Noises in the Walls
It started when the world stopped. The scratching. At first it was small & insignificant. Just a light tapping behind my bed, nothing to worry about really. I was usually busy doing something else, so I could barely notice it then. Sometimes it kept me up at night but I would usually chalk that up to my brain being too active, which wasn't (& still isn't) uncommon - just the brain imagining it is hearing noises when there is nothing keeping it busy. But it started getting louder eventually.
The lockdown had been in effect for about a month, though it hadn't felt like it; time felt warped & strange then. It didn't take long for my life to flip itself upside down. All routine had gone & I was nothing but a sleepless, lifeless husk of a person. I barely left my room, & while in there I did nothing but spend time inside my own head, pondering endlessly about the most trivial of matters. Compulsions had developed & interests grew into obsessions & comfort took the form of mindless tics - eyes flickering around my room, looking for a haven in the parallel lines & even spacing of my room. Eyes blinking obsessively, as if to block out something deadly. It was perfectly nonsensical, which seemed fitting for the world outside.
It was becoming noticeable during my everyday activities by this point. I would be reading, & there it was. I would be watching something, & there it was. Ignoring it seemed like the right thing to do for some reason. I managed to somehow drown it out most of the time, but it was the worst at night. Lying there, in unbearable heat, in the dark. & there it was. An incessant scratching, itching, gnawing at my thoughts. I barely slept because of it. It was all you could focus on when lying there in the pitch black. It permeated throughout my entire room, it was inescapable. Whatever it was it scratched & scratched & clawed at my wall like its life depended on it. Time felt totally null & void at this point. I was usually going to sleep at 4am, waking at 4pm. The scratching kept me up; I grew scared of hearing it, I would drown it out with music for as long as I could but the tiredness crept in, & so did the dreams.
I was plagued with nightmares, usually following similar themes. Most of the time I was deep in the woods, although which woods I couldn't tell you. There were trees all around, stretching endlessly into the distance. There seemed to be no hills or drops. I would try to run, but it never seemed to end. My breath would grow thin & wearied & I would be forced to stop, only to realise I had ended up right where I started, marked by a series of carvings in a particular tree. It seemed to be a carving of a tree, with the head of the tree pointed into 5 points, with symmetrical curves in place of the leaves. The roots twisted to the sides, pointing upwards & ending there. Something about it held me in place, even as I felt the chill of mud seep up my legs as I sunk into the ground. The mud would reach my head & fill my mouth & my nose, & the last thing I could see is the visage of a woman, naked & caked in mud, whose body seemed to twist & contort in ways that were both awful & sickening yet hauntingly beautiful. Her eyes would open & stare straight into mine, two moons amidst the muddy night sky & I would feel the most doom-filled, dreaded, stomach-turning panic I've ever felt. I would then wake up panicked, sweating, with the scratching reverberating through my ears, like a deafening alarm. Something about the nightmares felt familiar, although I couldn't say why. It felt like some kind of primordial familiarity, like something naturally just calming, but terrifying all the same; almost comforting but something that nevertheless left me breathless & somewhat scared of the woods.
I started getting headaches that never went away & I found that I could never think, my mind was always on the scratching. It occupied my thoughts all the time. It didn't even allow me to think, it filled my head & that was all it did. It was all I could focus on, for weeks, months even. Growing in volume until it felt like it was coming from inside my own head, eating away at my brain from the inside. Sometimes, when lying there wide awake at night, just listening to it, I could swear I could hear voices beneath the noise of the scratching. A hushed conversation between a man & woman. I could never make out the words, but I always felt as if it was malevolent, although I had no idea why I felt this way about it. The scratching had been going on for so long that it had almost become soothing. It was almost as if beneath the scratching & the itching was an entrancing melody, calling out to me. I suppose it had become a part of my normality now - it had become some kind of tranquility for me. But still the dreams persisted, & the sleep worsened. At night the voices seemed to become more prominent, but still inaudible, & the scratching was not as calming as in the day, because at night it was a cacophony of ear-grating, agonising sounds seemingly designed to stop me from sleeping.
After what had felt like a lifetime, life outside seemed to get better. The world started turning again. People started to appear in the streets as the masses returned to an imitation of what life once was. And as the world started again, the scratching seemed to shrink & shrink, & it became less & less deafening. I could live life again, happily. The scratching was still there, but it was small enough to ignore now, & I could function normally. The dreams stopped & I was happy once again.
Months passed & I forgot all about the scratching & the madness of the lockdown. Things were going well. That entire period of time felt like some kind of nightmare brought on by an illness, it felt unreal. The scratching felt as though it never really did exist, & perhaps it didn't.
Months had gone by & though the outside was still not back at a state of normal, my life had found a new normal. The scratching was entirely gone now - the nightmares had long-since stopped & I honestly had mostly forgotten about all of it. That was until we noticed a damp patch where my bed once was (we had done some redecorating). Where the headboard of the bed used to be was a large darker patch, about 3ft wide & about 5ft high. This was serious business, & so the wall needed to come down to check what was causing the damp. In any case, it was nothing to be ignored. It meant either the wall was weakening & could collapse, or it suggested that there was mould developing. The implications of what we actually found were much worse, but only for me in particular. I was sitting downstairs waiting for the work to be over when the workman came down, bearing gifts of the horrific sort. In his hand was some kind of effigy made of branches, & pieces of the wall. First he showed me the wall, motioning to the scratches that covered the insides of the now-destroyed wall. Though this alone was enough to shake me, it was the wooden emblem that made me afraid to sleep in the house, let alone the room. It was made of branches, all twisted into a tree with five points, with roots stretching upwards.