Outside the wardrobe, Graham heard Peggy Lee and Ian moving around the room. After a few minutes, they left, closing the door quietly behind them. Crammed in the closet, Graham could hear nothing but the sound of his own intensely labored breathing. Sweat dripped down his brow and into his eyes. Inside the dusty hood, the air became nearly unbreathable. His arms ached, and his stomach throbbed from where Ian had kicked him. He wanted to scream, but his tongue’s effort against the ball in his mouth made him gag. He was afraid he’d throw up. He thought he might choke. He struggled against the straps that bound his wrists, but he could not free himself. He recalled the terror in Ginger’s eyes back in the silo – those many years ago – as she yowled against the violent storm of corn. He wondered if his eyes now looked like hers did then. He wanted, he needed to touch his scar, to try to calm himself down, but he couldn’t.
Graham tried to stand up, but the wardrobe was too short. He hit the top of his head and then fell forward. He could squat, but that was no help. He tried to push the wardrobe doors open with his knees, but he could not get any leverage. The wardrobe seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. Graham felt his breathing quicken. He knew that he had to calm down, but the sides of the closet were closing in on him. Now the air in the hood turned to thick gravy. Each breath filled his lungs with dirt and grit. Each breath became faster, shorter, harder.
Graham flipped himself onto his back with his feet in the air. His arms were pinned painfully underneath him. He tried to calm himself down. The image of Peggy Lee’s face came into his head. She was so beautiful. How could she have done this to him? She had seemed so genuine, so caring and kind. The thought of her crying in the hover transport vehicle made his stomach drop. Was it just an act? He felt sick with shame, and then the anger took back over.
He had to do something to get out of there. With his feet, he kicked the side of the wardrobe as hard as he could. The banging was deafening inside of the wardrobe. He knew that trying to signal someone was a long shot. The soldiers’ quarters were far away, as was the rec room. Perhaps some of the guys had lingered in the dining hall and could hear him, but he doubted it. After a few minutes of continuous kicking, he stopped. He was exhausting himself, and no one was coming.
Graham began to pass in and out of consciousness. In his haze, he remembered a story about a woman who had been caught cheating on her husband. The husband happened to be one of the most powerful traders in ancient Rome. He had loved his wife with all of his heart. In his anguish over discovering her infidelity, he ordered that she be buried alive. The execution, however, was designed to send a message to all of the other wives in the area. The trader commanded the gravediggers to install an air tube from the grave to the ground above. They forced the woman into a coffin-like box, and then the lid was nailed shut. The gravediggers attached a ceramic tube to the box and lowered her into the ground. After the gravediggers filled in the hole, the end of the tube stuck up from the ground about six inches. The woman survived for days and days. She was slowly dying of thirst and of hunger. Ghastly, animalistic screams rang out from the tube all day and all night long. The husband stayed by her graveside listening and lamenting. Sometimes, he would pace back and forth on the soil above his wife’s dwindling body and suffering soul. When finally the tortuous whimpers had ended, the husband drank a solution of hemlock and died a few moments later, with his hand next to the silent ceramic pipe.
Graham awoke with a start. He could feel the heavy dirt above, the sides of the coffin pressing in against his arms. He could hear the hopeless screams echoing inside the tiny box, the stifling air filled death and unbridled fear. He twisted and struggled on the floor of the wardrobe. The gag pressed down into his throat and the thick hood seemed to tighten around his head. His heart was about to explode. He tried to pull his hands free, but it was no use. He needed to get some air. He had to get out of there.
And then he heard a sound. It was faint at first, far away, but he had definitely heard something. He listened intently, trying to ignore his heart pounding in his ears. And then he heard it again. It was Charley: “Graham? Hey, Graham? Are you still around here?”
Graham started banging the side of the wardrobe again with his feet. After about thirty seconds, he stopped and listened.
“Graham? Is that you?” Charley’s voice was coming from the hallway. He was nearby.
Graham banged once.
“Why don’t you say something?”
With all his might, Graham kicked and kicked, shaking the wardrobe violently.
“Okay, okay, are you in Peggy Lee’s room?”
Graham heard Charlie trying the door and then a loud crash as he knocked it down. “Where are you?” he asked as he flipped the light switch.
Graham banged on the cabinet one last time. He listened as Charley untied the ropes. It seemed to take forever. His body was shaking. His arms involuntarily pulled against the constraints, tearing away the skin on his wrists.
The doors swung open. Charlie pulled Graham out of the wardrobe, loosened the ties of the hood, and yanked it off.