We’re nearly coming to the end of this event now. Here’s a short story from the lovely Laura Wilkinson.
The Whispering Wall
The first time Lucile heard the crying, it was the dead of a summer’s afternoon. She assumed it was her next-door neighbour’s son until she remembered they were on holiday. When she told Edward that evening, he smiled and shook his head.
‘You’re imagining it. Either that or the bloody woman’s invited some of her friends to use the house while she’s away,’ he said, returning to the Independent.
‘We’d hear them if there were visitors, wouldn’t we, Eddy?’
He peered over the pages, eyes bloodshot, and said, ‘Probably. I can’t imagine any of her lot being quiet. But look, Lulu, it’s all in your head. Not surprising after everything you’ve been through.’
‘We’ve been through,’ she whispered. ‘Anyway, I rather like her.’
‘You need to rest more, darling,’ he said, before disappearing behind his newspaper again. ‘You’re overdoing it.’
Lucile wondered how she could possibly be overdoing it. She hadn’t worked in six months, not since she’d been ill, and she’d done nothing in the house. The move had been Edward’s idea. She needed somewhere quieter, somewhere to build a future, he’d said. Highgate was perfect and the house backed onto the cemetery – a place they both loved. Had loved. Edward rarely went there nowadays.
Later, Lucile lay in bed staring at the walls, an open, unread book resting on her chest. She could hear only Edward, the soft whistle of his out-breath. She closed the novel, rolled over and watched him sleep. Flat on his back, the duvet pulled up to his hips, sweat beaded on his forehead, his lips fell apart and this slackness gave him the appearance of youth. She longed to stroke the fleshy rise of his belly, to feel his skin against hers. She reached out, and then stopped. Her hand hovered over his chest, the hairs tickling her palms. Sighing, Lucile turned over and closed her eyes; he would be furious if she woke him up.
She woke to the sound of whimpering. The room was clothed in shadow. Startled, she sat up. She held her breath and strained to hear more. There was a long pause, then it came again, louder this time. Lucile pulled the duvet aside and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb Edward. She stood still for a moment, her feet welcoming the cool of the bare floorboards; a breeze wafted round her ankles and she realised that the bathroom window had been left open. She went to close it, looking out over the gardens first, half expecting to see Samantha and her boy.
Crazy. It’s the middle of the night. Of course they’re not there. They’re on holiday, you fool, she thought.
As she crept back to the bedroom, it came again: the sound of crying from the far wall. The party wall. A deep wardrobe covered its entire length; not quite walk-in, but large enough for the estate agent to mention it a few times. Lucile slid open the heavy doors. Dresses, jackets, shirts and suits swayed from side to side. She parted the clothes and leaned in. Nothing. She waited, but the crying had stopped. The only sound was the rustling of plastic covered shirts, fresh from the dry cleaners.
As she prepared Edward’s breakfast, Lucile decided not to mention the crying again. He would only think she was making a fuss. Since his recent promotion, he’d been more distant than ever.
He sat down at the breakfast bar smelling of aftershave. Lucile didn’t recognise the fragrance and was about to ask what it was when Edward said, ‘Lulu darling, I’m afraid I have to go away again. One of Iain’s clients, his mother’s had another episode. Needs twenty-four hour care, at least until he gets a home sorted. ’
‘God, how awful, poor Iain. And Teri. Do pass on my best wishes.’
‘I will, sweetheart. Bloody inconsiderate disease, Alzheimer’s.’
Lucile smiled at his feeble attempt to make light of Iain’s pain.
He came up behind her and squeezed her shoulders. ‘Sorry I didn’t mention it last night. I didn’t want to upset you after that crying business. You’ll be alright won’t you, darling?’
‘Yes, yes, of course, I’ll be fine. Are you going anywhere exciting?’ She turned the bacon in the grill.
‘God, no. Brussels, then The Hague – bloody boring places. I’ll bring you something lovely.’ He gave her shoulders another quick squeeze and sat down again.
‘Why don’t you get some of your old friends over while I’m away? It’d do you good.’
She passed him a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns, and said, ‘I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I don’t know if I can face the questions. What I’m up to, why the move, why we haven’t got children yet…’
‘None of their bloody business, that’s what you tell them. You’re trying to forget, move on.’
I don’t want to forget, she thought. ‘Calm down. It’s not as if they’ve actually said anything. I’m nervous, that’s all.’
‘Well, there’s no need to be. Look, darling, I’ve got to shoot. Sorry about the food. Have a good day.’ And with that, he was gone.
Another eleven, twelve hours to fill before he returned home. Lucile took a leisurely bath and drifted into the village. It was such a contrast to Chelsea. Intimate, higgledy-piggledy, leafy. It was a beautiful day and everywhere she went there were babies in buggies, mothers with small children on trikes, women with swollen bellies and happy, smiling faces. She turned round and walked to the cemetery.
