Alive

By: Scott Sigler

ONE


A stabbing pain jolts me awake.

It hits quick but deep, a here-then-gone stinging where my neck meets my shoulder.

Did something bite me?

No…just a dream. A nightmare, maybe.

That’s not how I should wake up on my birthday. I’m twelve. I can hardly believe it—I’m twelve, I’m not a little kid anymore. I should get to sleep in, I should get to sleep all day. There should be cake, and my friends, and I shouldn’t have to go to school.

School.

The thought of that place chases away my excitement. I’m so tired. Feels like I’ve never slept at all. If I missed my alarm, I’ll be late for classes again. Mom will kill me. I don’t want to go. At school, the tooth-girls and the circle-stars always make fun of me. And I shouldn’t be teased on my birthday. I hate school, I hate them, I…

A tingling coolness on my neck, right where I felt that sting. Tickling, spreading…

…am I bleeding?

I open my eyes to darkness. Total darkness. I hear my own breathing, but nothing else. And…and I can’t move. Curved bars, cool and rough, hold my wrists by my sides. I roll my hands, trying to slip free, but the bars are so tight they scrape against my skin.

“Mom?”

The word sounds too loud, almost a scream. Something is wrong. My voice sounds odd…kind of muffled.

Mom doesn’t answer.

“Dad?”

Nothing.

I pull harder, but it’s not only my wrists that can’t move—something holds my ankles, and my hips are pinned so tight I can’t even turn.

This isn’t my bedroom. This isn’t my house. My parents aren’t here.

My chest seems to squeeze in, as if it is clamping down on my hammering heart. My body tingles, every ounce of me screaming Get up! Getupgetupgetup!

“Is anyone there?”

Nothing.

“Someone help me. This is…”

My breath catches.

I don’t know my own name.

I thrash and pull, yank desperately at the unforgiving bars holding me down.

“Someone, help me!”

No one answers.

I scream so hard it tears at my throat. Someone had to hear that. Someone has to come get me, come help me.

I wait.

Still nothing.

I lift my head—my forehead clonks against something solid and unmoving. That’s why my voice sounded funny: there is a board right in front of my face.

No, not a board…a lid.

Padding beneath me and at my sides.

I am in…

…oh no, oh no…

…am I in a coffin?

“Help! Somebody get me out of here!”

The pain that woke me plunges into my neck again, a sting so deep it locks me up, all tight-eyed and rigid and frozen.

I am trapped in the dark and something is biting me.

(If you run, your enemy will hunt you. Kill your enemy, and you are forever free.)

That thought seems familiar, a memory that stuck. Rage blossoms, gives me the focus to move despite my agony, gives me the strength to try harder. I pull and push, lift and twist. I focus all my strength on my right hand—pull, dammit—the skin of my wrist tears against the rough material, but I have to get out….

Pull, push, twist, yank, harder and harder until my coffin rattles.

I feel the bar crack. I can move my right hand more. Only a little, but I can move it more.

The sting slides deeper into my neck, and I cry out.

No one came before, no one will come now.

Will it hit a lung? Pierce my heart?

Will I die?

I jerk so hard the bones in my wrists grind against the bars holding them down. I hear another small crack, then another—my right hand flies free.

I slide my fingers up my body to my neck, blindly grab at the thing slicing into me. My hand locks down on wetness, slickness, a cold snake that moves and wiggles. It’s trying to slither away, but I have it and I won’t let go. I yank it to my mouth and bite down, taste something horrid, crush my teeth together so hard my jaw hurts. I thrash my head, I bite harder—something inside of it crunches.

It falls limp in my hand and mouth. I fling it aside, then spit, trying to get that vile taste off my tongue.

Right hand to left wrist. I grab the restraint. Its surface crumbles at my touch, powder falling away to reveal pitted hardness beneath. Right hand yanking, left fist lifting, the cracking sound comes quickly and my left hand is free.

Both hands grab the bar that curves across my waist. I attack it, push-pull-push-pull-push-pull, making the whole coffin shake around me. The bar breaks.

Now for my feet.

The lid is so close to my face and chest that my hands can reach down only to my thighs. I’m wearing some kind of short skirt? I must reach farther, must keep trying. I have to get out, whatever it takes. I twist to my right hip, use the ankle restraints as resistance to wiggle my body lower, reach down with my left hand. My shoulder and face drag against the coffin’s smooth lid, pulling at my cheek and nose and closed eye, but even then my fingers barely touch my knees.

I must pull harder, harder, I must keep fighting, must get out of the darkness. If I can’t reach my feet, I will die here alone and screaming and—

—my fingertip brushes the rough bars pinning my ankles. So close, just a little farther. Contorted muscles and twisted bones vibrate with pain as I wedge in even tighter, but finally my left hand grips a bar. Grab and shake and yank, must get loose…

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