If Walls Could Talk
by Lisa Post
Part 1: Sometimes, You Can’t Get a Foot from Shore
The Hired Help
You run your hand along the wall. The wood is rough. If it weren’t for your leather gloves, splinters would have claimed the palm of your hand as their own. The wood is old, and the boards have retracted so far that you could throw a baseball between them. The wood smells musty. The elements have had their own way with the barn for decades. There was no one to maintain the old building, and prevent the entrance of the wind, rain, snow, and hail. They came and went as they pleased.
The walls are slanted. The once-straight lines of the barn are slanted, leaning slowly away from its existence into oblivion. The walls are unstable. They groan and creek and slightly sway, growing older ungracefully. When you first laid eyes on the barn, you were driving by to pick up paint for your own barn. You commented to your wife how it looked to be about ready to fall in.
Not two days later the call came. The owner said they had a building, an old barn, ready to fall in on Route 6. Did you know it? You roll your eyes and say “Yeah, I know which one.” But times are tight, and the money is sorely needed for your own farm, so you take the job. On your first day you expect long hours of solitude, if not quiet. The creaking of boards as the wind teased around them create a constant flow of wooden complaints. And as you work, you realize you are not alone.
Voices whisper the secrets from the past. Unwillingly you hear the words, but you wish you hadn’t. Board after board is carefully removed and your hands fall on the remnants of old newspapers, trash, and odd artifacts. The artifacts have been keeping secrets for decades, and are revealing them because they are too tired to hide any more.
When a log rolls, it usually gets the leg. That is the general belief, and in Justin’s case, it certainly proved to be true. You see, I met Justin after just such an accident. I heard him tell the story over and over again to friends, family, acquaintances. He would tell it in a growl, as if the whole world had somethin’ against him. I think it was just plain ol’ bad luck. To hear him tell it, you would think there was some sort of cosmic personal vendetta against him. But that’s Justin.
Ever since the accident, it seems as if he just can’t catch a break. You see, he was out felling trees. His family has lived on the same little farm in the Appalachian Mountains for generations. None of them had even been outside of Pennsylvania. Of course the land in that area is rolling, hardly a flat area to work anywhere. That was no matter. Anyone from that neck of the woods was used to it. I’m guessin’ if they were given a piece of flat land they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Story goes that Justin was just out felling some trees when one fell wrong, rolled, and nabbed his leg. Rumor has it that his scream was heard all the way down to the next farm. He was by himself, so he had to drag himself down the trail. He was finally met by a neighbor who happened to be tapping for sap that day. The nearest hospital was almost an hour away, and by the time Justin got there, he was nearly unconscious. Justin says he don’t remember nothin’ until he was waking up from the operation.
“Leg is gone. Sorry, son,” a doctor, whose name Justin never could remember after, informed him bluntly.
Soon after that I met Justin. He was still in the hospital. We hit it off right away. I was assigned to him, and went home with him. We got along fine at first, though from time to time he would do the strangest thing. He would be saying something like: “At least my other leg is fine, knock on wood,” and then would hit me three times. He always referred to me as “Woody.”
For a while I know Justin was in pain, and he was popping pills faster than he could get refills. At first that was no problem. In fact, the doctor seemed to take a great deal of pity on him, as Justin learned to live life minus a leg. But it seemed to me the more Justin improved and used me to help him, the less he did around the farm. Or the less he wanted to do.
The grass was uncut; the crops were not tended to. The tractors were left strewn by the field, where he had left them on that day he decided to cut wood instead of cultivate the corn. I heard him grumbling about bills that were coming in, but all he did was throw them in the woodstove. And then he’d pop a pill. He used to only take about four a day, then it was five. After several weeks it was six. I lost count after that. He was never really a good-looking man, but he was fit. Until he lost his leg, that is. After a while, after taking dozens and dozens of those pills, he started to lose his hair. I saw him one day, while he was looking in the mirror in the bathroom, with just one light swipe of his hand, take out a clump of hair. Eventually, what didn’t fall out turned a dirty gray color.
