The Box (Horror) written by Grant Kauffman
I’m not going to lie to you—I’m really upset. Frickin’ pissed may be a better way to phrase it. I don’t want to come across as a complainer, but I’m not used to this sort of adversity. I guess you could say I was spoiled a bit growing up, possibly even coddled. I was raised to be a confident young man and I’m not going to apologize for that. I only think about success, never failure. I mean, I’ve never once even thought about a contingency plan. Which is why this odd recollection I’ve been having is troubling. I guess it’s more like a distant memory of something that happened to me. Maybe it was a dream. I honestly can’t remember. I was watching TV, no, I was sitting at the park on a beautiful day, when suddenly, I just…wasn’t. Things just went black. There were voices, angry voices. I didn’t recognize any of them. My head was fuzzy, sleepy, crowded with visions of the life that was mine.
I was twenty-five when it happened, the awful event that created this memory. I definitely remember that. Yes, twenty-five because I’d just started working at my dream job, a great position with an ad agency, straight out of grad school. Very few people in this field get to where I was so quickly—man, I had some talent. In fact, I used to joke with my friends that I was the biggest bad-ass in the agency circuit. I guess I was a bit arrogant, huh? But like I said, I was raised that way. I grew up with wonderful, loving parents who were financially secure. I was blessed with good looks, a nice physique and had many great friends, especially women friends. I always made good grades, and in every job I had ever worked, I was fast-tracked to positions of leadership. Everything went my way. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones in this world and boy was I aware of it. Truth be told I exploited it—to its fullest. Yeah, I loved my life—the career, the women, the money—but if there was one pet peeve that drove me mad, it was that I never had enough time. Father Time is a miserly bastard, isn’t he? Yes, time was the only thing that ever stood in the way of my goals. But now that life, my perfect life, is nothing but an old memory, clouded by this new memory, the one I cannot seem to shake.
It’s a memory that begins with darkness. Well, it was more like blackness. Yeah, I remember blackness for sure—pitch black—and I was sweating; my breathing was labored. God, I hate the darkness. I was caught somewhere between delirious and dangerously furious. I wasn’t quite cognizant at first, but then the fuzzy headedness began to wear off as if I was waking up. Clearly it was a bad dream. I’d dreamt something awful: that I was trapped in a box. Oh my God, what an awful dream. No, wait, was it really a dream? I began to sweat even more, and an uncomfortable panic overtook me. I woke up I think, but directly into a nightmare. I was trapped, and I’ll be goddamned if I wasn’t in some sort of box. What the hell? It was like my ultimate nightmare had come to pass. I tried to push up on the lid, but there was too much weight on top of it for me to budge. Then I got really pissed and tried to kick the bottom out but the box was solid. The sides were too narrow for me to extend my arms. I was trapped like an animal in a cage, and as my head cleared and I was able to focus, I felt the fear overtake me. I screamed.
“Get me outta here!”
That’s when I heard voices just outside the box, muffled, angry voices.
“Hey, guess who just woke up! The Funny Man,” one man’s voice said. There was laughter. “You’re not so funny now, are you?”
“You got something you wanna tell us, Funny Man?” another man’s voice rang out.
“Help me!” I screamed. Boy, I wish I wouldn’t have done that. I sounded so weak. I’m not used to being the guy on the bottom, helpless. “I’m trapped. Can you hear me?”
“Yeah, we can hear you all right. We know where you are.”
“Oh, thank God. Can you help me? I can’t get out.” Again, I came across as a freaking weakling; I couldn’t stand the way I sounded, but I was, in fact, helpless.
“Help you? Hey, Johnnie, you hear that? He asked if we could help him.” There was more laughter. “Hey, Funny Man, we finally caught up with you, you sneaky bastard. So why would we help you?”
That’s when things got bad and I began to panic. I even told myself don’t you dare panic, but I did anyway. My breathing accelerated to a rapid tempo I’d never before experienced. I was on the verge of hyperventilating…I think. Then again, I didn’t know, having never gone through anything remotely close to this. How do you even begin to process what you don’t understand? Then the next thing I know, I start to beg. I’m not proud of it, but it just came out…almost naturally, damn it.