It was quiet, hot and sultry. Flowers bowed in the heat on the graves of the recently departed, twigs snapped underfoot as Lucile inched into the heart of the graveyard. She sought respite in the shade of the Circle of Lebanon and walked it until she was dizzy, and, though she fought against it, she found herself drawn to the tombs and headstones of children. Precious, stolen children immortalised in stone etchings and watched over by angels.
Ten days passed before Lucile heard the crying again. It was night-time and Edward was away. She sat in the wardrobe for two hours or more, waiting and listening, an ear pressed against the wall. A mewling, at first plaintive and lonely, built to a demanding, angry howl before shrinking into exhausted sobbing. It sounded like a boy.
In the morning, Lucile knocked on the peeling paintwork of her neighbour’s front door. There was no answer. They had not returned from holiday.
For three nights Lucile rose and waited for the child, but he did not come.
Edward walked into the kitchen clutching half a dozen white lilies. ‘Christ, Lulu, are you all right? You look terrible.’
He offered the gift. The cloying scent of her favourite flowers hung in the close air. Lost for words, Lucile looked at him, silent.
‘What’s happened?’ he asked, fiddling with his keys, avoiding her eyes.
She turned her back to him as she lied, ‘Nothing. I’ve not been sleeping, that’s all.’
‘Are you out of pills? Ask the doctor for more. I could do with a few myself. I’m bushed.’
Edward certainly slept deeply. He retired to bed early and was asleep by the time Lucile emerged from the bathroom in a lace-trimmed baby doll nightdress. Disappointed, she exchanged the frills for cotton pyjamas. Brushing her hands over her wide hips and full breasts, she felt betrayed by the body which had promised so much.
That night, the boy returned. Lucile heard him crying through the wall, though his sobs were barely louder than a whisper. She sat on the floor and pressed her face and palms against the wallpaper. She could see him now. Blonde and pink with blue eyes and fleshy thighs. How she longed to hold him. To cuddle him, to comfort him.
For five nights he came, and then he stopped. Weeks went by and still the neighbours hadn’t returned. Edward was away on another business trip and Lucile was lonelier than ever. It hurt. She sat in the wardrobe for hours, day and night, waiting for the boy.
Then, late one afternoon, he came. His voice was faint, as if he were at the end of a long tunnel and not the other side of a few bricks. Lucile huddled in the corner, listening. Here, the wallpaper was loose, bubbling, almost peeling. She picked at it with her fingernails and tore away a large strip to reveal another layer beneath. A dated pattern of blue and grey stripes, it was harder to remove. Lucile went to the kitchen for a knife.
She scraped at the wall. Away came another layer to reveal large pink flowers, roses or carnations, set in a yellowing background of stems, thorns and frayed leaves. Another layer came away, then another, and another, until she came to a dusty, faded print: sandy teddy bears with burgundy ribbons round their necks. A nursery paper.
She pushed her nose to the wall and sniffed. It smelt of talcum powder and camomile. As she pulled away, she saw the pencil mark: a squiggle, like a child’s handwriting, the message concealed by a layer of paper still attached to the wall.
The sun had set but Lucile was sweating. She clambered out of the wardrobe and raced downstairs, across the garden and into the shed. Amidst the chaos, she retrieved a torch, a scraper and a toolbox. Heart racing, she returned to the bedroom and began throwing clothes and shoes out of the wardrobe. Armed with a wet sponge and metal scraper, Lucile attacked the remaining wallpaper. It slipped off with ease. She followed the childish letters, jagged and scrawling. At first, she couldn’t decipher the message, but she persevered.
Help me. Help mummy help.
The crying filled her head. She tore at the teddy bears until her fingers were raw, exposing the brickwork beneath. She grabbed a hammer from the toolbox and chipped away at the crumbling red bricks. The crying continued, louder and louder. In despair, she threw down the hammer and bolted out of the house back to the shed for the pickaxe.
She knocked along the wall. It sounded hollow. There was a cavity; she was sure of it. She hauled up the pickaxe and swung it at the wall. Bricks cracked and fell to the floor in a cloud of dust. Coughing and spluttering, she pulled at the stone, blood trickling from her battered hands. The crying grew louder and more desperate until she could bear it no longer. Then, quite suddenly, it stopped.
Lucile was staring at the remains of a child, entombed in the cavity wall. Unafraid, she reached out a shredded finger to touch the skull. She felt an unmistakable flutter in her belly. The stirrings of a child. An unborn child. She looked at her bloodied hands and tried to remember the last time she had bled. It was weeks ago. Many weeks ago. Before the wall began to whisper. Laura Wilkinson, 2015
Copyright © Laura Wilkinson, 2015
Laura Wilkinson originally wrote this story for ‘My Baby Shot Me Down’, a collection of poetry and prose. Though the other stories in this book are not related to Halloween you may want to get yourself a copy.
This is the link:-