The crack in the wall seemed to appear from nowhere. One day there was an ordinary, smooth expanse, and the next there was plaster, dust, and chipped paint all over the floor and a deep gouge, vertical and distinct. For a couple of days, it was the talk of the library: How had it gotten there? Who was responsible? But the talk soon stalled, and the subject was quickly forgotten, as idle talk often was.
However, Thora Hines, senior librarian, had no choice but to confront it.
The crack in the wall was in the back of the library where the public was forbidden to go, right outside her office; she saw the strange dent day in and day out. Beginning about a foot from the ground, it was around five feet long and half a foot wide. Under the plaster and yellow paint, the battered stone brick work was exposed in all its dingy gray, aching disorder, prompting Thora to feel that she was seeing something she shouldn't, like she was violating some ancient taboo.
She really didn't like the look of it—in fact, it made her distinctly uneasy.
The crack’s unexplained presence threatened to disrupt the proper order of things; it was as if the fabric of reality itself was bulging at the seams, evidencing some nameless act of awful violence that might lash out again at any moment. Although she tried to put it out of her mind, there was just no way she could avoid it. The crack grinned relentlessly at her from its unexplained position, ensconced and snug in the dark, cramped passage that led to her office; it felt as if all of the shadows there proceeded from the black slash of its gaping, sideways mouth.
Before all of this, Thora was what people called 'a lovely woman’; she was always kind and considerate to her colleagues, she never lost her patience with the public, and she took excellent care of her elderly mother. If her eyes hinted at personal disappointment, no one asked her about it, not wanting to stumble onto what might be an emotional sinkhole ready to collapse. The grayness of her wiry hair seemed to have tinted her complexion and eyes, and she fluttered nervously whenever someone's attention was on her. Although she did love her mother, she looked after her out of duty and a sense of responsibility rather than any tender feeling.
In other words, Thora didn't want to feel guilty when the old lady finally left this world— not that she had shown any intention of doing so. For Thora, it was always 'on with the daily grind,' on with cramming her emotions down to the bottom of her awareness until all she felt was a vestigial trace of them. The crack in the wall then was something new and different in her set routine, something outside of her usual experience. As she stood before it, bearing witness, she sensed that something meaningful would be revealed if only she concentrated hard enough.
Weeks ground past outside since it had first been noticed, and the crack began to appear in her dreams. Thora often awoke in the middle of the night with a sense of urgency; she knew that she'd dreamt of it, but she was unable to remember anything further. Eventually, as it became more familiar—less fresh and less jarring—some obscure subconscious process took hold, and her revulsion gave way to fascination.
She felt this change inside herself, an internal correspondence that reached out to the crack. At the same time, it gave her a deeply unpleasant sensation—a railroad spike of anxiety driven straight through her skull, accompanied by a breathlessness and a helplessness. She felt as if her head were under pressure, an overwhelming, claustrophobic sensation, as if all she could do was lurch blind and gasping towards the crack in the wall, the only sane destination—the only possible way to ameliorate the pain.
Often during the workday, Thora found herself standing in front of it, contemplating the shades of chaos contained within its rough edges. She felt compelled to do so—the acute need to scratch an itch. When disturbed, she reacted as if she'd been caught red-handed in some heinous indulgence. This set off rampant speculation among her colleagues: She was thoroughly dissected. Some pointed out the crack in the wall's suggestive shape and Thora's long-standing lack of a male partner, while others suggested that the poor thing was clearly losing her mind.
All other than Thora failed to notice, though, that the crack in the wall had been growing a fraction longer, a fraction wider each day.
She wasn't sure exactly when she'd started hearing noises coming from the crack in the wall.
It had begun so gradually that she hadn't been certain she'd really heard anything at first. No one else ever mentioned it, though perhaps that wasn't so surprising. Her office was in the desolate, far reaches of the library, not near any of the hodgepodge building's most trafficked thoroughfares. The library was erected on the site of a famous eighteenth-century occultist's house, and the vaulted cellars still stood below ground level, looming and brooding like a shameful secret.
Initially, the sounds were just clicks and scrapes that she easily wrote off as the noises of an old building settling. These escalated, gaining volume until succeeded by an almost electronic humming and buzzing that brought to mind monstrously huge insects, seeming to come from the very center of the lacuna. They then gave way to strange animal cries that tore at the day's composure. The sounds reminded her of a fox's eerie winter screams, agonizingly drawn out and slowed down—a weird, primal hymn that never ceased. After a while, her thoughts and memories had become all tangled up as if time and consciousness were a single knotted ball of wool. And so, Thora stopped questioning this constant aural assault—that is, until the crack began to speak.
To delay going home—though it was hard to admit that to herself—she often stayed late at work, enjoying the feeling of being alone in an empty building while the city bustled along outside. It was on just such an evening that the voice in the crack said her name.
