The Wooden Box

📅 Published on July 15, 2022

“The Wooden Box”

Written by P.D. Williams
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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“Peter?  Oh, Peter?  It’s time to wake up, sleepyhead.”  The quiet voice drifted through the blackness of the small enclosure, like a fall leaf looking for a place to land.

Peter lay sprawled across a concrete floor.  His eyelids fluttered as the sing-songy voice pulled him back to consciousness.  With great effort, he pushed up until he was leaning on one elbow.  He was surrounded by nothingness.  The pain in his head was sharp and intense, like someone was trying to break out of his skull with a jackhammer.

“What…what’s going on?” he asked, his speech slurred.  He was woozy and confused, as if he’d been drugged.  He vaguely remembered walking to his car after work.  Something covered his face (a rag?).  It had a strong, medicinal smell, and then…what?

Gentle, upbeat music began to fill the lightless room.  It had a bouncy rhythm, a child-like quality.  A brief intro was followed by a chorus of small children singing gleefully.

Good mornin’!  Good morning!  Let’s all get up and sing!  Shake those webs out of your head, and dance, and play, and sing!

Oh, good mornin’!  Good mornin’!  It’s time to move along with a doo-dilly-dee and a doo-dilly-doo, it’s our good mornin’ song.

The tune ended with an abrupt thump.  Peter continued to lean against the floor.  What was that?  Are there children here?

“Well, look who’s finally up.  Welcome, Peter.”  The voice was not insistent or urgent; it nudged rather than pushed.  “Please, take a few moments to acclimate yourself.”

Peter heaved himself up to a crooked sitting position.  He had no sense of time or location—the lack of light clouded his perception.  His head swayed as he attempted to make out his surroundings, but his eyes proved useless.  As he continued to pull in deep breaths of air, he gradually became more lucid. When his situation became clear to him, Peter hyperventilated.  His intense fear of the dark seized control of his mind and body.

He was cloaked in impenetrable darkness.  His terrified mind drew vivid pictures of phantom tendrils reaching out for him.  They pulled him down into a pit with a withered ghoul whose hands could reach out at any time and drag its cracked fingernails down his naked arm.  His neck muscles stiffened and tingled as he thought of the thing’s hot, putrid breath caressing his neck, lingering there like a sticky web.  His instinctive need to escape overwhelmed him to the point of incoherence.  He hoped it was all a nightmare, something that would evaporate once the lights came on.  But he knew this was real—it was happening.

He could feel the unforgiving floor beneath his quivering body.  He managed to stand upright, nearly slipping.  White dots danced before his eyes, and sickness churned in his belly. Despite his alarm, he did not shout for help.  That’s the thing about the dark.  I could be anywhere.  Am I alone?  Is there someone in here with me?

He thought of addressing the unsettling voice, but he also wondered what he might draw forth from the inky expanse.  He felt caught between needing to know what was happening and fearing the answer.

As if divining Peter’s concerns, the floating voice again penetrated the void.  “Hello again, Peter.  Now that you’ve had ample time to adjust, tell me: Are you scared?  Do you find yourself alone in the shadows, or are others standing near you?  I can hear your frantic breathing.  I can feel your heartbeat through the walls.  Would you care to know where you are, or are you afraid to be told that you’ve died and fallen into the deepest hole in hell?  Maybe you’re wondering if this is a place from which you can escape or, hopefully, be rescued.  Talk to me, Peter.  Your questions pose no danger to you.”

“Where am I?”

“Not as far away as your imagination and distress might be telling you.  In fact, you’re within ten miles of your office.  And you might be relieved to learn that you’re not in some large, abandoned warehouse. The room you’re in only measures fourteen by ten, probably the size of your bedroom.  This is a place that you likely drive by every day on your way to work and never take notice of it.  Probably, no one else does, either.”

“Why am I here?  Why have I been kidnapped?”

“Why not you, Peter?  Is your life any more or less important than someone else’s?”

“But I haven’t done anything.  What are you going to do to me?”

“I’m going to offer you an opportunity to free yourself.”

“How?  How am I going to free myself?”

“With something small yet important: something necessary for your survival.”

“Such as?”

“A key.  Well, not so much a key as the key.”

“Key to what?”

