A Day of Rest
All I wanted was a day to myself, one day to rest free of distractions. And I wanted to spend that day in the box, alone, with no one to bother me. I’d need my friend to act as my safety backup, on the remote chance something went wrong. Once I was in place though, again with my friend’s help, there was no reason I couldn’t be left to my own devices.
After the misadventure with the sand we’d taken the box back to the basics. The plumbing system from hell was gone. The boards which flattened out my hands were gone too. I did leave in the frame to hold my head in a rigid grip; despite the recent problems I still liked that extra bit of tight confinement. The same with my feet; for some reason I enjoyed not being able to do much more than wiggle my toes. Otherwise the interior boards remained the same, with the cutouts to act as stocks, a sort of custom-fitted full body restraint.
When I climbed into the box it was like coming home to that old, comfortable chair. The Stox Box and I were close friends by now. As always I was stripped bare; clothes had no place in the box. I lowered myself down, lining up with the slots in the sides where the stocks would slide in. I did sit back up, because my friend and I were going to make one change before I was locked in my tiny prison.
It wasn’t so much a change as an experiment. I’d been busy with some research on the Internet, always a dangerous move given my predilection toward confinement and immobilizing restraint. The box was as close to heaven on earth as I could get without robbing a bank and spending years in prison, in solitary. Even so I had the urge to explore limits. I was going to push one of those boundaries as far as I thought possible.
My friend wheeled in the cart with the pre-cut stocks, and a cardboard box with the experiment. “Last chance, you sure you want to go through with this?” My friend held up the box. “Once we start you’re committed to see it through. Remember, I’m the only one who knows when it will end.”
That had always been one of my hard and fast rules when I went into the box. I couldn’t free myself, so my stay was beyond my ability to control. Only my friend could release me, and only after some arbitrary length of time I would never know, until my ordeal was over.
“I’m sure.” I sat up, resting my arms on the side of the box. “I’ve seen the pictures. People use these things all the time. I’m not worried as long as I have the panic button.” That was the reason my hands would not be restrained. If the experiment went drastically wrong I had a pushbutton I could easily reach even with my wrists fastened in the stocks. We’d rigged a simple apparatus with the wire running through an opening in the bottom of the box. One push sounded an alarm throughout the house and to my friend’s cell phone. Everything had been tested, over and over. I wasn’t concerned.
“Okay, but remember this was your idea. If you freak out on me there’s no one to blame but yourself.” My friend opened the cardboard box. “It’ll be easier if you put this on before I lock you down.”
Breath control, even the name sent shivers up my spine. It wasn’t all that unusual; there were plenty of advanced players out there who practiced it on a continual basis. The overwhelming tool of choice was the gas mask: air tight, covering the entire face or head, separate in and out ports, and eyepieces to see. Simple enough, but potentially deadly if misused.
The mask in my friend’s hand was designed specifically for bondage rather than military use. It was lighter, easily stretching to slip over my head, and if not entirely gas tight very little air did get in except through the valves. I wasn’t concerned about poison gas so it was the perfect choice for me.
I pulled the mask, or more accurately the hood, down over my face. In the front there was a bar attached to the hood. It was positioned directly in front of my mouth. The bar was metal, to prevent it from being squeezed shut by accident. I took a deep breath to make sure it was clear. The intake flap valve opened, letting in life-giving oxygen. When I exhaled the intake closed and the exhaust opened, venting the carbon dioxide. Once I was ready those ports would be connected to the regulator mounted under the box.
That regulator was the real experiment. It was to be my overseer and teacher. As long as I behaved, remained quiet and didn’t try to move around I’d get all the air I needed. If I didn’t behave, I’d be punished by short intervals where the air would be blocked. Fear of suffocation would keep me on the right track. It was safe; the regulator wouldn’t actually suffocate me, but it would feel like I was fighting for my last breath. A few tests were enough to convince me I dare not disobey my mechanical supervisor.
The mask wasn’t a gag. I could talk around it, after a fashion. What it did do is muffle sounds, limiting both speaking and hearing. My nose was completely blocked; all I could smell was the rubber from the mask.
