Punishing the Soul
As I lay here, torchlight fading, I haven’t got the energy to scream any more. My breathing is getting shallower, every lungful is now a struggle. It's probably time I detailed the events that explain my current predicament. You know how you've always got a nagging feeling of how you'll die. It might just be how you'd like to die, but mine certainly wasn't this way. It's been two days since I learned the truth, and I think in that time I've managed to experience every emotional response you can imagine. But now, strangely, I feel calm. It might be oxygen starvation I suppose, because since the supply of trapped air ran out, I've been relying on sucking what I can through a silly little hose: an afterthought of Frankie's just before he picked up the shovel. God, I'm starving, too. One packet of sandwiches is nowhere near enough for a growing girl. I probably won't last much longer, but hey, you never know your luck. Prince Charming still has got time to ride up on his valiant steed. We'll just have to see. "Chin up," my dad always said. "Things could always be worse". Building it had been loads of fun, no doubt about that. Once the initial spark of an idea had occurred, there had been no stopping Frankie. He'd literally dragged me across town to the timber yard, and as soon as we saw Jason Swain behind the shop counter, we knew we'd been dealt a great hand. Jason was in our class in St. Margaret's and, truth be told, he was a right sap. A bit weird. Someone said he looked like that Fred West bloke, you know, the serial killer, but I couldn’t see the resemblance. Anyway, he was one of those kids who constantly played with electronic stuff: always tinkering with radios, walkie-talkies; he'd even built his own PC from bit and pieces he'd blagged from the school bins. Or so he said, but this lacked some credibility. More like he was trying to impress us. Nearly everyone at school picked on him, but Frankie and I remained shrewd. We knew he could be of some use to us, sometime, so Jason Swain was our mate, and we, we thought, were his. Frankie knew exactly what he wanted. "Two large sheets of plywood, and two smaller ones. They all need to be five foot long; the big ones four foot wide and the smaller ones two and a half foot wide." "We've got off-cuts round the back," Jason Swain muttered, but even as he spoke he could see the determination in Frankie's eyes. "These will be perfect," Frankie announced, an indignant finger flapping in the direction of the best, prime timber. "No way," Jason hollered. "The manager will kill me if he finds out." "He won't find out," I urged. "We'll make sure of it." "We also need nails," Frankie said, rubbing his hands together. I loved it when Frankie got enthusiastic; it was probably his most endearing quality. I joined in. "And a big hammer," I said in a haughty tone. "Big enough to bash your head in. This made Jason laugh. His eyes glinted as he play acted bonking Frankie over the head with an imaginary hammer. "Hey, quit it, freak," Frankie said. "Or I'll do it to you for real." Jason Swain wilted back from Frankie, and his complexion grew fierce. "Just take the stuff and fuck off," he said coldly. "I didn’t mean to upset you, man," said Frankie, backing off as soon as he saw he'd upset Swain. It all seemed likes innocent playground politics at the time. But, lying here in this nearly dark sarcophagus, everything seems so goddamned clear. "Do you guys want to see my radio station?" Jason Swain's face had brightened, almost like he'd suddenly become a different person. "Radio station?" I asked. So, now he was a DJ? "I built it this morning, before I came into this shithole." "Can I pick it up on this," I asked triumphantly, holding up my prized clockwork radio. "Whoa, that's so cool," Jason said, his eyes almost popping out of their sockets. He reached out his hand, "Can I see it?" I handed it to him and he examined the dial. No problem. I can broadcast on all frequencies with just a little minor adjustment to the rheostat inside the transmitter. Frankie pushed in between us, deftly plucking the radio from Jason Swain's hand. "Gotta go," he proclaimed. "Secret stuff to attend to." It was a little unfair, the way Frankie tormented him. He knew Jason Swain would so love to be involved, but he had to work, and that's what Frankie played on. "See you," I said. "Tune in later for my evening broadcast," Jason Swain said. "Six O'clock, sharp." "Ok, ok," I laughed. "Bye, Jason." This story really began last Christmas. I got a really cool present from Uncle Reg. A big bag full of clockwork gadgets. "Julie," Uncle Reg said, "if there's ever one of those nuclear holocaust things, you know the ones the bigwig science chaps rant about, this stuff'll keep you safe and in touch with the world 'till they get everything up and runnin' again." "This is really cool, Uncle Reg," I said. "Really cool." "The radio's got all the bands on it too," he said. "Great," I said, unconvincingly. And he knew I had no idea what he meant. "It'll pick up station from every frequency. The normal FM and AM stations are here," he said, pointing at the dial, "then you've got the high frequency stations up here. Police, Ambulance and such like." "Whoa, that's cool," I said, genuinely impressed. "Then down here, you've got the low and ultra-low frequencies. Some of those you could pick up from below the ground. They use these for transmitting to submarines and things like that." "Cool." "So, if you're ever going to spend a long time underground, make sure you take your clockwork radio." He grinned at me. "Underground," I said, my voice trailing off as an idea came to me. Right, back to recent events. We had the wood, nails and a big lump hammer. Fantastic. We didn’t tell Jason Swain anything. We used my go-cart to ferry the materials all the way up to the back field. No one ever went up there, so we knew we'd not be disturbed once we got stuck into our work. Frankie held up his dad's wood saw like it was some sort of hunting trophy. Big bloody teeth on it. Huge. You could probably rip right through one