The People in the Walls

MJG Stories, Surreal 4 Comments

The people in the walls are an infestation. They crowd around the living room in their inch-thin insulation space and watch me while I go about my life. Some of them have drilled peep-holes. I cover the holes with paintings I paint myself, and vases full of flowers which they sometimes steal and eat.

I paint paintings of the people in the walls. I suppose they look a little bit like aliens. They have big and flat grey heads an inch thick. They look a lot like stick men. They are normally smiling stick-thin smiles, which creeps me out.

I hang the paintings of the people in the walls over the holes in the walls the people hide behind. I suppose there’s something ironic about that, but I’ve always liked irony.

Picture 7

(Image from here.)

The people in the walls arrived some time after the TV stopped working.

The first one was called Charlie. I didn’t put him there, he put himself there. I may have fed him carrots sliced thin through the floor-boards for a time, but I was lonely. He munched on them quietly, and short of being able to pet him, he was a bit like a dog.

Then he invited his friends. I don’t know where his friends came from. I didn’t feed them carrot, you can be sure.

“Charlie,” I called to him through a hole in the wall. “Charlie you have to stop bringing your friends into the walls of my house.”

Charlie answered me from round the toilet’s U-bend. I never knew where his voice would come from.

“Sorry,” he said. “They’re refugees. How can I turn them away?”

Charlie has a soft spot for refugees. But why should I be the stop on the midnight express they all get to crash at indefinitely? Are they even on the run to anywhere?

“Are they even on the run to anywhere?” I said to Charlie through the electrical socket.

“They like pizza boxes,” said Charlie back. “Just feed them the pizza boxes and they’ll stay out of your hair.”

“Why would they get in my hair?” I replied, touching my hair. I have fine blonde hair. It is very nice.

“They don’t have any hair themselves. They like to weave it into corn dolls and protective charms.”

From that point on, I fed the people in the walls my used pizza boxes, but I also kept an eye on my hair.

*

They were stealing my hair.

Every day I woke up, walked round the room, looked at the various mirrors I’d hung over the holes in the walls. Now it was mostly mirrors, so I could keep an eye on every angle of the room at the same time. There were even mirrors on the ceilings, so when I was lying on the floor talking to Charlie through the floorboards, I could easily spin round and check the status of the back of my head, and the fridge.

They liked the frost in the freezer especially.

I noticed my hairs were going. I raised the issue with Charlie through Morse code, blinking the light-bulb off and on again.

Flash Black. Flash Flash Flaaash Black. Flash Black. Flash Flash Blaaaack.

He replied by thudding on the floor in Morse code back, something like Poe’s tell-tale heart.

Neither of us could speak Morse code, but he knew I was upset, and I knew he was hungry for more carrots.

There would be no more carrots though. And no more pizza boxes.

“This is a siege,” I warned Charlie with my face up to the spider’s web in the corner of the room. Of course the spider’s web works like a tin can on a string, which passes through the wall, and rings like a telephone on the other side. “Give me back my errant hairs, or you’ll get no more pizza boxes!”

Charlie didn’t dignify that with an answer.

And so the siege began.

*

Day one of the siege passed quietly. I painted the people in the walls beginning to sweat. I heard them restless and soap-boxing through the plaster. I thought about putting up pizza boxes as cladding, so I wouldn’t have to hear their endless invective. But that seemed like too much effort. Besides, I didn’t want to antagonize them.

So instead I put on Ruby Tuesday. They hate rock music. I wanted to antagonize them auditorially, not olfactorily.

I found those words in a dictionary. I thought to use the dictionary as cladding, but it’s more useful as a dictionary.

*

The second day Charlie came to me with a complaint. He crept his face right up to the strip-lines in the air-vent and spoke to me.

“They’re asking for venison!” he called. “We’ve hungry children back here!”

“Go tell that to the hair-mongers!” I called back. I too could call through the air vent. Dust blew as I yelled. “I too can shout through this vent. You want venison? Bring me back my hairs!”

