26 Bricks

There’s a hole in the wall in the basement, an unfinished hole, beckoning black and empty where the brickwork isn’t complete.

Sometimes I have people over for tea and if they come down there for whatever reason – for me to show them the wine cellar, my collection of pickles, or how my microbrew is doing – they’ll ask about the hole in the wall. Ah, that hole’s stiil there, eh, Marv? When are you going to fill that thing in already? Seems like it’s been years.

It has been years. Years the bricks have sat next to that hole in the wall, sometimes in a red pile all alone, sometimes with a trowel and leftover bucket of mortar keeping them company.

No one ever seems to notice, but I am filling it in, brick by brick. Because they say if you commit a crime, after 25 years you’ve gotten away with it. And the funny thing is no one ever seems to ask why the hole is in the wall in the first place.

One brick per year. One brick for every finger on her hands, one brick for every toe on her feet, one for each eye and ear and her nose and mouth.

Three more years to go. I think I’ll save her mouth for last.

The Ivory Dagger

“That’s quite a rarity these days,” Dr. Stihlman said, as I picked it up. “What with the trade being outlawed now and all.”

It was a beautiful dagger, long and flowing and curved. The blade was spotless, with nigh a sign of rust nor a notch, but the handle was what intrigued me, and to what the Professor referred: it was carved ivory in a luxurious shade of creamy yellow-white. It fit snugly into my hand, the hilt ending just at the edges of my palm, and the intricate flowing curves and mystical-looking symbols carved into it gave it a strange textured feel beneath my skin.

“Yes, I’ll treasure that blade for as long as I live,” he said. “Got it when I was on the big expedition in Africa, just after Mildred died… God rest her soul.”

It wasn’t until years later when Stihlman himself passed away that I realized why the carved handle had felt so strange in my hand.

For when the executors of the Professor’s estate cleared out his belongings, they found buried beneath a trapdoor in the cellar a skeleton identified as none other than Mrs. Mildred Stilhman’s. The cause of death was uncertain, but even the newspaper noted one strange detail found in autopsy which could not be explained: a three-inch length of bone missing from the right femur.

Buried

I fell off the wagon again, but that’s not the point.

Do you know what it’s like, to struggle with addiction? It’s not easy. It’s so easy as someone on the outside to point fingers, to say that addiction is not really addiction, that it’s not a disease – that the problem drunks like me have is not the drinking itself but a weakness of character.

I fell off the wagon again and there was nothing to catch me.

“Susie,” I stammered, standing on the concrete stair of her building’s doorstep as the cold rain poured down around me. “I love you.” The cold wet of the rain trickled down my cheeks, around my mouth, mixing with the salt of my tears. “I love you. I love you more than anything and I haven’t stopped thinking about you since you told me I had to go.” I felt stupid now. I felt stupid standing here on the stoop of her building and pouring my heart out to her as the rain poured down around me.

“Thomas!” She was upset, livid. “Why are you doing this to me?! You can’t do this! You can’t show up like this and say these things after all those horrible things you did to me. Get out of my life! You need to go. Go! Now!”

I knew she was right. I knew that the past was the past and I needed to get on with my life. But that didn’t stop me from swinging the bat I’d hidden in my jacket hard towards her head, and hearing the sickening crack it made when the aluminum connected with her skull. I watched her crumple onto the steps of the stoop.

The rain poured down all around us and I dragged her limp body back to the car. I drove on into the night, far outside of town, far away from the city lights and all the claustrophobia they induced.

My shovel bit into the wet earth, and made a scraping sound. Still the rain poured. I noticed, almost in passing, that I was soaked to the skin and cold. I looked at her crumpled body next to me, laying in a heap. I thought about all the feelings I had over the years, about all the things I’d wanted to tell her but never could, until that moment the aluminum bat connected with the bone of her skull, but by then it was too late.

My shovel bit into the earth again. Some feelings are best left where they belong, buried far beneath the surface. I pitched a clod of wet earth aside.