of my mum's cedars in minutes, and those things are massive. I can just about wrap my arms around them. So, we set to work. It took us the best part of the afternoon to knock together the casket. "A job well done," Frankie announced. He looked very pleased with himself. "Shall we aim for tomorrow afternoon?" "Cool," I replied. "How long shall we try?" "Four hours," Frankie replied. He looked pensive. "I've calculated the initial claustrophobic feelings should pass after thirty minutes, then you'll start to relax, then you can get stuck into some serious thinking. If you get on with it ok, then I'll go in next weekend." "Deal," I said, shaking his hand vigorously. "Mrs. Bailey won’t know what hit her when she sees this year's report." "Thought of a title yet?" I asked him. He looked back at me and grinned. "Frankie and Julie's Resurrection Diaries." "Mmmm," I said, "well have to think about that." He wasn't wrong. The first thirty minutes were horrible. I felt decidedly queasy, buried six feet under the ground in a dirty box nailed ruggedly together with three inch panel pins. The thud, thud, thud of the earth being shovelled back into the hole was one of the worst parts. A couple of times I nearly called out, but then I thought better of it. Didn’t want Frankie thinking I was some sort of girlie wus. But real coffins had lining, and pillows and, everything. I opened my sandwiches and flicked on the torch. I made a few notes in my diary, then settled back, slowly ruminating on the merits of eating cheese and coleslaw sandwiches whilst buried alive. I checked my watch. Just three hours. Jesus, it was dull. Time for some tests. The darkness was absolute. Not like the darkness on a night with no moon. Not like when you get under the covers and close your eyes really tight. This was purest black. Like the Devil's heart, I mused. Ooooh, spooky. I chuckled. At least Frankie would be back in an hour. God, this was awfully boring. Then I turned on the radio. This was a test indeed. As expected, none of the normal frequencies were working. The six-foot thick layer of insulation saw to that, but then I found some guy's voice bellowing out some incomprehensible rubbish, right down in the bowels of the glowing dial. I swallowed. It was kind of eerie. Sounded like some sort of foreign channel, the guy shouting like one of those religious nuts off the telly. I continued turning the dial. Then I choked. An iron fist punched me hard in the solar plexus as panic grabbed hold of my sanity and squeezed with all its might. The voice had changed. This time the familiar monotone of a newscaster flooded the confined space of my coffin. "News just in," the newscaster said, "A young man was brutally murdered earlier this evening on the Portsmouth Road, just south of Folly Farm." Folly Farm. Jesus. Coincidence? "The police report says fifteen year old Frankie Barnes had been walking home after a day out with some friends when the as-yet unidentified assailant fatally wounded the young man. The suspect is believed to have used a hammer in the attack, although no weapon has yet been found as yet. Another child, Julie Ash, believed to have been with Barnes, is reported missing. Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward with any information that might help with their enquiries." Oh god. Frankie. Dead. Not two hundred yards from where I lay in my casket. But no one else knew about the experiment. Oh god. I looked at my watch. Four hours had passed. I pressed hard on the lid of the coffin, but it was no use. It was far too heavy. To be honest, I probably couldn’t have even shifted the nails, let alone the couple of tons of soil placed on top. I quickly wheeled the dial, frantically searching for more information. They'd find me, they had to. But it might take them a few days. Christ. I felt sick. We hadn’t even considered this eventuality. But why would you? It was six o'clock. Jason Swain's broadcast. I wheeled the dial again then suddenly the static changed pitch and a faint voice emerged from the white noise chaos. "And it's good evening from Jason Swain at JSULF. Hope you've all tuned in for a fun packed evening of music and witty chat…" the voice said, calmly, resolute. "Hope you're keeping well, Julie Ash, stuck way down there in your little tomb." My heart thumped in my chest. Jason Swain. What the hell? "They won’t find you by the way." "Jason goddamned Swain, what the hell are you doing?" I punched the lid of the coffin, drawing blood from my clenched knuckles. "Just thought I'd conduct a little experiment of my own you see. You guys have done all the hard work, and all I have to do is remove one simple obstacle. Frankie. He's dead you know. Hammer in the head. What a way to go. You should have seen the look on his poor little face when I whacked him. It was a great idea you game me earlier. Splat. His face exploded. So anyway, my experiment. I'm going to get a A this year, Julie. I'm doing a study into the urban legend of live burial. It spans the whole globe you know, fascinating stuff. Imagine my surprise whet I stumble upon a discovery all of my own. You can't beat that, dearest Julie, great grades and a medal to honour the local hero who finds your body." His voice changed into mocking imitation of a newscaster. "The body was discovered today by local hero, Jason Swain, a grieving classmate of the two murdered children. He is reported to be very distressed. Full details from the coroner's report have no yet been made public but we have learned through the Inspector in charge, that Julie Ash had been buried alive around the same time of Frankie Barnes's murder. No official statement has as yet been released, but fears are now rising that a serial killer may be at large." I screamed. I screamed like I'd never screamed before. My throat was raw, and tears streamed down my face. And I screamed some more. "Julie, dearest Julie. You and old buddy-boy Frankie have given me some hope," Jason Swain finished impassively. "So, this is Jason Swain of JSULF, bidding you all goodnight. May you all have sweet and pleasant dreams."