His face was once tanned, and he even sported dimples in his cheeks. That was probably his one redeeming quality. Over time, when his hair was falling out, I noticed that when he leaned on me, it was much easier to bear his weight. One night, when he took me off and threw me in the corner of his bedroom, I took a good look at him. He was thin. Too thin. And his cheeks were so sallow that the dimples disappeared. His skin had a strange, yellowish color to it, and his eyes were glazed, bloodshot, and looked a little wild. I saw him pick up his pill bottle and peer into it. It must have been empty because he threw it towards another corner, and cursed.
The next day he was shaking and sweating something terrible. When he went to the doctor he said that he was in so much pain, and he couldn’t stop the shakes. The doctor felt his forehead.
“You feel feverish. Let me look at the leg.”
Justin let him, but let out a terrible howl when the doc removed me and touched the stump just below Justin’s knee. The doc eyed Justin like he didn’t believe any of it. However, he refilled Justin’s pills and ordered him to only 3 a day, and to come back if the pain persisted the next day. I don’t know what moved the doc to give those pills to Justin. It might have been something I’ve heard of called the Hippocratic Oath. Supposedly the doctors are to do “no harm”, but if you ask me, those pills did more harm than any physical pain could have caused.
One day the doctor told him no more pills, and Justin pitched a fit. He actually picked me up and swung me right at the doctor. The look on the doc’s face was priceless.
It’s too bad things didn’t end there.
Part 2: Things Could Always Be Worse
The Hired Help
You pull boards carefully, trying not to cause a cave-in of any sort. You know by looking around that this structure is not long for this world. You try and salvage some of the
wood to resell for profit, but there isn’t much left that is worth messing with. Even so, you are able to set aside some planks, picturing them sanded down and stained. You plan to use them in the ceiling of your new hunting cabin. You start a pile for usable wood and a pile for burning. At the very least perhaps the old barn’s wood could provide heat, if it could no longer provide shelter. As you remove a board, something falls out and nearly hits you in the head. You hesitate, then pick it up. It is thin, rectangular, metallic, and light. Immediately it spills forth its story.
I met Woody and Justin after they had been friends for a while. Justin was very dependent on Woody. Woody seemed stable enough, and dependable. But I have to admit, that after all that has happened, I wonder how Woody managed to hold up under all the stress. He is just so patient.
I first met Justin way back… let’s see, must’ve been 1902 or so, about the time he bought his first vehicle. I have no idea where he got the money from. His farm was unworked, and therefore unprofitable. The house was nearly falling in on itself. It was hard to tell from my vantage point, but the roof had a lot of holes. I almost always faced out towards the road, but even from that view I could see the yard was unkempt, and the part of the pasture I could see looked like Justin’s tousled hair. He was a piece of work, let me tell you. He was always complaining about pain. Oh how he would swear! One time we went to a doctor’s office all the way in the next town, and he came out sayin’ words that should never be spoken in public. I remember he got in the car, and said:
“Just you wait and see. I’ll get them pills. Yes, sir, I will, knock on wood.” Then he hit Woody three times. After that, Justin hit the gas pedal and I hung onto the back bumper for dear life.
Well, this went on for a while. Every so often Justin would get in the car, and take off for some town, meet with a doctor, complain about his pain, and ask for some pills. Sometimes the answer was yes, and sometimes it was a “no.” When it was a yes, he would be smiling, and we’d drive off pleasantly. Sometimes he would stop at a pond on the way home to picnic or drink from a bottle that he always kept nearby. When he couldn’t get the pills, he would get in the car, slam the door, and step on the gas. Off we would go… ZOOM!…. so fast that I nearly fell and hit the dusty road.
One day, when his supply of pills had run out again, he came out of the old farmhouse with Woody, stomping and swearing his way to the car. As he passed behind the car I couldn’t help but see an old revolver sticking out his pocket. I’ve never seen him carry that in the car before, though I had caught a glimpse of him taking it past where I sat, out into the woodsy area behind the barn. I would then hear him firing it off for a while. Target practicing, I imagine. But why? Sure, Justin didn’t think that revolver would do any good hunting. How he got that thing, I’ll let Smith tell you.
