What's in the Box?
The story of the haunted trunk...
The room fades, sinking away, taking Bella with it. The weight of years pour over her, settling on her shoulders like a thick cloak.
In the distance, a house appears, set back from the road, surrounded by trees. It’s an oddly suburban design, in a bucolic, New England setting.
It’s coming up on evening, and a taxi pulls up the long drive. A man climbs out to open the rear door for his passenger - an elegant young woman in a suit and heels, with dark curls, brilliant blue eyes and a face that would have been cheerful and friendly, if it hadn’t been fatigued and drawn. It is, stunningly, a portrait of Sarah as she might have been sixty years before.
The taxi driver pulls a heavy steamer trunk - shiny, metallic - out of the car and carries it into the house for her, then drives off in the direction from which he came.
Inside, the woman sighs and collapses in a surprisingly fashionable living room. After a few moments of restful silence, she gets up and pokes through the room, searching for something.
“I know she isn’t a teetotaler,” the young woman mutters, then gives a little cry of triumph when she finds a cut glass bottle with a brown liquid inside. “Knew it,” she says, smiling, and goes to the kitchen for a glass.
She pauses by the telephone on the wall, hovering in indecision, but finally picks it up and dials a number.
“Hello, Tina? It’s Sharon.” She relaxes a little, and if she doesn’t look happy, she at least looks relieved. “Yes, I made it. Auntie Bette’s house is so far out from Boston…yes, I know. It was very kind of her to let me stay here while she travels… Yes… Oh, would you? Please, yes. …No, I saw no sign of him at all. I feel as though I can finally sleep…” She laughs, and even more fatigue fades away. “I will, I will. I promise. Yes, yes…I only wanted to let you know I arrived safely and it seems quite secure.”
The conversation continues for a moment, but finally, she hangs up, gets the glass from the cabinet and returns to pour herself a shot of the whiskey.
The alcohol hits her hard - she is so tired already, she’s been unable to rest. Within half an hour, she is yawning and drooping, and she drags her steamer trunk into the bedroom, undressing quickly…and revealing bruises on her arms and torso, splotches of black and purple that had been hidden beneath her modest suit. She examines herself in the mirror briefly, touching one bruise then the other. Finally, she shakes her head and returns to her task, pulling on a pair of pajamas.
She climbs into bed, yet instead of sleeping, anxiety seems to hit her again, for immediately gets back up to walk to the window. “He can’t find me here,” she mutters, as if trying to reassure herself. “There’s no way he could have followed me.”
A flicker of movement catches her eye, and she whirls around, heart pounding in her ears…but it’s only Bette’s large tabby cat, Solomon, finally peeking out. “Oh goodness…” She clutches at her heart. “I forgot you lived here, too! Auntie did ask me to feed you, because you do so hate your neighbors… I understand…” She knelt and offered the cat her hand. “I hate my neighbords sometimes, too.”
The cat was coaxed over for petting, then cuddling, and finally, she ended up back in bed, holding the cat in her arms. “‘S much better,” she murmurs, as she finally falls asleep.
It’s completely dark now, and while Sharon sleeps soundly, Solomon is not so relaxed. His tail twitches, and he mews plaintively. The rasp of the latch isn’t loud enough to wake Sharon, but Solomon hears and he yowls, nudging at Sharon. She doesn’t wake, only reaches out to stroke the cat, as if by instinct.
As a shadow appears in the doorway, the cat glides away into the darkness, hiding beneath the bed. A silent witness, it watches as the shadow glides over towards the bed, whispering to itself.
“Thought you could hide…fucking bitch…” His voice is a low growl, and there’s an unearthly edge of barely controlled fury in it. “I told you not to run!” Now, he is raising his arms, and his voice rises with them. “No. More. Running!“
Her eyes flash open at the sound of his voice, terror freezing her as she sees him there, axe raised above her. “No…” she whispers, her voice hoarse. “No…d-don’t…p-please don’t…”
“Too late, bitch,” he snarls - a gleam of manic triumph flashing in his eyes, even in the dim light, and with a howl of laughter, he brings the axe down.
She screams out for help once, but the first blow chokes words off. One blow, a second…again, and again, his laughter rising as he sinks into a frenzy of orgiastic violence. At the beginning, animalistic moans and gurgles escape her mangled lips, and she struggles, but that soon ceases as he continues to vent his rage on her helpless body - even after her spirit is long gone.
When he is finally spent, sweating and panting, he collapses onto the floor. The panting turns into great, gasping sobs and he drops the axe, cradling his head in his bloody hands.
After some time, he seems to collect himself, and he stands and turns on the light to survey his handiwork. The landscape of gore that the light reveals seems to catch him off-guard, for he heaves, clutching at his throat to stop the bile from rising.
“This didn’t have to happen,” he whispers, wiping his eyes. “If you’d just stayed…”
He stands there in silence for a few moments, as if in a trance, but he finally rouses himself again and looks around. Sees the trunk on the chair. Strides over and dumps the contents out and drags it over to the bed. He disappears into the kitchen for a moment, then returns with a bunch of garbage bags, with which he begins to line the trunk.
“You want to run,” he says, picking up her mangled, detached head and cradling it - strangely tender - in his hands, “you’ll run with me, now. Now, we’ll be together…”
Piece by piece, he wraps her in plastic and lays her destroyed body in the case, crooning to her remains with an unsettling affection. And when he is finished, he goes into the bathroom and washes off, bringing back damp towels, with which to wipe the blood off the case and the axe, off his boots and everywhere he’s touched.
He gathers up the twoels and puts them in a bag, then gathers that, the trunk and the axe, looking around before he leaves. His face has relaxed into a semblance of normalcy, but his eyes speak his inner truth: he is gone, and something else completely has taken over.
In unearthly silence, he leaves - closing the door carefully behind him.
And from beneath the bed, eyes ablaze and tail twitching, Solomon watches him go.