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24 September 2014 @ 11:51 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "Behind The Walls"  
Behind The Walls
lj idol season nine | week 22 | 1560 words
Sweep The Leg

x-x-x-x-x

When we lived in the old house by the lake, we could hear voices at night—like secrets whispered behind walls, not quite loud enough for words to make it through.

"Nonsense, there's no one here but us," Granny Alice would say, whenever we mentioned the noise. "Not for miles."

We were only there for the summer. Daddy ran out on us after Easter, so Mama had to go to work. Now that school was out, there was no one to look after us during the day. We'd never been to Granny Alice's new house, but we liked her and it was only for a few months. Still, it wasn't quite like we'd imagined.

We had no pets and there were no other children nearby, so there was little to do. Ellie and I would make up games, or swim in the lake. Our grandmother worried: "Not too deep," she'd say, and we always agreed though we went out as far as we wanted anyway. What could possibly happen, there at the end of a long dirt road in that far-off piece of nothing?

During the day, the house was quiet, and it was easy to imagine that the sounds we sometimes heard were just a trick our minds played on us when it grew dark.

"Whose house was this before it was yours?" I asked.

"We never met them," Granny Alice said. "The house was empty for a year before your Grandfather Jake heard it was for sale. He bought it for our retirement."

"But why did you want to live here? It's so far away from everything."

Our grandmother nodded and sighed. "It certainly is…."

Grandpa Jake died last year and Mama had never lived here, so I'd supposed I'd never find out.

That night, the voices came again, and this time they were loud enough to wake me. It was late—so late the moon had already passed over my room and left it basement-black. I crept under the covers, feeling safer there, somehow. This time the sounds weren't just murmurs.

I could hear my name.

"Billy," they said (though there could be lots of Billys, couldn't there?) "Billy Halvord!"

I bolted out of bed and ran into our grandmother's room. "Granny Alice," I said, "There's people calling me from inside those walls!"

Granny Alice turned on a lamp. "What, now? Billy, you know that isn't real. We've discussed this."

"Granny, they know my name."

Granny Alice frowned. "Well, that's a new one," she said. "All right, you can sleep in here the rest of the night."

I got under the covers, and listened hard, but I didn't hear any more voices. I found out that Granny Alice snores, though.

The next day, I didn't tell Ellie what had happened. She was littler than me, and she scared easy. We spent the morning playing hide-and-seek and skipping rocks across the lake. After lunch, it was hot enough to go swimming.

The edge of the lake was always warm, and a few feet out the bottom was covered with soft, slippery mud. We splashed around for a while, and swam and floated a little ways down the shore. Ellie wanted to play Marco Polo, even though she couldn't swim as fast as me and usually had to be the finder for most of the game. She'd get mad before long, and then we'd quit.

I took the first turn as the finder, like I always did. "Marco!" I yelled. "Polo!" Ellie called from somewhere off to my left. I swam toward the sound and yelled "Marco!" again. I waited.

"Polo!" Ellie said, from somewhere behind me. I moved closer to the shore. "Marco!" I said, and waited. She didn't answer. "Marco!" I shouted.

Still nothing. I opened my eyes and looked all around me, turning in circles, watching the water for any signs of where Ellie might be. There were ripples off to my right, so I swam over there and ducked my head under for a better look.

Ellie was down near the bottom, struggling in a stretch of weeds.

I lifted my head and took a big breath, and dived under to help her. She was trying to pull the weeds off of her legs and get loose, and I yanked on everything that was touching her. Finally, she broke free, and the two of us kicked toward the surface.

Ellie coughed and gasped, and we looked at each other with panicked eyes. "I—I want to get out," she sputtered. I let her grab my shoulders with her hands, and I towed her to the water's edge. We sat down in the dirt to catch our breath.

"You okay?" I asked.

Ellie nodded, her eyes huge. "I don't like this place, Billy."

I thought about last night. "Me neither."

We agreed we wouldn't tell Granny Alice what had happened. We went back to the house to dry off, and Ellie still didn't look so good. I asked Granny Alice if Ellie could have some chocolate milk.

"What? Speak up, Billy—you know I can't hear half the things you kids say."

Afterwards, Ellie and I read books on the back porch until dinner, and it was bedtime before I knew it. I'd been dreading it all day.

My room was hot and stuffy, too warm for the covers. I stretched out on top of them with my flashlight and a book, determined to stay awake. Eventually, I heard Granny Alice come upstairs to go to bed, too.

I must have fallen asleep, because it was dark when I heard my name again: "Billy."

I didn't say a word.

"Billy, come and play."

I felt something brush along my leg and then grab me hard around the ankle, and I screamed loud enough to wake the nearest town. I pulled and pulled, but I couldn't get away. "Help!"

The door opened, and Ellie came running in with Granny Alice. "Granny, something's got me!" I said.

Granny turned the light on, and there it was—a dark boy-shaped thing at the foot of the bed, and another standing next to it.

Ellie and I both screamed, and I threw a pillow at the boy-thing holding onto me. He just laughed.

Granny Alice leaned forward and swatted them both. "You get out of here this instant!"

