I screamed for longer than I thought I ever could. I screamed until I was sure I was about to die from suffocation if the bugs didn’t take me out.
Then, my neighbor upstairs banged on the floor.
“Shut up down there! The game is on!”
And somehow, that got me to stop. And notice that I wasn’t covered in bugs anymore. Still hyperventilating, I patted myself down, lifted my shirt to look at my stomach, and checked the inside of my mouth. Nothing.
The cockroaches were gone.
I stood there for a long time, unable to think past that.
Every few moments, I checked all the same places, expecting the bugs to have hidden somewhere. For this to be a cruel joke of a reprieve. But after a whole hour, I was still safe. And only then did I start to think about what had just happened.
My legs were unsteady, shaky, but I walked back into my living room. That, too, was clear of bugs.
But The Phobia Box was still there. Sitting innocently. The door that had dispensed so many roaches was shut again. And not even a twitch or skittering noise to suggest the roaches had disappeared back into the box.
But one thing had changed. The dial on top had shifted over. It wasn’t on the bug symbol anymore.
The hair on my arms stood up as I looked, as the reality—if it could be called that—sunk in. I’d read enough horror stories to understand the rules, the implications.
The new symbol was as basic as the previous one. It was some kind of smoke vaguely in the shape of a person. It looked small, almost forlorn, like it was trying to slink off into the background of its own image. But it had a pair of angry eyes that stared out.
The Phobia Box started ticking like an egg timer again.
Panic snapped through me like icicles dropping, and I grabbed the little handle.
“Reset, reset, reset…”
I kept muttering that word over and over as I twisted the dial as hard as I could backward. Maybe, I reasoned, if I could set it to the starting position, it wouldn’t do…whatever that next symbol meant.
It was no use, though. The skin on my fingers peeled, and my finger joints ached, but no matter how hard I tried, the dial stayed in the same spot.
“Please,” I said to The Phobia Box, “I don’t want to play.”
The Phobia Box stopped ticking, and I let out a little cry in the back of my throat.
“Oh god…please no…”
There was a ding, and The Phobia Box’s door fell open again.
Revealing nothing inside.
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