Zac Broeren 2015

Little Wooden Box

He was a curious man who kept to himself and stayed away. I didn’t like the man. He was cruel. But he was harmless. At least from where he stood – he was restrained, stuck inside a cage, a room with no exits. He was on the edge of a twisted circle, walking and walking but never getting anywhere, restricted to a space where everything was so warped he could walk forever and never reach anything beyond the constraints of the road. And he never looked at me. I could see his clothes and the back of his head, but his face was always turned.

Lucky that, too. I didn’t know much about him but could sense that whatever he intended to do was bad. His face would encompass him, his being and his chaos. But he was harmless. Restrained by the clever bonds of thought and sanity. Thought and sanity made the cage. The cage that held him in the inescapable prison of the twisted circle.

I didn’t realise how easily the cage could break.

That sanity and thought could snap.

I’m not a usual person. That man in my head is strong. For most people he lives quietly, incapacitated among a mess of tangled, restraining, rope-like thoughts. It takes a lot to bring him out, to break his bonds, to experience so much horror that one doesn’t so much lose control of their mind than has it destroyed– it becomes so overcome with fear that you have obliterated all former sanity.

But the thing in my head isn’t restrained. He continuously comes for me. He can walk, approach and seek me out. He knows what he’s doing but just can’t get to me because in a last-ditch effort my mind conjured up an infinite shape for him to walk around - a thin protection for an unpredictable and devastating monster.

The level required for me to… snap is much lower. So, naturally, I was in trouble when I was forced into a pitch-black, enclosed and confined space.

I live alone. I have a house, I’m 37 years old my name is Alan Hutt. I’m a prison cell guard for an Australian jail. I see day in and day out criminals confined to cells that are as small as dinner tables. I see things from depression to hysterics and the remorseful to the remorseless. I hate it. I put up with all sadness and debilitation, no enjoyment or happiness. But worst out of everything I see is the solitary confinement punishment. Solitary, the hole and the black cell… all different names for the same horror of being trapped inside an enclosed light-deprived filthy depression in the jail. Little more than a dirty hole in the ground the cell is a sentence to those who are a nuisance or dangerous in prison. They are shoved into a pitch black hole in the ground and the entrance covered by a sealing door. Lengthy periods in there are arguably worse than the gallows – is insanity better then death? No light can make it in to the cell and it’s so confined you can’t move more than an inch to either side.

It doesn’t take long for hallucinations to start.

I’ve seen strong men enter that pit and come out broken beyond repair. A hard sheet of steel mangled into an unrecognizable form. That’s what solitary does to the mind. Takes it, lulls it in then rips it into something worse than nonexistence.

Minutes feel like hours, every second is a strain to fight off the man, keep him tangled in strong thoughts and restrain him in weathering bonds that groan with the effort.

This is what’s kept my life on track. I’ve never wandered from the trail of obedience, always stuck to walking in a straight line without as much as a slip that could land me in jail.

Because I know that if I end up in there, trapped for days on end with nothing but the man and his hidden grinning face, I won’t come out.

Sane that is.

But as it happens it didn’t matter. Some divine being decided that, despite my efforts, I should be a guinea pig in the bizarre lab of an omnipotent scientist, forced to endure terror beyond anything experienced before so they could observe the results.

I was at home, alone. Nothing unusual about the day had happened. I had risen, gone to work and returned. I was beginning to prepare for bed, folding clothes in my closet. I had had a lock installed on this closet the previous year after my house was robbed. My doors have all been reinforced and certain cupboards deadlocked, cupboards with valuables and also my closet – I thought I may as well since I’d practically locked up my entire house already.

It was a fine addition to my place as it already contained many useful features like self-closing doors and automatic taps. It used to belong to my father and I inherited it after he died – he was wealthy and liked his comfort.

My closet was large, made to easily fit all my clothes. It was wooden with polished handles and clean inside. My clothes only took up the middle of the closet where the drawers were, on either sides were twin mirrors in matching depressions with a top level that ran the whole length of the closet above them. They were meant for clothes hangers but I didn’t use them, only left them there to rust because I only folded and packed.

They almost looked as if they were meant for someone to stand up in. For someone to hide in. To lay in after death, to serve as a makeshift coffin.

I continued to shove my clothes into my closet. Shirts in the top drawer, pants in the middle, underclothes in the bottom and all my other things in a clump up on the top level with other various items.

