by Josh T. Alto
Woken up by a rhythmic noise, like water drops in a dripstone cave.
|A gust of wind, we are running on the shore, our footprints in the sand are washed away by the waves, your laughter. I can still hear it but I somehow feel that it must be a dream because you died on a rainy day. Even at your funeral, water drops were drumming on your coffin as you were laid to rest, and we just paddled around in the mud. It was raining a lot that summer.
I wake with a start. The first thing I hear is a rhythmic noise coming from somewhere high beyond with an echo all over; like water drops in a dripstone cave. I open my eyes but all I can see is darkness around, wherever I am. There is not a glimpse of light visible. I am not in my bed and it is definitely not my bedroom. As I try to move my arms and legs, I find that it is a rather small place, something like a coffin. I cannot sit up; I can only turn around in it.
I get hold of a metal knob and I am holding to it as if I were afraid of falling out. I try to move it, but it resists. I search the walls for an opening but cannot find one. If it is a coffin, have I died and that is why I am here? Did I wake up after they buried me? But where is the noise coming from? I try to feel for the walls, they feel like metal, at least they give a metallic noise when I knock on them. I am wearing my jumpers and a t-shirt. No shoes on.
“Carol, why have you left me?” I really ask myself sometimes. I just cannot understand it any more. What on all earth was more important than me? Why did you need to go away? I can still see our footprints caressing each other on that far-off sandy beach and I can still feel the wind that brings back your voice as if you were still there.
I am already consoled, I know we can never possess anyone; we can only go side by side with someone for some time and then, when it comes, we simply part and continue on different paths. Life does not really support people in finding their other halves, if they exist at all.
I can hardly remember your funeral; it is just like I was dreaming. My mind was floating somewhere while I got totally soaked, caught a cold and could not think clearly any-more because of the fever, but I still remember the flowers. All those flowers. Carol, how much you loved your flowers!
I miss them most. All those flowers! I am scared like hell in my coffin and I am afraid I cannot see our garden anymore. It is like one of my nightmares. I had it several months ago, but I never thought it would be so real. Everything started when I lost my keys.
Since Carol left me, I have lived alone in the house and you can imagine how horrible it can be when you realize that you are closed out of the only place you belong to. I looked for the keys everywhere, I went back all the way to my publisher, looked for them on the street, I went back into that fast food restaurant where I had bought something for lunch, I checked every inch of the garden, but I had not got a clue as to where I could have lost them. Finally I found my keys in a wooden box on the garden table, although I was sure I had checked there several times and was sure I had not seen that box before. As if someone had put it there for me.
I knew it was impossible that I had left my keys there but who could have done it then? It was a real mystery. I write mystery books and suddenly I had a mystery to solve myself. Strange. Someone was apparently trying to help me. But who? And why? It was a mystery that only brought in other mysteries and it looked like it would never have an end.
“Simon, you need me.” That is what you always told me. “You cannot live without me,” and I believed you, Carol. I did not want to live without you either. I felt totally empty when you left me. I gave up everything after reading your letter and could not understand why you had not told me anything before. We could have worked on it; we might have saved everything if we still had a bit of love for each other.
I was sitting there that evening as well, watching the flowers, when they called me. They had found your body in a dry riverbed, a few hundred miles from our house. You were killed in a car accident, but the police wanted to know whether you had any enemies, someone who might have had any reason to kill you. No, Carol, I could not help them. Everyone loved you.
I am trying to work out a strategy. Whatever put me here? I just cannot die in a coffin. There must be a way to get out of here. Maybe it is not a coffin at all but the boot of my car and I just felt dizzy and fell into it. But I could imagine someone locked me up here. It might have been the mysterious stranger.
After I lost and found my keys in that wooden box, I suspected that someone was watching me and, although he helped me, I could not be sure what his intentions were. There were signs I could rely on him, but as long as I could not find out more, it was like a nightmare living together with someone I could not even see. Can you imagine? Living together with an invisible man.
I might not be locked up at all. Maybe if I try hard enough, I can lift the cover of the boot or coffin or whatever it is, but it may not be a good idea. I should not move much, otherwise I could run out of oxygen quickly.
Instead, I start shouting, “Is there anyone out there? Could you let me out please?”, but no one answers and I cannot hear any noises from the outside, apart from the monotonous noise of the water drops. Is it raining outside? I hope I am not buried somewhere in a deserted cemetery. I do not like graveyards.
