I open my eyes, yet they do not see. I reach out with my hands, yet I am constrained. I inhale deeply, but dank air fills my lungs. Where am I? My mind races as I try to remember how I got in this predicament. It is pitch blackness that greets me. It is silence that welcomes me. Loneliness and solitude my only companion.
I feel the walls that serve as my prison. Wood. They are roughly cut; I get a splinter in my hand. It seems to be fashioned for my size. It is a near perfect fit. The walls seem to creep closer, suffocating me. The air in my lungs turns to tar, it slithers down my throat threatening to choke me. I can’t breathe. There is no air flow.
No, this isn’t true. I feel a tube on the top of my container above my head. There is a hole about the size of a quarter and fresh air is flowing through it. Still, my traitorous lungs heave. It is not lack of oxygen; it is claustrophobia. I am trapped in a tiny box and I don’t know how I got here. I can hardly move. There is no light. Panic has seized my limbs and I beat a steady staccato on the ceiling of my cell. In a rush, I find my voice and I began to scream.
Pleading, begging, weeping for anyone to help. This must be an accident. I can’t be locked away. I cannot rightly say how long I screamed. Long after my vocal cords became sore. My voice cracked and still my mouth uttered broken words. Eventually all I could manage was little whimpers. At some point I passed out.
I woke up to the sound of music off in the distance. Sad music. The kind played at a funeral. A dirge. I felt oddly melancholy and reserved. It was a queer experience to be present for one’s own funeral. That must be it. I must be buried alive and now they are having a memorial service at the grave.
My voice cracked; my lymph nodes swollen. I could hardly make a squeak, let alone something that would drown out that lonely song. Still, my abused throat tried its hardest to produce some kind of protest to the unfairness of it all. The sound that reverberated in the hollow coffin was that of a dying animal. Perhaps, that is exactly what I was in the moment.
Trapped, nothing but the thuds of dirt covering my final resting place. Those solid thumps, an assault to my sanity. I couldn’t help myself. I grew desperate. Tears streaming, snot bubbling, absolutely no care for sensibilities. My fingertips began to bleed as I picked restlessly at the coffin’s ceiling. Blood ran down my forearms unchecked. I ravaged my hands trying to escape my cell, yet the stubborn boards would not give.
The faint echoes of the grave diggers’ task haunted me. My heart shattered with each shovel full of dirt. Every handful of gravel, a final nail in my coffin. It was not a cruel trick. They couldn’t hear me, and now there was no hope. I was six feet under, yet somehow, I was still conscious.
What was I to do? I couldn’t claw my way through my jail cell, nor could I unbury myself. All motivation fled me. I became stoic in the face of my premortem burial. There was nothing left to do. The funeral song set me at ease. Peace like I have never experienced flooded my mind. I began to chortle. It was all too ironic. Here I am laying in my grave, yet I have never experienced such complete solace. It was as if I waited my whole life for this moment to truly begin living.
The dirge tapered off.
I was left in silence once again. Although, this time it didn’t bother me. I was over the claustrophobia. The darkness no longer scared me. The lack of companionship, no longer a factor. I was awaiting the eternal slumber. No fear, no hesitation. Eyes closed, and everlasting rest. Me and my thoughts, no distractions.
I was thinking clearer than I ever had. Life meant something more. A deepening happened. My soul stretched, and the barrier between this life and the next was nearly nonexistent. I felt as if I would press against the veil, it would yield. I was where no living mortal had ever been. I lay in my grave alive, yet closer to the hereafter than any living being. The greatest mystery was in my lap. What happens after we die?
It was at that moment; I heard the whisper.
“I do hope you are comfy down there. Might be a long time before you get out. I would hate for you to have to spend your last remaining hours in discomfort.” The voice was odd, almost as if it didn’t belong to a person. It was as rough and cracked as the rustic coffin I was being held hostage. Almost as if the man had not communicated often. The words were awkward and not entirely formed in the stranger’s mouth. Quite like someone learning a new language who has not yet grown confident in his speech. The voice set me on alert. The hair on the back of my neck stood. His voice was like nails on a chalkboard. It was just wrong. Not that it wasn’t unpleasant or irritating, but just not natural. Like hearing the mimicking of a parrot speaking human words.
