White Walls [Fiction]
By Emma Ferguson
Fiction Award Winner in the Echoes Writing Contest
The radios crackled in every house. At precisely 17:00, Parliament spoke. A soft yet sturdy female voice swirled out of every speaker, slowly gliding into open ears.
“The essence”, she paused, “of reincarnation is that we always receive another chance at life. Starting fresh means you are free. Forgetting yourself means you are free.” The white noise behind the voice sounded melodic, humming along to every word, “Free to be everyone and anyone that we can. It’s been said, that we are millions of emotions and personalities that make up our own unique character. We can’t be condensed to one thing—we are complicated. As we all live on, we must remember to be the so many things that are. Be yourself now, and be free.”
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Chapter One ⎏
April Blenheim woke to sunlight dancing across her eyelids. Elegant glass windows covered two sides of her bedroom, the other two displayed black and white photographs. One framed a six year old girl with baby twins perched pleasantly on her each knee. The baby girl was smiling hard at the person behind the camera, with drool hanging out of her wide open mouth. The boy was pictured in a mesmerized daze, carefully reaching out to grab the clear liquid hanging down from his sister’s plump, pink lip. The older girl, with an arm wrapped around each siblings’ waist, grinned admiringly down at them, happy that she was now a big sister. Her entire arms engulfed them, as if she might lose them if she didn’t hang on tightly. Neither April, nor Popi or Suddy had visible symbols in their eyes in the photograph. The lense of a camera could not capture the little white symbols embedded in a person’s iris and pupil.
April used her arms to push herself upright. Her shoulders rose as her lungs filled themselves to the brim with air. The air was crisp as she inhaled. If she had pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth, she was sure the air would have crinkled like tissue paper.
She carefully placed one foot after the other onto her floor, wood the colour of coffee and cream. When the first toe grazed the ground, she felt the floor’s coolness surge through her foot, then up her leg and into her knee. Her arms and legs, she realized, were sore and stiff from a long day boating in the harbor with Adelaide and Basil. It was Basil’s 17th reincarnation day, and they sailed all by themselves from the morning, until later, when the sky was brushed with a feathery violet.
Still in a morning daze from a deep sleep, April glided towards her brereu. There, above the table hung a large mirror, framed in ivory. Carved into the milky frame were reincarnation symbols. The mirror had been given to her by her grandmother, a gift for her tenth reincarnation day. At first glance, April’s eye caught the mark of a bumble bee, cat, bottlenose dolphin, tiger, and five symbols of a person, only a few of the thousands there, beautifully engraved into the ivory. Shifting her gaze from the white frame of the mirror, she examined her reflection. Her pajama bottoms fell loosely from her waist, down the length of her long legs. Towards the top of her left thigh was her school logo embroidered into the navy coloured cotton. Eldertree Academy, it read. April watched herself in the mirror as she reached to adjust her white linen tee. Her slender fingers pinched one shoulder sleeve and centered the shirt, shifting it across her chest.
Her skin looked darker, she noticed. It was most likely from soaking up the sun being reflected off the water the last month. April spotted a few new freckles across the bridge of her nose as well, which to some might remind them of what might be found on a robin’s egg. However, she thought it looked like mud had been permanently splattered across her cheeks and nose. It made her feel itchy.
Looking into her own eyes, she studied each little white symbol, imprinted in different places all around her pupil and emerald green iris. She studied a few more; a blue heron, and two other people.
“Aaaaprriilll….April? Are you awake yet?” April could here Popi marching down the hall, her high voice growing louder as she approached the room. She wore an ecru coloured linen dress. White linen lined her collar, cuffs, and waist. One small, similarly button held the dress together in the back at the very top. Grinning to herself, April walked over and opened the door of her bedroom.
“Good morning Popi,” April said, giving her sister an amused look. Popi giggled in response. Whenever Popi laughed like that, her whole body would kind of bounce up and down, letting her sandy blonde curls hop around on the tips of her shoulders.
“Well,” Popi announced, “I was sent here on a special mission to escort you to breakfast!” Although she was trying her best to sound official, her serious expression cracked in way that made it look as if she was experiencing some kind of immense pain.
“You were sleeping for soooo long,” complained Popi. She was looking down at her little bare feet as she exaggerated the “O’s” in the words “so” and “long”, her lips forming the letter as well.
“Ahg, I know, I’m sorry. Well you know I was out late on the bay, so I—” April found herself being cut off.
“Let’s…. go!” Popi exclaimed, this time flashing big smile, showing all of the teeth she hadn’t yet lost. She grabbed her big sister’s hand and led her down the hallway. The many curves and steps in their white coloured house were well lit by the mid morning sun. As they turned the corner, April felt herself shaken fully awake by the force of Popi’s fast movements. She had to do a bit of a gallop to fall back in line with her sister’s energized pace.
