him overseas, and he was in one of the waves that landed at Anzio. I forget which wave, but not the first. Anyway, he was a supply clerk in an infantry company, and later on he was the supply sergeant. The day that he landed, this 88 shell smacked into the sand right at his feet. He said he heard it coming, only he hadn't learned to flop down without thinking, the way he did later. If it had gone off, it would've killed him for sure, and I wouldn't be here writing this.

The second time is kind of funny, because he wasn't even there. But before I tell you about it, I think I ought to tell you a little about me and my father and mother and Barton, and Barton Hills, which is where we were all living then.

My name's Holly H. Hollander. The H is for Henrietta, so you can see why I don't use it. My mother--her name's Elaine Calvat (that's pronounced Kal-VAH)--wanted a cute name, and I was born on Christmas Eve. My father wanted me named for him, because it must have been awfully obvious even back then that there weren't going to be any more kids. I'm older now than my father was when he joined the army, which really wipes me out.

If you've been adding and subtracting, you will have seen that my father was pretty well up there already when I was born, but my mother was only about twenty-three. She used to be his secretary, and she's quite a bit younger than he is.

Maybe you want to know what we look like. You've seen guys like my father around quite a bit, I guess, if you're thekind of person who serves on boards of directors. He's big. He has short gray hair and one of those old noble-Roman faces. He used to be on the stout side, if you know what I mean, but since all this happened he's lost some weight and looks a little younger. I remember one time a couple of years ago when he had a bunch of men like him out to the house. I always shake hands with guys, because I can tell they like it, and afterward I went over and felt my father's hands because the ones I had been shaking felt so yucky. His were the only ones that weren't soft. He used to say that if things had been different he would've made somebody a good mechanic, and I think he was right. He had a shop in our basement with a lot of tools, and at night sometimes he worked on some of the stuff the company made, and lots of other things.

My mother's a natural blonde, with that straight hair that looks like it's been ironed. Us Hollanders are supposed to be Dutch if you go back far enough, and the Calvats are supposed to be French; but Elaine's the one with the blond hair and the kind of skin you think you can see through. Only I've always thought of Dutch girls as having these round, apple cheeks, and Elaine's certainly aren't like that. She has this perfect almost heart-shaped little face you see sometimes on sexy girls in the comic strips--the kind that goes just super with a hat about the size of a cold-cream jar that cost five hundred dollars. To tell the truth, my mother never used to look like my mother; she looked like she was about thirty, which would make her my big sister, and quite a few times she asked me to pretend she was my aunt. Sometimes I used to think I was adopted. Nobody would ever say it was true, and I know that lots of kids think that--half of my friends at Barton High did--but for me it wasn't as crazy as it sounds.

I'm kind of tall, but not real tall. My hair's brown, like my father's was before it turned gray. It's curly, and I let it grow long enough to hang a good way down my back. Itan and I'm usually pretty brown, and I have strong arms; all that's because I really love tennis and horses--especially horses. We used to have a little stable, and I had an Arabian gelding called Sidi ben Sahid. We had a tennis court, too. Sidi's gone now, but I still hitch up to North Park two or three times a week to play on the courts there. There's room for a horse here, and someday I'm going to buy Sidi back, or anyway buy another horse, maybe a jumper.

Let's see, what else?

I swim quite a bit when it's warmer. I used to blast cans off the fence with my .22, and now I'm pretty good at squirrels. My eyes are brown, my face is squarer than Elaine's, with high cheekbones, and my nose turns up in a way that I guess makes me look snotty sometimes. I'm not very big up top, but the shape's good. I have this little waist that I can nearly get my hands around (which is something nobody seems to care about any more, although from Jane Austen and like that it seems to me it used to be terribly important), and good hips and legs. Kris, a guy I used to go with, said I had the greatest ankles in the world. Since I've already mentioned Jane Austen, maybe I ought to come right out and admit that I read quite a bit, even though that's a crime or something now, and you wouldn't think it to look at me. I wear contacts for reading, and for tennis and squirrel hunting, and sometimes for other stuff.

When I was a little kid in Middle School the teachers were always asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. Well, I'm grown up now, and I guess since you're reading this it's pretty obvious what one thing I want to be is. I want to be a writer. I also want to be an adventuress. (I'm as liberated as you are, but adventurer doesn't really mean the same thing, now does it?) I'm going to have a ton of adventures, and write about them when they're over--like this--and sleep with rock stars and then sue them.

Okay, now you know quite a bit about me, and my father and mother. Barton is a town of about 10,000 and it's 65miles by car from the Loop. Lots of pretty wealthy people live in Barton, but the really rich ones live west of it in Barton Hills, where every house has to have at least twenty acres. The high school and fire department are both in Barton. (Barton Hills has its own police force, with maybe three cops and two cars.) I don't think there's a building in Barton that's more than two floors high, not counting the water tower.

From what I've told you already, you can guess that in and around Barton there are quite a lot of ladies who have quite a bit of money and quite a bit of spare time. Which means there are lots of social affairs of one kind and another; some of them make me laugh, but it isn't all bad. Like, they run a regular store, the Snatchpenny, where you can buy donated stuff--clothes that don't exactly fit somebody any more (or maybe never did), third toasters, and like that. I live in jeans and denim shirts mostly, and they never seem to get those, but even so I've found some real bargains, like my sheepskin coat for nineteen ninety-five this winter. The ladies clerk for free maybe half a day a week, and all the money goes to Barton Community Hospital. They put on plays, too, and dances, and there are clubs for handball and horseshoes and so forth, and two literary societies--one for people who want to talk about books that have been dramatized on TV and one for people who don't.

