Be Back Soon

This is the first bit of flash fiction from me for 2012. Let me read it to you by clicking on the arrow below.


We were living in the house for six months before the crack started. The builder called it a settling crack—made it seem less important than I was making it out to be. He had one of his guys come over, trowel some mud on it (their term), and paint it over the next day. It looked great when he was done.

A week later, it came back. The jagged crack was wide enough to stick a letter opener in and tapered off to the ends.

So I went to the hardware store and talked to the guy in paints and he gave me a product which came in a tube he said was like spackle. He recommended it for use in bathrooms and kitchens where the temperature and humidity constantly changed, because the stuff remained flexible. He suggested that because the crack was near the fireplace in the living room, perhaps there was a similar expansion and contraction issue there as well.

So I tried it. It didn’t come out as smooth as troweling on the mud, but it was better than that unsightly gap.

A little over a week later, the crack was back and it was bigger. The original foot and a half long fissure was evident, and splintering off from that leading over to the mantle was another foot long crack. So there were two.

I could feel cold air coming in.

I called the builder back, told him I wanted the whole inside wall torn down and rebuilt. That got his attention. He came over with two of his guys. They were both older and more experienced looking than the first guy who troweled on the mud.

They examined it. They went outside after feeling the cold air coming in and inspected the wall from the other side. The conversation became animated out there and then the builder came back to the door and I let him in.

He said, “We’re going to bring in a foam insulation sprayer and fill the wall with foam. It’ll set up pretty quick and help stabilize the wall. Then we’ll mud it over and paint it and everything will be as good as new.” He smiled. “Sound good?”

I nodded without conviction.

He patted me on the shoulder once and said, “Good, we’ll get right on it.” And then he left.

That was three weeks ago and the cracks are back. There are three vertical ones and the horizontal crack leading from the top of the mantle. I can feel the cold air seeping in even though they filled the wall with foam.

I went out to try to see any sign of a problem on the other side. Everything looks normal out there—tight and well built. The shakes butt right up to the chimney and there are no gaps on the outside.

Yet inside, I can feel that cold air coming in. Worse, situated on the northeast side of the house and with the setting sun, the room is cast in shadows. Yet in the gloom, light beams from the cracks as though the inner wall were some other place.

What I’ve done is to pry the wall open. Beyond is another when—another where. Beyond is seaside, a white sandy beach and water as far as the eye can see.

My property is all woods in that direction. I went out again to check.

The only sign of life through the wall: a single crab standing tall on segmented legs and holding its claws high as though trying reach for the cloudless sky to pull it down. Two others came out of the surf and joined it.

Afraid of what might happen when I stepped through, I tied an extension cord to the leg on the couch and hung on to the other end. From the other side, the passage appears as a smudge, an indistinct blur. My orange extension cord disappeared into that murk and I followed it back into my house.

So I know it can be done.

I wrote this note to explain things as they stand. Please don’t pull the extension cord back. I’m in the wall—in the other where, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.

I’ve gone exploring.

That’s it for now. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment! I’ll read them when I get back…


13 thoughts on “Be Back Soon

  1. Mary Walcott Conrad

    Wow Don!! I had no idea of what you were thinking as you glance over at those stubborn cracks near the fireplace. You have quite an imagination!! Loved the story. I will never look at those cracks the same way again;)

  2. Stephen Book

    I love it. There’s such potential here for someone to pull the plug on the guy and set in motion a great adventure. Like others, I am curious just what he might find. You write that’s all you have for now; I can’t wait to see what else you come up with. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cathy Olliffe-Webster

    First of all, loved the story. Engrossing, engaging .. all the e-words! And the devil was certainly in the details… loved the orange extension cord (at least he used the heavy-duty one). And hey, how perfect was your voice for this piece! You sounded exactly like Norm Abrams from This Old House – how perfect for a renovation story run amok.

    Really enjoyed it, Donald. Thanks!

  4. John Wiswell

    My favorite #fridayflash all week, Donald. Your narration helped, as the calm, monotone delivery lulled me into complacence and left me not expecting things to get so weird at the end. It reminds me of story I can’t actually remember, the simple adventure and juxtaposition of the mundane and fantastic. The only example that comes to mind is Stephen King’s “The House on Maple Street.” I would happily read a 5,000-word short story that ran out from this.

  5. willbarrington

    Like it! The fun is in knowing that the crack is building to something… but what?

    I did want to know something more about who the narrator left behind – who’s reading the note? What have they been doing while he’s become obsessed with the crack? Is the narrator saying “I told you there was something up” or “don’t worry, I’m sure it’s nothing”..?


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