“Isn’t it obvious?  The key to the door.  You do want to get out, don’t you?  And no, I won’t track you down or harm you in any way.  Your escape comes with no consequences.  All you have to do is move around the room and find that key.  It shouldn’t be too difficult; the room is empty.  Now, keep in mind it could be anywhere.  It might be hanging on a wall, dangling from the ceiling, or lying on the floor. Who knows?  Once you find it, all you have to do is feel your way to the door, unlock it, and step out into the glorious sunlight.”

Peter restrained his optimism.  There had to be a catch—there was always a catch.

“You’re leaving something out, aren’t you?  There’s something you want.  Tell me what’s in this for you.”

“You got me, Peter.  It doesn’t mean much if it’s not challenging.  It’s okay, though.  You’re going to do fine.”

“Just tell me what I have to do.”

“With you is a small wooden box.  Feel around the floor and let me know when you find it.” “And if I refuse?”

“Then my efforts to lead you toward a solution to your dire circumstances will be moot.” The threat was clear, so he stooped and began groping around.  His fingertips pushed against something hard.  Peter felt the rectangular object, determined that it was the hidden box, and picked it up.  “Okay, I found it,” he said.

“That’s very good, Peter.  You’re one step closer to home.  Now then, you’ll feel a lid on top of the box.  Lay the box back down on the floor and remove it.  Then stand up quickly and take a few steps back.”

Peter complied.  He heard a faint scraping noise and something light hitting the floor.  Two more of the puzzling sounds followed.  Then he detected some faint scuttling.  Soon after, something crawled over his shoe.  He gasped, lifted his foot, and propelled whatever it was across the room.

“What was in that box?”

“Peter, listen to me carefully.  In the room with you are three sizeable and highly venomous black fat-tailed scorpions.  In the Middle East and parts of Africa, they are known as ‘man killer.’ Peter, you have to be careful here.  They’re nocturnal, so they thrive in the dark.  They’re capable of climbing rough walls, such as the brick ones in your room.  They can crawl across a ceiling and drop down on you.  Like all good hunters, they hide and wait patiently for their prey to wander along.  As you search for the key, you’ll want to tread lightly—they can sense vibrations.  Their venom is fast-acting.  Without prompt medical care, you won’t survive.  The immediate symptoms of being stung are swift, painful, and horrific.  Do you understand what I’ve just told you?”

Peter stood petrified and mute.

“Peter, do you understand?”

“Yes,” he croaked.

“Marvelous!  It’s now officially you against the scorpions.  I hope you crush it—I mean that literally and figuratively.  I’ll be watching all the action via an infrared camera.”

“How do I know you won’t kill me, anyway?”

“I said I wouldn’t, but I’ve never had to think about it before.  No one has escaped yet.  For now, you’re the next contestant.  Good luck, Peter.”

“Wait!  Just let me out of here.  I haven’t seen you.  I can pull together some money.  Okay, not a lot, but enough to make it worth your while.”


“Hey, c’mon!  Don’t just leave me here!  Please!  Pleeease!” Silence.  Peter exhaled.  His teeth chattered, and his body trembled.  Lightless room, poisonous scorpions, and a blind search for a small key—what could go wrong? His first idea was to try his cell phone, but his pocket’s lightness indicated it was missing.  Then he considered the door.  He wondered if it could somehow be forced open.  Peter suspected that pounding on it and yelling for help wasn’t going to do him any good—Lord only knew where he was.  “Okay, you can do this, you can do this, you can do this.” He stuck his arms out into the windowless room and took a step forward.  Despite trying to remain poised, he felt fear, like a frigid river, rushing through his veins.  His unhelpful mind began conjuring images of dog-sized monstrosities swirling about the room, ready to snare him with oversized pincers and squeeze him until he was sliced in two.  He shuddered as he imagined the excruciating gouge of a gigantic, barbed stinger that would pump gallon after gallon of searing poison into his cracking frame.

Knock it off!  We don’t have time for this now.  Just focus on that stupid key so we can get out of here.

Once Peter got himself marginally in check, he began moving again.  He walked until he came to a wall and then felt his way along until he reached a steel door.  It was heavy and dense, like

the type used for extra security.  Tracing the frame, he discovered the knob and twisted it.  Because it moved freely, Peter reasoned that it wasn’t the knob securing the door but some other kind of locking mechanism.  He examined further and came across the bulge of a double deadbolt lock.  Now, he knew what he was dealing with—the key it would have to be.

He couldn’t see the room and its contents, so that was an obvious disadvantage.  But he remembered hearing that the brain could compensate for a lost sense by enhancing the other faculties.  He hoped that his perceptions might be heightened enough to guide him past the scorpions and to the key.

