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“Hell In A Shell”

Hell In A Shell


I woke up startled; trying to open up my eyes that were crusted over from a deep slumber, wondering where I was but then reality hit me. The fetor of decay snatched me from my dream state and once again crippled my hope. This horrific metal box still held me hostage and this is the longest night of my life.

The salty sweat stings my eyes as I peer into the blackness that offers nothing in return but suffering. Perhaps it is better that my eyes cannot see these atrocities that hide in the dark. My senses torture me and I beg to be deaf; to have no smell.

I slowly rise to me feet and contemplate leaving this corner of the box again. My legs nearly buckle under my hollowed frame. My own body has turned against me. In the absence of food, my muscles are slowly being consumed for energy. What a sick irony that is. Energy for what?

How many more have died? The screams are fewer, but it’s hard to interpret the numbers now. I don’t want to know. Hurry death. Come and end this madness.

I fumble with my first step and bones crack under my feet; not my bones. No cry of agony shouts out from beneath me so no apology needed. I take another step and this time my foot meets the cold metal box. My toes extend out as I steady myself. I breathe deep with my mouth and take another step. Seconds feel like eons. Like the roll of the dice, each step is a gamble, but I must find where I left off. I must finish what I started. I will not die here; not like this.

My fingers gently brush the steel wall of this box. Softly and methodically I trace from top to bottom and left to right. I stumble again and fall this time. My face slams into the mouth of someone on the floor mid scream. With no energy to stand or oppose my intrusion into his space, this stranger gnashes his teeth against my cheek, like a rabid dog. His breath smells of brimstone. I slam my elbow repeatedly into his throat area and the screaming man is silenced. I’m covered in blood and other bodily fluids as I rise again from hell.

My left foot rests on his crushed hand and my right, on the floor.  I trace the wall again. I negotiate with my senses and rely only on touch. As if stroking the wing of a butterfly, my fingers drift across this lifeless steel; it has become my canvas and I’ll finish my masterpiece. I find my spot on the wall and continue where I left off.

I pull from my pocket the nail that has become my voice. With my left hand I find my place on the wall and with my right hand I bring the nail to the steel. The squeak of the nail against the metal box is the only hope I have left; the only hope any of us have. We must be heard. Don’t judge us for what we’ve done and what you see here. We stepped into this box of our own doing. We knew the risk. We knew of the monsters that waited for us; the monsters we would become. Now here we are adrift on the open sea as unknown cargo. We did the best we could to die with dignity but necessity lends no compassion to such attributes.


“Jesus!’ shouts the dock worker as he peeled open the cargo container doors.


The sight and smell from inside the box was too much to bear. He dropped his radio and fell to tears. He had heard about ships like this wandering up on America’s shores but this was his first experience. The horror inside the box was unimaginable. His eyes fell back upon the box and vomit shot from his mouth. He tried as best as he could to gather his composure. A radio call went out and police were quickly on scene.

The lead investigator’s report was summarized as follows:


     “A cargo ship from an unknown origin arrived at port on 19 August. Sixty three souls perished inside the box. No survivors. Among the bodies were men of varying ages. The inside of the box can best be described as Hell in a shell. Of the notable findings in the cargo container, there were two things that will haunt my memories forever.

  1. One man was found near the door with a blood covered nail in his hand.
  2. The story presented above was chiseled on the inside walls of the box.”





-Chris Crider ©2017


“Addled Scream”



The unborn baby cried a silent scream in a womb that was secretly hiding a drug addled mind; a secret that thirteen seconds ago was as common as the rain that falls on this godforsaken place. The mother rolls to a stop at the feet of the man in the dark, standing on the curb.

Tires screech as the car that dumped her speeds around the corner out of sight. No attempt is made to take notice of the car’s distinct markings by the man; it didn’t matter to him.

From under cover of a large hat, he smokes his hand rolled cigarette and stares down at the broken body that lay at his feet. She is full term. Gravel from the road is still tangled in her hair and the rain pours down. Her sleeves are torn from her arms and clearly she overdosed minutes ago.

The rain quickly washes away the blood from her head and all evidence runs into the sewer where it belongs. Her agonal breathing however can’t be hidden by the deluge. He didn’t have much time. Her path to enlightenment led her straight to the gutter; the very place where she was born. Now the only hope for her unborn child rests in the hand of this man in the rain.

He pinches the head of his cigarette off and places it in his trench coat pocket. He quickly walks to the building and fumbles with his keys; dropping them a few times. His eyes dart to the gutter to confirm she hasn’t been taken by a passerby then quickly he deals with the lock on the big industrial sized door. The clatter of the chain falling to the sidewalk echoes down the block.

