There was a crack in the wall about six inches long and tilted at a rough eighty degrees. It may have been only as deep as the paint. I would not have noticed it if not for the angle of the light. I happened to see it as I rolled over in bed to turn off the lamp. All in all, I paid three seconds of attention to the crack: one to notice it and two to realize that I had never noticed it before. Then, I turned off the light, rolled over, and went to sleep.
I forgot about the crack completely until four days later. Once again, I was preparing for sleep, sitting up on my elbow and reaching to turn off the lamp that stood on the nightstand. I could see, from the corner of my eye as I focused on the lamp switch, a black mark on the wall. Immediately, I remembered the crack and moved my gaze to its location. It was on the wall that lay parallel to the bed, about three feet from the corner of the room and five feet from the floor. The length had not noticeably changed, but it graduated into a fourth-of-an-inch gap at the center, and from there back down to nothing at the bottom. I climbed out of bed and took the two steps up to the wall. I bent slightly to bring my line of sight down to the same level as the crack. There was no denying that the crack had widened at the center, but I still could not see how deep it went. It was too narrow for the end of my finger to squeeze into. I resolved to keep a watch on the crack in case it was the result of a structural problem. If it changed much more, I would alert the landlord.
From then onward, I looked at the crack every night before I turned the lamp off, just to be sure that it was not getting any bigger. Of course, I had forgotten how gradually it had grown. It had taken four days to expand from a hairline crack to a quarter of an inch at its widest point. Naturally, the crack looked no different from one day to the next.
One night, I carried out what had become a thoughtless routine. I placed my hand on the lamp switch, looked at the crack, saw that it was no wider than it had been the night before, switched off the light, and rolled over to go to sleep.
But, something was wrong. I felt vaguely disquieted, the way one does when one steps into a familiar room where a single, often overlooked item has been displaced. At last, I realized that the room was too quiet. I turned onto my back with a groan, staring up through the dark at the motionless ceiling fan. Its droning hum had lulled me to sleep since my first night in the apartment nearly a year ago. I wondered how I had neglected to flip the switch the moment I stepped into the bedroom, as I did every night. But, I was tired and very comfortable and felt that, even without the whirring of the fan, I could drift off in no time.
I did not know how long I dozed, but I jerked awake as if I had been alerted by a loud noise. My heart pounded, my palms were damp, and every hair stood on end. The room was still as quiet as before, but I strained to listen. Perhaps whatever loud sound had awoken me would repeat itself. Someone knocking on the front door, a driver honking their horn outside, or a train sounding off its approach. For minutes, I breathed so shallowly as to be almost silent. I could hear nothing but my own heartbeat and the muffled environment outside. Then, I heard an unmistakable sound coming from my left, not far from the bed. Whispering.
My pulse quickened and the goosebumps reappeared like a million tiny pinpricks. I could swear that the muscles in my ears strained to aching. Although I listened close—half out of curiosity and half out of being frozen with fear—I could not make out the words, nor could I determine the sex of the whisperer.
I lay paralyzed for minutes that felt like hours until the whispering stopped. Then I lay there a while longer until I was somewhat certain that it would not begin again. Seizing a small moment of courage, I rolled over with my arm extended and slapped the switch at the base of the lamp, flooding the room with light. Besides the ceiling fan having been left off, all seemed to be in order. After I had calmed myself with the familiar surroundings, I turned and looked in the direction of the whispering, my eyes coming to rest in no other spot but upon the crack in the wall.
A hard lump rose in my throat, but I swallowed resolutely and climbed out of bed. I took the same two steps up to the wall and stared at the crack in shock. It had gotten bigger. It was now an inch wide in the center, and had gotten longer. I almost wondered how I had not noticed the change, but I knew that it had happened by minuscule increments over a period of more than two weeks, each day of which I had looked at it. The day-to-day growth of the crack had not been detectable. If I had checked only every three days or so, the change would have been obvious. I made a mental note to call the landlord first thing in the morning.
Just as I had made a half turn back toward the bed, I heard the whispering again. I spun back around and gazed at the crack, wide-eyed. I leaned toward it slightly. There was no doubt anymore. The whispers were coming from inside the crack.
For an instant, I was terrified. My overtired and stressed mind came up with all sorts of disturbing explanations. Then, I remembered that the wall separated my bedroom from the living room of the apartment next door. I sighed and even chuckled at myself, both relieved and embarrassed. I was hearing the neighbors talking, or probably their TV, or their radio. Regardless, with the mystery solved, I could finally get some sleep. I went into the kitchen for a dishcloth and returned to my room, stuffed most of the rag into the crack to muffle the sound, and turned toward the bed. I had one leg beneath the covers when I paused and put my foot back on the floor. I had one last task to fulfill. Returning to the closed bedroom door, I flipped the switch on the wall beside it. The ceiling fan came to life and hummed comfortingly. I smiled, climbed into bed, turned off the lamp, and rolled over, falling asleep within minutes.