But this time, instead of taking the gun out to the woods, he got right in the car, and was off like a bullet. As he spun the tires, I watched the barn grow smaller and smaller. I couldn’t help but admire the workmanship that had gone into the barn generations before: solid foundation, straight roof, sturdy walls. Everything about it made me imagine a thriving farm. But it was lie. Justin may have run a tight ship before, but from what I can see, since the accident that took his leg, he has done nothing but pop pills and drive around in his car with me. He called the car Flash. I guess that would work for me too.
PART 3: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The Hired Help
Knowledge can be a heavy responsibility. You realize as you learn more about the barn and its history that nothing is as it seems. This small, Pennsylvania farm used to once be a picture of hard work and prosperity. Right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Now the house is gone, long since used as a site for practice fires for the local volunteers. All the buildings are gone: chicken coop, garage, storage shed. All except the barn.
The barn stands gloomily, leaned over like a sullen teenager who doesn’t want to engage in any civil form of communication. You place your hand on the door jam, long since rotted and half fallen away. You wonder for the hundredth time why the recent high winds haven’t finished off what time had started. You think that if you can take a big enough breath, you could blow this barn down, and be done with it.
But no. There it stubbornly stands, wanting to give up its secrets before giving up the ghost. You cautiously step into the building. The floors angle inward to each other, like an elephant had sat down in the middle of the flooring and crunched it inward. Your foot slides a little, and you reach for the boards leaning off the wall. Your weight pulls them the rest of the way off, and you see a large knife sheath has been freed from its multi-decade prison.
I met Justin, Woody, and Flash a long time ago. I first met Tom’s family back in 1880. I don’t remember anything before that. I have been in Tom’s family though ever since I can remember.
My owner was a friend of Justin’s. They grew up together, and their families had been friends for generations. Justin came to see my owner, Tom E. one day. That was actually his name: Tom E. His mother had a funny sense of humor and liked to play with words and sounds. Tom’s pa wanted to name him Tommy, but his mama signed the birth certificate “Tom E.” People always asked her what the “E.” stood for, thinking it was an initial for Edward or Edgar or Eugene. She would just laugh and say: “It’s just E. Tom E. Get it?” Her humor was not shared by the neighbors I guess, since no one ever laughed with her. In fact, no one called him Tom E. except his mama and Justin.
One day Justin came over to Tom’s farm. Tom’s wife and children weren’t home. She had taken them to town for the day for some shopping.
“How’s the leg, Justin?” Tom asked as they sat down at the kitchen table. “Want somethin’ to drink?”
“Hurts like a son of a gun,” Justin grumbled. “Whatchya got for thirst these days?”
“The usual, if you want.”
Justin nodded. Tom E. went to the cupboard above the icebox and pulled out a bottle with a homemade label on it. He held it up in the air, raising an eye at Justin. Justin nodded, and Tom E. pulled a glass from dish drainer. After Tom poured the home brewed moonshine, he sat at the table with Justin. They small-talked for a few minutes, like old friends do, and then Justin got right down to business.
“Look Tom E., I need a gun,” Justin said, after the moonshine had loosened the abundance of his heart to be spoken from his mouth.
“Whatchya need a piece for?”
“I just do. Do you know of anyone that can set me up?”
“Mebbe. It’ll take money,” Tom replied.
“I got some. Sold off a tractor to the Jenkins’. Gave me a fair price.”
Then Tom E. got up and pulled his great-granddaddy’s revolver out of a drawer in the kitchen and slid it across the table. “There ya go.”
Justin eyed Tom E. then the gun. “Why would you sell off the family’s revolver?”
“I need the money,” was all Tom would say.
Justin took out a wad of cash from his overall pocket, and slid it over to Tom E. Of course, I didn’t know the whole story, but Woody filled me in on what I missed before Tom E. took me out of my drawer. I asked Woody how Justin got the money he gave to Tom E.
One day Justin went to town to get more pills. At first the doctor wouldn’t even see him, but Justin gave the nurse who met him at the door such a hard time that the Doc finally came out of his office. He told Justin to calm down, and get in his office, and to leave Nurse Kathleen alone, for crying out loud. Justin pleaded for more pills.
“My leg hurts like hell, Doc!” he complained.
“No, Justin. I’m not giving you any more pain pills.”