“Okay, lie back and we’ll get started with the stocks first.” That was my friend, holding up the board which imprisoned my ankles. “I’ll hook up your mask once we get your head immobilized.” That was at the end of the usual restraint procedures.
I closed my eyes and practiced even, normal breathing. One by one I felt the boards slide into place. Ankles first, then knees, waist and wrists, and finally the last but most important, what I called the pillory board, slid down over the end of the rubber hood loosely covering my neck. My friend tightened the retaining screws on all the boards with the cordless drill, to make sure nothing would work loose. No matter what I desired this box would be my home until tomorrow afternoon or evening.
The last detail was the strap across my forehead, preventing any escape from the rigid frame around my mask-encased head. Up, down, left, right, all motion was denied to me. I had no choice but to stare up at the ceiling, and even that was impaired by the out of focus lens set deep in a circular, built-up area molded into the face of the mask. It had the effect of tunnel vision through glasses smeared with grease. I could see, but not very well or in any sharp detail.
At this point my friend would usually lower the lid, sealing me in. This time there was to be no lid. Instead hoses from the regulator ran up over the side of the box into the ports on either side of the mask. “Intake on the left,” my friend told me, screwing down the retaining ring by hand, “and exhaust on the right.” If those were in the wrong position I’d be in serious trouble in a few more seconds.
When I tried to breathe I felt the inrush of air. It had a faint, stale, metallic taste to it, from the regulator, but what was important is that I had air. “Now remember,” my friend admonished me, “you’re wired with all kinds of sensors in the bottom of the box. There’s blood pressure, skin conductance, respiratory rate, temperature, even a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen level. It all goes into the controller, which also sets the flow in the regulator. No matter what, you have to stay calm. Any agitation, and with those sensors it won’t take long to detect, the box is going to punish you. You wanted a quiet day; that’s what you get, like it or not.”
The great experiment, forced relaxation, would be enforced by a tiny computer that didn’t care at all about my comfort or preference. “You still have the panic button,” again my friend warned me, “but if you use it, no matter what the reason, the penalty is an entire month banned from using the box. Think carefully before pushing that button.” It was severe. I’ve grown so attached to the box I’d go crazy if it was withheld for a whole month.
“I’ll be okay,” I replied. My friend shrugged; I assumed because I wasn’t understood. I tried again, shouting this time. That caused the regulator to start beeping a warning. I quickly shut up. That beep was the warning from the controller. The faster the beep, the closer I’d be to a not so gentle reminder to back off and relax. My first lesson, shouting was forbidden. It would make talking all the more difficult.
I settled for a thumbs-up gesture with a free hand. I heard the kitchen door close when my friend left. There were only two ways this would end now. Either I pushed the panic button, or my friend came back to release me. Until then I was a captive of the box, at the mercy of a tiny computer whose only reason for existence was to keep me calm and collected.
I had no way of tracking the time, which was also a deliberate decision on my part. I didn’t want to know how long I’d been in the box, or how much longer before I was to be let go. It was part of the greater plan, to strip me of any power over my life. With the gas mask on that plan took on a very literal aspect; I wasn’t even able to control the amount of precious air I inhaled with every breath. By rights I should be terrified, in fear of my life. In practice, what I felt was a tremendous sense of relief. That was the beauty of being helpless. If there’s nothing you can do, it follows there’s nothing you have to do. It was freedom from responsibility.
I got my wish for my quiet day. The garage didn’t have windows, so I couldn’t tell if the sun was up or down. In any case my view of the outside world was limited to a small, uninteresting spot on the ceiling. At some point I closed my eyes, content to spend some time inside my own head, free from interference.
These were the moments when all the work on the box paid off. My only regret was leaving off the lid in order to accommodate the breathing tubes to the mask. While my thoughts drifted I was struck by the similarity between my condition and the old “iron lung” polio breathing machines from the early 1950s. My paralysis was imposed by the stocks rather than a virus, but I had the same dependency on a machine to keep me alive.
I didn’t intend to fall asleep. All that tension unwinding out of me must have been the cause. I’m not sure what woke me up but it felt like I’d been in slumber land for several hours. When I opened my eyes the spot on the ceiling hadn’t changed. What was different were the sounds I heard. Someone, or something, was in the garage and moving around.
