in the Wall
By Jeffrey Blair Latta
AGNES WOKE WITH A START.
Soft moonlight breathed
bluely through the partially curtained bedroom window. She was an
elderly woman and she often found her sleep interrupted by noises from
the street outside. A yowling tomcat. A back-firing car.
Sometimes just the branches of the oak tree scratching against the panes
was enough. But that wasn't it. No, not tonight.
Tonight it was something
For a moment, Agnes
lay in the semi-darkness, swaddled in her quilt and blanket -- listening.
Her eyes were wide circles set against the wrinkled pallor of her face.
In her youth, those eyes had been described as lustrous. The envy
of the other girls. Oh, yes, she had been a heartbreaker in her day.
But that day was long gone. That was water under the bridge.
And then she heard
She was awake now,
so there could be no doubt, but still she half wondered if she was imagining
She could hear a voice.
The sound was muffled,
but not distant. Not the way it should have sounded were it coming
from outside, someone passing on the street. It almost seemed to
be coming from...from...just over her head. But that wasn't possible.
Slowly Agnes sat up
in bed. She tried to trace the sound, the muffled voice, like she
would have traced the scent of something burning in the kitchen.
Her nose in the air, her eyes half-lidded. Her head turned slowly,
Those eyes, those once
lustrous but now sadly faded eyes, opened wide in something half way between
wonder and fear. Perhaps a little nearer the latter than the former.
Still moving in slow motion, like a crawling snail, sitting on the edge
of the bed, Agnes crept toward the wall, the wall at the head of the bed.
The bed had a brass
frame with shiny bedknobs at the corners. Agnes balanced herself
with her clawlike hands curled around one of those bedknobs. That
allowed her to lean way over, way, way over, closer and closer to the wall,
until her ear was just about touching the faded floral wallpaper.
Though she didn't know it, she was holding her breath.
Now there could be no doubt. None at all. There was a voice
coming from the wall. From within the wall.
And that was when Agnes
started to scream...
Tonight it was something else.
For a moment, Agnes lay in the semi-darkness, swaddled in her quilt and blanket -- listening. Her eyes were wide circles set against the wrinkled pallor of her face. In her youth, those eyes had been described as lustrous. The envy of the other girls. Oh, yes, she had been a heartbreaker in her day. But that day was long gone. That was water under the bridge.
And then she heard it again.
She was awake now, so there could be no doubt, but still she half wondered if she was imagining things.
She could hear a voice.
The sound was muffled, but not distant. Not the way it should have sounded were it coming from outside, someone passing on the street. It almost seemed to be coming from...from...just over her head. But that wasn't possible.
Slowly Agnes sat up in bed. She tried to trace the sound, the muffled voice, like she would have traced the scent of something burning in the kitchen. Her nose in the air, her eyes half-lidded. Her head turned slowly, rotating...then stopped.
Those eyes, those once lustrous but now sadly faded eyes, opened wide in something half way between wonder and fear. Perhaps a little nearer the latter than the former. Still moving in slow motion, like a crawling snail, sitting on the edge of the bed, Agnes crept toward the wall, the wall at the head of the bed.
The bed had a brass frame with shiny bedknobs at the corners. Agnes balanced herself with her clawlike hands curled around one of those bedknobs. That allowed her to lean way over, way, way over, closer and closer to the wall, until her ear was just about touching the faded floral wallpaper. Though she didn't know it, she was holding her breath.
She stopped. Now there could be no doubt. None at all. There was a voice coming from the wall. From within the wall.
And that was when Agnes started to scream...
For many years now, it had been one thing or another with her. If it wasn't her arthritis, it was her gout. If it wasn't the gout, it was the diabetes. And if it wasn't the diabetes, it was her heart. One thing or another, ailment on ailment. She was getting on in years and these things were to be expected -- so her doctor had told her.
But the one thing which she had not heretofore had to worry about, the one thing which had served her well all these many years, was her mind. She'd never had cause to complain about that. She wasn't one to misplace the car keys, nor forget to turn off the stove. She was sharp as a tack, and quick as a minute, and that, she had hoped, was the way matters would stand, right up until the very second that she took her last breath.
But that wasn't the way her daughter, Lisa, saw it. Nor how her son-in-law, Tom, saw it, either. To those two, with whom she was living out her final days, she was "elderly". She was "frail". Oh, they cared for her, but she could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They didn't listen to her except in a patronizing way. Where the body goes, the mind can't be far behind, those eyes seemed to say. And maybe mom wasn't senile in any official medical sense, but they knew. She was "getting on".
