Staring at a blank wall. No pictures, no paint, no nothing.
And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.
Little cracks sneaking down. Wandering veins of grey. Dim light in the corner shining on the sneakers, watching them sneak.
I suspect little bugs hide inside these walls. What are those bugs called? The ones that live forever? The ones that’ll be around long after the human race is dead and gone?
I stare so long at these cracks, they seem to get wider as I watch. Optical illusion. Drug-induced haze. I wobble. I waver. I wonder how long before I see those little black bug-heads peeking out. Squirming. Quivering for release. Spotted with grey drywall. Plaster.
Scurrying. Unlike the sneaking cracks.
Insects do not know stealth.
This thought leads me to another, but I promptly forget what it is, because my eyes water, tear up, spill over. I cry and stare at the widening cracks in this wall.
I’m in my apartment. I’m in someone’s apartment, anyway. Someone who shares the furniture I remember buying, the TV I remember hauling up five flights of stairs, the bag of au gratin chips I stopped off at the store for last night, on my way home from a meeting with a woman, a woman who-
I see a bug poke its head out of one of the cracks.
I see you, you little fucker, I think.
I see you, too, you little fucker, it thinks.
Antennae probe the air, deciding whether it’s a good idea to venture out into the light; dim as it is, it’s probably more than this fellow likes.
Wish I could remember what they’re called.
These bugs, they’re shiny, scuttling, nervous, perpetually on edge.
My earlier thought comes to me again, and I-
It slips away, faster than last time. Not even a synaptic morsel for me to mull over.
Which reminds me of the woman I was with last night, because we went to see a cheap magic show. I knew how he did all his tricks, this magic guy. This non-magic guy. Every time he did a trick, I saw a knife slicing across his throat, saw… something gush out. It pumps through you, this something. Engorges your cock. Washes your sins away. Gets infected, makes you sick, makes you die. Like the woman I was with last night, just like-
What’s it called?
Fuck. Can’t remember.
Anyway, I wanted to kill this no-magic motherfucker. I wanted to shout out all his dumb tricks to the audience. We’d charge the stage, demand our money back, and even when we got it, we’d cut off his head, parade it around town as a warning to other so-called magic-men. We’d show them that you can’t just-
That stuff is called blood. I remember. I actually remember.
The little… whatever it’s called-bug-pokes its head out again, antennae probing. This time I hear a crunching noise behind it. More bugs waiting to get out, no doubt. More magic-men for me to kill. I’ll slit all their fucking throats.
Another crack appears in my blank wall. More crunching, more scuttling, more scurrying. Hurrying.
To be let out. To take over my life, to take over my wife. Or at least the woman I was with last night.
I don’t know. But it’s time to go for a walk.
Nasty streets. And I live on the nastiest one in this city. This city that I moved to so long ago, I’ve forgotten its name. But then, that’s no surprise. I’ve forgotten so many things.
But not my wife. I haven’t forgotten her. We went to the magic show last night. But I’m sure I’ve already said that. Though I’m not sure I said it was my wife I went with. I might have said it was some other woman, some woman I can’t remember. But I’m not to be trusted when I say things like that, because it’s clear I have a wife, and that she loves me very much. We have a house together. We share the household duties. Sometimes we even switch them, just so no one gets bored.
Because it’s far too easy to get bored. If you’re not paying attention, things slip away from you. You keep looking behind you to make sure they’re still there, and you keep going, then you look again, and again, and then you find that you can’t see what it was you were supposed to be looking out for, and something is lost from your life forever, something you’ll never get back.
That’s what I’ve heard happens.
When you get bored.
When you stop paying attention.
These nasty streets are brighter than my apartment, but full of many more shadows. The faces that pass me are blurred, streaked with black paint. But I see smiles through the blackness; I see gleaming shark teeth.
The sidewalk is gritty. The curbs are sharp, squared off. Chalk from little kids playing hopscotch. Baby blue. Neon orange. Stark, biting white. The colours of a child’s world.
But white’s not a colour. I know. I know. But that’s all right, because you know what I mean.
