She cannot escape.
Her prison is about two feet wide by a foot high by six feet long. The air feels heavy and the darkness is complete. If she did not know any better, she would swear she was in a coffin.
However, she does know better. She has been in the “box” before. Each time she has acted out, her doctor treats her to a session within a sensory depravation chamber of his own design.
He swears this helps to stabilize extremely disturbed patients. Her doctor says that the “box” simulates the womb and when a patient is released from the box, it symbolizes a rebirth.
Time becomes timeless as hours or days or weeks pass. Without light as a reference point, she cannot tell if it is night, day, or in-between. She can hear nothing except the sound of her own thoughts.
The claustrophobic feeling she usually has in the box is missing. She does not feel terrorized by her prison; she simply feels trapped.
An era of her life seems to pass by as she waits for her release. At some point, she does not know when, she hears a noise that grows steadily louder and shakes the box with each pounding tremor.
At last, she begins to see light coming in through the edges of her prison. This is different, she is thinking, as the sound and shaking grow more intense.
Suddenly, all is quiet. She begins to pound on the box and demands to be released. Someone must hear her, for the door to her box is opened and the sun shines down upon her.
The sun shines down upon her. To what trickery has her doctor exposed her? What new treatment has he imposed? She should be able to walk out of his damned box; instead, she has to climb and try to hoist herself up to escape the pit in which the box was placed.
Where are the attendants who usually offer her a beverage and a cool towel after releasing her? The only people she can see are looking down into the pit and ignoring her requests for help. She will report them to the doctor and tell him to relieve them of their sorry duties.
Finally, a hand reaches down to help her out of the pit. As she turns around, she gasps in horror at the site of a thousand graves. Her doctor had buried her as part of his malicious treatment of her disorder; she will see that he is arrested upon her return.
“These are different people,” the man with the helping hand tells her. “You will get used to them, and, eventually, bored by them.”
“Who are you, sir?” she asks.
“Adrian Masterson, at your service,” he says with a bow and a flourish. “Now, a quick education, madam. You are no longer imprisoned and may freely roam wherever your heart desires.”
“The doctor has released me?” she excitedly asks. “I am truly free to leave?”
“Oh, most assuredly. You do not have to go back to whatever hospital you came from.”
She looks at Mr. Masterson suspiciously. He does not even know where she had been a patient.
“Who are you, sir?” she again asks.
With a sigh, the man answers, “I am whoever I wish to be, as are you. I can go anywhere I wish to go, as can you. I am free to do whatever I wish, as are you.
“You are no longer bound by any ties to this world. Come,” he says as he puts a hand on her shoulder, “I’ll show you.”
As he turns her around to face the pit from which she has but recently escaped, she sees the dusty skeletal remains inside. If this was the new type of treatment her doctor recommended – being placed inside the “box” with a corpse – then, she would definitely have his license.
She looks closer. The skeleton is wearing her dress! The same dress she is wearing at this very moment. How dare the doctor use her own clothing on . . .
A sickening feeling of disbelief is replaced by an equally sickening feeling of belief.
“I am dead,” she declares. “I am dead, but why am I not in heaven?”
Adrian Masterson looks at her with pity and says, “The gates of heaven closed long ago. Now, we are wandering souls who simply . . . wander. Some go back to their homes, some explore the world or the ocean or space. We can go anywhere we want.
“But, we are not temporal. You will never eat again, nor touch any of the living. If you do, your spirit, the only essence left of you, will weaken with each touch. Eventually, you will simply disappear.”
A crowd gathers above the open grave as they prepare to move the coffin and remains to another resting spot. The cemetery had become overcrowded, the older graves exhumed, and the remains buried in a mass plot in order to make way for new deaths.
She is overcome with emotion. She would rather disappear than to spend eternity wandering the universe as a restless spirit.
The man tries to stop her as she heads to the crowd of workers. She shakes him off and begins touching the living men, one by one. With each touch, her essence becomes fainter and fainter.
Adrian sighs. More than half of the newly awakened souls go that way. They cannot abide the thought of spending eternity in their new ethereal state.
As the woman grows so faint he can barely see her outline, the last expression on her face as she disappears is one of terror.
Shrugging, he turns away. She made her choice, but he feels slightly bad as she had not given him time to explain that, although heaven’s gates are closed . . .
Hell’s are not.
J J Dare is the author of “False Positive,” the first novel in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy.
Have a Scary Halloween!