My eyes opened to warm morning light that crept in at the edges of the curtains. I did not know what time it was, but it did not matter. It was Sunday morning. This was a bit of a setback, as I had not recalled the night before that the landlord would not be in the office that day. I hissed in a breath and my tired eyes shot open wide as I realized that I had neither recalled that the neighbors on the other side of the wall had moved out at the end of last month. A chill crawled up my spine as I was overcome with the sense that I was being watched. However, I was not as scared as I had been the night before, lying there in the dark with the added adrenaline rush of waking suddenly with a hypnic jerk. I sat up and looked over at the wall. I saw the crack. I saw it because the dishcloth I had stuffed into it was on the floor below. My brow furrowed in confusion. The dishcloth had fit snuggly in the crack the night before and I could think of no logical reason for it to have fallen out. If anything, it should have fallen into the wall as the majority of it had been inside the crack.
With my mind well rested, I decided there had to be a logical explanation, even if I could not think of what it was. I stretched and got out of bed, walked up to the wall and bent to retrieve the dishcloth. As I rose, I glanced into the crack.
An eye inside the crack looked back at me.
I screamed and jumped back, meeting the bed and crawling backward across it, falling off the other side to the floor, staggering to my feet and pressing my back against the opposite wall. I panted and my heart pounded fast and hard, my pulse throbbing painfully in my eardrums. From the distance I could no longer see the eye, but I was certain it had been there. It was burned into my brain. It was a dark, sickly yellow, severely bloodshot around the edges, with an X-shaped pupil that tapered at the ends and black, leathery lids stretched open entirely too far. It was neither human nor animal. It belonged to something that should not be.
I do not know how long I stood with my back to the wall, staring at the sinister crack. I do not even know what I was waiting for or what I expected to happen. But, at some point, I mustered enough courage to run out of the bedroom and slam the door behind me. I had to cover up the crack somehow. I had nothing to patch it with, but I could not stand to be in the apartment with it uncovered. I rushed to the kitchen and rummaged through a cabinet for my bag of tools and simple repair supplies. The best I found inside was a roll of duct tape. I decided it would have to do the job for the moment, until I could properly patch the crack. I preemptively tore off a dozen strips, unwilling to spend more time in front of the horrible opening than was necessary, and returned to the bedroom with lengths of tape hanging from my arm by the ends, ready for use. I took one between my fingers and rushed toward the wall with it, slapping it across the widest part of the crack. I piled the strips on rapidly, haphazardly, teeth clenched tight, waiting for something awful to happen. But, soon, I took a step back and saw the crack completely covered by layers of strong duct tape. I collapsed on the bed with a deep sigh, sitting with my elbows on my knees. I had done it. The crack was, at the least, covered. I would not hear the whispers or see the eye again.
After adding a few more layers of tape in a more organized, crisscrossed pattern and assuring that it was secure, I ventured out to the 24-hour superstore for some patching materials. The idea of uncovering the crack disturbed me, but I knew there was no other way. I simply reminded myself that, after this task, it would be gone. I would be able to sleep peacefully again. The thought of it gave me renewed confidence and I entered the bedroom feeling brave and ready to face the crack.
I turned as I stepped through the bedroom door and the bag of supplies, as well as my tool bag, my jaw, and my stomach, dropped. Not only had the thick layer of duct tape been shredded through from the center, but the hole was bigger than the crack had been. I heard the whispering as well, louder than it had been the night before, but still sexless and unintelligible.
Slowly, I stepped up to the tattered duct tape patch. I braced myself to see the terrible eye, but it was not there. There was only the whispering. I could not understand the words because they were not spoken in a language I knew. They did not even seem to be spoken in the same language from one phrase to the next. At one moment, I was able to discern Spanish, but I still did not understand what was said. I did not care. I had to close the crack. I patched it faster than any master carpenter, slinging plaster and letting it fall to the floor an embed itself in the carpet fibers. It was sloppily done, the plaster was piled on thick, and it bulged from the wall irregularly, but the crack was covered. I did not even plan to sand it or paint over it and, in fact, I did not stay for a second to admire my messy work. I left everything on the floor and hurried out of the bedroom, slamming the door.
For the rest of the day, any opportunity for distraction that presented itself, I took. I cleaned every inch of the apartment, washed and dried and put away every dish, glass, and piece of silverware, vacuumed every carpeted area—aside from the bedroom—and mopped every tile floor, stared at the shapes of words in a book and turned the pages without grasping the meaning of a single line, gazed blankly at characters and events furthering some unknown plot on the television screen. Yet, all the while, the crack in the wall scratched at the back of my mind. As the day grew dark, it became more and more difficult to ignore. Just as I was approaching the bedroom to get some much needed rest before I had to go to work in the morning, it made itself apparent to me that the scratching was not in my mind. I pressed my ear to the door. I could hear it inside the room, hard nails clawing from behind the wall. Incredulous, I threw open the door and bolted inside. The frantic scratching came, of course, from behind the hurried but hardened plaster patch. I pounded on the wall desperately with my fists, screaming, “Stop! Stop it! Leave me alone!”
