Anna Kolton is wheelchair bound, suffers PTSD, has some anger issues…and has been seeing people in the walls since her accident. No one believes her, but she can see, at times, people living their normal, everyday lives in walls. Unfortunately, those people cannot see her. Until, one day, on a wall that borders a new housing estate, Anna sees a teenager, also in a wheelchair. The girl is called Emily, and she is in danger.
Anna Kolton had been seeing people in the walls since the accident.
Her doctors said it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A malfunctioning of her brain due to shock and stress. Watching a number 75 bus bounce over the kerb and barrel towards you at forty miles an hour will do that to you, apparently. She couldn’t remember the impact, just the big box of metal getting closer, the look of horror on the face of the driver, still clear to her after all these years, and her complete inability to move. Since then she’d seen the people in the walls.
“Can they see you as well, Anna?”
That was Kenneth Gildersleeve, PhD, her latest therapist, and the most patronising, smarmy person she had ever met.
“Well, none of them have waved and said hello yet, if that’s what you mean.”
It was difficult not to be sarcastic with Ken, as he insisted she call him.
“Now, Anna. You know what I mean.”
She sighed. “No. As far as I can tell, they don’t see me.”
“And do you see them all the time?” He glanced over towards the far wall. “For instance, do you see them now? In that wall over there?”
“No, I don’t see them all the time,” said Anna, with more patience than she would have given herself credit for. “Just sometimes. And before you ask, I have no idea what might trigger it.”
“Do they make any sounds at all, Anna?”
“No. It’s like watching a silent movie. Haven’t we been through all this before?”
Ken smiled his supercilious smile. Anna wanted to punch him.
“I know, Anna. But you must understand how important it is that I get a sense of how consistent these visions are.”
“They’re not visions! There are people living out their lives in the walls!”
“Of course there are, Anna. I understand that this is real to you, but…”
And then Anna did punch him.
It wasn’t every day that people saw a young woman in a wheelchair being escorted out of the clinic by two burly security men. That was why so many stopped and stared.
“He deserved it,” shouted Anna as they wheeled her out of the automatic doors. “The smug prick!”
The security guards left her outside, but not before one of them had given her a smile and a wink that said he agreed with her. That cheered her up a little.
Everything she had told him was true. She had no idea why she sometimes saw the people, and other times not. And there was no sound. She wished there was. Most of all, she wished they could see her. Then, perhaps, she could find some way to communicate.
The following morning, steering her motorised chair towards the nearby, local shops, she passed the brick wall that bordered the new housing estate. Sometimes she saw visitors there, but mostly it was just brick. Today there were people, walking along a street not dissimilar to her own, and she did not pay them much attention. Until she saw the girl.
She looked younger than Anna, maybe in her mid to late teens, and was also in a wheelchair. Not a motorised one, but a simpler, push along one. It was the first time Anna had seen someone in a wheelchair among the visitors. She found it both reassuring, because there were people like her, wherever the visitors lived, and unnerving, because it was a little like looking into a fairground mirror that not only distorted your image, but reality too.
Anna stopped and watched for a little while, as an older woman pushed the girl along. The girl looked unhappy, and Anna experienced a deep feeling of empathy. She knew that look. She saw it in the mirror every day.
Feeling her own loneliness, her own depression, weighing heavy, she decided to move on. There was nothing she could do to help the girl. She could barely help herself most days.
And then the girl turned, looked right at her, and waved.
“Fuck me!” The words exploded from Anna before she had chance to think. She quickly apologised to the elderly couple walking by, and hoped she wasn’t blushing too much.
The girl can see me. Can anyone else?
The woman pushing the girl continuing walking, uninterested in the girl’s waving, and obviously unaware of Anna. Cautiously, Anna raised her arm and waved back. Knowing she must look a complete fool, waving to a brick wall, she kept the movement short.
The excited, fast waving from the girl proved to Anna, beyond a doubt, that the girl could see her.
Anna watched until the girl was wheeled out of sight, off the edge of the wall, and then went home. Her mind was too full of questions, of confusing thoughts, to go shopping. She needed to think.
The brick wall did not offer up the visitors every day, nor was the girl always there when it did. But she did return on a reasonably regular basis and, over the following week or two, Anna and the girl exchanged waves, and even an occasional mouthing of words. Anna thought the girl said her name was Emily, but she couldn’t be sure. Nevertheless, it was a name, and, right or wrong, the girl in the wheelchair, in the wall, was Emily.