*

The next day, in a curious show of faith, I found 3 hairs on my pillow when I woke up. I suppose they had crept in in the night, all stick thin and white and glowing like aliens, and planted them there. I resolved to feed them a little cardboard in return.

It was only after an exhaustive count of the hairs left on my head extant that I found the hairs had been plucked from my own head, that very night, and left by my side as if to gloat at my loss.

I was aghast, and adrift. I ran to the washing machine and yelled into its drum.

“Are you mocking me?! You pluck my hairs but now they’re not good enough for you? You pluck and leave?”

“Whatever the cow that dealt it,” echoed the response of Charlie up through the metal drum. “Then that’s the cow that dealt it.”

“This means war!” I declared, and slammed the washing machine shut.

*

That night I stalked the walls with a nail-gun. At the slightest movement or shadow, I let it rip into the walls. I heard various squeals and cries as my nails hit them. Of course there was no blood, since everyone knows wall-people do not bleed. They just squeal.

“Bring me back my hairs, and this can all be over,” I’d sometimes whisper to each nail before I fired it through the wall. That was another way to transmit messages.

*

The next day my hairs did not return.

Charlie spoke to me through the electric cabling, faintly, as if he was far away.

“We’re all in trouble over here,” he said. “There’s children full of nails. They’re not bleeding, but it makes it hard to walk around in an inch of space. Can’t we just make peace?”

“I need the hairs!”

“We need the hairs too. We’re building our wagon that can take us to the World of Walls out of your hairs.”

“That’s all very well, but I need the hairs to attract a woman some day. I can’t stay in here and care for you for the rest of my life.”

“Just three hundred more hairs. Then we’ll be able to leave.”

“Three hundred? That’s almost all of my hairs! I’d be bald!”

“But we’d finally be free.”

I tutted, and kicked the wall with my foot. It’s possible I broke my toe.

*

The next day the walls were sagging with the weight of the wall people baying for pizza boxes and hair.

I kicked the bumps, this time with my heel. They moaned and groaned.

“Get a job!” I yelled at them.

“Maybe 200,” said Charlie. “If we make the hay-ride smaller, and take lots of trips.”

I kicked him in the thigh.

*

The next day things were crazy. The people in the walls came out. They spent the whole day slaloming round the room like a hailstorm. I cowered beneath my bed with a pillow over my head to hold the hairs in.

When I emerged it was dawn of the next day and the room was in chaos. The sofa was shredded, the carpet torn up, the freezer shorn empty of frost. The stack of pizza boxes was gone.

And the walls were quiet.

I put my ear to the wall and listened, but nothing. I removed a painting of Charlie grinning from the wall and peered into the inch-deep blackness.

Nothing.

The people in the walls were gone.

I spent the rest of the day looking for a way into the walls.

*

Finally I got tired and used a hammer to make a hole.

I put my head through the hole and looked in. I couldn’t see anything. I thought about going back for a flash-light, but that seemed crazy. So I rolled myself into the wall head-first, into the black. I suppose that might have been crazier, but who keeps score.

Inside the walls it was cold and clammy. And of course it was dark. The walls were wet and cold, like stone. Peering back through the hole into my room, all wrecked and torn to shreds, seemed like peering down a long empty tunnel to a distant spot of light.

I realized the walls were glowing softly.

I looked down at my arms and body. They had become white, and incredibly thin, like a stick-figure.

I looked down. On the ground were shreds of torn and nibbled at pizza box. They led around the curve of the gently glowing wall, past where my sofa would be, towards the corner.

I took one last glance at my room down the long tunnel, and then started after the shreds of pizza box.

It took a long time to reach what I thought was the corner of my room. When I finally reached it, I found there was no clear corner after all, but actually just a continuing straight line. I continued to follow it.

After a time, the walls seemed to fan out, and I was following the trail through an open space.

It was around that time that I heard the breathing.

When I first heard it I froze. I held myself in my tracks. I looked around. The soft glow of the walls was too distant now. There was just the soft glow of my white stick-man skin.

The breathing echoed through the damp thick dark. Suddenly I felt cold. I tried to pull my cardigan around me, but I had no clothes on. I felt my over-large and flat head wobble on my neck.

