The Writing On The Wall

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When Mark and Sharon Pry­or bought the Colton Street house with the small, pink bed­room down the hall from what would become their mas­ter one, they joked that their baby would be a boy. Weeks lat­er, the ultra­sound proved them right. The father-to-be drove to the town hard­ware store and pur­chased every­thing he need­ed to get the old, rosy paper off the walls. 

While doing this, he found the thing that would haunt their lives. 

•••

“Sharon!” Mark called urgently.

“Com­ing!”

A cou­ple of min­utes lat­er, she slow­ly entered the baby’s room. “Where were you?”

She rubbed her bel­ly and answered, “Where do I spend most of my day? In the bath­room.” He point­ed at some writ­ing on a por­tion of the wall he had stripped of the pink paper. She stepped clos­er. “What’s that?”

“From what I can see, a confession.”

“To what?”

He swal­lowed hard and answered, “Mur­der.”

•••

Lt. Lynn Samuels, forty-eight years old and sport­ing a shock of gray hair, arrived on Colton Street less than fif­teen min­utes after Mark called the police. “It does appear to be a mur­der con­fes­sion,” she con­curred. “My team is strip­ping the rest of the wall­pa­per so we can read all of it. I assumed you wouldn’t mind, Mr. Pryor.”

“Be my guest.”

“From what we know of the house’s past, this may be what we’ve been look­ing for.”

“This house has a… a ‘past?’” Sharon inquired.

“You didn’t know?”

“What…”

“You’ve nev­er heard of the Wood­ward family?”

“No.”

“Me nei­ther,” Mark agreed. “What hap­pened to them?”

“Matthew Wood­ward lived here with his wife, Patri­cia, begin­ning in 2011. They had two daugh­ters – sweet lit­tle girls.”

“Ash­ley and Car­ol,” Sharon added.

Samuels was shocked. “How do you know that?”

“The height marks on the room’s thresh­old are labeled with those names,” she explained.

“Well, in 2014, a drunk dri­ver ran Mrs. Wood­ward off the road and into a guardrail, killing her. Matthew fell into a state of shock – required hos­pi­tal­iza­tion for a time.”

“How hor­ri­ble!”

 “What hap­pened to the girls?” Mark won­dered aloud.

“Their pater­nal grand­fa­ther cared for them until her son was dis­charged. Not long after he returned home, Ash­ley and Car­ol dis­ap­peared. No one knows where they are to this day.”

“Their dad?” Mark suggested.

“We inves­ti­gat­ed that and found noth­ing. My peo­ple tore this house apart look­ing for those girls. Nada. About a year ago, Mr. Wood­ward hanged himself.”

“In this house?” 

“I’m afraid so, ma’am.”

“And the girls? Could their bod­ies be… be hid­den some­where in here?”

“It’s pos­si­ble.”

Sharon turned to her hus­band. “Why didn’t the real­tor tell us this?”

“Because we wouldn’t have pur­chased the house if we knew,” Mark answered. “No won­der we got such a good price.”

“I… I can’t stay here,” she stat­ed, her eyes welling.

What?”

“Some­one com­mit­ted sui­cide in this house, and the bod­ies of those girls might… I… I just can’t.”

“Hon­ey –”

“Doesn’t it both­er you?”

“Of course! Would I pre­fer that this place was owned by a… by an old lady who vol­un­teered at church and read to the blind? Sure I would.”

A tall, thin offi­cer sport­ing a goa­tee approached slow­ly. “Lt. Samuels?” he said hes­i­tant­ly, unsure of when to speak.

“Sergeant?”

“We’ve stripped every scrap of paper we can. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, bits of the glue won’t come off, and a por­tion of the writ­ing is still obscured.”

“Is it a mur­der confession?”

“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Wood­ward drowned his daugh­ters in the tub.” Sharon pulled Mark close, amazed at how mat­ter-of-fact­ly the sub­ject of mur­der was being discussed. 

“Did he men­tion where he put the bodies?” 

“Unfor­tu­nate­ly not.”

“Call Prager down at head­quar­ters. He should have some­thing in that lab of his that will make those walls look brand new. I want to be able to see every let­ter of that confession.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, turn­ing on his heel and hur­ry­ing away.

“Why would Wood­ward write the con­fes­sion and then paper over it?”

“That, sir, is the $64,000 question.”

“What should we do?” 

“For one thing, stay put. Don’t be fright­ened out of your home. My peo­ple will be here pok­ing around for a cou­ple of days, if that’s OK.”

“Take what­ev­er time you need.”

“Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this case has gone from miss­ing per­sons… to dou­ble homicide.”

•••

It was 2:20 a.m. when Mark awoke and real­ized his wife wasn’t lying beside him. After a moment’s alarm, he thought, Bet she’s in the bath­room again, the poor thing. He called to her once, twice, but there was no response. 

