The Walled-In Ones

Yasen Vasilev

Illustration by Shuxian Lee


BASTIAN:  I was in the car, the rain was drumming down on the roof, turning the muddy road into a river. I was looking out the window and the whole world looked washed away and blurred like in a dream. I thought I caught a glimpse of her even then, running barefoot up the stone steps in her tattered white dress and hiding behind the huge gate. She looked like an apparition. I thought I'd imagined her. But after I paid the driver and started climbing the stone steps, even before I got to the door, I could sense her invisible presence. Or someone else's. I don't know. I only knew that something was awaiting my arrival at that house. And it was watching me.


ISADORA:  So you're the new neighbor!

BASTIAN:  I suppose so.

ISADORA:  We've been waiting for you. We've been wondering for a long time now who bought the house.

BASTIAN:  Well, here I am. I bought it.

ISADORA:  I'm Isadora Graf. I live beyond the wall. In the house next door.

BASTIAN:  Pleased to meet you. Bertello. Bastian Bertello.

ISADORA:  Yes. I saw your car when you arrived. Surely you know that no one has lived in this house for a long time, Mr. Bertello. How do you feel in a place like this?

BASTIAN:  I'm not sure I'm following you. What's wrong with this place?

ISADORA:  Last night I heard a scream coming from your house.

BASTIAN:  Really?

ISADORA:  Yes. It was like someone screaming in terror. I was worried.

BASTIAN:  Are you sure? Could you have been hearing things?

ISADORA:  I've got a very sharp ear for such things. And it's happened before, too . . .

BASTIAN:  It most likely didn't come from here.

ISADORA:  But where else could it have come from? Our two houses are the only ones around. There are jackals in the woods, and sometimes the sounds they make resemble human screams, but I can tell them apart. After all these years . . .

BASTIAN:  I have no idea what it could've been. But everything looks fine, now doesn't it . . .

ISADORA:  Yes, indeed it does . . .

BASTIAN:  I promise to ask Ivy when she wakes up.


BASTIAN:  The girl who lives with me.

ISADORA:  Strange, I saw you arriving all by yourself.

BASTIAN:  Ivy was already here when I got here.

ISADORA:  What do you mean, already here?

BASTIAN:  In the house.

ISADORA:  That's impossible. Didn't I tell you? No one has lived in this house for years.

BASTIAN:  Ivy was born here and has always lived here.

ISADORA:  What do you mean? No, no . . . Wait. There must be some sort of mistake. The house's owners have been dead for years and have no heirs.

BASTIAN:  I'm telling you, there's no mistake!

ISADORA:  And I'm telling you that the house was empty before you arrived, Mr. Bertello! I'm sure of it!

BASTIAN:  And what happened to the previous owners?

ISADORA:  I think it's best that we don't get into that story.

BASTIAN:  Did something bad happen?

ISADORA:  Perhaps I'll tell you some other time. Very well, Mr. Bertello . . .

BASTIAN:  You're leaving? Aren't you going to tell me the story?

ISADORA:  I hope everything really is fine, as you say . . .

BASTIAN:  Don't worry.

ISADORA:  And take care!

BASTIAN:  Goodbye.

ISADORA:  Goodbye . . . (Pause.) Now I remember. A while back something similar happened. Your house was empty then. I was home alone and heard a scream from the woods, almost the same as the one last night, only louder. I took the road into the village, because it's not safe to go into the forest alone at night, don't ever do it! I rounded up the priest and a couple other men and we went into the forest.

BASTIAN:  And what happened? Did you find anything?

ISADORA:  Yes. We found a woman who had gotten lost. She was pregnant. I took her to my house. When she pulled herself together a bit, she started saying the strangest things—she kept hearing whispers and footsteps and imagining that someone wanted to kill the twins she was carrying in her womb.

BASTIAN:  What happened in the end?

ISADORA:  She gave birth, they really were twins, but afterward she took the kids and set out for the lighthouse and never came back. She must've thrown herself off it.