The man’s voice reverberated down the same pipe the fresh air was flowing. I thought how strange that was. How many coffins have aeration systems built into it? After all, dead men don’t need to breathe.
Something was wrong.
People don’t get buried alive by accident. Coffins these days are not roughly crafted pine boxes. Also, no one talks to those under the earth. This man knew something, perhaps could even assist me.
I quickly began to plead with the man, “Please sir, I am buried alive! Dig me up, call for help. For the love of God, do something.”
The man’s response caught me off guard, “Wrong! Love God, I do not. I can’t stop now. You’ve been selected for plot thirteen. This is your home now. Don’t worry I will care for you.”
Silence enveloped me. I was dumbstruck, completely caught off guard. I never could imagine someone would outright refuse to assist another in their time of need. Life and death are a sacred ritual, no one is that callous. This man held my life in his hands and regarded me with so little care. I was a play thing to him. A pet trapped in a dank, dark cage.
In a voice hardly audible I asked, “What is plot thirteen?”
Clearly the man anticipated this question, his answer was nearly immediate. He responded, “Plot thirteen is the burial spot for David Simon Barniver, an electrician who accidentally fried himself when he grabbed a live wire.” As if this was an afterthought, the man added, “Oh yeah, it’s also the resting place for you too.”
“What? There’s no one else down here,” I cried out in indignation.
“Of course not, no one in the same coffin. He is directly above you, I’m sure you heard his funeral procession a few hours ago,” said the stranger in an oddly cheery voice.
I was caught off guard once again by this man’s careless, almost teasing manner. It was as if we were old friends or something. “What in the hell is going on here? Why am I in this coffin buried underneath someone else? This has to be some kind of accident,” I demanded.
My captor let out a belly-laugh that harbored real mirth. “God, you’re slow aren’t ya? I was hoping for someone a little brighter perhaps, but beggars can’t be choosers am I right? You are here, of my design. I snuck into that quaint little apartment you kept on second street. While you were sleeping, I drugged you. You never heard me come through the unlatched window. I shoved your heavy ass into a rolling suitcase and voila you woke up inside the coffin I crafted for you. I buried you in plot 13 in the pre-dug hole for the unfortunate David Barniver. I am a pretty hard worker, no one even noticed that I dug the hole twice as deep as usual. In the cover of the night, I lowered your coffin into the hole, covered you over with dirt and no one was the wiser.”
Absolutely flabbergasted by this man’s recounting of the events of the previous night, I asked, “Why?”
“Why, what?” Said the man genuinely perplexed.
“Why did you abduct me, burying me alive? What did I do to you to deserve this? I don’t even know you,” I choked out.
“We met once. You served me my coffee. You seemed nice and mama kept telling me that I needed friends,” said the man as if this cleared everything up.
“So, you buried me alive so I would be your friend?” I belted out completely outraged.
All he said was, “Yep.”
“Why the hell didn’t you just try talking to me like a normal ass person,” I shouted.
“I did. You were too busy to talk to me. No one takes the time to listen. In some ways I prefer talking to the dead. They don’t interrupt. My mama doesn’t approve when I talk to them, hence why the coffin,” responded the man in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Because your mom told you to make friends you kidnap me?” I answered, hardly able to understand.
“Mama gets so angry. I can’t disobey mama. She’ll put me in the box if I do,” said the voice, panic clearly beginning to form.
“The box? What do you mean?” I questioned.
“I don’t want to think about the box. Please don’t make me think of the box.” As he said this, he began to grow more frantic.