I finished putting away the last of my things and took a step forward to close the closet doors giving them a slight push so that their weight would do the rest.

But I tripped. Just after I set the doors into motion my front foot caught on a slight dip in the floor, to mark the boundary of the closet. I fell, arms and legs thrashing, straight into the left of the twin openings.

Click.

The sound of that door shutting was the last thing I heard before I was plunged into darkness. I had caught myself on the back wall so I hadn’t fallen over but I had to duck my

head so as to not knock it on the clothes hanger bar. I chuckled to myself. Getting shut inside your own closet! What an idiot! I pushed the door to let myself out and stopped. The door wasn’t moving. I pushed it again with more intensity now. Nothing.

Now I didn’t push. I was past that. I rammed the door so hard that it was a feat only possible under extreme panic. But no, the door was stubborn and it didn’t budge. I was trapped. No light could enter through the cracks in the door and even if it could, my lights were off. My mind momentarily lapsed and I thought that I could just wait it out. Then I realised what I was thinking. Wait what out? No one was coming for me, I lived alone. My doors were locked and nobody knew I was here. I suddenly glimpsed at what this meant and the sheer prospect of it, the sheer terror it proposed made me collapse.

Almost anyway. The space wasn’t big enough for me to bend my knees. Not only was I stuck, I couldn’t sit down. I would have to remain standing for who knows how long. Now on the verge of a full blown panic attack I recalled a doctor once telling me that I didn’t deal well with situations like these. “It’s not bad,” they had said. “But you have a slight mental disorder – something that makes you more prone to fear and causes you to experience elevated emotions in times of stress.”

I had dismissed it as I had never had anything of the sort happen to me. But now I realised just how important those words had been. I was imprisoned, by myself, in a cell that has been locked with the key thrown away. Despairing over this thought I stood there, broken in spirit for an unmeasurable amount of time – seconds, minutes or hours?

Not by yourself, a voice told me from the darkest region of my mind. He is there. I am here. Watching. Preparing. I tried to push this voice out of my mind but it only seemed to become more real, seeping out of my mental enclosure into the fabric of reality. I shook my head vigorously, trying to rid myself of it, knowing it wasn’t real but doubting it at the same time. My muscles were becoming tired now, I couldn’t sit down because of the lack of space. I hooked my hands around the pole level with my head on which several rusty clothes hangers hung to try and take the pressure off my legs. It worked but I knew that my arms would be in pain before long. Pressing my face up against the wooden door I turned my head to the left in an attempt to see along the narrow slit between the door and the drawers and into the other space. There was no light but I swear I saw a luminescent eye, a glimmer of teeth. I pulled back shuddering. Impossible, I thought. I’m the only one here.

What about me? The voice whispered, but this time it seemed to come from the space opposite me. Aren’t I real?

“No,” I cried softly, my voice cracking. But did I truly believe that anymore? After all, it had always been in my mind, nudging me closer and closer to the void even before I was trapped. Maybe it did exist. In fact, I found myself positive that it did. I smiled a shattered smile, glad I had established a fact and tried to relax. As I shut my mind down I murmured, “Okay… o… alright…”

Good, the voice crooned gently and the man grinned that devastating grin. Good.

I lost track of time. I couldn’t sleep, eat or drink properly. I had no supplies (except a single half empty plastic bottle I’d found crumpled up on the ground in the closet) and no company but the Voice Next Door. He was my only friend. He gave me instructions and helped me handle the stress. The boredom. I didn’t notice the man anymore. If he was there I didn’t know it, I only listened to the Voice Next Door. I was unaware about how that twisted circle of a cage was slowly unravelling into a straight line that he could walk out on. That his head was turned closer to me now, half a bloodshot eye and half a mouth now visible.

I was coping though. I assumed it had been at over a day now or at least 12 hours. But the Voice Next Door kept me company and I talked with him when I felt my legs would give out or my arms could no longer keep hooked around that pole. I’d begun to run on a cycle – when my legs are tired I switch to my arms and let my legs recover. It was painful but it was my only option. By now I’d begun to notice the hunger and the thirst. My water bottle didn’t give me much to drink but at least it was something. I had no food.

