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The Man in the Red Tin Wall

The man in the red tin wall


Estimated reading time — 18 minutes

Donna Ball woke at 7:15 as she had done every weekday for the past ten years. Tired eyes struggled to stay open, and as she heaved herself from her tacky chintz covers her reflection caught her gaze in the domed screen of the old tv in her room.
Donna was pale; not in a pretty porcelain doll way, but in a pasty, ‘more-cellulite-than-skin’ kind of way. Her body was reaping the rewards of years of takeaways, sugary drinks and weekend binges. Flabby folds hung from her body that she tried to cover unsuccessfully with oversized shirts and patterned scarves. Her legs always had spots and blotches all over them so she drowned them with wide black trousers and nothing else.

Every morning she caught the 8:45 train to work after grabbing a bitter coffee and an overly sweet blueberry muffin at the station cafe. Her building was a large tower amidst larger towers in the industrial part of the city. She would take the lift to the 6th floor, shuffle to her desk and switch on the computer. Her job was to email various people about numbers she didn’t understand, answer phones to people she didn’t know and make spreadsheets about monetary figures she’d never see in her life. She would then go home again on the 6:45 train. Her day finished with a takeaway in front of the television, then bed. It was always the same, and had been for far too long. She knew it, but change scared her and her lack of qualifications and skills meant a new job wasn’t on the cards any time soon.

The weekends weren’t much better either. Donna never went anywhere because she didn’t like anyone very much; not enough to spend time with them anyway. She knew people from the office like Stace and Chrissy, but they were gossipy and mean and all they talked about were having babies and pushing their high-earning partners to buy expensive handbags and fancy dinners. There was also Olivia, but she was a bit of a snob, always harping on in that nasal voice of hers: ‘How aaaare you darling, how was your weeeekend??’. Like she cared. Bitch.

The only thing new in her life of late was some antidepressant medication. She didn’t know why she was bothering to be honest; she only felt more and more numb as the days dragged by. The weather was cold and wet, and the grey buildings that sat squatly outside her window looked miserable in the poor light.
She shuffled to the bathroom and washed her face in the grubby sink. The mirror had fallen a while ago and she hadn’t bothered to replace it, uninterested in what her face was looking like these days. The browned carpet of her flat had begun to smell too but she didn’t care very much. It wasn’t as if anyone was going to come to stay any time soon.
It was a cold and drizzly morning and the damp was already creeping into her frayed old shoes. She never bothered to buy new ones because she didn’t like any of them. All the silly buckles and glitter all over everything looked ridiculous. The train was 4 minutes late as usual, and after eagerly consuming her coffee and muffin combo she made her way to the second to last coach and took the 5th window seat on the left like she always did. The train sped and slowed past equally miserable looking terraced houses and 70’s tower blocks, then halted at the red light like it had done every morning since what seemed like forever.

Beside the track where the train always stopped was an old tin wall, intersecting the tracks. She looked at it as she always did, at the heavy rusted bolts and screws churned together like an old patchwork quilt. It was an odd thing, reddish brown and curved like the arch of an old bridge. It looked so old and out of place amongst the rain streaked windows of the modern buildings surrounding the tracks, she often wondered when it had been built.
It was hollow; a couple of metres thick with small ovular holes at the bottom, presumably for builders to get in for repairs. Maybe she could hide in one of those holes instead of going to work today… her mind drifted and she imagined one of those little Swedish apartments you saw on tv with the sliding walls and fancy furniture that look tiny on the outside but bigger on the inside, with snowy trees and a lake right next door. She’d like that. A break would be nice. No one to share it with though…
Her rambling mind had left her staring blankly at the blackness of the closest hole in a kind of stupor, only to realise it’s emptiness was not so empty any more. She sat upright and stared at the hole. She blinked once, and once again.

In the gloom, she could clearly see a pair of legs. A mans legs, wearing navy pinstripe trousers. She squinted again, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. Yes, there it was. A man was standing in the wall.

