Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Coffin

I was asked to be part of a "spooky" author panel this year. I read the following short story:


The Coffin


Note: This is a retelling of a classic Halloween story.


I was looking forward to the peace and quiet. It had been three days since my wife and kids had left to visit her parents. We had three daughters, all under the age of four, so moments when a baby wasn’t crying, screaming, or banging on something were rare.

The first two nights were wonderful. I came home with fast food, turned on some loud music, and sang at the top of my lungs without fear of waking up whatever child was asleep at the moment.

The third night, however, was something completely different. It was late October in New England. There were a few leaves that still clung onto the trees for dear life, but most had given in to peer pressure.

I was sitting in our living room, watching TV and relaxing after a long day at work. A storm had rumbled in during the day and covered the sky. Although it wasn’t raining, wind was blowing steadily, and the heavens were lit now and again with streaks of lightning followed by growling thunder.

The TV show was about to end when the power went out. No power meant no TV, no computer, no internet … nothing. I remembered thinking, What had people possibly done at night before electricity? I sat there for a moment debating my next move. I decided to light a candle and read—even though flickering light gave me headaches.

I tried to remember where my wife kept the candles and matches when there was a thump on the front porch.

It sounded like something heavy landed on the porch. I thought it was probably a branch that had broken off in the storm. I was about to get out of my chair to investigate when there was a loud bang against the front door.

I froze in place, the hair on the back of my neck bristling. That couldn’t have been a branch. Someone, or some THING, had hit the door. I sat there, hands gripping the armrests and listened.

There were no other sounds aside from the howling wind. And to think, I had been looking forward to a quiet night.

Nothing happened for several moments aside from the occasional flashes of lightning. It took me a moment to realize that even though I was seeing the lightning, the thunder had stopped, though the storm had increased in its fury.

Finally, I gathered my courage. I decided I was not going to let things that went “bump” in the night get the best of me. I took a deep breath and stood.

At that very moment, the front door burst open with such force that it ripped off its hinges. In the doorway, silhouetted by the lightning, was a coffin. It was deep black in color—so dark, in fact, it seemed to swallow the light around it.

I tried to will my feet to move, but they wouldn’t. I tried to look away, but my eyes stayed locked on the coffin. I tried to scream, but the sound wouldn’t come.

Slowly, the coffin tilted up, as if someone was standing it on edge. I couldn’t move. It continued to rise until it stood up completely.

Thunder sounded so powerfully that I thought the windows would break. It was as if all the thunder for the last few minutes had been stored up and released at once. At that same moment, the coffin lid swung open. It was empty.

For the briefest of moments, I was relieved. Part of my fear came from what could be in the coffin. That relief soon vanished as the coffin slowly, purposefully, moved toward me.

Whether it was the coffin moving, or the thunder sounding, I’m not sure, but I was able to get my body to move. I ran to the closest room in the house—our bathroom. I locked the door and backed up into the tub, the only window to the room at my back.

I could hear the coffin scraping along the floor as it continued to approach. I realized that coming to the bathroom left me few options. The window was too small for me to fit through. There was nowhere I could go.

My mind raced. What could I do? What was the old saying? Fight or flight. I had tried fleeing and that hadn’t worked. I was left with the only other option. I looked around the bathroom, catching glimpses of objects here and there when the lightning briefly lit the room. I needed something heavy to use.

There! On the countertop was a large bottle of Robitussin. I took one step out of the bathtub and grabbed it. There was a loud bang at the bathroom door, but it stayed closed.

I retreated back to the tub, wielding my new weapon as if it was Excalibur.

Again, the lightning came, but no thunder. I stared at the door. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

Nothing happened for a long, drawn-out moment. I thought, Maybe it went away. Maybe it could sense I was going to defend myself.

The bathroom door crashed open and there was the coffin, the lid still open. It seemed to pause for a moment, and then again it started to move toward me.

With all my strength, I threw the bottle of Robitussin. The coffin stopped.

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