He rushes into the freight elevator and quickly returns to the curb. Scooping her up, limbs dangling, he dumps her into a wheel barrel. The rusty frame struggles to hold her weight and the under inflated tire makes it difficult to push.

Once inside the elevator he quickly heaves the heavy door closed and begins the ascent to the top floor of the old factory. The antiquated elevator rumbles to a stop and the door is pulled open again.

He rushes across the open space of the dilapidated loft; kicking rats from his path. Against the far wall he presses the intercom bottom to buzz room 17 below his floor.


“You have thirty minutes.” he speaks into the wall intercom then releases the button.


He sets his stopwatch and fishes from his trench coat the unfinished cigarette. He leans down over the makeshift fire pit in the middle of the floor and lights up. His eyes squint through the heat and smoke towards the girl in the wheel barrel.

The doctor cranks on a big lever that rolls open a big section of roof and the rain spills into the loft. It pours directly down onto the mechanic’s style lift where surgeries are performed. The girl’s body is dumped onto the lift. The table jolts upward about two inches at a time with each pressing of the mechanical foot pedal; her limbs dangle off the edges. He grabs a dusty duffel bag from underneath and flaps it open. The girl lay lifeless and growing colder by the second as the rain hammers her body. He leans over her and ashes from his cigarette fall onto her abdomen and quickly wash away.

This night welcomes new life into the world and says goodbye to another. Indiscretions are rinsed away down drains in the floor; returning to the gutter.

Twenty two and one half minutes later a bell jingles near the freight elevator. They are here. The doctor activates the elevator and sends it down, returning with three men dressed in military gear.


“In the box near the fire, and don’t forget to leave my money.” says the doctor.


The three men inspect the wooden box that resembled a manger sitting near the fire.


“Captain, it’s a girl” says one of the soldiers.


Through the haze of smoke that obscures the doctor’s face he speaks to them.


“Her name is Hope. Get her out of here now, before I change my mind.”



-Chris Crider 2017



“Wait. Nurse, come back. I, I can’t do this. I’ve changed my mind. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.”


“Sir, it’s ok. We talked about this. You can do it.”


“No. I, I feel like I’m holding her to tight. She’s, she’s so tiny.”


“Let me check. She looks fine. She looks very happy. See how she’s pressed against your bare chest? She can feel your heartbeat. She needs to know you’re here. She needs your warmth and to know you’re fighting with her. She’s a fighter this one.”


“I can’t, I, I just can’t. I’m not ready, she’s, and she’s not ready. Take her back please; put her back in the incubator. We can try again tomorrow. Maybe she’ll be stronger tomorrow. Maybe I’ll….”


“Sir, sir; you can do this. Look at me. You can do this. We’ll be right outside. I’m going to dim the lights now.”


The door closes and the room goes hauntingly quiet.


An hour passes and his back continues to tighten. His legs are rigid and his arms hurt. He sits like a stone statue in the dark quiet room; holding her. The buzz from the lights in the ceiling is deafening and most certainly will wake her.


“Nurse, nurse can you hear me?” he whispers


His whisper startles her and she squirms on his chest trying to connect with his heartbeat again. She struggles and panic creeps into his mind. She wiggles more and then settles. Her tiny hand with its loose skin presses against her face. She’s ok.


“Are you a fighter? The nurses say you’re a fighter.” He whispers.


She shifts slightly upon hearing his voice then settles once again.


“Are you a fighter? How can you be? You’re so tiny. The nurses say your lungs are underdeveloped and you got a tough road ahead. You weren’t supposed to be here for another two months. What’s your hurry? This world ain’t nuthin worth seeing really. It’s tough out here in the world and you’re so tiny. You’re like eight quarter pound cheeseburgers. That’s pretty small. Yeah I just compared you to some cheeseburgers. My first job was flipping burgers. I reckon you don’t care much about that.”


The nurses gather outside the room huddle by the window.


“How’s he doing?”


“He’s telling her about cheeseburgers or something like that.”




“Yeah, he’s telling her about cheeseburgers.”


“Did you see the drawing he sketched?”




“Yeah, he didn’t have a camera when we first brought her to ICU. He asked me for a pen and paper then sat down and drew her.”


The nurses stand at the window and listen to his random stories.


“He’s gonna make it.” whispers one of the nurses


“Yeah, she’ll get him there.”



-Chris Crider 2018




     One sunny afternoon near the edge of the forest, two trees had a very interesting conversation. One tree was old, tall, and wise, and the other was young, small, and pretty new to the earth. From where they were they could see far and wide across the flat land in front of them.

     A loud clap of thunder shook the quiet afternoon as a big storm approached from off in the distance. The little tree shook with fear when he heard the loud thunder. The big tree noticed that the little tree was shaking. A few moments passed and the little tree spoke.


