The paralysis was complete. I couldn’t move a finger, or open my eyes. It is all darkness and very still, but I am becoming aware. I’m not sure how long I have been here, or even how I got here. My thoughts are jumbled and confused; I can’t remember my name, or where I come from. It’s almost there, on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t find the details. I know some things, but they are just vague impressions. I do know something bad happened to me, but what could it have been? I get the impression that I’m laying down…somewhere… perhaps in a hospital bed.
Sometimes, I hear distant sounds and activity going on around me… possibly the hospital staff? One time I heard a repetitive sound like Ker…Thump! Ker…Thump! Was somebody knocking at a door? I am exhausted, I feel myself slipping away into a deep sleep, a great silent abyss; where there are no dreams, no thoughts, no self awareness. There is no sensation, no emotion, and no memory of the past and no sense of the present. There is nothing. Life, but without living…sleep without dreams. Many have never woken up…but this was my lucky day.
As I began to emerge from my catatonic state, the first sensation I experienced was a sound that began as a ringing in my ears. It started low like the faraway sound of a cricket, and continued to get louder. Soon it was like a million crickets. The sound drowning me in pulsating waves of intensity. This continued unabated, making me want to scream, but I was incapable of it. However, I can detect some movement — a slight spastic motion in the small finger of my right hand. The paralysis loosened its grip on me…a little.
As trivial as this was, the effect on my psyche was great. I was aware that I had moved, and also cognizant of that damn ringing. These were the two points of my universe as I awoke. Between these points came moments of memory, short images would flash through my mind — a woman sitting at a table, and a smiling, young girl. They remained nameless, but I knew there was something significant about them. It was just a feeling.
There were still periods when I entered that dead-like sleep, and each time I woke my condition slightly improved. I felt a bit more aware… the fog not quite as thick, and the paralysis not quite as deep. Now when I awoke, I found that I could jiggle my left foot a tiny bit. I started to exercise my foot. It was difficult, it was painful, but eventually I could move it an inch or so to either side. Maybe a nurse or doctor would see me move, and realize that I was waking up.
My memory came back to me in a progression of images that were slowly becoming familiar. Thoughts were clearing, and my mind was constantly working — trying to put all those mental images into some type of context. I wondered what had happened to me that left me laying here barely able to move, talk, or even open my eyes. Was it an accident? Had I been sick? I had no answers.
For the first time, I could sleep and dream. In my dreams, I saw birthday parties; I spoke to people, and could hear the laughter of a child. I saw myself making love with that woman at the table. Her name is…Kathy! Yes, Kathy. She is my wife, and the child must be…Amanda! Yes! That’s who they are… Kathy and Amanda, my wife and daughter! I felt tears run down my cheeks.
As I became more conscious, I started to get afraid…no not afraid…terrified. I was experiencing major league, full blown breath sucking, and gut wrenching agony at being unable to see or move. Oh God, oh god, oh god! Someone please help me! Why haven’t I been hearing any sounds? I want to scream! I want to jump out of my skin! Oh, Dear God in Heaven…help me!
The day I fully awoke was not a gradual return to consciousness. It was sudden and dramatic, caused by an out-of-control muscle spasm that wracked my entire body. My back arched while my arms and legs flailed wildly meeting a resistance that kept my limbs from moving fully. The movement only lasted a second or two, but even then it was exhausting, and I fell quickly into a deep slumber. It was a good sleep. I dreamt of my beautiful Kathy and Amanda. We were in our nice little house, having dinner, talking, laughing, and playing with the dog. I saw myself mowing the lawn and waving to my friends and neighbors as they drove by or stood in their yards.
When I woke again, I found that the paralysis that once gripped me was nearly gone. But, my entire body ached with spasms; my muscles so tight and sore that I could barely move. I could wiggle everything an inch or two until the pain forced me to stop. However, I still could not see, although I could feel myself blink. My eyes were wide-open, but I could not see! I was blind! Perhaps this world of total darkness would pass too…right? The panic and anxiety levels were incredible — my mind and body feeling as if they were about to explode.
Then it started — a low vibrating sound that grew in volume, getting louder and louder as it made its’ way up my chest. Finally emerging through my lips as a horrifying moan – one that contained the purest essence of human anguish and suffering. It was not my voice I heard in that moan; it was one of unadulterated, top grade, stupefying terror. That sound embodied a horror so deep, that the mind, body, and spirit were all consumed in its’ dreadfulness. It finished with a paroxysm of sobs that I was eventually able to get under control. As I quieted my self, I noticed that the ringing in my ears diminished to a mere annoyance. This is a sign of progress…maybe?
