Chapter 5: The Next Box
Next thing I know, this obscure man and I are walking down an old narrow winding staircase made of black metal. Old pictures hang on the walls on either side. It looks like I am inside some old lighthouse. I hear his strange clopping footsteps behind me, “So, where are we going?”
Clomp . . . clomp . . . clomp
“This sure is a long staircase,” I speak again.
Still no reply back.
Clomp . . . clomp . . . clomp . . . clomp
It seems like the minutes are increasing between each of his footsteps. I turn around to look but he is just far enough behind me that I can’t see his creepy face around the corner of the spiral stairs. My leeriness grows with every step, but I focus intently on my son.
I imagine my son’s face when he sees me here. Together, we will figure our way out.
Behind me, it continues, increasingly paced out.
Clomp . . ……….…. clomp ……….. ….. . clomp
His footsteps rattle the picture frames on the wall, and one falls on the stairs shattering into pieces.
I pick the picture out from amongst the broken glass. It’s an old picture of my father and I sitting along a tree branch underneath an overcast sky. I remember . . .
I was at least sixteen years old at the time. My father and I would go duck hunting in Currituck, NC every year. It was our father–son annual bonding trip. He had taught me how to use a shotgun at the age of eleven.
“Get inside this blind, Ben,” he said.
I crawled up into the old wooden duck blind. My skinny legs were aching, tired from walking around the lake all day with our heavy shotguns slung across our backs.
My father spat on the ground and pulled the trigger after aiming. A female duck falls to the ground. The leaves rustled around it.
I picked up my gun and peeked through the leafy branches. At least a dozen mallards were circling the treetops about 30 yards away. I spat on the ground just like him and then positioned my gun supported by my right shoulder. My right eye looked down the barrel of the gun. I pulled the trigger and missed.
“Don’t aim for the flock. Pick a single bird,” he said sternly.
I reloaded and aimed. I missed again. The ducks were circling further away.
“Watch with your eyes, not your head. Don’t be a dummy,” he instructed.
“Ok, dad,” I said.
I could see the disappointment in his eyes. He did not like to lose. Competitive by nature, he always won. Truth is, I felt bad for the birds every time I killed one. I hated going to pick up our kill and having to re-shoot the ones that were still alive in the head. My dad always told me good hunters have no remorse. “Focus on the sport,” he would say.
I picked up my gun again and aimed at the foggy sky. The flock was then almost 40 yards to my left, flying in an arc. Boom, a duck fell to the ground.
We got out of the blind and started walking towards the ducks. I carried my gun just like dad and tried to walk as he did through the muddy ground. He liked to bag the ducks, take them home, and dress them. I really didn’t like hunting, but I did it because it made him feel proud and successful, and for him, victory was always number one. Winning made him proud.
I drop the broken picture frame on the steps. “Are you still there?” I yell behind me.
Clomp . . .
I hear one last clomp of his foot. At the same time, I reach a door at the bottom of the winding staircase.
I open the door and call my son’s name.
Fervently, I run into what it appears to be an old dirty basement, yelling my son’s name. “Leo!” my voice echoed loudly from the walls. “Leo!—Leo!” The door slams shut behind me. I turn around. The man isn’t there. The walls start to crumble inward and, slowly, the door vanishes into thin air.
“Come back . . . COME BACK! We had a deal!” my screams seem like they are lost in miles of empty forest.
He is gone.
I keep screaming my son’s name so loud I even hear the walls echoing my futile despair.
I walk around the basement looking for a door, an exit, an escape, a crack, an outlet of any kind. There are no doors. No windows. There isn’t a single piece of furniture, nor any objective material item in this basement. I’m just standing in a meaningless, worthless, uninhabited room of solitude. I am in a cold, desolate basement alone.
My son is not here.
There was never a deal. It was all a lie.
I remember the paper I had disregarded and jammed in my back pocket. I uncrumple the ball of paper and smoothen it out on the dirty floor. I find the pen, and I start writing a letter like a prisoner locked in his own cell.