But the biggie, the really big, big deal, comes at the end of July. Most Barton families take their vacations in January or February and go to Bermuda or the Virgin Islands, because the winters can be really mean here but the summers are nice. But even if they didn't, I think that almost everybody would try to schedule things so they were in town for it. What it is, is the Barton Antique Fair and Art Festival. Usually we just call it the Fair. People bring antiques from as far as Philadelphia to show for prizes, and there's a couple of auctions, and a lot of stuff that's just for sale at a set price, like a thousand bucks for an early colonial banisterbackedchair or maybe twenty-five for a 19th-century sauerkraut crock. There's a used-book sale where the books go for anything from a hundred dollars to five-for-a-buck, and an art show, and an art auction, and a whole lot of artists who come to sell their work direct--sketches and oils and watercolors, and sculptures and woodcarvings and a lot of other junk. And there's always a special event that's different every year.

The Fair takes over all of Barton High and spills out into the grounds in front; and people park their cars in the parking lots, and all over all three softball diamonds, and all up and down Main Street. The really valuable antiques are inside the classrooms just in case it rains, although it hardly ever does. The art show is in the art rooms upstairs, and the book sale's upstairs in the chem lab. The artists set up outside if they're selling paperweights and that kind of junk, and inside if they have paintings and real reputations. There's a Gourmet French Lunch fixed in the kitchen. (Would you believe it's the Lions who do that? Most years they have quiche Lorraine, fresh French bread and butter, tossed salad, some kind of dessert crepe, and a choice of regular or decaf, tea, or milk. It costs $5.50 or so. My father used to be a Lion, and I helped serve once.) And outside there are burger stands and so on.

So that's the fill-in on that.

Last year's is the Fair I want to tell about. Like I said, my father was in the Lions and of course Elaine was big in the Women's Club, which is the basic outfit that puts on the fair. She had been secretary and treasurer and corresponding secretary and vice president twice and God knows what else, so eventually it got to be her turn to be the chairwoman of the fair. (That's why they call it: "chairwoman." I'd say chair, but then I'd never run an outfit like that anyway.) I guess most of it's pretty cut and dried. They have lists of people--artists and exhibitors--who have to be notified, and there are standing committees for the book sale andparking and auctions and all that. The hard part was, you guessed it, the special event.

Like one year they had this mystery exhibition. There were all sorts of old kitchen gadgets and beauty aids and tools, and you had to write down what everything was called and what it was used for, and there were prizes. (One mystery item was a round iron weight with a handle on top, and I'll give you half of it, it was called a frog. Do you know what it was good for? I didn't think so.) Another year it was a hot-air balloon, with a long rope to hold it and the balloonist dressed up in real old circus style like the Great and Powerful Oz; and he'd take your kid up free if you could show a receipt that proved you'd bought something that cost more than fifty dollars.

Now it was my mother's turn, and you couldn't repeat. She had to come up with something good if she wanted to hold up her head afterward with the rest of the ex-chairwomen, and I'm here to tell you she damn near went crazy. Elaine wasn't the easiest person in the whole world to live with even when everything was going right, and that was pure hell. My father used to say that Elaine never had an idea in her life, but there for a month or more--May and the first bit of June--she was having two or three a day, and most of them weren't worth doodly, just warmed-over things that had been done before and things that nobody but God could do (and maybe not even Him) and things that nobody'd care whether you did or not. A few were maybe halfway good, but she couldn't even see that. Finally it got so bad I started feeling sorry for her instead of just yelling back and locking myself in my room or going off for a ride on Sidi; she was my mother after all, and when she was at her absolute worst I could see that we were related after all even if she did have creamy big ones and that little heart-shaped face with that cute mouth. Because to tell you the truth I'm like that sometimes. In fact I'm like that a lot.

Anyway, one Saturday morning my father couldn't takeit any longer. It was only about nine o'clock, but he went and got his checkbook and wrote her a check and said, "Here, go shopping. I don't care how you spend it, but don't come back till the stores close." I didn't get to see how much it was, but it must have been a thousand at least, because when Elaine looked at it her mouth made a little O the way it does sometimes, and to Elaine anything under a grand was chicken feed. Then she ran upstairs to get dressed, and she told my father to call Bill and have him get his uniform on. Bill Hake was the man who took care of our cars and the garden, and helped me take care of Sidi.

So my father called Bill on the house phone and told him to get dressed up and bring around the Caddy, and he said, "Drive slowly, Bill, and if you should find yourself headed back here before dark, have engine trouble." Bill wasn't long on brains, but he could be kind of tricky. I've never seen a servant yet who couldn't, unless he was new; it seems like it's something they all learn.

Anyway Elaine came back about seven that night. My father and I were in his study, where he had his office stuff and his souvenirs and books; and maybe that was his tough luck. She was walking on air. "Wait till you see it! Wait till you see it!" That's all she'd say, and she kind of waltzed around the room for us. When she stopped, she got my face between her hands and kissed me. I think it was the first time she'd kissed me since I was a little kid.

Right then Bill came in. He was carrying a box about two feet long and maybe eighteen inches wide and a foot deep, and the sweat was standing out on his face like he was about to keel over. He said, "Where you want it, Mrs. Hollander?" Naturally Elaine said on the coffee table, which had a glass top. So Bill set it down in the middle of the floor and straightened up with both hands on the small of his back like he would never be the same. I said, "What's in it?" and bounced over to have a look.

As heavy as it seemed to be, I expected it to be solid iron,but it was wood--some kind of old, dark-reddish wood with brass corners and wide brass bands and a big, complicated-looking iron lock. It was old, you could see that right away; so old that it made me think about stagecoaches and those western flicks where the bad guys make the driver throw down the Wells Fargo box.

And on the lid, in that big fat curly gold-leaf lettering they used back then (you could still read it, although the gold was tarnished and a lot had been chipped away) it said PANDORA.

Copyright © 1990 by Gene Wolfe


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