The sun is going down. The soles of my sneakers get sneakier as the light fails. When the sun dips below the horizon and the streetlights come on, I can’t hear my feet at all. It’s as if I’m floating around. After a couple of minutes, I stop walking completely, but continue to move along somehow.
Drifting from shadow to shadow.
I sniff the air, and it’s corny as fuck but I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s true: I smell fear. Up around the corner, pushed back against the brick of an alleyway. It’s crisp and strong in the still evening air.
No children playing hopscotch here, just a junkie, needles stuck into his arms, his neck, his feet, sprawled out on the ground, two teenagers kicking him.
Hello, junkie, pleased to meet you. Hello, bored teenagers. I understand. Really, I do. Kick him for me, would you, please? I can’t seem to move my feet; all I can do is float around. So kick the hell out of that useless bag of shit. Make him sorry to pull in his next breath. Make him see that his way of life is an embarrassment.
Magic-men drip from his veins as the boots are laid to his skull. I hear a splintering sound, like an axe into thick tree bark. The junkie stops moving. The teenagers stop kicking. They back away from the junkie’s body slowly.
The smell of fear is gone.
There’s a woman somewhere in this world who once loved this man.
There’s a woman somewhere in this world who once loved me, too.
I drift away from the scene, back toward home, floating a little closer to the ground.
“Honey, I’m home,” I say when I open the door.
There’s no answer. Just the crunching from my wall.
I close the door behind me, drop my keys on the hall table. Step over the body in the hallway. It’s slumped against the wall, floating four inches off the ground. I know because I measured it once. A long time ago.
Funny that it’s still here, actually. You’d think someone would have come to take it away by now, but maybe some people just float around outside like me, unable to direct their motion, always meaning to come by and pick it up, but never quite able to stop at the right doorway, to turn inside.
Sometimes I wonder who it is, how she got here. Her hair’s hanging in front of her face, and I haven’t the nerve to move it aside. So I just let her hover there.
I putter around the kitchen for about half an hour-I always do at this time of day. It’s a ritual of mine. I can’t go to sleep if I haven’t puttered around, slicing this, dicing that, frying up whatever, tossing salad, grating cheese. Half the time, I don’t even eat what I make; I just leave it to sit on the spotless white Formica island. Untouched. Pristine.
When I wake up in the morning, the meal is gone, and the dishes are washed. The dead woman in the hallway always looks a little bit plumper in the belly those mornings.
But I don’t say anything; I don’t want to embarrass her.
Scuttle. Churn. Scurry. CRACK. And I don’t know how much longer that wall’s gonna hold.
Where shall we float tonight, my dead hallway girl and I? Another magic show? More dead non-magic men, their cut throats yawning, so tired, so full of blood and fake charisma. Spilling all over the audience.
But it’s not only me. Other people must want these fakers dead. I mean, all the magic in this world, and these cowards make livings faking it.
But no, no shows tonight; I’m not in the mood for entertainment this evening.
I feel like going back outside, finding that junkie, bringing him home, putting him in the hallway-just to see how far off the ground he floats in my magic kingdom.
More cracking, and that’s all the wall can take; it splits near the bottom. Bugs spill out, clamber over each other, pour out into the living room.
I walk into my kitchen, put the kettle on.
I call to my wife to ask if she’d like a cup. There’s no answer. I’ve come to expect that, though.
Perhaps the dead woman in the hallway would like a cup. But I’m afraid she’ll speak if I ask her.
Blood and bugs all over the floor. Cracked plaster. Cracked drywall. Even the cracks are cracking now. I always knew something like this would happen.
The kettle boils; I let it whistle. Walk into the hallway. The woman slumped there, hair hanging in front of her face, she just hovers at her customary four inches, apparently unalarmed at the blood and bugs swilling under her, sloshing against my front door.
Chittering, splashing around in the frothy red. Swimming about. A bug’s delight in my apartment tonight. Fun, fun, time to party. Suck it up, you little fuckers. You caused it. You formed the cracks. You planned it all exactly like this. You knew the moment, the second it would crack. A million little bugs with tiny digital wristwatches. Waiting, just waiting behind the wall. Waiting for me to-
And the junkie drops out of my wall, followed by another rush of bugs and blood. Flopping across my living room, turning, turning like someone unrolling a carpet. A carpet full of needles.