He got out of bed and walked down the hall. The bath­room light was off, and the room was emp­ty. The kitchen? No, but the cel­lar door was open. He was cer­tain he closed it before they went to bed. He flipped on the light and walked down the stairs into the cool, half-fin­ished room. He called her name and was about to again when he spot­ted her lying on the stone floor. He rushed over, afraid – but she was sound asleep, snor­ing light­ly as she always did and always denied. He gen­tly pushed on her shoul­der and whis­pered her name.

She awoke slow­ly, with a smile, see­ing her husband’s face, and then with a start when she real­ized they weren’t in their bed­room. “Where… Where am I?” she asked.

“In the cellar.”

“The cel­lar? Why…”

“You were sleeping.”

“Why would I come down here to sleep?”

“I don’t know, but I think we ought to call Dr. Mal­one and see if he does.”

•••

“I’m hap­py to report,” Mal­one said, enter­ing his office with a file in hand and sit­ting behind his desk, “the tests show no ill effects to the baby from your… excursion.”

“Thank God!” Sharon replied.

 “Do you remem­ber walk­ing down there?”

“Not a bit.”

“Then the only log­i­cal expla­na­tion is that you sleepwalked.”

Me? I’ve nev­er done that! Why would I start now?”

“It’s not uncom­mon for preg­nant women to exhib­it nov­el behav­iors. One of my patients start­ed eat­ing aspara­gus when she was expect­ing. Lots of it!  Before that, she couldn’t stand the stuff.”

“But why would Sharon head for the cel­lar,” Mark asked, “of all places?”

The white-haired doc­tor briefly mulled over his answer. “A sleep­walk­er is usu­al­ly after something.”

“What would I want in the cel­lar?” Sharon asked. “It’s not even fin­ished yet.”

“One of my future projects,” Mark added with a smirk.

“It was mild last night,” Mal­one sug­gest­ed. “Were you warm?”

“I’ve slept in worse.”

“But not preg­nant, honey.”

“He has a point. Per­haps your uncon­scious thought the cel­lar would be cool­er – bet­ter for sleeping.”

 “I walked down a lot of stairs. I could have fall­en and hurt the baby!”

“Or your­self,” Mark added.

“You’re both right.”

“Could Sharon go for anoth­er stroll – maybe tonight?”

“Pos­si­bly,” the doc­tor answered. “Does your bed­room door have a lock on it?”

“No.”

“Get one. You hold onto the key, and don’t let the Mrs. know where it is.”

 “But I have to get up so many times to pee!” Sharon protest­ed. “I’ll be wak­ing him up three or four times a night.”

“I’ll live,” Mark said.

“Atta boy,” Mal­one praised him. “It’s the only way to ensure your safe­ty and the baby’s. Hope­ful­ly, before long, the sleep­walk­ing will stop.”

Sharon looked doe eyed at her hus­band. “I guess we’re gonna be bath­room bud­dies for a while.”

•••

“We’re almost done upstairs,” Samuels told Mark. “I will need to get one more per­son over here in the morn­ing though.”

“That’s fine,” he replied, sti­fling the bet­ter part of a yawn.

“Is Mrs. Pry­or OK?”

“Just tired. She’s upstairs tak­ing a nap. Nei­ther one of us slept much last night.”

•••

Sharon woke with a start when she heard the squeaky voice. “Mrs. Pryyyyyyyy­or?” There was a slight hum­ming in the room. At the foot of her bed stood two young girls, both blonde, one slight­ly taller than the oth­er. They appeared to her as if they were stand­ing behind a wind-blown cur­tain, their images com­ing and going like the breeze. Sharon rubbed her eyes, but the view became no clearer.

“I’m Car­ol,” the taller one said with an odd echo, “and this is my lit­tle sis­ter, Ashley.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the oth­er added, flash­ing a big grin with a few miss­ing teeth.

“Car­ol and Ash­ley… Wood­ward?” Sharon asked.

“That’s right. We need you to find us. Please.”

“We’re tired,” Ash­ley added. “It’s been so long.”

“Where are you?”

“We don’t know.”

“It’s very dark,” Car­ol added. “Please find us.”

“But I don’t know where to look! The police tried and tried.”

“The three of us will help you,” the old­er girl offered. “You’ll see. It will work.”

Three?” The hum­ming fad­ed to noth­ing as the girls slow­ly van­ished. Sharon sat bolt upright in bed and screamed. 

•••

Mark threw open the door and ran into the mas­ter bed­room. Sharon was sit­ting upright in their bed, sob­bing deeply, her hands held out in sup­pli­ca­tion. He sat before her on their mat­tress and hugged her close. He could feel her tears on his neck. “Everything’s alright,” he calm­ly assured his wife, rub­bing her back. 

