Scratching in the Walls
William M. O'Brien, Jr.
The large, old townhouse at the corner of Bolder and East Cleveland Streets was always rented. Its location, as well as its old-time charm, often attracted a buyer, but its owner wanted to keep it rented, because he figured he could receive more money over time renting it than he would receive for its sale.
Suddenly, one day, he noticed that those who rented his property lately never stayed more than a month. One border left after only four days.
Finally, the landlord, Jesse Fielder, began to wonder why no one stayed long in his property. Jesse, a retired auditor dabbling in real estate, considered the property his best rental, a jewel of a property that should appeal to all.
But now, his latest tenant, Mrs. Jane Beecham, gave notice that she and her two children were moving out at the end of the month. She gave no reason, just that she had found another place and now she was moving.
Jesse would find out the reason why now.
The landlord met the woman on the porch of the house in question.
“There are rats in these walls! “Mrs. Beecham, standing at the top of the front steps, screamed at Fielder. “I’m scared to death of those damned things.”
“That’s absurd, Mrs. Beecham. I have exterminators in here every three months.”
“You can see for yourself,” the woman replied and pointed at the door behind her. “Those things were moving around just this morning. We heard them in the walls in the living room.”
Just inside the door, Fielder stopped and listened. Then he entered the living room and did the same.
“I don’t hear anything in here, Mrs. Beecham.”
“They’re in here, I assure you.” She walked down the hall into the kitchen. “Come in here and listen.”
Fielder joined her in the kitchen. There he could hear something scratching in the wall just to the side of an outside door.
“I can hear something here, now, Mrs. Beecham.” He turned to the woman. “I can have an exterminator in tomorrow.”
“No, we’re moving out.” The woman placed her hands on her hips. “Like I told you earlier, we have found another place.” She turned and headed toward the front door.
Jesse followed her closely down the hall. “Mrs. Beecham, I didn’t make you sign a lease because…”
“No, we’re going.” She stopped abruptly and turned. “Early this morning, before dawn, my boy saw one of those things in the back yard. It was huge. If we had signed a lease, Mr. Fielder, I would violate it.”
Because he felt sorry for the woman, a widow with two children, Jesse had tried to be nice to her in more ways than the lease. Now he wished he had had her sign a lease because at least he could get some money out of it.
Two days later the Beechams were gone and Jesse Fielder had an empty townhouse to rent once again.
This time, instead of deciding he would stay in the place and try to listen for the rats, he would saturate the place with rat poison.
Two days after the Beecham’s departure, he was back and put out rat poison around the empty house and even in two instances in the walls where gnawed holes were found. Two days later he returned and found three dead rats in the house, three more in the yard and one in the alley behind the house.
“Well, that’s the end of that,” he said to himself, standing on the back porch. “Now I’ll camp out in the house and see if all the critters are gone.”
Later Jesse returned with a pallet and a sleeping bag, a lamp he could plug in the wall, an old portable TV, and a small ice chest full of beer and bottled water. He intended to spend the whole night there, listening for more rats. He would make sure the creatures were all gone before he listed the place again.
“I’m going to make double-damn sure those damned critters are gone,” he said again to himself, surveying his set-up in the vacant living room.
After downing all five beers he brought and a bottle of water, he visited the facilities in the back of the house, and then, at one o’clock turned off his light to sleep.
Two hours later he was awakened by scratching in the walls of the dining room. Still half asleep, he sat up and listened.
“Damn little bastards are still here,” he said aloud.
He walked softly into the dining room, trying not to “disturb” the scratcher in the walls. But when he walked up to the wall in question, the scratching stopped.
Cursing, he sat down on his pallet and thought about what he was going to do next. He couldn’t hire an exterminator for one or two rats; they were expensive. He would have to get rid of the remaining rodents himself.
The next evening, he returned with his toolbox to add to his materials he already had in the house. Before nightfall, he cut a small hole just above the baseboard in the dining room and, with a teaspoon, heaped some rat poison into the wall.
“Six spoon fulls ought to do it,” he said aloud. Then he returned to his pallet to watch his portable TV and work on a new six pack before going to sleep after midnight.
Awakening after three AM, he thought he heard scratching but could not hear the location of the noise.
He grabbed a flashlight and walked, slowly, from room to room. After entering and exiting every room in the house, he stopped and listened.
No noise in the house; nothing but a car several blocks away. Frustrated, he returned to his pallet and lay down. He tried to stay awake and listen, but soon he fell fast asleep on his back.
