On the Beach
There I was in the garage, staring at what was fast becoming my all-consuming lifetime project. My friend and co-conspirator for the malicious contraption before us was sipping on a can of some awful discount store beer. The great debate silently raging between us? What can we do to improve the Stox Box?
Despite arguments from my unsympathetic friend, I made it clear in concise terms, mixed with a quantity of forcefully expressed expletives, that Psycho Sally was not to be involved in any future adventures with the box, at least those where I was inside. My gullible friend’s protests about her good intentions fell on deaf ears; I knew better.
“Okay, so you don’t want to hear Sally’s suggestions. You have any ideas of your own?”
I gazed up at the small skylight used to ventilate the garage. Sunlight streamed through the open slot. Outside it was the stereotypical Southern California summer day: warm but not too hot, cool breeze off the ocean, a day I’d spend on one of the beaches in younger days. The kernel of an idea started to grow inside my head.
“Since you asked, yes I do have an idea. Back when I was out of school for the summer the family would pack up on Saturday morning, hop on the Pasadena Freeway and head for the beaches, usually Redondo or Hermosa. We’d try to get there a little early, to beat the crowds and find a parking space. In those days they weren’t the most popular in town, though the surfers would always be out if there were some waves.” What I remembered most was the nice, warm, afternoon sand slipping between my toes, and the cool but firm feel of the wet sand as the waves came in.
“What, you want to mount the box on a surfboard?” The tone from my friend’s question implied a certain lack of mental competency on my part.
I shook my head. “No, nothing like that. Ever been buried in the sand while lying on the beach? It was one of my favorites, being completely covered except for my head. Of course, all I had to do was sit up and it all fell away, but I do remember trying to hold still to make it last.” There were some parallels between those early memories and my current fascination with being immobilized in the wooden box in front of me. “Y’know, maybe that was the early start that’s grown into this monster.” I gestured toward the box.
I could see the engineering kink catch hold in my friend’s eyes. “I think I see what you mean. Getting sand in isn’t a major problem, but might be a bit time consuming. Getting it out afterward is a mess, but if there were a way to pour it…” The design phase was under way; all I had to do was wait for the solution.
“Okay, filling up most of the box with dry sand is easy enough. You get in, I pour bags of sand on top of you. We leave the head compartment open so you don’t smother. When you’re done, we tilt the box up and the sand pours out onto a tarp, where we shovel it back into bags. That might go faster if we tilt the box up slowly, taking advantage of the angle of repose for sand so it comes out slowly, into a bag at a time. That’s a lot less clean-up work.”
It sounded like a plan but I wasn’t quite sure of everything. “Angle of repose, you mean how I’m lying down in the box?”
“Nope, it’s a civil engineering term. It’s the angle a pile of dirt will stay in place before it starts to slide. You’re from L.A., you’ve seen the hillsides with those wire mesh nets to prevent mudslides? Same thing, except for us we move the box upright until the sand breaks loose. I rig up a funnel at the bottom to feed into bags so we don’t spend half the day shoveling dirt.”
I walked around the box, thinking about what it would be like inside. “You sure the extra weight won’t make the wood crack and split? Then we’d really have a mess along with a monument to a whole lot of wasted hours building this thing.” I didn’t mention what might happen to me inside if the box did suddenly collapse.
My friend laughed. “Considering the massive overkill you wanted to strengthen your stocks, and the reinforced brackets at the corners we could fill it with concrete and not worry about damage. And no, don’t ask about trying on one of those mafia style concrete overcoats. You wouldn’t survive it.”
Those movie scenes where the mob snitch has the concrete poured in on top of him got my attention every time. Oh well, one can dream. There was that one nagging little detail about how to stop being turned into a permanent part of someone’s basement floor.
“What if,” I started, struck by inspiration, “it isn’t concrete, but something that’s a little more, umm, firm that dry sand? What if we use wet sand, pack it in so it almost has the feel of concrete? You know, like on the beach where kids make sand castles using damp sand near the waterline?”
There was a far away look in my friend’s eyes. “Okay, we’d need to experiment to find the right percentage of water to sand. The big hardware stores have bags of sand, that’s one of the ingredients in concrete. We’ll need a drain at the bottom of the box to let out seepage as the water filters down. Then there’s the problem of the sand drying out over time. I assume you’ll be going for one of your marathon sessions?”