She motioned to the portly gentleman in the seat opposite her who’s shirt was far too small for his large neck and pointed to the hole in excitement. They both looked from the window. The legs were gone.
‘That’s funny I could’ve sworn…’ She mumbled.
The gentleman in the tight shirt looked at her like she was a drunk and moved his attention back down to his phone, mindlessly slapping the screen with his fat, pale thumb.

The train kicked into life and began to speed away from the tin wall, the hole, and whomever was in there.
She spent most of the day in a kind of trance, thinking about the legs she had seen in the hole. It wasn’t a homeless person, that was for sure – the trousers were far too nice; and any maintenance worker surely wouldn’t have worn his best suit to repair an old rusty wall…
She had so many questions fluttering around in her brain as to why he was there. It didn’t make any sense. Unless it had been a trick of the light and her mind had made it all up to entertain her in some way. It had seemed so real though.

The next day she was anxious to get out of the door and onto the train. She caught her flabby reflection in the mirrored surface of the television again and grimaced. Her hair badly needed a snip or two and her weight was really getting out of hand. Her wardrobe could do with a reboot as well. She had some money lying around since she didn’t have many friends or family; there wasn’t any gifts that needed to be bought or major house projects that needed to take place. Most of her outgoing money was spent on rent and takeaways.

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She quickly applied some very old reddish brown lipstick in an attempt to make her face a bit more appealing before she left the flat. She found her fifth window seat in the second to last carriage on the train and looked out of the window expectantly. She tucked her thinning, greasy hair behind one of her ears. She imagined herself as a kind of cutesy Betty Boop character with her pretty lipstick. It didn’t take much to make her feel glamorous these days. The train sped, and slowed and halted. The lady across from her was giving her a bit of an odd look, but Donna didn’t care. She was probably jealous of her gorgeous lipstick.
‘That’s right you cow, suck it up’ she thought to herself.

The hole was where it always was, plain and black and boring. She sat back in her seat, frustrated that she’d put so much effort in for nothing. Maybe he only came on certain days?
‘Yeah right’ a voice in her head said snidely back to her. She had clearly hallucinated the man out of pure boredom and got all excited over nothing.
She sighed and rolled her head over to look again at the hole. Nope, nothing. The train began to speed up again and the hole vanished into the sea of tracks and glass windows of the city.

Her day was mundane as ever, and made even worse by the fact that she hadn’t seen anything worth getting excited over. The clock dragged and dragged and by the time she was finished it felt like an eternity since she’d started. Stace and Chrissy kept talking at her about their holidays and the different martinis they had in a fancy new bar. It was as if they were rubbing their perfect, prissy lives in her face.
The train journey on the way back was swathed in darkness due to the early winter evenings, and the wall was practically invisible at night. She knew she wasn’t going to be able to see it at all, let alone one of the holes. She sank into her seat sadly, wondering whether to have Chinese or fish and chips when she got home… thrilling.

She opened the takeaway app on her phone and was scrolling through options when a loud couple got on and started drunkenly arguing about their new patio a few seats down in the carriage. Distracted from her phone, she raised her head in annoyance. Something from the carriage window caught her eye. Something strange.
A small, ovular light was approaching her carriage from further up the line, gliding like a disembodied lantern. She suddenly realised what it was and pressed her face to the window to get a closer look. Despite the speed of the train, she could make out the hole in the tin wall was lit with a warm, orangey glow and inside was a small tray atop a gleaming marble surface. On the tray was what looked like a cigar next to two filled wine glasses. And beside one of the glasses… a hand. The train sped by and the strange scene disappeared into the night.

This time she was certain, she had seen something and that was that. She was so excited, she wanted to call someone, then realised she didn’t really have anyone to call… not anyone that would believe her. Did the man know she could see him and his hidey hole? Certainly no one else had spotted the seemingly obvious inhabitant… but maybe he was only showing himself to her. A mixture of fright and excitement welled up in her chest, and for the first time in what seemed like years she felt good.