I grabbed the panic button but held off, in case it was my friend checking on me. The sounds were definitely footsteps, and my friend was the only one who knew I was in here. If I hit that button now I’d look like an idiot. I tried to speak, so whoever it was would be aware I was awake. I’m not sure it worked since I dare not try to yell. My normal voice didn’t carry very far.
It worked, but not as I’d hoped. I saw someone leaning over the side of the box, looking down on me. What I saw sent chills down my spine. This cannot be happening, I told myself. No one could be this unlucky.
It was not my friend. I would never forget that moment, seeing Psycho Sally’s face, framed in the blurry tunnel vision of the mask’s eye piece. It was my worst nightmare come true: trapped, vulnerable, helpless, in the clutches of what had to be a certifiable psychopath.
My first thought was to hit the panic button, but for some unexplained reason I held off. She hadn’t started on me yet. Maybe she was only sightseeing, and my friend was somewhere nearby. Sally worked alone; she wouldn’t sink her fangs into me if anyone else was around.
“You’re awake!” Sally had a disarming way of sounding both surprised and bemused no matter how trivial the occasion. Of course I was awake. She’d made enough noise to rouse anyone. To those who didn’t know better she cultivated the impression of a naïve young woman recently discovering the wide world outside her rural farmhouse. No one knew her actual origin. Myself, I suspected if she had any rustic upbringing it would have been on a prison farm.
“How unfortunate your friend was called in to work. It sounded serious, from what I heard. It may take all weekend to fix. I rushed right over here to help once I got the call. We didn’t want to spoil your fun so I agreed to be your babysitter until your friend can get away. Once again we’re reunited. Isn’t it wonderful? You’re in your box,” I saw her eyes sweep over me, fully exposed, “and I’m here to take care of you.”
She was off to a fast start. Sally had a favorite trick, where she’d stress certain words to steer the listener’s thoughts in a certain direction. It was insidious, because I knew what she was doing but it worked anyway. Take care of me? Sure, as in how she took care to shred my sanity beyond repair, or to take care when she disposed of my body afterwards.
“You’ve put so much effort into this elegant piece of furniture. What was it that drove you to the box?” She had such a nice soft, compelling voice. I couldn’t help but pay attention, even though I knew I’d regret it.
I debated whether or not to answer her. If I did she had a hook into me. But if I didn't, all she had to do was squeeze my intake hose to convince me it was better to cooperate. I didn’t want her to start pursuing that option.
“I like the peace and quiet.” It was a nice, safe, generic answer. I didn’t see how she could use that against me.
She shook her head. “I don’t think you’re being honest with Sally. I’m disappointed you don’t trust me. Now tell me the real reason you need to punish yourself? I can tell you are trying to work out some kind of guilt. Tell Sally and you’ll feel better.”
I did have a secret, one I’d never shared with anyone. It was amazing the way Sally could sense those deep, repressed skeletons in the closet. No one knew exactly what she did for a living. Maybe she was a psychoanalyst, or a real psychiatrist. Or even an interrogator for the CIA; that would certainly explain how she operated. She certainly had professional skills when it came to probing minds.
I chose silence as the best response. Anything I told her, she’d somehow pick up on hidden clues I couldn’t see. My mind was racing, trying to find some way out of my predicament. All I had was my ace in the hole, the panic button. I hoped I wouldn’t have to go that far.
Her face reappeared in my limited view. “You’re not cooperating. Sally doesn’t appreciate that kind of attitude. I’m here to help, because I care! You’re upsetting me. Do you know what happens when Sally is ignored?” Her face vanished. I had an uneasy feeling I was about to discover what happens.
I found out soon enough. When I tried to inhale, nothing happened, no air. The sides of the mask pulled in against my face. She’d done what I most feared, turned off the regulator and closed the intake valve. That was my breaking point; I had a phobia about suffocating. I grabbed the panic button and pressed it with all my waning strength.
The air came back; I could breathe again. Odd, there should be a loud alarm going off, but I couldn’t hear anything. The failsafe on the regulator must have kicked in, opening the breathing tubes. Sally couldn’t torture me anymore. I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t hear the alarm.