The kettle whistles, froths at the spout, spews boiling water all over the stovetop. I look again at the woman in the hallway. A black-red stew bubbles under her, but she remains motionless. Then her arms reach slowly up to her face, fingers splayed out, about to draw the curtains of her hair.
She’s grainy, like a turn-of-the-century silent movie, little pops and flickering dots coarse through her. Forearms purple, bruised. The skin looks ready to fall off, loose, sagging. Fingers touch hair, pull to either side. Blood burbles beneath her.
The junkie’s body is pushed into the mouth of the hall, gets stuck against a wide, soft chair, set low to the ground, just at the edge of the living room. It flops in the torrent. Undecided.
I see white skin as the dark hair-curtains pull aside, but I can’t stay to see her face. I don’t want to know.
Back into the kitchen. A cup of tea for the three of us. That will make everything all right again.
I get three cups out of the cupboard, take the screaming kettle off the burner. Pour, pour, pour.
More bodies fall out of my wall. A fat man is dumped onto the leather couch. A too-thin woman in high heels spins out, twirls in the air for a second, thumps hard to the floor. Side-by-side, two naked men tumble out, and there’s barely anything left of my wall now.
More tea. More cups. Better put more water on.
What is this all about? What will my wife say when she comes home? How will I explain the corpses falling out of our walls?
Another body drops out-a shrivelled old woman wearing a black dress and sun hat. When she falls out of the wall, near the top, her head smacks off a tall lampshade in the corner of the room; her hat comes off, lands on the fat man’s belly. Her brittle bones snap as she crumbles to dust onto the cross-legged Buddha next to the coffee table.
I put the kettle back on the stove, ankle-deep in blood and bugs, reach for more tea bags to put in more cups. Then I hear something soft, whispery. My name. Whatever my name is. I have no idea, but this sound is familiar in the same way that your name is familiar.
I turn toward the doorway that leads into the hallway, the last place I want to go now, what with all the dead junkies and skinny whores and fat businessmen and the floating woman with hair in front of her face, hair that’s no longer there, pulled aside. And it’s magic time as she walks toward me, black holes in her face, burning my skin, boiling my blood. She stares at me, grinning, floating four inches off the kitchen tiles.
Whispering what must be my name, though her lips do not move. Nothing moves except her body as a whole. Stiff, arms at her sides, pristine, pure, untouched by the blood, the bugs, the days and nights of wanting nothing more than someone to share tea with.
The deluge from my wall has nearly stopped; it’s merely a trickle now. Those immortal black bugs scurry everywhere, crawl on everything. Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling chitinous carpeting.
The floating woman’s arms come up from her sides as she nears; her grin falters, slips from her face. She tilts her head.
Embraces me gently.
My wife, my love.
Silence, and the beating of no one’s heart.
She leans in, whispers in my ear, asks if we can go to the magic show again.
I say, “Yes,” and smile.
Even before we’re out the door, I feel my feet lift up, float higher, higher still, more than four inches, five, six, the highest I’ve ever been. Blood and bugs follow us down the apartment building stairs, close on our heels.
But we glide faster, hover out into the street, holding hands.
Drift up and into the night.
Brett Alexander Savory is the Bram Stoker Award-winning Editor-in-Chief of ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words, has had nearly 40 stories published in various print and online publications, and has written two novels, IN AND DOWN and THE DISTANCE TRAVELLED. In the works are a third novel, RUNNING BENEATH THE SKIN, and a dark comic book series with artist Homeros Gilani. In early 2006, Necro Publications will release a signed limited edition hardcover of THE DISTANCE TRAVELLED. When he’s not writing, reading, or editing, he plays drums for the southern-tinged hard rock band The Diablo Red.
David Niall Wilson, editor of the now-defunct anthology COCK-ROACH-SUCKERS, asked me to write a story for that book, in which both vampires and cockroaches were to figure but never be explicitly mentioned. “Wall” is what resulted, although I didn’t really involve vampires, per se, but instead went the only slightly more subtle buckets-of-blood route. The story turned out far stranger than I’d expected. Which is to say, a good deal stranger than my usual strangeness.