Length: Super long
TRIGGER WARNING: SCENES OF SUICIDE
“The Devil’s Toy Box”
is an urban legend that savvier horror fans will recognize as the inspiration
for the infamous Lament Configuration from Clive Barker’s seminal Hellraiser
series. Though in reality the titular “box” is not a toy at all but rather a
small room where the floor, the ceiling, and the walls are each composed of one
giant mirror. According to the legend, if you stood inside this
mirror-room alone for too long, supposedly the devil would show up and steal
your soul. In most versions of this story, he did so by flaying you alive.
I mention all of this because about two weeks ago, I got an
email from an old friend (someone who was well-versed in my sordid past) asking
if I could help out their younger sister, an 18-year-old girl who we’ll call
“Erin” located in Northern Louisiana (the specific parish where Erin lived
shall go unnamed for reasons.)
Like pretty much everywhere else, the place where Erin grew
up had its own annual haunted-house attraction that went up every October. The
attraction was called Farmer Grave’s Haunted Orchard and in years past, it had
been every bit as thrilling as that name suggested; which is to say not very.
So for the previous Halloween, the owners decided to spice things up by
building several new interactive installations which included a windowless
shack called The Devil’s Toy Box. This shack housed a small room composed of
large wall-sized mirrors.
That’s how Erin heard it described anyway — she had never
been inside the Toy Box herself. Farmer Grave’s closed less than a week after
opening — a result of the numerous people who had to be hospitalized after
going inside the Devil’s Toy Box attraction. Erin didn’t get a chance to try
out the Box for herself before the closure, but she had heard countless stories
about it from her classmates at school.
Apparently, no one could last longer than five minutes
inside the room. There was even a large timer set up beside the building that
showed the current occupant’s length of stay under a second clock displaying
the longest recorded time up to that point, which maxed out at just over four
minutes before the attraction finally closed. The man who managed to last that
long (Roger Heltz, age 52, father of three) had been reduced to a wide-eyed
mute. To this day, he still hasn’t said a word. A 17-year-old boy had to be dragged out, kicking and screaming.
The boy was from a nearby parish and hadn’t gone to Erin’s school, though her
friend Celeste claimed her parents were friends with the boy’s mom. They went
to his funeral when he killed himself two weeks later. Whatever the truth of
the matter, town officials were quick to act in getting Farmer Grave’s shut
Of course, that didn’t stop people from talking about the
now infamous attraction, which they began to do almost immediately. For the
next month or so, it seemed like the Toy Box was the only thing on anyone’s
mind. It had become the stuff of legend and of course, it didn’t take long for
the local kids to start venturing out to the Orchard at night to see the Box
Farmer Grave’s Haunted Orchard was owned by a middle-aged
couple named Will and Darlene Sawyer. When the town council ordered the Sawyers
to shut the place down, they were so pissed about the ruling, they left most of
the attraction still standing, including the Devil’s Toy Box. The actual
orchard was on a plot of land located at the rear of the Sawyer’s property and
was only accessible by a narrow two-lane dirt road.
One night, several seniors at Erin’s school snuck out to the
Sawyer’s property on a dare and claimed they found the Toy Box’s entrance
padlocked, but then Will Sawyer showed up out of nowhere and asked them if they
wanted to go inside. Will’s sudden arrival had startled the young men, but once
they realized that he wasn’t mad at them for trespassing and in fact seemed
genuinely happy to see them, the guys decided to take him up on his offer to
have a go inside the box. Of course, they chickened out as soon as Will
unlocked the door and it seemed to swing open on its own, like a hungry mouth
at the sight of food.
That’s how the rumors about midnight screenings of the
Devil’s Toy Box began to circulate. Most of the people who ventured out there
afterwards claimed they encountered Will Sawyer after waiting beside the Toy
Box for an unspecified length of time. A few even said that they went inside
the box but these claims were always dismissed as bullshit. No one came out of
that box that was coherent enough to talk about it.
Last week, Erin’s boyfriend Troy went out there with some of
his idiot friends and Erin hadn’t seen him since. His parents reported him
missing and Erin even told the cops about the rumors surrounding the Toy Box,
but they barely seemed to be listening. Now, Erin was going crazy worrying
about Troy and of course, she was hoping I would be intrigued enough by her
story to come with her to investigate Farmer Grave’s because she was too scared
to do so by herself.
Erin’s location was only a three-hour drive from New
Orleans, so I asked my friend Jason and his girlfriend Gretchen to take the
ride with me. This way, I wouldn’t feel so weird about driving all that way to
see an 18-year-old girl I didn’t know.