The breathing of something hideous circled me. I knew it was hideous from its breathing. It was irregular, like a broken air intake valve on the air vent. It coughed and breathed and spluttered and wheezed. And I knew it was following me.

I stayed still a moment longer. I felt it sniffing closer. I thought any moment it would burst out and its sickening black tentacles would rip off my face.

And then I ran.

I ran for a long time.

When I came to I was alone in the black. I couldn’t hear the breathing, but then, I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t even hear my own breathing, or my own heart. I’d lost the pizza box trail in my mad haste to escape. I’d lost all sign of Charlie. I didn’t know the way back to my room, and I was surrounded by thick empty heaving black, all around me.

I sat down on the nothing floor, and I began to cry.

*

After I cried for a time, I stopped. I noticed a golden shimmering line on the floor before me. I picked it up. It was one of my hairs, and just touching its shimmering golden sheen filled me with a sudden splash of hope.

I set it in the air before me, and it hung there. I bent it, like a painter bends a line as he paints, and the hair bent, and held its shape.

Then I reached up to my head, and I began to pull out the remaining hairs. It hurt at first, almost too much to continue. But I continued. At one hundred I had a stack before me. At two hundred a heap. At three hundred a pyramid.

And then I set to fashioning a vehicle.

I bent the hairs into an engine with cylinders and pistons and spark-plugs. I twisted the hairs into axles and sprockets and bearings and spokes. I curled the hairs into seats and an odometer and a roof-rack. I fashioned cup-holders and airbags.

Then I got in, and not a moment too soon, as the breathing in the dark had returned.

I slammed the door closed, ignited the gas, and flicked on the high beams. They lit up a swathe of empty black before me.

And, the breathing hot on my heels, I took off careening into the dark.

*

I listened to Chevy Chase on the hair radio. I listened to Eddie Murphy. It was all old stand-up.

I drove for days.

I began to get hungry. I began to fear I would never find the pizza box trail again. I would never find Charlie. The breathing in the dark would find me. It would eat me.

*

After 5 days of driving I gave up. It could have been 5 months. There was no sun in that place.

I got out of the car, and I lay down on the ground, and I waited for the beast to come.

When it came I caught its jaws with the braces I’d made out of hairs I’d kept in my pocket, and I dived myself forward into it’s open mouth. I passed into the beast, and I felt my body slipping inside its body like fingers into a glove.

I felt my thin tendrils spread out into the beast. The beast had better vision. The beast could see in the dark. The beast could smell clearly and well.

I pushed the beast’s brain out of its ear, and I took control of its senses. I hopped its tigerish tentacled body into the car I had built, and took off riding again.

*

I found Charlie’s trail after a day. I smelt them.

I caught up with them two days later. I padded on my beast’s legs towards them. They circled their golden hair wagons and held their golden hair spears before them.

“Its me, Charlie!” I tried to yell, but all that came out was a growl.

Charlie was the first to stick a spear of my own golden hair through my chest. The rest followed, and I fell beneath their driving blows.

When I at last fell still, they saw me slipping out of the tiger’s mouth. Charlie saw me and cradled my head in his lap.

“Don’t you see it,” he said, pointing out into the black. “Don’t you see the golden world we’re heading for? Wasn’t it worth it, after all?”

And as I peered into the black, I thought I began to see the flicker of a light that was the window onto a room, a room filled with a bed, and a freezer, and a sofa, and a TV that worked. But not just one window, and one room. So many. So many rooms that they filled the blackness with golden electric light. A room for every one of the people in the walls, so that they could serve as beacons along the path. They too could harbor grey stickmen aliens as they clambered at their edges. They too could join the giant rush forwards into something, something beautiful, ever striving for the light.

The World of Walls.

I died in Charlie’s arms. He laid a piece of pizza box in my mouth for the ferryman, and closed my eyes.

I fed them through the dark lands. I slew the beast. I gave them use of my golden hairs. And I helped them to their promised land.

I don’t regret a thing.

