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THE BOX

by

Chris Ringler


The box stood plain against the field, the sun high behind it but the air cool around the building. Cool and quiet. It had always been quiet. Always. The summer sun sent sweat down the walls of the box; sent heat up from it in waves. It was cold where he stood though one foot into the shadow of the box. The box was not that imposing in stature was forty-five feet long, about twenty feet high, twenty feet wide. It looked like any other building, any other small warehouse; the only difference was that it dwelled in the middle of nowhere an empty field with nothing civilized within ten miles. It was a dead area, which set it apart as well. And it had always been dead as far as he could remember. He could even remember his father making a remark to that effect when he had first come out here with is own father so many years ago. The Box, its form all but shadow with its stained and rusted walls, was surrounded by a sea of death the grass all but gone, now only the dirt remaining. He tried not to think of that, of the dirt and the way nothing grew here, tried not to remember what was buried in that dirt, what was just beneath its skin. He shuddered as this thought tried to uncover itself and he took another step forward, deeper into the shadow, and his mind changed its course. He shivered again and this time it was because of the cold of the shadow. Breathing, he thought he could see his breath coming in puffs but shook his head and began rubbing his arms to kill the goose bumps. Being this close, beneath the Boxís shadow, he could almost hear it, smell it, and these memories he could not dispel.

The smell was the first thing to come to mind as he had seen the place again after what must have been almost ten years (seven his mind screamed at him it has been seven years almost to the day). The smell, and god the sights, that had lain dormant for so long. Had waited within him like a set trap waiting for him to enter it so it could close its teeth around him. Swallow him as it had before. The smell still hung from the Box, hung around it bright like Christmas lights, coating the place, the surrounding area. It was the thick smell of age, that musty yellow smell that creeps into anything that sits dormant too long. But beneath the smell of dust was something worse, so much worse. The very thought of this smell made his stomach turn wildly, made his vision blur. Piss, the thick smell of it was the top layer. The smell of piss that has seeped into everything - had sunk its scent deep into the wood, steel, and earth so that it could not be removed but must be violently eliminated. And beneath that scent was that of shit, of waste. The smell of waste that has sat too long in the hateful summer heat and is now part of whatever landscape it had littered. And beneath that scent was the worst thing of all. Was where the darkness took on life and the nightmares had begun for him so long ago. It was the permeating, old scent of blood. So much blood that his mind reeled to think how much it had been gallons upon gallons upon gallons. Spilled across the floor and drained to the tank beneath the Box. Drained to an enormous steel tub his father had installed in the floor, beneath a heavy grate that was forever stained a dark red. He had helped to empty that tub a few times. Not so many that he had lost count, but enough. Had helped his father pull away the steel grate and had helped to pull the tub up from its resting place, the veins in his arms and across his throat standing out, fighting the urge to vomit into the almost solid red jelly that stained the tub. Had helped his father load the tub onto a wheeled cart to roll it out to the edge of the woods that surrounded the Box to dump the fluid into the earth that was sickened and black with the taste of too much blood. There had been so much that the floors gray had been replaced with a deep and unflinching rust color that stained your shoes when you walked across it. Even the walls had been partially painted in this shade, having been spattered so much by it.

His hand reached out and he watched, a feeling of detachment, possession, overcoming him, as he placed a key into a huge steel lock and turned it and the lock fell with a soft thud to the barren earth beneath it, the key still held tight in its maw. He grabbed the ice-cold doorknob and so many memories flooded him, too many, and he shook, holding the doorknob tight so as not to fall onto that cursed earth. God.

The screams, the screams had hung with him almost as much as the smell had, but the screams were worse. More real. The frightened shrieks of animals being slaughtered. Being butchered. Cut open from throat to belly as they writhed in sickening agony. As their life and entrails splashed to the floor, onto his fathers black rubber boots he always kept near the door to the Box. He had first heard the screams when he was seven, when his father had first brought him here instead of to his grandmothers house where he usually spent the weekend visits he had with his father since he and mother had stopped living in the big blue house. His father had pushed the boy ahead of himself, and when the lights came on in the Box the boy had screamed, startled and frightened at the sight very of the place heavy steel hooks hung from the ceiling and from those stained hooks hung the carcasses of what had to be at least a dozen animals of all kinds, dogs and cats to a small calf and several pigs. Each with their bellies open and their insides hollowed out. The floor was covered in blood and gore but most it seems had washed down through the grate in the center of the room. Along one wall was a long table full of blood stained knives, hammers, saws, and other tools he could not put a name to. In the corner opposite the table was another table that was clean, unstained and steel and looking like a doctors examination table. And in the farthest corner, in the darkness, was a large steel closet that was locked solid with three heavy locks. Suddenly there was movement amongst the dead the boys startled scream had awakened something hanging among the bodies and suddenly the Box was filled with the high pitched screams of a still living pig that must have fallen asleep, exhausted, on its hook. His father looked down on him angrily for a moment before he walked swiftly over to the long table and grabbed a up a heavy hammer and walked towards the pig. The boy screamed again, this time in hopes of stopping his father but before he had even finished his fathers arm had risen and had fallen in a blur of motion and the pig was still and silent now as blood streamed from its half-open mouth. The boy was suddenly silent now, his body tense, as he looked on, frightened and curious. His father walked slowly over to him and kneeled down before him and took his small face in one red-stained hand. I am gonna teach you something. Something you will never forget as long as you live. Something my father taught me and something you will teach your sons. I am gonna learn you. Today is your first lesson. Are you ready to learn? And the boy, his eyes glazed, his mouth open and drool slipping from it, nodded and the learning began.

