The Cold Dark Box

Story written by GHayward on Tuesday 1, November 2016

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It started in darkness...

Overall Rating: 92.6%

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It started in darkness, cold and silent. At first it felt like waking from a hangover, but something was different; something was more… chemical. Memories of struggling drifted through my groggy mind, and the fright prickled the hairs on my neck like the unwanted breath of a stranger. Adrenaline surged through my veins and I gasped awake in panic. As I jerked upright my forehead hit something sharp, puncturing the skin, knocking me back screaming. I pawed at my face. Warm blood pulsed above my right eye, oozing down my temple. My eyes were open, but saw nothing. I was trapped in a small tight space. The darkness squeezed tight around me. Like a wild thing I started thrashing about, desperate to break free, but everything was constricted. Crammed at an awkward angle I couldn’t raise my hands or kick my feet. I clawed at the rough wooden surface, but it was unaffected. Through my dull and useless screams I became aware of my breath, and the suffocating pain in my throat. I gasped; desperate painful gasps that got worse with each desperate painful breath. My hands were at my throat now, frantically trying to free my breathing somehow. I pictured myself being pulled underwater by some beast, some predator, just waiting for my last breath to be done. That last breath, I knew, was just moments away. My lungs burned hot, and my screams became silent. Soon the only sound was that of my fading breath. The scratching, wheezing sounds dwindled, and it was then that I became aware of something else: a low vibrating hum. I strained my hearing and gradually it became louder until it was all I could hear. It was the sound of a driving car. I realised then that I was, in fact, not suffocating. I squeezed my right hand around my left, pressing down on my wedding ring. In my mind’s eye I pictured the intricate platinum designs, wrapped around the inlaid ruby. As always with anxiety attacks, rhythmically twisting the ring around my finger calmed me. Breath in, breath out. Inhale, exhale. I drank the air, large gulps at first. Little by little, the pressure on my chest subsided, replaced by cool air. It cleared my mind, but quickly the delirium flipped to dread: I was in a moving vehicle, in a box, in the dark, bleeding from my head, and I had no idea why. Waking up in a coffin is any claustrophobic’s worst fear, and I was terrified. I kept twisting the ring, using the rhythm to control my breathing. I petered on the edge of another panic attack, and it was all I could do to keep from spiralling out. As I tried to remember, silent sobs shook my body. What the hell was going on? What happened before… before I woke up? I remembered being at the bakery. I had put the finishing touches on that three-tiered cake, then washed and locked up. I was leaving to meet Helen for dinner, and then there was nothing; just a void where memory should be. Beneath my hands I felt something stuffed inside my bra. I reached my fingers into my blouse and pulled out a dirty rag. It reeked of harsh chemicals. A horrific thought occurred to me, and I squirmed my hands down to check my jeans, but the zipper and button had not been undone. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. I began exploring the darkness, feeling my way around. The box was made from rough uneven boards stretching lengthwise from head to foot. The surface was cold, chilled from the outside. Strange, I thought. Searching further, I could feel through the denim that my pockets had been emptied. Without being able to bend I couldn’t reach near my feet, so I squirmed my arms up closer towards my head. Directly above was the sharp exposed nail-head that had cut me. I touched the wound, causing a surging rush of pain. Blood was flowing from it and it was beginning to swell. There was a loose flap of skin, and the cut itself was deep; deep enough to put my finger in… Then came that shortness of breath again. I pressed down on the gash but the blood wouldn’t stop. It pumped beneath my fingertips, warm and terrifying. The pressure was building. With my fingers I followed the flow to the surface beneath me. There was a lot of blood. My pulse was racing. My hair and shoulders were soaked in blood. Everywhere I felt I was laying in blood. My heart was pounding in my chest, trying to beat its way out. My insides were screaming to get out. My throat closed and I grabbed at my chest, panicking. I started fingering my ring again, but it was hopeless. I felt suddenly empty knowing that I might never see Helen again. She’d never know what happened to me. I had to get out. I had to get out now! I desperately started clawing at the surfaces trying to tear my way out, but it was useless. Like powerful jaws the pressure squeezed my chest, and with every exhale I drew in less and less until I was hardly breathing at all. I knew now that this was it; that this was how I was going to die. My gasps had reached the end, and with my final breath I screamed one final, desperate, exhausting scream. It was strange. I felt myself lose consciousness. I sensed my twitching hand on my breast, and the blood dripping from my lobe. All my muscles just released, like I was