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Laura Lee Koenig

In the Walls

with gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe

Alley with woman lit by a window by Suze Robertson

That was nonsense locking up the basement storage room in my apartment building. A padlock on the outside of the door, so my key wouldn’t open it. How was I going to get my bike out? I needed to ride my bike—needed to. I was unemployed and I knew I needed exercise to avoid getting gloomy like—well gloomy like a dull, dark, silent gray afternoon in autumn. Layoffs this time of year are not unusual in my field, but they are hard, nonetheless. Too much time on my hands to ruminate.

The Superintendent said there is no lock on the door, but he would check further. As if.

Next day I hear a tick, tick, tick like a light knocking on the door—from the inside. And a faint smell of –what is it? Alcohol? Coming from behind padlocked door.

Is someone in there? No answer.

I hear you. Answer me!

No reply. I tell the super someone is locked in the storage room, and he just shrugs and says that is not possible. But yeah, he’ll check on it.

Next day, I see a thin red crack on the storage room entrance door, thin, but it wasn’t there the day before. More tick tick tick only a bit louder this time.

I grab the super and insist he go with me to see the door and cut the padlock off. Someone is in there.

Silence when we get there, and the door crack seems to be just a bit of red paint the super says has always been there.

Rod, he says, you gotta stop this crazy talk. There’s no one in there. And your rent is late. I’ll have to call the owners soon.

Give me a week, I say, I think I’ll be called back to work soon.

Super just shrugs and goes back upstairs.

What’s this? The padlock is gone from the door, but I am shaking too hard to go in the room alone. Not yet.

Third day I smell wine from the storage room, strong smell of booze—and I should know. Wine and the padlock are back, and the tick tick tick is louder now, a definite knocking on the door from the inside.

And the crack, the crazy red crack is thicker, longer, and now is up onto the middle of the ceiling. I bet no one else sees it.

Wait, the ticking has become a thump, thump, thump and I hear something rattling behind the door.

You okay, I ask. I’m Rod. I’m gonna get you help.

I figure the super is in on this somehow because he never sees anything. And since I owe rent, he’s not going to go out of his way to help me. I would call the police, but they usually ignore me, too. Maybe they are in on it as well, locking someone up like that. Someone is in that tiny room; I am sure of it.

Day 4, I hear it, I know what it is as I have watched enough movies during the long nights to know an SOS when I hear it: ▄ ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄ ▄

Dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot… Over and over again.

I am going in. I am going to break the padlock off the door and rescue that person entombed in that small room.

Only the padlock isn’t closed—it just looks like it is. Clever trick. I pull the lock off the door, and slowly open it.

It’s me, Rod, I whisper. I’m getting you out of here.

Only it’s me, Rod, I find, sitting on my bike with a paintbrush in my hand, a paintbrush dripping red paint. On the floor are wine bottles and a small device that looks like a telegraph machine I’d seen in the movies.

My heart has never beat so hard. If I am in the storage room, then who am I?

Iyou I mean, I mean I hold up a small mirror. I won’t look, I won’t look… this cannot be me doing all of this, can it? Me with the booze and lock and—a rattling of bells, small bells like the bells on a harlequin’s hat.

Mr. Poe? Why don’t you follow me, you/ I say. Your wall is waiting for you, over there. Here, bring something to drink. It’s time now, we don’t want the crack to get any bigger, do we? It’s the only way.

I notice I am wearing a dark suit and am much taller than I had been as I see my place, there in the walls.

Who are you, I ask, not sure I want to hear the answer.

You know, you say. You know who I am. I am Roderick Ush—

Don’t say it! I beg. I’ll go quietly. Roll the cask closer, please.

I’ll go quietly.

About the writer:
Laura Lee Koenig is a Chicago area writer, poet, teacher, and social services worker. She is amazed at life and a passionate proponent of literacy. Her work has been published in the UK and USA, online and in print.

Image: Alley with woman lit by a window by Suze Robertson (1855-1922). No medium specified. No size specified. By 1922. Public domain.

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