Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
I guess the story starts about a year ago.
Charlotte and I had just moved into an apartment in the city. It was smaller than our condo, but much, much closer to both of our workplaces. We’d fallen in love with the place almost the moment after we set eyes on it. Everything from the big living room windows to the pet policy, and the little coffee shop across the street endlessly endeared us. The bus station was just outside, so we’d quickly made a habit of getting a coffee before Charlotte’s bus arrived. I’d see her off to work, then I’d walk ten minutes to mine, and that was that. What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that it was really, really perfect. For me, at least. Charlotte, ah-um…well?
She’d always had a nervous disposition, but it was a bit…exacerbated by the move. After only a few months in our new apartment, the slightest things would startle her: a siren wailing outside, the timer on the microwave, the doorbell, anything loud, really. Her hands would shake uncontrollably, like she was cold, though we kept the heat on at a somewhat balmy 75 degrees. She had expressed to me a feeling of being watched by the people on the street and asked that the curtains be drawn. I’ll admit, I argued fiercely with her on that one, as I loved people watching, and the shut curtains made me feel a little claustrophobic.
I remember one night when she’d complained to me about the sounds of our neighbors walking around upstairs. I heard nothing, but she described it as a “low scraping noise, like they were moving heavy furniture”. Like I said, I didn’t hear anything, and figured she was just getting used to living so close to other people. At her insistence, I went upstairs to talk to them, but they said they hadn’t been moving anything heavy, and I didn’t pursue it further.
I sat down with Charlotte that morning and talked it over with her.
She told me that she couldn’t stand being around all these people. She’d wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of footsteps, footsteps that sounded like someone was pacing along the edge of our room.
We both agreed that it would be good to get away from the city, find someplace quiet until we could puzzle out a solution. So we took a vacation to the country. Far away from crowds, and people, and the bustle of a city, and everything that might cause my darling Charlotte any distress.
We rented a large house, nice and airy, with big rooms and even bigger windows. The property was breathtaking. It was fairly sheltered from the main road, with massive trees blocking the house from view. On the other side sat a lake, beautiful and pristine, and for some reason, entirely devoid of boaters and swimmers, even as the temperature steadily rose into the nineties. There were a few other cabins up there too, but only one had their lights on, and they were all the way across the lake…so, yeah, we were pretty secluded.
And it seemed like the peace and quiet was doing its job…Or at least that’s what I thought.
About a week into the vacation, Charlotte had a pretty bad nightmare. Woke up in a cold sweat, rambling about someone being “trapped in the walls”. It took a while to convince her there was no one there, and even then, she refused to go back to bed until she’d patrolled every inch of the house.
Worried, I’d carefully asked her about the dream. She immediately turned to me with a wild look in her eyes and began telling me again about the person in the walls.
“The woman,” she had said. “She’s in the walls and she wants me to walk with her!”
It was…well, it was creepy! I let the subject drop, because my prodding resulted in Charlotte’s repetition of the same story, and it was really starting to freak me out. I remember getting up that same night to use the bathroom and hearing the faintest whisper of voices from our bedroom. I assumed it was Charlotte, I mean who else would it be?, and so I poked my head back in the room to see if she needed anything.
She was fast asleep, though, and hadn’t moved from where she’d been when I got up. I did my best to shake it off, assuming that Charlotte’s stories were getting to me, or my ears were playing tricks on me or something.
Three days later, Charlotte came down with something, (we both thought it might be the flu), and had been holed up in her room all day. Or, more accurately, she was holed up in the guest bedroom, because she was being considerate and didn’t want to get me sick. I was in the kitchen, making chicken soup, her favorite, to bring to her.
While in the kitchen, I heard somebody shuffling around upstairs, a sound like the dragging of socked feet across hardwood. Charlotte’s room was directly above, so it was clear who was making the noise. What was unclear was the why. I wondered if maybe she was feeling a bit better, and went up to check on her. But by the time I reached her door, the shuffling had stopped. I eased it open, only to find Charlotte fast asleep. The rest of the room was empty, the window shut tight.
It was…unsettling, but like the times before it, I made excuses for why I was now hearing these noises. By the time I got back to the kitchen, I’d convinced myself it was just the house’s natural settling noises, nothing more than the wood gently protesting against gravity.