The doctor was none too nice about it. Called him an “addict” and “derelict” and told him to “get the hell out before I call the cops.” Justin left, cussing up a storm. When he slammed the door he cracked the glass in the little window. Then Justin got into the car, and we zipped off, Flash jiggling from the breeze and bumps in the road.
Justin went to a small store and took off his watch. If anyone would have told that what I saw ever happened, I never would have believed them. That watch had been in Justin’s family for as long as he could remember.
“How much for this?” Justin growled at Mr. McKinley, who stood behind the counter.
“Justin, you don’t wanna be selling me your watch,” Mr. McKinley said.
“Who are you to say? Do you want it or not?”
Mr. McKinley sighed like he was tired, and old, then nodded his head. They dickered about numbers and finally settled on fifty dollars. Justin didn’t look none too happy, and neither did Mr. McKinley. Justin stormed out of the little shop, and didn’t even once look at the “No Refunds” sign. I tell you, you could have knocked on me until I turned into a mere stub, and I never would have guessed that Justin would sell his watch. And for what? A gun? No offense Smith. It’s just so unbelievable. Of course, had I known what he was about to do with it, I would have jumped off his leg, or made him trip up. Maybe he would have knocked some sense into his head. Apparently, his leg isn’t the only wooden part of his body. No sir.
Part 4: Rock Bottom
The Hired Help
You look at the barn with some satisfaction. Progress is slow because you have to work carefully so that the whole building doesn’t fall down on you. It is like a giant-sized Jenga game. Over a month has passed since you first started the job. So far you’ve found some usable wood, and a lot of burnable wood. You’ve also found a lot of antique tools and equipment, their uses long since abandoned.
The wind is howling today, and you momentarily gaze about at the structure, wondering if today will be the day that it comes down on top of you. However, though there is a cacophony of creaking, the main beams seem to be holding firm. The barn has stubbornly refused to die for over 50 years. Unlikely that it will today, you decide. Still, you promise yourself to be done as quickly as you can, and that you’ll play it safe.
This decision comes back to mock you when you reach around a board to rip it off the wall, and draw back your arm in pain. A rusty nail has bitten into you like a hidden serpent. You hope your tetanus shot is up to date, and, avoiding the nail, forcefully tear the plank off the wall.
As you inspect the area behind the removed plank, you notice a piece of leather on the floor. Carefully, you pick it up, watching for anything sharp. Especially once you realize that what you are holding is a sheath. A large one, for a hunting knife, you guess. You kick the debris around with your foot, but you don’t find a knife anywhere near the sheath.
My life hasn’t really been all that exciting, compared to Woody’s or Flash’s. The life of a mountain farmer is simple. There is a lot of hard work to do, and not a lot of time for anything else. I have to admit that when Justin sold his watch to buy me, I thought that maybe my life was about to become more interesting. I was right, but only briefly.
Justin was holding me one day in his hands. He was sitting in a chair in his kitchen. His pill bottle was empty, on the table, seeming to mock him. Justin was muttering incoherently and trembling, and sweating like a pig. At one point he had me pointed at his face, and I feared that his trembling hands would set me off, and that would be the end of Justin. No such tragedy happened, and soon I was pointing away from Justin, mostly towards the floor.
He kept rocking back and forth, talking to himself. I couldn’t make out most of what he was saying, though I did make out “pills” and “doctor” and some cuss words that should never be repeated in public. Justin suddenly stood up and paced around the kitchen, kicking chairs out of the way. At one point he banged on the table and hollered. It wasn’t a word he hollered, more like a growl. But something in that growl sounded desperate, and I could see in Justin’s eyes that he was beyond reasoning.
He shouted something unintelligible, and took me to Flash. In a second he was out of the driveway, and before I knew it, we were at a house on the outskirts of town. It was getting dark. He jumped out of the car, but hid me in his back pocket, and pulled his old, dirty t-shirt down over me. I heard him clomp up the porch steps, and knock on a door.
“Open up! I know you’re in there!” Justin yelled.
I heard the door hinges squeak. “Yes?” a female voice answered.
“I need the doc. NOW!” The footsteps of the female disappeared. Soon I heard heavier steps approach.
“Justin, what can I do for you this evening?” I heard the doc ask, a false sense of security lightly masking the suspicion in his voice.