I knew I could manage one day, maybe even a day and a half, locked down in the stocks. “What about two days, 48 hours?” I blurted out, in a sudden burst of reckless stupidity.
My friend looked over at me. “Wow, you really have that itch that needs to be scratched in the worst way. It’s doable, but we’ll have to rig up something to keep the sand from drying out. I’m thinking of those drip feed tubes, the ones used in desert landscaping. There’d be some more experimenting to find what works well. Sure you want to do this? It’ll be intense, almost like being buried alive. As in buried in the ground, not inside a tomb.”
It did take some time to come up with the changes. First problem, we had to build a frame that would slowly tip up, but leave enough room at the bottom to refill the sand bags. We’d have to dry the sand after I got out, a problem quickly solved by heavy duty heat guns, basically handheld hair dryers that put out a lot more heat. My exit from the box would scatter wet sand everywhere but a large canvas tarp on the floor proved to be a cheap solution.
The drip system proved to be the major complication. We had the right mix of water and sand after a few days of what my friend called “ad hoc” testing, which basically meant try it and see if it works without bothering with materials science textbooks. Keeping the sand at the right consistency, our technical term, turned out to be far more complex.
“It’s the humidity,” my frustrated friend explained, pushing back the computer keyboard. “Too much water in the air, the sand turns soggy; too little and it becomes gritty. We’d have to add sensors, a controller, variable speed pumps, it’s just too complicated to build.”
I’d seen this before. Engineers try to solve for every possible case, even when it isn’t necessary. “What if we look at the weather forecast, pick a nice weekend with no rain for two days. Then we set the drip for those conditions.”
The initial reaction was predictable. I got the look where something obvious has to be explained to the unwashed masses. “That would be like building a bridge you could cross once a month, and only in daylight. Most of the time it would sit there, unused, an economic sinkhole.”
“But I only want to use it once a month, and we don’t exactly have a perpetual stream of monetary largesse to invest in a wooden box. One of the few worthwhile things we still have in Los Angeles is an abundance of good weather. So, pick what constitutes a good day and make a simple mechanical drip feed, no fancy electronics needed.”
That’s how we wound up with a crude looking pipe running down the middle of the inside lid. Past the head section it branched out to small feeders, all the way down to where my feet would go. We did have to cut a notch in the stocks to accommodate the pipe, but it was a worthy sacrifice. The pipe went up through a hole just above my head. I made sure it was well sealed and no light or sound could get in.
The drain was simple, too. We drilled a hole in the bottom, right above where the drip pipe ended. A fine screen to keep out the sand, a pipe through the wood ending in a hose connection outside, and a garden hose leading off to the garage drain. A slight tilt on the box would keep the water at the far end, away from my head.
That was it for the hardware preparations. I still had a few mental issues to consider before I started my solitary beach adventure. Two days is a long time to lie perfectly still, in the dark, isolated from the rest of the world. Not totally isolated since my friend would check on me from time to time, but there would be gaps of hours with no outside contact.
Could I hold out for two entire days? That was the real question. My friend thought I was an idiot for starting out with the intent to set an endurance record. I couldn’t argue the point, but I wasn’t a beginner when it came to being imprisoned in the box. The secret I didn’t want to admit? I was hooked on the sensation of those stocks holding me down. I’d never been more helpless and vulnerable, and yes, dependent, in my life than when I was trapped inside a simple wooden crate. I wanted more, to push myself to the limit, to peek at what awaited me beyond my boundaries.
There was a three-day weekend coming up. The forecast was dry and sunny, perfect beach weather. I was ready to go. As usual I’d set the start time, but my friend had sole discretion on when the session ended. That was part of the excitement, not knowing when the ordeal would end. Of course, I had no way to tell time anyway, since the box was not outfitted with a clock or a radio. Time dilation, those two days would pass very slowly. Inside, for me it might feel like a week or more.
It was slow going getting all the wet sand packed into the box. We had to mix water and sand in buckets first, to get the right consistency. I helped to get the bed down first, the portion of the sand that would be under me. But once I was inside my friend had to manage the bulk single-handed.