We rolled into town at about 5:00PM that Saturday and met up
with Erin at “the McDonald’s” as she called it. I laughed when I first heard
her say that and immediately felt like an asshole for thinking it was funny
that Erin’s town only had one McDonald’s. Our meet-and-greet started out a
little awkward on account of all the stares we were getting from the rest of
the restaurant. Then again, four strangers driving into town to meet a teenage
girl at THE McDonald’s will do that.
Thankfully, Gretchen was there to defuse the situation with
one simple question. “Did you make that?”
She was pointing at Erin’s backpack, which was actually a
stuffed doll that I recognized as “Lumpy Space Princess” from the cartoon
Adventure Time, only most of the stuffing had been removed and a purple pouch
had been sown into it that sealed closed via a matching purple zipper. The
straps were made out of old, retro-looking seatbelts.
Erin nodded and Gretchen’s jaw dropped.
“Oh my god, will you make me one? Will you make me TWO?”
“Sure, as long as you provide the supplies,” Erin said,
“Deal!” Gretchen was grinning ear-to-ear as she turned to
face me. “You have to help this girl so she can make me tiny adorable
It was a little after 10PM when we neared the end of the
narrow dirt road that lead to Farmer Grave’s Haunted Orchard. We parked beside
a tall wooden archway that designated the orchard’s front entrance. I handed
out flashlights from the small stash of them in my trunk and then we started
The place looked about how I expected it to: a row of
brightly-colored plywood shacks lined the vacant field beside several rows of
Satsuma trees that had been covered in fake cobwebs and “scary” decorations.
Each shack had a sign displaying the name of a different attraction. There was “Horn Toss” which (judging from the illustration
on its side) was a ring-toss game where you tried to throw halos onto a demon’s
horns, “Werewolf Bowling,” which was anyone’s guess, and my personal favorite
“The Exorcist,” which was a mounted squirt-gun game that had several wood
cutouts of Linda Blair’s face as its targets. Cartoon water tanks were painted
below each of the mounted squirt-guns that were labeled “HOLY WATER”.
The Devil’s Toy Box was the last shack in the row. It was
painted a bright fire-engine red and the door, which made up one entire wall of
the small structure, was padlocked shut. Someone had stacked a dozen or so
rusted folding chairs against the side of the Toy Box. Erin grabbed one of the
chairs and began to unfold it as she said, “Now we wait.”
“How long?” Gretchen asked.
“It varies…but hopefully not forever.” Erin motioned at the
thick patch of wilderness to our left and I turned to see a window glowing out
there in the distant darkness. “See it? That’s the Sawyer house. They must know
“And that’s a good thing?” Gretchen’s tone was tense and she
had a look on her face that said she’d just realized how much she didn’t want
to be doing any of this. Before Erin or I could answer, she turned to Jason and
asked, “Baby, will you walk me back to the car?”
Jason gave her an irritated look. “What? Why?”
“Because… All of this just got too real.”
“You knew what we were coming out here to do. I explained it
to you in VIVID detail.”
“No. It’s bullshit, Gretch. You do this everytime…”
“This is the fucking Avengers sneak preview all over again…
I miss everything cool!”
“I’m sorry.” She batted her eyes as she gave Jason an
adorable frown Gretchen had honed over many years of getting her way. Jason let
out an exasperated sigh and I handed him the keys to the car.
“I’ll be right back.” Jason muttered.
I pulled out a chair and took a seat next to Erin as we
watched the beams from Jason and Gretchen’s flashlights shrink off into the
darkness. A thought came to me just then: As if this didn’t already resemble an
episode of Scooby Doo, now we’re splitting up. That’s just asking for it.
As soon as the words crossed my mind, we heard the crunch of
approaching footsteps. Erin and I stood in unison and exchanged a panicked
glance before turning to face the forest bordering the orchard. A middle-aged
man with long scraggly hair emerged out of the darkness and into range of our
flashlights. He was holding an electric lantern and wearing an open bathrobe
over a dirty white undershirt and sweatpants.
Will Sawyer was basically Vincent Price if he had starred in
the Big Lebowski. He smiled and gave us a thumbs up as he said, “You here for
“Sort of,” Erin responded and Will gave her a look like he
had no idea what that could possibly mean.
“Have you seen this guy?” I held up the photo of Troy that
Erin had texted to my phone as Will started to approach us. He squinted at the
“Maybe…” he said.
“When was that?”