“I’m in terrible pain doc….” Justin started.
“Justin, I don’t have anything here. Go home. Eat a good meal. Sleep. Then come see me in the office tomorrow,” the doctor’s voice was conciliatory, carefully modulated to promote calmness. I suddenly felt Justin’s hand on me, and the next thing I knew I was looking at the doctor’s startled face.
“How about we go now, doc?” Justin snarled.
What could the doctor do? His wife and children were inside the house. I understand why he had to do what he did. At this point Justin seemed to have set a series events rolling that were now inevitable. If only Justin had stayed at home! If only the Doctor’s wife hadn’t opened the door! But I’m getting ahead of myself. The doc got into Flash, and Justin soon had us all at the clinic, which was closed up and dark. As soon as we got in, and the doctor turned on a light, Justin had me in his face again.
“You know what I want. Just get it, and then I’ll leave,” Just snapped.
The doctor seemed hesitant to move. “Justin, I have to believe that by denying you your request, I’m actually helping you. Those pills are no longer helping you. Can’t you see that? Your farm is neglected, and you look sick. I can help you, but you have to trust me.”
“Trust you?” Bellowed Justin. “How can I trust when you are the one who gave me the pills in the first place!”
“Justin, try to understand. When I first gave them to you, you truly needed them. But you got addicted to them. Your body and mind thinks it is dependent on them. You can live without the pills, Justin.”
I knew the doctor was wasting his breath.
“I can’t live without them. I can’t! And you won’t either!” I felt Justin’s finger squeeze on me and I wanted to withhold my power, but I had no choice. My firing pin clicked.
And nothing happened.
The doctor looked momentarily surprised, then smacked the gun out of Justin’s hand, who was just as surprised and seemed to have no alternate plan. The doctor punched Justin, and I got kicked and skidded into a corner. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard a scuffle. Woody can tell you what happened next.
Oh how I wanted to knock Justin in the head, but couldn’t. Anyway, after Smith got kicked out of the way, the doctor rolled Justin onto the floor, and tried to pin him. What he planned on doing after that I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. Justin, strengthened by fury it seemed, practically threw the doctor off of him and pulled a knife out of a sheath. It had been concealed in the back of his pants.
“What’s it gonna be doc? Huh? You gonna die tonight for the sake of them pills?”
Justin was sneering, his nose bleeding, one eye swollen shut, and he seemed to depend on me more than usual. I wanted more than anything to fall right out from under him, to break in two, anything to make him fall and give the doctor the advantage. But that was beyond my capabilities. It wasn’t beyond the doctor’s capabilities though, as I soon found out.
With his right leg, he swiped me right out from under Justin, who went down with an anguished thud. My straps had come loose in the struggle, and when the doctor kicked me out from under Justin, I went spinning off into the opposite corner from Smith. I heard a scuffle and someone cried out in pain, which ended in a scream of fury and agony. After few minutes of nothing but heavy breathing and what sounded like a body being dragged, someone picked me up. I was facing the other way, so I never saw who it was. The door to the office slammed shut, then opened again a moment later.
I was scooped off the floor and hidden inside someone’s coat. I couldn’t say who had picked me up as it was too dark to see anything. Again, I heard the office door slam shut, and I could tell we were outside. We went to what I thought was the back of the car because I heard Flash say, “What is going on here?” but I could offer no explanation. I heard Smith say something back, but couldn’t make it out. Whoever picked me up must have shoved Smith into his back pocket, because whatever he had to say was muffled into oblivion. Next thing I knew I was thrown into darkness. That was the last thing I saw.
PART 5: End Game
The creaking of the barn makes you nervous and jumpy, but you work on anyway. It isn’t just the threat of the barn falling in, but it is also the ghosts of the past that seem to be clawing their way to you every time you remove a board or a beam. You wonder constantly about the strange items you’ve collected: A 1902 license plate, a knife sheath, and an artificial leg. There is also a myriad of old newspapers. You assume rightly that they were put in the walls for insulation. But the license plate? The knife sheath? You especially wonder about the artificial leg.
