The Box

The buzzing invades your brain. Why is the alarm clock going off? You begin to open your eyes and realize it’s not the alarm, but the doorbell. Who the hell is at my door at— rolling over, the clock finishes your thought by flashing 3:10 a.m.

You slide out of bed. As your feet touch the floor, the buzzing stops. You get up anyway and walk through the empty house to the front door to see if someone is there. There’s no one on the porch when you look through the peephole. You unlock the door, open it. On the ground in front of you is a small cardboard box. Stepping over it, you look around the front yard and glance up and down the street. Everything is quiet. You scoop the package up and walk into the house, kicking the door shut behind you.

Something solid moves inside the box as you walk to the couch and set it on the coffee table. It’s a perfect square about a foot tall, and meticulously taped. You pick it up again. Whatever is inside shifts slightly, like there’s not quite enough packing material holding it in place. Turning the box over in your hands, you see no markings of any kind.

You set the box down not sure which side is up.

Well, the box will be there in the morning.

Getting up from the couch, you head to your bedroom for a few more hours of sleep. But it doesn’t come. Lying there with your eyes closed, the image of the box fills your thoughts. Your eyes open, and once again, you turn to the clock.

3:50 a.m.

This is ridiculous. It’s a box. And it’s probably not even meant for me.

At this point there’s no falling asleep, so you get out of bed and return to the couch. You slide forward to the edge of the seat and lean over the box; your fingers reach for the tape. Using your nail, you pry up a tiny corner and pull it back. The tape comes off without effort and the two flaps open slightly.

You lift the box intent on opening it further to look inside, but instead, stop, and set it back down on the table. A moment’s hesitation, then you reach for the box again. Your left hand holds it as you cautiously reach in with your right. Your fingers grip the edges of something solid. There’s no packing material, and whatever it is, is almost the exact size of the box. The cardboard bulges and the back of your fingers scrape the inside of the box as you pull the contents free.

It’s a black leather-bound book and it feels light in your hands. Upon closer inspection, you realize it’s more than a book. There’s a latch, not holding the book itself closed, but a box held within it. The book consists of a few pages, then the box. Your eyes move back to the cover where you see your name etched in gold.

As your finger traces the letters, the hairs on your arm stand up. Opening the book to the first page you begin to read.

Your time on Earth is about to end; there is nothing you can do to stop it.
At 4:10 a.m. you will perish. This is the only definite you have left in the last few minutes of life.

You instinctively look up at the clock.

3:56 a.m.

Then back to the book.

You have two choices. You can choose not to open the box. If you so choose, you will be trapped for eternity in an abyss, unable to escape, in which your body will slowly waste away until you no longer have the strength to move. Your mind, however, will remain intact; you will experience emptiness forever.

Turning the page, your hands tremble, and you continue on.

Your second choice is to open the box. In it you will find your afterlife. If you were a good person, then it will be everything you could ever want. If you were not a good person, then it will be filled with every fear you ever had.
The choice is yours, as was the life you led.

You turn the last page to find the box, with your name engraved on it. You run your fingers around the edge, stopping at the clasp that holds it shut. You look around the room, looking for something or someone—anything—to appear and announce that this is all a joke. A really fucked-up joke. Your eyes move to the clock.

4:00 a.m.

Physically, you feel fine, but on edge.

This isn’t real. There’s no way this could be real, but…

You lean back on the couch, the book-box in your lap. Closing your eyes, you see flashes of your life’s moments and fragments of memories. Some are good, some are bad; some last a split second, others linger.

The clarity of these memories fade as you drill down deeper into your mind. There are no images here, but colors; soft hues that entwine with each other. When you focus on certain colors, your body feels lighter, while other colors make you feel heavier. They all weave in and out amongst each other, mixing and blending, then splitting away, then coming together once again.

You open your eyes as you start to quiver. The book-box shakes in your hands. You look up at the clock.

4:08 a.m.

You feel like you’re moving in slow motion. Images begin to flood your mind, overload your brain. You cry out in pain.

4:09 a.m.

Now your whole body is trembling. Your fingers go for the latch, but they slip off, your life crashing down around you.

You try again, this time your fingers grasp the latch. The box bursts open, releasing a brilliant flash of searing light as you take your last breath.

~ Mark Steinwachs

© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.

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About Mark Steinwachs

Mark writes horror with a supernatural leaning, in many cases mixing old world with new. Over a decade traveling in tour buses as a roadie plus time as a United States Marine, and a rave DJ/promoter has given him a unique set of experiences to pull from for his stories.

33 responses to “The Box”

  1. Dawn Culbertson says :

    This story grabbed my attention right away. I could physically feel my anticipation growing along with the character’s. A well written story that left me wanting to read more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle L says :

    Yikes! Sounds like some of the strange thoughts that go through my head at early am hours.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Potts Jr says :

    Fantastic read! The perspective you wrote this in grabbed me and didn’t let go. Gripping imagery and building tension, well done. Welcome to the Damned!

    Like

  4. afstewart says :

    Cool, and very existential, loved it.

    Like

  5. Sharon says :

    Made me feel like I was there. Loved the imagery and climatic build.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. tabbicat7 says :

    Oh wow! This story really captured some inner 3am thoughts. It’s a very good read, loved it. Great job.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hunter Shea says :

    That was great! It sucked me right in. I kept thinking of the box as the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Veronica Magenta Nero says :

    Really cool story Mark, creepy and suspenseful !

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Joseph Pinto says :

    Great story, Mark!! Thanks to you, I’ll never open anything again that ships to my door from Amazon! 😉

    Like

  10. Brian Moreland says :

    Well done, Mark. Now I’m going to be up at 4:00 a.m. Thanks for contributing to Pen of the Damned.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Brian Moreland says :

    Reblogged this on THE CRYPT OF HORROR and commented:
    Here’s a new horror short story “The Box” by Mark Steinwachs, available to read free at Pen of the Damned​. Whatever you do, don’t open the box.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Adele Marie says :

    I loved this and how it was written. It reminded me of an outer limits tale or something from the 50’s. Great story.

    Like

  13. Nina D'Arcangela says :

    Love the story, Mark!! Great build-up of anxiety and desire to know what was in The Box! You crushed it!!! 😀

    Like

  14. jonolsonauthor says :

    You nailed it, brother! Great build up and loved the ending! Makes you wonder what would’ve happened if he didn’t open up the book in the first place. Great job, Mark!

    Like

  15. jonolsonauthor says :

    Reblogged this on Jon Olson and commented:
    THE BOX by Pen of the Damned’s Mark Steinwachs

    Like

  16. John Potts Jr says :

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Mark Steinwachs delivers a gripping tale on last weeks Pen of the Damned. This, this story right here, is fantastic. Mark weaves modern horror with his straightforward narrative and quick tension. Delve into the realism of his terror.

    Like

  17. pixieheartblog says :

    Blimey! awesome story! probs not the best thing to read when you can’t sleep, you live and learn!

    pixie (aka AWDW)

    Like

  18. pixieheartblog says :

    Reblogged this on Submissive Heart. and commented:
    Wow! not the best thing to read in the wee hours when sleep wont come , you live and learn!

    Like

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