I tried to talk, but I could only utter garbled versions of words. When I tried to yell for help all that came out was a barely audible“hay-ehg!” But, at least I made a sound; surely that’s an improvement… of sorts. I had to move, to talk, to let anyone know I was aware!
“Ooo-Uhh-Gahg!” I uttered, while trying to say, ‘oh my god!’
I began to fight the deep muscle rigidity that kept me from moving freely. In spite of the pain that thwarted my every attempt to move; I could eventually flex enough to move my fingers, toes, and head. Not much at first, but the more I tried, the easier it was to move. Suddenly, with enormous effort, my arm swung straight out and struck against something solid… the side of a hospital bed?
I carefully examined the surface that my hand struck. I felt a soft material, like a blanket that was attached to something hard and flat. I slowly and painfully raised my arm… Thump! I reached above me and felt more of the soft material with the solid structure underneath. I moved my legs, they also hit something solid. What? I was breathing faster now… something was wrong… way wrong. Finally, I raised my knees up, they quickly hit solid. No! No! I jerked as if somebody had stuck a knife into my gut. I now realized where I was.
I screamed very clearly, loudly and distinctly these words over and over again.
I began to flail about madly, my movements still sluggish and encumbered by painful muscle spasms. I thought I had ‘already’ experienced the pinnacle of terror with the realization of my blindness and paralysis. I was wrong; there were further levels of horror yet to be experienced. This was it; I graduated to a new level of terror beyond anything imaginable. Yes! I was laying in a casket! I have about six inches of space above me, and with my arms at my sides, maybe four inches of open space before my hands and arms strike the sides of my tomb.
I have always been claustrophobic, and this was the grand prize of all my nightmares! The feeling of dread, realizing I was trapped in such a confined space, brought on typhoons of panic. My body writhed and rippled in the coffin, as if I were being burnt alive or electrocuted. My undulating movement created a bizarre rhythm of bumping sounds as my knees, feet, elbows, head and hands struck at the sides and lid of the casket. I couldn’t stop moving. The horror was so physical that my body reacted in some primitive instinctive way that was beyond my control.
My breathing quickly started to get labored as my body continued to spasm within that close space. Oh Dear Lord…I’m running out of air! I knew that I had to calm down, or die writhing and contorting within that box. I had to stop! Then, with a shake of my head, and a defiant yell, I stopped moving. It became silent, totally and completely silent — the silence of the grave from within.
I lay there in the darkness and silence concentrating on calming myself and slowing my breathing. As I calmed down I began to think how do I get out? I carefully contemplated my situation while fighting off wave after wave of soul darkening panic. I reasoned that if I had been buried by my parents, then I would be underground. If that was the case, I would never be able to escape. I would die, and no one would ever know. But, if Kathy had followed my personal wishes, I would have been put to rest above ground in a crypt or mausoleum. If this was the case, I had a chance.
My wife and I didn’t have a formal agreement as to what to we would do in case one of us passed away. But, we talked casually about it a few times, and I always made it clear that I did not want to be embalmed. I also told her that I preferred an above-ground burial. If I am entombed above ground now, I would have access to air as crypts always have a few small vents built into them that allows seeping rain water to escape. Also, if anybody was around they could hear me if I yelled. Hell, I might even be able to break out on my own.
My course of action was clear; there would be only one way to know. I had to get that coffin lid off; at the very least, I needed to crack the seal on the lid. If I could do that, I would find either total darkness…or perhaps, just perhaps; I would see light or feel fresh, cool air.
I pray… Dear Lord… for that light and air.
I took my hands and knees, positioned them against the lid, and pushed upwards with all the strength I had. I heard the lid creak, but I was weak and needed to stop and rest. I tried once again and felt something give, but it wasn’t the coffin lid. Something else snapped, and I went crashing downwards to the bottom of the casket!
I lay there dazed for a few moments, and even though it was pitch black, I sensed that I had more space. Then I remembered. In College, I had worked part-time at a mortuary and ambulance service. I did everything from driving the hearse to picking up bodies… I even helped in the embalming room on occasion (thus my reason for NOT wanting to be embalmed!). Most caskets have an adjustable wire mattress frame attached to some grips inside the casket. Lying on that frame is a thin mattress for the body to lie upon. I must have broken these grips and fallen downwards to the bottom of the casket.