washed over with anaesthetic. It was pure relaxation – bliss even. One moment I was dying to breath, the next I was a breath, whisping away from myself. There, in the darkness, I saw myself. I saw myself crying when we played hide-and-seek as children. I saw myself break down with anxiety when the other kids pulled me into the tunnel on that rainy afternoon. And I was happy now because the anxiety was over. All the panic, all the dread and fear and suffocating madness was gone. Like I said, bliss. I don’t know how much time passed, but when I came to we must have been on a dirt road because the coffin was bouncing and shaking around. It took me a couple seconds to remember the hell I was in, and my first thought was to protect my head from that damned nail. It was much colder now and my hands were beginning to shake. I felt the gash on my head; it was really swollen now. Blood was still trickling out, but not as much as earlier, and it was starting to cake around the sides. I tried pushing up at the lid, but it wouldn’t budge. There was nothing to do but breathe, so I just laid back and began twisting my ring again. Helen. At least she wasn’t in here with me, and I took some comfort in that. I thought back to our wedding day to the moment we exchanged matching ruby rings. We were the first same-sex couple to get married in our state, and it was a proud moment for us. She was beautiful in her white dress, and I knew then that I’d rather die than live without her. And I knew she thought the same of me. It was Helen who taught me how to control my anxiety, and later, to use the ring as a totem for calm. The vehicle was slowing down now. Then with creaking brakes it came to a stop and the engine ceased. I strained my hearing for any possible clue of what might be outside. A few moments passed. Suddenly the coffin shook as a truck door slammed. After that there was nothing. Beyond the sound of my cold shivering breathing was only cold oppressing silence. Muffled voices approached. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but there were two of them. Then was the sound of steel rattling on steel, and the creak of two large doors opening. With this specks of light entering the box – the first hint of light since this ordeal started – and I realised I was in the back of a delivery van or small truck. One of the men jumped up into the truck. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I despite my best efforts, I couldn’t remain still. I was shivering badly, bumping my limbs against the wood. His footsteps approached and I knew this was it! He’d heard me for sure. His footsteps got louder, coming right at me. He was going to open the box, see me inside, and kill me. Or even worse. He might… I thought of earlier when I checked my zipper. I didn’t want to imagine the possibilities. I waited, ready to resist, knowing I’d be overpowered. Wood scraped on wood. My coffin shook as something moved on top of it. From between the wood beams thin streaks of light appeared in front of my face, stretching down towards my feet. As the light reached the end, a loud thud shook through my box as the box above me was pulled off and hit the ground. It was dragged away, and I heard the two men struggle to get it out the truck. I tried to get my face up to a crack in the wood, but those two large doors creaked, I heard that familiar rattling sound, and I was plunged into darkness once again. Then muffled voices, a door, an ignition, and we were on our way again. Complete and utter helplessness. I spread my hands out and tested the lid again. There was some upwards movement this time, but not much.  It lifted more near my head than near my shoulders.  I tried pushing in different positions, and I realized that there was a hinge on the outside near my left shoulder. Right then we hit a bump. My body bounced up and that damn nail cut a gash into my right cheek. I screamed out in pain and frustration.  I wasn’t ready to die, but I was powerless to do anything about it.  In anger I started grabbing at that fucking nail.  That was the second time it injured me.  If I could just… And then there it was: a faint, minute, glimmer of hope.  It wasn’t much of a plan, but considering my options, I had to try.  I slid my wedding ring off and squeezed it between my thumb and index.  Then using my other hand as a pivot, I wedged it under the nail head and pushed.  I was shivering and it was difficult to get the right grip, but I tried again, and again, each time from a slightly different angle.  My fingertips were hurting, bleeding soon, but after a few tries I felt the nail budge.  A few more attempts and it budged some more, until I could grab it directly.  With raw and bloody fingers I pulled the nail out.  