I woke up scared, I was always scared. Ever since that night I have been scared, and alone. I was alone in the dark, it was so dark I could not tell the difference between opening and closing my eyes. I was so scared.
My stomach felt strange. It didn’t hurt, more like the feeling of being in an elevator. Either that or I was still sore from where Charlie Johnston kicked me. Like hitting me with his baseball bat wasn’t enough, he had to kick me while I was down.
Now my head hurt. The lump on the back of my head where the aluminum struck was painful to the touch. I remember the feeling of the bat hitting my head, remember seeing “Chuck” standing over me with that satisfied look on his face.
He wasn’t alone, his friends came out of hiding and circled around me, like wolves. They chanted something I couldn’t understand at first, they were all saying it but not together. The crowd felt like a swirl of voices at first, I don’t know if that was from them or the hit to the head.
“Heathen, heathen, heathen” The chanting became more clear, their voices coming together.
“Heathen, heathen, heathen” they chanted.
“Shut up!”, Chuck screamed out over the noise.
“Look at the little heathen, wanna call out to your family, well they can’t hear you heathen, they’re burning in hell, just like you’ll be.” Then he kicked me. Chuck was a huge fifth grader. Some of the kids told me he should have been in the sixth grade but he was held back for “disciplinary” reasons.
The kick knocked all the air out of my body and left me gasping on the ground. I clutched at my bag, didn’t want them to take it away. It was all I had left of them.
Chuck grabbed at the straps and tugged, dragging me across the dirt and gravel in front of the orphanage. I looked up and saw the statue of the Virgin Mary, she looked worn and craggily and warped by the rain, like Mother Margret only slightly prettier.
The last thing I remembered before darkness was Chuck’s foot as he stomped on my face. Then I was here, wherever here was.
The floor was hard and cold, like a metal deck or platform, but I couldn’t see it. I waved my hand in front of my eyes but I couldn’t tell it was there. Am I blind? Did Chuck’s beating take away my sight?
I felt around my eyes, there was a bruise on my left temple where Chuck’s foot landed but other than that my eyes felt Ok. I touched the lump from the bat and winced from the pain but it was on the side of the back of my head, how could it make me blind?
I was so scared. I hated being alone, I hated being in the dark, I hated Chuck and the other kids for what they did to me, I hated Mother Margret for encouraging it. I hated the driver who plowed through our car and killed my parents. I hated them all.
I cried as I sat there for a while, waiting for someone to find me. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I was so cold and alone and there was nobody who cared about me in the world anymore.
“What was that? I know that sound.” I said the words aloud and my voice echoed around me. I didn’t notice the echo before when I was crying, what did it mean?
My phone, the alarm telling me to wake up. Its in here with me, maybe I can find it, call the cops. They can find me with it. I’d have to go back to the orphanage, back to those bullies and the penguin who spurred them on, but it would be better than here, wherever here was.
I reached out to find something, I felt a piece of mesh. A mesh strap, like the cargo straps they used at my dad’s work. I grabbed it and pulled, the mesh was tight, holding a load of something.
I used it to get up on my feet and nearly fell down. That feeling in my stomach was still there, like an elevator or something.
I heard it and knew what direction to go in but I couldn’t see where I was going. I had to move slowly and watch out for things that would trip me. Being blind was hard.
I stepped over the bottom of one strap just to find another crossing the other way. It was like the obstacle course on the playground, the rope net that we had to step over to get across.
I reached under the strap and felt a round metal shape. Like a big cylinder. I tried to picture what the shape was then I realized. It was one of the really big drums that they put chemicals in. I saw hundreds of these on the airfield during my visit to dad’s work. He told me not to touch them because they were filled with all sorts of nasty toxins and poisons.
Thinking of the warning signs around his office I pulled my hand away quickly, not wanting to get any of it on me.
I could tell where the phone was more accurately after the last dings. Knew which way to go. I climbed through the straps and felt my way along the floor with my feet until I reached a wall. More cold, more metal. I banged my hand against it and screamed out for help.
It was worth a try.
The phone was in a tight space between the wall and the cylinders. I reached toward it and felt something soft. Something made of cloth. I grabbed and pulled at it and it jammed between the curve of the cylinder and the wall.
It was my bag! I think I cried out something when I found it but I can’t remember exactly what I said. I kept pulling at it, like our old dog when he tried to get the bone unstuck from the fence.
I was frustrated and I couldn’t get the bag out. I think I cried, I slammed my hands against the wall, then the cylinder. If only Chuck hadn’t blinded me, then I could see another way.