To my utter shock and surprise, the scratching halted abruptly. It did not return, nor did the whispering. Even with my ear against the wall, there was not a sound. I did not even sense a presence. Had it retreated? I did not know, and I did not stay and wait for it to come back. I grabbed a pillow and the blanket from the bed and left, once more closing the door behind me.
I slept on the sofa fitfully. My head was pounding when I fully awoke this morning. But, again, it was not my head. It was the wall in the bedroom, and it sounded as if someone was running up against it from the other side, trying to break through with their shoulder. There was a loud crack of splintering drywall and plaster.
And then, silence.
I lay on the sofa with my eyes squeezed shut, sweating under the warm, heavy blanket, childishly unwilling to leave its safety. I did not know what else to do. I was frozen in terror, waiting for whatever eldritch horror that lurked behind the crack in the wall to finally burst through the barrier between its dimension and ours, to emerge and tear my mind and body and existence apart, atom by atom. But, there was only silence. Awful silence. The silence of a vicious predator in the moments just before it attacks its prey. I was the prey, and I lay under the sweltering heat of the blanket with my eyes closed like a rabbit that thinks that it cannot be seen if it remains absolutely motionless.
The silence continued. No pounding, no scratching, no whispering. I gathered the courage to open one eye. I saw only my living room. The morning was bright and sunny, and the golden light from the window fell directly onto the blanket. The clock read 10:15. I was over an hour late for work, but I only noticed the fact in passing. I wondered for a moment how long I had been lying there, but more importantly, I wondered how long the thing from the crack had been quiet. I still heard nothing. I lay until the sun passed off from the blanket and the clock read 11:27. There was never a sound from the bedroom.
Slowly, I sat up and pushed the blanket to the floor. My clothes clung to my body, drenched in sweat that turned cold as it met the air. I stepped carefully and soundlessly toward the bedroom door, still hearing nothing. I pressed my ear to the wood. Nothing except my own rapid heartbeat and staggered breathing. The doorknob squeaked as I turned it. The bedroom was exactly how I had left it, with the patching supplies and tool bag on the floor. The carpet beneath the crack was littered with dust, flakes, and crumbled chunks of plaster. The crack was now six inches wide in the center, and as long as my forearm from end to end.
It whispered again. I understood the words for the first time. It must have learned what language I spoke when I had shouted at it. In English, it hissed, “Let us out.”
I do not know what possessed me then. Fear, desperation, frustration, or the creeping feeling of being driven toward the brink of insanity. Perhaps all of these things. I bolted from the room and stopped dead in the middle of the living room, stared wildly around at the furniture, and ran again to the cheap, pressed wood DVD organizer. I tilted it forward with a violent jerk, spilling the contents across the floor, then hoisted it up and threw it back down. The joints came apart easily and I stomped on it, separating it completely into its component parts. I gathered the planks and ran back to the bedroom. They clattered to the floor and I tore through my tool bag. Hammer. A handful of long nails. Yes, I knew the particle board would not hold the beast in the crack for long, but I had to close it. I could not stand to have that hellish portal open for a minute longer. I had to close it. I had to. With shaking hands, I lifted the first board to the top of the opening, held it to the wall with the heel of my hand while I held a nail in place over the top right corner. I swung the hammer hard and fast, putting the nail through in three strokes. I let go and the plank hung from the wall by its corner. I took up another nail and moved the board back up to a horizontal position, held the nail over the center, and swung. I missed and the hammer came down with all the power I had put behind it and crushed the end of my thumb. Screaming and cursing, I dropped the tools and staggered back against the bed. I had closed my fingers around my thumb and blood was dripping from my fist. It soon turned numb from the trauma and I slowly opened my hand. My thumbnail was split vertically down the center and the end of my thumb was too narrow. The blood trickled freely and ran down my arm, dripped from my elbow.
A noise came from the crack. A deep, raspy moan of fear. I looked and saw the eye. It did not see me. Its gaze was fixed upward, at a splatter of blood on the wall, just above the crack. The board had swung back down to hang by its single nail, and I and the eye watched a drop of the blood slowly descend the wall. It was caught and absorbed by the thin, hairline start of the crack, and the crack gave a monstrous roar of pain as the small fissure healed and disappeared.
I looked at my cupped hand, at the puddle of blood forming in my palm, and returned to my feet. The eye somehow widened its lids even more and I heard the whispers again. There were more than one, and it occurred to me why the voice had sounded sexless before. It had always been many voices, all whispering in unison. Now they whispered all at once, out of sync and in different tongues, “Non,” “Nein,” “Nej,” “Nage.” I dipped my finger in the blood and let it drip onto where the opening of the crack began. I heard the agonized roar again, the roar of a thousand voices crying out in simultaneous agony. Where the blood was absorbed, the crack was, almost imperceptibly, diminished.
I now know what I have to do. I know how to close it. I do not know how much it will take, but I have to do it. I have to. I have to close the crack in the wall.