When I climbed into my miniature “beach in a crate” I hooked up the catheter before stretching out over the damp sand. It had a cool yet gritty texture, not unpleasant. I slipped my hands and feet into the built-in keepers and lined myself up for the boards which made up the internal stocks. There was some sand in the grooves but a handy spoon cleared them out quickly.
Once the boards were in place I gave the stocks a quick test to make sure I was in the right position. “I’m good,” I told my friend, who immediately began tightening the screws to hold them in place. That was my point of no return. From now on whatever happened to me was well beyond my control. I closed my eyes to savor the moment.
“Okay, here we go!” I opened my eyes in time to see the first bucket of wet sand being poured over my torso. A lot more followed, until the compartments below my head were full. My friend disappeared for a moment, returning with a trowel in hand.
“No reason we can’t have a nice finish.” I couldn’t see but I heard the trowel in action, smoothing the top of the wet sand. There was a small gap between where the lid would come down and the sand, enough to accommodate the drip piping. “You’ll have to take my word, it looks nice. I can get some pictures but no way you can see anything until the lid’s in place.”
With my head clamped firmly in place by the wooden blocks on either side, and the leather strap across my forehead, my field of view was limited to straight up. I could see the top of the box suspended above. The heavy board clamped around my neck separated me from the rest of the crate and the sand. Once the lid was in place I’d have the LCD panel so I could see the outside thanks to the remote webcam. We did have to move the panel to one side to make room for the plumbing but I still had a clear view.
“Top’s coming down,” warned my friend. I watched the heavy wooden lid slowly descend, suspended on the chain hoist. As it got closer my light began to disappear. It settled with a sturdy clunking sound, a reminder that it was every bit as confining as the box itself. I was blind but I knew my friend would be tightening the screws holding the lid in place.
That was the beginning of my two-day long session. With the box closed up tight I was now in my own little world. I couldn’t get out, and no one could get in. Just to check I strained against the stock, to absolutely no effect. Naturally the first thing that came to mind was the list of unexpected disasters that would lead to my demise: house catches fire, earthquake, even burglars breaking in. My mostly reliable friend promised to stay in the house during the entire session so I dismissed my catastrophe theories quickly.
I could set aside physical fears but the mental ones weren’t so easy. Obviously, I wasn’t claustrophobic; quite the opposite in fact. I’d discovered a new side to myself, a side that loved to be restrained in a tight, enclosed space. Less certain were my feelings about being in what amounted to the most extreme form of solitary confinement. Would I emerge from the box as a deranged psychotic? It made for a good movie plot but I had my doubts I’d be reduced to a crazed lunatic after living in my own head for two days. Still, I’d never pushed myself this far before, plus I was adding on the minor detail of effectively being buried alive.
Unlike my friend’s Jedi mind trick where I thought I was being entombed in a mausoleum, this was no feat of clever video editing. The dense, wet sand packed all around me was as real as it gets. I could feel it pressing in on me. Below my neck it was a solid mass of dirt, no different than being buried at the beach with only my head exposed. I tried to shift around, never an easy task with the way the stocks held me, but the resistance of the wet sand was too much to overcome. For all practical purposes I was paralyzed from the neck down.
The display came to life, showing my friend’s face. “First status check, everything okay? No problems breathing, no cramps, nothing rubbing your skin?” The red LED came on, meaning the internal microphone was active.
“So far so good,” I answered. “No problems, though the sand works even better than I expected. In some ways it does feel like that cement overcoat.”
“Well then, the clock has started. Round and round it goes, and only I know where it stops.” The microphone LED went dark. “I’ll be back in, umm, a while.” There was to be no mention of time or date from now on. That was valuable information for me, information I was not allowed to know. “Until then you’re on your own.” The display switched off.
There were no inside controls for the camera or microphone. That was deliberate on my part; I intentionally had no way to make contact with anyone “out there” as I thought of the world beyond the walls of my miniscule prison. How long before that display came on again? Hours, at least, but for all I knew it could be an entire day, or even the entire session. The ambiguity robbed me of any expectations, of looking forward to the next time I heard another voice or saw someone’s face.
One last time I strained with every bit of strength in my body, trying in vain to find some way to escape. Exhausted, I finally stopped. The stocks were too well placed, the box itself far too well constructed to offer me any hope of freedom. Satisfied I closed my eyes and let the wave of helpless abandonment wash over me. Despair would normally be one of the more depressing emotions, except in this instance it brought me a sense of euphoria.