He agreed and stuck to his fathers demand of silence as to what he was going to teach the boy. He was never to tell anyone, anyone, what he and his father did in that place, in the Box as his father had called it. It was for them to know and no one else. And he had always stayed true to that, never quite knowing if that came from fear or from fascination. He went there with his father every weekend, despite any holiday or season; they went to the Box and his father taught him what he knew. His mother always asked what he and his father did, interested less in the recreation as much as to get something on her ex-husband. He and his father had had a long talk on the way home from the Box that first time about what he would tell his mother and anyone else that asked. And though he stammered at first, he said exactly what his father had told him to say. But it was strange because in time, not even that much time, his father did not even have to tell him what to say, it just came out easily, almost as if he were actually telling the truth.

He never loved going to the Box, never looked forward to it, and some days, after seeing what his fathers newest lesson was, even had nightmares for days after that, but he did nothing to halt the visits. Even when his father was granted, when the boy had become a full teenager of thirteen, permission to have his son stay with him all summer long. He did not look forward to it but he felt drawn to it. Enthralled by it. By what his father was teaching him. Was happy in fact just to be with his father, and to be sharing this secret with him. The secrets of the Box.

His father never touched him sexually, as his sister had implied when she ended it all that summer of his sixteenth year, the year he finally learned what was within that heavy steel closet, and the year his sister had come to see her father. But that was something else. Something different. And at this memory he could not help but clench his hands into fists.

His sister was twenty when he was sixteen and she had never come to stay with her father, had never even come for a visit. Had always hated him in fact, her hate stemming from some vague things she claimed to know about her father. Something about the divorce. A subject the boy knew very little about. But she refused to see her father anymore, refused to speak to him, and even to receive gifts from him, and her father was fine by this. To him she was nothing but an extension of her mother, and while he never said as much, the boy could sense his fathers hatred of her. She had come to see him that summer though, come with a scowl on her face and a secret in her belly. Had come to his house late one night, her demeanor angry and indignant as she stood in the pouring summer rain. She had stood silent when their father asked what she wanted and only spoke when she was invited in after several unanswered queries. It came out in a short monologue that did not seem to surprise the father at all. She had been away at college and she had gotten pregnant (something she claimed she could not understand seeing how she was so chaste and all) and now needed the money to get an abortion. She didnít dare go to her mother for fear of hurting her mother (which the boy knew to mean that she feared losing their mothers money) with this knowledge, so here she was. The boys father was silent a few moments and then told her that he would help her because she was his blood and blood helped blood. He told her she would have to come with himself and the boy so he could help her out and she begrudgingly agreed, preferring, the boy assumed, a handout with no strings. And it was no shock to the boy that beneath the shroud of darkness and falling rain came the dark body of the Box. And the boy smiled.

She stepped from the car into the rain and immediately knew something was wrong. It was written on her face. And when her father told her she would have to step inside the building if he was to help her she insisted she could find another way to get the money. That was when the smell hit her. The smell that was still strong and alive even in that downpour and she quickly picked up on it and began walking slowly backwards from the Box. What, what, what is that smell? It, it The father told the boy to grab her and he did, latching onto her wrist heavily. What are you doing? What are you doing? Scared now, hammering at the boy with her fists as their father unlocked the door to the Box and swung the door open. Seeing what was inside the box the girl screamed in horror (reminding the boy of the pigs strangely) and she twisted in the boys grip to escape, sensing what might lie ahead for her as the boy did. The boy thinking of the silver table in the corner, the table they had never used, that stood there, waiting patiently. Now this is what has to be done, it is the right thing to do. Its a lesson you have to learn. That I have to teach you. Hold her there boy, hold her til I get there. And slowly he made his way towards the boy and girl, the rain soaking him, running over his stern features, making it look as if he had risen from the mud himself. And there was nothing on his face, no emotion, no life, just stillness. It was the look he got whenever he was in the box. The girl let out an ear piercing scream as her father approached her and twisted in her brothers grip. The father reached out for her hand but before he could grab her the boy was suddenly on his knees and was cupping his groin as his sister ran off into the rain blindly, stumbling and screaming as she went. And that was that. That was the end.

