On each side of the box were brass handles. You had to hold them both, the gallery owner told them. To complete the circuit. If you wanted to make the box work right, you held both handles. You pressed your eye to the brass peephole in the front. Your left eye. And you looked inside...
The Nightmare Box is a dark and mysterious device/work-of-art which appears in the short story of the same name presented by Mrs. Clark in the Chuck Palahniuk book Haunted. Set in an art gallery, it is described as a black lacquered box on three tall legs, brass handles on either side and a small peephole in the front. At random intervals, controlled by a timer inside, a button could be pressed which would trigger a flash of light through the peephole. Only when the timer had expired could the image inside be seen, although patrons in the art gallery look through the peephole despite the timer ticking away inside the box. The odd appearance of the piece, its unpredictability and its ominous-sounding name create an expectation in the viewer that the image revealed will be something fearful. Strangely, though, the gallery patrons seem to have a light-hearted curiousity regarding the box and its secret view.
Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead
Exactly what the box reveals to the viewer remains a mystery throughout the book (similar to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction), though it is assumed that the box always shows the same image. Each of the four people said to have looked inside all go crazy. Not stark raving mad, mind you, but they each give up on Life in their own way. Mrs. Clark's daughter, Cassandra, becomes catatonic and eventually disappears. An antiques-shop owner hangs himself in the back of his shop. The only person to look into the box and give any description of what is inside is the owner of the art gallery where the box resides. He describes the view as "a glimpse of the real reality" and says, "Our world is a dream." While this explanation is not the most original and does take away some of the mystique (albeit at the very end of the story), the full description by the owner does leave readers with a sense of what it might be like to peer into the Nightmare Box for themselves.
Chuck Palahniuk. Haunted. New York: Doubleday, 2005