Morris awoke in complete darkness, barely able to move, his arms and legs pinned against silky material. His forehead touched the material when he lifted his head, only a couple inches between. Pressure from a cylinder lodged between his arm and side gave him discomfort. He breathed easy, maybe better than usual, so there seemed to be air. He pushed up with a shoulder and bent his knees to do the same, but other than a little give of cushion, he couldn’t move anything. He might as well be buried in a coffin.
It was a coffin, he realized. What else would it be? His heart sped up, and his breaths became quick and short, but he calmed. “I’m breathing fine. It can’t be so bad if I’m breathing.” His voice was comforting and disconcerting at the same time.
He resolved to think his way through it. Take inventory of what he had at his disposal and consider the options. He couldn’t bend his elbows outward far enough to get his hands in his pockets or even feel them properly, so he undid his pants, and pulled them down little by little until he could work his hand into them. A dime. That’s all he had.
He explored as much as he could, then wanted to move himself in a better position. Foremost he hoped to move the cylinder that dug into his side and maybe get his arm up where he could get more leverage. He’d explore the entire managable range of motion.
While he squirmed and moved and explored, he tried to understand how he might have gotten here. What was the last thing he remembered?
He was at a party drinking cheap wine, Carnivore Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, talking to his on-again, off-again buddy, Thomas. Morris was telling him about a little one-to-one soiree he’d arranged with Cindy Myers.
“No, you don’t,” said Thomas. “I’ve been seeing her for weeks now.”
“What? No.” Morris dug in for it. “You know how long I’ve had a crush on her.”
While they argued, Thomas’s sister, Lisa, brought more wine, trading Morris’s empty for a full one, then filling Thomas’s and the empty one from the bottle.
They didn’t resolve anything. Thomas even told him to be careful who he angers, but Lisa set her wine down and pulled their heads together at the napes saying, “If I can get over it, you two can get over it.” That seemed to settle them both, and their discourse was friendlier after that.
A buzz by his right cheek startled Morris into paroxysms, thinking some large insect was inside the coffin with him, a bright flash accompanying it. He nearly wet himself, and the musty smell of flatulence filled his space. It took him a moment to realize it was his cell phone. He turned his head, but couldn’t see who the call was from. He couldn’t grab it, so it stopped after the third vibration. A minute later he heard the chime indicating voicemail.
It took some time and strained his breathing, but he worked his left arm up and over to the cell phone. The cylinder crowded the right arm, preventing much movement at all. He two fingered the phone and pulled it to his chest. The display showed no signal. “How did I just get a call?”
Fortunately, his voicemail downloaded to the phone, so he navigated to it and pushed ‘play.’
A hoarse whisper came over the line, sending chills through his back and groin.
“You’re getting what you deserve, Morris. No one is going to find you ‘cause you’re six feet under the ground. You’re still alive because the tank under your arm has been feeding you oxygen since I buried you. It won’t last much longer.” Morris’s scalp prickled. “You’ll have just enough time to consider what you’ve done before you die.” Morris started to panic again. “You won’t have a signal, I made sure of that. I’m using a cellular extender, but I’ll be shutting it down as soon as I hang up. Good-bye, Morris.”
What had he done? Whose whisper was it? It was familiar, but he couldn’t tell. He looked at the phone again, and sure enough, no bars. He tried to dial 911 anyway, but nothing connected. He laid the phone on his chest.
There was nothing else that he could find in the coffin. The sharpest thing he could cut or dig with was the dime. No way he’d accomplish anything in time, if it worked at all. He thought about the oxygen tank. Could he rig it some way to explode while protecting himself from it? How would he get a spark, anyway? Who left the message?
Early in the party, Morris had finally gotten the courage up to ask Cindy Myer’s out. She spectated a friendly poker game he was in, and when he won a big pot, he drew a heart using a black Sharpie on the heads side of a dime and handed it to her.
He chatted with her after the game, cajoling her to go out with him.
“I can’t,” she said. “Lisa’s my friend.”
“Lisa’s a big girl. She took it fine when I broke it off.”
Ultimately, she agreed to the date later that night.
Morris ripped at the material in front of his chest. He knew it was an act of desperation, and he savagely fought down panic. He tried to come up with something else that might save him, but he could only think of stripping off the material, then trying to carve through the lid with the dime. His breathing was becoming labored. He feared that the oxygen ran low.
Before Morris had gone to the party, he’d stopped by Lisa’s house to break up. They’d known each other for a long time, and he respected her enough to tell the truth.
“You know I’ve been smitten with Cindy for some time,” he said.
“I do know,” she said. “I’ve been trying to save you both from that possibility.”
“Well. For a short while I didn’t think of her at all.” He tried to give her a good-bye kiss, but she pulled away. Walking out the door, he wondered if he’d damaged their friendship. He never should have gone out with her in the first place.
With the material cut away, Morris dug for the dime and scratched at the lid’s surface with it. As his breath grew shorter his scratching grew more frantic. His phone chimed and lit up the coffin. The message indicated the battery was low. As he returned to vigorous carving he stopped because there was something odd about the dime. In the light there was a heart drawn over Roosevelt’s head in black.