The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

‘The Box’ (Another of my own short stories)

on October 17, 2015

As promised, I’m posting another short story I wrote for one of my Creative Writing courses. Naturally, I’m once again ridiculously nervous about doing this! ‘The Box’ was written on the world-building course I took this Spring, however, instead of being set in some intricately built fantasy world, this story ended up taking place in a single room… oops! Anyway, I was quite pleased with how it turned out, so I hope you guys like it. 🙂


The Box by Jessica Strachan

Day One

This morning, I discovered the journal. I say this morning, although I have no knowledge of the time, having no clock, watch or window in this room I call The Box. I have written Day One at the head of this page, although I have been here a countless number of weeks. I am beginning afresh today, because things have started to change. Now, I have a pen and paper with which to record the days I spend here. A new development! I assume it means something. It has to.

Day Two

I wrote little yesterday, on account of feeling too weak to make sentences. I wonder if I was a writer, in The Before, as I felt an acute sense of lethargic despair staring at that first blank page. I prayed for the words to leave my head, but I couldn’t make them sit still, like they were unruly kids refusing to pose for a family photograph, and I was the mother at the end of her tether (though I know by touch that I was, and am, a man). I knew the feeling instantly as Writer’s Block, and as something I’d rasped through the suffocating weight of many times before. From now on, I shall write directly after my daily meal, when my energy is at its peak.

The meal, we’ll call it breakfast, as it’s there when I wake up, was the same as ever this morning: a jug of water, a mug of good quality coffee, three slices of white, crusty bread, a pot of rich, creamy butter (more than is needed for the bread, but I’m so hungry I spoon up the leftovers), a small yoghurt mixed with a sweet, mushy fruit I cannot remember the name of, 2 slices of ham, a salted cracker, and rather bizarrely, a tube of tomato puree. The food isn’t bad, but it only comes once a day, and as a result I have very little energy to complete the impossible task with which I’m challenged: Opening The Box.

Day Three

Breakfast arrived this morning, nothing new. I guess I was wrong about things starting to change. This is not the beginning of the end. Even the concepts of Beginning and End have no meaning here. They belong to The Before – the only thing I have left to cling to. Apart from The Box.

I don’t mean The Box I am trapped in, although believe me when I say there was a time when I devoted almost every waking minute to finding a way out. Spoiler alert, there isn’t one. (From now on, to avoid confusion, I shall refer to this as The Cell.)

The Box then, is something which stands in the middle of The Cell – the centrepiece, if you will, as it sits atop the table where I eat my breakfast. It is unsightly, and cubic, measuring roughly a school ruler’s length in all directions. The Box is made of a thick sheet of metal, possibly steel, and is seamlessly closed. There is no latch to open the box, yet I know there are objects inside it, as when I lift it to my chest, and shake it, they rattle around unsettlingly, like loose teeth. It is heavy to lift, but I am strong willed, even if physically weak.

I have tried everything I can to get into this box, and The Cell has been somewhat battered in the process. I have shaken it, jumped on it, dropped it from a standing position on the breakfast table, and, with my limited muscular capital, bashed it against the wall of The Cell, ripping a great gash in the dingy wallpaper, which was a William Morris type affair with closely packed flowers, of which I was sick to the core. Jarring, also, as the floor of The Cell bears no such covering. Upon making this tiny hole, I proceeded to tear the wallpaper apart with my hands, until the walls were naked grey, covering the cold metal floor of The Cell with a veritable carpet of curling scraps. I slept, skin to paper, yet they were gone when I woke, including the ones beneath my body.

You (if there is a ‘You’) might think me foolish, for wanting so desperately to get into The Box. You may think that I have forgotten about getting out of The Cell, that I have given up. You might be right. But I believe, more than anything else, that the answer is in this damned impossible box. That it contains my way out, or at least the answer as to why I am here.

It doesn’t really matter what you think, anyway, or even if you’re out there. I’m barely convinced that I exist, and I’m far more concerned about that.

Day Four

A new development this morning! I stirred on the floor as I smelt the coffee, but when I opened my eyes, and sat up to stretch, my heart jack-in-the-boxed at the sight of a man dressed entirely in white, sitting directly in front of me in an identical pose. A floor length mirror stood against the wall, the glass locked in place by its frame of interlocking, black leaves.

The food lay forgotten on the breakfast table.

I must have seen my reflection in The Before, but the man in front of me may as well have been a stranger. Bloodshot eyes crusty with sleep, a larger nose than expected, tanned skin (though I have no complete memory of ever being in the sun), thinner lips than I would like. My teeth were straight, and my eyes a rather pleasing Marmite brown, but I could only regard them with cordial detachment. I didn’t recognise any part of this man’s face, though he copied me move for move, as we ran our hands through our lank hair (sandy brown, fading to grey in places), pinched our ears and eyelids in an attempt to verify our existence, and stroked our disconcertingly stubble free jaw (How was that possible? How is any of this possible?)

I don’t know how long I spent in front of the mirror, pulling on my cheeks and lips, exploring myself, but eventually my eyelids became heavy, and the man in front of me began to ripple and stretch before my eyes like a fun-house distortion, and I lay down again to sleep, to not see him. When I woke, the mirror, and the food had vanished. I attempted to get up and have a go at The Box, but I couldn’t even lift it, already carrying my exhaustion like an oppressive, floor length coat, several sizes too large for my frame. Now there is nothing to do but wait for morning.

Day Five

Breakfast never arrived. I am furious with myself, for being wasteful yesterday, and with Them, for taking the food away from me. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Them before now. I was worried I’d be punished, if I criticised them in writing (I know They have been reading this journal), but now the fundamental laws of my universe have changed. They break a rule, I break a rule. Punish me, I dare you.