After a while I started to drift, random memories came and went, mostly of good times, a few not so pleasant. I suppose sensory deprivation does that. No sight, no sound, though there was plenty of touch in the sand wedging me further into my wooden cage. It was inevitable the association with sand brought up old beach visits from far younger days.
Part of Los Angeles is an area known as the Beach Cities: Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. For many years they were blue collar and retirement communities, with the influx of surfers and sunbathers limited to weekends. None were very large; it was practically walking distance from one end of a town to the next. I had to smile at the mind’s picture of idyllic beaches, with surfers out on their boards looking for a good wave, and the sound of the water breaking before washing up on shore. One of my earliest memories was to race back and forth at the water’s edge, daring an incoming wave to catch me.
The sound of running water wasn’t just my imagination. I could hear it in the pipe directly over my head. It must be the sprinkler system coming alive. There wasn’t much; it sounded more like a trickle than a real flow. Sure enough, I soon felt something wet against my skin. The sand must need watering.
The water stopped after a few seconds. Apparently not much was required to maintain my environment. I tried to shift my arms up and down, without any success. The sand was doing its job too well.
If pressed I’d have to confess the inability to move my head was one of the most frustrating features of the box. The padded, wedge-shaped pieces of wood on either side held me in a vise-like grip, not so tight as to be painful but unyielding with a “this far and no further” kind of attitude. That meant no side to side, combined with the neck board coming up almost to my chin and the forehead strap putting a halt to any up or down attempts.
The display backlight came on, catching me by surprise. How long had it been? The outside camera came on showing my friend and lifeline standing next to the crate. “Hey, how’s it going in the Twilight Zone? Not much to report out here.”
The microphone LED came on. “I’m still here, and I think my sanity is intact,” I replied. “I heard the water come on, seems to be working.”
“Okay, that’s all till the next check in.” The microphone LED turned off. “And don’t worry, I’ll be here. Sally brought over some new movies, and we’ve got a pizza on the way.” My heart stopped when I noticed Psycho Sally standing behind my friend.
I was shouting as loud as I could to get her out of the house. Despite my emphatic insistence she stay away, far away, my treacherous friend had invited her over. The screen went dark, leaving me to protest in vain. I could feel myself shaking. No person on Earth terrified me more than sweet, simple, friendly Sally. She put up such a good front she could fool anyone who hadn’t been subjected to one of her “private conversations.” Underneath that warm, outgoing and thoroughly disarming exterior lurked a pathological monster. And here I was, unable to offer any resistance if she decided to start on me again.
Blind panic triggered another attempt to escape. It was impossible but I wasn’t thinking rationally. I had to get out of that box and as far from Sally as possible. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t going to happen, no matter how much I wanted to be released. Restraints have a nasty tendency to keep on working regardless of the prisoner’s wishes. The stocks remained in place, and so did I.
My mind was racing. There had to be something I could do, but what? That vulnerable feeling is great, until something bad happens. It was working against me now. Finally, I had to admit there was nothing I could do if, no, when Sally showed up. She’d never let an opportunity like this slip by.
How long did I have, before she started in on me? Problem was I had no idea what time it was. Late at night, I might have several hours while everyone was sleeping. No, that wouldn’t stop Sally. She’d gladly talk all night long, chipping away at my mental defenses until it all came crumbling down.
Murphy Comes Knocking
Maybe it was the stress dragging me down but somehow I managed to fall asleep. What woke me up was a knocking sound from the plumbing directly above my head. I could hear water so it must be on. The knocking sound had to be air in the line.
It stopped when the water shut off. Murphy’s Law strikes again, I thought. If something can go wrong it will, sooner or later, often in the worst possible way. The classic example is the old cliché, “bread always falls buttered side down.” Legend has it the law is named after a particularly unlucky test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, located in the desert not too far outside of Los Angeles. I don’t know if it’s true but it seems to me a jinxed pilot is someone who needs to find another career, as fast as possible.
I waited for the pipe to break, pouring water on top of me until I drowned. Time passed and nothing happened. It looked like this was not going to be one of those worst cases after all. Then the backlight came on for the display.
Good, I thought, my friend must have heard the noise and come to investigate. I’d be out of my container from hell in a few minutes. Then the webcam sent me a picture far worse than a broken pipe.
