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The Box

The Box


“We’re lost.”

Tara’s hands gripped the wheel tighter, her knuckles turning white as she tried to hold her tongue. One more time, if he tells me we’re lost one more time, I’m pulling the car over.

A few more miles of Appalachia fell behind them.

“I’m telling you we’re los-”

“That’s it.”

Tara pulled their van over suddenly, jostling Darrell as much as she could in process.

“I get it, ok? We’re lost. I know. No phone, no GPS, and no idea where we’re at. I. Know. In fact, no phones is the reason we’re out here. But we’ve got nearly a full tank of gas, plenty of daylight, and we each brought a lunch with us. All I’m trying to do is find somewhere I can pull over ask for directions. Anyone living clear out here is going to know where the nearest town is and from there it’ll be easy to get our bearings.”

“…Yeah, ok…you’re right…I’m just-”

“You’re just worried. I get that, too. The job’s different out here in the mountains. If you get lost back in the city there’s always someone around to ask for directions. There’s always a signal. But sometimes out here you just gotta drive. We’ll get back on track and maybe even complete this service call before dark, yeah?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Just don’t worry so much. We might not know where we are, but this isn’t exactly uncharted territory.”

But Tara Anderson, veteran cell tower technician, was worried. Just a little. They got back on the road.

Surely they should have passed a house or a cabin by now, right? They built this road for a reason. It’s got to go somewhere. She knew the problem with these towers was that they don’t have to be near civilization at all. Out here the companies just lease whatever land they need to and then make it work, building roads, clearing trees, anything. So what if a few technicians get lost because someone gave them bad directions?

Tara’s worry shifted to annoyance and then back again before finally settling somewhere between the two.

It wasn’t Darrell’s fault, though, she told herself and made a mental note to buy him a coffee whenever they made it back to town to apologize for snapping at him.

Finally a gravel road caught Tara’s eye.

“Ha!” Her sudden outburst made Darrell jump. “We were going the right way all along! That’s one of our roads right there. This has got to be it.”

In a few minutes Tara and Darrell were at the top of the small mountain and, after confirming that this was indeed the tower they were looking for, had already started unloading their equipment from the company van. The call had been vague; all they knew was that someone was getting odd signals from this tower. If something was structurally wrong with the tower itself Tara knew they’d have to get a whole team out here, but anything besides that her and her partner should be able to take care of. While she was getting the last box of equipment from the back, she heard Darrell shout that he’d already found the problem. Maybe she’d be buying him that coffee for lunch rather than dinner.

She left the tools and headed back to the base of the tower. As she walked, she could hear a buzzing in her ear. Well, it’s definitely the time of year for bugs, she thought. What a pain.

He was right; the problem was obvious. Something else was wired into the tower, with its own wires that seemed to run clear up to the top.

“Looks homemade.” Darrell said casually. “Someone trying to hijack our signal or something? Hackers or whatever?”

Right again, except for the hijacking. The whole set up looked crude. A simple, poorly-crafted wooden box with two thick copper wires running out of one side. She’d never heard any of the other technicians talk about finding something like this.

“I don’t really know if it works that way, man. Besides it looks kind of…bad. Like not well-made, right? It doesn’t even look like it’s got any power running to it, just these two wires running up the tower.”

“Mmm, I don’t know. I was just guessing. So we disconnect it now or what?”

“Yeah. I guess. Let’s open the top though and make sure the wires aren’t hooked up to a battery or something. Hand me a pry bar?”

Darrell fished one out of the toolbox they’d unloaded and passed it to her. The top of the box came away with surprising ease. Peering inside she could have just as easily been looking inside a computer or a radio, just a jumble of unidentifiable electronics. Unsure of what else to do, she reached for the one obvious part: a switch.


In a few moments and Tara and Darrell were at the top of the small mountain and already unloading their equipment from the company van. Tara hesitated as she reached for their last box of tools. She didn’t even bother to grab it as she heard Darrell call for her. On her way back up she found herself annoyed by the sheer amount of bugs out today; the buzzing in her ears was really starting to bother her.