“A few weeks ago. He was the one that went in the box. Most
won’t go inside anymore. Lasted almost three minutes. Then he ran off,
Erin let out a sharp gasp. “Ran off? Ran off WHERE?”
Will pointed a thumb back at the dark patch of wilderness
behind him and replied, “Into the fuckin’ woods! Where do you THINK? I opened
that door and he came shootin’ out, dick flappin’ naked from the waist down.
Had his boxers on his head and his pants wrapped around his neck like a scarf.
It was honestly pretty funny.”
Erin covered her mouth with her hand as her eyes began to
well with tears. Will grinned and said, “You wanna see inside?”
“We aren’t here for the box,” I said, stepping in front of
Erin and glaring at Will.
“But it’s so breathtaking,” The man said as he gestured
toward the Toy Box’s wide door, which slowly swung open. The interior was
shrouded in darkness, but I could still see something vaguely human-shaped
moving around inside the box. Yeah, fuck that.
“Run!” I grabbed Erin by the arm and pulled her along with
me as I sprinted away from the Toy Box. I could hear something chasing after us
as we ran back toward the orchard’s entrance and I say “something” because it
certainly didn’t sound like a person. What I heard weren’t footsteps, but
rather one long scraping sound, accompanied by a wet breathing that reminded me
of a panting dog.
Thankfully, Jason heard me screaming just as he and Gretchen
reached my car. They turned to spot me and Erin running towards them with
identical expressions of pants-shitting terror. Jason must’ve caught a glimpse
of the thing chasing after us too because his own face went pale.
He quickly unlocked my car and threw himself behind the
wheel, screaming for Gretchen to get in. She hurried into the passenger seat
and the moment she buckled her seatbelt, he started the engine and accelerated
toward us, closing the gap in a matter of moments.
Jason slammed on the brakes as he neared and the car
screeched to a halt inches away from us. I went to open the back passenger door
but it was locked. So was Erin’s side. I banged my fist on the window and
pointed down at the locking mechanism. Jason mouthed, “Oh SHIT!”
He turned and scanned the door controls on the driver’s
side, looking for the master switch. The scraping sound was growing closer, but
I refused to look back and banged on the window once more. A frustrated Jason
finally leaned into the backseat and unlocked the door manually, but by then,
it already had me.
I can remember something dragging me back through the woods.
I wasn’t aware of much else, beyond the vague impression that I had been stung
by an insect with some kind of paralytic venom.
I felt a rush of air hit my face as the door swung shut in
front of me. Then the lights came on and I realized where I was. Inside the
Devil’s Toy Box.
The room’s construction was actually pretty impressive. The
floor was a thick sheet of transparent Plexiglas layered over a mirror
identical to the ones that made up the ceiling and walls. With the door shut,
the mirror on its other side was just as seamless as the rest. Thin fluorescent
bulbs ran between the crevices where each mirror met the next, washing the room
and its endless reflections in a pale yellow light.
I made the mistake of looking down at the chasm of
reflections below me and almost fainted. I shut my eyes and held out my hands,
feeling for the nearest wall. I leaned against it while trying to force my head
to stop spinning. Someone was whispering my name.
“Joel…” I opened my eyes to see my reflection smiling at me
as it said, “You’re his now.”
I let out a startled scream and backed away from the mirror
I was leaning against. Something was moving around behind my reflection. It was
hard to see what it was at first, but something was climbing up THROUGH the
corridor of my reflections, making its way towards me.
As it got closer, I saw that the something was me. Well, not
exactly. His features were too blurred, as if this reflection of me had been so
far back that its face had been reduced to a distorted mess. THAT was the Joel
that was coming for me.
I began to bang on the entrance-wall, which felt padlocked
into place. I let out a frustrated scream and finally turned to face the thing
coming for me, only to find that my reflections had returned to normal. There
was no longer a blurry me in the mirror. I let out a reflexive sigh of relief.
A beat later, it emerged from the mirror beneath me and grabbed onto my legs…
I woke up screaming and Erin shot me a panicked look. We
were still seated outside of the Toy Box.
“S-sorry…I must’ve nodded off.” I said.
Erin opened her mouth. She hesitated before replying, “I’m
worried about your friends.”
I rubbed my eyes. “Why? How long have they been gone?”
“A while… Almost thirty minutes.”
I pulled out my phone to check the time, confirming what
Erin had said, and I sighed. “Guess we should go check on them.”
As Erin and I started on the path back towards the entrance
to the orchard, I nodded in the direction of the Sawyer house.
“You think he’s gonna show?” I asked.
Erin thought about it for a moment and nodded. “I hope so.