“Please help me. Please,” I pleaded. There was silence, and then there was whispering. It was hard to hear above the muffled sound of my own breathing. I felt the heat of my breath reflecting off the box lid, only a few inches above my face. Beads of sweat began running downward all over my body at a steady pace.
“I tell you what, Mr. Funny Man. You give us back what you stole and we’ll let you outta there.”
What did he say? I thought. It sounded like he said I stole something from them.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, sir.” I cannot believe I called that prick sir. “I…I can’t breathe in here. I need you to help me.” Again with the weakness. There was muffled laughter. Of course there was laughter. A soft, begging man is deserving of laughter.
“Well, I tell you what, Funny Man, how ‘bout you give us what we want first, and then we’ll consider helping you out. How does that sound?”
“Well, that would sound fine if I knew what it is you wanted. I…I don’t even know who you are, or where I am. I’m dying in here. Oh, God, please help me!”
There was a lengthy pause, and again, my short, explosive breaths made it hard to hear the already muffled voices.
“So, you still wanna act like a joker, huh? That’s the card you wanna play? Like this is all one big goddamn joke on us?”
“No,” I pleaded. “Dear God, no. I don’t think this is funny at all. It’s just that I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I heard another man’s voice, some footsteps possibly, and then muffled whispering.
“Here, why don’t we try this first?” Suddenly there was a new sensation that overcame the tiny compartment I was in: a lifting of a weight, a small infusion of air, some light, as if something had been removed from the top of the box. The light wasn’t substantial, but it was light nonetheless. I could see a straight line of small slits running down the center of the box’s lid. They were skinny ones that let tiny, seemingly inconsequential slivers of light and air in, but from my perspective, they represented life.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much,” I said, again sounding like a school yard dork trying to sweet talk his way past the bully. In hindsight, I just can’t believe I went so soft so fast. However, with the light and air, I began to anticipate freedom and the ensuing cool air that was sure to go with it. I also began to anticipate the ass kicking I was going to deliver to…who the hell knew? I still had no freaking idea what was going on. I was thinking, is it possible this is a prank? If so, I am going to kill those bastards. I pressed up on the lid but it remained firmly in place. I pushed as hard as I could but nothing happened. I began to pound on the lid. “Come on, man! Let me out of this thing! Help me!”
“Here, how ‘bout we give you a little incentive, something that might refresh that memory of yours.”
Just then, a sharp pain exploded in my upper thigh that sent shockwaves throughout my entire body. It was a crippling pain, as if something had pierced my thigh, something long and needlelike. I screamed out in agony. I lifted my head and looked down and was able to see that there was a long, skinny silver rod that had been jammed though my leg. I tried to move, but my right leg was pinned. Whatever it was it had skewered me, nailing me to the bottom of the box.
“So, you have any sudden gains of memory, Mr. Funny Man?”
“Ahhhhhh! My leg. You stabbed my leg, you bastards! Who are you?” I shouted out. Then I issued my own verbal assault. “I’m gonna frickin’ kill you when I get out of here!”
“Calm down, Mr. Tough Guy. You’re not killing anyone. All you gotta do is tell us what you did with our little package and we’ll let you out.”
Something about what he said insulted me beyond words. Maybe it was the pain, the condescending nature of how he spoke, or the fact that these people refused to listen to me on any level. Regardless, I became enraged.
“I don’t have your package, you son of a bitch! I don’t even know what you’re talking about! I’m dying in here! Let me outta here!” I reached my right hand down toward my pinned leg and could feel the warm sticky wetness now flowing freely onto the box floor. Before I could slide my hand back up, another sharp pain exploded in me. It was another rod, another burning burst of agony, this one entering the top of my right hand and exiting out the bottom of the box. My right hand was now pinned, too. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. Instead, I did exactly what I didn’t want to do: I wept.
“Awwwww. The Funny Man is upset. He’s crying. Is the Funny Man sad?” the voice taunted. “Last chance, Funny Man.” The pain was now all-consuming; I was unable to respond. Besides, there was obviously nothing I could say to make them understand I hadn’t taken anything from them. These people, whoever they were, were clearly beyond reason. And as much as I hate to admit it, they had succeeded if their goal was to break me.
