Next time your mobile phone rings, you may want to think twice before answering it…
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©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010
As promised, here’s part two of ‘But I Was Alive At The Time’:
I’d been looking forward to writing a paper on the life of a Victorian maid but I was used to being bullied into doing what Colette wanted. I suppose, deep down, I didn’t really mind because Colette’s ideas usually produced good results, and as long as I got the grades I wanted, that was fine with me.
“I knew you’d see it my way.” Colette grinned at me with her perfect smile. “So, who’s going to be the dead person?”
Maria and I stared at her, aghast.
“Dead person?” Maria echoed.
“Well, we’re going to need someone to bury and test these ideas out on, aren’t we?”
“Bury? What, like underground?” Maria croaked. “Is that really necessary, Colette?” I could see in her face that she had already decided there was no way we were going to bury her. I shuddered at the idea. “Can’t we just pretend we’ve been buried? We could lay in a box on the floor or… or something?”
“Hey, this needs to be authentic!” snapped Colette, rounding on us. “It’ll give us extra marks.”
“Well, I don’t want to be buried!” Maria told her, her voice rising in panic. “No way!”
“Neither do I,” I added quickly. Colette gave each of us an icy glare.
“Well, thanks a lot for nothing you two,” she said.
“Why can’t you be the one to get buried?” I demanded.
“Because,” Colette replied, desperately searching for a reason, “because I suffer from claustrophobia. I’d have a panic attack if you buried me. Come on,” she coaxed us, “do yourselves a favour and just do it. It’s not like you’re going to be underground for long. It’ll be just long enough to carry out the experiments and then that will be it, you’ll get out straight after. It’s not like you’re going to be six foot under, only a couple of feet.” Maria and I looked at each other, unconvinced. “Oh, come on!” Colette said sharply. “You two look as if I’ve asked you to donate your bodies to science while you’re still breathing!”
“Yeah, but being buried underground…” I complained. “I don’t like it.”
“It’s not as if we’re going to leave you there, is it? Colette wheedled. She realised she wasn’t getting anywhere and decided to try another tack that she knew would guarantee results. “It’s so original, we’re bound to get an excellent mark for the paper.”
“You know how to work me, don’t you?” I sighed. Colette beamed at me, fully aware that the argument was won.
* * *
“So which one of you is it going to be?”
Colette had driven us out to the edge of the woods and had stood by while Maria and I dug a whole three feet deep in complete silence. She said she had a bad back and couldn’t help. Maria and I were hot, sweaty and aching by the time we’d finished. I’d wanted to go home as soon as we’d entered the woods. Something didn’t feel right. Neither of us answered Colette. She’d bought a man-sized, chipboard box along with her. I’d felt sick when I’d seen it lying in the back of the car, the back seats pushed forward to accommodate it. I didn’t want to ask where she had got it. Where on earth did you just ‘happen’ to get something like that from anyway?
Maria and I climbed out of the hole. I shuddered as I stood on the edge of the hole and looked down into its depths. Colette grabbed one end of the box and instructed Maria to take the other. Between the two of them they lowered it into the hole.
Huh. Colette’s back didn’t seem to be hurting her now, I noticed.
“Well?” pressed Colette as she stood back from the grave, dusting herself off. I glared at her. We all knew her ‘claustrophobia’ was a myth but… well, neither Maria nor I had the guts to challenge her. Maria looked at the box at the bottom of the grave.
“I… I don’t think I can do it,” she muttered. I was about to argue when I saw her eyes filling with tears. Oh God, I hated it when she cried.
“Oh, for goodness sake, you two!” I cried, exasperated. Colette looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “I’ll do it, okay? I’ll do it!”
“Great,” Colette nodded. “Get in the box, then.” I looked down at the grave, because that’s what it was, and took a deep breath.
“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly. “But you swear on your lives that you will get me out of there straight after. None of your messing about or stupid games, all right?”
Maria nodded her head furiously. Colette just looked at me. “All right, Colette?”
She let out a hiss of annoyance and threw her hands in the air as if I was the one being unreasonable.
“Of course! Now just get in!” I lowered myself down from the edge of the grave, suddenly feeling very short as I looked up at Colette and Maria. Maria did not look at all happy. Colette heaved the lid of the box up and pointed to the hole in it which was at face level.
“Right, see this hole? That’s where this pipe’s going to go, yes? Now, I have a McDonald’s meal in the boot of the car – it’s probably a bit cold now but never mind – and we’re going to feed it down the pipe to you to see how much you manage to eat and how much you manage to wear.” I managed a small smile as I lay down in the box.
“Don’t you dare leave me in here for a joke,” I reminder her. Colette was the sort of person who’d find it funny to pretend to drive off and leave me there. I promised myself I’d bloody kill her if she tried anything of the sort.
“Blah, blah, blah,” she teased, waving her hand dismissively. “Just lie down and play dead.” I pursed my lips and lay down in the box. “Grab the other end of the lid, Maria,” Colette instructed. They lowered the lid down on top of me and everything went quiet. It wasn’t until I heard the clods of dirt raining down on the lid of my coffin that I realised just how much I didn’t want to do this. The noise from outside became more and more muffled.
“Everything okay in there?” I heard Maria call down the plastic tube after what felt like hours, but had probably only been a couple of minutes.
“Actually, I wouldn’t mind coming out now,” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Don’t be such a chicken!” I heard Colette call. “Now, are you ready for your Big Mac with extra cheese? The drink might be a bit of a problem,” her voice was closer now. Then I heard Maria shriek Colette’s name and there was silence.