Hoisting myself upright from my hanging position I tried to think. My water bottle would only last me for a few more days, a week at most but I was certain that there was a box of a dozen full water bottles above me on the top level that I left there from a camping trip once. I knew that I could survive for a while longer without food but I needed water urgently. It was only a question of how to get at it. I shoved my hand blindly upwards into the slit between the door and the top level. I could get the tips of my fingers through the opening but nothing else. I retracted my hand – that wasn’t going to work. I needed a way of reaching up and grabbing the box so that I could access the bottled water, but how? I cried out in frustration and punched the wall.

Recoiling in pain and rubbing my knuckles I focused in on a clinking sound coming from right in front of me. I fumbled around until my hands closed on a clothes hanger, one of the few unused ones I hung, for no particular reason, on the pole in the closet. I unhooked it from the pole and excitement rushed though me. “Come on…” I murmured, and bent the hook of the hanger into a straight line. I hardly dared to hope but I was fairly sure…

“Yes!” I exclaimed. The hanger slid smoothly through the crack and into the level above. I pulled it back and let my heart rate go back down for a few seconds. Now it was just a matter of getting the box.

Thinking like mad I contemplated about how best to snag the box above me. I felt the pole above me and discovered that there were a total of 3 clothes hangers clinging to it. Considering for a moment what to do, I stood still for a few seconds then made up my mind. I unwound the hanger I was holding with difficulty as it was tightly bound and resistant. Eventually, about 2 hours later at a guess, I had straightened the wire into a slightly wonky line. I curled the end of it into a hook and poked it through the opening. I swivelled the wire around hoping to find the box of water. Nothing. I couldn’t reach the very back of the level though because the wire was straight, not bent. I pulled the wire back and bent it in the middle. I poked the wire back through the hole again and this time came into contact with

something. My breathing quickened and I quickly manoeuvred the wire around so as to snag the outer edge of what I hoped was the box.

If I recalled correctly, it was like a box without a top half. The bottles had stood upright in it side by side and a layer of plastic had been spread over them and connected to the box. I had removed the plastic to take the bottles out when camping but had not finished them. Now there was just a dozen bottles standing in a box.

My wire hook found the edge of the box and hooked onto it. I yanked the wire down and I could hear the box shifting across the wood. I removed the wire from the box when I couldn’t pull it any closer and reached up with my fingers. I could feel the cardboard with my fingertips.

Heartened by this news I lifted my wire and fashioned the end into a circle I could use to ensnare a bottle top and hopefully pull it out of the box. I took a small sip of the water I had available and pressed on.

I didn’t realise how hard this was going to be. I spent hours trying to grab a bottle to pull it out of its box but it was extremely difficult. Eventually, what I would guess at as being around one day later (after several rests and infuriated rages) I managed to successfully pull a bottle out of the box and onto its side. I wanted to continue but the Voice stopped me.

No, it said. You need to rest.

“I have been!” I said wearily.

Properly rest. Not to rest your muscles. You need to sleep.

“I can’t though.” I said. “I can’t sit down and it’s too hard to sleep standing up!”

Then you need to sit down. You can almost fit down to the ground, just not quite. Not much will need to be removed.

It took me a second to realise what it was implying. But there was no way I was ever doing that. “No,” I said. “I’m not cutting off my own flesh just to get a little beauty sleep!”

Would you prefer to die slowly of sleep deprivation while having the skin from the fronts of your legs scraped off as your muscles collapse and you slide down to the ground anyway?

I suddenly felt slightly nauseous. Surely I wasn’t actually considering this? But I found that I was. After all, considering everything else I’ve done to survive it would be a pity if I died now…

I don’t want to but I manage to force the words out.

“Alright.”

It was painful. I used the clothes hanger and it took at least a full day. I’m no surgeon. Need I say more?

After I had finished I slept in a light and not at all rewarding doze but it kept me alive. My water supply was dangerously low. In fact it was non-existent. I had no water left in my bottle and needed the water above badly – I could only last about 2 more days without it. I found my wire on the ground and stood up painfully. I threaded it through the crack and hooked the circular end over what I assumed was the bottle’s cap.

This was going to be hard. I turned the wire around hoping to turn the cap but it just slid smoothly around it. Pulling the wire back I tightened the circle and tried to hook the bottle again but now it was too small. Gritting my teeth in frustration I resized the circle again and for the third time tried to turn the bottle cap. It slid over the cap but again - nothing.