“Hi! I heard the noise and came to see if you were in trouble.” Sally’s face filled the small screen. In that moment my hopes for freedom were dashed against the hard rocks of a grim reality. Asking Sally to let me go would be a futile gesture. And the fact she was here meant my friend was either asleep or gone off somewhere. She wouldn’t be forthcoming about that situation either.
She disappeared from the screen. I could hear noises in the background, though I had no clue as to what she was doing. She finally reappeared carrying a lawn chair. After she sat down she tilted the camera to follow. “I looked around the crate; everything seems to be normal. To be safe, I’ll wait here with you for a while to make sure there’s nothing wrong.”
The microphone LED remained in the off position. Did she know there was a button on the camera to turn it on? Maybe not, since she hadn’t used it the last time either. I was left with one-way communications, in the wrong direction. I started yelling at her to get me out. Either she couldn’t hear me or she deliberately ignored it.
She leaned forward, hands on the lid. “We’ve had some good times together. A quiet, cozy little spot like this is ideal for sharing those intimate little secrets we’d never reveal otherwise. Don’t you think so?”
No, I did not. The less I knew about Sally the better for my own peace of mind. She’d already begun with her gimmick of stressing certain words, to make the listener focus on them. I knew exactly what she was doing but the trick still worked.
“You have to be bored after being cooped up in there for so long. Sally can keep you company for a while to help the time pass. Your friend told me all about how you’re packed in wet sand in there, like being at the beach.” When Sally started referring to herself in third person all my alarm bells went off. She only did that when her chosen victim had no possible way to escape, and no one else was around to hear what she said. I felt like the fly stuck to the web, watching the spider slowly crawl up the strand toward me.
Whack! The drop of water hit me right above the bridge of my nose. I felt the drop run down to my cheek, then down my neck to my shoulder. Oh great, Murphy had struck after all. Not only was I in the clutches of Psycho Sally, but the plumbing was starting to leak. What next? Maybe the San Andreas fault was ready to give up another big one. A major earthquake was all I’d need to put an end to what was shaping up to be the worst sleepover ever in the Stox Box.
Sally Shares a Story
I waited for that telltale warning from the sway of the pressure wave, followed by the hammer blow when the seismic wave of the quake arrives. Everyone in California has experienced it at least once. Well, today was not the day when the Big One was going to hit; no sudden lurch, no earthquake to end the day. I could still see her on the monitor. It was tough to decide which was worse: a quiet talk with Psycho Sally, or having the house collapse around me.
“I know,” she started in on me, “how about Sally tells you a bedtime story? It’s one of my secrets, you know, a very personal fantasy kind of thing. Promise you won’t tell another soul if I let you in on it?”
Her words made my skin crawl. Any kind of story from Sally would probably include a chainsaw and small woodland creatures, the kind of story Hollywood loves to illustrate in the most gruesome detail, with a dozen sequels each bloodier than the last. Anyone who ever spent quality time with Sally would be covering their ears while running away by now. I didn’t have that option.
Whack! Another drop of water landed in almost the exact same spot. This time it ran down the side of my face right into my ear. One of us must have missed adding some plumber’s tape to the joint above my head. There wasn’t much light from the display but from what I could see it must be coming from the incoming water pipe. A tiny leak, the drops run down the pipe and drip off the elbow. As in, drip right into my face. Too bad there wasn’t enough to plug up both ears. Right about now I’d take any help available.
“Ever been out to the Channel Islands, off the coast?” I’d never been there, but I’d heard of them, Catalina being the famous one. They’re some kind of park now. “There’s one at the north end, Anacapa, that’s all cliffs. Parts are very isolated. A friend showed me one of the secret coves along the shore. You can only get there at low tide by boat. Anyway, when the water’s out there’s a tiny beach exposed, hidden behind some rocks offshore. It’s the perfect spot to get away from it all, at least for a while.”
No, no, no, I told myself. Don’t listen, she’s drawing you in, trying to pique your curiosity. Sally was an expert, always beginning with some fascinating tidbits to mentally disarm her victim.
“What I’d like to do, someday, is for the two of us to take a trip out there, make a day of it. We’d set up on the beach when the tide goes out, so we’d have about seven hours before packing up. There’s plenty to do out there: go swimming, watch the seabirds, maybe even see a whale during the right time of the year.”