Sally reappeared, a gleam in her eye. That was strange too; she didn’t seem at all concerned. I saw her glance down toward my hand, still frantically pushing the button. “That really isn’t necessary,” she explained. She held up the other end of the panic button cord, in her hand. “I disconnected it as soon as I came in. Sally doesn’t like to be interrupted when having a private chat.”
That was the end of me. My last hope had only been an illusion. She had been in control all the time; matching her in a contest of wills always led to my defeat and utter humiliation. Three more times she cut off my air, trying to force me to reveal my secret. I could feel my resistance crumbling under her relentless barrage of questions, more like commands, and backed up by her power over me.
“Tell me, you must tell Sally, what was it?” She never let up. Finally I gave in, knowing I’d regret it later but I couldn’t hold back any longer.
I thought about inventing some story but quickly gave up on the idea. Sally wasn’t stupid; she’d see through me right away. And there was the box, with all those sensors, a convenient lie detector at her disposal. Did she know how to use them? Maybe not, but I couldn’t take that chance. I dare not risk her becoming angry. One irrational moment on her part and it would be all over for me.
“I was eight years old,” I began. Even now reliving that moment was painful. “I had come home from school to find my mother walking out the door, with suitcases. All she told me was that she was leaving and not coming back. I was to go inside and wait for my father to come home from work. I never saw her again.” It still brought tears to my eyes. To this day I don’t understand why she left.
“Now isn’t it a relief, to finally unburden yourself? You can count on Sally to keep your secret. Whatever you tell me is just between the two of us. No one else will ever know. It must have been so traumatic, being abandoned at such a young age.” Her expression of concern matched the tone of sincerity in her voice.
She was right. I did feel better now someone else shared my secret. There was a bond between us. She had a reputation, sure, but at this moment that didn’t matter. Underneath it all she was a good person. She really did care after all.
That opened the floodgates. Without any prompting I told her about how I would hide in the hallway linen closet, sitting in the dark behind a wall of towels. Somehow I thought it would bring my mother back to look for me. Of course it didn’t, but that closet eventually grew into my love of bondage and now confinement in an enclosed space, the box. Sally listened carefully to everything I said, sometimes asking questions, but always encouraging me to keep going.
By the end she had my life story, in sordid detail. Every success, every failure, I couldn’t stop. And through it all Sally was there, in full view. It was still on the blurry side but I could sense she was there to help me through it all, baring my soul to clear the pent up anxiety that had held me back for such a long time.
Finally I ran out of words. Sally actually laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder, something she had never done before. Everyone knew she never physically touched anyone. We had all assumed it was some phobia, though no one ever asked out of respect for her privacy. It was only for a moment, but to me it brought us closer together.
“You must be exhausted after all that. Why don’t you lie there quietly for a while? Sally will be here to keep you company. I’ll do the talking from now on.” I closed my eyes, feeling all the anxiety drain out of my body. It seemed like I was going to get my wish for some rest and relaxation after all.
Sally gave me a few minutes before she began. Those would be the last minutes of peace I would have for the rest of my stay in the box.
“You must have been a horrid child, to drive your own mother out of the house. What she must have gone through, trying to tolerate you, to love you, while you were doing your best to torment her?” I couldn’t see Sally, but I could hear the disdain in her voice.
Why was she talking like that? It wasn’t anything like what Sally was describing. I tried to protest, to explain it didn’t happen that way. “I told you to remain quiet!” Sally all but screamed at me. That was followed by her cutting off my air again.
I waited, and waited for her to turn it back on. When she didn’t I began to struggle, in some irrational hope of freeing a hand to rip off the mask. The box was too well made for that to happen. I was starting to feel dizzy when the air rushed in and I could breathe again.
“Do we understand each other? Do as Sally says or you will be punished!” The air went off again. Desperate, I made a frantic thumbs-up gesture to show I would obey her. I had no intention of uttering another word without her permission. She got my message; the air came back on.
“You can’t do anything right, can you? You call yourself submissive but disobey every chance you get. What is it you’re looking for?” Sally leaned over me again, but this time all I saw was scorn and disgust on her face. “Are you looking for a way to make amends for all the suffering you’ve brought to others?
