in the Wall
By Jeffrey Blair Latta
WERE RIGHT ABOUT ONE THING. She was frail.
She hadn't tried to
do work like this in donkey's years. The arthritis in her fingers
made the task unbearable, but still she persevered. There was someone
in the wall, a child by the sounds of the voice, a little girl named Rachel
Reynolds, a child scratching to get out and Agnes, elderly, gout-ridden,
diabetic old Agnes, was the only one to hear.
She had to do
this. Rachel was depending on her.
The nail file was a
poor tool for the job, hard to get a grip on, and painful against her fingers.
At first, all Agnes managed was to tear away at the floral wallpaper, shredding
it into ragged strips and exposing the plaster underneath. Then she
attacked that. The plaster was a lot harder. It came away reluctantly.
Blood began to show where the file had cut her fingers. It hurt,
oh Lord, how it hurt. But she kept at it.
She could hear the
voice, still muffled. It had started up again. And the scratching,
frantic now, as if Rachel could hear her, knew that help was on the way.
"I'm coming, honey,"
she gasped. "Hold on a little longer, Agnes is coming for you.
Just a little long --"
in God's name are you doing!"
She turned to find
both Lisa and Tom standing in the doorway. The looks in their eyes
It was a soul-shaking
mix of shock, horror and embarrassment. It was Lisa who had cried
out, but now she didn't say another thing. She just stood there in
stunned silence, her expression saying it all.
Agnes froze, the blood
trickling down her fingers, the file stuck deep in the plaster. Her
eyes were wide. A chunk of plaster dropped away, landing on her pillow
and breaking up into smaller bits.
Weakly she stammered,
Then she started to
She hadn't tried to do work like this in donkey's years. The arthritis in her fingers made the task unbearable, but still she persevered. There was someone in the wall, a child by the sounds of the voice, a little girl named Rachel Reynolds, a child scratching to get out and Agnes, elderly, gout-ridden, diabetic old Agnes, was the only one to hear.
She had to do this. Rachel was depending on her.
The nail file was a poor tool for the job, hard to get a grip on, and painful against her fingers. At first, all Agnes managed was to tear away at the floral wallpaper, shredding it into ragged strips and exposing the plaster underneath. Then she attacked that. The plaster was a lot harder. It came away reluctantly. Blood began to show where the file had cut her fingers. It hurt, oh Lord, how it hurt. But she kept at it.
She could hear the voice, still muffled. It had started up again. And the scratching, frantic now, as if Rachel could hear her, knew that help was on the way.
"I'm coming, honey," she gasped. "Hold on a little longer, Agnes is coming for you. Just a little long --"
"Agnes! What in God's name are you doing!"
She turned to find both Lisa and Tom standing in the doorway. The looks in their eyes was indescribable.
It was a soul-shaking mix of shock, horror and embarrassment. It was Lisa who had cried out, but now she didn't say another thing. She just stood there in stunned silence, her expression saying it all.
Agnes froze, the blood trickling down her fingers, the file stuck deep in the plaster. Her eyes were wide. A chunk of plaster dropped away, landing on her pillow and breaking up into smaller bits.
Weakly she stammered, "I...I...I..."
Then she started to cry...
Even though it was the middle of the night, the good doctor came after they had explained the situation. There wasn't much he could suggest, though. Agnes had never had problems like this before and there was nothing medically wrong at the moment that might explain it.
He gave her something to put her to sleep and suggested they bring her to see him in the morning.
While Tom went to show the doctor back out, Lisa remained with Agnes. The concern that shaped her features filled Agnes with guilt. Maybe I am crazy, she thought. Maybe I am getting on. After all, Tom was right, wasn't he?
How could anyone be in the walls?
The tranquilizer was just starting to take effect, making her light-headed and woozy. She lay under her quilt and weakly lifted her eyes until she could see the hole in the wall she'd made with the file. Then she looked at Lisa and found Lisa was looking at that wall, too. Her daughter's eyes met hers.