BASTIAN:  Why would she do that?

ISADORA:  It's just that kind of place. (Pause.) I suppose that the meaninglessness weighs on us more heavily here than in other places. I think I've already said too much. I must be going now. Goodbye, Mr. Bertello.


BASTIAN:  How did you sleep, Ivy?

IVY:  I slept. For the first time in such a long while.

BASTIAN:  But I didn't. I didn't sleep a wink the whole night.

IVY:  You must not be used to the place yet.

BASTIAN:  Since you were asleep, that means you didn't hear the scream?

IVY:  No. What happened?

BASTIAN:  Something strange happened.

IVY:  Do tell me! What exactly did you hear, sir?

BASTIAN:  I didn't hear anything. But I saw something . . .

IVY:  What?

BASTIAN:  For a long time, I couldn't fall asleep. I squeezed my eyes shut until they ached. Then I stared into the darkness for a long while until my eyes got used to it and I could make out silhouettes. I decided to get up and stroll around a bit.

IVY:  I forgot to warn you not to go out at night!

BASTIAN:  I didn't go outside.

IVY:  I meant you shouldn't leave your room.

BASTIAN:  Why not?

IVY:  Everything looks different in the evening. One could easily get lost.

BASTIAN:  I got lost in the hallways.

IVY:  I told you that you need a guide in this house. Even I don't know it completely. After all these years . . .

BASTIAN:  I roamed around, wandering through the empty rooms. I finally managed to find some stairs and it was easier for me to get my bearings downstairs. I went to the kitchen and was looking for something to eat when suddenly I got that feeling—like someone was watching me. You know what I mean, right?

IVY:  I've constantly had that feeling since I've been here.

BASTIAN:  Don't you mean "always"? Haven't you always been here?

IVY:  I've gotten so used to it that it doesn't matter.

BASTIAN:  I looked out the window, since I felt like I was being watched from outside, but it was too dark to make out anything whatsoever. I started rummaging through the cupboards for coffee, since I couldn't sleep anyway, and it happened again. I whirled around toward the window and saw somebody practically pressed up against the glass. I got really scared and even screamed, but he seemed startled, too, because he abruptly drew back into the darkness.

IVY:  Did you follow him?

BASTIAN:  No, of course not. I closed all the curtains. I checked all the doors. I made sure everything was locked and that there was no way to get in.

IVY:  Good thinking! You should have woken me up!

BASTIAN:  Do you have any idea who it could have been?

IVY:  No, but I've seen him, too. That's why I told you not to open the curtains. Something's always lurking here.

BASTIAN:  It must be someone from the village.

IVY:  The people from the village never come near the house.

BASTIAN:  Then who? Who could it be?

IVY:  How should I know? I never go out.


BASTIAN:  Then how did you know about my arrival?

IVY:  Things here are different, as if . . .

BASTIAN:  As if the meaninglessness weighs on us more heavily here than in other places.

IVY:  Funny, that's exactly what I was going to say.

BASTIAN:  Do you know our neighbor?

IVY:  No. Why do you ask?

BASTIAN:  The woman who lives in the house beyond the wall. Isadora Graf. Don't you know her?

IVY:  No, I don't know her. I know she's been living here for a long time, all by herself. But that's all I know.

BASTIAN:  How can neighbors not know each other?

IVY:  I know who she is, but I don't talk to her. She is very strange. Like all people.

BASTIAN:  Ivy, what happened to your parents?

IVY:  Why did that cross your mind just now?

BASTIAN:  No one has told me what happened to the house's previous owners.

IVY:  My parents weren't the owners of the house! I don't know my parents!

BASTIAN:  Forgive me, I didn't know that . . .

IVY:  My adoptive parents found me near the lighthouse when I was just a baby. My adoptive mother was sure that it was a sign from fate, since the two of them couldn't have children, so they kept me.

BASTIAN:  Are they alive? Your adoptive parents?

IVY:  I don't know.

BASTIAN:  What do you mean, you don't know?