“Your poor father, what he must have endured, forced to raise you on his own. I’m not surprised he never told you what happened to your mother. He was protecting her from you. There was no way she’d ever return to raise someone as loathsome as you. I bet he deliberately warned her to stay far away from all the anguish you caused.”
I wanted to deny it. Sally was twisting everything I told her. She was wrong, but I couldn’t stop her. On and on she went, using everything I’d revealed to her, but subtly changing it to turn me into a nasty, evil person determined to destroy the lives of everyone I knew.
The longer she went on, the more I began to doubt myself. What if I were wrong, what if Sally’s fresh perspective saw through my self-delusions? Could she be right, was I the reason I was abandoned? All this time I’d been living in an illusion, a misconception Sally had shattered with hard truth. The tears flowed freely now I understood the part I’d played.
Sally stopped, staring into my eyes underneath the mask. I still wore that mask, but the one I’d worn my whole life was stripped away, revealing my guilt to the world. “Do it,” I pleaded with Sally, “punish me for what I’ve done. I can’t live any longer, not with the knowledge of what a bad person I am.”
“Oh, no,” Sally replied, “a quick end is too good for the likes of you. You have to go on, waking up each day ready to suffer, to pay back all those who cared for you, and were repaid by your malicious treachery. From this day on it will be your penance, to punish yourself in the hope one day you can learn to live with your guilt.”
The air stopped, and didn’t come back on. Frightened, I struggled, looking for any way to save myself. I didn’t really want her to end it all for me. I began to feel dizzy, light-headed. Soon after that I passed out.
“Rise and shine, your day of rest has come to an end.” My friend’s loud, cheerful voice roused me from a fitful sleep. My box time must be over. Then it all came back to me, my time with Sally and what I thought was my demise. But here I was, still alive.
“Out, Get Out.” That was all I could manage. I started crying again, reliving the ordeal in my head.
“I’ll have you out in just a minute.” I felt the first board lifting away from my ankles. The rest of the stocks followed quickly. After the last one, around my neck, my friend released the strap across my forehead and disconnected the breathing tubes from the mask. I was free from my wooden prison.
When I tried to sit up I got an attack of the shakes. I had to lie back down, until my friend helped me sit up. “Steady there. This box sure takes its toll on you. I don’t understand why you keep coming back for more.”
All I could do was hold on to the sides of the box tightly, to try to stop the shaking. A small part of my brain recognized it, a delayed reaction brought on by what was the worst night of my entire life.
“Let’s get that mask off. Looks like everything worked as planned. It still seems scary to me, trusting in a machine like that to keep you alive. Did it work as planned, keeping you calm?” My friend peeled the rubber hood off my head.
For the first time I could take a deep breath, free from the tyranny of that torture machine. “The button,” I said, “the button, it was unplugged. I pushed it, nothing happened.”
My friend reached in, picked up the panic button and stabbed down on the top. The alarm went off, and I could hear my friend’s cell phone buzzing. It stopped after my friend reached under the box for the reset switch. “Seems to be working now.”
“Sally, Sally was here.” My friend was all too aware I wanted no contact with her.
“Sure, she brought over a pizza and we watched a couple of movies on streaming. She was with me the whole time. I remembered you didn’t care to talk to her, though I can’t understand why.”
“She, she was in here.” My voice was barely audible.
“In the garage? No way. I did fall asleep for a few minutes, but when I woke up the movie was still on and Sally was sitting on the couch. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes. She left after the movies.”
It had been more than five minutes. All Sally had to do was stop the movie, have her chat with me, then go back to restart the movie while waking up my friend. She’d gotten away with it.
And me, I’d have to live with the doubts she implanted in my mind. Sally had done her worst. I bet even now she’s dancing around her room, celebrating the scars she’d inflicted on one more victim.
I woke up the next day unable to get her words out of my mind: I must be in pain, I must suffer, all going round and round. I couldn't bear it so I did the unthinkable, but I couldn't help myself. She was right, after all she’d done to me, she was right. I picked up the phone and begged for Sally to come over.