Original Fiction: SCRATCH

PrintE-mail Written by Joel Harley

Eventually, he tires of the incessant scratching behind the walls. After almost a year of sleepless nights and rude awakenings, the tormented decides to investigate. He uses a sledgehammer for this purpose, knocking the wall cleanly through with a couple of blows and not a thought as to what the landlord might say. Many nights, he has imagined and dreamed and wondered what might lie within his own walls. Be it something banal and uninteresting, like the wooden supports creaking. Or maybe a terrified trapped rodent (a damn resilient one, living in there for so long). Sometimes he thinks it might be a pet fear of his; a nest of spiders, perhaps, or the clown from IT. Didn't they once say a young girl disappeared on this very street? Wasn't there talk of an unconvicted sex offender who simply vanished, around these parts? Always, he admonishes himself for such silly thoughts. Probably just a wooden beam, complaining against the approaching winter. Probably.

The sledgehammer makes short work of the wall, and fragments of plaster crumble to the floor. Should have put some plastic down, he thinks. From within the wall, a scratching sound. Louder, amplified as an echo from within. Definitely not something as inanimate as a beam of wood. Holding the sledgehammer like a protective weapon, he approaches. Another scratching scuffle. No, more of a shuffle, really. Like something stirring in its slumber. The man, he peers in. Nothing but dusty blackness greets his apprehensive eyes. The thing inside the wall moves again. Its loudest yet.

The man steps back from the breach. Searches the room for something he can use to combat the darkness and the unknown. It glares back at him; a void, an absence of light. What are you, he wonders. I hope you're not spiders. I hate spiders. In the kitchen, he finds the old rubber torch he keeps for emergencies. Steals a set of AA batteries from the TV remote and double-checks the bulb. Back upstairs, back to the hole. Back to the scratching from inside the walls. As he enters, it vomits up a mass of dirt-blackened woodlice. He shrieks like a girl and runs. Definitely should have put some plastic down. The noise from within is still going, but has changed frequency now, more of a grumble or low roar. The rumbling stomach of an unknown monster. He sits on the toilet for half an hour. Eventually, the woodlice come looking for him, under the door.

Man up, he tells himself. Torch and sledgehammer in hand, he returns. Gingerly slipping back into the room, trying not to step on the lice (God, that sound) his eyes find the blackened void in the wall. What is that smell? And did it suddenly get a lot warmer in here? These questions he asks himself as he approaches, almost transfixed. This is too much. Call an exterminator. Or an exorcist. The door behind him slams shut. The light goes out, and the room is plunged into darkness.

Before he panics, he remembers the torch. This, at least, doesn't fail him. It shows him things he doesn't want to see, like the bugs (not just woodlice now), scuttling under the carpet, into his bed and inside his underpants draw. Innumerable tiny winged creatures flap around his head, settling in his hair and atop the wardrobe. The light shows him things he shouldn't be seeing, like a crow on the bookshelf and Mothman in the mirror. He screams and goes for the door. The room feels hot and humid, and smells like onions and armpits. The doorhandle, hot, burns his hand as he tries to turn it. He whimpers, not realising that he could probably break the door through with the hammer, if he swung it hard enough. And then, suddenly, there is silence.

The noise has stopped. From within the darkness of the black hole, he sees something shift, only slightly. In spite of himself, hypnotised, he approaches, on his hands and knees. He looks deep into that black, impossible hole, as it grows like a tumour. He looks...

And I look back at him. “Hello,” I say.  And then, before he can even scream, I pull him inside for a cuddle.


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