I thought if someone really was living there with me, he could be detected somehow. I installed surveillance cameras that were activated by the slightest moves, but all I could see on the recordings was myself, walking around in the empty house. There was no one else but me. Am I schizophrenic? It could have explained a lot. But the keys in the wooden box.
Or did you come back into my head, Carol? Was it only my imagination? You had always told me I could not live without you.
After the camera had not recorded anyone but me, I made some funny traps that would betray him, or me, like when I put a piece of toilet paper in the toilet in the evening and checked whether it was still there in the morning, or arranged the furniture in a way that no one could possibly pass them without moving them, but he was probably too clever. He could not be trapped that way.
At the same time, I could see clear signs that someone was there when I was not around. Once I was cooking, but I had drunk some glasses of wine and fallen asleep in front of the television set, and after two or three hours when I woke up, I found that the gas cooker had been turned off. The other day the dustbins were emptied, and it even irritated me because I had thrown out something of importance that I suddenly needed but could not find anymore.
After the incident with the gas cooker, I really thought I might have had an angel that protected me. I never believed in anything supernatural, so I just forgot it after a while. I only thought of it much later again, but it was too late anyway.
I know I need a strategy to get out of here, I am also starting to be thirsty and it annoys me. I get irritated and do not have any clue who could have locked me up here. I force the metal knob and after a while it moves. I turn it several times and suddenly it becomes loose. It falls into my hand and now I can feel the hole with my fingertip. I cannot see any lights outside but, fortunately, I cannot smell wet soil either.
It cannot be a coffin, I would not be in a coffin in my jumpers, but what is it? Suddenly I hear steps outside. “Is it you, Carol?” I shout. I do not know why I am expecting her here outside my coffin after I saw her dead body. It might sound unbelievable, but I am not sure she is dead. Her face was totally burnt, it was impossible to recognize her, but she could be identified by her dental records.
Carol, you have never told me about your dentist. When they asked me, I did not even know that you had one. You had been there a few weeks before you died to take an x-ray and to have your teeth checked. They told me his name is Pierre, his consulting room is quite near to your office. Carol, shouldn’t you tell me about him?
Once I was having a bath and I heard someone coming up the stairs. I sprang immediately out of the bathtub and looked all over, then I ran down the stairs but I could not find anyone. However, somehow I was sure I could smell your perfume, Carol. I really was afraid that you would drive me crazy one day. I should have let you go but you know I could not live without you. I was desperate when you left.
And then, all of a sudden, I hear a glockenspiel, a doorbell is ringing. It is my own house, where am I? The door opens and closes. I cannot hear any voices. Am I in my swimming pool that is just filled with water?
I know you are there outside; we are like ships on a foggy river. I cannot see you but I know you are there somewhere. You cannot hide, Carol; I can feel you through the metal wall of the coffin. And now I am sure I can smell your perfume through the hole as well.
Suddenly it all becomes logical, I understand that everything has a meaning, nothing happens by chance. The unopened door. The clues that I could never see as long as it slowly became too late, the disappearance of Carol, the coffin and also the monotonous noise of the water drops.
Pierre, your dentist, took me home after the funeral. We had some glasses of wine and we talked a lot. I was surprised he had known you that well. I never liked dentists, but he was strange somehow. I should not have let him in the house. As he looked around, he seemed to know quite a lot about me and our house, but I never really thought about it until now.
I just ask myself, if he were the only person who could identify you, how much could I trust him at all? I should have suspected it long ago, that I could not open the door to the basement any more after he left.
I am almost desperate now; I can already feel the water rising on my back. How many hours do I still have? I can hear the steps again. “Is that you, Carol?” I shout. There is a long pause and a very faint “Yes, it is”.
And I know you are really there. I always feared that you would come back one day.
“Carol, I did not want to kill you” I whisper, “I still love you, Carol!” She probably knows that I manipulated the brakes of her car before she left, but what could I do if I could not live without her? She does not answer. I know we should have spoken to each other, opened the door between our souls, but it remained unopened forever.
I start desperately hammering on the coffin walls, shout as loud as I can, cry for help, cry for mercy, but I feel somehow that I just got what I deserved. There are no more noises from the outside, only the rhythmic noise coming from somewhere high beyond with an echo all over; like water drops in a dripstone cave.