"But we want Billy to play with us," the one standing there said. It didn't sound nice, the way he said it.

"Go on home," Granny yelled. "Get!"

The two boy-things walked into the wall and disappeared, but the words, "This is our home" leaked on through.

"Granny?" I croaked out.

"Come on, kids," Granny Alice said.

We gathered our pillows and Ellie's stuffed rabbit, and went out to Granny Alice's car. We slept a little more here and there, but we couldn't get comfortable. Mostly, we just waited for it to be daylight again.

By nine o'clock, the day was growing hot, so we rolled down all the windows. Granny Alice looked at the two of us, and got out of the car. "It's time to fix this mess," she said.

Ellie and I followed close behind her, afraid to let even the sun discover our shadows. Granny marched up the porch stairs and through the door, holding a shovel from the garage. "Who's in here?" she said.

There was no reply.

We went from room to room, and found the two dark boy-shaped things bouncing on my bed. Guess once they'd been seen, they didn't bother to hide.

Granny pointed the shovel at them. "Leave this house."

"Cain't," the taller of the two said.

"This is our room," the other one said. "We lived here with our Ma and Pa, 'til we drowned out there in that lake. Ain't left here since, and we ain't gonna."

"We'll see about that," Granny Alice said. She jabbed at them with the shovel and they fled back into the wall, muttering angrily. Granny stood there a minute, frowning, then she said, "Billy, get your things. You too, Ellie."

I put my toys and as many clothes as I could into my suitcase. Ellie came back with her luggage, stuffed animals spilling out of her arms. We followed Granny to her own room, where she gathered pictures and jewelry and clothes, and then she sent us out to the car while she made more trips to throw things in boxes and put them in the trunk of the car.

"All right," she said. She picked up a gas can. "You kids stay here, now. I mean it." Granny Alice went back into the house.

It seemed like she was gone for a long time, but finally she came out the front door. Smoke started leaking out the upstairs windows.

She got in the car. "Let's go," she said.

"Granny Alice, I think the house is on fire!" I said.

"It had certainly better be." Granny Alice backed out of the garage and headed toward the long road leading to the highway. "Looks like I'm moving to the city again," she said. "Think your Mama'll let me stay at your place and sleep on your sofa?"

Just then, it seemed like the most wonderful idea I'd ever heard. Ellie and I smiled so big our faces were like to split.

"Yes, ma'am, she surely will!"


--/--


It's a contestant-only vote this week, so no links! :)

 
 
 
John Louisgrail76 on September 25th, 2014 12:10 pm (UTC)
It's Complete.
But still leaves many questions.

Very nice.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 25th, 2014 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I planted hints to my version of those questions, but I wanted the reader to be able to supply those or ones of his/her own.

Glad you enjoyed it. :)
Didn't want to be: Element: Letterseaanyonesghost on September 25th, 2014 01:15 pm (UTC)
I like it a lot. And I usually don't go in for "house in the deep woods," so it's a testament to the strength of your voice. :-) I'm wondering though: was I wrong in reading it Southern US? I've read it a couple of times, and I can't help but wonder if the drawl / patois that comes with that approach might lessen some of the inherent suspense just because it slows down the action?

Also, a point to consider: this seems like it's being narrated by Billy in real-time. On a reread, I found phrases like "afraid to let even the sun discover our shadows" to be fantastic but phrases like "She was trying to pull the weeds off of her legs and get loose" to be more realistic to Billy's age? I'm not sure if I'm conveying the notion properly or not, but just a consideration for any future edit, if you pick this up again.

Definitely entertaining, and suitably creepy. Nice job!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 25th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
I think of this as Midwestern/Southern (i.e, not Northern, West-coast, or Northeast). It could be any of those things, but it was intended to be spooky without being specifically alarming until things actually happened.

I think it's the effect more of relating this through a young narrator than through an adult-- there's probably only so much panic I want to induce in a child, whereas my grownup narrator's creepy stories are faster-paced.

I do know what you mean. I tried not to veer too far into the poetic, nor to specifically plant Billy at a given age rather than "12 or under"-- as opposed to my dystopic narrator, who's more like 7 or 8. It's always a delicate balance!

Thanks for reading and commenting on this one- I saw your note about your schedule of "awful" becoming schedule-of-Hell soon, so I know your time is limited!
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on September 25th, 2014 03:54 pm (UTC)
I was hooked right away! Granny is a bad-ass! AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 25th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
Mwah-ha-ha! By the time I got to the end of this, that's exactly what I was hoping for.

I had something very different and more old-lady-typical in mind for her when this began, but when the line, "Well, that's a new one" formed itself... my vision of her shifted.

And I'm glad it did. :D She seems like an especially awesome old lady, and yet also completely possible! \o/
tatdatcmtatdatcm on September 25th, 2014 09:36 pm (UTC)
I love the phrasing here, "we could hear voices at night—like secrets whispered behind walls, not quite loud enough for words to make it through", and there's a whole bunch of foreboding in this, "What could possibly happen, there at the end of a long dirt road in that far-off piece of nothing?"