If not, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
I glanced at her, worried that Erin was about to start
crying, but the look on her face was one of stoic acceptance. Just as I
realized that I was staring at her, Erin looked up at me and we exchanged a
moment of awkward eye contact. I smiled to try and play it off as I quickly
It was then that I realized we had lost our way in the dark
and had somehow ended up in the dense patch of woods that bordered the orchard.
“How the hell?”
I looked around the surrounding wilderness with my flashlight,
trying to get my bearings, but I couldn’t locate the orchard or any of its
accompanying structures in the darkness. Then, after a bit of what I thought
had been backtracking, we found ourselves at the front steps of the Sawyer
house. It was a rustic white two-story; three if you counted its
6-foot elevated flood-proof foundation similar to a lot of the homes in the
area. The space beneath the porch was unlit and pitch-black. Yet staring into
it, I could’ve sworn I saw movement under there as Erin gestured at the house.
“Guess we might as well say hi,” she said.
Erin started up the front stairs before I could even begin
to mention the many ways in which that might be a bad idea and, without
hesitation, she knocked on the front door.
“Shit,” I muttered to myself and hurried up the stairs to
stand beside her. There was a tense beat of silence and then from inside came
the sound of footsteps across hardwood floor. The door was suddenly yanked open
and a middle-aged woman with gray-streaked hair and the brightest blue eyes I
had ever seen was standing there, glaring at us. This must’ve been Darlene.
“You here for the box?” she said, giving both of us a
I experienced a moment of intense déjà vu as Erin replied,
Darlene leaned outside and glanced around. “You better come
Erin and I exchanged a cautious look as the woman turned and
started back inside, leaving the front door open behind her. Erin responded
with a shrug that said “fuck it” and then entered the house. As I followed her
in and shut the door, I heard something rustling in the bushes outside.
“Lock it please. There’s shit all in these woods,” Darlene
The rustling sound grew louder as I turned the deadbolt and
it slid home with an ominous THUNK. We followed Darlene into a den that reeked
of weed as she gestured to a half-smoked blunt burning away in the ashtray.
“Help yourself,” she said, gesturing to the blunt. She took
a seat on the sofa and muted the large flat screen TV mounted to the wall in
front of her. “Now… how can I help you?”
I cleared my throat and replied, “We were told to expect a
Will Sawyer. Is he coming?”
“He killed himself last night, so probably not.”
“Oh my god. I am so sorry…” I said.
“Yeah, SO… How can I help you?”
“Well…” I held up my phone and showed her Troy’s picture.
“We were wondering if you remember seeing this guy out at the orchard
recently,” I said.
Darlene examined the photo. “Not that I recall, but I never
went out there much after the incident with the Toy Box. It’s my fault that
godforsaken room got built in the first place and every time I see the thing, I
wanna fucking cry,” she said.
Erin tilted her head, her tone curious when she asked, “It
was your idea to build the Devil’s Toy Box?”
Darlene slowly shook her head. “No, I was sick. Like REALLY
sick and that demon or whatever Willy summoned told him he would make me better
if we built a room of mirrors and got people to go inside it. If your friend
went in there, I can tell you one of three things happened. He’s either dead,
catatonic in a hospital, or out in those woods. The one’s that end up out
there, something happens to them…like when a pig gets loose and grows tusks.
But if it’ll help, you’re welcome to look for him here.”
“Here as in your house?” Erin asked.
“Yeah.” Darlene stood, slid her coffee table out of the way,
and pulled the rug aside to reveal a crude hatch cut into the hardwood floor.
“Will brought a few of the ones that went in back home. I think he felt sorry
for them. Anyway, he kept ‘em down here.”
The woman pulled open the trap-door and I was hit with a
stench that was so potent, I don’t know how we didn’t notice it when we were
outside. It was the smell of human filth en masse. Darlene nodded at me.
“You got a flashlight?” I returned the nod and handed it to
her. She switched on the light and aimed it down at the open hatch, revealing
the upturned faces of four naked emaciated men. “Any of them look familiar?”
One of the men hissed at us. There was more rustling sounds
from outside and then something began to scratch at the living room window.
Darlene glanced at the window as she said, “You’ve got them riled up tonight.
How long were you two out there?”
Before I could respond, a filthy hand with impossibly long
fingers reached up and yanked me down through the trapdoor…
I woke up screaming. I was sitting outside of the Toy Box
and Jason was seated beside me. He gave me a sideways look and said, “You
“Yeah… Bad dream. Sorry.” I was still reeling from my
nightmare-within-a-nightmare as I glanced around. Something felt off. “Where
are the girls?”
