The Quiet Box
By S.E. Casey
“What is it?”
The last of the wrapping paper stripped away, Timmy flipped the empty shoe-sized box in his hands. Dyed black and dotted with what looked like stars, it seemed to be an ordinary cardboard box.
“It’s a quiet box.”
Grandpa’s voice cracked. The left side of his face drooped from palsy and he shook uncontrollably. Timmy only saw his Grandpa at Christmas. The change in his health from the previous year was surprising.
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 her new boyfriend, Carl. Without need for instruction, Timmy set the timer for one minute and placed it in the box. He closed the lid.
Tracking the time on his phone, he waited. There was no sound. Timmy was surprised, the cardboard top 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. Timmy set the alarm to go off in two minutes and put in in the box.
After five minutes, Timmy opened the box. Taking the clock out, its shrill alarm buzzed loudly. Everyone in the room stopped talking. His aunts, uncles, cousins, and Carl angrily glared 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 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 room.
Timmy found the quiet box under the tree. He wondered if it would 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. Same as the outside, the threadbare cardboard was dyed black and dotted with yellow stars in random constellations.
Timmy looked around spying 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 his pajama pockets, he dialed Carl’s number.
Listening intently, in the quiet still of the house, he couldn’t hear any ringing. 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 ask him. He would need to do it soon. Timmy bit his lip thinking about the short 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 and placed it on nightstand.
The phone was lit, the call duration timer displayed. The call he made to Carl’s phone hadn’t rung through. Someone had picked up.
Bringing his phone to his ear, Timmy listened. The connection was strong, but he couldn’t hear anything. He increased the volume, but there was only silence on the other end. It was a strange silence, however, a deeper kind of quiet than he had ever heard. There was no ambient noise, no static, no signal reverberation.
It was the sound of absence.
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 any of the perfect silence being 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 bright enough 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 barreling toward him. Timmy could feel the rush of displaced air as it passed. The truck didn’t slow. It didn’t see him, the thick brush at the point where the highway turned hiding him from view of any oncoming vehicles.
Keeping the phone to his ear, the sublime silence continuing to pour forth, Timmy took a step toward the road. Despite the temperature and only having one slipper, he didn’t feel the cold. Serenaded by the sounds of nothingness, he thought again of his Grandpa. It would be his last Christmas. Timmy felt ashamed that he hadn’t gotten him a gift.
Timmy stepped into the middle of the road.
Sometime soon Grandpa would hear the quiet. It would be all there was. Timmy only wished he wouldn’t be alone when that day came.
He looked up. The sky fit loosely above him, the horizon dissolving into corrugated black edges. The stars looked tired, drops of paint on a faded canvas. He shut his eyes welcoming the dead quiet.
Abandoned scarecrow posts, bikram yoga portals, contorted silhouettes, twilight carnivals.
After celebrating his twenty years working as an accountant in an investment firm, S.E. Casey began writing. As an attempt to reconcile the desperation and stave off a growing resentment of everything, he found stories lodged in-between the numbers, reconcilements, and variances. On a whim, he wrote, edited, revised, and rewrote these liminal tales. During the dead-time in meetings, reports load-times, and the wasted hours of a Boston commute, an increasingly weird collection has been built from the anxieties of corporate life.
A writer of the weird, grotesque, and darkly wonderful, S.E. Casey’s philosophical horror focuses on a collection of oddities, forgotten places, and fallen characters. The horror isn’t the blood on the knife, but in the absence of the void. It is in vacant corners and empty rooms. It is in the pathologies of the phenomenally ungrateful. These neglected alleyways and sewer drains find their way to the same existential dead-end of Hell is other people. Twisted and strange tales explore aesthetics, absurdism, transcendentalism, and misanthropy wrapped up in horror narratives.
He has self-published several weird short stories: HARLEQUIN MIDNIGHT, SWINE CITY, NICHOLAS’ LIGHT, and THE CENTURY COVEN. He has also had stories and poems appear in such publications as Hinnom Magazine, Vastarien, Devolution Z Horror Magazine, Weirdbook, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The HWA Poetry Showcase Volume II among others. His flash fiction story DOWNWARD GOD won the Deadman’s Tome Month of Horror Story Contest. Also, his story BLACK STAINED GLASS finished in second place in the Molotov Cocktail Zine’s 2016 Flash Fear contest. See the full listing of published works HERE.
His reading tastes tend toward weird horror and existential fiction, stories that muddy the ground of reality: Albert Camus, Hubert Selby Jr, Clive Barker, and, of course, Thomas Ligotti. He supports independent writers, music, artists—anyone with a genuine voice. Find him on twitter @thesecasey or languishing in one of the Boston skyscrapers drowning in numbers.
Mannequin: Tales Of Wood Made Flesh
Welcome to Mannequin: Tales of Wood Made Flesh, an anthology celebrating the uncanny realm of the living inanimate.
Featuring tales of dolls, mannequins, statues, and other varieties of humanoid horror, Mannequin explores the intersection between artificiality and life through a stunning variety of writers both established and new.
This highly-anticipated debut anthology from Silent Motorist Media is certain to leave readers of horror and weird fiction more than satisfied.