Echoes of Myself Along the Walls by Edgar Harding

        When I first made the decision to leave everything behind, I was in my old place of work, hiding in the bathroom and counting to ten in my head in order to calm myself down. My already over-bitten lips tasted of blood and my hands shook in place as I gripped my own hair. I could still hear the loud, uproarious laughter coming from outside the bathroom door, and I shivered.

         This unfortunately was not an uncommon occurrence for me, for the work bathroom had become my sort of safe haven from my coworkers. No matter what I told them, no matter what I did, they talked to me. They talked and talked and talked and touched and laughed and talked so much it made me want to hurl. I couldn’t keep up, I never could. Every word out of their mouth eventually became nails on a chalkboard, and every poke and teasing touch eventually felt like a knife puncturing my lungs and twisting. I could hear my ribs snap in my chest every time they so much as brushed against me.

         My coworkers knew that I would go to the bathroom at least once every shift, and during the time I was in there, they would refrain from using it– despite it being a multi-stall. They would rather be uncomfortable than face the truth of how they made me feel. It was as if they didn’t want to get involved with me; only wanted to interact with me when they could mess with me, but didn’t want to deal with the consequences of their actions. They only wanted to see me when I got riled up, not when I was curled on the bathroom floor with my head tucked between my legs and my breathing so erratic I couldn’t move. They didn’t want to see me when I actually needed someone with me.

         It was at that moment, with my nails digging into my scalp and my eyes red with tears and anger, that I decided to leave. My entire life I’ve hated being around people. No matter what I did I would not be like them; I would not be normal, and they would always make that fact known to me. I decided that I was tired. I was tired of the dread I felt every morning as I got up to go to work, and I was tired of my coworkers and their incessant existence, and I was tired of my family brushing off my concerns and laughing at me every time I tried to talk to them. I was tired of being treated as if I am a child who can’t handle a little “teasing”, as my mother put it. It was not teasing. It had never been teasing.

         I had been house hunting for quite some time when I saw the home I would soon be living in. Located deep in the woods of Flagstaff, Arizona, many miles outside of the main city and on a dirt path, was my perfect place of solitude. The house was small and you could see its age on the brick framework, as well on the thick, white columns of which were holding up the overhang over the front porch. However, the fine detailing on the columns and the intricately designed front door window stood out among the age and scuffs. The listing said that the home was for rent by the family that owned it, and while it was a bit of a fixer-upper, it was still livable.

         I visited the building with my mother not even a week after hearing about the place, and instantly I knew. The brick on the house stood strong despite it being original to the old building, and the second floor had a balcony in the front, held up by two large beams on either side of the front door. The door was a dark oak wood with carved detailings on it, adorned with a silver handle. The lawn was overgrown and filled with weeds, and vines had begun crawling their way up the sides of the home, anchoring it to the ground and claiming it as a part of nature. The house had been there so long, it looked as though it must have sprouted right out of the ground itself. Large pine trees framed the home, the smell of their needles drifting through the chilly air and making its way into my lungs with each inhale I took. It was perfect. My mother thought otherwise, saying that it looked lonely, and empty, and that the brick looked as though it could crumble at any moment. At her words, I could only smile as I gazed up the large beams holding up the balcony on the second story.

         “It’s perfect,” I recall myself mumbling, and my mother scoffed. I turned back to face her with a glare in my eyes, the glare in her’s twice as strong. We held our stares for a few moments before I saw her eyes roll.

         “Do what you want,” she said,” You’ve never listened to me anyway.”

         I ignored her, turning back around and walking closer to the house. If I were to argue, she would not listen. How ironic.


          It was a month later before I was able to move in, and the first sense of calm I felt in years hit me the moment I stepped inside that building for the first time. The old floorboards creaked under my weight, and cooled my feet when I first stepped on them barefoot. I breathed in deeply, and when I exhaled I felt the tension of my twenty-one years of life leave my body for the first time; my muscles relaxed from their tense position, and my mind cleared.

