Monday, March 26, 2012

9 Days of Madness presents: Forever in These Walls, by Erin Cole

Erin Cole is one of the hardest working writers that I know. It seems that she's always got something going on - a new short story here, an anthology placement there. I know this from reading her excellent blog, now located on Wordpress.

The thing is, Erin's backing up the stuff she's talking about - Grave Echoes has been out for just over a year now, and it's an amazing debut novel. She mentioned a short story collection one day - BAM - short story collection available on Amazon. So, when I see that she's got the sequel to Grave Echoes and a new werewolf novel on the go, I know it's only a matter of time before those see print, too.

What's even more amazing is how, given how prolific she is, that each story is so meticulously crafted. You get the impression in reading it that there is not a single word that she did not carefully select. It's something that writers (and let's not kid ourselves - 99% of the fantastic folks who read these stories on the many sites in the blog-o-sphere are also writers in their own right) can appreciate. I know I do. The effect is some of the most kick-ass fiction I've had the pleasure to read.

With that, I'm very proud to be able to present you with "Forever in These Walls".

~~ 9DOM ~~

Forever in These Walls

Lindsey crept behind their turned backs across the tiled hallway, acutely perceptive to their growing numbers.  The phantoms were a gang now; she had no doubt of that.  They didn’t carry guns, though she wished they did.  One could at least try to dodge bullets … but the kiss of death, that was inescapable.

In her efforts to remain unseen, she neglected her path and slinked directly beneath a light bulb.  It droned, flickered, and popped with a bright clap.  They turned around.  They, with pasty, fanged mouths, red eyes, and bone-tipped fingers that gored into spirits like her, holding them still for death’s kiss.
Lindsey began her chant, the morgue, the morgue, the morgue.

* * *

Some have said that she will never leave this place, that where her heart stopped is where her soul will live forever.  This idea is difficult for Lindsey to absorb, in addition, to the passing of time.  She has been at Riverside Hospital for a stretch now.  Months?  Years?  She can’t tell.  Time isn’t fluid anymore.  It is segmented into a mosaic of broken images, tendrils of memory that curl around the other like black dye in water.  When she thinks of a place, click, and just like that, she is there.  By only a thought—

* * *

Lindsey hid in the bottom row of metal vats next to the door.  It smelled bad.  She listened intently for the scrape of phantom footsteps.  The gang hissed with dark want; they would take anything that moved.  Even hospitals had dead rats.

A vat door opened above her with a slick whoosh.  She heard the desperate snivel of another spirit.  It was too late.  There was nothing she could do to help.  She had watched it happen before, how the phantoms groaned together, circling a humble, lone spirit.  One of them reached out, snagged ethereal life, and sealed its mouth over the spirit’s own.  What it felt like or what was actually happening to the spirit, Lindsey couldn’t tell, but their expressions had ranged from pain to confusion to hate.  Though she was unable to see the spirit’s expression, listening to the carnage had its own horrors.

* * *

Shafts of the summer sun tunneled through a nearby vacant room and brightened Tanya’s desk with God-like radiance.  Lindsey stood in front of her like reflected sunlight.  Some days, Tanya saw her, other days she didn’t.  Tanya was punching pathogen records into a calculator and recording the totals.  From the pictures taped to the outer perimeter of her monitor, Lindsey knew she had two boys of her own, an older brother, and a mother.  Her younger sister met her ill-fated end five years ago after getting into the wrong car with the wrong person.  Lindsey had read about it in her journal one day.  Turns out, she wasn’t the only one.  Six other women met the same wrong person.

Down the hall, lights began to flicker.  Lindsey feared the phantom gang had returned.  She fastened a place in her mind and was about to chant to herself, when a young spirit, one she had never seen before, raced through the admissions center.  The girl yelled and flailed her arms.  A buzzer lit up on Tanya’s desk.  By the speed of her movements, and the girl’s urgency, Lindsey gathered that another patient had arrived in the emergency room.  Tanya fled the front desk.  Lindsey followed her.

The operating table held a man covered in so much blood, it was difficult to tell where, and what the extent of his wounds were.  Lindsey believed the medical technicians’ thoughts paralleled her own as they wiped at his skin with oversized cotton balls and searching eyes.

But Tanya was fast.  Lindsey had watched her in the operating room on several occasions.  She didn’t lose many.

Lindsey looked over at the girl.  She was cut up the same as the man, and so distraught, she didn’t take notice of her.  She screamed at the ceiling instead.  “No!  It can’t be like this.  Please, God!  Please!  Don’t do this!”  She paced in front of his bed, clutching her head with fisted palms.