The next day she hurriedly applied more of the lipstick and practically jogged to the train. The weather was still pretty grim, but that wasn’t going to quell her eagerness. The train sped and slowed and sped and slowed, and at every stop Donna began to get more and more impatient. Finally the wall was in sight. The train slowed further and finally came to a halt.
She squinted her eyes to keep the suspense for that moment longer and stared at the hole. Slowly, out of the blackness, something began moving. The man was there again.

This time, an arm was visible in the hole, the body of the man just out of sight. He was wearing the same navy suit, and wore what looked like a very expensive watch. She couldn’t stop blinking for fear this was some sort of mad dream. Suddenly the arm raised and waved to her. Delighted she waved back, and the arm acknowledged. The lady across from her looked puzzled, looking out the window too to see who Donna was waving at. She clearly couldn’t see him. What a shame, he was only interested in her. She chuckled internally at the thought of the man in the wall. HER man in the wall.

Stace and Chrissy were being overtly annoying that day, and wouldn’t leave her alone. If she had to hear about their ‘weekend walks’ one more time she thought she’d throttle someone. Every time that handsome arm waved back at her in her mind, she felt good again. She wondered what he looked like, what hair colour he had. Did he have a chiselled beard or beautifully smooth clean shaven skin? She imagined a dark eyed, strong man helping her up to the top of a mountain. Not much work was done that day, and even Olivia stopped over to whine about something or other, but Donna wasn’t listening.

As soon as the clock reached 5pm, she practically jumped out of her seat and jogged out of the building. She quickly grabbed some mascara from the local pharmacy and applied it hurriedly in one of the glossy station windows. She wanted to look nice for her man.
As the train doors closed she started to feel almost nervous. What if he wasn’t there? What if he didn’t like her really, and was only pretending?

She sat upright and stared into the night as the train tumbled along the tracks. As soon as she thought she might have missed it, the strange oval of warm light began to glide into view. She could hear music this time, a lilting melody playing on a crackly gramophone. The hole sailed into the window of her carriage. Through the oval she could see a beautifully furnished room, complete with luxe armchairs and candles. The wallpaper depicted elegant golden peacocks and drooping flowers, and she could just see a great crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There were another two wine glasses on an ornate table. Just out of sight, the man stood. She strained to see even a glimpse of his face, but the train had already sped past.

What did this all mean? How was this possible? Had she found some kind of wormhole to another world? She had no idea. The only thing she did know however is that the man wanted to see her and her alone.

Saturday morning bled through the crimson curtains onto her chintzy covers like it always did. Usually Donna would’ve hung about around the house watching TV, but today was different. She caught the bus to the local shopping centre and walked straight into the nearest salon. This strange experience had given her a bout of energy. An hour later, the hair stylist had done wonders. Her mousy, greying strands were gone and she now sported a beautiful auburn bob that shone in the plasticky strobe lights.
Bubbling over with excitement, she walked to the nearest department store and purchased a new lipstick in a gorgeous russet colour and some shimmery copper eyeshadow.
She had her nails painted a deep terracotta, and bought a little leather bracelet with a rose gold charm in the shape of a letter D in the centre.

This was so unlike usual Donna behaviour, but she was loving it. As soon as she got home she cleaned her flat from top to bottom and put flowers about the place. Her windows were flung open and she sprayed the carpet with so much detergent it changed to a lighter colour.
The next morning she bought a new paint colour for the living room, a gorgeous orangey-brown wallpaper criss-crossed with floral patterns, much like the elegant golden walls of the room in the wall. Her man obviously liked the finer things. What if he came over?

Or….

Why didn’t she go to him? It seemed a heck of a lot nicer than staying in her own flat; maybe she could travel to his world and live there. She imagined finally stepping through the oval in the tin wall; the warm light washing over her, the sound of the crackly gramophone warming her heart. Her man would finally take her up in his arms and they would dance away into his world of golden music and luxury.

That was that then. She’d go to him in the night, when the warm glow of the oval would stand out to her. She’d have to walk along the tracks for a bit to get there but she couldn’t have cared less at this point. If she went early enough in the morning she was sure she could slip past any workers, and the cameras were of no concern where she’d be going.

