Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
I have just awakened from a deep sleep, not fully aware of how long my eyes have been closed. There is a dank, musty smell, combined with…I don’t know…maybe the scent of creosote. The odor itself is ominous, foreboding, and almost seems to carry on its smelly back the presence of…well. I shudder to think the presence of what exactly, but it’s definitely there.
I am cold. I feel like I’m indoors, but my eyes don’t quite seem to want to adjust to the environment. I can feel beneath me, under my ass as I struggle to sit my groggy self upright, an old sofa or big chair. It feels like it’s finished in velour, with evenly spaced buttons in a pattern on its surface. My heart rate is beginning to quicken. I am beginning to hear a soft crunch, crunch, crunch – the sound of my own pulse in blood vessels somewhere near my eardrums.
My breathing is shallow and quick. I feel as though I don’t want to breathe in too much of this smell; this musty awfulness. And I feel as though…my God please let their be some light. Please. Someone is here. Not just in this room, but inches from my face.
Dear God, the pit of my stomach feels hollow. My heart even more so. I’m dead. That’s the only conceivable answer. I’m dead and I’ve gone to hell. The devil himself is staring at me, no doubt grinning as he plots my eternal torture.
I guess I wasn’t the best guy in life, but I have to admit that I’m at least a little surprised to have been damned to hell for cheating on my wife once, and telling the pastor who presided over my mom’s funeral that he could go fuck himself. He could. My mom was no saint. But there was no good reason to wish her luck getting into heaven. The bastard actually said, “good luck,” as they lowered her into that hole.
I digress. I have a tendency to do that. Especially when I’m nervous. And right now I’m scared shitless. It’s been a good 10 minutes now, my eyes have adjusted to nothing, and I know that if I stick my hand up in front of my face, I’m going to touch the face of the devil hims….
The lights. They’re slowly beginning to raise…and…and there’s something else. Oh for chrissakes…carnival music. It sounds like it’s coming from an old Victrola. It’s scratchy, and occasionally skips. And it seems void of all the joy that such oom-pah sounds from a merry-go-round naturally bring. It’s sad. It’s melancholy, whatever that means. And yet, it’s just carnival music.
This place, this room, clearly hasn’t seen another person – a living one, at least – in a good 80 years. Maybe more. And yet the lights work, that goddamned Victrola plays, and…wait. Someone had to turn all of this shit on.
It turns out there was nothing directly in front of me. The devil isn’t here. I wonder if he does wear Prada. I’m digressing again. I told you I do that when I get nervous. Or at least I think I did. I’m too nervous to remember, honestly.
Though I fear to turn my head for what I might find…what I might see…what I might not be able to UN-see, I must. I have to summon strength, bury my fear, and find out just where in the name of God I am.
It looks like some kind of formerly beautiful, old Victorian-style living room. Everything is black and red. The high wing-backed chairs, the sofa I now see that I’m sitting on. The red wallpaper that rises from the floor to a black chair rail. And above that, I can’t tell what the walls look like. They’ve been re-papered with posters advertising a vaudevillian magic act that look decades upon decades old. They’ve yellowed. They’ve faded. They’re covered in dust and cobwebs, some of which stretch clear from the walls to the chandelier in the center of the room.
Whoever this magician was, he was clearly proud of himself. I wonder what his wife thought of his gaudy display of ego ruining what could have been a lovely living space. Hell, she was probably his “lovely assistant.” But if she let him do all this shit, she was probably ugly as sin, and just allowed him to flaunt his stupid little posters so he wouldn’t throw her out.
“She actually was quite lovely, David.”
Jesus. There’s someone here. He knows my name. And this is no act of magic. He’s reading my mind. He’s in my head. I can see him as plain as day in my mind’s eye. He is tall and thin, dressed in 1920’s dark suit. Graying hair, and a…a cape…under his right arm. I need someone to know this in case I don’t make it out of here. His name is…
“Mephistopheles the Great!”
My arms. Dear God in heaven, I cannot move my arms. And my legs. And…and my mind. I’ve lost it too. I’m hearing voices. I cannot move. I cannot think for myself. I cannot…MAKE THIS DREAM END!!!
“Now, now, David. Calm. Be calm. I want to teach you one of my most famous works of magic.”
No. No magic. I just want to go home. I’m pretty sure I have to work tomorrow. Or…or something. Maybe it’s my weekend to see my daughter. I can’t remember. And I sure as hell can’t seem to make a move toward the…my God. There IS no door.
“No, David. No doors. What I have for you is a box. The same box from which I conducted my most famous escape. And I am going to teach you to perform this escape as well. You will enter the box when I slide it in front of you…and then…”
It’s. It’s a pine box. How did you…You slid it right in front of me, but you’re not even…It looks like a…
“No matter what it looks like. When you escape from the box, you will be home.”
You swear? Don’t fuck with me, Mepha…whatever your name is. I don’t know how I got here, but I want out. I never want to see this place again. For chrissake. Please let me go, and I promise to never speak of this to anyone.
The lid just slowly opened in front of me with no one else here. No one touched it. At least no one that I can actually see.
“Into the box, David. Hastily, now.”
My arms and legs that hadn’t worked are now working on their own. Without my command, they lift me from the sofa. I take the two steps to the edge of the box, and then step in. Left foot. Right foot. And I lay down.
Slowly the lid begins to lower. Again, without being touched, just as it had raised. And now it is closed. Once again I find myself in complete darkness. And now there is banging. Violent, loud, banging. The box is being nailed shut. Starting near my head, and now six inches further down. And six inches more. And another six. Until I am now finally, completely, sealed.
Mephistopheles, I have kept my word. I am in the box. And now you keep yours, damnit. How does the trick work? How do I get out of here and get home? You promised to tell me. Mephistopheles, please. You promised.
Credit: Jason Fornwalt