The technicians couldn’t hear or see her, but their movements were clumsy, their voices heightened, as though her presence had affected them the same as if they could.  Tanya was struggling to get the man’s blood pressure.  Her cheeks deepened to dark rose.  She wiped sweat from her brow.  “I need 3 cc’s of tranexamic acid!  Hurry!”  She feared she was going to lose this one.

The young girl stormed closer to the man.  Her teary eyes brimmed with what looked like rage.  She started banging on his chest, only her punches never made contact.  “I hate you!  I hate you!  You were supposed to die in the wreck!  Not me!”  She reached for a scalpel on the surgical tray, but her palm slipped through it.

Lindsey felt small, as if she were shrinking.  The dark story emerging from the girl stunned her with further terror.  She had tried to murder the man, but her plan had backfired.  Adding to Lindsey’s turmoil, Tanya had stopped helping him.  Her gaze stilled on him like ambushed prey.  The other doctors noticed her ceased assistance, but continued working on the man.  They didn’t have time to ask her what was wrong.

Tanya stepped back, near against Lindsey, and said in a voice that only she and the girl could hear: “It’s him.”

The girl looked to Tanya and Lindsey for the first time.  She nodded.  “Yes.  It’s him.  It’s him!”  She motioned her thin, cut-up arms to the man on the gurney.

Lindsey knew whom they were both talking about—the wrong man.  The girl was an eerie resemblance to Tanya’s younger sister.  And, he was about to escape penalty once again.  His eyes opened.  He tried to speak to the nurses, but his lips, minced from shattered glass, flapped languidly, and so no one could properly understand him.

The girl tried for the scalpel again.  It was of no use.  Lindsey could pick it up, but the girl didn’t know that.  Above the man’s head, a large heart-rate monitor was bolted to the wall.  The girl’s eyes traced the path of Lindsey’s. 

“Rise,” Lindsey told her.

The girl pursed her lips together, crumpled her brow, and began to ascend toward Lindsey.

Lindsey’s fingers contacted the monitor.  It was like touching the surface of water.  The girl’s hands fell through it.  “You’re thinking about it too much.  Let the object come to you.”

She tried again and smiled in success.

The man looked at both of the girls now.  He had one foot in their world and one in his own.  He jabbed a finger at the monitor above his head, but the technicians strapped his arm down.  They didn’t realize what was about to happen.  Tanya watched on in disbelief, hands splayed over mouth.

Lindsey and the girl pulled on the monitor with resolute force.  The young girl was a fast learner, and the monitor tilted forward.  The man shook his head back and forth.  The doctors must have thought he was going into a seizure.  They reached for electrode paddles next to the bed.

The monitor bent away from the wall.  The bolts loosened from the studs.  The doctors looked up, but the monitor was already in the arms of gravity, toppling onto the right person.  The nurses and doctors shouted with maddening energy as they lifted the monitor from his head.  His arms twitched, and then they fell limp to the table.  An indigo shell of him lifted from his body.  Wrath behind his eyes fixed on Lindsey and the girl.

Oh, no.  Lindsey grabbed the girl’s hand.  Cafeteria.  Cafeteria.  Cafeteria.


Like dye in water, she and the girl traveled through the walls. The phantoms would follow—they had an eternity to do so. 

~~ 9DOM ~~

While she’s currently building a plank out of rejection emails, Erin’s work has been published in various online and print publications such as the Boston Literary Review, 5x5 Fiction, Trembles Horror Magazine, and MicroHorror, and she has work forthcoming in Aiofe’s Kiss and The Fabulist.  Last year, her paranormal short story, "The Wall of Never Doubt," placed 10th in the Writer's Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition, Genre Short Story Category.


  1. There are so many unsettling layers in this. A well crafted tale, Erin, as they always are. That last line is the perfect way to leave this story with so many uncertainties.

  2. A wonderful story with your own creative twists on the paranormal. I'd expect nothing less. You always put your own stamp on the work, whatever the genre.

  3. A pleasure to read your work Erin. A very unsettling tale indeed.To be trapped in an never ending nightmare.It's put me off dying any time soon.

  4. Great story. Erin your sense of amorphous permanence is strong here.

  5. Thanks, everyone!

    Chris, thank you for the kind words and another inclusion in your Days of Madness. Cheers!

  6. It's an excellent story, Erin, and well deserving to finish off 9 Days of Madness.

    The worlds you create always have such complex nooks and crannies that make them come alive, and this is just such a world you've given us here yet again.

    Thanks Erin.

  7. Erin,
    This must have been an incredibly difficult story to write in so few words, but you pulled it off not only simply but beautifully as well. I was very sorry this story ended, I could have read an entire novel of the balance of these two worlds and the characters. I loved how justice in one world created an eternal injustice in the next, and how innocence & naivety in one world also held true to the next. As others said, so many layers and so much at work here. Wow! Loved it.