He awoke to sunshine coming through a nearby window. Remembering the last scratching, he would put out more poison, in every room, and return later to see its effect. If there were more rats, they would be dead. And all he would be out is the money for more poison, not the four to five hundred dollars for a thorough professional extermination.
He decided to wait three days before he returned to his property to check on his extermination procedures. Then, he thought, he would relist his property and advertise in all the local papers.
“A peach it is,” he said to himself. “That property is a beautiful peach and no bunch of damned rats is going to spoil it.”
Three days later he opened the front door to the townhouse to be greeted by a hideous, overpowering smell that wafted out on the small porch and almost forced him down the front steps.
“What the hell is this,” he exclaimed aloud. “If this is dead rats, then there is a hell of a lot of them.”
He walked through the house to the back door, the odor lasting through the house, and entered the back yard. There he thought he would find several dead rats who had made it to the back yard. However, all he found was the moldering body of a creature he had missed when he had picked up the others in the back yard.
Frustrated, he headed back into the house, determined to go from room to room again. He found nothing until he entered the dining room. Scrawled over one of the blank walls were the words “There are no rats here. Only me.”
“What in hell is this now?” he asked, aloud.
He walked up to the cryptic message and ran a finger across it.
“This is some kind of marker,” he remarked to himself. “This looks like some damned crap from kids. But how did they get in.”
Now he hurried from room to room, checking window locks and locked doors leading to the outside.
Convinced that no one could get into his property, he left at sundown. How could someone get into that house? He thought. This idea indeed troubled him.
Later, drink in hand in front of the TV, he thought again about his property. “One of the best rents in town, damn it,” he mumbled.
That night he went to bed half drunk and still wondering about the events of the last few days. He knew he had to rent the property, but what about the writer on the walls? Who is it? And are they still around?
These questions plagued him as he lay in his bed.
Across the alley from Jesse’s rent property lived Old Lady Compton, in a large old Victorian house, along with four cats and one large walloping dog she had named Tipsy. She had designated Tipsy her watch dog and he spent most of his time outside.
Tipsy had a loud, vicious bark but a friendly disposition. In fact, if an intruder entered the Compton property and ignored the loud bark, he would probably be licked to death by Tipsy, who would knock him down and get on top of him. Of course, the dog annoyed Jesse who could not stand his bark, but Tipsy liked to sleep on the back porch of Jesse’s property.
When Jesse returned to his property to investigate further the mysterious presence, he encountered, of course, Tipsy on his back porch.
“Damned mutt,” he exclaimed through the glass door. “Someone came on my property and you weren’t around to run them off.” He knew if he opened the door the animal would rare up and put his huge paws on his chest, his tongue moving over the man’s face.
“Shit,” he muttered. Turning and heading back up the interior hall, he entered the room where the cryptic scrawl was. However, the wall was completely bare. The message was gone, with no trace of its existence.
“What the hell is this,” he said to himself, running his hand over the wall where the writing had been. He carefully examined the wall, including pounding it with both fists and trying to listen for any comeback by pressing an ear to the wall. But nothing was there.
Thinking there might be more evidence upstairs, he headed up there, taking the stairs three at a time.
There, in the front bedroom, he encountered the scrawl “Ha Ha Ha Ha” over most of the wall that had no windows. Again, he ran his hand over the notation, but nothing came of it. There wasn’t even a smear; the writing, from the same source as that before, had seemingly been there for a long, long time.
But this was impossible because he had inspected the entire house after the last tenet moved out only a few days ago.
He ran his hand over the writing a second time, but this time he was interrupted by loud barking coming from the back door.
“What the hell is going on with that mutt,” he muttered to himself, racing down the stairs.
He opened the door to an excited animal barking and circling at the back door.
“Just what the hell…”
The dog suddenly darted by him and ran into the house.
“Dammit to hell,” Jesse exclaimed. He followed the dog through the house to the front room.
There, the animal stopped and began barking at an interior wall. The dog would bark loud and then back off and circle. Then he would repeat the process.
Jesse, not knowing what to make of this, just stood and watched. I always thought that damned mutt was crazy, he thought to himself.
After a few minutes, the dog, stopping and turning to face Jesse, sat back on its haunches, tongue out and drooling.
“If you aren’t the dumbest bast…” A loud noise like a heavy weight falling on the floor upstairs interrupted him.
“Now I’m going to see just what the hell is going on,” he said aloud, racing up the stairs followed by Tipsy.