So when the noises started up again, I ignored them, finished the soup, and brought it up to Charlotte.
In the days that followed, it only got worse. I would hear the shuffling upstairs, pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, all day long. But whenever I went up to check, there’d be nothing there. Charlotte had somewhat recovered, but requested to change rooms, asking to remain in the guest room. The exact room, as you’ve probably guessed, where the noises were coming from.
I chose to stay in the master after five consecutive nights of poor sleep in the second bedroom. I would wake up at random intervals, my dreams full of strange voices and faces I did not know. I made excuses to myself, I know I did. The room was too cold, I thought, or maybe too warm. Or the window was positioned so the moon was shining in my eyes. I don’t know why I was so adamant on disbelieving, even when all this evidence mounted against me. I don’t know why I didn’t call someone, or try and investigate.
I’d sometimes find her sitting on her bed with the curtains drawn, just staring at the wall. I’d hear her voice and pop my head ‘round the corner, only to find that she wasn’t talking to me. I started taking walks around the property in an attempt to clear my head, but I kept hearing footsteps behind me and could never get too far away from the house without giving up and turning back.
And through it all, I could hear the shuffling, back and forth, back and forth, all day long.
I-(sigh) The last day we were on vacation was June 22nd. Her birthday. Her birthday. I had this whole thing planned, we would go for a walk out to the house’s garden, eat a picnic lunch, then spend the afternoon listening to old records. I could hear the shuffling again, but chose to ignore it, even as it grew faster and more frantic than it had ever been. My focus that day was on giving Charlotte an amazing birthday.
That was my mistake.
I had gotten so used to the shuffling that I tuned it completely out as I got dressed that morning. I ignored it as I bounded up the stairs in my excitement. How wrong I was. How foolish.
The door was locked. That was the first warning sign. Maybe if I’d stopped to think about what was happening, maybe if I hadn’t blocked it all out and pretended everything was fine… (sighs)
I knocked. Once, twice.
No answer, only that damned shuffling noise. I couldn’t ignore it now, not when it was staring me straight in the face. There was someone-no-something moving in that room.
I bellowed to Charlotte that I would find an axe, or something to help me break down the door so I could save her.
That’s when I heard her voice, and it sounded so unlike my Charlotte that I froze in place.
“No,” she rasped. “The key is under the mat.”
She kept repeating this, her voice blurring, turning her words into a broken song. I bolted for the key, fumbling it in the lock in a blind panic.
The door opened, and I felt ice water flood my veins.
There was Charlotte, my beautiful, sweet Charlotte, hunched in the corner of the room. The walls were torn to shreds, the wallpaper marred beyond recognition. Bits of ravaged paper and wood bits littered the floor and clung to her hair. Along the wall, I could see a deep, splintering rift in the woodwork, as if a part of it had been scooped out at shoulder height with a massive claw.
Her head snapped around to gaze at me, a wild look in her eyes and she grinned, grinned at me, her smile crooked, and started to creep along the wall, her shoulder following the path of the rift. Splintered wood snagged against her cardigan, pulling long threads of wool from it and adding them to the growing pile of detritus on the floor.
The last thing I remember before I fainted was her voice, cackling, “I’ve got out at last! You can’t put me back!”
It was dark when I woke up. I was alone, too. I don’t know how I knew, exactly, but it was the one thing I was certain of. I sort of…wandered through the house in a daze, until I somehow was back at our apartment. According to Louise, who was apartment-sitting for us, I’d shown up in the building, absolutely covered head to toe in wood shavings, bits of paper stuck to my hair, looking like I’d just seen a ghost. I told her everything, and together we went back to the cabin to look for Charlotte. We didn’t find anything, just the ravaged bedroom and a few threads from her sweater caught in the fence.
There’s not much to tell after that. I went to the authorities, filed a missing persons report, and just…tried to live life.
But…I can still hear the shuffling. Even when it’s not completely quiet, I can hear the faintest scuff of a footstep, the echo of a sock against wood. I’m not sleeping anymore. There is something living in my walls. I can hear it. It’s coming for me. I can hear it. It walks back and forth, back and forth, and it will not stop until I walk with it.
Credit : Emery Banks
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