Staring down into the box, Tara found nothing particularly unusual, just wires and circuits. After a moment of debate and with nothing else to go on, she decided to try the most obvious solution and switch the device off.


“Are you coming?” Darrell asked, leaning back into the open passenger side door. “We gotta get our stuff out and get to work, yeah?”

“Y-yeah. Yeah, I’m coming. I just thought I saw…” What had she thought she’d seen? Someone. A man. There had been someone standing down the slope near the tree line. Hadn’t there? She relaxed her grip on the steering wheel and got out of the van.

Together they carried all of their equipment up to the tower, managing to get it all in one trip. The bugs were relentless this time of year and their buzzing was almost too loud to think.

“Woah, what’s this? This has got to be the problem. Someone’s wired something onto the tower.”

“What?” Tara felt foggy and the buzzing wouldn’t stop, but she knelt down to look at the box. “Wha- what is this?”

“Like I said, this must be causing all the interference. What should we do? Just cut the wires?”

Leave. We should leave. But she couldn’t make herself say the words.

“We should…open…it. In case the wires are hooked to a battery…or something…”

Don’t open it. She didn’t know why but everything screamed at her not to open the box. But she found her thoughts too cluttered to concentrate and they were finally drowned out by the never-ending buzzing. Damn these bugs.

“Hand me a pry bar would you?”


There’s someone else up here.

The toolbox was shaking in Tara’s hands as she stared down the hill. They had just started getting stuff out of the van when something caught her eye.

He’s just standing there. Watching. Watching me. Why can’t I focus on him? Why is it so loud?

She started to sweat. Her vision narrowed and it became harder and harder to breath. Her eyes strained to focus on the man, but it was hopeless. She didn’t understand.

“Tara!” It was Darrel. She turned around losing sight of the stranger on the hill and in that moment he was forgotten. “I found our problem. You gotta see this thing.”

She was already at the foot of the tower, although she didn’t remember walking up here. Darrell talked at her, but she couldn’t hear him very well. She didn’t bother to respond as she knelt down beside the wooden box.

“Pry…pry bar…” She muttered holding out her hand.

“Oh, uh, sure thing. Guess we should see what’s inside before we go cutting any wires. Huh?”

“Yeah…Guess we should…”

Her hands seemed to move by muscle memory as she worked the pry bar under the top of the box. Soon she found herself staring down at a mass of circuitry and wires. Her vision swam and darkened as the machine inside seemed to fold in on itself, a single switch remaining positioned right on top. She thought she ought to press it. Or tried to think. How could Darrell stand all these bugs?

She hesitated. Somehow a clear thought made it through and she sat back away from the device.

“We should leave.”

“What? We don’t even know what this thing is?”

“Right! We don’t! Maybe it’s…maybe it’s a bomb!” Tara was in hysterics and desperate. “We gotta call someone!”

In her desperation to get to her feet, she reached to put her hand on the lip of the open box for support. But as her hand slipped inside and she fell forward, she could have sworn for a split second that it felt like someone pushed her.


He was a young man. Maybe early thirties at the latest. He was only a few feet away from her now, but she could still barely make out his features. Fear paralyzed her. She couldn’t even manage to let go of the toolbox in her trembling hands. Darrell would be almost to the tower by now. He would discover the box any second. The man’s voice was both separate from and part of the buzzing at the same time. The sound was overwhelming.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I am so sorry.”

Such sad eyes, Tara thought to herself before her vision went black.


She looked down at her hands and flexed them experimentally. All the buzzing was gone now.

“Tara! Come look at this! I found our problem.”

She picked the toolbox back up and made her way to the top. Darrell was crouched down next to a crude wooden box facing away from her.

He never saw her pick up the pry bar.

And he never saw her swing it.

It took her a minute to find where they’d put the keys, but soon Tara had got the van started and was making her way back down the mountain. At the end of the gravel driveway she hesitated, unsure of which way to go. With a heavy sigh she simply slumped back in her seat.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, burying her face in her hands, “I had to.”

She took a minute to compose herself.

Finally she chose left and hoped she wouldn’t get lost.