"Where do you go from there? I write a great story, and all these things happen to people who are entirely unconnected? It doesn't make any sense."

Despite his own debunking results, Haxton refuses to draw any hard conclusions about Mannis or the box. Since the completion of his book, Haxton says Mannis' brother took back his denial about the dreams and then stopped communicating. Haxton says he's also now spoken to the store manager who was present during the destruction of Mannis' shop in Portland. RFT's attempts to reach both the manager and the other Mannis siblings were unsuccessful.

As he and his son prepare to open the dybbuk box for the first time in months, a skeptic in the family pipes up for the first time — Haxton's eighteen-year-old daughter, Laurel.

The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.
Jessica Lussenhop
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.

"I don't have anything to do with it," she deadpans. "It just buys me things."

(Haxton later says that in addition to sponsoring three Vietnamese orphans with the money from the movie, he bought his daughter a Prius, her "dybbuk car." He believes the film has the potential to carve out a place in mythological history: "One of those legendary things — the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and the dybbuk box — that'll be forever a mystery.")

Haxton and Ross gingerly unbuckle the black case's butterfly clasps and lift the lid, revealing the polished acacia wood of the ark. Together they lift the heavy piece and place it in the center of a cleared dining-room table.

"You want us to open it now?" Haxton asks.

The top of the ark folds back first, revealing the glow of the gold-leaf lining. The door of the ark swings open to reveal the much darker, scuffed wood of the dybbuk box and the dull metal of the grape-bunch decorations. Haxton pulls out the drawer, and the two doors open slowly with a soft clunking sound.

Space inside the box is scarce nowadays with the addition of the religious items intended to keep the dybbuk complacent. But the original items are all there — the cup, the stone, the rosebud, the candleholder. Haxton opens up a small plastic bag and pulls out the locks of hair, laying them gingerly on the ancient kabbalah prayer book.

Everyone sticks their heads into the dybbuk box and inhales. The smell is woody, earthy and slightly sweet.

"If I opened it up and it smelled like urine, I'd be probably worried," says Haxton. "I think it's truly trying to work with you. 'Put me out, I'm an air freshener, I've learned my lesson, don't lock me up,' you know, kind of thing. Like a genie in a bottle."

For a few moments, father and son regard the box and circle it warily. Aside from a loud moaning of the wind picking up outside with the approaching rainstorm, nothing happens. While Ross suggests they leave it out longer to see if anything happens, Haxton is eager to pack it up.

"I'm certainly on edge just a little bit," he confesses.

Back in the pickup truck, the box safely back in its black coffin and en route for safekeeping in a secret location, Haxton says he wants people to make up their own minds about the box. He's a normal person, he insists, to whom some extraordinary things have happened.

"We're more average than most," he says. "I hope, consistently, that proved to you this is no setup."

He does express a touch of irritation with Kevin Mannis. In their deal with Lionsgate, both retain the right to produce a documentary on the dybbuk box and will conceivably work together on it in the future. But Haxton doesn't like Mannis' somewhat un-academic approach when he's interviewed about the box — repeating to reporters that it contains a dybbuk and a "kessem," which Haxton says is a totally incorrect term for a spirit or magical object.

"I don't understand Kevin, but you know, in many ways he's brilliant and bright about a lot of things. He shouldn't be clueless about some of these things," he says, turning the truck back down toward Kirksville as rain begins to patter on the windshield. "Anybody who'd want to perpetuate a hoax wouldn't want to look like a fool."

Haxton says that even if it started as a joke or hoax or an amalgamation of truth and fiction, there is something undeniably special about the box now.

"There's some secret to the dybbuk box that Kevin has," Haxton concludes. "I don't think it'll ever be told."

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