The first one was called Charlie. I didn’t put him there, he put himself there. I may have fed him carrots sliced thin through the floor-boards for a time, but I was lonely. He munched on them quietly, and short of being able to pet him, he was a bit like a dog.

Then he invited his friends. I don’t know where his friends came from. I didn’t feed them carrot, you can be sure.

“Charlie,” I called to him through a hole in the wall. “Charlie you have to stop bringing your friends into the walls of my house.”

Charlie answered me from round the toilet’s U-bend. I never knew where his voice would come from.

“Sorry,” he said. “They’re refugees. How can I turn them away?”

Charlie has a soft spot for refugees. But why should I be the stop on the midnight express they all get to crash at indefinitely? Are they even on the run to anywhere?

“Are they even on the run to anywhere?” I said to Charlie through the electrical socket.

“They like pizza boxes,” said Charlie back. “Just feed them the pizza boxes and they’ll stay out of your hair.”

“Why would they get in my hair?” I replied, touching my hair. I have fine blonde hair. It is very nice.

“They don’t have any hair themselves. They like to weave it into corn dolls and protective charms.”

From that point on, I fed the people in the walls my used pizza boxes, but I also kept an eye on my hair.

*

They were stealing my hair.

Every day I woke up, walked round the room, looked at the various mirrors I’d hung over the holes in the walls. Now it was mostly mirrors, so I could keep an eye on every angle of the room at the same time. There were even mirrors on the ceilings, so when I was lying on the floor talking to Charlie through the floorboards, I could easily spin round and check the status of the back of my head, and the fridge.

They liked the frost in the freezer especially.

I noticed my hairs were going. I raised the issue with Charlie through Morse code, blinking the light-bulb off and on again.

Flash Black. Flash Flash Flaaash Black. Flash Black. Flash Flash Blaaaack.

He replied by thudding on the floor in Morse code back, something like Poe’s tell-tale heart.

Neither of us could speak Morse code, but he knew I was upset, and I knew he was hungry for more carrots.

There would be no more carrots though. And no more pizza boxes.

“This is a siege,” I warned Charlie with my face up to the spider’s web in the corner of the room. Of course the spider’s web works like a tin can on a string, which passes through the wall, and rings like a telephone on the other side. “Give me back my errant hairs, or you’ll get no more pizza boxes!”

Charlie didn’t dignify that with an answer.

And so the siege began.

*

Day one of the siege passed quietly. I painted the people in the walls beginning to sweat. I heard them restless and soap-boxing through the plaster. I thought about putting up pizza boxes as cladding, so I wouldn’t have to hear their endless invective. But that seemed like too much effort. Besides, I didn’t want to antagonize them.

So instead I put on Ruby Tuesday. They hate rock music. I wanted to antagonize them auditorially, not olfactorily.

I found those words in a dictionary. I thought to use the dictionary as cladding, but it’s more useful as a dictionary.

*

The second day Charlie came to me with a complaint. He crept his face right up to the strip-lines in the air-vent and spoke to me.

“They’re asking for venison!” he called. “We’ve hungry children back here!”

“Go tell that to the hair-mongers!” I called back. I too could call through the air vent. Dust blew as I yelled. “I too can shout through this vent. You want venison? Bring me back my hairs!”

*

The next day, in a curious show of faith, I found 3 hairs on my pillow when I woke up. I suppose they had crept in in the night, all stick thin and white and glowing like aliens, and planted them there. I resolved to feed them a little cardboard in return.

It was only after an exhaustive count of the hairs left on my head extant that I found the hairs had been plucked from my own head, that very night, and left by my side as if to gloat at my loss.

I was aghast, and adrift. I ran to the washing machine and yelled into its drum.

“Are you mocking me?! You pluck my hairs but now they’re not good enough for you? You pluck and leave?”

“Whatever the cow that dealt it,” echoed the response of Charlie up through the metal drum. “Then that’s the cow that dealt it.”

“This means war!” I declared, and slammed the washing machine shut.