Thora was the only person left in the building. She was, of course, standing in front of the crack in the wall, contemplating its abstract expanse when all of a sudden, the ambient animal noises that she'd grown so used to ceased. Reeling from the sudden silence, she was astonished when the voice spoke from the depths of the crack in the wall. “Thora.” She drew closer, anxious but also eager, intrigued by what sounded like a distorted, unknown language. Turning her head, she placed her ear against the crack, and the world's utmost certainties shattered. She was sure of it: Thora heard a whispered, syrupy voice emanating from deep inside the fissure. When she finally understood the message, she quailed, her knees buckling though she’d managed to stay upright.
“You know me,” the voice hissed into her naked ear. “You. Know. Me.”
What did it mean? The statement itself undermined reason—who or what was it that she apparently knew? Something was trying to communicate through the crack, but from where? After all, it was just a crack in the wall—albeit a crack of unknown origin … A crack that broadcast strange sounds and ultimately spoke.
The agony of discovery quickly faded, and as a woman of sensibility and reason, Thora came to fully accept this new development with no qualms. In fact, she began to feel special: set apart from—no, placed above—others. Chosen.
As Thora stared into its depths, it stared into hers.
A symmetry was arranged.
And so, she wholeheartedly gave herself over to the contemplation of the crack in the wall.
Thora began to think of herself as a nun or priestess, tending a sacred shrine. Whenever someone came to see her, she was always standing there, gaunter than before—more otherworldly, utterly unresponsive. Visitors would often leave concerned for her mental health.
One long, aching afternoon, she stood and watched as the paint flecks fell onto the carpet, piling up like lies covering a sin, a quiet annihilation of what had come before. Although the wound in the masonry wasn't pretty, it worked on her as if it were, and she found herself admiring the variety of its blackness, the precision of its edges, the originality of its placement.
The crack in the wall grew deeper, and its darkness leeched outward like thunder clouds infecting a pale sky. Her appreciation of its beauty grew, too. But still, somehow, only she noticed that it had come to occupy much of the wall.
After an afternoon of thinking it over, Thora decided that such munificence required some reply, and she began pushing small items—bits of wool and paper clips—deep into the crack. She also scrawled querying notes—Who are you? Why have you come? —then folded them up and wadded them into the gap. She eagerly laid her ear against it.
“You know me,” the voice said in response. “You. Know. Me.”
She knew the words were important, and she set her mind to the task of teasing out the truth. After all, what could be more important than the truth? Without a second thought, Thora got down on her hands and knees in front of it, and upon inspecting it closely, noticed the delicate seams of black filigree that worked out from the center. She felt a thrill of excitement, and as she got closer, something caught her eye.
Deep within the crack something glimmered, shining vividly. She knew there and then that this was the much hoped for answer.
The object was bright and crystalline and seemed to throb with an inner light. Its prismatic beauty, fantastic and somehow mind-expanding, caused her breath to catch in her throat and tears to sting her eyes, and she pushed her hand into the crack to shake hands with a higher reality and claim the peculiar object for herself.
And it was then that she knew: She'd made a terrible mistake.
Her hand was seized by something inside the crack, and the bright object flared white and merciless for a moment before disappearing into the ether. Sobbing incoherently, she braced her feet against the wall and tried her hardest to pull her hand out.
It didn't budge.
But she tried and tried until an agonizing tearing sensation in her shoulder prevented any further effort. Then, with a surge, her arm was pulled deeper, past the crack, into the solid wall, into the beyond.
She was being entombed in a wall while still alive, her flesh melded with the implacability of the uncaring stone.
Thora grabbed the stricken wrist with her free hand and that, too, was dragged inexorably into the wall, through the crack. Screaming and screaming, she knew no one could hear her but evolution compelled her to sound an alarm. Both hands were now buried in stone up to the elbows, and she was still being drawn further in. Thora tried to keep her head away from the crack, but inevitably it progressed towards it—and, ultimately, touched it.
Cold. So cold.
The fatal words echoed through the vault of her skull: YOU. KNOW. ME. Much of her forehead was now inside the wall, and the pain radiated through her stricken skull and limp body. Longing for nothingness, she whimpered with the sudden, piercing knowledge that she did now know—that she was being made to know through some weird congress with the stone structure. That she no longer wanted to know at all.
And duly, once her whole head was consumed, she knew and felt nothing more.
They found Thora on the following Monday, and the manner of her death was baffling to all. She had been frozen in time, in mid-struggle; her head and hands were pushed deep into the crack, feet braced against the wall as if she were trying to pull herself away. The cause of death was ruled suffocation though her mouth and nose. It was as if she'd voluntarily stopped breathing, and so it was ruled a death by misadventure.
Thora's absence made as little an impression as her presence had. The immense crack, though, was harder to forget.
Whenever it was plastered over, the chalky material always fell out, a solid mass of material slapping on the carpet. Some of the staff remarked that the shape of the hard pieces resembled Thora—a death mask in plaster—but most squinted and turned away. As with most unpleasant things, they’d found it more politic to ignore.
MLHART was born working class in the post-industrial northeast of England. It was pure serendipity that her school burned down while she was attending it. She has a husband and a degree but very much favors the former over the latter. She has a interest in history, particularly the English civil wars and the Napoleonic era. MLHart also is interested in art and has illustrated various book covers. She is thrilled to be working with the night!