She began packing a small bag of essential items she’d need for her trip, a few clothes, some toiletries, a torch, a couple of chocolate bars. Around noon she hurried out to the shops and bought a bottle of fancy Sauvignon Blanc. Couldn’t be seen without a gift.

Her main focus of the day however was making herself beautiful. She made sure her hair was neat and shiny, it’s auburn tresses falling around her face like autumn leaves. She topped up her nails, applied her eye makeup and lipstick and sat admiring herself for a while. It was really happening. Really really happening. The excitement and anticipation was almost overwhelming, and the hours until midnight dragged and dragged until she couldn’t take much more.
She took one look around her flat one more time, and shut the door.

The journey to the wall was relatively easy compared with what she thought it would be. The train sped quickly through the night, almost devoid of passengers. The last stop was completely vacant; luck was on her side it appeared. She steeled herself as she hopped off the train. No one there.
She walked straight to the end of the platform, looking over her shoulder every now and again, and jumped down. She began walking cautiously along the middle of the tracks, and the dark swallowed her up.
Before long, the looming curve of the rusted intersection became visible in the amber glow of the nearby streetlights, and her heartbeat quickened as she neared the edge. She felt her nerves getting to her, and tried to steady her breathing. She quickly opened the bottle of wine and took a couple of swigs. She couldn’t gift it now but at least it’d make her feel better. Leaving the bottle by her feet, she closed her eyes and centred herself.

This was it now. One more step and she’d know. One more step and she’d see the hole.

‘Please please please please’ she whispered to herself and screwed her eyes tight. Silently praying one last time, she felt her way to the wall and rounded the corner.

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A warm glow filtered through her eyelids, and the smell of exotic wood and flowers filled her nose. It was like a summer night washing over her senses, banishing the drizzly winter in an instant. She opened her eyes. She had to blink a few times to process what exactly she was seeing.
Where the hole once had been, was a large, pillared archway. Pink and white flowers hung from the white stone, cascading around her in bunches. Marbled veins ran through the gleaming stone, flecked with gold and sliver. There were white marble steps leading upward through the archway to a richly carpeted floor, deep crimson and gold woven into flourishing vines and leaves. And on the carpet, two polished shoes.
She looked up to see the man, HER man holding out his hand. His face was obscured by the hanging flowers, but she could smell the scent of his cologne, and his golden cufflinks glinted in the warm light.

She looked back one last time, at the dingy tracks and the rain, the shitty job and the boring life she led. Not any more.
Beaming, she took his hand, and he pulled her through.

Donna gasped. She was now in a vast ballroom, the ceilings almost impossibly high and filled with galleries. At the very top was a domed glass roof; showing the inky blue of the night sky. The light of the stars glittered off the facets of a gigantic crystal chandelier, hanging at least three stories tall. Huge displays of flowers hung from the galleries and exploded from vases, many varieties of which Donna had never even seen before. Swathes of rich carpet gave way to a marble dance floor, where masked couples were gliding along to lilting music; heels clicking rhythmically on the gleaming floor.
An enormous banner hung over the nearest gallery emblazoned with gilt lettering:
‘WELCOME HOME LADY DONNA’

Donna had never been even close to ladyship in her entire life, but now she was beginning to feel like one. She caught a glimpse of herself in a faceted mirror, her old ratty clothes miraculously replaced with a tiered satin dress, deep folds of bronze fabric set with sparkling jewels and beads. Tears began to well up in her eyes at the sheer sensory overload, but she caught herself. A Lady must keep composure.
She turned to the mysterious man, and saw he was wearing a gilded mask over his face. She couldn’t quite make out what exactly it was supposed to be, as there was no discernible mouth or nose, only circular eye holes inlaid with gold and Pearl. It was a beautiful thing. Before she could speak he motioned to her, and led her past the dancers towards a flight of stairs lined with marble statues of Grecian-looking women holding baskets of grapes and cornucopias.