I tried to pull myself together but could taste the salty mixture of tears and snot. The pounding pressure in my head was excruciating. I could feel every heartbeat thumping in my skull. The headache pain began to branch outward, encroaching on my neck and shoulders. I focused on my breathing so as to not pay attention to the deep, crippling ache in my thigh and hand. I began to think back to my actions from the previous days, weeks, months. Was there someone I’d wronged? Had I gotten into a fight, treated someone horribly? Were these the brothers of a one-night stand? Business associates I’d cheated? My mind drew a blank. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d intentionally wronged, although I could think of quite a few people that didn’t care much for me. Before I could finish that thought, though, things got even worse, something I didn’t think possible.
There was a scraping noise, like steel being scratched against wood. There was also a force delivered to my midsection; it was overwhelming. The next rod went through me with such ease that it took a few seconds for the pain to radiate. My eyes bulged out of my sockets, and I tried to make a noise, but only a gurgling sound could be generated. Soon the gurgling turned into choking, coughing noises, and blood began to trickle down my nose as I hacked up bloody tissue.
“Still not gonna talk? I tell you what, Funny Man, I gotta give you credit for being a stubborn son of a gun. And for the record, I want to be clear that you chose this path.”
I don’t know if I heard the crunching of my chest plate being pierced first or felt the sharp pain just to the right of my sternum. I suppose it didn’t matter. The nightmare was happening whether I wanted it to or not. The only good news was the final rod missed my heart. Then again, an instant death was probably better than what I was experiencing. So there I lay, for how long I am not sure, in a completely helpless situation, four rods going through me, pinning me to the inside of a sealed wooden box. I was dying, experiencing my last breaths in this world. My time on earth was coming to an end, nothing at all like what I’d envisioned for myself. I’d always pictured my death as happening in my sleep, late at night, when I was in my mid-nineties, just drifting away after a nearly century-long period of meaningful contributions. Instead, I had been skewered alive, the way I’d done to grasshoppers and beetles as a kid. I was bleeding profusely and losing air due to what I could only assume was a collapsed lung.
I was fading in and out of consciousness, vacillating between being fuzzy headed and fully cognizant of the gravity of my situation. I preferred the fuzzy head. After some unknown period of time, I heard a series of knocks on a door, followed by the door being opened. There were more voices, men greeting one another. My head went fuzzy again, then back to clear. Fuzzy was so much better. Oh God, if only I had a pill I could slip in my mouth to make this all go away. The voices continued, and I was able to hear one of the new arrivals.
“You guys hear the good news?”
“Naw, what is it?”
“I just got a call from the Southside. They found the Funny Man a few minutes ago and they’re en route here now.” There was a weighty silence. “We got him boys. We got that son of a bitch and we’re gonna stick him in the box as soon as he gets here.”
The last thing I remember was the sound of latches being undone, squeaking hinges, and then from behind my eyelids, a great brightness. As quickly as it came, it began to fade. Softer it grew until there was nothing but a comforting blackness, which I finally embraced along with this fuzzy memory. Memories are all I have now. It’s a lonely existence, this new life. Well, I can’t say life anymore. I often return to the box room as I think of it now, trying to figure out how this could have happened. What could I have done differently? I’m not sure. One minute I was enjoying peace at the park, reflecting on my good fortune, the next I was a human shish kebab, skewered in a box.
That’s the thing with life: it has a way of, well, happening, and we as humans have to develop ways of dealing with it. Take this story, for instance. It’s my way of coping with this whole appalling experience, but it’s really just the beginning. There’s a lot more of the story still to be written. You see, I’ve always loved a great ghost story. And this is where mine begins. Chapter one: I think I’ll leave the box room now and go have some fun. Yeah, I’m definitely going to enjoy haunting the bastards who did this to me. They have no idea what they just unleashed. You want to know how an evil spirit comes into existence? Well they’re about to find out. And I have no intention of making it a one-time haunt. Oh, I’m gonna enjoy this. I’ll enjoy every ghastly second because now, I have nothing but time.
The Box is from the book Rattlebone Tales, Volume 1, a collection of short, scary stories. You can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.
Grant Kauffman is also the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff, a young adult adventure/fantasy novel available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon.com.