         I was well and truly alone, just as I had always wanted. I felt connected to this home; I felt as though we were one in the same, like the crumbling brick and peeling paint understood me.

         Gazing around the front room, I felt a shiver run down my spine. At the time I thought it was merely a shiver of excitement, however now, looking back, I cannot be so sure that it wasn’t something in this house, or maybe the house itself, trying to warn me of what was to come.

         The walls of the home were tall, paintings original to the home still hung up on them. Some of the paintings seemed to be of the family who originally lived here; a man with short, grey hair, a beautiful woman with long, black hair, and two rambunctious looking boys, who looked to be in their pre-teens. As I looked at all of the decorations, I smiled to myself. I was surprised to find, as I was looking around, that there were still books in the bookcases in the study, and a half burned, now dusty, candle sat on the wooden desk. I found it strange how everything was left behind so perfectly, but I did not mind. I enjoyed looking at the family’s life through pictures and old books; finding out more about them and how they functioned within the home. I had always enjoyed observing peoples’ lives from a distance, figuring out how they interact with each other in everyday life.

         I remember, as a child, I would pay close attention to my parents, and how they talked to each other, as well as their friends. I would pay attention to the way their eyebrows knit together in concentration or anger, or to the way lines appeared on their cheeks when they smiled and laughed, or the way they glared at me with such intensity when they yelled. In the privacy of the late night, I would sneak out of my bedroom to the bathroom, pull out the small step-stool from under the sink, and try to recreate those expressions in the mirror. My cheeks would hurt afterward from forcing myself to smile so wide for so many minutes at a time, and I would go to bed with a headache every night from deliberately creasing my brow over and over again, trying to recreate every expression I saw that day. There were times when I thought I got close to recreating the expression perfectly, so close– yet my eyes were always the reason I failed. I could learn any facial expression I want and my dull, lifeless eyes would still ruin it. In elementary school after doing this, I would try to put my practice from the night before to the test, smiling at my classmates and attempting to start conversations the same way my parents did in hopes of them liking me, and maybe even wanting to be my friend. It never worked. No matter what I tried, my classmates saw me as not normal- not human. They continued to mock my mannerisms and my facial expressions; they kicked me when I was already down. There was nothing I could do to change how they saw me, and when I realized that fact, I stopped trying. No one ever had the desire to talk to me, so eventually, I lost the desire to talk to them, too.

         Over the first few weeks of me living in that house, I slowly began to set a routine for myself. I would wake up around ten-thirty every morning, brush my hair as well as my teeth, have some toast for breakfast, and work on the house for the rest of the day, save for lunch and dinner breaks. I would look into the vanity mirror in my bedroom every morning with a smile, and I would see reflected back to me my own, content face, now with fewer dark circles and more color to my cheeks. I looked happy; happier than I had ever seen myself before.

         The only thing that began to bother me was a knocking I would hear at the front door every day. I never answered it, only rolled my eyes whenever it happened. Assuming it was just a neighbor from somewhere else, as unfortunately this house was only about two miles from a small neighborhood that is also deep in the woods, I did not feel the need to answer. Although every time it happened, my head would snap toward the front door, as if it was demanding my attention. I didn’t understand why even out here, people would still try to reach me. I would soon regret my decision to not answer.

         To begin with, my life of solitude was everything I had ever hoped for. My days consisted of cleaning the dusty, old building, fixing appliances that rusted apart or broke, groaning at the knocking, and sitting at my bedroom window with a book from the already stacked bookshelf in the study. The family had a mixed bag of books. Many of them were old scholarly psychology books, some of them religious children’s books, and the rest consisted of old fiction novels. I stuck mainly to the fiction novels, because as interesting as I find psychology, I would much rather get lost in a world of fiction, rather than the human mind. The religious books had no purpose to me, not necessarily because they were religious books, but because they were children’s picture books. Although to be honest, I’m not very interested in reading about the bible, either.