I could immediately tell that the air was a tiny bit fresher. Some air had been trapped in the pocket between the mattress and the casket bottom. When I crashed down, it had forced the trapped air upward into my breathing space. It wasn’t much, but at least I bought some time, now I had to escape.
I gripped some of the soft blanket material above my head, and ripped it away. I took my fingers and carefully felt the underlying surface. I was in luck; it was a wood, rather than a metal casket. I might be able to break a wooden casket, but a metal casket would be much more difficult… probably impossible to force open. My previous efforts had exhausted me, and I would have to rest before attempting anything further.
After resting, I geared up for another assault on the casket lid. I felt good…kind of. I looked at it this way; I just came out of what could only have been a coma. I was convinced that I wasn’t blind; and it was just the complete darkness inside the coffin that prevented me from seeing. Finally, I had my wits about me, and my memories back. I was whole again. I can do this. My wife had not allowed me to be embalmed, and there was no reason that she would not have followed through on my other request – an above ground burial.
With the extra space the collapsed casket mattress had made; I was able to raise my legs up and plant my feet firmly on the lid. I pushed hard with all the strength my legs could muster. CRACK! Yes! It wasn’t much, but the lid actually gave away a little. I lowered my legs to rest again. Then I felt it, just a little thing, but I could feel the slightest bit of fresh air entering my space. YES! I anxiously felt around the lid of the casket and started feeling the rubber seal around the lid which makes the casket airtight. Nothing…YES! There it was. I hadn’t broken the lid, but I did loosen it, and the seal was no longer tight.
I started to dig and pull at the rubber seal with all the vigor I could muster. Then it happened. The seal pulled free from the casket lid creating about a one-inch gap. Then I saw light! Yes, I saw light…Thank you God! It wasn’t much, but the darkness of the grave made my eyes ultra sensitive to light. By God! I can see light through that one inch gap!
I was energized, hopeful and felt blessed. Oh, how I crave to kiss Kathy and Amanda! How I would hug them after rising from the dead. The lid had to come off, I could do it. I must do it. Once again, I raised my legs and placed my feet against the lid. Then, with a roar I pushed with every bit of strength I had. CRACK! SPLINTER! SNAP! I heard the sounds of wood splintering, breaking and falling around me. The lid was broke!
Most of the splintered wood had fallen outside of the casket; some had fallen back on top of me. No matter. The lid or at least part of it was gone. I lay there for a moment, a soft glow of light surrounding me. Something felt wrong. Why was I surrounded by light? Wouldn’t there be mostly shadow with only a bright spot where the crypts’ air vent met the outside? Why would there be an even glow of soft, diffused light with no central point of entry?
I raised myself up. The top of the crypt kept me from sitting completely up-right. There was something I needed to remember… something I knew…something I had read a long time ago. I anxiously looked around my enclosure hunting for the source of the light. I couldn’t find it; no source of light was visible to me. It looked as if the crypt itself was glowing around me. Still…there was something I should remember, something that I know. Finally, it came to me. I remembered, and I KNEW!
I lay myself back down, and tightly clasped my hands together like a proper corpse. I remembered now, yes… it was all coming back to me. Granite can have embedded within it small particles of radioactive uranium! In fact, granite is tested for the amount of radiation it contains before it can be sold for commercial use. Granite can glow. Oh god! It GLOWS! I was not in a crypt. I was in a granite vault six feet under ground!
Granite Glows, Oh God, Granite Glows!
I closed my eyes shielding myself from that awful, dreadful light, and screamed again, and again, and again. I was very tired now, and all I really wanted was to go back into that great deep sleep. All I wanted was to dream of my beautiful Kathy and Amanda, and while uncontrollably gasping, choking, screaming, spitting and writhing as my air ran out…I finally did.
The caretaker of the cemetery removed the last of the wilting flowers from the new grave. He threw them into a small wagon attached to his riding mower. Just as he sat back on his mower, he heard something.
“What the hell…” he muttered — straining to listen. There were no more sounds.
The caretaker got on his mower, and started the engine. It sputtered into life. Shifting into gear, he drove away… never hearing that final horrifying scream from below. It was a beautiful day, the caretaker thought, Can’t wait to get home to the wife and kids.