IVY:  I just don't know. They disappeared one day.

BASTIAN:  Didn't you look for them?

IVY:  But how could I find them? The world is enormous. If someone decides to disappear, nothing can get in his way.

BASTIAN:  Why would they want to leave their home?

IVY:  Everyone runs away from this house. I'm the only one who has stayed here to take care of it.

BASTIAN:  But you lied to me. You lied that you were born in this house.

IVY:  I was afraid to tell you, sir, because you might not have believed me. It's true. There are more things you don't know, Mr. Bertello. About the history of this house, I mean. Very strange things go on here. Voices drift through the hallways, but there's no one there. Sounds can be heard. Whispering and footsteps.

BASTIAN:  Is that why nobody from the village comes near the house?

IVY:  Years ago, terrible things happened in the village and a witch hunt began. Thirteen women were accused and convicted, and they walled them into the foundations alive. I hear them at night sometimes. Whispering. Tiptoeing around. If you prick up your ears when darkness falls, you'll catch their indecipherable sounds.

BASTIAN:  So why don't you leave?

IVY:  I can't. Nobody's wanted to live here for years. In the beginning I didn't believe it, I thought it was all nonsense. Then I started hearing things and I thought I was going crazy, but now I'm not sure anymore. It's true. The whispering. The footsteps. The walled-in ones. I hear them walking around the house. Whispering. I look around, peek around the corners, but there's no one there. Yet I'm not hallucinating! I can tell reality from fantasy! I'm telling you this because I can't get my mind around it. I'm going to go crazy. (Pause.) I've heard that two people can be so connected that they dream the same dream, in which they meet. And their meeting in the dream is more real than in reality.

BASTIAN:  Nothing connects us. I don't know you.

IVY:  The house. The house connects us. The whispering. The footsteps. The walled-in ones. (Pause.) You shouldn't have come here, Mr. Bertello.


IVY:  Right from the start, I knew everything, foresaw everything, presaged everything. No one ever comes here, so when someone was finally ready to visit me, I could sense it for days, weeks in advance, I could sense him thinking about me and about it, as if the house and I had become one. I could sense him making plans, talking, I felt what was going through his head, where he was going, what he ate, I knew everything somehow. So when he finally showed up at my home, I wasn't surprised. I heard his heavy footsteps as soon as he reached the threshold, then I heard the others fussing about, their hushed voices, they think I can't hear them, but I catch even the tiniest flutter of their eyelids. When he started going up the stairs, his footsteps were already grating on my brain—heavy, clear and distinct on the stone. The key clicked in the lock as if turning in my head. He stood on the threshold of the cracked-open door, I sensed his presence for a long time, but I didn't move. There's something else. Another room, another door. I suddenly whirl around and look at him. The scissors, which he's clutching in his hands and which flash like a mirror in the darkness of the room, tremble, and for an instant I see my anxious face in them, split in two.


IVY:  All day. While you were asleep, sir. The whispering. The footsteps. The walled-in ones.

I didn't hear anything. I slept so soundly.

IVY:  All day. I didn't believe they'd have the nerve to show up in broad daylight, but it's all because of her. All of it!

BASTIAN:  Because of who?

IVY:  You know who I'm talking about. The neighbor! She's a witch!

BASTIAN:  Isadora Graf? She's merely an eccentric old recluse, you said so yourself.

IVY:  Yes, that's how it seems at first glance, that's how it seems, everybody thinks so, but I know. I know her very well.

BASTIAN:  But didn't you tell me this morning that you didn't know anything about her?

IVY:  I lied!


IVY:  Because I'm afraid. I'm afraid!

BASTIAN:  You're making things up!

IVY:  But you saw that thing last night, too. You know I'm not making things up!

BASTIAN:  I didn't see anything! I lied to you!

IVY:  But I've seen it!

BASTIAN:  It was just a dream. It wasn't real.

IVY:  It wasn't a dream! You have to believe me! I'm the only one who can help you survive in this house.

