Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Coffin

Two days shy of her sixteenth birthday, Mae caught the fever. It had been spreading through Hawthorne County faster than a brush fire, and everyone—especially people like Mae’s family, who were poor farm folk and could not afford the best medicines—was terrified.

Mae, being a bit too headstrong for her own good, had laughed at her Pa’s over-protectiveness.

“I’ll be fine!” she had insisted. But one night the fever walloped her like a horse kick to the head, and she was in such pain that even crying for help sent terrible agony shooting through her body. Her limbs ached and burned, and she was so hot to the touch that you’d near scald yourself if you felt her forehead.

Pa sent for Dr. Crawford, but the doctor lived almost twenty miles away from the farm. Mae was delirious—she insisted she saw shadowy figures in the bedroom, and once she swore she heard her mother singing to her, even though her mother had been dead for almost five years.

Pa wept at Mae’s bedside, and begged her to fight—to not leave him. Mae had tried to smile, to reassure him, but her pain was too intense, and she lost consciousness. Strange fever dreams took hold of her; dreams filled with slithering things from the darkness, and horrible blood-streaked faces with screaming mouths.

Mae awoke with a start, and an overwhelming feeling of confusion took hold of her. She no longer felt sick; in fact she felt better than she had in her whole life—rejuvenated. And while she was positive she had opened her eyes, she saw nothing—total darkness. Even when all the lamps in the house had been blown out, there was always a little light somewhere—from the moonlight shining in. But this was total, impenetrable darkness.

I’ve gone blind! she thought with sickening panic. The fever has made me blind!

She was laying flat on her back, and she quickly tried to sit up, and only banged her head against something solid above her. Mae cried out in pain, clutching her forehead and moaning. Confused, she reached her hands up into the darkness and felt rough, solid wood a few inches above her. Her heart began racing in confusion and fear. She reached down and felt her own clothing, and could tell from the material she was wearing her finest dress—the dress she only wore to church, or on those rare occasion when Pa would take the horse and cart into town.

The realization came screaming through her body: she was in a coffin. She had been buried—alive!

“NO!” Mae screamed, and began pounding on the lid of her coffin. She beat at it with her fists until her hands went numb. “Somebody help! I’m not dead! I’M NOT DEAD!”

She began to cry and hyperventilate. How long could she last like this—buried six feet beneath the earth? Already she could feel the air growing thick, and her lungs were struggling to take it all in.

“PLEASE!” Mae sobbed, kicking at the coffin lid now. “Please, somebody! I’m still alive!”

Mae paused, because she heard a sound, and it was like sweet music to her ears: digging. Someone above was digging into the grave. She was saved! They had realized their mistake, and were rushing to dig her up!

“Yes!” Mae cried with joy. “I’m here! Please, hurry!”

The digging sound increased. She heard the dirt being shifted; heard the sounds getting closer and closer.

Mae closed her eyes, smiling and weeping, relieved that she was going to be rescued from her premature burial. There were scraping sounds at the coffin lid now—the shovel was inches away!

“Oh, thank you, God!” Mae cried. A splintering, cracking sound followed her words—the coffin lid was being broken open. And it was then that her relief began to turn back into panic. No light was flooding into the coffin; neither from moon or sun. If the lid had been broken open, surely some sort of light would be coming in. And the air wasn’t changing either—there was no blast of fresh air; only the stale air scented with wet earth.

Mae tried to say something, and then let out a scream. She felt something crawling on her body. In fact, she felt several things crawling over her. A wisp of matted, dirty hair brushed against the bare skin of her hand, and Mae began to shriek in terror as she realized who her “rescuers” were: rats had found her coffin, and were ready to feast.

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