I blink my eyes, but nothing changes.
A complete, debilitating darkness veils my vision. For several moments, I wait, hoping that my eyes simply need to adjust, but no details emerge from the ink-black void.
I turn, looking for something, anything, and the hair on the back of my head crackles, like coarse sandpaper in motion. Then, my ear makes contact with a cold, hard surface and I realize I’m lying on my back.
Where am I? Is this a dream?
I experience nothing but total darkness in either direction.
Maybe I fell and cracked my skull. That might explain the memory loss and malfunctioning vision.
Though I can feel—feel my chest rise and fall, my eyelids moving, my tongue sticking to the roof of my pasty mouth—I sense no pain; in fact, my entire body tingles as if I’m floating atop ocean waves.
In the process of raising my arm to grope for head wounds, my hand smacks into resistance. I search that surface instead, finding it to be cold and smooth, just like the floor. The overhead barrier resides a mere four or five inches away. I can feel the faint rebound of my rapid breaths, tickling my pores and eyelashes—the exhalations smelling sweet, like fruit, but also a bit stale and skunked.
How long have I been here?
I slide my hands along the overhead plane and it doesn’t take long to reach corners—side walls. I’m enclosed. Trapped. Contained in a box.
Oh, fuck! Is it a coffin?
Maybe I’m dead and this is my purgatory—confined in a world of my own making, crafted by a life riddled with bad choices and ruled by lazy indecision.
I frantically feel for the game-over tattoo, the topographical Y carved into a cadaver’s chest during an autopsy. Yanking up my shirt, I pull through the levels of resistance as buttons pop off. The revealed skin is smooth, uncut.
I’m not dead, but the sigh of relief never comes as my thoughts quickly turn to the next possible explanation:
Oh God, I’m buried alive!
My lungs seize and I can’t breathe, the air suddenly locked away.
The momentary break in exhalation allows a different odor to permeate my senses. It overpowers my olfactory system with the rank properties of sour milk, raw hamburger, and fecal matter drizzled with corn syrup. It’s an unmistakable aroma; one that even an inexperienced person like me can instantly identify… death.
Hot bile surges up my throat and is only held at bay by my desperate need to breathe. In a convulsion, I cough out the old and choke down the new. Gasping, sweating, and on the verge of tears, my frantic hands stumble onto something other than the walls or myself.
The object isn’t exactly solid… or dry. My fingers explore the round surface sitting to my left: brittle fibers, sticky fluid, and a spongy covering that slid around under my inquiring touch.
This time the rising bile is unhindered and I vomit. The warm acidic chow flows over my shoulder—most likely splattering the rotting corpse next to me. The putrid odors swirling around my nose threaten to keep my stomach in a perpetual state of upheaval, a tailspin of sorts in which I’m the pilot watching helplessly as death grows nearer with every rotation. Thankfully, my stomach hits Empty after two retched sessions.
My thoughts begin to swirl again as I battle a few lingering dry heaves. Even the most moronic funeral homes in the country, the ones that mislabel mausoleums or bury coffins before their viewings, couldn’t mistakenly shove two bodies into one casket, especially when one has been dead for quite some time. No, someone put me here… intentional entombment, but, why?
Panic strikes. Casting aside all previous hindrances—the thick stench, a convulsing stomach, seized lungs in terror—my breaths pull hard and fast, surpassing the pace of my lurching heartbeat.
Why would someone do this to me?
“I’m a nobody,” I sob, moaning the words to myself in the dark. “I don’t know anything! Why am I here? WHY?!”
The plea echoed painfully around my head like a vehement swarm of wasps. When the ache subsided with the last reverberations, cold silence poured in, bringing attention to sounds I hadn’t noticed before. I held still, listening.
I could decipher a faint mechanical whirring, a droning that ebbed and flowed in quiet waves. And, there’s another sound, too. It’s intermittent… a faint, single bell like the victory chime of a distant carnival game.
If I can hear these things, whatever they are, then maybe I’m not buried deep.
A surge of confidence urges me to action. I feel the surfaces of my confines again, but this time searching with greater care and determination. If there’s a way in, there’ll be a way out.
Eventually, I have a discovery. The sensitive pads of my fingertips detect a line. Directly above my face, there’s a tight seam in the otherwise smooth metal. I don’t know what type of coffin would feature a center seam running the length of the vessel, but I can’t think of one that would have a flat metal lid, either, and there’s no time to contemplate the limits of my knowledge base.
I finger the center line, trying to find a grip on the edge, but it’s too fine, too smooth. Fumbling and growing frantic, I keep at it. Sweat beads on my face, I can feel the prickling heat tickling my pores. At last, I gain purchase; a sliver of fingernail jammed into the seam. Surprised at the sudden change, I pause, forcing my heavy breathing down to an inadequate hiss like that of an officer disarming a bomb. Slowly, I wedge more fingernails into the tiny crack—eight in all. Then I start to pull.
At first, there was mounting pressure, but that quickly escalated into sharp pain. The resistance is too much. I stop to think, to rest.
Could I do this? Could I pull it open enough to get fingertips in there before…
Something stirred in the darkness.
Ice crystals bloom inside my skull and my eyes bulge, still seeing nothing. My ears twitch and tingle in wait of a sound. Then a sound came.
A muffled string of words calling from the void, too distorted to comprehend despite their utterance so close to my ear. My entire body jerks. Startled and instantly terrified, I start screaming. My shrieks, too loud in the confined space, shoot spikes through my eardrums, but that pain is overshadowed by the agony coming from my fingers as I pull at the seam. I feel my nails tear free as a paper-thin beam of light slices into my eyes.
The gap widens, bathing me in blinding light.
I feel myself shaking.
Something has my shoulders, gripping me.
A sharp slap across my cheek.
My eyes adjust and two elderly faces gaze back at me.
“What the Hell’s a matter with you?” The gruff voice came from a burly old man.
“Yeah, look at his eyes,” the woman mumbled. “They’re dilated.”
“Hey,” the old man said, shaking me again. “You’ve been freaking out in the elevator. Poor Charlene, here, nearly had a heart attack when you started screaming in her face on the way up.”
I look around, blinking hard, and finally begin to comprehend the situation. Mr. Koplouski, my landlord, stood in the hall with 83 year-old Charlene Eldelman at his side. At the end of the hall, behind them, the Sunday morning sun blazed in through the window. Glancing down I see my favorite clubbing clothes, a blue patterned button-down shirt and black leather pants. I also see my undamaged hands, fingernails and all.
That’s the last time I partake in the free sugar-cube handouts.
“Sorry, Sir. It, uh, won’t happen again.”
“It better not, or I’ll rent your apartment to someone else! Now, go home and lay off the goddamn drugs, will ya.”
“Yes, Sir, Mr. Koplouski. Sorry.”
I shuffle past them and down the hall toward my apartment. The floor rippling beneath me with each step and every door started oozing blood from the blinking peep-holes.
Fuck, I gotta get to bed!
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2013 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.