by Rex Hurst
Sheila didn’t want to be in there. It was a rotted pine box eighty four inches long, twenty eight inches wide, and twenty three inches tall, essentially the size of your standard coffin, buried five feet below the surface of the earth. And she was its main occupant.
The things we do for love.
The love for a child. A beautiful eight year old boy. The bright shining light of her life. Her reason for being. And now the object of her torture. A trickle of loose earth sifted in between the box’s slats. Sheila’s throat constricted in terror.
Calm yourself. This is what they want.
Indeed it was.
They say not to use the Ouija board by yourself for that opens your soul to demonic possession. They never mention that sometimes the place where you cast about for spirits was just as deadly. Her son had gotten into the board games and, wedged between the old Mystery Date game and a Stratego set with twelve missing pieces, was the infamous Hasbro iteration of the mystic device. Her son had taken it into the backyard one night, playing with it under the new moon on one of the soft places of the Earth.
The whole of the Unseelie Court was opened. The creatures of Beyond who creep under the bed and feed upon the fear and suffering of humanity. Since he had opened the way, unknowingly or not, her son was theirs by ancient compact. Theirs to frighten and torture for all eternity. Sheila had arrived as their ghoulish fingers clutched her son, pulling him back screaming into the bleakness of their world.
She caught the hem of their robes and pulled the Unseelie back. Roaring and threatening, then pleading and crying. She offered everything for the return of her boy. The Unseelie could never resist a challenge. The corrupt fae tasted her fear, aged as a fine wine, and wanted more. They accepted.
A wave of a clawed hand. Sheila found herself in the box. A little pixie light accompanying her, just so she could see how cramped it was.
“Save your sanity. Save your son,” they told her.
That would not be easy. These monsters knew her weakness.
Most people characterize claustrophobia as only an unyielding fear of enclosed spaces. In reality it was more the idea that she was trapped someplace, with no way out, which set off Sheila’s panic buttons. While enclosed spaces like a rickety coffin were easy triggers. It had happened to her on an airplane, at the top of a rollercoaster, or when she was wedged on the inside of a diner booth next to someone too fat to push out of the way.
Calm. Calm. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Sheila could feel them snickering on the edges of her soul. She would fail. They were sure of it. Despite an initial shock, Sheila steadied herself and distracted her mind by counting her fingers over and over again.
One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five.
Was the box shrinking? It seemed like a dip had formed in the casket’s top. Did that mean the wood wasn’t strong enough? That the box was about to crack and completely bury her in dirt?
NO! NO! Don’t think about it. Concentrate. One….
If the box broke, the dirt would pile in, pinning her down, filling her throat. Alive, but trapped the most absolute way possible. A fly in amber. A dino sucked into the tar pits. Sheila under the ground. No way out. No way out.
There’s nowhere to go! There’s nowhere to go! I’m trapped. Slowly buried!
She wanted to tear at her eyes. Claw that throat out. Rip holes in her face. Tear the box open. Dig up through five feet of earth. Anything to relieve the pressure, to distract her from the knowledge that there was no way out.
I’ve got to get out of here! I’ve gotta go! I’ll be crushed! The worms will eat me! Oh God! OH GOD! Please help me!
But God said no that day. Sheila would have to create her own salvation. For herself and her boy.
I don’t care. I don’t care. Just let me be free.
She knew these thoughts would push herself onto further panic, but couldn’t get them out of her head. The worst part of her mental illness was recognizing just how insane she was behaving, but being unable to stop herself. She lingered there at the cusp of a panic attack, about to lose her sanity, about to lose her son.
Her son. Her beacon in the night. Her holy grail.
There it was. The one thing she could latch onto. The still point of her soul. Sheila’s mind flooded with visions of the boy. The color of his eyes. His goofy smile. His little toes. The time he cried while getting his first haircut. His favorite toys. His favorite bedtime book, which she’d had to read aloud over a hundred times.
No matter how much the box constricted, she clung to the memory of her son. The madness subsided. Calm claimed her.
For more reading, try books by Rex Hurst.