She made it somehow, through the rain and mud, the ten miles to the nearest house and called her mother and then the police. And in the end she got what she and her mother had always wanted the partial ruination of ones ex-husband and the others father. There were the usual allegations of sexual and physical abuse but the boy, though tight-lipped throughout the three hour grilling the police and his mothers lawyer gave him, made sure they did not pin that on his father. Not once while the boy had been out at the Box with his father had his father ever touched him. Not even to discipline him. It was never needed. The boys mother acted almost heartbroken when there could be found no proof of abuse on the boys body, and to this the boy smiled silently to himself. Just the same all rights the father may have had to see his children were revoked, abuse and neglect listed amongst the reasons. And the day after that judgment was made the mother moved the son and daughter out of state quickly and quietly one evening and severed all contact with the father. A search for the Box was held over the course of a week but it was never found, the girls memory of the place and where it was too vague and the area to search too large to really find it again. And that was the last time the boy saw his father. And so passed the years, the boy biding his time with his mother and sister, waiting until he could leave, hating every moment spent with them, indeed hating them.

The boy, now a man, received word from out of the blue that his father had died the week of his twenty-third birthday and found it surprising his father had lived so long. He also felt vague and uncertain feelings towards this information not quite certain if it was sorrow or joy he felt at the news. He was on his own now, his mother and sister long out of his life at this point, and he glad for this, and it was luck he was found at all. He answered the phone one evening and it turned out it was his fathers attorney, a man the boy had not seen since the trial over custody during the divorce. He was informed his father had died the week prior and that he was the sole benefactor of his Will. Something that neither excited nor surprised the boy. What did surprise him was the mention of a certain parcel of land that was some ten miles out in No-Mans Land, as the attorney referred to it, that was his as well. He was shaking for an hour after the phone call, not certain why. But that night he was on a plane that would take him seven years into the past, as past he had never left behind. The boy was back now, back to where he had spent so many years as a child, where his father had taught him, and was now before the Box itself, the following day.

Seeing it again, the Box, as he stepped from his rental car, was like seeing the head of a long dead giant he had feared as a child. Seeing it with new eyes, in a new light and still fearing it. So he shook beneath its shadow, the doorknob cold in his hand, the stench of the place slithering around him, the long-gone shrieks of the animals still echoing through his bones. He looked back at the car, thought of the two containers of gasoline he had brought and of the matches in his pocket. Thought of his father and his dark gray eyes, and the sound of his voice I am going to teach you something, something you will never forget something important. Thought then of his wife, and her smile, and her warmth and beauty. And of his beautiful son, but two now, and of the dark things that lay within the walls of the Box, the secrets that lay within that steel closet. And all of the memories came rushing back to him, washing over him, painting him red with it. The sticky feel of the blood on his hands, the weight of the hammer, the scent of the Box, the terror in the eyes of the thing before. God, the memories were so intense, as if he was there again. And he shuddered. The feel of the shovel in his hands as he buried another body in the dark, covered it as best he could, the shovel almost as big as he. The smile beneath his fathers eyes as he learned, as he was taught all his father knew. He held tight to the doorknob and shook beneath the power of the memories, his stomach ill again. But then, just as suddenly as they had come, they were gone, and in there place was stillness. And in that stillness was the face of his son, and he smiled, despite the Box and its whispered memories.

The air was silent and still as the sun climbed slowly from its throne and began its descent, and still he stood there, still, silent. And when he finally turned the doorknob and pushed open the door he smiled and was greeted with the sites and scents he had dreamt of for seven years. Was greeted with the living darkness that had waited for him patiently - He was home again. Home. If ever such a place had existed for him then this was surely it. He steps into the gloom and wider went his smile as the memories flooded him again and the lessons his father had taught him awoke from their slumber, and this time there was no shuddering, only stillness. And again he thought of his son, and as he stepped into the Box his smile began to fade, the stillness taking over, for he had so much to teach his son, so much to give him. So much And it was almost time for him to begin the lessons...







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Ringler began writing when he was a teenager and after being told he was 'no artist', he threw himself into it and gave up any artistic aspirations altogether. After working on fanzines for a while some friends and him lucked into getting one published nationally. It was called Ghoulash and was his first touch of seeing his work really in print. 'Yay' he said. Last year he was able to get his first book of short stories, called Back From Nothing ,released and has since been writing and working to find an audience for that book. He has two more books of short stories complete and a novel that is almost finished. He just needs a dreaded publisher to take a chance on his work. You can find his work at two sites -
The official Back From Nothing webpage
The Munsonville Power and Light Home Page

Send correspondence to
Jessup@tir.com




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