Vignette: “Worse than Death”

Getting sentenced to death is bad. Reading about your own execution because the St. Louis Post-Dispatch accidentally releases the story on their web site early is worse. After that, you would think that waking up in a pine box three days later would be a nice surprise.

Not so much.

Waking up didn’t surprise me—that’s what always happens when I die. The surprise was being in an actual pine box. I had given my attorney clear instructions and plenty of money to make the arrangements. I should have been in a nice padded casket with several useful hand-tools that were supposed mementos of my supposed earlier career as a carpenter. That was partly an inside joke and a nod to my famous ancestor for starting the whole mess, but mostly it was just practical. You can eventually break out of a casket and dig your way out of a grave with your bare hands if you keep coming back to life every time you suffocate, but I don’t recommend it. You never really get over that kind of thing.

So I had a moment of panic. OK, it was a lot more than a moment. I’ve been around long enough to accumulate a few PTSD triggers. With help and time, I’ve worked through some of them, but this is one that has stuck. You don’t want to know all the details about the next few minutes; let’s just say it got very loud and very messy in that box. I hammered on the boards until my hands bled. I’d have had broken fingers if there was enough room in the box to swing that hard.

About the time I was winding down from sheer exhaustion, the rational part of my brain finally decided to offer up the observation that I was still breathing just fine. That took a few seconds to percolate. I waited until my heart stopped pounding just to be sure before I luxuriated in several long, deep breaths. Then tried to pretend that I wasn’t a complete idiot while I carefully ran my hands over every inch of the box that I could reach.

It took longer than you would think. There was absolutely no light and not much room to move, but eventually I wormed an arm up and found the air-holes drilled in the boards above my head. They were about an inch wide and, with some twisting, I could get a finger through and hook a knuckle on the outside edge. I could barely feel cool air coming in through the holes, so I guessed there were more holes somewhere else. Probably in the end by my feet.

The bad news was that I could feel nice straight seams between the boards on all sides. The whole thing was made of good solid 2x4s, not plywood. There was no flexing or bowing at all, and no hardware on the inside. No nail-heads for me to pick at or screws to twist. And no hinges.

I got the message, and I was scared. Whoever did this knew who I was, and they knew they couldn’t kill me.

They also knew they didn’t have to.