“I found her! Daddy, look!” said Popi excitedly.
“Good morning, dad,” April said smiling at her father. She went over and hugged him. Her dad was very strong, so when he pulled her into him with one arm, April stumbled a bit and lost her balance. She swayed from one side to another, trying to stand up straight to hug her dad back, but with one arm squished to her side by her dad’s arm, it was nearly impossible.
Popi strutted over to Suddy, where they gave eachother a double handed-behind the back high-five, perfectly in sync. The two of them looked very similar, with the same dark blue eyes, and the same expressions when they got particularly excited or sad. Except for the fact that Suddy’s hair was slightly darker than his twin’s, the only big difference between them were their reincarnation symbols, of course. Popi was what everyone called a young soul—with only three symbols.
“How’d you sleep Suddy?” April asked her brother.
“Morning,” Suddy said very slowly, “April.” Suddy was entranced by small ladybug crawling atop the plump periwinkle petals of some hydrangea flowers his father had set in a vase at the center of their table. He was so concentrated on rescuing the little fellow that he didn’t even answer April’s question. Finally, the ladybug tentatively crawled onto Suddy’s pinkie finger.
“Got it,” Suddy said, feeling quite accomplished, “Popi, come with me to put it back outside!” Suddy yelled this to his sister, who he didn’t know was still standing right beside him.
“Suddy,” Popi replied, laughing while she gave him a small knock on the head, “I’m right here! But okay, yeah! Let’s go put the ladybug on the hydrangeas that are outside. Oo! Or we could make it a little house so it …” Popi took a final, big bite of her brown toast with honey. Then she and Suddy bounded outside.
“Don’t be too long, you guys!” called their dad.
The front of their white washed house was built almost right up against the cobblestone street that winded down towards the water. However, April’s father had planted various flowers such as hydrangea, lavender, and poppies, which used to be her mother’s favorite. There they sat, in the few feet of space they had between their house and the street, not minding they were a bit squished. Instead, they grew, just happy to be living.
“April, honey, would you do me a favor and go get the Sunday Paper?” Her father asked.
“Sure. I may be moment though, I hear we’ve gotten a new paper boy,” April chuckled, raising her eyebrows. She walked outside, trying to push a few strands of hair out of her face that got twirled and delicately blown astray by passing breeze. Her hair casually reached midway down to her back. It was dark brown with hints of auburn, much like her father’s, and a bit wavy.
She couldn’t see Popi and Suddy, so she figured that they had gotten carried away with games and ran down the street with the other kids, as usual. She sat down on the first of the three white steps let led to her front door. Some more of her hair blew into her face, and this time she could smell the saltiness of the sea water on it. She wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them to her chest, and rocking back and forth a bit. Then, noticing a dandelion weed peeking up from a crack in the stones of the road, April bent over and blew gently. A breeze helped to lift the fluffy dandelion seeds into the air, swirling them around and into the sky as she thought of her mother.
Hearing a rattling, April looked up the street in time to see Charlie Pavlis coming around the corner on his bicycle. In his basket were stacks of sloppily rolled up newspapers. She stood up.
No way, she thought, “Charlie?” Charlie and April were pretty good acquaintances at school, both on the same rugby team. He knew April was much better, but he never let her claim she was in front of him without putting up a fight.
“Oh, good morning Miss. Blenheim, may I interest you in a paper?” He called, trying to sound really into his job, although April knew he was not, “All over on the west island people have been dying to get their hands on one. I hear there is some story everyone is reading—must be pretty important, I guess. Although, I haven’t read it yet—I’m not allowed to until I’ve delivered to both the west and east sides.”
“Alright,” she replied smiling, “take your best shot.” Charlie reached into his basket, grabbed hold of a paper sitting at the top, brought it back behind his shoulder, and raised his brow to say ready? April nodded.
Charlie threw it, and April caught it with one hand, having to jump up and to the left a bit.
“Thanks!” April said, not even needing to say, I told you I’d catch it. Pulling one end of the twine, it wasn’t hard for April to undo the poorly wrapped newspaper.
“See ya around!” Charlie yelled, looking back over his shoulder and waving in April’s direction. But April didn’t notice. She stared, looking down at the top story. Her fingers tingled, then went numb. She thought it must be from the cold morning air. But when she lifted the back of her hand to her cheek, the hand was warm.
April was baffled—she didn’t understand. She remembered her first year professor mentioning something about it, but it seemed like one of those distant dreams that she couldn’t completely grasp.