“Is it true that a long time ago some of the trees just fell over to the ground?” he asked.


“Yes, Lil Sap, that is true” said Stalwart, the bigger tree.


“But why? Why did they just fall over, Stalwart? Were they old, or did something knock them down? Was it a big storm like the one that is coming this way?”


“That’s an interesting story Lil Sap, and it’s quite the opposite of what you think.”


“Why did they fall over then, Stalwart? What do you mean opposite?”


     Stalwart replied “Well, Lil Sap, it happened far off beyond the open field in front of us, and it happened a long time ago. A group of humans wanted to make a beautiful forest inside a glass dome. They wanted to build what nature had built and thought that they could do just as good a job. They did a very good job indeed, and almost matched nature perfectly. Flowers grew and other plants too. It was magnificent. Trees began to grow and reach high into the air. They were given plenty of water and had lots of beautiful sun to help them grow. Over time they got taller and taller. Everything was going just as planned, and the humans were very pleased with their creation.”


     Another loud crack of thunder followed by lightning interrupted Stalwart while he was speaking. The little tree trembled, and was very anxious as he looked at the big storm headed their way.


“Stalwart, was it………. was it a storm that knocked the trees over?” asked Lil Sap.


     Noticing that the little tree was scared, Stalwart reassured him that he didn’t need to be afraid.


“No, Lil Sap, it’s not like that at all. During the process of creating their own beautiful indoor forest the humans neglected to give the trees the one thing that made them strong. They forgot to give the trees wind.”


“Why wind? Why did the trees need wind, Stalwart? The wind looks scary and tries to blow us down” interrupts Lil Sap.


     The storm was getting closer and the little tree grew more anxious by the minute.


“Well, Lil Sap, without wind, the trees didn’t know how to be strong. As they grew taller they looked strong but were weak underneath. They had no foundation because they had weak roots. Some of them fell over just simply because of their own weight. It is the wind that pushes on us that makes us strong. It is the same wind you fear that makes your roots dig deeper into the ground. When your roots dig deeper into the ground, you become stronger. A life with no wind may seem desirable and safe, but a life without wind will make you weak; even the slightest breeze will push you over.”


“But the storm, Stalwart! What about the storm? It’s getting closer, and I’m afraid”


“Do not be afraid, Lil Sap. You must understand that it is in the storm where you get your training. It is in the storm where you get your strength. You can do this, Lil Sap! As the wind pushes against you, dig your roots deep and wide into the ground and be strong. The storms you fear will make you stronger, and the more storms you face, the less scary the next storm will be. Are you ready, Lil Sap?”


     Lil Sap nervously replied “Yes Stalwart, I’m ready.”


     The storm blew upon them with great force. The wind howled and pushed both trees back and forth. The wind got stronger and Lil Sap held firm and dug his roots deeper into the ground.


He shouted “I’m doing it, Stalwart! I’m doing it!”


“Yes, my young friend, you certainly are! You’re doing great! Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up. Dig your roots deep! Grow stronger each time the wind blows against you!”


     The storm raged on for hours and the two trees stood firm and confident amongst the struggle. A few times laughter could be heard in between rumbles of thunder, and as the storm calmed the two trees stood solid and unmoved. Moments passed and the tranquility of the calm afternoon soon returned. The two trees stared across the open field where the glass dome once stood.


“It’s better to have wind in your life than no wind isn’t it, Stalwart?” asked Lil Sap


“Yes, Lil Sap. It truly is better to have wind in your life. In fact, your life depends on some wind from time to time. Without wind, all the trees will fall.”


The End.



Chris Crider © 2018




After I do a quick mental check of my body, I realize the spill I took was over one hundred yards straight down, ending in a blanket of snow, brush and possible homes of certain vermin that have recently escaped. My silhouette, most certainly visible from the ridge above is far from the snow angels I made as a child; it’s a death warrant if I don’t move quickly. I stagger to my feet, grab the small leather messenger bag and make for the tree line as fast as I can; trying to shake the stench of lime from my naked body. Each step in the deep snow becomes like quicksand. The snow all around me bursts sporadically before I even hear the cracks from the rifles above. Which bullet will find my flesh? The cold is blistering and I almost welcome the heat that it will offer me in that fleeting moment before it ends my life.

I just wanted out. All they had to do was let me go. The war is over yet they refuse to let mine end. I bought their propaganda and became one of the best; becoming the worst. Now I run. I’ll do their dirty work no longer. My life is over anyways. Any chance at normalcy was sold long ago; my ghosts make sure of that.