“Colette?” I called, wondering what on earth was going on. She didn’t reply.
“Maria!” I called a little louder. I braced my hands against the roof of my coffin and gave it a shove. It wouldn’t move. I had about two feet of earth pressing down on top of me. I hadn’t realised it would be so heavy. “Colette!” I shouted, my voice sounded deafening in the tiny space. Faintly I heard a car door slam and an engine start.
“Maria! Colette! Don’t you dare mess about! Let me out! Now!” The last word was a scream as I thumped my hands against the lid. I squinted as bits of dust from the roughly cut wood floated down into my eyes. “Colette!” I screamed again.
I tried to calm my breathing as I realised I was getting myself into a state. It was becoming unbearably hot inside the coffin. The air wafting down the tube by my face wasn’t doing a thing to help. “Colette! You bitch! You wait until I get out of here! Colette!” I strained to hear them giggling over the thumping of my heart, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I beat against the lid of the coffin, expecting to hear them laughing as they began to dig me up again. But I heard nothing. Nothing but the blood rushing in my ears.
Being buried when you’re dead should be a peaceful experience. But I was alive at the time.
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010
The thought of being buried alive is enough to make even the bravest of us break out in a cold sweat. The following short story is in two parts, the second half of which I will post tomorrow. Whether you like it or not.
Although the story itself is fictional (you will be pleased to note that I do not make a habit of going around burying my friends alive for school projects, although sometimes it was tempting) some of the Victorian devices detailed below were actually tested. The mind boggles…
“And such was the fear of being buried alive,” the lecturer warbled, “that all sorts of devices were created in the event that such a horror might happen.” The three of us sat transfixed, staring at the projector screen. “Here you can see an early diagram of a grave. You will see there is a bell above ground with a cord running down into the coffin itself. The idea was that should you wake up in your coffin after burial, you just pulled on the rope and rang the bell until someone came and rescued you.”
“What a horrible thought,” I whispered to my friend, Colette. “Imagine waking up in a coffin!”
“That’s why I’m going to be cremated,” Maria muttered. “No chance of waking up then, is there?”
“What if you woke up in the oven?” Colette raised an eyebrow. Maria went quiet.
“I never thought of that,” she muttered.
“Here you can see another diagram of a coffin with a tube going down into it, too,” the lecturer continued. “If you were lucky enough to be discovered after having been buried alive then they could feed you through the tube until they dug you up again. This set up was actually tested out and someone managed to eat a full dinner from his coffin. What sort of a mess he came out in, I can only imagine.” She paused while a ripple of laughter surged around the auditorium. “However, once you started to smell, they removed the bell, cord and so on and filled the hole in as it was safely assumed you were well and truly dead.”
“That’s well and truly disgusting,” I muttered, flicking my hair out of my face.
“I find it all really interesting,” Colette disagreed. “Death was such a big thing to the Victorians. Imagine burying one of your nearest and dearest but not being completely sure they were dead?”
“I’m trying not to,” I scowled, wishing she would change the subject.
“Do you think that actually worked?” Maria asked as we packed up our books and headed out into the hallway. “I mean, if you woke up in the dark, trapped in a coffin, wouldn’t you just panic? I wouldn’t think about looking for a little cord to pull.”
“They probably tied the cord to your finger or something,” I said. “Besides, I suppose once you’d been down there for a while you’d feel about for a way out and would find the cord then.”
“Feel about for a way out?” Maria snapped. “Where are they going to go? Didn’t you hear what she said about people digging up coffins and finding bodies lying in tortured positions and… and nail marks in the lid of the coffin?”
Colette pursed her lips in thought.
“I reckon people just died of suffocation in the end,” she said airily as if we were just discussing the weather. “I mean, there can’t be much air in those body boxes.”
We walked on for a few minutes in silence, each pondering what it must be like to be buried alive. It held a kind of romantic horror for us. It fascinated us in the worst way.
“How’s this for an idea,” Colette tapped me on the arm. She had a glint in her eye that I didn’t like.
“Go on,” I muttered, rolling my eyes.
“For our end of term paper, why don’t we investigate what it was like being buried alive?” Maria glanced at me and shook her head despairingly. It took a moment for Collette’s words to sink in.
“What do you mean?” I ventured.
“Exactly what I said,” Colette replied, brightly. “I want to know if those daft Victorian ideas actually worked. I mean, just because that lecturer says you can eat a full dinner through a pipe while you’re in a coffin, how do we know? Did you see those contraptions ? Did you see the one where a flag pops up to warn the vicar that you’re still alive when he makes his daily rounds of the cemetery? Come on, what do you reckon a vicar would do if that ever happened?”
“Probably pop the flag back down and keep right on walking,” Maria grinned.
“That’s a terrible thing to say!” I gasped but I couldn’t help smiling too.
“Well, would a vicar really want people to know that his parishioners were being buried alive in his graveyard? It would be bad for business,” Colette retorted. “So what do you think of my idea? At least it would be interesting. Unlike your idea of writing a paper on – what was it? – the life and times of a Victorian maid? Thrilling.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that subject,” I said, sounding hurt.
“I never said there was anything wrong with it,” Colette said soothingly, “but wouldn’t my topic be more interesting?”
“It could be fun, I suppose,” Maria conceded reluctantly. They both looked at me and I wilted under the weight of their combined stares.
“Oh… whatever you like,” I muttered sulkily.
PLEASE VISIT TOMORROW FOR PART II
©Nicola Kirk and http://www.nicolakirk.wordpress.com 2010