The first letter appeared as a shadow brought to life by the steam from my apparatus, jolting me from my solitary reveries. It hung, spectral, somehow inside the wall. At first I did not see it for what it was; it was not until I stood back to admire my first endeavours that I saw it, perhaps half a foot across, an ‘o’ hanging behind the delicate surface of my bedroom wall. I paused, stood back and stared at it for some time, the ‘o’, just waiting there, and staring back at me.
At this point I did not know that it was an ‘o’, of course. It may have been an eye, a centre, the bullseye of a target, perhaps, but it was inevitable that now I had begun to uncover it I must continue. What was I to do, ignore it? That ‘o’ would henceforth always be there, even if were to paint over it, cover it with some handy bookshelf or my grandfather clock, the knowledge of its presence would haunt me. No, the task was begun; it must be finished.
The patch that I had steamed around the ‘o’ was perspiring now, beads of sweat draining through the pores in that delicate pattern. I applied the scraper forensically, searching for a rift into which it might burrow. The top layer came away easily, strips coiling down to the floorboard to form narrow seashells there. Already I could see the shapes of more letters pushing through, where the surrounding, dry paper had come away. But there were further layers beneath, for under the delicate surface of my wallpaper lay another surface, the handiwork of a previous occupant. As it emerged I began to see that it was made up of a pigment of yellow, the yellow of canaries and corn, delicate to the touch. This layer was so thin that I might have scratched through it with a fingernail.
I stood back again. The letters that queued up, either side of the ‘o’ (whose vague form was hardly any clearer to the eye now than it had been minutes earlier) were an ‘n’ and a ‘t’.
Not an invitation to continue my investigation, certainly, but the same problem as before; only worse now, much worse. I struggled to imagine what ‘not’ might mean, and no permutation readily sprang to mind that eased my troubled thoughts. But I could not stop here, the legend only half-read, for I would forever wonder what else lay beneath that surface. Moving closer I set the scraper to work once more.
It made short work of the mysterious pigment, which crumbled away in seconds. The next layer was much darker, and momentarily I thought I had found the resting place of my hidden message, but on further inspection it turned out merely to be yet another layer of paper, this time a drab grey pattern of interlocking forms. The words (and there were now more than one, sliding into view above and below the ‘not’) still continued to tease me from behind this new frontier. The letters were a little brighter now than they had been when I had first approached the wall, and yet somehow no clearer.
I must confess that by this point I was becoming somewhat irritated. Digging the scraper into the wall, scalpel-like, I resolved to test how deep the layers of paper ran. To my surprise, it sank in to a depth of almost an inch. There must have been well over fifty layers there. To think, with every generation that has lived under this roof, my little room has shrunk smaller and smaller, millimetre by millimetre, one paper’s thickness at a time.
I considered, for a brief moment, the possibility of tearing down the whole lot at once, cutting deep grooves inward and sliding my scalpel underneath, but the idea was obviously a poor one. Who knew what two layers my message lay between? I could not risk tearing the walls down too hastily, what if the message was lost before I could read it? I readied the scraper, and started on the interlocking patterns of the third layer.
This fell away in individual pieces, singular atoms, but the uncovering was hard graft. Time and again I worked the knife in, releasing the cells so gradually and painstakingly that I thought my task would never cease. There was yet another tissue beneath, fracturing and splitting as rapidly as I could look at it, but it was necessary first to remove all of that third layer, piece by piece, atom by atom.
As I worked away it came to my attention that the mysterious yellow pigment that I had thought to be a layer of paper, was in fact oozing through the gaps in the interlocking pattern behind. It seemed to be emanating from layer four, but I could not understand how, or why. Perhaps it was the heat of the steam, bringing the walls to life. They seemed to breathe, sweating yellow droplets onto the surface where they formed unpleasant stains that I wiped with the back of my hand…
…As I collapsed to the floor, exhausted, as much of the fourth wall uncovered as I could possibly hope to uncover, I realised that almost two hours had passed. Two hours, and the shaking of my muscles, worn pale from lack of blood, was the only testament to my efforts. Still the words remained virtually the same as they had been, and worse, the corners of the uncovered patch seemed to be coming down to fill the space that I had already cleared. I needed to rest, and yet I could not, for fear that if I slowed I should have to tackle more of that tough third layer than I already had suffered through. The next surface seemed as though it would be less difficult. It splintered and fractured, dividing again and again into smaller iterations. I felt that, much like the mysterious pigment, a quick attack would make short work of it.
I braced myself, steadied my shaking limbs, and went at it again with the scraper. As I had suspected (and hoped), this new topsoil flew off the wall in an instant, surrounding me with clouds of yellow-hued dust. Was I inside the wall? It covered me, choking me, coating my skin and clinging to my hair. There seemed to me more than could possibly have come down off the wall. It was multiplying, filling every available pore. And as it began to settle, more appeared to spring up before me. I made another frenzied assault, this time swinging my arms to better clear the air as I worked. My arms burned with electricity from within, and my fingers began to feel numb. I kept the pace up as long as I could, until my head swam and the room span before me, choking down yet more dust, striving to breathe. I am spent; I fall heavily to the ground and crawl myself away.
The subject of my autopsy stands proudly before me, the letters (still!) indistinct, and yet blazing so brightly that I imagine I could not even make them vanish by shutting my eyes. Of course, there is no question of doing such a thing. What would be the point? The words would continue to exist, for I have read them now. I read them once again, as if I don’t already know what they say.
‘Tomorrow will not happen’.
The words burrow through me to my core, stripping away layers of skin and muscle. They haunt me, are ingrained in me, etched upon my consciousness as deeply as they are engraved in the mortar opposite. I do not know where they came from, cannot know who made them, and yet I know them unmistakeably to be true. Tomorrow will not happen. When it is said that ‘it is written’, it is written here.
Already it seems to me that the incision I have made into the various tissues of paper is closing up, covering the words once more. Somehow I know that, try as I might to destroy more of the facade, there will always be this inexorable march of the layers across the wall, covering my efforts once again, hiding the words from view. That is no matter now; they are there, they will always be there, today will not.