When she looked up from the article, she found she had walked back into her kitchen.
“Dad?” she asked, putting too much of her breath into the word.
April now losely held the paper between three fingers. As she held it, she let the paper hang upside down and close to the ground. She wished the words of the article would simply slip off the page and scurry across the floor and disappear into a crack in the wall.
As her fingertips released it, the paper fell to the floor. It lay, the top story’s face smooshed flat into their wooden kitchen floor. The words were suffocating, and April could hear their screeching voices grow soft as she felt waves of dizziness wash through her head.
The title read, “White Walls”.
Chapter Two ⍾
Popi and Suddy skipped through the archway into their kitchen. Their heads of blonde hair were like magnets for sunshine, both of their crowns constantly being tickled by light.
“Daddy!” Suddy said, immediately being interrupted by his sister.
“April!” Popi said right after him. At this, April snapped out of her haze. She had been sitting at their table on one of their five brown kitchen stools for nearly half an hour. She was staring straight ahead at the white shelves above their sink and counter. The shelves held various jars of flour and sugar, as well as herbs such as thyme and basil. A few small potted succulents sat up there among the jars as well. She hadn’t made a single sound or movement when her had father desperately patted her shoulders and repeated her name over and over.
“We just went with Sam, Jill and Coco down to the water. Everyone was gathering around because a big sea snail was laying out of the water in the sand,” Popi said.
“Yeah, and we all worked together to carefully lift it up and put it back in the water. But we had to hurry, you know, they can’t breath in air—they have to be in the water.” explained Suddy. Still unaware of any abnormal behavior from her sister, Popi continued, smirking,
“Yeah, but Suddy here thinks that all of the smaller snails that are sometimes on the outside of our house are the babies of the big snail we put back into the water. But I told him that isn’t true, right Daddy?” Setting the newspaper down on the counter, their father forced a bit of a smile for his two youngest children and answered,
“I have a question for you Suddy. If the big snail lives and breathes underwater, how do the little baby ones breath above water in the air?” Suddy tried hard to think about his father’s question. Seeing that he wasn’t getting an answer anytime soon, their father added,
“Well, I’ll tell you two what. Why don’t you go back outside and check with your friends to see if you can figure it out?” Popi and Suddy looked at eachother as if getting ready to start a running race, then darted out the door. After Popi and Suddy had left, April’s father walked over to her, putting a big hand on one of her shoulders. April only realized her shoulders were shaking once her father’s hand pressed slightly to calm them.
“Honey, are you alright?” her father asked, “April?”
“I’m—” April croaked, “I’m—fine. Don’t worry—yeah I’m good. I don’t know what happened—but I’m good, Dad.” She turned her head to look over at her father. He squeezed her shoulder, then walked over and poured some boiling water into the clear mason jar he grabbed from the cupboard. Next, he took a pinch full of chai leaves from a jar and let them fall, slowly to the bottom of the glass. As the liquid turned a dark orangey-brown, the comforting fragrance of the tea found its way into April’s nose. He handed April the glass.
“Dad, could I, you know, see the paper again?” April asked after taking a long sip of her tea. Her father carefully slid the paper across the table until it rested right in front of her. She looked down at it for a few moments, contemplating her familiarity with the words.
“It’s really odd,” she paused, taking a deep but shaky breath, “I don’t even know what these ‘White Walls’ are. I don’t even know why I felt so funny. I feel like I’ve definitely heard the term before. But I just—something’s—would you explain it to me?”
“It really is odd, honey,” said her father with a confused and distant look appearing on his whiskered face, “Have you read any part of the story—I mean besides the title yet?” He sat down on a stool next to her.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Okay well, before I explain to you what this particular article says, let me tell you a few things you should know about these White Walls,” her father paused before continuing,
“So really, the White Walls that this article mentions, are really—or well I guess, have been, a myth, or legend of sorts—for as long as anyone has remembered, or even documented. Theoretically, these White Walls protect something very important to our cycle of life, death, and reincarnation.”
“Okay… ” April said. She had never heard of any of this before.
“At any rate, these walls are said to protect an enormous set of records—some say binded into a book. Now—say—this book, holds detailed records of every single soul’s thousands and thousands of past lives, every soul that has entered the reincarnation cycle in this world,” her father said, inquisitively looking at his daughter, trying to sense if she understood.
“But Dad, why would we need these records?” she asked, “I mean, don’t we already have records? Every person has the symbols of the creatures they were in their past lives permanently in their eyes.” April glanced up and looked to the left. She briefly studied her faded reflection in their french doors, checking to make sure her own symbols hadn’t left her eyes.