I was in a meadow. Green, with flourishing life and an abundance of all kinds of plants and animals, with other strange and beautiful creatures I'd never seen before. I was walking down a dirt path, slightly overgrown with moss and flowers; the sounds of flapping birds' wings and insect chirps echoed throughout the forest. I did not know how I had gotten there, or where the path would lead, but I did not care.

The sun was blasting intense heat at the humid canopy. I wiped sweat off my brow and trudged through a particularly prickly mound of bushes. Within minutes, however, the sun was gone. I glanced up, noticing that the canopy had grown a little thicker here. Still, I moved forward. The path I was following began to get a little more overgrown with plant life.

Six minutes passed, and now the forest looked almost entirely different. The beautiful sounds and sights of the woods back on the trail were gone. Dim light shone through the dense trees above, illuminating only what could be seen twenty feet in front of me. The path was almost impossible to see. Still, I marched on. I heard the voices of my friends, my family, telling me to leave those woods as soon as possible. But I didn't listen. I droned out their voices.

Seven minutes. Now the forest was pitch black, save for the occasional break in the canopy. Thick, tangled trees grew in the dry earth, and gnarled bushes found life beneath them. Dense spider webs grew tangled along the path, forcing me to duck or step over them every so often. Now, only the loud buzzing of large, ugly insects could be heard. They drowned out any other sounds. Suddenly I could not see, I was blind. I stumbled, tripping on roots in the path. I used my hands as guides, feeling only the insects tangled in the spider webs and the gnarled stumps of what were trees. I fell to my knees, crawling on all fours. Some sort of crushing force was straining my muscles, eventually pinning me to the ground. Without movement, I lay on the rock-hard dirt. I could not see or hear anything. The scent of earth filled my head. Fresh, moist soil gave way to parched, cracked dirt.

I awoke with a start, my head smashing against something above me. Bright red and yellow lights flashed before my eyes, causing my eyes to strain. I closed them once again, laying my head down. Taking several deep breaths, I noticed it was fairly difficult to breathe in my bed. I sat up once more, but slowly. Sure enough, my head hit the thing again. I looked up, noticing the blackness that was above me.

I touched it.

Wooden. My fuzzy mind struggled to put two and two together...

The realization then came upon me. I kicked my feet, threw my fists, hit my head. I screamed, moving around in the same manner a captured wild dog does when being transported in the animal control van. My fists began to bleed from the punches I gave to the wood.

"Help!" I cried. "I've been buried alive! I've been buried alive!"

I punched the sides and slammed into the top once more, before I finally quieted down. All I could hear was my deep breathing. It was getting continuously harder to breathe; I began gasping and sweating, feeling claustrophobic. My mind raced, adrenalin surging into my body. That was when I noticed the straw.

It was about an inch from my face. It led up into the blackness, presumably farther than that. Perhaps it reached the surface! "Help!" I yelled up into it. A draft of cool air swirled down into the cramped space from the tube. It was small, almost unnoticeable, but undoubtedly from the outside world. I put my mouth on the straw and took gulps of fresh air. It took a little effort, but I could breathe just fine with the tube.

"Hello," said a voice from the straw. In an instant my mouth was off the tube. I stared in utter silence, not sure whether or not I had actually heard it. Oddly, I could taste the words in my mouth. "Do you know where you are?" said the voice. It was male, deep and raspy with old age. "As you probably know by now, you have indeed been buried alive."

I was now completely sure the voice was existent. "Help," I called up the straw. "Call someone! The police!"

"It's too late for them now," said the man. "They'll never find you unless I tell them where you are. That straw you speak into...that's your only communication."

"Can you grab a shovel or something?" I called. "Dig me up? I'm in some kind of coffin..."

"Very good," he said, with a tone in his voice that suggested politeness. Or was it malice?

"As a mortician," he went on, "I prefer the term 'casket'. It sounds less... I don't know, dark. At any rate, you are in a locked-up box twelve feet beneath the surface of the woods somewhere in Idaho."

A cold, shivering tremor went through my spine. "Call the police..." I said weakly. I didn't know whether he had heard me.

"In a few minutes, the straw will be removed from the casket," he said, as though he hadn't noticed me. "The sheer tons of weight of the earth above you will crush the casket like an aluminum can, and within minutes you will be dead, suffocated by the earth. If, against all reason, you manage to find a breathing-hole in the dirt, the maggots will get to you eventually, leading to a slow and painful death."

For about sixty seconds, only silence was heard. "I don't know who you are, or why you have put me here," I said, my voice cracking slightly. "But I beg of you, let me free. If I owe you money, it will be repaid. Just dig me up. I have a family."

"Your family means nothing! Your death will go unnoticed, and those who do notice won't give a fuck!" He shouted. "You think I don't remember what you did to me all those years ago? Like the past just erases itself once you forget about it? This, Mr. Markham, is what you owe me. Not money. No, no, no. No amount of money in the world could mend the wounds you gave me!"

He leaned into the straw. I could almost feel his hot breath on my face; it reeked of stale earth and flesh. He spoke, with a whisper of a man who has truly lost all mentality. The whisper of a madman.

"This is nothing but payback, Mr. Markham."

The straw slowly lifted out of the casket.