She saw that look in their eyes now. That terrible sympathizing look. But this time, she found she couldn't really blame them. She half wondered if she was losing her mind. But no -- she had heard the voice. The voice in the wall. It had been real, she was sure of that.
So where was it now?
"Mom, think about this rationally," Lisa said, while Tom stood back in the bedroom doorway, arms folded, looking like his pyjamas were about three sizes too tight. "How could you have heard a voice in the wall? How? Our bedroom is on the other side of this wall. Don't you think we would have heard it, too?"
She paused and glanced at her husband for support. He wasn't much help and she turned back. "It was just a nightmare, that's all it was. Surely, you can see that? Or maybe you heard someone talking out on the street. Sounds can be confusing, especially at night."
"I heard it." Agnes stared at the wall, confusion curving her silvery brows. "At least...I thought I heard it."
"It was a nightmare, mom. That's all it was."
For a good thirty seconds, nobody spoke after that. Agnes just sat there on the edge of the bed staring at the wall, staring and listening and trying on Lisa's explanation for size. Lisa let her stare, confident that she'd come around eventually. Mom might be dotty, but she wasn't crazy.
Finally Agnes nodded reluctantly. "I guess you must be right." She gave a weak laugh. "Guess I just had a nightmare."
Lisa breathed out in relief and nodded in turn. "That's all. Nothing to be ashamed of. We all have them."
Sure, we all have them, her tone seemed to say, but only dotty old women wake up the family thinking there's someone calling from in the walls.
They talked a bit more, then left Agnes to get back to sleep. She heard the door close to the next room. Silence followed. After a while, she turned off her light, settled under her quit and closed her eyes.
Then she heard the voice again.
Her eyes flew open and a sharp moan came to her lips. It was just like before, muffled but near. This time, though, she didn't have to sit up to trace it. She knew where it was coming from. The wall at the head of the bed. Someone was in the wall.
But now there was a new sound added to the voice. A horrible sound. A sound that turned her moan into a cry and then into a frightened, old-woman wail.
There was scratching. Someone was scratching frantically inside the wall at the head of her bed. Scratching desperately to get out...
They didn't just think mom was dotty, not anymore. Now there was worry in those eyes, concern edging into fear. What if mom really has lost her marbles, those eyes fretfully wondered, what do we do then?
But Agnes didn't care. She knew what she had heard. The voice had been real. The scratching had been real. Someone was trapped in that wall. Someone was trying to get out.
So where, she had to ask herself, are those noises now? Why did they stop as soon as the lights came on and someone else was there to hear them?
That was the precise question Lisa wanted to know, and Agnes didn't have an answer for her. She wished she did, but she didn't.
"I heard it," Agnes insisted, close to tears by this point. "I tell you, I heard it as clearly as I hear you now. There's someone in that wall, someone scratching to get out."
At last, Tom stepped forward. His tone was grave, reflecting his profession as much as the situation. He was a police officer and, right then, Agnes felt like the crook he had just caught robbing the till.
"What do you expect us to do, Agnes?" He gave her a moment to mull that over, then went on with: "Think about it. Do you want us to tear up this wall? Just because you woke up in the night thinking you heard a voice? Be reasonable. We can't do that. You know we can't and I know we can't. So what do you expect us to do?"
Lisa obviously felt that her husband had perhaps been a trifle harsh in his presentation. She moved in quickly to repair the damage.
"Mom, why don't we wait until the morning, all right? We're all tired right now, and it's hard to think straight. In the morning, Tom can...can..." She wasn't entirely sure what Tom could do, so she looked at him for help.
"I'll check out the wall, in the morning," he grumbled, his tone saying something entirely different.
"It'll be too late in the morning!" Agnes tried to keep her voice calm, but that scratching...that horrible scratching. "Don't you see, if someone is in the wall...someone's trapped in there...then...then..." Suddenly she stopped. For a moment, she didn't speak and her eyes grew wide. Lisa began to look worried.
"Rachel!" They stared at her. "The voice, I think I caught a name. I think the voice said, 'Rachel'."
More silence. More staring. Finally Tom ventured with, "This voice, was it male or female?"
"I couldn't tell that. It was too muffled."
"Then how could you tell it said 'Rachel'? Honestly, Agnes, you must be able to see how crazy this all is?"