"Please," Agnes pleaded, in a papery whisper. "Before Tom gets back. Please, for me -- check in the wall."
For an eternity, mother and daughter stared into each other's eyes, not speaking. Finally, without a word, Lisa leaned over and began tearing away chunks of plaster with her bare hands. A small hole formed, just big enough to let light into the space behind. Lisa paused, as if working up courage, then leaned forward and peered through the hole.
After a moment, she stepped back and breathed out.
"There's a wooden board, mom." She almost seemed heartbroken by her failure. "You wouldn't have been able to dig through, anyway."
Just then, Tom returned but neither woman mentioned what had happened.
"Just call if you need us," Lisa told Agnes, her voice aching with her fear. "We're in the next room."
Alone again in the darkness, Agnes lay there swaddled in the cocooning embrace of the tranquilizer. The hole over her head was a dark shadow, made visible by the blue moonlight through the window. The oak tree outside cast its own branchy pattern on the wall, skeletal fingers flexing with the gusts of wind.
Finally, Agnes made her decision. She wasn't strong enough to dig through that wall. Not if there was a board in the way. Not on her own.
Quietly, she climbed from the bed and slid her feet into her fuzzy pink slippers. She pulled on a filmy robe, and tiptoed past her daughter's bedroom door, then down the stairs in the dark.
She found the address in the phonebook. When she stepped out the front door, the wind nearly swept her off her feet. It was October and much too cold to be wandering about dressed in a nightgown and robe. But the tranquilizer kept her warm.
And she had a mission.
At the bottom of the porch, she paused, her attention suddenly drawn to the oak tree that stood outside her window. She frowned. Something about that tree...something important...
But there was no time to worry about that. She was old and frail, but somehow she made it down to the street. The house she was looking for was just down the block. It wasn't that far -- except the wind was against her, and it was a cold, cruel animal that pushed her back two steps for every three she managed to take forward.
Finally she found the house. She rang the doorbell and waited. After a moment, she rang it again. Finally a light came on and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man dressed in a robe and slippers, his hair awry.
He took one glance at her, her in her pink fuzzy slippers and filmy robe, and his look was almost comical with disbelief.
"Please," Agnes said, "I have to speak with you."
A few seconds later, Agnes was seated on his couch. His wife, Mrs. Reynolds, had come down, and was regarding her with the same expression the husband had shown at the door.
"I know this is going to sound crazy," Agnes continued, struggling to think clearly through the effects of the tranquilizer, "but I think this may be a matter of life or death. In fact, I'm sure it is."
It was obvious they both thought they had a senile woman on their hands and were wondering how best to deal with it. She didn't let that stop her. She was getting used to it.
"Do you have a child named Rachel?" she asked.
Now suddenly the husband thought he understood. "Is this about that phone call before? Look, I already told whoever that was that we don't know anyone by that name."
"Are you certain? Or something that sounds a lot like Rachel? The reason I ask," and she knew how this was going to sound, but there was no other way, "is that I live with my daughter and son-in-law in the house seven houses down and I think, somehow, a child got trapped in the wall in my bedroom. Tonight, I heard them calling for help and I heard them scratching to get out. No one believes me, of course, but whoever it is, said the name 'Rachel' and, when I asked what their last name was, they told me 'Reynolds'. That's why I've come to you. You see, I thought --"
She stopped. Her audience had suddenly gone deathly pale. "That means something, doesn't it?"
The husband's features grew fierce and threatening. "Lady, I don't know what sort of joke this is..."
"Please, it's no joke."
"You say you live in the house seven houses down the street?"
"Well, we used to live in that house up until two years ago when we sold it. The reason we sold it..." He paused as a slight tremor shook his voice. "The reason we sold it is that our seven-year-old son, Paul, died of pneumonia in the bedroom in that house." There was anger in his tone now, bitter anger. "We loved that boy and it just about killed my wife when we lost him. So if you think this is some funny joke, if you think you can waltz in here in the middle of the night and spout nonsense about voices in bedroom walls..."
