The Quiet Box is a short Christmas horror story I wrote last year for Kendall Review’s (kendallreviews.com). Due to a quieting in all writing activity lately, I never got a chance to write a cosmic yuletide terror tale for 2020. This will have to do for now. Enjoy…
“What is it?”
The last of the wrapping paper stripped away, Timmy flipped the empty box in his hands. Dyed black and dotted with what looked like stars, it seemed to be an ordinary cardboard shoebox.
“It’s a quiet box.” Grandpa’s voice cracked. The left side of his face drooped from palsy and he slightly shook all the time. Timmy only saw his Grandpa at Christmases. The change in his health from the previous year was noticeable.
Timmy shrugged. “What’s a quiet box?”
“Grab that egg timer.”
Timmy retrieved the timer from under the tree, one of the cooking gifts given to his Mom from the new boyfriend, Carl. Without need for further instruction, Timmy set the timer for one minute and placed it in the star-speckled box. He closed the lid.
Tracking the time on his phone, he waited. There was no sound. Timmy was surprised, the cardboard top of the box fit loosely, some sound should have escaped. But the room was noisy, filled with conversations of adults, crinkling of wrapping paper, and the excited chatter of his cousins.
Timmy ran to his room retrieving his alarm clock. Carl hated it, the buzzer obnoxiously loud. He set the alarm to go off in two minutes and put in in the box.
After five minutes, Timmy opened the box. The clock’s shrill alarm buzzed loudly. Everyone in the room stopped talking; aunts, uncles, cousins, and Carl angrily glaring at him.
Timmy turned it off.
He put the lid back on the box and slid it under the tree. There were other toys with which he could play. He nodded at his Grandpa, giving his best effort to appear grateful.
His Grandpa smiled. Timmy couldn’t tell if he winked at him or if it was just a tic.
After his Mom and Carl had gone to bed, Timmy snuck out of his room tiptoeing past their bedroom door into the living room. In the dark, he approached the Christmas tree and turned on its lights. He liked how the blinking colors lit the dark room.
Timmy found the quiet box under the tree. It struck him that it could be the last gift he would receive from Grandpa. He studied the box, curious to how it worked. The edges were frayed and the corners were slightly ripped. It definitely wasn’t airtight.
Opening the lid, he inspected the inside. Similar to the exterior, the threadbare cardboard was dyed black dotted with yellow stars in random constellations.
Timmy spied Carl’s phone on the coffee table. He grinned. Taking the phone, he placed it inside the box and closed the lid. Retrieving his own phone from a pajama pocket, he dialed Carl’s number.
Listening intently, in the still of the house, he couldn’t hear the ringtone. Timmy giggled imagining Carl frantically searching for his phone by having his mom call the number to listen for the ringer.
Timmy turned off the tree lights. He would resume figuring out how the box worked tomorrow. Maybe his Grandpa knew. Timmy made a mental note to call and ask him. He would need to do it soon. Timmy bit his lip thinking about the time his Grandpa had left. He wondered how it felt to know that time was so short.
Treading lightly, he made it back to his room ready for bed. It had been a long day. He took out his phone placing it on nightstand.
Timmy was surprised to find the phone lit, the call duration timer displayed. The call he made to Carl’s phone hadn’t rung through. Someone had picked up.
Bringing the phone to his ear, Timmy listened. The connection was strong, but he couldn’t hear anything. In fact, he heard nothing. He increased the volume, but there was only silence on the other end. It was strange, a deeper kind of quiet than he had ever heard. There was no ambient noise, no static, no background reverberation.
It was an absence of sound.
Timmy kept the phone hard to his ear as he put on his slippers. It was tricky doing it one-handed, but he couldn’t bear to miss the perfect silence fed to him from the other end.
He left the house out the backdoor, not bothering it to close it despite the December cold. Walking through the backyard, he entered the woods. The trees had long since lost their leaves, the starlight from the cloudless sky was bright enough for him to find his way.
Timmy found the gap in the chain link fence that divided the woods from the interstate highway. Keeping the phone to his ear, he snuck through. One of his slippers came off, snagged on a jagged fence barb. He left it behind.
Scrambling down the embankment, he stood on the highway shoulder. From around the corner, bright headlights suddenly blazed. A truck barreled toward him. Timmy could feel the rush of displaced air as it passed and the heat of its engine. The truck didn’t slow. It didn’t see him, the brush at the point where the highway bent hiding him from view of oncoming vehicles.
Keeping the phone to his ear, the sublime silence continuing to gush, Timmy took a step into the road. Serenaded by the sounds of nothingness, he thought again of his Grandpa. It would be his last Christmas and he hadn’t gotten him a gift.
Sometime soon Grandpa would hear the quiet. It would be all there was at the end. Timmy only wished he wouldn’t be alone when that day came. He now knew what gift he wished to give. If he only could.
Timmy took another step onto the road.
He looked up. The sky fit loosely above, the horizon dissolving into corrugated black edges. The stars looked tired, drops of paint mistakenly spattered on a faded canvas. He looked in between the stars, into the vast open spaces, searching for the quiet.
And he listened to that still, dark emptiness. Listened to it until the lights came and took him.