Some things are better left buried.

Nothing Personal

“I’m blind,” I uttered out into the void. I’d opened my eyes but was greeted with only black.
“You’re not blind,” came a voice out of the darkness from up above me, a man’s voice. “It’s an effect of the sedative.” The voice sounded distracted.

When I breathed in the air was dusty and stifling. I became aware that I was lying on my back. I could feel hard uneven earth beneath me. I tried to lift my arms but found I could not.

“I can’t move,” I said. Fear gripped my heart. “What’s going on?”
“Again, an effect of the sedative,” said the voice. I could hear his footsteps in the earth above me. “Actually, that’s kind of the point.” He chuckled.

I heard a loud mechanical noise – a lever being pulled – and then the sound of heavy machinery. An engine running. The hand on my heart tightened its grip.

“What… what is this? What are you doing?” I stammered.
“I’m doing” – the voice was louder now, to be heard above the running motor – “what I was paid to do.”

I heard another noise and the puttering of the engine was joined by a low mechanical drone.

“What’s that noise?” I called out.
“God, shut up,” said the man. “That is the last noise you’ll ever hear my friend. You didn’t really think you could take all their money and get away with it, did you?” He was laughing now.

He was wrong though. The last noise I heard was the sound of the concrete splashing as it filled my grave.

Burial at Sea

I awoke to find myself not in the comfort of my bed but instead encapsulated in a tiny dark space. All around me it was warm and black.

Immediately I was overcome by the overwhelming panic of claustrophobia. I thrashed about in the tiny dark space. I smashed my hands against the top of the enclosure and clawed the walls. I writhed in agony, in terror. I could feel the hotness of my hyperventilation caught in the space in front of me. The temperature of the air in my tiny prison increased from my paroxysms.

calmdowncalmdowncalmdown
calmdown calmdown calmdown calmdown calmdown
calm down calm down calm down calm down calm down
calm down. call down. call down. calm down. calm down.
Calm down. Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.
Calm. Down. Calm. Down. Calm. Down.
Calm….. Down. Calm…….. Down.
Breathe……    Breathe…… Breathe.
In……………….. huuuuuuhhh. And out. huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh.
Huuuuuuuuh huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh

Get a hold of yourself. Stop. Think. Don’t panic.

I started to panic. The claustrophobia rose again like a balloon in my chest.
Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod I’m going to die ImgonnadieImgonnadieImgonnadie

No. Stop. You’re not going to die. Calm down. You’re not going to die. You’re wasting oxygen because you’re hyperventilating, and if you don’t get a hold of yourself you’re definitely going to die when you use up all the air.

Ok. Stop, slow down, and breathe. Assess the situation.

I am alive. I’m trapped in a small space. Okay, feel the space out. I tried to raise my arms up as far as they could go. I had four, maybe five inches above me. It was awkward, but if I crossed my arms in front of my chest and I could still bring them up to my face.

I scratched my nose.

I reached out the other way. I had about the same amount of leeway in the horizontal dimensions – four, maybe five inches at most extending out from my body on either side. I turned my wrists over and pushed my palms flat against the wall in front of me. It was solid wood, I could feel the grain. The panic start to rise in my throat again, and pushed it down as best I could. In. huuuuuuuh. And out. huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh. Breathe.

I tried to think back to the last thing I could remember. Everything just got fuzzy and disjointed – trying to take even a short jaunt through short term memory was like wading into a thick fog.

The last thing I remembered going to bed with my wife, but that seemed like days ago. Maybe weeks. Now I was trapped in this warm, claustrophobic blackness of unknown origin or purpose.

I ran my fingers along the edges of the box. There a carved lip on the walls of my prison, and a segment jutting out from either side of the piece above that rested on them. It seemed like a puzzle that had been assembled with me inside.

And then I started to realize the truth. I ran my fingers along the course grain of the wood once more. I touched the sides and ran my one thumb along the top edge of my tiny box once more, just to be sure.