My past stands before me over this mountain and my future is behind me hunting me like a rabid dog that must be put out of service. “Just a little longer” I tell myself; “push forward”. My ankle is shredded from the fall and the pain pushes me past my limit but I run like I did when I was young. The bones fragment beneath my skin and my mind goes to snowy days like this, running through these very woods with the bitter cold stinging my nostrils and my younger brothers chasing me. Our laughter filled this forest and I long to see them again. No laughter here now; only shouts from soldiers and the barking of dogs that are on my scent. The forest is thick and I’m near the border.

Trees around me fracture and bark is thrown into the air mixing with the falling snow. I taste the wood when I gasp for air. The bullets are killing everything around me but me; another dose of sick irony. I navigate the trees blind in the dark as I’ve done so many times and the violence I once embraced is ripping apart the only good memories I have left. I pray I make it to the border. I will not surrender my life to these unworthy jackals.

I stop abruptly and fall to my knees at the edge of the forest. The clearing is about one thousand yards with the border on the other side. I slow my breathing and prepare for my last sprint. My naked body trembles uncontrollably as I stare out across the kill zone. The full moon offers me little cover; at least I won’t die in darkness.

My rest is cut short as the bullets from my old unit rip apart the trees to my left and right. I break from the concealment of the forest, messenger bag in hand and charge out into the open field. I barely make it twenty feet when the whole field turns to day. The lights from the guard towers ahead are blinding. I keep running. “Just make it halfway” I tell myself. “They won’t come after my body this close to the border.” Sirens from the guard towers in front of me ring out and heavy machine gun fire from behind riddles the field all around me. I’m almost halfway when gunfire erupts from in front of me. I run faster with my arms out high and to my sides like an Olympic runner nearing the finish line. The field goes silent. Both sides realizing they’re shooting at the same man finally stop. I crumble under the weight of my frigid body only yards from the border; bones exposed in my lower legs. Redemption is near.

“Stop!….. I know this man” shouts a young officer from the guard tower.

The clatter from the big metal gate echoes through the open field and a shadow approaches me. From the icy ground I see him standing above me. He looks just like his brothers; and his father.

“Stand up” commands the young officer. “Get up or I’ll shoot you like a maimed dog!”

I struggle to stand and the bones in my lower leg rip through my skin. I wobble side to side; my naked body shivering out of control. All my strength is directed to staying upright. I clutch the blood covered leather bag tightly.

The young officer stares at me while his men silently navigate this surreal meeting. He steps closer and un-holsters his sidearm. He raises it to my head with a trembling hand. His voice cracks as he speaks through tears.

“You killed both of my brothers. You took my father away and left me to die; now here are you before me. I’ve prayed that you’d stay alive only so I could be the one to kill you.”

Unable to stand any longer I collapse to my knees.

“Stand up you bastard! Where is your uniform? Did you think you could hide your evil in your nakedness? I know you! We all know you!”

The other soldiers quickly snap their rifles up and eagerly anticipate the command to fire on me.

“Stand up! You owe me this! Stand up and face me!”

From my knees I stare upward at the young man that I took so much from. I’ve stayed alive only to offer him my life. He quickly places the cold barrel to my head and draws the hammer back. I close my eyes and say goodbye to my ghosts at last. His hand trembles and he falls to his knees in the snow with me. Tears roll down his red cheeks. I curse him.

“Damn you! Finish this!”

He shakes his head side to side and gestures to his soldiers to stand me up. He rises to his feet and holsters his sidearm.

“Everything in me says I should hand you over to those across the field or kill you myself. You came here for redemption but you’ll receive no such gift from me.”

As the other soldiers lift me to my feet, a single rifle shot from across the field rips through the quiet landscape and the bullet finally finds me. Warmth at last even for that fleeting moment before my life ends. The blood pools in the snow around my broken naked body. The young officer kneels next to me. I clutch the messenger bag tightly and raise it to his chest.

“The letters inside are from your father. He wrote to you often. I promised him I would get them to you. They’re unopened. Can you please read some to me?”

The young man ripped open the bag, unwrapped the bundle and carefully opened the first sealed letter and began to read out loud.

“My dearest son,”

-Chris Crider ©2018


My new shoes hurt and the ground scorches the feet of the shoeless,

Why wouldn’t my soul cry out?

If it doesn’t rip when I see suffering, should it smile in the bounty?

Shouldn’t my soul cry out?

Damn these shoes.



Chris Crider 2018


I walk under the shell of others
They are not mine
I simply dwell amongst them
From beneath their cover I observe quietly
Enjoying their joy
Sharing their pain
It is not mine
This shell is a facade to me
A temporary terminal
A glance from a passerby
His shell is magnificent
It is not mine
The sun shines
Shadows everywhere
Each one unique
A double life beneath
They are not mine
Chris Crider 2017