She slow­ly broke from his embrace. “They were here,” she told him, try­ing to catch her breath. “I saw them.”

“Who?”

“The dead girls – Ash­ley and Carol.”

He reached for­ward and gen­tly wiped some tears from her eyes with his thumb. “Sweet­heart, you were dream­ing.”

“No.”

“I checked on you not five min­utes ago. You were asleep.”

“They were wear­ing lit­tle dress­es. The younger one had a rib­bon in her hair.”

“Sharon…”

 “How do I know what they looked like?”

“You could have seen two lit­tle girls anywhere.”

“For instance?”

“Dr. Malone’s office,” Mark suggested.

“He’s a gyne­col­o­gist. He deals with babies who haven’t been born yet.”

“True, but there’s a pedi­atric office in his build­ing. We pass by it every time we go there. You prob­a­bly saw two girls in the wait­ing room and sub­con­scious­ly put them into your dream as the Wood­ward kids.”

“They asked for my help.”

“The dead girls?”

“They said they need to be found. They want to…  to rest.”

Mark brushed a few tear-wet strands of hair from his wife’s face, cupped her chin, and peered into her hazel eyes. “Nei­ther one of us slept much last night. How about we go out for dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll get you curly fries,” he added, seiz­ing upon a once-craved preg­nan­cy food of hers. Sharon grunt­ed from a sud­den stab of stom­ach pain. “What’s wrong?” he inquired urgently.

“I… I’m not sure.”

“The baby?” She winced again. “Are you in labor?”

“I’m not sure!” she bel­lowed, her face red­den­ing and the tears flow­ing anew. “This is my first child. I don’t know what labor feels like!”

“I’ll call Mal­one. We’ll go right to Mer­cy Hospital.”

Quick­ly.”

“I’ll break every traf­fic rule in the book.”

•••

“False labor!” Sharon com­plained from the shot­gun seat as she and Mark drove home in a light rain. 

“It hap­pens.”

Now what do we do?”

I plan on get­ting some sleep.” 

“Sounds won­der­ful.”

He reached a hand out and light­ly touched his wife’s bel­ly. “Did you hear that, Junior? Mom­my and Dad­dy need some sleep, so no more cry­ing wolf… or we’ll name you ‘Mer­ga­troid.’”

•••

This time, when Mark awoke in the dark­ness alone, he sighed at the sight of the open bed­room door, the key in the new lock, and went right to the cel­lar. He woke Sharon slow­ly. She noticed where she was right away. “You’re a lousy key hider,” she said.

“Sor­ry. I didn’t major in that.”

“Now what?”

“Fol­low me,” he told her, ris­ing. “I have a new plan.”

•••

Mark grunt­ed as he pushed the over­stuffed chair in front of the bed­room door. “That ought to do it,” he said. “Just try and get out now.”

“I feel like a pris­on­er,” Sharon protested.

“If that’s what it takes to keep you two safe.” 

He walked to Sharon’s night­stand, pulled two balls of yarn – one pink, one blue – from her knit­ting bag, and held them up. “Pick one,” he said.

“For what?”

“I’m tying our wrists togeth­er. Impro­vised handcuffs.”

She gave him one of her “you-got­ta-be-kid­ding-me” looks. “Like I couldn’t break that to go sleepwalking.”

“I’m bet­ting you won’t be able to do that, pull the chair out of the way, and get the key with­out me notic­ing.” He held the yarn balls high­er. “Now pick one.”

“Blue,” she answered after a sigh. “We’re hav­ing a boy after all.”

•••

The kick woke her from the dream state she had almost fall­en into. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “That was a good one.” 

“Maybe he’ll be a soc­cer play­er. There’s mon­ey in that,” Mark replied sleep­i­ly. Sharon rubbed her tum­my. “Anoth­er kick?”

She nod­ded. “I can’t sleep like this.”

“Try stand­ing for a minute.”

She began to rise, but got caught up in the blue yarn. “Your ‘hand­cuffs’ are in the way!”

“Would you rather be on the cel­lar floor?” Grumpy, she cleared the tan­gle and stood. “Bet­ter?” he asked after a moment.

“So far. But I can’t… There he goes again!” 

“Calm down in there, Lit­tle Man!” Mark announced. “It’s 3:00 in the morning.”

“Three!” Mrs. Pry­or exclaimed. “That’s what they meant.”

“What who meant?”

“The Wood­ward girls.”

“We’re not going back to that dream of yours, are we?”

“It was not –”

“OK. OK,” he replied quick­ly. “For­get I even men­tioned it.”

“One of the girls said that ‘the three of us’ would help me find their bodies.”

“But there were only two of them.”

“Right.” She touched her bel­ly. “And baby makes three.”

“Oh, come on!”

“I think our boy is try­ing to tell me something.”

