The Box of Delights Writing Competition - James Doyle
James Doyle | 27 March 2017

The moon hangs low tonight, hidden behind a haze of grey clouds, as if hiding from the horrors below. A low thrum seems to emanate from the dirt itself, singing its deep, mournful song, lamenting what lies beneath its surface. A faint mist is creeping through the trees that line the clearing, like claws, scouring the shadows for an innocent to claim. And a figure stands, a lone shadow, hunched over like an old man. At a first glance, through the dark, one might think he is waving his arms around frantically, as if trying to bat away some invisible foe. But move in closer and his true intentions become clear as glass. He is digging.

 

The ground is cold and the wind is harsh, but onwards he digs, down and down and down. His fingernails are worn and his clothes, battered and torn, yet onwards he digs, on and on and on. What awaits him in the frozen earth is worth more to him than any jewel, any amount of blood, any life. For in the end, material things will fade and die – it is the things that hold such sentimental value that are priceless, the things that we will give our lives to protect. At long last, his hands hit wood. After clearing away the fragile stones and dead ground, he steps back to admire his work. A hole, six feet by three, and a wooden box, sunken into the mud, sunken like his eyes, set back deep into his skull, smothered by tendrils of shadow.

 

With little effort, he reaches down and prises the lid off the box, the nails that once sealed the box, falling away, lifelessly. Her face is revealed to him, glowing as if an angel, highlighted in the faint rays of silver that reach down from above. The stars in the expanse of void of sky are calling out in their silent voices, begging her to run, but they are years too late. Laid out in the box is the figure of a young girl. Her eyes are pointed skyward and unblinking. Her beauty in undeniable, a sculptor’s final masterpiece, detailed in pure white marble.

 

There are tears in his eyes, but he is smiling now. She has been waiting for him all this time, waiting for her daddy to come home. Leaning in, he breathes in her familiar scent, that of the dead rose she clasps between her stone hands. He places his blue lips gently upon her ivory forehead, as if wishing her sweet dreams. She is cold, but what lies within the man’s heart is colder. The dark stranger brushes a few strands of her pale hair behind her ear, and draws closer to whisper to her.

 

Daddy is home. But the girl cannot hear him. Instead she screams out in fear and desperation, trapped in her mortal body, silent and unchanging. No sound escapes the lips of the dead girl. The girl he killed.

James Routledge 2016