The floor above held a giant trestle table filled with the most expensive-looking food Donna had ever seen. Scents of perfectly cooked meats and exotic spices flowed in and around her nose; each dish perfectly presented and prepared. She took a small canapé from a passing masked waiter, a perfect layered circle of finely cut ingredients. The taste was sensational, like nothing she had ever experienced before. Salt, sweet, citrus and spice all combined together in a perfect mouthful. She’d need some more of those for sure.

Hesitant to show her disappointment at leaving the food, Donna was again ushered by her masked man up yet another flight of marble stairs, down a short candlelit hallway and through a swathe of red velvet curtain.
The deep fabric gave way to a balcony dripping with marble and more cascading flowers, overlooking a garden fit for a King. Fireflies and hummingbirds wove through the midnight sky and the water of the many fountains trickled into her ears like silk.

It was everything she had ever wanted and more. So much more.

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He handed her a crystal glass of the best wine she’d ever tasted, and they both quietly looked out over the magnificent grounds for a while.
She turned to face the perfect man, his mask still sat neatly over his face. She squinted slightly to try and see his eyes, but there was too much shadow cast by the holes.
‘I’d love to see your face finally, if you don’t mind’ she chuckled.

At her words, a clock chimed thunderously, and the sound of applause rang out into the night, followed by shouts of ‘Unmask! Unmask!’

The man bowed slightly in acknowledgment, and raised his hands. In the split second before the mask was lifted, Donna was the happiest she’d ever been in her life. There was nothing more she needed in this perfect world, nothing at all.

Then something… changed. A tiny nagging doubt; a pinprick in the perfect scene she saw before her.

He raised the mask slowly and showed her his face.

Only he didn’t have a face.

Where his face should’ve been was an ovular hole, the edges of which were rusted with age, patched with rusted metal and bolts fused with his skin. The darkness stretched into the hole, falling away into nothingness.

He was the hole in the wall.

Frozen in horror, she stared at the empty void. The wine glass tumbled from her hand, shattering in foggy slow motion on the stone floor. Shards of crystal twinkled gracefully away as they smashed against the marble.

She unstuck. Tearing her eyes away, Donna whipped her skirts and began to run back down the stairs. The other people had begun to remove their masks; black, rusted holes turning to face her as she ran. The lilting music which had been so delicate and beautiful had now devolved into a scratching, shrieking cacophony; almost deafening her as she bowled past the faceless creatures.
She sprinted down a corridor, the golden furnishings and heavy curtains rusting and rotting before her eyes. Cursing her stupid dainty heeled shoes, she kicked them off and found a burst of speed. She quickly reached the next flight of stairs, but as she took the first step the solid mahogany splintered and decayed under her feet. Tumbling down the broken stairway, she could see a bunch of the hole creatures peering at her from the top step.

She landed in a heap at one of the entrances to the dance floor. Her arms were covered in splinters and she could feel a heavy scratch on her forehead, but other than that she felt unscathed. Heaving herself up, she ran across the empty dance floor, scanning the corners of the room for the door to the real world. As she looked, her eyes wandered to the galleries above her.
Hundreds of silent, black holes looked down at her from every corner, their owners wearing worn and tattered clothing. Their shrieking and howling had died down and now only the faint dripping from some faint leaking pipe couple be heard. The vases of flowers were cracked and rotten; the giant glittering chandelier covered in grime and half missing. She could feel cold water squelch between her toes from the once rich red carpets beneath her. A rotten and decay-ridden odour filled her nose and mouth, making her almost gag. She scanned the walls again for any sign of the door out but all she saw was peeling wallpaper and cracked plaster. The door was gone. She spun around frantically, with no idea where to turn to or what to do.

She turned again to face the galleries and saw the hole people had disappeared.

No, not all of them. Now there was only one.

The man stood in front of her, the hole in his face an abyss within an abyss. It was all a trap. He had showed her everything she wanted and trapped her in his rotting world, and there was nothing she could do.

“WHY?” she screamed.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”

The man in the red tin wall was silent.