His idea was to start with the floor, then gradually work his way upward.  He followed the wall until he felt a corner.  Then he got down on his hands and knees and started crawling, sliding his palms across the surface of the floor.  Despite his resolve, his desire to find the key began to be hampered by his knowledge that somewhere around him lurked three large and deadly scorpions.  Scorpions.  What did I ever do to deserve this?

He wandered around for several minutes, then halted when his hand collided with something small and firm.  He shot to his feet.  “Oh, crap!” He immediately began stomping around the floor.  He heard the unmistakable crunch followed by the sound of fast tapping swiftly moving away from him.

His body shook as the adrenaline ran its course.  Once his nerves settled down, Peter lowered himself again and resumed his search.  He glided his hands over the smooth surface of the floor, keeping in mind that the other scorpions could be scattered across it.  He moved forward in a straight line.  When he came to the wall, he made a U-turn.  Crawling, unseeing and defenseless, he kept anticipating a sharp sting.  His stomach hurt.  Once he convinced himself that he had successfully surveyed the entire room, Peter enjoyed a palpable sense of relief.

He was about to switch his blind search to the walls when he remembered what the voice had warned: they’re capable of climbing.  “Okay,” he mumbled, “easy does it.”

He prepared himself for the fact that the walls were going to take longer because, although he could sweep his hands widely over the floor, he would need to traverse the walls in tighter quadrants.

Peter started at the lowest point and, with tremoring hands, progressed upward, then over and down again.  As he moved down, his palm scraped over something with stiff hairs, and he leaped back.  He heard the scorpion skittering across the bumpy bricks to his left.  Peter knew that he needed to pin down the scorpion’s exact location and remove it before he could safely proceed with the wall search.

He took off his thin outer shirt, rolled it thickly around his right hand, formed a fist, then turned it so that it resembled a crude, fleshy hammer.  He systematically began pounding his fist, one blow at a time, against the bricks, listening for movement.  After a few hits, he felt a light tugging on the cloth.  Next, there came a soft jabbing sensation against the outside of the covering.  He continued smashing his padded hand against the wall, hoping the scorpion wouldn’t climb over the protective barrier and stab him.

Peter’s heart was thumping like a 1980s techno beat.  He could imagine the creature’s fiery needle.  He was more disgusted than satisfied when he finally heard the loud crack of its exoskeleton and felt warm fluid squirt onto his exposed wrist.  “Ugh,” he moaned as he wiped away the crushed remains of the scorpion before tossing the shirt aside.  Okay, that’s two.

Peter finished going over the last remaining wall space.  He found no trace of the key or its dangerous guardian, so he turned his attention to the ceiling, from where he hoped to find the key suspended from a string.

Despite having dispatched two-thirds of the obstacles between him and possible release, Peter was still unnerved.  He felt like an inmate sentenced to execution—time and manner of death unknown.  But his terror of the dark was considerably greater than his fear of the deadly hunter maneuvering around him, waiting to pounce.  His muscles locked, and his staccato breathing was like the desperate pant of a trapped animal.  His mind vacillated between breaking out of the black, awful cage and the suffocating horror clinging to him like a blood-soaked shroud.  Oh, God!  Is the dark getting thicker?  I can’t breathe!

Peter’s chest hitched as he pulled in short gasps of dank air.  He used the breathing technique that his psychiatrist had taught him some years back.  Breathe in, and hold it for three…two…one…exhale slowly.  He repeated the mantra until it had the desired effect.  Once he regained a measure of composure, he turned his thoughts back to the key.

He began working through logical scenariosHe didn’t yet know where the key was, but he now knew where it wasn’t.  He also knew that the third scorpion hadn’t been on the floor or walls—at least not the wall he’d just beaten to a pulp—so it could be somewhere above him, along with the key.  He held out hope that he’d startled it enough to send it fleeing back down to the floor or a wall, rather than remaining on the ceiling waiting for its quarry to wander by.  “So, where are you, you little monster?”

As he began advancing, he lifted his arms over his head and made a forward paddling motion with his hands, hoping to graze the hanging key.  After a while, he detected some quiet clacking.

But the harsh acoustics of the empty room made the sound little more than a soft echo, making it difficult for Peter to establish the scorpion’s whereabouts.  He shivered at the thought of the hellish creature scurrying up his leg at any second.  He paused and lowered his arms.  He felt the need to think things through before proceeding.  I can stay still and pray like crazy that help arrives, or I can go for the surer thing and keep looking for the key, assuming there even is one.