I wouldn’t let the bag go. It was my father’s bag, he carried it to work every day. My mom used to pack his lunches in the bag like she did mine. He carried a computer in the bag and some tools making it incredibly heavy.
After the accident the tools and the computer where smashed up but the bag survived. They tried to take it for evidence but I wouldn’t let them. It was the only thing I had of them.
When the police brought me home to gather some clothes I took all the pictures mom had hanging up out of the frames and put them in the bag. I only grabbed a few shirts and pants but I got most of the pictures.
They where still in the bag, a couple dozen of them. They made the bag fat and heavy and hard for me to free from the cylinder space.
I crumpled down again. Life was so unfair and I couldn’t understand why. I was ready to give up, I wanted to give up.
I saw it! The flashing light on the back of my phone, I saw it. That meant Chuck’s baseball bat didn’t make me blind. I could see the light coming from inside the bag.
I quickly lowered the bag and strained past the straps and the narrow opening to reach into it. I couldn’t get the whole bag through the space but the phone was so thin I could easily get it out.
I opened the clasps and ripped back the velcro to find my phone’s display shining back up at me. A picture of my family on the display with “Wake up sleepy head” in text on the screen. Mom had programmed my alarm with the message, I wouldn’t turn it off no matter how many times the other kids teased me about it.
The phone’s flashlight flipped on and I looked around for the first time. I was in a metal box, a huge one. On either side there were barrels with all sorts of marking on them. Skulls and hands with painful lines coming out of a drip of the contents.
I had been in there before, I recognized it. Maybe not this exact one but one just like it.
I remembered back to the day I went to work with my dad. He was an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency stationed in the middle of the dessert. He supervised the inspections of the cargo haulers that Space Dynamics sent into the Sun.
The big box was once a container for shipping stuff across the seas, but these massive metal rectangles were reinforced for use in space. They were filled with all sorts of toxic waste that would be lifted into orbit using the new anti-gravity gel that they were making planes out of.
I actually got to touch some of the stuff, it was slimy. Dad showed me how when they added electricity to the cartridge with the slime in it they could make gravity stop working. The substance actually repelled Earth’s pull when enough electricity was applied to it.
The more power he added the less the slime filled tube weighed until it started floating upward. He said if the power stayed consistent the container could float all the way into low orbit.
That’s how they lifted the containers with the toxic waste. There were eight chambers of the slimy gel called lift pods positioned all over the underside of the big metal box. They would run off a battery in a compartment on the roof of the container that powered the gel for the week long lift into space.
Then a crew on an orbiting platform would recover the container, remove the lift pods and battery, then they loaded it onto a rail. When the rail was in the right spot they would pop the seal on the container letting the air inside spray out. This would push the container forward along the rail toward the sun.
He said the trip to the sun would take a really long time but eventually it would burn up and no longer be a threat to people on Earth or anywhere else.
My father was proud to be a part of the effort to save the planet. I guess I still wanted to be like him when I grow up.
Once I figured out where I was I realized why I felt like I was in an elevator. It had nothing to do with Chuck’s kick into my stomach. I was floating upward into orbit, then I would be shot into the sun.
I started thinking about what would happen to me. I didn’t think I would live to be burned up, I would starve first. I looked in my bag for the candy bar I stashed there and it was gone. They stole the candy bar from the bag before throwing it in here after me.
The cold in the air reminded me that I wasn’t going to starve, I would freeze to death first. I used the flashlight to search around and found my jacket. It was easy to reach and I put it on to help with the cold.
I tried to make a call on the phone but there was no signal, either the metal in the box blocked it or I was already too high up for it to work.
Then I noticed it. The battery power on my phone was only 45%. I usually charged it every night, just like dad showed me, to make sure the battery didn’t die.
According to the clock it was already morning and without the charge the phone would die soon, especially if I kept using the flashlight.
I switched it off to save power and sat back down with my dad’s bag open on my lap. I was blind again but I could hold the pictures. I had looked at them enough to know the images, I just needed to feel them.
I thought to myself how it was going to feel when I froze to death. How the cold would make me want to sleep and I would never wake up. How my body would explode when the seals on the container where opened to propel the waste into the sun.
There where many thing I hated about my life in this moment but the worst thing was the thought of Chuck and the bullies and Mother Margret winning. I knew this was exactly what they wanted to happen to me.
The bullies probably thought they were doing god’s will since I was an atheist like my parents. Ever since religion started loosing followers, the faithful became downright mean to people like me and my family.
My mother said it was because they wanted to force other people to accept the stories they believed in. That when other people disagreed with them about the stories they thought it was their job to hurt people like us until we converted.
