In the Unlikely Event of My Death
by John Van Allen
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
It was foggy, and a cold mist chilled my face and hands. Under the glare of an orange street light, our long, thin shadows bounced across the alley like alien life forms. A siren blared in the distance.
Wind rustled the pecan tree in Vic’s yard, its bare branches clacking against each other like a dried up skeleton. I pulled the smaller of the two keys from my pocket, inserted it into the padlock on Vic’s garage, and gave it a twist.
It worked. I removed the lock and lifted the door up as gently as I could, but it still made enough racket to rouse the damn Rottweiler. A light popped on in the neighbor’s house. I jumped inside the garage, yanked Quinn in with me, and dragged the door down.
Inside was dark as a tomb. The flashlight needed batteries, and I had to feel my way along. At one point, I jerked my fingers back from something unnaturally thin and brittle that turned out to be an old cicada shell.
Unseen creatures scurried off to hide in nooks and crannies between boxes. In the quiet, I heard Quinn wheezing behind me.
“You bring your inhaler?”
A wind gust rattled the building, sending dust and grit raining down into my face and eyes. Wiping my eyes, I shone the dim flashlight on the dark casket looming near the back wall.
As I pulled the oversized key from the back pocket of my jeans, it occurred to me that there might be something valuable in the casket like treasure or jewels. Maybe Vic wanted us to find it, sort of like an inheritance.
“Where’d you get that?”
“The envelope Vic gave me.”
“What are you—?”
I stuck the key in the slot, turned it a little, and waited in silence.
For reasons only it knew, the Rottweiler next door let loose an explosive bellow. My heart flapped like a wild thing trying to escape my ribcage, and a wave of irritation flew over me. I decided to hell with caution and grabbed the key with both hands.
“Be careful,” Quinn said. “It’s rusty, you’ll break it.”
I leaned on it with all my weight until it gave, turning all the way to the right until something clunked. The box shuddered and rumbled, as if some magical mechanism were coming to life.
The casket shimmered gold, steam rose from the top, and the smell of burning wood filled the garage. I stepped back thinking we were both about to go up in flames, our ashes following Vic’s south to the Gulf of Mexico.
I pivoted, ran straight into Quinn, tripped and fell into a bunch of crates, knocking them over into a stack of boxes. Falling like dominoes, everything crashed into the side of the garage sending the Rottweiler into hysterics.
“Let’s get out of here!” I shouted.
Quinn pulled me to my feet, and we banged and careened off piles of junk until we got to the door. Frantic, I banged at the door searching for a handle. Around us the yellow glow faded, leaving the garage once again dark as a cave. A heavy thud deep in the shadows vibrated through the ground, up my ankles, jarring the base of my skull.
Then, quiet. My panic subsided enough to stop clawing at the door and listen. No Rottweiler, no wind, no sirens or any other sounds of the city. It was like we were trapped in a vacuum.
“What are you waiting for?” Quinn asked.
“Shhh,” I said.
The air pressed against me, and I had the odd feeling something was back there in the darkness. Something that hadn’t been there before.
Standing there in Old Vic’s garage, I experienced one of those crossroads moments when I knew everything was about to change. I’d had a feeling like that before, when I said goodbye to my dad before he deployed to Afghanistan the last time.
“What are you doing?” Quinn asked.
“Going back,” I said
He was wheezing again. “Okay... I’ll keep watch back here.”
“I don’t debate that.”
I struggled through the debris of boxes and crates until my light again shown on the ancient casket. Its heavy lid rested off to one side, and smoke or steam was rising from the box like it was hot.
I drew closer, my arms tingling, butterflies in my stomach. Standing on my toes from a distance, I aimed the light down at the casket and peered inside.
It was empty. I sank back onto my heels, my excitement decomposing into queasy disappointment. There I was, thinking something really amazing, maybe even supernatural was going to happen. All I’d accomplished was to get the top off some old box. No bones, no treasure. I mean, there weren’t even any “vinyls” in there.
So much for life-changing moments.
A creak off in the corner sent a wave of goosebumps over my scalp, and I jerked the flashlight in that direction. Seeing nothing but cobwebs, dusty boxes, and dark places, I chalked it up to a rat or mouse sneaking around.
I moved closer, gazing down at the box where a series of pentagrams, arrows, and other strange markings lined the inside wall. I felt a fluttering in my belly like I was standing on the high dive at the city pool gathering the courage to jump.
I felt a strange compulsion and set my light down on a crate. Turning, I stepped into the casket. Sitting down, I crammed my hips into the space and bent my knees in order for my legs to fit. Slowly I eased back until I was lying down, the damp, musty wood inches from my face on either side.
The dark edges of the old box rose up on all sides giving me the feeling I was submerged in shallow water. On a morbid whim, I laid my arms across my chest like a corpse, wondering what it would be like, as Old Vic had said, to be trapped in a box for all eternity.
The light flickered and dimmed.
I twisted around in the casket, but I’d jammed myself into the tiny space so tightly I couldn’t move. A long shadow rose over me, then crashed down over my head and chest. I slapped at the wood, trying to push it off, but accomplished nothing against the heavy mahogany.
“Hey!” I yelled. “I’m still in here!”
The lid slid along slowly encasing me in darkness. My chest tightened like someone was standing on it, and my heart thudded away like a subwoofer. The black nothing gripped my face. I tried to scream, but nothing came out.
I was trapped. Mindless panic washed over me, and I rocked back and forth hoping to dislodge the lid, and let in air, light, life.
A clunk restored my senses, and I waited, listening. Light filled the casket as all the symbols around me glowed yellow. The cold darkness yielded to white heat, and the smell of scorched wood filled the box. All I could do was quiver, wondering what it felt like to be baked like a piece of bread in a toaster.
Then it was over. The symbols faded to a dark orange-red afterglow. The box shook, a crack of light appeared, and the lid fell away onto the floor. I twisted around until I got to a seated position, then sucked in the fresh air.
“You all right?” Quinn asked, eyes big as traffic lights.
I struggled out of the casket, and flopped out onto the ground, curse words spewing out of my mouth like raw sewage. I patted my back, searching for burns, but there were none.
I faced Quinn, energy surging through me, ready to beat the living shit out of him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Closing the lid like that, idiot. What do you think I mean?”
I balled up my fists ready to pound him, but a sound deep in the shadows sent us scrambling out of there. I tossed up the door like it was a piece of cardboard, and we spilled out onto the driveway. Not caring who heard or saw us, I jerked the door down with a crash, locked it, and sprinted toward the fence.
“Wait up,” Quinn called.
Instead of slipping between the splintered boards, I made footholds on the rails and scaled it in two giant steps. Balanced on top of the thin slats, I pivoted, looked down at Quinn, his eyes wide, mouth hanging open. Stepping backward into the thin air, I plunged toward the asphalt and landed gently in a three-point stance wondering what the hell had happened to me in that casket.
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Copyright © 2018 by John Van Allen