It did sound like a nice place, the way she described it. I don’t swim. In fact, I have a strict policy of never getting in a pool deeper than my ankles. I don’t mind the ocean, as long as it stays off dry land.
Whack! Another drop landed on my forehead. This one took it’s time sliding down my cheek onto my neck. The first order of business once I was out of the box would be to fix that leak.
“Imagine it! So there we are, on the beach. Now I know from experience you like being, umm, restricted? What if I brought along a big bag of all your favorite handcuffs, leg irons, locks and chains? With your help I’m sure we could have you neatly trussed up in no time. You could lie on the beach, maybe wriggle around a bit if you want to struggle, while I went out for a swim. Not to worry, I’d put the keys somewhere safe, as in safely out of reach.” She actually winked at me on the screen.
She certainly knew how to push all my hot buttons. I loved the feel of cold, unyielding steel locked tight on my body. Add to that being exposed, outside, in full view of anyone and not being able to hide, that I couldn’t resist. I could see it in my head, desperately fighting to escape from a strict hogtie, bent like a pretzel, while knowing it would be impossible. Meanwhile Sally would be playing around in the surf, watching me and laughing at my futile attempts to free myself.
Some small corner of my brain tried to scream a warning but it was too late. Sally had dangled her bait and I’d eagerly gone for it. I was on the hook; now all she had to do was reel me in.
Whack! Those drops of water were becoming a real nuisance. I couldn’t hear water running through the pipe, so where was the leak coming from? That mystery would have to wait to be solved. I wanted to hear more of Sally’s bedtime tale.
“Once you gave up and stopped thrashing around, I’d come up to sit next to you. You’d need some water and maybe a snack to munch on after all that exercise. After you finished it would be Sally’s turn for a bit of fun.”
The moment she went back to third person a chill went down my spine. I had a premonition of dark things to come.
“First off, you’d need a gag, a big one, the kind that garbles anything you try to say. Sally doesn’t like to be interrupted when she’s talking, but you know that already.” She had a serious look on her face, sort of like a parent warning a small child not to throw food on the floor. If she was aware of the microphone button on the camera that explained why it remained off. It was every bit as effective at keeping me quiet as the gag she described.
“Sally remembers your phobia about gags too. It’s fine if you put one on, but you get scared if someone else forces anything into your mouth.” That was true. It had to be my choice alone whether or not I wore a gag while being restrained. That being said, if I did opt for one it had to be done right. My favorite was a monster panel that covered my lower face, straps around and over my head, and a chin strap so it could not be dislodged. The insert had to be large enough to make it impossible to manage anything more than a grunt.
“You wouldn’t appreciate a forced gag, would you? At least, not right away. That’s alright, Sally would give you some space to work out your anger. Meanwhile time is getting short and work needs to be started. Sally plans ahead, so I’d get the shovel out of the boat.”
A shovel? Why would she need a shovel?
Whack! Once more I was provided with the dubious benefits of a refreshing if tiny shower from the water pipe. There I was, on the beach, immersed inside Sally’s narrative when ugly reality intruded in the guise of bad plumbing. That leak was really starting to irritate me.
“You could watch while I’d do the digging. It’s soft sand, shouldn’t take too long. Besides, doubled over in that hogtie the hole doesn’t need to be too deep. Sally thought it best not to tell you about this fantasy beforehand since not everyone likes being buried in beach sand. What a surprise to find out from your talkative friend you were planning on doing the very thing tonight!”
Yeah, what a shock. I was going to have to do something about my overly loquacious friend, after we fixed that plumbing problem.
“I bet you can guess what would come next. Once the hole’s ready it shouldn’t take too much effort to push you in. What with all that hardware you’d be wearing it’s not like you could do much to stop me.” She actually giggled. The way I liked to be bound, anyone larger than a toddler could easily control me. I didn’t like the direction of this story at all.
“Sally would make sure you were upright and facing toward the water before filling in the hole. Wet sand, packed in tight, you know what that’s like, don’t you?” This story had to end badly but I couldn’t help myself. I could actually feel the sand pressing in, as if I were in that hole.
I saw Sally close her eyes. “Smell that sea air, feel those last rays from the sun on your face, listen to the waves as the tide starts to come in.” Wait, tide coming in? What was she saying?