Peter wondered if anybody had noticed yet that he was missing.  He had no idea how long his abductor had imprisoned him.  So why, when, or where would the search for him begin and end?  His only tangible hope was to find the key.

Peter raised his hands high again and resumed searching the room step by agonizing step.  To maintain as straight a line as possible, he walked heel to toe until he reached the room’s end.  He continued to listen for the final attacker.  Please, God.  I can’t take this much longer.

On the one hand, he was discouraged by not yet having found the key.  On the other, he was reassured by the fact that the waiting scorpion hadn’t speared him.  He was also becoming impatient. He wanted out now.  He picked up the pace and swung his hands out further in front of him.  After a couple more wide passes, he bumped into a wall, and kicked it in frustration.

Peter sensed no air movement, just the raw feeling of something dropping down onto his head.  He shrieked as he felt the scorpion scratching its way across his scalp.  In a frenzy, he raked his fingers through his hair, working to dislodge it before it had a chance to strike.  When his right-hand fingers swept underneath the enraged arachnid, it gave his index finger a painful squeeze.  Peter yelped and snapped his hand backward, sending the scorpion tumbling down the back of his undershirt.  Its tiny leg bristles scraped against his goosebump-dotted skin as it slid slowly down his bare back.

At first, its sting felt like little more than a slight needle prick.  But as the site of the jab began to burn with increasing intensity, Peter knew the worst had happened.  His heart thumped furiously inside his chest as a primal instinct overtook him, throwing him into a mad fit of desperation.  Hoping to kill the scorpion, he ran backward until he collided with one of the walls.  He screamed as agonizing pain shot through his swelling back like a white-hot electrical current.

Peter groaned in anguish when he felt the sinister thing’s spider-like body squirming around at the bottom of his shirt.  His effort had failed.  He grimaced and arched his back as the unharmed scorpion clawed its way upward toward the shirt’s entry point, digging its dagger feet in along the way and slamming its stinger against his tender flesh repeatedly, like endless injections of boiling acid.

Feeling his strength waning, Peter hurled himself backward one last time.  His nearly limp body crashed heavily against the rigid wall, causing the foul creature’s soupy guts to explode through its shattered armor and onto his tortured skin.

Then, his legs gave way and he dropped to the floor in a paralyzed heap.  He was sweating profusely, spit oozing from his mouth like clear syrup.  “Help,” he whimpered.  “Please, help me.”

He heard the turning of the deadbolt.  The door opened, and a vague outline of a person filled the bright opening.  Peter’s eyelids began to droop; his vision blurred, making it impossible to make out the figure that had entered the room and was now stooping beside him.

“Oh, Peter; oh my goodness.”  The voice was serene and soothing.  “I know you might find this hard to believe, but I truly did want you to figure this out.  I’m getting bored with the same old outcome.  Why do people have to make everything so complicated?  The answer’s always the simplest.  That’s sad, don’t you think, Peter?  Isn’t that sad?”

Peter was finding it harder to breath.  The waves of nausea were getting stronger.  Tears flowed from his eyes in a salty torrent.  He didn’t want to end up like this: a crumpled corpse on a filthy floor, whose body would never be found by anyone.  This is going to kill Mom and Dad.

“Honestly, Peter, I would’ve allowed you to walk away.  As you observed earlier, you never saw me, and I can always relocate.  But here you are.  The paralysis has already overtaken you: first your limbs, then your lungs, and then other vital organs.  But the good news is the overall pain will lessen to a dull throb.  Your heartbeat will slow down, and breathing will become much more difficult.  You’ve got maybe a couple of hours or so, and then your soul, at least, will be free.  If there’s anything you want to say, you’ll need to say it now while you can still talk.”

“Where,” Peter grunted.  “Where’s…key?  I have to know.  Please.  Was it…ceiling?”

“Well, after everything you’ve been through, the least I can do is show you the answer.  It’s both logical and straightforward.  Whenever something goes missing, most people tend to look all over their house for it—they turn the whole place inside out.  And like them, all of you waste so much time trying to be resourceful that it never occurs to you to begin by searching the one place people eventually find most lost items.” The man reached into Peter’s front pants pocket and removed a key.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by P.D. Williams
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: P.D. Williams

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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