*

That night I stalked the walls with a nail-gun. At the slightest movement or shadow, I let it rip into the walls. I heard various squeals and cries as my nails hit them. Of course there was no blood, since everyone knows wall-people do not bleed. They just squeal.

“Bring me back my hairs, and this can all be over,” I’d sometimes whisper to each nail before I fired it through the wall. That was another way to transmit messages.

*

The next day my hairs did not return.

Charlie spoke to me through the electric cabling, faintly, as if he was far away.

“We’re all in trouble over here,” he said. “There’s children full of nails. They’re not bleeding, but it makes it hard to walk around in an inch of space. Can’t we just make peace?”

“I need the hairs!”

“We need the hairs too. We’re building our wagon that can take us to the World of Walls out of your hairs.”

“That’s all very well, but I need the hairs to attract a woman some day. I can’t stay in here and care for you for the rest of my life.”

“Just three hundred more hairs. Then we’ll be able to leave.”

“Three hundred? That’s almost all of my hairs! I’d be bald!”

“But we’d finally be free.”

I tutted, and kicked the wall with my foot. It’s possible I broke my toe.

*

The next day the walls were sagging with the weight of the wall people baying for pizza boxes and hair.

I kicked the bumps, this time with my heel. They moaned and groaned.

“Get a job!” I yelled at them.

“Maybe 200,” said Charlie. “If we make the hay-ride smaller, and take lots of trips.”

I kicked him in the thigh.

*

The next day things were crazy. The people in the walls came out. They spent the whole day slaloming round the room like a hailstorm. I cowered beneath my bed with a pillow over my head to hold the hairs in.

When I emerged it was dawn of the next day and the room was in chaos. The sofa was shredded, the carpet torn up, the freezer shorn empty of frost. The stack of pizza boxes was gone.

And the walls were quiet.

I put my ear to the wall and listened, but nothing. I removed a painting of Charlie grinning from the wall and peered into the inch-deep blackness.

Nothing.

The people in the walls were gone.

I spent the rest of the day looking for a way into the walls.

*

Finally I got tired and used a hammer to make a hole.

I put my head through the hole and looked in. I couldn’t see anything. I thought about going back for a flash-light, but that seemed crazy. So I rolled myself into the wall head-first, into the black. I suppose that might have been crazier, but who keeps score.

Inside the walls it was cold and clammy. And of course it was dark. The walls were wet and cold, like stone. Peering back through the hole into my room, all wrecked and torn to shreds, seemed like peering down a long empty tunnel to a distant spot of light.

I realized the walls were glowing softly.

I looked down at my arms and body. They had become white, and incredibly thin, like a stick-figure.

I looked down. On the ground were shreds of torn and nibbled at pizza box. They led around the curve of the gently glowing wall, past where my sofa would be, towards the corner.

I took one last glance at my room down the long tunnel, and then started after the shreds of pizza box.

It took a long time to reach what I thought was the corner of my room. When I finally reached it, I found there was no clear corner after all, but actually just a continuing straight line. I continued to follow it.

After a time, the walls seemed to fan out, and I was following the trail through an open space.

It was around that time that I heard the breathing.

When I first heard it I froze. I held myself in my tracks. I looked around. The soft glow of the walls was too distant now. There was just the soft glow of my white stick-man skin.

The breathing echoed through the damp thick dark. Suddenly I felt cold. I tried to pull my cardigan around me, but I had no clothes on. I felt my over-large and flat head wobble on my neck.

The breathing of something hideous circled me. I knew it was hideous from its breathing. It was irregular, like a broken air intake valve on the air vent. It coughed and breathed and spluttered and wheezed. And I knew it was following me.

I stayed still a moment longer. I felt it sniffing closer. I thought any moment it would burst out and its sickening black tentacles would rip off my face.

And then I ran.

I ran for a long time.

When I came to I was alone in the black. I couldn’t hear the breathing, but then, I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t even hear my own breathing, or my own heart. I’d lost the pizza box trail in my mad haste to escape. I’d lost all sign of Charlie. I didn’t know the way back to my room, and I was surrounded by thick empty heaving black, all around me.