“You might be getting a little concerned at this point, but don’t worry. Sally will be right next to you every minute.” In the display she laid her head down sideways on her hands, leaning in very close to the camera.
“Imagine it, the waves coming closer and closer, inching up the beach at a slow but unstoppable pace. Sally is right next to you, lying down, whispering in your ear. Finally, one of the waves just touches your gag. You know what’s coming, but you don’t have to be afraid with Sally at your side. Sally can’t understand what you’re trying to say through the gag, but that’s not important. Hearing you beg for help would only spoil the mood, don’t you agree?”
With Sally there’s always a point where the entertaining story turns into a horror show. The worst of it was she’d burrowed deep into my brain and I couldn’t get her out. I was there, on the beach with only my head sticking out. It wasn’t far from the reality inside the box.
“The sun is just dropping below the horizon; time has run out. The waves are hitting you full in the face now. It’s almost over. You can depart in peace, knowing I’ll be there, right in front of you, holding your head in my hands the moment the light in your eyes goes out.”
That’s when I saw the real Sally peek through her contrived exterior. For one split second I was staring into the face of a heartless, cold-blooded, psychopathic serial killer in that display. She hid it well, and for all I knew she’d never act out what went on inside her twisted mind. What I found out in that moment is Psycho Sally had to be one of the most dangerous women ever to walk the planet.
I was still transfixed by her face when Sally suddenly stood up, yawned and stretched out her arms. “It’s been a long night. I’m going home and get some sleep. I hear you still have another day and night to go. I admire your dedication in enduring solitary confinement for so long. And remember, my little chat is just between the two of us. Other people, they might not understand but you get it, don’t you?”
She was still doing that trick, pushing certain words to emphasize my condition. I was exhausted from her “little chat”. For that matter I was in fear of my life every second she was in the garage with me. I was more than ready for some serious sleep time.
“Okay, I’ll let your friend know you passed the status check, everything okay until the next one tomorrow. You have a good night, pleasant dreams, and maybe we’ll meet up again soon. Bye!’ I saw her wave to me before the display went dark.
I muttered several blistering curses. She’d left me a wreck and hadn’t turned the microphone on one time. My brain was already full of her nightmares; sleep would only bring out more variations. Even though I might wake up screaming I was too tired to care. I closed my eyes, wrapped in my cocoon of silence and darkness.
Whack! What was it with that leak? Whack, whack! Two more in quick succession, the drops of water ran down my face in multiple tracks. The pipe must be ready to come apart. I waited for the steady stream to pour down on me. Instead, nothing.
I had to ask myself if Sally would really drown someone on a beach, providing she could get away with it. It wasn’t exactly a new idea; I’d seen more than one of those old 50’s low budget pirate movies use the same stunt. That one moment when I saw her hidden side still sent shivers through me. Yeah, she was capable, but what could I do? No one would believe me if I repeated that story. Oh no, that couldn’t possibly be our sweet little Sally girl.
I decided to let it drop. Plenty of people with murderous personalities lead normal lives, more or less, without becoming serial killers. Unless friends and neighbors started disappearing, I’d have to settle for keeping my distance.
Whack! That leak just would not give up. I don’t know how but virtually every single drop was landing on the same spot on my forehead, just above the bridge of my nose. Whack! There it was again, right on target. This was evolving from minor irritation into major distraction.
I tried to slide my head down, to get some relief from the drops hammering that one tender area. I’d forgotten how determined I’d been in adding the prevention for exactly what I was attempting. The board around my neck, what I called the “pillory board” had a small, padded block under my chin, essentially a chin piece, to hold my head in place. I couldn’t slide in the other direction because that same board came all the way down to my shoulders.
Without thinking I tried to twist my head to the left, and then to the right. I’d anticipated that move too. The wedge-shaped blocks of wood on either side were a close, precise fit that worked just as well as the chin piece. I didn’t even bother trying to raise my head. The twice-cursed leather strap across my forehead left me no wiggle room, literally. It seems I was too smart for my own good.
Leak or no leak I was determined to get some sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. It didn’t take long before I dozed off.
Wait For It
Whack, whack, whack, whack! Four drops hit me in rapid succession. My eyes flew open, to reveal the deep cave type of darkness where vision is useless. I must have been asleep because I had a vague memory of a dream, and thankfully it wasn’t on Sally’s beach.