It felt old and rusty. Oh how I hated this thing. That was the first part of my lousy plan. For the next, I wriggled myself into a position with my hands near my knees, and I stretched my fingertips to the back of my shoe. I used one foot to help the shoe off the other, and pushed it up towards my hand. I tested the lid again to see where the hinge was. Then I put the sharp edge of the nail into the gap, put the heel against the nail, and began hammering at the shoe with my fist. I felt the nail going deeper and deeper with each hit. Soon enough I was hammering directly at the hinge, and that too started giving way, though not easily. It took all my strength to not give up, and finally, with tears and blood in my eyes, I felt the hinge give way. I pushed up against the lid again and this time it did lift. I was able to squeeze my fingers and hands through the gap, but it wasn’t budging any further. Frustrated, I started testing the lid for another point where it had been sealed. This time I found it about halfway down the box on the right side. It must have been the front locking mechanism. Just like before, I put the nail in the gap, put the shoe up against it, and began hammering with the bottom of my right fist. By the time I got that one out we were travelling on a smooth road again. This time it had to work.  I pushed up.  It lifted, but wouldn’t open.  Then I pushed it diagonally to the right, forcing it to pivot on the final hinge.  Cold refrigerated air rushed in. There was almost enough room for me to get out.  The outside edge of the lid was above me now, so I grabbed it with both hands and pushed with all my strength until it gave way.  Reaching out, I pulled myself awkwardly out of the box and fell onto the floor next to it, heaving with pain and exhaustion and shivering from the cold.  I tried to look around, but I had escaped my dark box into yet another, bigger dark box. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was at least hoping to be able to see something. I felt the tears building up again and the hopelessness taking over. A single silence-shattering sob escaped me, and I silently wept. I thought of Helen, of how hurt she’d be when I never came home. But I couldn’t let myself give up. Not now. I wiped the blood and tears from my eyes and took a few deep breaths. I tried to make sense of my surroundings. I was in a refrigerated van. There were three thin beams of light across from me – the silhouette of the doors. From the sound of the road and the motion of the car I could tell that we were travelling pretty fast. There was an occasional bend in the road, causing me to sway from side to side. I tried to stand up but my knees buckled beneath me, bringing me back down in a heap. I had exerted myself with that effort, and could feel my heartbeat pulsing in my forehead. I started feeling dizzy and disoriented. I had lost a lot of blood, and I hadn’t eaten in a long, long time. I dragged myself across the floor towards the doors, but the exertion was too much to bear. White shapes began floating across my vision, and I knew I didn’t have much time before I passed out again. I continued pulling myself forward, but something blocked my way. There was a large obstacle in front of me, made of wood. Long untreated boards of wood. The thought of another coffin made my heart start pounding. Breathing became difficult. Was there someone in there? Were they alive? I knocked on the wood, calling out for anyone inside, but got no response. I moved my hands across the surface and found a hinge. Then I pulled myself around to the front of the box and found the latch. The lever was very stiff, but I managed to push it up and release it. The floating white shapes were becoming more persistent now. I was becoming more lightheaded and disorientated, and my shallow breathing was making it worse. I was running out of time. I lifted the lid and it fell over to the other side. I reached my hand out into the box and touched skin. “Hello?” I whispered. No response. I stretched my hand in deeper and could feel the torso of another person. My hand moved across the stomach and found the body’s left arm. Helen was a nurse and had taught me to test for a pulse. I did, and there was none. Tears began to roll down my face, mixing with blood. I couldn’t understand why this person was dead and I wasn’t. I left the hand hanging over the edge of the coffin, and I curled into a ball on the floor, sobbing for the briefest time. It was at that moment that I felt the van slow down to a crawl, then come to a complete stop. I was ready to resign myself to being caught, when I heard the horn of car, and the van crept forward and stopped again. We were in traffic. I had to get out now! I crawled towards the door. The van crept and stopped again. I reached up towards the centre beam of light, where a handle should be. The van started moving again, and was picking up speed. I found the handle, but was too weak to pull it down. We continued to pick up speed. I pulled myself up on the handle, but the exertion was too much. My mind lost its focus and began to drift. I was going to pass out at any second now. With a final effort I screamed and pulled myself up on the handle, using all my weight to force it down. I lost consciousness as the door swung open. The rush of senses was intense and confusing. I was almost blinded by the light before it faded away. The noise from the wind was deafening, but it also faded. The last thing I remember as I fell out the van was the vision of an open coffin, with a hand over the edge, wearing the platinum ruby ring I gave Helen on our wedding day.

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    This is very well written and well presented. An excellent story. You could easily add on to this and continue the tale. However, one little thing.

    There is a difference between breath and breathe. Breathe is the verb; breath is the noun. You may want to fix that error in your opening paragraphs.