Upstairs he went from room to room but found nothing, but Tipsy was barking and turning in circles in a front bedroom.
“What the hell is the matter with you, now?” Jesse asked from the bedroom door.
The dog suddenly stopped, then, ignoring the man at the door, turned to a wall and stared at it. Then the animal began to growl, low and menacing.
“What in the name of God is the matter with you, now?” Jesse asked, in a much lower tone.
Then the dog barked, loud and fierce. He turned if a tight fast circle and then barked again.
Jesse walked up to the wall and pounded on it. “What the hell is in here,” he shouted, and then pounded again.
Meanwhile, Tipsy sat behind him, opened his mouth, panted and drooled.
“Shit!” Jess kicked the wall.
Nothing happened. Everything was quiet now that Tipsy had quieted down and Jesse had ceased his operations.
Frustrated, he turned and left the room to walk downstairs to the front door. In the upstairs hall, however, a moving nightmare appeared right before him. The naked form of a young girl brandishing long claws in outstretched hands reached for Jesse’s face.
He impulsively backed down the hall, holding his hands straight out.
The figure had no eyes, just holes beside the nose. Its mouth opened to reveal teeth seemingly filed to sharp points.
Tipsy appeared beside Jesse and barked, loud, then turned back to Jesse.
“Holy Mother of God what is this?” Jesse exclaimed. Almost tripping, he turned and headed downstairs for the front door.
Tipsy and Jesse reached the front door and stumbled onto the porch. When he regained his stance, Jesse glanced back at the long hall, which was empty.
The figure was gone, but a curious smell permeated the hall and two front rooms of the house. Jesse recognized it as the smell he had endured the day before.
Tipsy, following close behind Jesse, suddenly barked again.
“What the hell now?” Jesse turned and put his hand on the dog’s head and reentered the hall. Walking as slow as he dared in the middle of the hall, he looked around at each door to the hall.
Nothing moved. Now he wondered where the figure he had seen had gone. Slowly, he walked back down the hall, carefully examining each door as he passed it again. At the front door he stopped and turned around to the dog that had been following him.
Now the animal was silent. He sat in front of Jesse, panting and drooling.
Suddenly, from the front room, came a sound that could only be made by steel nails in a metal hand dragged across a wall from top to bottom.
Jesse rushed to the front room to be met with a largely scrawled “Get Out” over the back wall. Again the message scrawled over the wall appeared to be made by some unknown substance that could not be erased.
Now, he hurried out of the back door and turned toward the driveway to his truck. Tipsy followed him to the driveway but stopped and sat, drooling, by the driveway.
“I’m going home to get a weapon,” he hollered at the dog. “I’m going to get rid of this shit today!”
He returned shortly armed with a shotgun.
“I’m going to shoot that thing in there and call it self-defense,” he hollered at the dog now sitting on the edge of the neighbor’s yard.
Tipsy bounded up to Jesse as he unlocked the back door. Both pushed through the laundry room behind the kitchen together. There they were met by the hideous smell they had already encountered in the house on two occasions.
“My God, that smells like shit,” Jesse hollered. At the door to the hall, he stumbled over the dog and fell forward, the gun clattering on the floor.
“Damn it, move ahead of me,” he hollered at Tipsy. “Go and find that damn thing.”
The smell still pungent in every area of the house, Jesse and the dog examined every room in the house.
However, the only thing out of order was the horrible smell.
Soon becoming nauseated, Jesse headed for the back door and fresh air. Following close behind, the dog Tipsy trotted along apparently unaffected by the hideous smell.
Outside, Jesse and the dog stopped to acknowledge Mrs. Viola Compton standing at the gate to her backyard. Her vine overgrown fence never once prevented her dog from getting out of her backyard, hence, Tipsy had a nest under Jesse’s back porch.
“Mr. Fielder, what’s going on over there?” she asked, trying to close her gate despite the vines.
“There’s something in my house here, Viola,” he stated, descending the back steps, “Some kind of presence.”
“A presence? What kind of presence?” The old lady put her hands on her hips and advanced.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Jesse shook his head. “But it lives in the walls and I hear it scratching all the time. I think it’s some kind of damned demon, or, or,…”
“That sounds absolutely crazy, Mr. Fielder.” Viola breathed in deeply and then let it out. “And there you are with a shotgun. Are you crazy? You blow a hole in your wall in there and you can forget about renting it.”
“These are number four shells, for your information.” Jesse, indignant, shifted his weight back and forth on his feet. “They will not penetrate the walls.”