         My routine carried on for months, with the addition of slight changes. Now instead of  cleaning and unpacking, as that finished up some time ago, I painted. So often did I get absorbed into my work, that I began to forget some of my basic necessities like eating or drinking. Many nights I would find my stomach cramping and my vision swaying as my body cried out for sustenance, but only when I was satisfied with my work, would I give into its pleas. At times when my stomach gurgled angrily, did I recall my mother and father pulling me away from my paint to go eat supper when I was a child. I would always try to refuse, but they would always make me eat with them. No one could pull me away from my paint now.

         On nights when I was awake deep into the darkness, I would trudge upstairs to my bedroom and flop down on the mattress of my bed, sleeping soundly until I woke up the next day, which was now typically late morning or early afternoon. I didn’t mind sleeping in, in fact I found it quite relaxing, so when the nightmares started I found it incredibly frustrating. My dreams were incredibly vivid, and they consisted mostly of me wandering the halls of this house for hours upon hours until my bones finally gave out from beneath me. I could always feel the floor’s splinters digging into my feet, and it looked as though the framed pictures of the previous family were always glaring at me with such hatred. I don’t remember exactly what the family portraits looked like in my dreams, however I know they looked different than they did in real life. They looked evil, and exuded such a deep hatred toward me that I would feel it in my bones for the rest of the waking day, making me constantly look over my shoulder at them, just to be sure I was awake. I would lay on the cold floor helplessly crying out for someone, anyone to help me as the walls closed in and the ceiling crushed me to death in my own home, all alone. I do not think I’ll ever get the feeling of my bones being flattened against the floorboards or my lungs being squeezed of air from each side as my vision faded, out of my head. I remember many instances of me jolting awake and clamoring out of my bed, sweating profusely despite the cold night breeze drifting in through my window, only to eventually calm down and realize that whatever I was so afraid of was nothing but a dream. The first few times this happened, I had attempted to fall back asleep afterward, to no avail. It was as if my mind could not stop racing and my heart could not slow down its beating, my fight or flight response activated for the rest of the night. Every night it began to feel as though my dreams were coming to life, and I would lay in bed with my eyes clenched shut, tears threatening to escape, to try to forget the feeling. After a few nights of this, I stopped trying to go back to sleep, shrugging it off and reading by candle-light in my bed until dawn when I would get up and paint once more. I could have turned on the lamp at my bedside, but I never did, as I enjoyed the flicker of the fire.

         One morning, as I walked slowly out of my bedroom and down the creaking stairs, I saw something that sparked a bit of confusion within my bosom. Along the front door was a bar-lock; the kind you would see in old medieval castles that you must lift up in order to be able to open the door inwardly. I was confused because I had not seen that lock there before that very day, and the sight of it caused a shiver of uneasiness to pass through my body. I shook my head, then, and decided to ignore it, convincing myself that it had been there the entire time and I had just not realized. Despite telling myself this, I continued to glance away from my canvas and at the lock every few minutes, as if to make sure it’s still there. I would still hear the knocking, yet it was only a few times a week at this point, which made me happy. I do not need to speak to anyone, and no one should feel the need to come knocking at my door on a daily basis. I found their persistence annoying. However, as the knocking decreased more and more, I found myself waiting for the next time it would happen. I wasn’t sure why, seeing as the sound of the knocking grated on my ears and filled me with an unexplainable anxiety, but I did. Looking back on it now, I believe part of me wanted someone to keep coming, to keep trying to make sure I was alive, to save me from the nightmares that began to feel all too real in my waking life, but I was too in my own head to realize those feelings at the time.

         The knocking eventually stopped completely, and it confused me, but the absence of it made me nervous. Perhaps now, I finally felt truly alone; and despite wanting this solitude for my entire life, it scared me.

         Soon, I noticed the color of the walls begin to fade and slant inward, as if they were sagging, and the house began to feel dim, even in the daytime when the window curtains were all drawn. It was as if there was a layer of translucent fog blocking the daylight from reaching me. The nightmares progressed as well, waking me up earlier in the night than ever before. The images that my nightmares gave me began to stick in my mind throughout the days, constantly on the back of my eyelids, and not even my art could distract me from them. As it got worse, I got more paranoid. I jumped at every noise, and stared into the darkness of my room throughout the night in worry that something else was looking back into my own eyes. I recall the chills on warm days, and the dread that would fill my bones when I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, only to turn to look and it be gone.