Yes, there was no mistaking it, I was in a coffin. Whoever, whatever, had done this to me had abducted me out of my ordinary life and thrown me into a box meant for the dead.

I was buried alive.

Time passed. I drifted in out and of consciousness. I thought of what I had read about U.S. soldiers going over to Iraq, and how they tested their mettle with sensory deprivation. Depriving the human body of sensory input was enough to cause it to try to fill the void – all of the participants hallucinated within a very short period of time: auditory, visual, tactile. No sense was excluded.

I was starting to feel that way now. All I had was the blackness of the coffin, the feeling of my warm breath, and the feel of the unsanded wood beneath my fingers.

I was in a coffin.

My breathing was under control now but began to feel the panic slowly rising in my chest once again. I was in a coffin. Buried alive. Only the air in the box to breath and no way out. No way out. No way out. No way out…

Before my mind could spin up into a panic any further, I was snapped back to reality by everything shifting. I felt it, unmistakeably. The coffin had shifted down and to the left, and then slightly back to the right. How could the earth shift in such a way?

I lay still in my prison and listened to the sound of my breathing, and felt the warmth of my exhaling in front of me. I could feel it now; the coffin was shifting ever so slightly back and forth. There was a slow, rhythmic oscillation to the box I was entrapped in – how could this be?

My anxiety and claustrophobia were pushed aside by my mind racing for answers: I was moving, but why? How?

I took a step back mentally. What did I remember? Nothing really. What did I know? I was in a coffin; yes, that much I could ascertain from my sense of touch and the rough wood around me.

But I had merely assumed that I was buried alive. Six feet under. Deep within the earth. I was encased in blackness and had only my sense of touch to go on; all that I could take in was in the walls of my tiny prison.

As I felt the rhythmic swaying slowly rocking my universe my mind was cleared by a startling realization: holy fuck, I was underwater. The oscillation I felt was the coffin swaying in the liquid around me.

Could it be? How? Who? Why? What would snatch me from the night and not only wipe my memory, but bury me within a coffin not deep within the earth, but in the depths of some body of water? I knew only what I surveyed within my prison and what I could feel – if I was, in fact, submerged, I could be in a small tank or at the bottom of the deepest ocean; there was no way for me to tell.

I had to be sure. I shifted as far as I could in the tiny space and slammed the weight of my body against the side of the coffin. The loud thunk of my body connecting with the wood was followed by a gross sense of disorientation, as my environment swayed wildly back and forth and threw me against the enclosure walls. The amplitude of the pendular motion attenuated, and my prison stabilized.

Well, that settled it. I was underwater.

A prison such as the humble one I found myself in now would surely rise to the surface due to the air inside; surely my weight was not enough to keep it submerged. My casket could not be weighed down otherwise it would not be free to shift as it just did, or with the periodic motion of the water around me.

I could picture it now – not only was I imprisoned in a casket underwater, but also chained to a point on the bottom: suspended, but floating free.

Fuck. Imgoingtodie Imgoingtodie Imgoingtodie Imgoingtodie. I clawed at the coffin again, wildly. I writhed in the tiny confines that were now my universe. Slowly, sense overtook me again and my breathing slowed.

I felt the gentle currents of the ocean rock the coffin back and forth in a long gradual motion. It was almost calming, in a way. If my mind wasn’t so focused on my mortality I would have found it relaxing; almost soporific.

Okay, now what did I know? One, I was trapped in a coffin. Rap rap. I banged my palms flat against the board above me. Yup, there was never any doubt of that. Two, I was most likely, if not surely, underwater. Three, the gentle rocking motion that I felt almost surely meant that I was in the ocean, or some other large body of water.

I could feel myself getting tired. Soon, I would be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ocean, and the thickening warm air, which was growing ever more oxygen-depleted with every breath I took.