Viola Compton set off toward the townhouse. “Come on. Show me this thing you have in there” she remarked over her shoulder.
Inside, all was silent. Jesse went from room to room, looking for scrawls on the walls, or any other manifestation of the strange thing in the walls.
“Well, from the looks of things, your unfriendly visitor seems to have flown the coop, Mr. Fielder.”
“There was something here, Mrs. Compton,” Jesse said, low and threatening. “It was here. Your dog Tipsy barked at it. And there was a bad stink here, too.”
Hearing his name, Tipsy got to his feet and turned in circles, drooling all the way.
On their way down the hall toward the backdoor, they were stopped by a heavy thump on the floor above them.
“Nothing here, huh.” Jesse turned and headed for the staircase near the front door. Viola Compton and Tipsy followed behind.
Jesse, taking two steps at the time, quickly reached the top of the stairs. There he encountered something he couldn’t even dream about.
Viola heard a violent scream from the top of the stairs before she even reached them. Tipsy, following close behind the woman, passed her up and headed up the stairs to the landing and then to the right, the woman just behind him.
There she abruptly stopped and stared.
Jesse Fielder lay in the arms of what appeared to be a naked child, its arms wrapped around his head and its long nails digging into his face.
He screamed again as apparently the thing’s grip increased on his head.
Viola picked up the shotgun Jesse had dropped on the stairs and headed closer to the fallen Jesse. There she pointed the weapon at the thing’s head. She was so close she couldn’t miss or hit Jesse.
She pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The hideous child thing laughed loud and appeared to be trying to twist Jesse’s head off.
The woman ejected a shell from the gun and pointed it at the thing again.
In the meantime, her dog barked hysterically and ran up to the thing only to turn back in front of Jesse.
When her dog was out of the way, Viola pulled the trigger again. This time, the gun discharged sending a charge over the thing into the wall behind the two figures at the top of the stairs.
The monster finally released Jesse, who was now bleeding profusely from his face and neck, and stood facing the woman with the gun.
Viola Compton ejected the shell, pointed the gun again at the figure at the top of the stairs, and pulled the trigger.
Again, the weapon discharged, this time sending a charge through the midsection of the threatening figure.
Immediately, it whirled about and disappeared.
Tipsy moved up to Jesse and began licking his face, blood and all.
To Viola, Jesse seemed to be injured grievously, but he painfully got to his feet and began to descend the stairs. She grabbed him and, putting her arm around his shoulders, helped him down the stairs.
“Mr. Fielder, we need to stop some of this bleeding,” she said. Fortunately, she had her cell phone in her jacket pocket and she immediately dialed 911, telling a dispatcher that she had a man bleeding profusely and growing weaker by the minute.
Viola helped Jesse out the front door and the two settled at the top of the front steps. She took her jacket off and tried to control Jesse’s bleeding as best she could. There they waited for aid to come.
“That thing was trying to kill you, Mr. Fielder,” Viola said quietly.
“Yeah, and it would have, too, if it hadn’t been for you, Viola.” Jesse closed his eyes and tried to lay back against Viola’s left arm. Tipsy settled down against Jesse’s left side, the dog still licking his shirt and left arm.
An EMT unit arrived ten minutes later. There they found a scene which was so incredible with blood everywhere, that the two techs were dumbfounded. They treated Jesse with first aid and then readied him to be transported to a nearby hospital.
Viola later reported to a police unit that Jesse Fielder had been attacked by a person whom she didn’t know. She had shot at the individual who had immediately escaped from the scene. The police, of course, investigated the scene but found nothing but Jesse’s blood and Viola’s shotgun damage.
Eventually the case was declared to be a dead end. Jesse Fielder recovered from his injuries, and was convinced that he had been attacked by a ghost. Viola Compton informed him that she agreed with him.
It was easy for her to agree with him as she was a practicing Christian who believed in the immortal soul.
While he was still hospitalized, a friend advised Jesse to research a history of his property and find out a possible identity of his attacker as well as a reason for its presence. Jesse replied that he wasn’t interested in the identity of what had attacked him, but he did say that he would no longer rent the property. He would wait a substantial length of time and then sell it.
Jesse, his recovery period over, began taking his cooker over to his rent property and cooking steaks in the large back yard of the townhouse. He always invited Viola Compton, and his favorite canine, Tipsy.
If nothing else, Jesse came away from this experience with a belief in ghosts, a close, valuable friend in Viola Compton, and a dog that he wished was his own.