Of course, this whole thing could be a punishment. They could have locked me up, for some crime I cannot remember committing. Or They could be evil psychologists, and I the lab rat. Maybe They do not exist, and the whole thing is in my head – The Cell is the prison-like trap of mental illness, The Box the reality I am desperately seeking.

But God, I’m hungry. I don’t think there is anything else I can do now but sleep. I’m too weak to fight. I don’t even know who I’m supposed to be fighting.

Day Six

Or is it still Day Five? I have no way of knowing, because there is still no food. My little world has been knocked clean off its axis.

I think I could just about stomach the lack of food if there were water. My mouth is hangover fuzzy, and I feel like I would vomit, if there were anything in my stomach to bring up besides dry air. My head is pounding as if it has a pulse of its own. Though I know there must be air holes somewhere in this damn box, it feels so much smaller, and the air so much thicker today, I could swear They have sealed them.

Perhaps,

 

Day Six

The pen was heavy as an extra limb I was dragging, the words behind lagging. Surely, I will die in this room. I may never know who I am, or why I am here. I may never remember who my family were, or whether I was a popular man. Maddeningly, I remember I have read books, but not what they were about. Impotent words, flying straight through the back of my skull. The bucket in the corner of The Box is empty. They have no need to come and change it.

Day Seven

I woke to the sound of thumping. At first I thought there was someone in the room, that I had rumbled them, finally.

I dragged my head up, an absurdly difficult action, as if I were buried in the Earth’s Core, battling my way back up to the Crust without so much as a drill. It was then that I realised two things. One, there was a single apple on the table, and Two, the apple was jumping.

Quite suddenly, the apple rolled off the table, and hit me in the eye. Too far from reality to feel pain, I fell to eating with animal savagery, relishing its wet flesh on my dry tongue.

Finishing my food in seconds, I noticed the table still shuddering, and the ceiling (where the noise was coming from, I finally realised) continued to thud and crash, heralding the end of the world.

Fight-or-flight goes out of the (proverbial) window when one is trapped in an inescapable box with no visible enemy to confront. I promptly disintegrated with fear.

With nowhere to hide, all I could do was close my eyes, and pray for it to stop. But that’s when the room started to shake. First up and down, then the floor tilted sharply to one side. Having nothing to grip hold of, I fell on my back, and into the landslide of sheets, breakfast table, bucket, journal and Box. I only managed to save myself by covering my head with my hands, knocking The Box away from my brain, halting its merciless path of destruction. The impact broke the skin on my knuckles, and I felt the pain tear through my entire arm, right up to my shoulders.

I scarcely had time to recover before we were hurtling back the other way. This time I collided with the table, smacking onto my front, ripping a scream from my lungs.

I should have died if this had carried on, but it stopped suddenly, as if a child, trying to guess his Christmas gift, swiftly lost interest and spotted a larger present to shake beneath the tree.

The Cell was on its side, everything overturned. The wall was the new floor. The table was battered. I was battered. The Box was unharmed, as ever.

Somehow, I peeled my broken body off the table without crying out. Everything was quiet again. I dare not disturb it, provoke Them.

I lay on the floor, arms and legs straight, trying not to move at all.

A minute passed. Another minute.

Then suddenly, a hideous crash.

A voice.

A voice from above. The first voice I had heard in all the time I had been inside The Cell, besides my own.

Was it Them?

‘This damned impossible box!’ growled the voice. ‘Answer me, you bastards! I know it’s in there, I know it has the damn answers.’

Crash.

‘Open up for me, Boxy Boxy Box!’

Crash Crash Crash Crash.

‘Open up!’


The End! Hope you enjoyed the story (it was a thoroughly terrifying experience pressing the ‘Publish’ button!) If anyone has any short stories on their blog (or elsewhere online), please do link them in the comments below, as I’d love to read them!

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10 responses to “‘The Box’ (Another of my own short stories)

  1. Aura Willow says:

    Jess, this is amazing! I would love to know more, as I’m sure the character would too. I had a few theories:

    * Maybe he was locked in a lorry container hence the movement at the end.

    * Perhaps he was insane, and like he considered – was in a white cell.

    *Maybe it was a dream representing a real life struggle…

    Did you have the answer in your head?

    I really love how you wrote it as a diary and it was so realistic in my opinion. Great metaphors too. I liked the Xmas gift one particularly.

    This is my latest polished one:
    https://oxfordwriterslounge.wordpress.com/2015/10/15/the-inclusion/

    I really need to get my skates on with Secrets of Oxford Halloween Special.

    Well done on this and I can’t wait to read more like it!

    • mudandstars says:

      Aww thank you! I intended the end to leave you wondering, but I do have an idea of what I think is going on. I’ll text you and let you know haha, to avoid spoilers in here! Can’t wait to read your story 🙂 xxx

      • Aura Willow says:

        Happy Birthday!!!! Ooh yes please do let me know your idea! I agree it is best to leave it open at the end. It is fantastic! Xx

  2. Oh, I LOVED this! How absolutely terrifying. The ending totally knocked me on my ass.

    • mudandstars says:

      Aww thank you so much! Glad the ending took you by surprise!! Also I am really happy you found it creepy, I intended it to be, but as I knew what was going to happen I was too close to it, so it was hard for me to tell if other people would see it that way! Xx

  3. […] be a blend of surreal/psychological thriller. I’ve posted a couple on this blog – The Crow and The Box – if you’re interested in checking them […]

  4. stephthebookaholic says:

    This was awesome. Great job!

  5. Eryl Thomas says:

    You kept the intrigue up all the way through. Full of tension and suprises. Frightening!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you found it frightening, I wanted it be creepy, but as I was the one writing it, I wasn’t sure how it would make other people feel. I’m glad it worked 🙂

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