I heard a smacking sound followed by a cry of pain. A smack, then pain. This happened in rapid succession. It took me a second to realize the man was hitting himself in the face. Whatever this box was, it had him worked up. A thought creeped into my mind. If I can keep him talking maybe I will find something I can leverage for escape. This might be my only chance. I figured if I could get him to tell me about this box maybe I could use this.
“You never told me your name. I can’t be your friend until I know it,” I said.
“My name is Dennis. You should know that, you wrote it on my coffee cup and called it out when I came to visit you.”
“It was loud in there Dennis; I could hardly hear you. Sorry I didn’t recognize the voice. I remember you now. I didn’t say much to you because I was so nervous. Do you ever get nervous?” At this point I was fairly certain that he would understand. My goal was simple: get him to think we are friends, then I’d get him to slip some information while his guard is down.
“Nervous. Do you get nervous around people too? Mama always said to stop being a baby, but living people scare me. They can think and stuff. The bodies I bury can’t do that. They never have mean things to say either. Living people are cruel. I never know what they are thinking or planning. What if they want to hurt me?” Exclaimed the excited stranger.
“Mama, doesn’t seem to understand, does she?” I remarked.
“No, she doesn’t. I tried to explain to her one time, but she locked me in the box. She scares me more than anyone else,” he responded.
All of a sudden, the smacking sound resumed, louder than before. “That was a horrid thing to say about mama. Mama is good, mama is nice. Mama is the only one who cares about me,” said the pained voice of the man echoing down the tube.
“It’s ok, mama isn’t here. You’re with your best friend. Feel free to tell me anything. This box for example. I won’t tell mama, I promise.” I responded with a certain wheedling to my voice.
Dennis grew silent, seeming to mull over my request. I could tell from the stretching silence that I was close to winning him over. I racked my brain to find something this insane person could relate with. It hit me at that moment. In a moment of clarity, I knew what to say.
I heard my mouth form the words, “My mama loved me a lot too. She also would try to protect me from the mean people as well. She thought if she kept me away from everyone, then I would never be hurt. By protecting she didn’t even know she was hurting me. Does your mama accidentally hurt you too?”
I heard a choking sob reverberate down the tunnel, followed by silence. My words seemed to have found a home. I allowed the words to sink in, letting them have the most effect. After a moment or two I heard Dennis clearing his voice, making a valiant attempt to recover from the unexpected emotion.
His raspy voice exclaimed, “Mama says she loves me and that is why she has to punish me. She locks me in the box in the dark. I’m scared of the dark. The voices are too loud down there. There’s not enough room in the tiny box for the two of us.”
“Two of us? I thought you were locked alone in the box?” I questioned.
“No, she locks me in the box with her. It is too cramped. It smells down there. I have to lay on top of her for there to be room for the two of us.” He responded, sounding agitated again.
“Dennis, tell me, where is this box?” I had a sinking feeling, as if my world was made of lead and I had just been tossed in the sea. I felt as if I could not keep my head above the water. All the rekindled hope I had been experiencing had suddenly turned to a fire in my innards.
As if to prove my concerns, he opened his mouth and said, “Plot 1.”
Dread filled me. I knew the truth. Mama was dead and here I am trapped in the box like him. There was no persuading him to let me go. Like me, he was equally buried alive. Even though he was still walking the surface world, I knew, the human part of him, was laying with his mother in plot 1.
So, here I lie, buried in an unmarked grave. No, that is not entirely true; I lie awake under the restful sleep of David Barniver. I do not know how long I will last twelve feet under the ground. I do know this; I am not alone. Dennis comes to keep me company and slide food down the chute three times a day. He is as dependable as the sun.
Every day he arrives at the same time. Every day he retreats at the same time. I do not hold any ill-will towards the broken man. Yes, he is my captor. Most definitely he ruined my life. However, I myself have come to understand a thing or two about loneliness. It can consume you. The actions of a lonely man should be forgiven. Who knows, if given the means, I might condemn someone to the box as well; if only to sate my unquenchable desire for companionship.
Credit: John Westrick
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