Short story: ‘The Man in the Box’ by C J Tudor
As a little thank you for being a Dead Good reader, here’s a special treat: a free short story by our resident scream queen C J Tudor, bestselling author of The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne!
Read on, if you dare…
‘The Man in the Box’
C J Tudor
‘Did you hear about the woman in the bath?’
Mike regarded his friend patiently. Dom had a fascination with macabre and unusual deaths.
‘Go on,’ he sighed.
Dom grinned. ‘Locked the door, laid down in the bath and let herself drown.’
‘Not possible. You can’t let yourself drown.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Did you hear about the man in the box?’
They turned. The voice belonged to a man sitting at the table on their right. Good-looking, if not for a crooked nose and brows that met in the middle.
‘Sorry for interrupting. I couldn’t help overhearing.’
Mike wanted to tell him he shouldn’t be listening to other people’s conversations but Dom got there first.
‘Locked himself in a cellar, shut himself in a box the size of a coffin, latched it shut and lay there till he died.’
‘It must have been a tightly sealed box and an airless room.’
‘A cellar… and yes, the box was heavy oak with secure latches.’
Heavy oak, Mike thought. Solid wood and shiny brass latches. Yes, that would do it.
Dom chuckled. ‘Can’t believe I didn’t read about it.’
The man smiled. ‘Makes you think,’ he said, looking at Mike. ‘What would make someone do that?’
‘Maybe there was something even worse outside the box,’ Mike said.
The other man nodded. ‘It’s what we do when we’re children, isn’t it? Curl up, in a small dark space, hoping the monsters won’t find us?’
Mike stared at him. The man was right. That’s just what he did as a child. Made himself as small as possible and pulled the duvet up over his head. Sometimes it got so stuffy he could barely breathe but he still stayed hidden… or the monsters might pounce.
‘So,’ Dom said, interrupting his thoughts. ‘Fancy another drink?’
Mike looked at his pint. Empty, although he didn’t remember drinking it. ‘Err, yeah. Thanks.’
Dom stood and turned towards the bar. Mike glanced at the table to his right. The man had gone but there was something under his glass. A folded piece of paper. Mike reached over and slipped it out: ‘Number 12, Addison Gardens.’
An unremarkable house on a street of solid, red-bricked Victorian terraces. The windows were dark. A faulty street light flickered on and off.
Mike stared at the house and wondered again what he was doing there. It was gone eleven. He should be on his way home. Instead, he had said goodnight to Dom, hopped in a taxi and given the driver this address. He had no idea why.
He walked towards the house. Outside the front door, he paused. He had the unpleasant feeling he was being watched. He spun around. The street was empty. Only the faulty street light flickered and buzzed.
He turned back to the door. Bound to be locked. He tried the handle. It clicked open.
The hallway smelt musty and damp. He should leave now. He really should. This was trespassing. This was… and then he heard it. From somewhere behind him: a low, rasping growl. Without further thought, he stepped inside.
The door to the cellar was in the corner of the living room, the only illumination the wavering orange glow from the street. Mike stared at the door. Solid pine, slightly ajar. The thin edge of darkness seemed to beckon him.
He walked forward and opened the door. A light cord hung to his right. He pulled it. At the bottom of the stairs, an unseen bulb flickered into life.
Mike started to descend. About halfway down, he felt it: a prickling on the back of his neck. There was something up there. In the living room. The front door was open and it had followed him into the house. He could hear it panting. Quickly, he retraced his steps. There was a key in the lock of the cellar door. Strange for it to be on the inside, he thought. Then he pulled the door closed and turned the key just as something thudded against the wood. He slipped the key into his pocket and continued down. All the way to the bottom.
The box sat in the middle of the cellar. Like he knew it would. Solid oak. Shiny brass hinges. Whatever was clawing at the cellar door wouldn’t be able to get him in there. If he lay very still for long enough it might go away again. Just like when he was a child. He climbed into the box, grasped the lid and pulled it down, latching it tightly shut. Strange really, to have latches on the inside. But at least he was safe. He was the man in the box.
Dom was frowning when Richie, the barman, came to serve him.
Richie shook his head. ‘Not since you were in a couple of nights ago.’
‘He’s not answering his phone.’
‘Maybe he’s sick. Or run off with the circus.’
Dom stared at him blankly.
‘The circus that was here at the weekend?’ Richie said. ‘You were talking to one of ’em?’
‘The man at the other table?’
‘Aye,’ Richie said.
‘He didn’t look like a circus performer.’
Richie held out a hand for Dom’s money. ‘He said he was a hypnotist.’
‘I’ve never heard anything like it,’ Julie said as they sat down with their drinks. ‘Shut himself in a box and suffocated. Can you imagine?’
Marie shook her head, chins wobbling. ‘No.’ She took a sip of Diet Coke (she was trying to lose a few pounds). ‘I can’t think why anyone would do that.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Did you hear about the woman in the chair?’
Marie turned. The voice belonged to a man at the next table. Quite handsome, if not for the crooked nose and brows that met in the middle.
‘Woman in the chair?’
He smiled. ‘Sat down in a chair with a knife and fork… and ate herself.’
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