I sat down on the nothing floor, and I began to cry.

*

After I cried for a time, I stopped. I noticed a golden shimmering line on the floor before me. I picked it up. It was one of my hairs, and just touching its shimmering golden sheen filled me with a sudden splash of hope.

I set it in the air before me, and it hung there. I bent it, like a painter bends a line as he paints, and the hair bent, and held its shape.

Then I reached up to my head, and I began to pull out the remaining hairs. It hurt at first, almost too much to continue. But I continued. At one hundred I had a stack before me. At two hundred a heap. At three hundred a pyramid.

And then I set to fashioning a vehicle.

I bent the hairs into an engine with cylinders and pistons and spark-plugs. I twisted the hairs into axles and sprockets and bearings and spokes. I curled the hairs into seats and an odometer and a roof-rack. I fashioned cup-holders and airbags.

Then I got in, and not a moment too soon, as the breathing in the dark had returned.

I slammed the door closed, ignited the gas, and flicked on the high beams. They lit up a swathe of empty black before me.

And, the breathing hot on my heels, I took off careening into the dark.

*

I listened to Chevy Chase on the hair radio. I listened to Eddie Murphy. It was all old stand-up.

I drove for days.

I began to get hungry. I began to fear I would never find the pizza box trail again. I would never find Charlie. The breathing in the dark would find me. It would eat me.

*

After 5 days of driving I gave up. It could have been 5 months. There was no sun in that place.

I got out of the car, and I lay down on the ground, and I waited for the beast to come.

When it came I caught its jaws with the braces I’d made out of hairs I’d kept in my pocket, and I dived myself forward into it’s open mouth. I passed into the beast, and I felt my body slipping inside its body like fingers into a glove.

I felt my thin tendrils spread out into the beast. The beast had better vision. The beast could see in the dark. The beast could smell clearly and well.

I pushed the beast’s brain out of its ear, and I took control of its senses. I hopped its tigerish tentacled body into the car I had built, and took off riding again.

*

I found Charlie’s trail after a day. I smelt them.

I caught up with them two days later. I padded on my beast’s legs towards them. They circled their golden hair wagons and held their golden hair spears before them.

“Its me, Charlie!” I tried to yell, but all that came out was a growl.

Charlie was the first to stick a spear of my own golden hair through my chest. The rest followed, and I fell beneath their driving blows.
When I at last fell still, they saw me slipping out of the tiger’s mouth. Charlie saw me and cradled my head in his lap.

“Don’t you see it,” he said, pointing out into the black. “Don’t you see the golden world we’re heading for? Wasn’t it worth it, after all?”

And as I peered into the black, I thought I began to see the flicker of a light that was the window onto a room, a room filled with a bed, and a freezer, and a sofa, and a TV that worked. But not just one window, and one room. So many, so many rooms that they filled the blackness with golden electric light. A room for every one of the people in the walls, so that they could serve as beacons along the path. They too could harbor grey stickmen aliens as they clambered at their edges. They too could join the giant rush forwards into something, something beautiful, ever striving for the light.

The World of Walls.

I died in Charlie’s arms. He laid a piece of pizza box in my mouth for the ferryman, and closed my eyes.

I fed them through the dark lands. I slew the beast. I gave them use of my golden hairs. And I helped them to their promised land.

I don’t regret a thing.

END

DARK FICTION

You can see all MJG’s stories here:

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Comments 4

  1. Mikey this is just intriguing. I read it whilst eating my dinner. It gave me chills. It captures the sort of paranoia and weirdness that I imagine people with serious mental health difficulties have. The type of people who are not in hospitals but are holed up in lonely flats somewhere and flying under the radar. It captures a real loneliness and a creepy manic dreamlike/nightmarish kind of feel. Well anyway I’m just mega impressed. xxxx
    PS the pica illustrate it really well too xx

  2. Post
    Author

    Dad- Cheers.

    Al- Thanks a lot, glad it struck a chord- the art I found for it weirdly chimes with what you’re saying- painted by an ex-addict on a site about crystal meth.

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