The build up was nicely spaced and I love that it didn't end typically. Granny Alice is awesome. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 25th, 2014 11:37 pm (UTC)
I like to hint at trouble/doom but not sledgehammer the reader with it, so I'm glad it seemed to set the right amount of uneasiness.

I think I might be fangirling Granny Alice a little bit, and she's my own character! But damn. I could see Frances Sternhagen playing her in a hot minute. :D
cindytsuki_no_bara on September 26th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
i really, really like granny alice. her saying "well, that's a new one" seems to imply she's heard voices/seen ghosts in the house before. which is eeeeenteresting. and i love how matter-of-fact she is about dealing with the boy-shaped things. also, this is nicely creepy.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 26th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
That's one way to think of it! I was leaning more toward the idea that the "noises in the walls" has already come up several times before, but with names? Thaaaat's probably significant.

Glad you liked her AND found this creepy. :D
theun4givablestheun4givables on September 26th, 2014 09:41 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that Granny Alice took matters into her own hands, hah.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 26th, 2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
Darn ghosts/ghouls that refuse to leave your house! That just spoils it for everyone!

Glad you enjoyed this. :)
rayasorayaso on September 26th, 2014 10:46 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful! I especially enjoyed Granny Alice and her shovel, and her solution to the whole problem. Talk about decisive action! It was all very spooky, and you did a great job ratcheting up the tension and uneasiness, plus the foreshadowing with the near-drowning.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 27th, 2014 03:14 am (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it! And while we can't know how awesome Granny Alice would be on her own, with two grandchildren to protect, she is ready to do pretty much anything.

And will be much happier closer to her family in the future. ;)
fodschwazzlefodschwazzle on September 27th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
Two drowned. Two left for the city. Possession? The inflection in the last line would seem to indicate so. Ghost stories often have that twist of doom, or inescapable spirits. Granny is still an awesome hero, regardless of whether this interpretation is right or not.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 27th, 2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
It is not quite so unlucky here, though Granny Alice has lost a lot in destroying her house to save any future people from what might have happened to her grandchildren.

But I think she will not miss any of those things much. She has lost her husband already, and in packing the things she felt precious into the car-- grandchildren most of all-- she has rescued all that matters.

I'm glad you liked her character! She surprised me, in transforming while writing this story, but I really like who she turned out to be.
A Karmic Sandbox: No Really!karmasoup on September 27th, 2014 03:13 am (UTC)
I love everything about this. I especially think I'm just a little taken with Granny Alice. What an amazing woman! I love the comment, "It better be!" She has such a quiet strength, and she didn't waste any time doing what needed to be done. I also caught myself in a chuckle when she responded to them knowing Billy's name with "Well, that's new!" I like the way this flowed, and I imagine this is all we'll see of them, but, it was a good snippet. Well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 27th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
I also caught myself in a chuckle when she responded to them knowing Billy's name with "Well, that's new!"
That line was actually where the character presented herself to _me_ as a little different from how I'd originally envisioned her. And so much better, too, really! She started out as the type of person who might not notice much (both being hard of hearing, and perhaps because the things caught in her house might not have been interested in grownups).

But easy-going and unaware do not mean she has to be passive. She wound up being the savior of them all. I did not see that coming when I began writing this!
mamas_minionmamas_minion on September 27th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
I really like this story, I am hoping we get to read more about the boys and how they came to be trapped in the house as ghosts. I would also like to know more about Grandma Alice.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:49 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought to write more about the background, but then, I also hadn't planned to have Granny Alice turn out to be who she was. I think she could star in her own spinoff!

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for reading!
kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatrebleodswean on September 27th, 2014 05:27 pm (UTC)
*shivers* This is so creepy. In the best of ways! :) Good onya for having an empowered Granny!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:50 pm (UTC)
Yay! I don't often write creepy, but when I do, I like it to be unsettling. Glad you liked this one. :D
alycewilson: Alice dark dooralycewilson on September 27th, 2014 11:44 pm (UTC)
I'm always a fan of ghost stories and liked the twists in this one, especially the fact that they were bouncing on the bed, not bothering to hide after having been seen.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
especially the fact that they were bouncing on the bed, not bothering to hide after having been seen.
It's almost creepier that way, isn't it? It makes them seem as if they have more power over what's going on than anyone would like them to. They could choose to do anything. :O
gratefuladdictgratefuladdict on September 28th, 2014 04:00 am (UTC)
You're awesome.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed this. :D
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on September 28th, 2014 04:04 am (UTC)
Hmm, kind of a dangerous way to get rid of them, but certainly effective. I imagine the kids will be much happier with her in the city with them!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
Not so much dangerous as expensive, I think, but considering that the grandparents bought that house without any idea of what might be lurking there... I can see Granny Alice not wanting that to happen to anyone else. :O
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Christmas Past - Muppetroina_arwen on September 28th, 2014 04:28 am (UTC)
Very cool! Loved Granny Alice, and I feel sort of sorry for the two apparitions who were stuck haunting the place.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on September 28th, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I always feel sorry for ghosts who are stuck being ghosts. It's rarely because they want to be, especially children.