The moments of communication were short. The woman pushing Emily’s wheelchair never stopped, never even slowed, just kept on pushing. What she thought of Emily’s strange behaviour, if she even noticed it, Anna had no idea. The woman had a sad, dazed look on her face. She probably didn’t take much notice of anything.
Back in her apartment, Anna had already Googled Emily in a wheelchair and similar search phrases, spending hours looking at pictures and scouring social media pages. No one even remotely resembled Emily in the wall. It did not really surprise her. She felt in her gut that the world in the wall was somewhere else. She did not know where, but it was not here.
Over the next two months, Anna gradually became aware that Emily’s hurt went much deeper than her own. There was something always there, even when the girl was smiling and waving. A bitter backdrop of despair. More than ever, Anna wished she could speak to Emily. Ask her where that hurt came from.
The answer eventually came in a way that Anna would never have wanted.
It started with Emily appearing, not in the brick wall of the housing estate, but in Anna’s own bedroom wall. And she wasn’t being wheeled along a street, she was being wheeled into a bedroom.
The room was dark, heavy curtains pulled over a small window. Bright sunlight flared through a small gap where the curtains had not been drawn properly, and Anna wondered why the curtains were drawn at all, if it was still daylight outside. The walls of the room were bare, no posters or pictures. Just paint, flaking off in places. What Anna could see of the bed seemed okay, but somehow that just emphasised how depressing the rest of the room was.
Emily did not look towards Anna this time. There was no waving. Instead, she sat, slumped, in the wheelchair, dark hair hanging over her face. At first Anna wondered if she was asleep, but then Emily’s head turned and she looked up as the woman pushing her said something.
The man entered the room behind the woman. He was tall, and so thin the bones showed through his sleeveless T-shirt. An unshaven chin surrounded the cruel slit of a mouth, and the sharp nose and narrow eyes only emphasised the stick-insect-like impression Anna had of him. She took an instant dislike to him.
The man and woman did not speak to each other, and it seemed to Anna as though they did not need to. This was a routine, done often. The woman turned and left, leaving Emily in her wheelchair by the bed. The man walked to the wheelchair and lifted Emily out of it, holding her in his stick-thin arms. Anna could see Emily’s face, and she went cold. Emily’s expression was blank, detached. Dissociated. An icy finger ran down Anna’s spine. Although Emily was clearly alive, she looked dead.
The man put Emily on the bed and, with slow, calm movements, pushed the wheelchair out of the way. He stood with his back to Anna, blocking much of her view, but she could tell he was removing Emily’s clothing.
He could be her father, or a nurse, or her care-giver, Anna told herself, desperately wanting to believe it. Maybe this is normal?
She had to accept the horrifying truth as the man began to remove his own clothes.
For the first time, Emily turned her head and looked at Anna. She still had that blank expression on her face, but she was crying, a tear rolling down her cheek to stain the bedsheet.
Wild with rage, Anna drove her wheelchair into the skirting board. She screamed. She hammered on the wall.
“Leave her alone, you bastard. You fucker! Leave her alone!”
She kept hitting the wall until her fists bled. She screamed her voice hoarse. She sobbed, feeling helpless, useless!
Somehow it would be different if she wasn’t stuck in her wheelchair. In some way she would have been able to help Emily if her legs worked.
It made no sense, but she convinced herself. It was her fault for being disabled, for being a cripple. She detested the word, but she used it now. Cripple. That’s what she was. A cripple, unable to save a young girl from being attacked. Unable to help her one friend.
With her hands bruised and bleeding, the pain just beginning to register, and an intense feeling of guilt that she was relieved she could not hear what was happening in the wall, she finally turned her face away. Unable to watch any more.
She sobbed her anger and frustration. Concerned neighbours were banging on her door, calling out to her, frightened by the screams and shouts they had heard. She did not answer them. She could not leave the bedroom. It felt too much like she was abandoning Emily, and that would be even worse than her inability to physically help her.
She knew she would have to look again. It was not right to just turn away from the abuse her friend was suffering. It was not something that could be just ignored. She forced herself to turn, to look.
Emily still lay on the bed, no longer looking at Anna, but staring towards the ceiling. Tears still trickled down her cheek.
Anna stared with hatred at the naked back of the man. She wished so much she could reach through the wall and tear his spine from his body. It would not be difficult. It stood out in clear relief through the hair on his back. She was still imagining the satisfaction she would feel, when a cold block of fear quenched the fire of her hatred.
The man in the wall looked back over his shoulder, directly at Anna, and smiled.