You work faster each day, hoping to finish the job soon. The barn isn’t getting any younger. Or sturdier, for that matter. Every day the decay seems to worsen exponentially. You still hear whispers, warnings, even stories being told. The whispers attract your attention, but don’t enlighten you because it is like they are in some dead language that you cannot understand.
More creaking, more boards bending precariously as you walk on them, more destruction as you take the down the building. Board by board, shingle by shingle, beam by beam you work to uncover whatever secrets the barn holds tight within its arthritic grasp.
You wonder if you made a mistake in not shoring up the walls more before starting, but your impatience drove you to start without hesitation. The wind causes creeks and shift, but you don’t stop. You can hear murmurs of the past, muffled but insistent. So, with no alternative, you continue. Then another thought hits you.
Where is the knife?
You examine the sheath again. It is large, and probably housed an 8-inch knife. So, where was it? People don’t usually walk around with an unsheathed 8-inch knife. Who would have such a knife? A hunter of some sort no doubt. But why hide it inside the warped and gaping walls of the barn?
The thought niggles at your mind, so you stop tearing down the ancient boards, and start a search for the knife. You know it is foolish because the knife could be anywhere… or nowhere. You search through debris, and in an old tool box. You shuffle old, decrepit tools around, and look under rotted, stacked lumber. In desperation you start to rip wall boarding off randomly, starting with the loosest boards possible. Then you see it: the knife.
Embedded in the skull of a long dead skeleton with a gun in its right hand.
The skeleton has one leg.
About the Author
Lisa Post grew up in New England and currently lives in north-central Pennsylvania where the cows outnumber people 20 to 1. She has seven children and has been married to her husband for 28 years, and is the favorite slave of two cats. She has a BA in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University and is currently working through the MFA program. Lisa loves to take odd realities and create paranormal tales. She is inspired by nature, people, and dreams influenced by questionable food found in the back of the fridge.
•The First and Final Thing: Simon Pratt was supposed to have died six months ago. Not only isn’t he dead, but he’s perfectly healthy despite having given away all his wealth and living off the land in the mountains of Idaho. Now what? •The Black and Yellow: He’s waging a one man war against a beast of an enemy in his own backyard; will he defeat the wasps or will they kill him? •The Cat Lived: The cat was dying, along with his marriage. Which would go first? •Ceremonial: The law says that at age 50 male members must undergo the rite of Ceremonial, a grand old party before you’re put to sleep. Can the law be broken or changed? •The Unfinished Man: Who cleans up after the superheroes? Fred does. And this is his story. •Just a Little Death: Returning to his boarding school, now as a housemaster, David must come to terms with a tragedy from his past, now affecting one of his new students. •On Deck: He’s watched her every day. At a skate park where she watches her sons, he sits and enjoys her life, almost making contact but too fearful to do so. •The Hollow Sky: Robert Yamato lives in Japanshu, a self-contained world where people live in body-sized cubicles, where work is the gold standard, and where love and sex is forbidden without approval. The only problem is that he has fallen in love. •After the Leaves: Post-nuclear war, a family struggles to cope with the aftermath. •The People Apples: When you die your soul goes into the apple tree in the cemetery, at least that’s what the groundsman tells you. •A Limited Point of View: Grandy is only two levels from the top, in a society where your business level dictates your status. The only problem is, while the current company president is out to die, the man who will succeed him is young and fit and Grandy will have no chance to become president. Unless….
•A Different Kind of Peace: She’s waited out her father’s illness, dreaming of being able to leave and join her friends. What will it take? •All Things Are Fine: Hadley Verona’s unfortunate life results in a hospital stay on his birthday where he must face life and death and decide what will make him happy. •One Moment in the Sun: Three young friends in the 1980s on the Venice Boardwalk, California, facing a weekend and coming across young Arnold Schwarzenegger. A period piece and reflecting on their lives and how they change over the next thirty years. •The I, Isozooid: A free-thought story of one man’s discovery that his life had been a lie, and how it has affected him. •Fire on a Different Mountain: The baby was dead, yet she had to carry it to term. The pain inflicted upon them both may well tear apart their relationship. But will it?
“Engaging, happy, sad, interesting, wild . . . it made me want more!” ~ Jill Herredia
“A master of short stories!” ~Dusty Hitchcock
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