Staring up into the darkness I imagined I could see the water pipe. The leak made no sense. What would cause a few drops, a short delay, then a bunch more all at once, a very long pause, until it starts over. Everyone’s heard the proverbial dripping faucet; it’s a steady rhythm. This was about as random as it gets.
Whack! I started counting the seconds out loud. “One Mississippi, two Mississippi.” Supposedly a long word like that was close to one second. I kept going until I reached one hundred. Then I gave up. I wasn’t going to count down who knows how many minutes or hours to the next one.
According to the cliché the watched pot never boils, to which I’d add the anticipated drip never falls. If only I had some light, I could see it coming. But no, that was some more of my “shoot yourself in the foot” design genius. The controls for the display backlight, the only light in the box when it was sealed, had to be on the outside.
It was a long night, at least I assumed it was night since no one came to check on me. I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Yet every time I drifted off at least one of those drops of water slammed into my forehead, waking me up. This session in the box was supposed to be a restful one, relaxing in a makeshift, partial sensory deprivation chamber. Instead it had become a sleep deprivation ordeal involving some kind of mental torture.
“Get me out of this thing! I can’t take any more!” I yelled, as loud as I could. “Help me, I’m going crazy in here!” Even if my pleas could be heard through the thick walls of the crate there was no one in the garage to hear me. I was all alone and it wasn’t going to stop.
Whack! If there is a hell I now had firsthand experience as to what it must be like. I was ready to do anything to make the dripping stop. Was I secretly working for the Kremlin? Of course, and I laughed every minute while rigging the elections. Did I cheat on my taxes? I confess, I have millions stashed in a Cayman Islands bank. Just stop that dripping and I’ll reveal all!
To The Last Drop
The universe shrunk to those tiny drops of water pounding into my head. At some point I was so far gone I began to feel angry when it took too long for the next one to land. I could hear someone repeating over and over, “Please, let me go!” That was annoying too. Like the tiny rainfall it wouldn’t stop.
I didn’t fully comprehend I was the source of the begging until I heard the voice of my friend. “Sure thing, just give me a minute to unscrew the stocks and I’ll have you out of there.”
I opened my eyes to the picture of my friend leaning over me. Not a tiny display view, but the real thing. The lid was off, which meant the leaky pipe was also gone.
“I suppose congratulations are in order. You made it through both days. Although, all you had to do was lie there and wait. Maybe it was a test of your patience more than anything else? Anyway, Sally and I went to pick up some chimichangas at Burrito King for you. I was sure you’d be hungry, and you’re famous for the way you devour a good carnitas burrito, plain or fried. They’re in the kitchen. Sally even picked up a six pack of Negro Modelo, your favorite brand of whatever it is you pretend to call beer.”
I didn’t really hear the conversation. My only concern in this world was to get out of that box and never set foot near it again. All I could think about was the incessant dripping on my head, hour after hour, with me lying there, alone and powerless to stop it.
Once the stocks were pulled out, I was able to sit up with my friend’s help. “You look terrible,” a pithy comment from my suddenly observant friend. “I didn’t expect the session to take so much out of you. The way I figured you’d snooze through most of it. Did you get any sleep at all?”
I shook my head, which sent the room spinning around me. I grabbed hold of the box in time to keep upright, at least long enough for my friend to pull up a lawn chair so I could sit down. “No sleep,” I muttered, which was about all I could manage in my current state.
“By the way, how did the plumbing work out? I couldn’t get the sensors in the sand to work right so I left them off. Instead I cut some corners, programmed a short burst of water with a random time delay, kind of like those Monte Carlo simulations in math class. I figured they’d average out over time.”
A random delay? If I had the strength I’d have gone after my now hated friend with the same lethal intent Sally had revealed in her story. That little shortcut had nearly cost me my sanity. Fortunately for everyone I was far too weak to act on impulse. Later on, I’d come to understand it wasn’t my friend’s fault. In fact, the idea had worked to keep the sand from drying out, though I could not have cared less considering the unexpected consequences.
I recovered enough to get cleaned up, eat the warmed-up burrito and finally sleep for the next ten hours. All that time I debated whether to take a saw to the box to rid the world of that tool of the devil; or go for another foolhardy session, though without the plumbing…