Even as he was speaking, a light began to flash through the living room window. Agnes knew instantly what it was. A police car had just pulled up in front. Paul must have found she was missing and figured out where she had to have gone. It was his car out there.
But she wasn't thinking about that. Her thoughts were confused, baffled. Their son was named Paul? He had died in the bedroom? But he died of pneumonia. Not in the wall...not in the wall.... Nothing seemed to make sense. She needed to think. Needed time to think.
But then the doorbell rang and, when Mr. Reynolds answered it, Tom appeared in the front hall. He went directly to his mother-in-law and lifted her to her feet, as if he'd just come to collect a parcel.
"I'm sorry about this," he apologized, as he forced her to the door. "She isn't well. She's heavily medicated. I'm sorry."
Her thoughts were whirling like leaves in a storm. Paul? Their son's name was Paul? Not Rachel? He died in my bedroom? Died two years ago? He was seven-years-old. Not Rachel. Paul...
And then, on the threshold, she glanced back and saw it. On Mr. Reynolds' hands. There were grey marks on his fingers. Faint, grey, as if he'd tried to wash something off but couldn't get it all.
Not Rachel. Paul. In the wall...in the wall...
Desperately, Agnes caught the doorframe, keeping herself from being pushed through. "What's that on your hands? Is that mortar? Is that mortar on your hands?"
More in surprise than anything, Mr. Reynolds glanced down at his fingers.
"You were building a wall, weren't you?" She could hardly breathe. Tom was trying to pry her fingers off the doorframe. Cursing. "Where is it? Please, tell me, where is the wall?"
And then she was running. Old and frail though she might be, she tore free of Tom's grip and staggered down the front steps. She saw it instantly. There was a wheelbarrow by the garage and a pile of bricks. Between the garage and the house there had evidently been a breezeway. Now, it had been bricked up.
Behind her, she could hear Tom and the others shouting as they chased after. But she didn't stop. She reached the new wall and started clawing at the bricks, digging at the soft, newly-laid mortar. She was crying and screaming, hysterical and frantic and desperate and --
Tom grabbed her and pulled her away.
"She's in the wall!" she sobbed, fighting to break free. "Dear Lord, she's in the wall!"
He lifted her in his arms, her slippers flying, and started to carry her, still struggling, down the driveway to the cruiser. His features were grim. Tears ran down her cheeks.
"Why won't anyone believe me? Oh, please, oh, please..."
And then, just as they reached the cruiser, Tom stopped at the sound of a startled shout. It was the voice of Mrs. Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds -- bless her -- who was leaning against the new wall, her ear to the cool bricks, and a look of stricken horror on her young features.
"There's someone in there," she said in a small, shaking voice. Then, she looked at her husband with wide, disbelieving eyes. "Honest to God, Jack, I can hear someone crying in there!"
She had climbed into the breezeway earlier in the day when it was only half bricked over, just a child exploring, meaning no harm. Somehow she had slipped and hit her head. When she came to, the wall was finished and she was trapped -- trapped in darkness. Another hour aand she would have suffocated to death.
Agnes had saved her life.
No one could explain it, of course, except to put it down to a fantastic coincidence. And Agnes wasn't about to contest the point. She was just an old woman, not long for this earth. What did it matter? Maybe it was a coincidence and maybe it wasn't. After all, what could a voice in her bedroom wall have to do with a little girl trapped behind a wall seven houses over?
The next morning, though, Agnes walked down the front steps again and went directly to the old oak tree, the one which had caught her attention the night before. She somehow knew what she would find, but still, there was a profound sense of satisfaction when it turned up. Seeing it, she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, too -- but a good sadness. Oh, to be young again, she thought. And innocent.
Carved into the shaggy bark, at about the level of her shins, was a heart. In the center of that heart were four words. The first three said this: Paul luvs Rachel.
The fourth said this:
Back to Part One
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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