BASTIAN:  Survive?

IVY:  You are in grave danger, don't you understand that at all?

BASTIAN:  Actually, no. I don't understand!

IVY:  I knew this would happen. She's trying to turn you against me!

BASTIAN:  I haven't even talked to her!!

IVY:  Now you're lying! You have talked to her! She's filled your head with lies! She's low-down and very sneaky. She's a witch! She's gotten you all mixed up!

BASTIAN:  Ivy, you're imagining things!

IVY:  No. She's going to try to make me out as the guilty one! She's going to make me out as the witch!

BASTIAN:  Get a hold of yourself!

IVY:  I'm not guilty!

BASTIAN:  No one has accused you of anything!

IVY:  But she'll try to! She's the thirteenth one! They should've walled her in with the others, but she slipped away somehow. That's why she never gets any older. Can't you see that's not normal? Why do you think she lives here? Alone!

BASTIAN:  What about you? Why do you live here alone?

IVY:  What are you trying to say?

BASTIAN:  Keep your voice down!

IVY:  Now look—you're accusing me!

BASTIAN:  Ivy! Keep your voice down!

IVY:  I'm not a witch!

BASTIAN:  Fine, Ivy, just calm down!

IVY:  The whispering. The footsteps. The walled-in ones.

BASTIAN:  Don't yell! Calm down!

IVY:  No! No! I can't calm down! She's lurking nearby, circling the house, looking in the windows, roaming the yard. You saw her!

BASTIAN:  Why would she do that?

IVY:  I don't know what she wants from me, but every time she appears, they show up, too. Every time. That's why I always keep the curtains drawn.

BASTIAN:  Have you seen her peeking into the house?

IVY:  Countless times! She's always nearby!

BASTIAN:  Why didn't you tell me?

IVY:  I was afraid you'd go and leave me alone again!

BASTIAN:  What else haven't you told me?

IVY:  That's all. I swear. I'm really frightened.

BASTIAN:  I don't know what to believe anymore!

IVY:  In the basement, there's a glass vial in which the owners of the house keep a very strong poison called the Salem Devil.

BASTIAN:  Why are you telling me this?

IVY:  We could kill her. (Pause.) It's our only chance to save ourselves.

BASTIAN:  Do you realize what you're saying?

IVY:  We're in terrible danger. The whispering. The footsteps. The walled-in ones.

BASTIAN:  You're planning a murder!

IVY:  We'll need help. Or . . . the vial. It'll be completely painless. The poison works in a matter of seconds.

BASTIAN:  You know what she told me this morning?

IVY:  You shouldn't believe her! Tomorrow you should go to the village, you should get away from here!

BASTIAN:  She told me that the house has been empty for years. Ever since its previous owners died. She didn't say a word about you!

IVY:  She acts like I don't exist! Let's call the priest for help!

BASTIAN:  She didn't know anything about you at all. She said that no one lived here!

IVY:  But I live here! You saw me when you arrived! Do you doubt your own judgment? (Pause.) You can tell reality from fantasy, can't you? She's the one making things up, lying to you. You shouldn't believe her! Do you hear? Don't believe her!

BASTIAN:  Fine! Now be quiet! If you're telling the truth, isn't it better for her not to hear us?

IVY:  Do you believe me?

BASTIAN:  I don't believe either one of you!

I can prove it to you. I can prove to you that that woman is a witch.

BASTIAN:  And how exactly will you do that?

IVY:  Witches aren't ordinary people, they don't have reflections in mirrors.

BASTIAN:  I'm not going to listen to this anymore!

IVY:  But I'm trying to help you get out of here!

BASTIAN:  I can leave whenever I want.

IVY:  Oh, you think so? We're walled up in this house, Mr. Bertello.

BASTIAN:  Shhhh!

IVY:  What?

BASTIAN:  Did you hear that?

IVY:  No. What?

BASTIAN:  I thought I heard the floorboards out there creak. Someone was walking across them.

translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel