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The Black Box

By Robert Russell


            The flashlight in his hand finally went out, incandescence slowly dwindling, dimming, and dying at last. The pitch black darkness engulfed the young man as if being swallowed by a great beast. The dense air that reeked of wet wood suddenly became much more prominent, along with the tautness in his chest. His legs were numb, dead weight, useless and immobile. The flashlight rolled off of his chest and fell into the crevice of his arm pushed hard against the wooden wall of the box. He laid in silence.

            Scenes of revenge shot through the foreground of his mind. If he lived, though it seemed unlikely, he vowed he would not sleep until he found his captors and strung them up by their necks. Strangulation, fiery immolation, retaliation, justice blinded his already blind eyes as he laid motionless, succumbing to his ultimate fate.

            He slowed his breathing forcefully in a meager and unsuccessful attempt to reduce the painful arrhythmic palpitations in his chest, residual effects of the terror and shock that initially seized him when he first woke up. It had been hours now, he guessed, as time ceased to exist underground. With every tiny inch of movement, he met a wall of the box. It embraced him with a kind of suffocating strangle-hold. His claustrophobia had morphed into a discomfort that began as pins and needles under his skin but had now transformed into a numbness that overwhelmed his entire body. His head floated above the wood, detached to his extremities that were now alien entities to him.

            Scenes of regret struck the foreground of his mind. A high school sweetheart that he never got the chance to apologize to. Not going back to school, despite all the encouraging support from his friends and family. Refusing his father’s repeated requests to help care for his grandmother in her dying days. Never risking or fighting for anything worthwhile, therefore missing out on countless opportunities to achieve any semblance of happiness or meaning in life.

            It was impossible to discern if his eyes were open or closed. The black encompassed all, seeming to stab his eyes and plunge into his brain. The sound of his contracting organs cut through the deafening emptiness with unsettling growls and thumps. His skin burned and his muscles began to spasm as they descended into atrophy.

            Scenes of redemption streamed into the foreground of his mind. Fabricated scenarios of righting his wrongs. He saw his family before him. He wept and apologized for not loving them enough, never heeding their advice, constantly taking advantage of their support and help, and never thanking them for any of it. He saw his friends. He remembered the countless nights of utter debauchery, the inebriated elation of being in their presence, the one-night-stands he had had, perhaps one too many times. 

            His chest painfully arched with each diminishing breath and the convulses began. His heart raced, throbbing incessantly as anxiety and terror poured into his veins. He choked on the dust-filled air, the burning in his throat growing and growing. He could feel the end approaching. His breathing strained and slowed, and in the darkness, the young man sank into a sound and sincere sleep, a sea of black surrounding him.

            Scenes of resurrection surged through the foreground of his mind. He saw a tiny light distant in a nightmarish dreamscape flickering, scintillating and growing into a flame. The flame expanded and the light grew brighter and brighter washing the darkness away. The blinding light spread in all directions. Radiant, ghostly arms reached out in embrace, closed in around his neck and slowly began to strangulate the young man.

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