Agnes was adamant. "I tell you the voice said 'Rachel'!"
"All right, mom, all right," Lisa said. "The voice said 'Rachel'. Where does that get us? If you dreamed the voice, you could just as easily dream it saying a name."
"But I didn't dream it!"
All the same, her assurance meant about as much to them as wind whistling. Finally Tom laid it on the line. "Do you want us to call Dr. Rice?"
Agnes stared at him, silent as if she had been slapped. "What do you mean?"
"You're upset, Agnes. Do you want us to call your doctor? Because that's what we're going to do if you don't settle down and go back to sleep."
It was a threat but it wasn't spoken like a threat. It was put forward as if he was offering to do her a favour. Lisa dropped her eyes, shamefully.
"No. I don't want you to call the doctor."
And that was how she surrendered. No white flag. No signing of papers. Just an old woman dropping her eyes and giving up her dignity.
Tom and Lisa returned to their room and closed the door. Agnes heard them debating that final action, but Tom won out and the door was closed.
For a while Agnes sat on the side of her bed. The light was on, but the room seemed cold and dark. She felt very alone.
I heard it, she thought to herself. I know I did.
There had to be some way. Some way to make them believe.
Slowly, leaning on the bedknob, she tilted over to the wall. She pressed her ear against the wallpaper. There was no sound. No scratching. Only silence.
"Who are you?" she asked, in a low trembling quaver. "Can you hear me in there? Please, tell me who you are." But the silence went on and on. "Is your name Rachel? Is that who you are? Then what's your last name? If you could just tell me your last name, maybe I could prove you exist and they'd believe me."
Five minutes later, she knocked on her daughter's door. When the door opened, Lisa looked more than a little upset.
Agnes told her, "She says her last name is Reynolds. Rachel Reynolds."
Even that had been hotly contested. He didn't want to do it. He didn't say as much, but the stiff set of his shoulders, the tight line of his jaw, the steady glare he gave her -- no, he didn't want to do it one damn bit.
But he let Lisa do his arguing for him and her stomach simply wasn't in it. When it became evident there would be no surrender this time, he finally exhaled like a bull getting ready to charge, then stomped off down the hall and down the stairs.
A few minutes later, he returned with the phonebook. He flipped it open and scanned the Rs. He had evidently been hoping the search would turn up nothing, because he knew that was the only way to end this thing once and for all. But then his eyes stopped, and Agnes saw how his features hardened.
"All right," he said. "I've got one Reynolds lives a few blocks away. That doesn't prove a thing."
He looked at her. He chewed on his bottom lip, as if contemplating a particularly knotty problem with his car's engine. His voice was steady. "It's the middle of the night, Agnes."
"Please, Tom. If I'm right, they won't mind. Just call them up and ask if they have anyone in the family named Rachel." When Tom continued to balk, she turned her eyes imploringly on her daughter. "Please!"
Lisa looked at Tom, helplessly. Tom grunted, then, shaking his head, went into the other bedroom where there was a phone. He picked up the receiver and dialed. It took a long time before someone answered and, by Tom's reaction, they couldn't have been pleased.
"I'm sorry," Tom told them. "I know what time it is. It's just that...can you tell me if there's anyone there named Rachel? Rachel Reynolds?" There was a long silence. Agnes held her breath. Her nails dug into her palms. Finally, Tom said, "Thank you. I'm really sorry. Goodbye."
He hung up. For a long moment, he continued to stare at the phone, not speaking. Then, still staring at the phone, he said, "They don't know anyone by that name."
Agnes felt something implode inside her. She had been so sure. The voice in the wall had been clear that time. She had heard a name, Reynolds. Rachel Reynolds.
"Maybe it's a different Reynolds..."
Tom looked at her now. How he looked at her. His eyes shot up and there was fire in them both.
"There are no other Reynoldses in this phonebook, Agnes. There is no Rachel Reynolds. There is nobody in the wall because you dreamed the whole thing. There is no way in hell anyone could be in that wall. Now can we please, please, please, go back to bed..." Then, in a quieter voice, which was somehow worse, he added, "...or do I have to call Dr. Rice?"
Again she gave in. But this time, she had no intention of going to sleep. She waited only until they had both gone back into the bedroom and closed the door. Then she climbed from her own bed and went quietly into the bathroom. She found a nail file and returned to her room.
Then she started to
Click for the Conclusion
Table of Contents
Someone in the Wall is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not
be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts
used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want
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