The Sole Unquiet Thing of 30E by Matthew Konkel

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The Sole Unquiet Thing of 30E by Matthew Konkel
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Within the cracks of the walls I discovered these messages written on scraps of paper. Scribbled with the most curious and foolish phrases I had ever moved my eyes across, these notes were apparently nothing more than hidden graffiti. Or were they? The first one I found was rolled up like a narrow cigarette and pushed in flush with the brick:

Make Mice Sing

The start of spring brought a promise of employment and had prompted me to move to the other side of town. I now resided in a small studio on the third story in a building of seven, comfortable enough for a woman in the September of her life. A typesetter by trade, I expected a call within days for details on a part-time proofer at the historical society.

Boxes black-markered with room names, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, etc. were collected in a bunch in the middle of the living area. This was ironic, considering that merely two rooms comprised my home. Worn and tattered from multiple transits well beyond their intention, the boxes reminded me of social dregs gathered on the corner to hear an overly emphatic street preacher. Three more messages found:

Ignore the decent

Play the game

Refer to the ones

This conduct was incomprehensible. What could possibly be the purpose— things to remember? No. If you want to remember something you stick it on the refrigerator or write it in dry erase where it can be seen clearly, you don’t scrawl it haphazardly on a scrap and stick it in the crack of a wall. I was convinced this person, the previous resident most likely, leaned beyond mere fool toward someone perched for an emotional turbulence.

A poem, or several poems, I thought. But if a poem, why hide it in a wall for strangers to find? Perhaps it was for some sort of amusement, notes of nonsense planted merely to perplex and confuse anyone who happened to find them. But that seemed unlikely. Whoever set the trap would have no way of seeing the trap sprung— unless, of course, I was being watched. I quickly corralled my paranoia away. We all must obscure things at times. It’s necessary to maintain our stability.

Still no call from the historical society so I bided my time inside 30E with grammar puzzles, crosswords and cataloging my recipes. The curious phenomenon of the messages whispered relentlessly inside my head. Scanning the east wall this time, I discovered two more:

Be the course

Celebrate the din

I decided that this must be a code. This past occupant was trying to get a message out. Maybe a warning or a call for rescue, the bricks were his bottle and time was his sea. I laid all the found scraps of paper out on the floor and looked at them closely. Besides all being printed in black ink there was no obvious connection. I lined them up top to bottom, stretched them across end to end in every possible order. It was a game of sentence scrabble. Trying to bond with the words I typed them out, backwards, top to bottom and rearranged them alphabetically. I hoped I would discover patterns that could not be discerned by reading them. I counted the number of times each letter was used and tried to impose some alphanumeric code. All of it was useless. I’m not a cryptologist.

There was too much missing information. Who was this person who lived in this space before me? What kind of individual were they? And what happened to them? Where did they go? I found it difficult to rest without having my mind invaded by these questions. It was imperative for my own tranquility that I discover the identity of 30E’s prior resident.

I inquired about the previous tenant at my adjacent neighbors, across the hall, the floor above and the floor below. The responses I got: “No.” “Nope.” “No, didn’t know them.”

Incensed with detection I went back to my apartment determined to unearth information about the brick-mailer. It was necessary I locate all the messages if I expected to sharpen the fuzzy picture. I searched every inch of every surface in the unit with a flashlight and tweezers. I left no crack uninvestigated. In some places where it was too difficult to inspect with the naked eye I resorted to extreme means. My efforts resulted in two more notes. One of them contained an unnerving element.

Make electric music

Enjoy the death

Did someone die in this apartment? Was the deceased individual the one who left the brick-mails? Are they somehow still leaving them? I corralled this thought to another place. I briefly considered contacting the historical society about the position but I was too gripped by this development. There must be some information. Someone must know something about this resident. Panicked, I knocked on more doors. I went to the fifth, sixth, seventh and first floor making inquiries. My surveys led only to closed doors in my face, and several blank stares. There was no further information about the wall poet. I was ready to acquiesce to defeat when I discovered another message. It was stuck in a place I was sure I had already inspected. How did I miss it? I extracted the wall-scrap at the same time as the knock.

At the door was a gentleman of decent demeanor, but grim expression. People have been complaining, he tells me, about the woman in 30E. Although I’ve never seen him before he mentions a previous time he came to my apartment. He says some residents are bothered by my knocking on their doors and asking them about the messages left in the walls. He goes on to tell me that the occupants of the surrounding units have heard screams and shouts. He says they’ve heard pounding and the irritating whine of power tools— He stopped mid-sentence and scanned my studio. He looked at the piles of dust along the edges of the room, the holes drilled into the walls, and the grating of all the vents removed. His gaze fell upon the group of boxes, black-markered with names of rooms. I unfolded the scrap in my hand. It read:

Preserve your existence

I looked up from the scrap to the man at the door. His grim look was now merged with a bewildered expression. I turned to the window. Outside, fall was losing to winter.


BIO: Matthew Konkel is a widely published author of fiction and poetry in publications including Danse Macabre, The Eunoia Review, Linguistic Erosion, Liquid Imagination, the Newer York, Paragraph Planet, Postcard Shorts, Sein and Werden, Streetcake Magazine and Theme of Absence. His plays have been produced nationally and internationally by theater companies including Cupcake Lady Productions, Edmonds Driftwood Players, Organised Chaos Productions, Over Our Head Players, Pink Banana Theatre and Screaming Media Gi60. Sometimes he makes films, here is proof: For further trifles