Mom and dad didn’t want that for me. They told me that when I was old enough I would learn about the stories and decide for myself what to believe in. That forcing the stories onto kids was like hitting them or screaming at them. It was abuse that hurt children and made them into bullies like Chuck and his gang, made them think they could hurt other people because the stories told them to do it.
My parents also told me that they would fight against the bullies, that they would be stronger and smarter than they were. That I needed to learn how to out think them when they tried to hurt me. To out think the bullies and become better people than they were.
So why not now. I wasn’t old enough to beat all of them yet but I was smart. Smart enough to get out of this.
“I’m going to beat you Chuck, I’m going to be better than you.”
I turned on the flashlight again. The battery was at 42%. Time to get to work.
I searched around the box to see what was around me. None of the barrels had labels with names, just the symbols with numbers like the posters on the walls of dad’s office.
Then I remembered, I took pictures of the posters for my report on visiting my dad’s work. The posters where in my photo library!
I started looking up the symbols to figure out what those bullies locked me in here with. One side of the container had metal cylinders while the other had a mix of barrels. The ones in the blue plastic had the symbol for corrosive materials on it.
The one on the end, with the extra straps holding it down, had the symbol for acid. According to the warnings the stuff in there was bad enough to eat through anything, even the container I floated toward space in.
I tried to figure out how I could use that. If I tipped the container the acid would spill out all over everything. I would probably get burned and it would hurt.
The acid would also spill over anyone who was under me or be spread out by the wind to hurt people far away. I couldn’t do that.
The top to the container had a wax seal that the acid could not burn but that I could dig through if I only had a tool.
The bag, dad’s tool bag. Maybe some of his tiny tools were still in it? I started digging into the bag, searching every small piece until I found a tiny screwdriver with a flat head. He used it to repair mom’s glasses for her.
I started scratching at the wax seal with the tiny tool until I could smell the fumes from inside the barrel. I heard a sizzling from my hand and noticed that the tip of the screwdriver was being eaten away by a small drop of the powerful stuff.
“Ok, so now I have some acid, what do I do with it?” I used the flashlight on the phone to search around trying to ignore that the battery meter dropped to 30%.
Dad told me that the big battery was on the roof of the container so I couldn’t use the acid on that, liquids don’t fall up.
The power went into the container and run all over to the eight lift pods that was sending me into space a few feet at a time. As I looked around I found a box that was not part of the container’s shape. It didn’t have the ripples along its side the way the rest of the container did.
I checked the images on my phone and found the same type of box. Dad used it to show us how the power was run into the box before it went to the lift pods.
If I could get into the box I could turn off one or two of the lift pods. The container would float back to the ground, and I would be found when they came to fix it.
I did it! I found a way out. Take that Mother Margret.
Dipping the screwdriver into the acid would not be a good way to move the fluid from the barrel to the box. It would just melt on the way.
I needed something that wouldn’t melt, something the acid could not burn. I stood there looking at the barrel using my phone’s flashlight with the power down to 23%.
“How come the acid didn’t eat through the soft plastic barrel?” I said out loud. “The barrel is so soft, but it can hold better than the metal that is so hard?”
I looked at the screwdriver, then at the barrel. “I don’t need something hard, I need something soft.”
I looked in the bag for something I could stick through the small hole in the wax seal, something soft.
I shifted my pictures around to find more of the stuff I had at the bottom of the bag. I found a pen that was made of soft plastic and tried it.
I removed the ink cartridge and the cap at the back end making a hollow tube. I used the pointy end to open up the hole in the wax seal and pushed it into the acid allowing it to fill. I then used my finger to cap the top end so a little bit of the acid stayed in the tube as I lifted it out.
Luckily I held the acid filled pen over the top of the acid barrel while looking at the yellowish fluid inside under my flashlight. I saw it start to eat at the inside of the pen and I just snatched up my phone before the side of the tube opened up and the acid drained out onto the barrel.
Thankfully the outside of the big blue barrel was just as acid proof as the inside. I had got so close, but the pen tube was not the right stuff. Still too hard I guessed.
I continued my search through the bag, desperate to find something that would work. In the side compartment where mom always put dad’s lunch I found a straw.
It was from one of the drink boxes, a flexi-straw that you could poke into the top. The plastic was softer than the pen tube and long enough to reach the level of the acid.
Carefully I stuck a side of the flexi-straw into the acid and pulled it out with my finger on the tip. I watched as the yellow fluid stayed in the straw without eating through.
I almost dropped it when I finally realized the straw was acid proof and screamed, “YES!”
I could see my breath in the cold now, could feel the shivers running up my back. It was time to get back down to the ground.