What were my options? Not many. Crying for help would do no good. Could I dig my way out? With what, Sherlock? I felt in my pockets for my keys but they were gone. Could I smash the coffin? Surely whoever went to all the abducting me, encasing me in it and suspending it from the ocean floor would also make sure it was sturdy?

Once more I thrashed in the coffin. The lid above me would not budge; it had the weight of the entire ocean above pressing down upon it. When I hit the sides I felt them give a little. The wood was soft, I could feel it.

It is a well-known but little-considered fact that the average person possesses far more strength in the legs than other parts of the body. This is why it is always so silly to see an action hero in a blockbuster film attempt to break down a door with his shoulder – this will only result in frustration and some very bad bruising. As any SWAT team member or well-trained police officer will tell you, the most effective way to break open a locked (but unbarred) door is to place several well-aimed kicks right at the lockset.

Which is why the tight feeling of dread and impending doom in my chest was briefly replaced by a warm feeling. A feeling of Hope. I was still wearing my heavy work boots.

There was barely any room within the confines of the coffin to draw my leg back but I had to try. I brought my right leg up as far as I could, and to the side a little where there was space.

Thump. The soft wood gave a little under my kick. Now the left. Thump. I felt the wood flex and the vibration shake the rest of the coffin beneath. Goddammit, I was going to do it. I was going to live. I was going to fight my out of this stupid box or die trying.

I kicked with my right again, harder. Thump. The wood gave a little. Again the left. Thump thump. I could feel it weakening. I began to kick wildly at the bottom of the coffin in rapid succession. Thump. Thump. Thumpthumpthumpthump the exertion energized my body to a fever pitch – I shouted nonsense now, and screamed as I thrashed and kicked at the bottom. thumpthumpthumpthumpthump pain rose in my legs. I couldn’t keep this up much longer.

imnotgonnadie imnotgonnadie thumpthumpthump thumpathumpa

I stopped kicking and panted. A slow trickle. I kicked once more, still panting. I heard another crack, shorter and lower this time. I felt an icy cold wetness against the bottom of my calf. Water was pooling in the bottom of the coffin.

Water was pooling in the bottom of the coffin. I had cracked the board and now the box was slowly filling with ocean. If I didn’t break the coffin apart instead of suffocating to death I was going to drown.

The pain in my legs still burned but I steeled myself and brought down my heavy boots against the bottom of the coffin again. Thump. Crack. Thump. Crack. More trickling, louder and faster now. The sound of water streaming into more water, like someone taking a piss. Thump. Crack. Thump. 

Goddamn you to hell you fucking bastard I’m not gonna die like this

I brought both legs up as far as I could I kicked out with the last of my strength and heard a final deep crack. I gasped one last short breath and then there was the sound of rushing water and the coffin imploded. Everything after that happened very fast.

Shock as my body was surrounded by cold and wet. The lid coming down and striking my head.

All was black, all was cold, all was wet.

I pushed the lid as hard as I could and felt it be taken up by the water. I put my arms up above and felt no resistance; I was free! I couldn’t see but I pulled myself up in the water. I kicked off my heavy work boots and pulled and pulled and swam through the blackness in what direction I could only assume was up.

My lungs began to burn. Still I pulled. Still I kicked. I pulled and pulled and the blackness around me began to give way to grey, and then to fingers of moonlight dancing in the water above me. Hope rose in my chest. I pulled. I pulled. So close now. Lungs burning.

At last I breached the surface of the ocean and felt cold night air against the saltwater on my face I did it. I was alive. Alive. I was awash in euphoria. Waves of my elation joined those of the sea. I had done it. I had escaped.

I looked up into the beautiful full moon and felt more alive than I’d ever felt. I smiled a giant smile and breathed the cold fresh air of the sea. I looked down from the sky to see the gentle rolling waves of the ocean illuminated in moonlight. All around I saw only the ocean stretching out to the horizon; a perfect plane, extending off into infinity in all directions.

I was adrift at sea.

I missed the warm blackness of the coffin.