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The only thing this magician couldn’t pull out of his hat was the money he needed to make his child support payment, and so, with a degree of reluctance, his venue of choice changed from making coins appear behind the ears of delighted children to making wallets and jewelry boxes disappear from homes in the middle of the night. With the skill that only a practiced magician could possess he slipped into a life of crime, picking locks, disabling alarms, and moving silently, in complete control of his body. He knew he made an excellent thief, and soon his initial distaste turned into a lust for the excitement that breaking and entering provided. The last time he had felt excitement like that was during his previous career as an escape artist, which had almost ended in disaster when he was nearly buried alive during a stunt.
It was once again nearing the time of the month to make his child support payment for the daughter he didn’t care to see, and so the thief began to scout around the small North Carolina town he currently was staying at. After some debate he decided to rob a small place at the edge of town. The house was well isolated behind a dense forest that the thief could use to mask his escape. The owner, a large older man, would be easy to avoid, and the thief foresaw few obstacles to his inevitable success. The man didn’t seem to be married or have any family, which made the thief’s only concern the various guests that the man sometimes brought to his house. After weeks of observation he had seen the man return with a younger man and a girl. The thief had been concerned that they may be staying at the house, since he hadn’t seen them leave, but after another week passed he assumed they had left when he had been away from the house.
The thief decided to make his move late one night, when he knew the man would be away. Likely visiting a strip club, or a prostitute he thought, with a degree on contempt. Donning his black mask, and clutching a crowbar and a small knife he skulked across the field between the line of trees and his target house. With ease he climbed up to the second floor, and slipped through an open window.
The thief was disappointed. The upper floor of the man’s house was sparsely decorated and covered in a layer of grime. He saw no watches, no jewelry from a wife or lover, no safe, no wads of cash, no expensive TV. The only thing that greeted him, apart from a cockroach scuttling under the bed at the sound of the window opening, was a slightly unpleasant odor. The thief hoped the lower floor would prove to be more fruitful.
Carefully moving down the stairs the thief kept an ear out, listening for any sign of the man’s return. The ground floor proved to be as disappointing as the first. Little furniture, no TV, and once again a layer of grime and now a stronger odor. The odor was very unpleasant, and at this point the thief was left wondering how the man lived there. He was again disappointed, but was unwilling to give up on his escapade so soon. He decided to check the house for a basement, hoping to make some money off this night.
As the thief found the door to the basement he heard the sound of a car on the gravel driveway. The man was home, a situation the thief was woefully unprepared for. He heard the car door slam, and a girl ask if she could see the puppy. Must be his daughter, the thief thought. He thought of bolting for the steps to the second floor, but the door to the outside was between him and the steps. The thief didn’t want to risk it. What if the man saw him? What if he had a gun? Never before had the thief robbed a home with the homeowner there. Never before had the thief been faced with the prospect of getting caught. The thrill of this turn of events was unparalleled, even by his time as an escape artist. Keys rattled in the door, and as the door began to open, the thief stepped into the basement to hide, confident he could soon make his escape.
The stench was overpowering. The thief gagged, and then retched. He stumbled down the stairs, suddenly afraid that he would be caught, suddenly afraid that the man had heard him.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he entered hell.
A furnace. Meat hooks. A fire hose, chains, and a stack of large wooden boxes. Concrete walls covered in a brown stain that no amount of water could clean. By the furnace, neatly arrayed in a tub, piles of bones. Small bones. The thief did not believe in God, but he found himself praying. He prayed that they were animal bones. He saw that they weren’t. He saw a pile of clothes neatly stacked in a corner. Clothes from men and women, of various sizes. A man’s plaid shirt. A girl’s flowered dress. The smell of iron and fear and despair. The thrill was gone. All that was left were his cold, shaking hands, his crowbar, the cold sweat on his forehead, and the small knife in his pocket.
A scream echoed down the steps, followed by the sound of tape. The door to the basement swung open, and the man began to descend, dragging his latest prize. Another young girl, no more than eleven, kidnapped from a playground, now bruised, bloody, and wrapped in duct tape. The girl was crying out for her parents, struggling to escape. She stopped struggling when the man hit her again, hard, across her face. She didn’t struggle when the man chained her to the wall. She didn’t even struggle when he ripped off her dress. The thief was silent, crouched behind the pile of wooden boxes. He didn’t want to know what was in those boxes.
The man knew he wasn’t alone in the basement with his new prize. He had heard the thief retch, and after glancing around he knew the thief was hiding in the only spot available, behind the boxes. This did not worry the man at all. Rather, he relished the idea of having another plaything. The only thought that gave him pause was the difficulty that came with dealing with an adults struggles. They always fought harder than the kids. Maybe it’s because the kids thought there was some hope, and the adults knew there wasn’t. The man decided that he should soften his new company up. Some time in a box should do it. Maybe he would just let his new company stay in the box overnight. After all, he already had one live one. After chaining the girl to the wall, the man charged at the pile of boxes, and threw his body at them, pushing the boxes against the wall and trapping the thief. He walked around the corner, looked into the panicking eyes, and slammed his knee into the thief’s head, knocking the thief unconscious.
The thief awoke in darkness. He was chained in fetal position in a dark, claustrophobic place. He could hardly breathe.
He knew where he was.
He remembered the trick that almost killed him.
He was buried alive.
The thief began to panic, and as he hyper ventilated, the low amount of oxygen present in his tomb decreased even further. He began to feel lethargic. He knew he had to do something. He did. With practiced ease the magician slipped his hands out of his chains. Using the small knife, still in his back pocket, he unlocked the shackles around his ankles, but he was still buried alive. He could do no more.
The magician thought back to his family, to the wife he had failed and the girl he had neglected. He thought about the young girl chained to a wall, terrified. He thought of the little girl’s father, who may be like him, who may never get a chance to see his daughter again.
The thief died. The magician died. The father survived. Still crouched in the claustrophobic box, he braced his back against the top and began to push. Boards creaked, muscles tore, tendons reached their breaking point, and earth began to move. He stood up, forcing wooden planks and earth aside, and let out a scream. It was not a sound that prey makes.
The man heard the scream, and for the first time in his life, felt afraid. He grabbed a sawed off shotgun from inside his nightstand, and went outside to inspect the shallow grave. As the man passed through his back door he saw the beast emerging from the ground, hunched over, and covered in dirt, with a predatory glint in its eye. The man lowered his shotgun and fired both barrels. The man missed. He wouldn’t get another chance.
The little girl was woken up by the sounds of screams and a gunshot. She was still chained to the wall, but apart from the bruises had been left unharmed while the bad man had dealt with the other one. Now though, she was trembling. The first scream had possessed a quality that scared her. It had sounded angry. The ones that followed the gunshot were those of desperation and pain. The little girl heard the basement door open. She heard someone coming down the steps, and began to cry at the thought of what the bad man might do to her.
A man was crouched before her, wiping her tears away. Practiced hands were unchaining her. A coat was draped over her. A dress was placed in her lap. When she looked up she saw kind eyes. The father picked her up, and carried her out of the basement, into the rest of her life.