I realised why this wasn’t working in a sudden depressing moment. The bottle cap was still joined to the bottle by the plastic strips used to preserve the water inside. Retracting the wire I flipped it around so that the pointed end was facing up with the circular end down. This was my only chance and it was extremely slim. Poking the point up with trembling fingers I tried to break the strips with my wire. The Voice watched silently, anxiously. It took what must have been an hour but after poking and probing for long enough I managed to snap one strip. Then I began the next, praying that I would open the bottle in time.

There were 12 strips. It took me around the same amount of time to sever all of them – roughly one hour. So 12 hours forward I was thoroughly exhausted. I slept hoping I would have enough time when I woke to turn the cap.

I woke groggily and immediately set to work. It was tricky, I knew that turning the cap the around the first bit would be difficult – it’s hard enough when you’ve got your fingers! I could feel myself getting weaker with every passing second, thirst growing and gnawing at my stomach, slowly losing strength and hope. My fingers were raw from twisting the wire which hindered my progress – not that there was much anyway. I pulled back the wire and tightened the circle a little before slipping it over the cap again and twisting. A shock ran through me. It had moved! It wasn’t much but it did! With renewed strength I twisted again and again each time the cap shifting slightly further off the bottle.

It took me what must have been several hours and I was feeling faint with lack of water by the end but finally I gave a twist, the cap flicked off (which I could tell by the sound it made) and water poured out of the bottle and through the slit above me. I raised my mouth to where I thought the onrush of water was coming from and was rewarded with warm yet satisfying mouthfuls. Once the flow had thinned I used the wire to flip the bottle what I assumed must have been upright so that the rest of the bottle emptied itself, dribbling out of the bottle until none was left. Feeling a sense of achievement I settled down painfully to the floor and slept once again. Beside me, quietly enough so I couldn’t hear it, the Voice Next Door sighed in relief: Close call, fool. You may not die until he has claimed you.

I’d heard that the human body can survive, at a maximum, for three weeks without food. I could already tell that I wouldn’t last that long and it had been at least a week by now – I drifted in and out of sleep for a long time after my drink and had to go through the same

gruelling process again to acquire a new bottle. I had left the new bottle on its side with just under half of it left in case I needed it. But my most urgent concern was food. I had nothing besides metal clothes hangers and the clothes I was wearing.

I discussed the issue with the Voice Next Door:

“What do I eat?” I queried thoughtfully. “I’ve got no food.”

Incorrect, it said. Not no food. Just not the more… preferred cuisine.

“What… what do you mean?”

There is no easy food. But there are other ways of obtaining meat.

I realised what he was getting at and felt even weaker than usual. I had to hoist myself up on the hanger pole so fall down. “Please,” I croaked. “I can’t –“

You can, the Voice said. You have already cut flesh from your leg before and this is the same procedure. You must survive.

I swallowed. The clothes hangers’ presence seemed to be more pronounced. After all, they had worked before…

I stood there for hours pondering this. Occasionally I heard the Voice Next Door hiss in displeasure for every passing moment I wasn’t doing his bidding. Eventually, the hunger became too much and I made a decision. The meat I cut from my legs would have rotted by now so that was useless. I would do it again or die of starvation. I tell you it was a tough choice.

I shakily plucked a new hanger from the pole. I blindly unwound the hanger so that it was just a long length of rusty wire. I bent it down the middle so that it form a two pronged fork and then slightly bent the ends of the prongs. I could feel my heart beating fast, faster than I could ever recall. I held out my arm and I could feel it trembling. I glanced across to where the Voice Next Door resided and even though there was no light I thought I could see a grinning mouth, its face in shadow, teeth stained with blood. I quickly looked away. I took a deep breath and grasped the hanger, raised it and plunged it down into my arm and shrieked, hacking and ripping.

Then I did it again.

And again.

I won’t go into any more detail here. Needless to say however, I was fed that day.

The man inched closer, the twist in his cage now barely more than a slight incline. The Voice coaxed him. He slowly turned his head, features becoming more defined. A messy dark mop of hair. Dirty and ragged skin. Harsh lines and creases. But before he revealed his full face the prison straightened. No more cage, just a path to freedom.

And he turned to face the exit.

I became a broken wreck. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty anymore. I just lay whispering and whimpering to myself sinking in and out of a cracked dream. The flesh on the back of my legs had been torn off to allow them to move back further so I could sit, my arm was a mangled mess after being used as a source of food and I couldn’t remember my last focused thought. I was cramped, injured and almost drained of my will to live and thus was ignorant of the man. He was only hours away.

