Adeline first noticed it when she was three years old. At first it was just a shift in the pattern in the wall paper. She went over to the discrepancy and traced her little fingers over it. It vibrated out slow beats. It was warm.
She slept with her covers clutched in her fists and framing her face. She tried to breath shallowly so that the wallpaper wouldn't notice her. But it did.
When she was five, and coloring in a page of a coloring book in shades of purple, the discrepancy shifted further and the paper bubbled out. As it rapidly crinkled then set, Adeline dropped her crayon and ran from the room. She wanted to tell her mother about it, but didn't know what to say, and anyway her mother was chatting on the phone about whatever it is that adults like to talk about to each other. Adeline wandered around the house for an hour, draping herself over furniture and wondering what to do.
She found herself at the threshold of her door, staring at the far wall. Curiosity pulled her in. She felt the series of tiny bubbles. They were brittle and she popped a few of them. A clear liquid oozed out. She wiped her hands on her pants and hopped on the bed diving under the covers. She stayed very still, listening, but heard nothing.
The next day she inspected the wall again. She poked a crayon into the scar of one of the popped bubbles. The surface was soft and she embedded the crayon halfway before she hit something solid. She pulled the crayon out and it made a schuck sound. Then the wall groaned. Adeline sat on the edge of the bed and sniffed the crayon. It smelled like crayon, but then the tip started to melt. She threw it into a corner of the room, next to an abandoned and naked Barbie doll. She decided to ignore the wall.
Two years later she was awoken in the night be a soft fluttering sound. She pulled the covers tight and felt a hardness in her stomach. After a few minutes of continued fluttering behind her, she got up and ran for the bathroom, slamming the door shut and locking it.
"Are you okay?" asked her mother after knocking gently.
"I'm fine," said Adeline, shaking.
"Let me know if you need anything," said her mother, before heading back to bed.
Adeline rummaged through the cabinet under the sink as quietly as she could. In desperation, she pulled out the hair dryer, looked at it, then tossed it back into the jumble of contents. She slept in the bathtub with a towel over her and water dripping onto her socks.
"Can we move?" she asked her mother over cereal the next morning.
"I don't like my room," said Adeline.
"Do you want a big girl bed?"
"No. I want a different room."
The next month her mother replaced her bed with a longer but not wider one. Adeline watched the patch of pocked wallpaper while her mother set it the bed, struggling to make sense of an extensive set of instructions. After her mother was done, Adeline spent the afternoon rearranging the furniture so that her bed was partly inside the closet and as far as possible away from the patch.
The fluttering became a nightly occurrence. Adeline sat up against several pillows and watched the patch, but nothing ever moved. It was if something was brushing up against the other side of the wall, but there was nothing on the other side. Eventually Adeline learned to fall asleep to the sound.
When she was twelve, the fluttering stopped. She still watched the patch every night, waiting, almost sorry the sound was gone. One day, when she was in a rather intrepid mood, she took out an X-acto knife and started to scratch at the old bubbles. There was no oozing this time, and she surmised that the bubbles were just to old. She worked at the wallpaper, cutting out small bits and analyzing the wall behind. It looked to be stained, imprinted with the pattern of the wall paper. She pushed the knife into the wall and scored the surface, trying to scrape off the pattern. Layers of paper and chalk peeled away, but always the pattern remained.
She worked at the wall for an entire morning, and by noon had excavated a hole that was a foot wide and a foot deep. She went to the kitchen for a lunch of soup with her mother.
"How deep are walls supposed to be?" asked Adeline.
"Several inches, normally."
"What do you mean normally?"
"In houses. In big concrete buildings, skyscrapers and such, I guess walls would be thicker."
"So, in a house, a wall a foot think would be...abnormal."
"Yeah..." Her mother looked at her suspiciously. "Why do you ask?"
"School assignment. We're supposed to calculate the square footage for a particular area of room, but I don't know to take into account the area of the walls."
"Oh, I always hated word problems. If it's not stated in the question, you can safely ignore it honey. I had to learn that the hard way." Her mother thoughtfully slurped up a spoonful of soup.
In the afternoon Adeline decided to hang up a poster to cover the hole. She picked out one her aunt had given her for her birthday. It was of a pop star Adeline had absolutely no interest in, and she debated whether or not it was worth staring at his face for several hours each night as she fell asleep, but it was the only one she owned that was big enough to cover the entire patch.
The poster stayed in place for another year. Then one day as she arrived home from school, she found the face of the pop star burnt out. Only the edges of the poster remained, and the hole was clearly visible. Adeline slammed her door shut and shoved a chair against the knob. She ripped down the poster and examined the hole. There were little wormholes all over the chalk and paper layers, like insects had been eating the wall from within. She found her X-acto knife and furiously started chipping away at more layers. By evening she had dug a further foot. The whole area was riddled with wormholes, but there was nothing else. The wall just kept going.
Adeline went to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. Her mother left a note on the counter stating she had gone out for a date and wouldn't be back for several hours. She encouraged Adeline to forage in the fridge for dinner. Adeline went down to the basement and found a sledgehammer left to her mother by her grandfather. She dragged it upstairs and swung it against the wall.
She swung and swung, and after an hour, her arms and shoulders aching, she was standing on three feet of debris. The hole was as tall as the room and seven feet deep. The pores of her skin were clogged with chalk dust, even those under her clothes. She pulled her bedside lamp closer to the hole. There was no sign of worms or insects or anything.
She flopped down on the bed and pulled the sledgehammer to her chest. Exhausted, her eyelids became heavy. She vaguely wondered what her mother would say, but figured she would escape trouble since the hole was so abnormally deep and weird.
The wall fluttered. Her eyes opened, and every muscle in her body went stiff. The fluttering continued, but it was faint. Adeline forced herself to get up. She crossed to the hole. She turned on her flashlight and examined the interior. There was movement. She jumped back, then moved back in, closer. The light revealed thin clear strands wiggling out of the wormholes. They stretched into the void, reaching for each other. Adeline suppressed the urge to gag.
She ran to the bathroom and fished out the old hair dryer from under the sink. She plugged it in next to the hole and turned it on full blast. The strands immediately ignited, flaming up blue, then dropping as black ash. The air smelled bitter. Adeline turned off the hair dryer. She scanned the surface of the hole with her flashlight. There was no movement. She sat on the edge of her bed, with the flashlight propped up inside the hole, and watched for movement for another half hour. When she was satisfied, she took a shower and washed away all the dust, then sat in the living room, reading a magazine until her mother came home.
"I have something to show you. Please don't be alarmed," said Adeline when her mother arrived.
"What did you do?" asked her mother angrily, as Adeline led her to her room.
"It's...abnormal," said Adeline. She flicked on the light to her room.
"What?" asked her mother.
"I..." Adeline stumbled forward to the wall. It was completely sealed up. There was no hole. The wallpaper was perfect. She rubbed her hands against it.
"What are you doing?" asked her mother.
Adeline turned to her, ashen faced.
"Can I pitch the tent in the back yard?" she asked.
"It's winter, so no."
Adeline studied her mother's face for a few long moments. Then she went to her bed and ripped off the comforter.
"I'm sleeping on the sofa until further notice," she said.
That night, as she snuggled down into the sofa cushions, the wall behind her fluttered.