Stepping high to avoid tripping on the straps I moved back over to the box. Releasing the acid in small bits I dripped it on the two sides of the box. The acid worked so well at burning the metal I could see tiny holes open up almost immediately.
It took three more trips to get enough acid on the door of the panel for it to fall off. I didn’t dare touch it since there was still some acid on it. I heard more of the sizzle below me as the remainder of the acid that dripped off the box ate into the deck of the huge container.
Once the panel was off I saw nine power conduits. Eight of them were bunched together while one was alone.
None of them where marked so I had no idea which one lead to which. “Ok, which ones do I turn off?”
I guessed that I shouldn’t turn them all off since I was already pretty high up. I also figured the ninth one had something to do with the seal they would open to launch the container into the sun.
I collected more acid and dripped it on the connector furthest from the ninth bundle of wires. The acid melted through the wires and into the plastic thingy that held all of it together.
A few moments later the lifting elevator sensation in my stomach seemed to stop. The container creaked and groaned, sounds that scared me a little but since I was already scared it wasn’t that big of a deal.
I used the rest of the acid in the straw to drip on the next bundle of wires. This time the panel sparked and spat at me so I jumped back dropping the straw.
I packed everything back into my bag closing it up, then I put it on my shoulder and tightened the strap so it would stay on me. The phone’s battery was down to 15% at this point so I turned off the flashlight.
The acid did more than eat away at the cables, it spurted and sputtered and burned in the box. The nasty smell instantly filled the container and fumes began to rise as another lift pod lost its power and stopped lifting.
The container rocked back and forth wobbling. I was being thrown around and I didn’t want to get burned by the acid so I wrapped myself up in the mesh netting that was holding a row of barrels.
Another lift pod lost its power and the container started to tilt on the far end. When I looked back I realized the acid barrel was on the lowering side of the container and it was spilling.
“This is bad.” I said as the acid drained from the barrel onto the deck and back wall of the container through the hole I poked into the seal.
Another pop from the panel and the lift pod that was connected to it flickered out. The container’s far side dropped as a result and the floor quickly became the wall.
The feeling of lifting turned to falling. I could feel it dropping downward but I still couldn’t see anything. I turned on the light again and looked down the row of barrels.
The power on the device reached 10%, a power saving window popped up but I had one hand holding the phone and the other wrapped up in the mesh, all I could do was watch as the flickering light showed the acid barrel dripping on the straps that held it in. Soon the straps snapped under the pressure and the corrosive fluid.
The barrel slammed against the far door of the container and more of the seal opened up. The acid drained out onto the panel of the huge metal box and quickly ate through the hasp holding it closed.
For the first time that day I saw sunlight as the doors swung open. Not light from my dying phone but the glow of a bright day.
The side of the container fell open and I could see just how far above the Earth I was. The acid barrel worked free from it’s last bond and dropped out of the container toward the ground below.
More than anything else I experienced that day, knowing how high up I was scared me. All I could do was sit there and wait for the container to fall or for a rescue craft to show up.
Once the metal box opened up my cell phone started dinging, over and over again. Messages, missed calls, voicemails, emails. It seemed like the entire world was looking for me until I took a closer look. They were all from Mother Margret and the ones I read were threats.
I decided to skip the nun and called the emergency number. “Please state the nature of your emergency.” the lady on the other end said.
It took a moment for me to respond, I was so scared.
“Who is this? Is there anyone there?” The voice said again.
“My name is Joshua Carlson, I’m 11 years old, and I am falling inside a big box. Please help me.” I cried out the first thing I could think of.
“Prank calling an emergency number is a crime young man, you are in big trouble.” The voice became harsh.
“This isn’t a prank, I was locked in a disposal container and I am floating above the city.” I tried desperately to explain.
“Young man I will have to trace your call and send the police to arrest you if you don’t tell me the truth.” she threatened me, just like the bullies, just like Mother Margret.
Suddenly I wasn’t as scared as I was angry. “Then do it you stupid bitch, trace the call and arrest me! I dare you.”
“Alright, you asked for it.” the line went dead for a moment until I heard a series of clicks.
When the voice came back on it was different somehow. “I don’t know how you are doing this but I have your location and it says you are over 4,000 feet off the ground.”
“That’s because I am telling the truth you idiot! I am stuck on a container filled with toxic waste falling back to Earth!” I screamed into my dying cell phone.
“How is that possible?” she asked.
“How the hell am I supposed to know, help me!” I didn’t know if my screams made it to her, the phone shut down and again I was all alone.