Whimpering, I shook and blinked rapidly trying to rid myself of the drowsy sensation in my head. Nothing was clear to me. I tried to stand but fell back down and cried out in pain.

“Help let me out please I’m trapped don’t leave me with it…” I feverishly murmured not aware of what I was saying. “It comes, it pries and it speaks and I don’t like it take it away I’m not feeling well...”

“It makes me do things.”

I collapse in a sobbing fit and cry, jerking and blinking out tears. It was hard but I did it.

I slept.

(…)

My vision blurred and I found myself in a dimly lit room. It was square with no doors or windows. The only light came from a small lamp on a desk in the corner of the room on which lay a piece of paper -

(…?)

- which was face down. There was nothing else in the room. Wooden floor, walls and roof with a wooden desk in the corner on which a lamp and a –

(…read it…)

- piece of paper sat. I felt the urge to inspect this paper. To read it. To understand what it was saying. I took a slow step towards it and felt a dim pain in my legs. I couldn’t move properly - it was as if I was walking on a mattress. I took another groggy step towards the desk and grunted with the effort. The lamp went out –

(!!)

- throwing the room into complete darkness and I heard a voice speak.

No.

Despite this I tried to keep moving. I wanted to read this thing. It felt important. It was almost as if there was something on it that would affect me in some way in an important way. Something that might be necessary for me to survive. I needed –

(not enough time. Wake up)

- to read this document, to know the truth. I fumbled through the darkness and felt a cold shiver run down my spine. Something had appeared behind me. I ignored it and –

(he is coming. Wake up)

- continued on, desperate now. I reached the desk and felt blindly around for the paper. I knocked over the lamp and it fell to the ground smashing to pieces –

(wake up)

- littering the floor with broken glass. I heard a footstep behind me but didn’t care, I couldn’t think of anything but that paper, it was all that mattered –

(wake up)

- to me at that point, nothing else. I finally grasped it flipped it over madly in my hands just as I felt a hand on my –

(WAKE UP!!)

My eyes slowly opened. I was only half awake, woken suddenly but not fully conscious. I could sense something forcing its way into my closet. I drifted off.

I woke again but now it was closer and whatever it was it felt human but not human at the same time. I could faintly see a twisted arm shoved through the gap of the drawers before blacking out again.

Sleep lost me and now there was half a head and an upper torso pushing, straining to get at me and –

Waking fully now, I could see there was a whole man and he turned to face me just as –

I regained consciousness and flopped forwards out of the closet, out of my little wooden box, and painfully onto the ground as the doors opened. Light flooded into the closet, blinding me temporarily.

“What in the name of –” a voice yelped. “Somebody help! I’ve found him!”

Quivering, I raised my head and looked up and but I didn’t see my saviour standing there. All I saw was the man. The man in all his terrible glory finally facing me, grinning down at me with that manic look in his eye and I lost the last shred of sense I had.

I was silent for a moment. Then I opened my mouth let loose a hideous, bloodcurdling scream. I shrieked and shrieked with utter terror and never stopped as my mind slipped away.

Insanity whisked me away and the last thought I ever had was of the man whispering in my ear.

Didn’t I tell you I was real?

---

Alan Hutt was discovered by a police officer 27 days after his disappearance. He hadn’t been looked for as he lived alone and nobody knew he had been missing. After a neighbour noted his disappearance to the police an investigation was mounted on which Hutt was discovered locked in his bedroom closet. He was filthy, injured and delirious but against all odds, alive. His closet was covered in blood and excrement and several plastic water bottles dropped to the ground upon opening it. He was screaming and after calming down began subconsciously muttering the words “voice next door”, “lied to me”, “liar” and “wasn’t real”. He was also heard saying “piece of paper would have told me, oh yes, but he stopped me nasty voice.” This sentence was repeated word for word each day at least once.

He was taken to hospital and subsequently transferred to an asylum where he remained until his death, at the age of 67 – thirty years from the incident. He never recovered or stopped the muttering. Experts believe him to have suffered from his time in the closet which caused hallucinations and delirium. The shock of his first human contact and light in one month combined with his hallucinations rendered him insane. His last words were reported to have been sung tunelessly,

“…little wooden box, little wooden box, trapped there while he talks, endlessly he walks, until on my door he knocks and breaks my wooden box, little wooden box…”