It’s obvious, there’s nothing in the box.
Why would there be anything in the box?
You put a man in a hole – a deep hole - sides sheer smooth as though dug by water, and a plug of what looks to be concrete for the bottom, you put him there, up here in the mountains, a day’s walk from anyone then you don’t need anything in the box.
Except, the note said there could be something in the box.
It’s a wooden box, about twelve inches wide, six inches high. It’s hinged at the back and clasped at the front with brass buckles which are stiff to the touch but they can be opened. There’s no lock.
There is a note.
What’s in the box, it says. Satellite phone? Or ampoule of nerve toxin set to release upon opening?
Is it salvation, or is it termination? Only one way to find out.
Of course, in the end, it is the end, a slow death from exposure.
The hole itself isn’t all that very much deep. It’s not say a hole dug by questing diamond miners, not a hole as might be used to pour the foundations of some vast skyscraper. But it’s deep enough. Deep enough that a jump still leaves its summit a good three feet from straining fingertips, and that’s even using the box as a launchpad.
So, back to the box.
What if there’s a gun? One swift bullet through the brain, and that’s it, torture over. Oh, the irony, the shot heard by the search parties and they redouble their efforts only to discover the still warm – but lifeless – body.
Or there’s a flare gun. Point it at the sky and shoot, guide them here, because right at this very moment a party of young Cub scouts is crossing a stile, they’re walking away, they’re getting further away, drifting out of earshot.
Or sit there, box on the knees, nails bitten to the quick.
Try to outthink the owner of this box and the digger of this hole. It’s not like a bullet to the back of the head, and not like being walled up either. Him, her, whoever; they want you to see the sky, they want you to hope, they want you to wrack your brains. They want you to despair.
They want you to slowly starve, for the hunger pangs to rise through your body an escape through the top of your head taking all good sense with them. They want you to slowly grin in triumph, because of course, it’s a hole, and holes fill with water when it rains. Men float. Wooden boxes float. Let the heavens open, let the rain come, let it fill this hole and float you serenely to your sweet victory.
Only it’s eight days now and not a cloud in the sky.
The brass buckles are open but when that happened is unclear. It must have happened because you’re clever, you’re using logic. You must give time for the search parties to discover you, and if there is a nerve toxin leave it till the last possible moment to find out, but of course, by that point you might be too weak to lever open the stiff catches.
Perhaps there’s a magic bicycle in the box and you will ride it freedom.
Or perhaps there’s nothing, except a final cruel twist.
Open the box, go on.