The acid reached another conduit and the wires sputtered and sparked before the connection was lost and another lift pod failed. The container started falling faster now and the view of the ground upcoming told me that I was going to impact soon and hard.
I looked at the panel and saw that the acid no longer caused the metal and plastic to bubble. After a few moments of the ground getting closer really fast I had one more thought.
To stop myself from slamming into the ground I needed the lift pods to turn back on. If I reconnected the power to one or two they could slow my drop without taking me up again.
If I bent the acid burnt wires to the side I could reconnect them with the power using one of the undamaged ones. Since the lift pods were on the bottom and the battery on top I figured that the bottom half of the burnt wire would be the one to bend over to the good wire.
If I did it now it would slow my drop without smacking the ground too hard, but it could also send me back up. I needed to add the power and take it away so I could land soft and stay down.
The singed wires were still hot so I covered my hand with my jacket’s sleeve before bending them over. Dad told me that as long as I only touch one wire, and not the edge of the box, I would not get electrocuted.
I wished for the hundredth time that he was there with me, that he could explain this to me like all the other things. I wish mom was there to tell me it would be Ok.
I saw the roofs of the houses under me clearly, saw the people below looking at the falling box. Did they know I was inside, did they care?
I bent the wire and touched it to another powering a lift pod and my fall slowed down. The wind pushed the massive box to the side and I almost lost my grip on the wire. I looked down again and saw the ground moving beneath me.
I was traveling sideways as I fell and I had no idea where I was going. I used my other hand to grab a second burnt wire and I bent it over to the same wire I used before.
The lift pod reactivated and the container’s fall slowed again. For the first time that day I actually thought I might make it back alive.
Then the container hit something, I was busy looking at the panel so I didn’t see it but I felt the impact. It knocked me back into the cargo mesh and I lost my grip on the wires powering the two lift pods.
That’s when the panel burst into flames and all the connections came loose, all at once. The container tilted over and fell onto it’s top side with a thunderous crash.
I remember hearing everything shaking and feeling the container roll over before I was slammed onto a metal cylinder and knocked out. Darkness again.
I woke up in a strange place, only this time it was bright and noisy, not dark and quiet. I heard voices screaming, stuff rattling around me, electronic sounds beeping and whirling. It was so confusing.
I felt a hand on my face, a soft hand moving my hair from my eyes. “It’s alright Joshua, you’re safe.”
I looked up to see a familiar face, a woman I had never met but I knew from the pictures.
“My bag! Where’s my bag?” I bolted up in the bed they put me in. All my clothes had been cut up and bandages wrapped around different parts of my legs and arms.
“I have it, its right here.” The lady handed me the bag and all my pictures were inside, as was my phone.
I looked around to see I was in a hospital that was crazy with all the people running around. In the distance I saw Mother Margret and another man arguing. Actually he was yelling at her and she was trying to get a word in.
“The barrel of acid, the one that fell from the container!” I was worried it fell on someone.
“It landed in the middle of nowhere, the hazardous materials crews are there now cleaning it up. Nobody was harmed.” She spoke with a slightly English accent.
I looked back at the oddly familiar lady. She wasn’t dressed like a nurse or doctor, she just sat there silently waiting for me. “Who are you?”
She smiled the way mom smiled, like she smiled with her whole face. “You were too young to remember the last time we were in the country. I am your mother’s sister, your aunt Claire.”
That’s what it was, she was in the wedding pictures. “I have a picture of you when mom and dad got married.” I searched in my bag and found it to show her. She smiled and used her phone to show me the same image along with others from that day. Pictures of my parents smiling and laughing before I was born.
A voice erupted from the other side of the emergency room. “You kidnapped my nephew and told us he was dead! Why, so you could force him to be a Catholic like you?”
Mother Margret tried to calm him, “We were saving his immortal soul from the heathens!” She sounded desperate, even I knew she was toast.
“I am going to sue the Catholic Church for whatever it has left but you will not be there to see it. I am going to make sure you rot in a prison cell for what you have done!” The police officer who was trying to calm the man down turned to the woman and arrested her on the spot.
“That’s your uncle Kent. He’s just taking care of a few details before we take you back to your house.” Aunt Claire said.
“Back to my house? Mother Margret said it was the Church’s house now.” I was confused.
“Don’t worry, your Uncle Kent and I will ensure that you are taken care of.” she said. “That was an incredibly brave thing you did, I doubt there is a young man in the world that could have done better. You really are your father’s son.”
I cried. Everything that had happened seemed to rush into me. I was so scared, so alone in the dark. I never thought I would get out of that box.
Aunt Claire held me tight and somehow I knew I would never have to feel that way again.