The noise began on Friday night during our first long weekend home together. For once, neither of us had to travel for work, and so we decided to take a much needed break at home. Why go anywhere, we said, when traveling was so expensive and we hadn't really lived in this place that long? Isn't traveling something you're supposed to do only once you've exhausted the possibilities of the place where you live?
On Friday, we only left the couch for food and to use the restroom. I was in the bathroom when I first heard the noise, a sort of rustling and scratching behind the toilet paper holder. I tapped on the wall, thinking the noise must be coming from a squirrel or a mouse, something I would startle with a noise of my own. When the noise didn't stop, I assumed I must be hearing the neighbors in the connecting townhouse.
My husband was still on the couch, skimming the local paper on his tablet, reading about a recent water moccasin infestation. A few children had found the snakes in their toy boxes, and had mistaken them for rubber snakes. No fatalities yet.
I asked my husband if he'd heard the noise.
"Hmm?" he said, but by then it had already stopped.
After that I went to bed.
I woke up the next morning to a pile of orange paint chips and drywall dust outside our bedroom door. Our townhouse had been custom built, the second half of a two family unit; our walls were painted various shades of neutral green and blue. The orange did not come from us. I looked, but could find no trace of infestation or of scrapes or holes in the ceiling or wall.
My husband too was puzzled, but not concerned. He suggested a thorough cleaning. I got out the vacuum, and he got out his tablet. He was reading an article, something about asbestos and faulty construction and a suit against Landstar who, if my husband recalled correctly, owned the company that had built our townhouse.
I did not change out of my pajamas all day.
Late Saturday night, I was washing dishes when I began to feel queasy, almost motion sick. The sudsy water seemed to froth and form waves. It was only then that I realized the wall above my head was shaking.
I had lived in California when I was little; how could I have forgotten the nauseating feeling of an earthquake? I hit the floor to crawl under the kitchen table, thankful that I'd done this drill so many times that the action was rote.
"What are you doing over there?" my husband called out.
"Earthquake!" I said.
"Really? I don't feel anything."
It was only then that I realized my husband was right; the floor was still. Only one wall was shaking: the wall behind the kitchen sink, the wall abutting our neighbor's townhouse.
Our house was modern, an open floor plan. The kitchen flowed into the living and dining rooms; the dining room, too, connected to our neighboring unit. When we'd finally gotten around to decorating, we'd decided we liked the look of the family photos hanging in the dining room. The photos conferred a haunted feeling, like that of a memorial or mausoleum, but we didn't mind, seeing as we hardly ever used the room. We preferred, most nights, to eat takeout on the couch.
Now, these family photos fell from the wall and shattered: my wedding photos, my mother's wedding photos, my great aunt's wedding photos, the wedding photos of countless nameless women I'm said to resemble.
When the wall finally ceased its swaying, there was a four inch gap of darkness where it had split from the ceiling. My husband and I stared, dumbfounded.
"What in God's name are they up to over there?" my husband said. "This has got to stop."
I took the hint. After sweeping up the shards of glass and torn photos, I left the house for the first time since Thursday, slipping a jacket over my pajamas to disguise my bralessness. After so many days inside, the night seemed so much darker. I struggled to make out the shape of our walkway, relying instead on memory as I walked over to our neighbors' front door. Their lights were off, while our house looked like a blazing bonfire.
What hour was it? How had I lost all sense of time?
Despite the darkness, I decided to knock on our neighbors' door. Not to accuse them, I thought, but to see if they'd felt the shaking, too.
Behind the door, something let out a little yip, like the sound one makes when startled, but no one came to the door.
My husband spent the rest of the night fuming and leaving threating voicemails for our homebuilders about their shoddy workmanship.
"They'd better be here on Monday to fix this shit," he said. Otherwise, he was thinking of joining the lawsuit against Landstar, turning it into a Class Action. Maybe that'd do the trick.
That night, I dreamed the scratching was back. It was coming from the pitch dark crack between the wall and the ceiling, a crack that now extended from the crown molding to our headboard. I woke up, and the scratching continued. It was no dream.
Almost as if it knew I was awake, the gentle scratching magnified, sharpened, sounded like metal on metal. It descended until it was right above my head. Plaster particles and dust rained down and coated my face and hair. I thought about how the dust was probably orange, and I wondered if it'd stain, and if so, if I'd be able to scrub the pigment out of my skin and hair before work on Monday.
The scratching intensified; the walls were shaking, being shredded. I tried to wake my husband, but plaster filled my mouth, and so I waited silently for the scratching to stop.
holds her MFA in fiction from the University of Maryland. Her fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Psychopomp
and Crack the Spine
, amongst others. Lindsay lives in Portland, OR, where she assists in editing The Golden Key
, occasionally posts at lindsayannfowler.com
, and is involved in various endeavors, literary and otherwise.