         I soon found myself, after only six months of living in this house, doing nothing but sitting in my front room, casting my eyes toward the front door, and pacing the hallways which began to feel unrelenting and never-ending as I wandered through them. I had not left since I noticed that lock, despite feeling the urge to at least step outside and away from the solitude that now feels suffocating. However there was always a voice echoing in the back of my mind and along the walls of this house telling me that this is what I wanted. Why would I want to leave now, after so many years of pining for this solitude? I was convinced wholeheartedly that if I attempted to leave my home, I would not be able to lift that lock. So I never tried.

         And so, as the walls began to close in on me slowly, and the house breathed its dusty air into my lungs, I aimlessly walked around every day. The creaky floorboards which once cooled my feet when I first stepped into this building now cut into them with jagged splinters as I ran in circles around my own mind. The books which comforted me on sleepless nights now looked at me with disdain as they began to collect dust once more, watching me as I pace back and forth day in and day out. My own belongings which I brought into the home now start to collect dust along with the original furniture, blending in seamlessly with my surroundings. It’s as if I’d always been here. It’s as if I never knew a time before living in this house. My life started with this house, and I knew even then that my life would end with it as well. I will be encased in this tomb of brick; haunting the old, creaky floorboards and dilapidated brick walls.

         My days here grew repetitive in a different sense. Now, instead of painting all day and into the night, my canvases collect dust as well. I found myself curled up on the living room floor many nights a week, asking myself the same question, over and over: Why? I did not even recognize my own thought patterns. I did not recognize my own mind. I avoided looking in my vanity mirror, because now instead of seeing a person full of life, I saw reflected back to me someone who is not myself, with eyes that I do not anymore recognize as my own.

         The house felt small and cramped, like a cell, yet endlessly huge and empty. The halls winded together as I walked through them, trapping me further in their depths. When I opened the windows, the pine smell which once comforted me so, now filled my lungs with poison. The living room in which I would spend my days painting now feels small and cramped, like I’ve been caught in the venus fly trap that is my own mind, now with no hope of escaping. The walls of my home are now not only decorated with family portraits, mirrors, and art, but also the scratches of my own nails from the few times I awoke from my nightmares with a start and ran downstairs, attempting to escape. My nails dug into the paint and brick, leaving indentations as well as small smears of blood from my fingers.

         I could feel that, like my furniture, I was beginning to blend in with the rooms inside this house. Echoes of my past, so hopeful and happy in this home, now splattered against the walls as a cruel and violent reminder that I chose to come here.

         As I sat on my living room floor, my back pressed against the cold, dark front door, I gaze emptily out at my living room. A place that once brought me such joy now feels tight and cramped, like I’ve been caught in the net of this house, with no hope of escape. The walls taunted me, laughing at me as they began to close in on me faster and faster. The urge to get up and run was there, but was snuffed out as quickly as it came, leaving me exhausted and accepting of my fate. The only thing I could think of as the walls pressed tighter and tighter against my lungs, was that I wished that I could have at least had a friend to sit with and comfort me in these final moments.


Biography: I have been writing since I was in middle school, and since then it has meant everything to me. It’s been my escape from the world, my creative outlet, and my emotional release. I was drawn to writing when I needed a way to express my creativity, as well as, in a roundabout way, to cope with my feelings. It’s always been special to me, being able to transfer my little daydreams of my little characters and stories onto paper for people to read. I am a lover of horror, mainly gothic and psychological. I also really love romance and mystery; my goal is to conjure up a story, someday, that includes all of horror, mystery, and romance. That would be really fun. I’ve been inspired by many of the greats, my favorite of which being Edgar Allan Poe; he is my biggest inspiration in terms of writing gothic works specifically. I hope to publish a collection of short stories someday, and maybe even a full length novel or series.