“Like you shouldn’t have had that cold pep­per­oni piz­za before going to bed?”

“More than that. I think he’s in con­tact with the girls.”

“Oh, Sharon!”

“All of his kicks have been direct­ed toward the door.”

“Mean­ing?”

“He wants me to go somewhere.”

“The cel­lar?”

“Right! Get up.”

“Now? I was joking.”

“I wasn’t.”

Her hus­band sighed and said, “You’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer, are you?”

“No.”

Resigned to hav­ing lost the dis­cus­sion, Mark fold­ed down the cov­ers and sat up in bed. “Can I please sleep when we’re done with our field trip?” he asked.

“I think all of us will sleep.” She held up her left hand, the blue yarn hang­ing from it. “Can we get rid of this first? I feel like a fool!”

•••

When they reached the stone floor of the cel­lar, Sharon pulled her robe tighter around her and walked on. “The baby’s kick­ing like crazy!” She turned to see her hus­band sit­ting on the bot­tom step of the flight, yawning.

“What are you doing?” he asked, watch­ing her walk all around while pok­ing her preg­nant bel­ly out. 

“Going in the direc­tion he’s kick­ing – fol­low­ing his lead.”

“My boy, the divin­ing rod.” 

Sharon came to a stop fac­ing the house’s old coal burn­er. “He’s qui­et,” she said, confused.

“Prob­a­bly asleep. Lucky kid.”

Sharon reached out and touched the cold fur­nace. No one had used it in years. Why did the baby stop kick­ing here? She looked about, spot­ted what she some­how knew she need­ed, and start­ed towards it.

“What now?” Mark asked.

“I need that,” she answered, point­ing at an old, rusty crow­bar propped up in the corner.

“Why?”

“I just do.”

“A crow­bar she wants at three in the morn­ing.” He let out a tired sigh, rose, and said, “I’ll get it.” He returned with it sec­onds later.

“Give it to me.”

“Tell me what to do. I don’t want my preg­nant wife oper­at­ing heavy machin­ery – espe­cial­ly before sunrise.”

“Will you do what I ask and take me seriously?”

“Will it get me back to bed?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will.”

She point­ed at a fur­nace pipe. “Rap there.”

“Any par­tic­u­lar tune?”

“Hon­ey…”

“Sor­ry.” He hit the pipe with the crow­bar a few times, pro­duc­ing hol­low sounds.

“A lit­tle high­er.” The same sound – three times. “Once more… as high as you can reach.”

“Yes, dear.” He stretched up on his slip­pers-cov­ered toes. The first two raps sound­ed hol­low, but not the third. “Stand back.” He put all of his strength into three more hits, and the long-togeth­er pipe came apart. A rust­ed piece of it swung out and fell before them with a resound­ing clang. A puff of soot and a sheet of paper fell from the still-con­nect­ed portion.

Her eyes wide, Sharon point­ed up with a shaky fin­ger. “Oh, Mark!” she exclaimed, bury­ing her face in her hands. A small, bony foot – that of a child – had slipped from the pipe and into view.

Mark scooped up the sheet of paper and read, “Now they are found. I regret what I did. Please bury them for me. Matthew Woodward.”

•••

“For what­ev­er rea­son,” Lt. Samuels said, “Wood­ward killed his two girls not long after his wife died.”

“Depres­sion?” Sharon suggested. 

“Could be. It does strange things to peo­ple. After he wrote that con­fes­sion on the bed­room wall, he must have decid­ed to save his own skin – maybe he remem­bered this state has the death penal­ty – by hid­ing the bod­ies and putting up new wall­pa­per. That note may have been his attempt at closure.”

“He lived here for years,” Sharon asked, amazed, “know­ing his daugh­ters’ bod­ies were stuffed in that pipe?”

“He did, though I don’t know how.”

Sharon turned to her hus­band. “What do we do now? Can we keep liv­ing here?”

“I think we have to.”

“What do you mean?”“This poor house has seen enough death. With you, me, and – soon – our boy, I think it’s time it saw some life.”

What’s scarier than short horror fiction?

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Con­tribut­ing Author // Author Web­page

Mike Mur­phy (he/him) has had over 150 audio plays pro­duced in the U.S. and over­seas. He’s won The Columbine Award and a dozen Moon­dance Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val awards in their TV pilot, audio play, short screen­play, and short sto­ry cat­e­gories. His prose work has appeared in sev­er­al mag­a­zines and antholo­gies. Mike is the writer of two short films, DARK CHOCOLATE and HOTLINE. In 2013, he won the inau­gur­al Mar­i­on Thauer Brown Audio Dra­ma Scriptwrit­ing Com­pe­ti­tion. In 2020, he came in sec­ond. For sev­er­al of the in-between years, he served as a judge. Mike keeps a blog at audioauthor.blogspot.com.

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