“THE girls… One of them being your girlfriend, Gretchen.”
“Dude, Gretchen broke up with me like a month ago. Remember?
Or is this something you’re doing for your story?”
“The story you’re going to write about this. You’re fudging
the details, which you probably should. You gonna make up some fake reason why
we’re out here too? Some damsel-in-distress who needs you to investigate a
derelict Halloween attraction? It’s definitely a lot better than saying your
depressed friend asked you to drive three hours to see some rundown shack in
the middle of the night where nothing whatsoever happened and then your friend
Jason slid the barrel of a handgun into his mouth and pulled
the trigger. I was sitting close enough that the shot rendered me temporarily
deaf. I stood and slowly backed away, my gaze fixed on the crater of blood and
viscera that had been my friend’s head mere moments ago, my own head ringing
like a goddamn church bell from the large-caliber handgun going off next to it.
Stil, I couldn’t look away.
Finally, I forced myself to turn and watch where I was going
so that I could hurry up and get the fuck out of there. As I started toward the
entrance I glanced back once more to give my dead friend a final parting glance
and halted when I saw that he wasn’t there.
Jason’s blood and brains were still splattered across the
front of the Toy Box (so I assumed that meant I hadn’t imagined the whole
thing), but the folding chair where he had been sitting was now void of his
slumped, lifeless body. As I stood there, trying to figure out where Jason’s
corpse could’ve gone, a stream of stagnant-smelling water splattered against
the side of my face.
I turned to see Jason’s (mostly) headless body draped over
one of the Exorcist game’s mounted water guns. I’m not exactly proud to admit
this but I froze when I saw him, thinking that Jason had gone full-on undead
zombie. Though, after almost a minute of me standing there waiting for him to
make the next move, I finally realized that wasn’t going to happen.
What I was seeing was nothing more than a dead body lying on
a mounted water-gun. Which meant that someone or something was out there in the
darkness, moving around a 160-pound corpse and propping it up on shit simply to
fuck with me. This was the realization that finally sent me running.
I was in my ’91 Jeep Cherokee and halfway down the unpaved
dirt road back to the highway when the Cherokee hit a bump that dislodged
something from its undercarriage. I pulled over and started to get out so I
could take a look at what it had been and that’s when I realized I was once
again looking at Jason’s mangled body. Moving a grown man’s corpse is one
thing, but moving it and then wedging it up into a car’s undercarriage in the
time it took me to get back to my jeep? That’s crazy talk.
I really don’t like to give this part much thought because
the truth of it is kind of depressing. Real Life Jason HAD been really
depressed about the breakup with Gretchen and I guess I should’ve seen it
coming, but I didn’t.
And so I went back home and started to write it all down,
just as Jason knew I would. I got about this far when I was interrupted by a
knock on the door to my apartment. I opened the door and saw there was a note
taped to the outside.
THERE’S A PACKAGE FOR YOU IN THE LOBBY
It was about 11PM and I was pretty sure the management at my
complex had long since gone home for the evening, but I headed toward the lobby
anyway out of sheer curiosity. I started down the steps leading to the first
floor of my complex to see Jason’s mutilated body leaning against a coke
machine at the bottom of the stairwell. Somehow, they had found me.
I vaulted back up the stairs, seeing everything in
slow-motion as I sprinted to my apartment and locked the door. A moment later,
the knob began to rattle as someone tried to turn it from outside. I was slowly
backing away from the door when something big crashed through it…
…Though, “it” was no longer my front door but rather the
inside wall of the Toy Box that suddenly buckled inward to reveal a familiar
set of headlights. Jason had crashed my Cherokee into the side of the Toy Box.
I spent 25 seconds inside the Devil’s Toy Box. That’s how
long it took for Jason to run my car into it. Thankfully, the Cherokee was
still drivable afterward and we promptly got the fuck out of there.
I dropped Erin off at her house with an apology, explaining
that there was nothing else I could do. Honestly, I don’t know what she
expected from me. This isn’t Supernatural. If your boyfriend is missing, you
call the cops. I’m going home. Do I feel bad that I couldn’t help her?
Sure, but for what
it’s worth, we disabled the Toy Box and probably saved countless generations of
dumb kids from making the same mistake as Erin’s boyfriend. The bad news is
that doing so has almost certainly scarred me for life. Even as I sit here days
later, writing this all down for the second time, I’m still worried that it’s
not over. I’m worried that when I wake up tomorrow, it’s going to be in front
of that goddamned box.