© 2010-2013 Jodi Lee
I can’t remember the last time I heard the house, not really. I used to know; in fact I used to know right down to the very second, but they’ve been giving me drugs. I can’t hear it any more. I can’t feel it, but I can remember it.
Once, I felt it call to me. I felt it pull me. I felt it.
No longer, although I haven’t actually swallowed the pills for several days, and I bet by bedtime tonight I’ll feel it. Perhaps I miss it. Perhaps I long to be in that other place. Perhaps it’s all illusion brought to life by my tired and frequently twisted mind. Oh I know I’m sick, don’t think I believe I’m sane. I know better.
Even though it’s been so long I can’t remember the when, I can remember it. The stairway from first to second floors. The wainscoting just around the corner from the last step; I’d run my hand along the white-painted strip until it reached a snag in the immaculate wood.
The snag wasn’t, not really. It was a button. If I pushed it at the right time, the lower part of that panel would swing inwards, so I could crawl through into the space between the walls.
Crawl slow and silent, so they didn’t hear me.
I don’t think I ever knew who they were. They were just muttered voices between the walls, causing terror to dance across my spine. I could cross from the house, through it, to someplace else. Even to my child-mind, I knew where I was going wasn’t possible, that it wasn’t part of the house. It wasn’t that big.
They lived between the walls, the voices that terrified me at twelve and continue to terrify me, even now. If they knew I was crossing, crawling so slowly that it seemed a day between the rooms, they’d do horrible things to me.
I saw the remains of more than one child there, between the studs and plaster and lathe walls; if I looked down, I could see them just a foot or so below my scraped knees. No matter how long they’d rested there, the look of complete and utter horror was frozen to their tiny features. They didn’t rot, they didn’t fall apart. They were just there. Dolls, broken and abandoned.
And I was as scared of them as I was of the voices.
Carefully, I would put a hand out, set it down. Wait. Bring my knee forward, put it down. Wait. Opposite hand, repeat the motions.
The other children moved sometimes. Just their eyes, sometimes their little brows would knit together and it seemed to me that I could hear their silent screams.
One hand out, down, wait. Knee forward, down, wait.
So it went, every night, for so long… I don’t know why I went through the little door, I don’t know why I crawled between the walls, I don’t know why I opened the door to the other side. I know I was scared; scared of myself, scared of what was behind me and scared of what lay in front of me. All the time, scared. And night after night, I did it over and over.
I waited on the other side of that door, only it wasn’t really me. It was, but not. She looked like me and talked like me, but she could do horrible things. She knew I was scared of her. Her name was Maya.
I once watched as Maya took slivers of wood and slid them into the eyes of a bird she’d trapped. The bird didn’t make a noise as the wood pierced its eyes; I hoped it was dead. She asked me if I wanted her to come through the wall and do that to Mother.
It was shameful, but I hesitated before I shook my head. I left her standing at a doorway where the beyond was nothing but blackness. I turned back only once, just as she turned to leave the room we shared; the blackness sucked her in with a noise not unlike that of a straw at the bottom of an empty milkshake glass. The bird was left on the floor, twitching. Not dead. Silent.
I hated and loved Maya at the same time.
Together we explored other rooms in the house that stood between. I know you’re thinking—Between what?. I can’t tell you that, you’d never understand. The house I went to, the house she went to—it—it was between.
And forever whispering, forever nattering… the voices.
The house seemed to breathe around us; light cast crazy shadows on walls that rippled and heaved. In that place, the sun moved differently, faster than it should. Sometimes the house was old… old-fashioned wallpaper hung on walls in rooms with very high ceilings, area rugs covered floors set with period furniture. It was in the old house that we met Joseph.
Joseph looked like Maya and I, sounded like Maya and I—but he was a boy. A frightened boy. Maya pinched him, hard and often. He would scream each time, but he looked at her with such love and admiration. He never walked in front of us or beside us as we explored… he stayed behind. Always behind.
I remember we played Chinese checkers and jacks. I remember we played hopscotch on a grid Maya carved into the wood floor beside the rug in the old house. Joseph was terrified the “nanny lady” would find out, and punish us. Mostly, he worried about the “nanny lady” punishing him. For two years, he had me convinced the “nanny lady” was going to get all of us, and maybe do to us what Maya did to the little creatures she captured.
I don’t know why I stopped playing with Maya and Joseph, except that suddenly I couldn’t stand being with Maya any more. Maybe it was the way she began touching Joseph. Rubbing her hands across his chest before she pinched him. The look had changed in his eyes too… there was something else there now, something visceral and bloody and hungry…
Rather than turning right the next time I went through the wall, I turned left. The children on this side could move much more than just their eyes or their brows, they could reach up and pull at my nightgown, or grab at my wrists and ankles. I shudder thinking about their cold, dead hands on me. I can still feel them, you know. The drugs never did take that away from me.
Still I went on, and with each slow, cautious movement… the voices grew louder. It took twice as long to get to the next hidden door.
The house was the same, but new. Can something be the same, but different at the same time? I walked from room to room, looking for another one like me. I was alone… alone except for the voices.
This short story is one of many in my collection, Into a Long Ago Future.
It is also continued in the Galleys Between series of novellas, available exclusively in digital formats.