He stepped closer, the darkness of the hole in his face growing wider and wider, enveloping her in its decay and rust and emptiness.

Donna screamed and screamed and screamed.

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*****

Report ref – 115DB901-442 Date: 26/01/2014

Case number – 715963B

Investigating officers Detectives M. Carter and S. McCleod

Deceased in question: Donna Mary Ball

D.O.B. 19/03/1982 – 23/01/2014

Body spotted early on Tuesday 23rd January by passengers in the 5th coach of the 6:15 train between Hemford West and Danton Road. Upon inspection time of death was estimated 04:13am GMT. Body was subject to deep cuts across the legs; some still fairly fresh and some scars from around three weeks ago were visible. The body was found inside an old intersection of the tracks on the Northbound C3 route, protruding from the opening.
Samples of blood were taken from around the mouth, hands and in the hair of the body. Cause of death is thought to be suicide; toxicology revealed very high doses of Valium mixed with other substances. There was also evidence of bleach and cleaning products in the lower abdominal tract.

Body was identified by Christine Kemper and Stacey Templeton. Both mentioned their struggle to connect with Ms. Ball prior to the incident, stating they had noticed her acting strangely.

The inspection of her home address was led by Officer Martin Peterson, statement as follows:

‘The door was locked, so myself and Officer H. Rahim broke down the door. Upon entering the flat, the smell of decay and mould was only covered by the smell of bleach, which seems to have been dumped on the carpet. The flat was a mess, dirty plates and takeaway wrappers all over the floor and surfaces, rat feces scattered in the corners and even in the bed. An empty bottle of pills confirmed the subject had been self medicating with Valium.
There were dried bloody handprints all over the walls, some of which were make into crude drawings. We found a computer, which we searched and found a highly detailed story told in the third person, which depicted hallucinations and delusions of the subject up until her death.
She describes a ‘man in a wall’ she sees on the train and fabricates an entire story based around it. The ‘makeup’ she describes was coagulated blood collected from her person and placed in bowls around the house. It is clear that the ‘hair dye’, ‘nail paint’ and ‘new wallpaper’ she describes are also all blood from deep self inflicted wounds.
In the bathroom were many open packets of bandages, alcohol swabs and plasters obviously to cover the sheer number of cuts to her legs. There were many empty pill packets and bottles of specifically Valium in the bathroom cabinet, It seems the Valium mixed with doses of cleaning fluid made her hallucinate to the point of believing the man existed, as she details in the story.’

Statements from Christine Kemper and Stacey Templeton reveal that Donna had been acting strangely around two months up to the incident.

Christine Edith Kemper, February 2nd:

‘We’d noticed Donna had been unwell mentally for quite some time. We knew she was lonely and it was really getting to her. She stopped taking care of herself and looking after basic things like brushing her teeth or showering. I think she only came to work because it was what she knew. Stacey and I made an effort to talk to her every day and see how she was doing. We asked our friend [Olivia Preston] to talk to her as well, but nothing seemed to get through.
We tried to invite her to things outside the office; bars, walks, dinner but she just shut down. She started coming in with this odd smelling lipstick smeared around her mouth and red raw nails like she’d been biting them. We spoke to our manager and she told her she needed to have a rest and maybe get some help. Donna didn’t seem to take this very well, and that’s the last we saw of her. We had no idea what she had been doing to herself all this time, if she’d got some help in the first place I don’t think any of this would have happened.’

Remaining relatives of the deceased have been notified, none of whom were in direct contact with Ms. Ball prior to her death.

Report updated 29/02/2014

Upon further inspection of Ms Ball’s computer, sign-in and time/date logs show that around three quarters of the story were written before the time of death, and the rest of the document was written AFTER her demise. The door was locked from the outside and all windows were locked. Ms Ball’s apartment is on the 15th floor of the ‘Harper’ building on the Greenford Estate. Foul play is suggested but witnesses or suspects in this incident are yet to be identified.

End of report.

Credit: The_Seventh_Yew

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