My husky bitch, Ella, used to sit and look up at the wall near the ceiling at our old house and often make a strange, soft, breathy, whining sound. Some nights she would twitch an ear and wake from a sound sleep as if roused by noise and go into the spare bedroom and stare at that spot high on the wall. I always figured it was a mouse or something nesting in the wall that she was obsessed with.
It was an old farm house and rodents often came inside when the weather got cold. This made the most sense to me except that she never made that breathy whine any other time. Not even when she sat and watched mice scurry along the edge of a shelf in the grain room of the barn. I vowed to open up that section of wall eventually and clean out whatever vermin was crawling around or nesting but I never did get around to it. Life on a farm especially for a young couple with a mortgage and an old Dodge always on the verge of breakdown doesn’t leave a lot of spare time.
It just became an odd fixture of life there; the dog’s behaviour just accepted as one of her quirks until a couple weeks after our first child was born. She was a bit underweight for a full term birth and she proceeded to have a few bouts of colic before she began to feed properly and thrive. Through it all she refused to make a sound, never cried. Her only sign of discomfort would be her face distorted painfully in a grimace as she writhed and spit up.
We were first alerted to one of these sessions by Ella, who ran into our bedroom abruptly around the dinner hour. I followed her in and found her sitting before the basinet with a worried look, making the same strange soft breathy whine she made when looking at the wall. It was the only other time I’d heard her make it.
Ella passed away, peacefully, in her sleep, three years later at the age of 16. Even in her later years, she would still go and stare at that same spot on the wall. The weekend after we buried her under the spreading boughs of the ancient willow in the backyard, I found myself staring at that same spot high on the wall and decided there were no more pressing matters to keep from finally getting rid of whatever she’d been whining about up there, if anything.
I took a saber saw and a pry bar and began cutting away slabs of the old plaster on lathe, carefully, so as not to damage the studs. I was about ready to call it quits when I heard my wife speak my name softly. She had come into the room and was standing behind me and I turned to see her holding one of the larger chunks of lathe, running her fingers over deep grooves which appeared to have been scratched into the wood.
There was concern in her voice and rightly so because the scratches were far too wide and deep to have come from a small rodent like a rat. I dismissed the fears of killer raccoons I knew must be growing in her mind and told her I had seen similar marks caused by carpenter bees. I waited patiently for her to take our daughter on their weekly outting for groceries and a visit with grandma and after I saw her car leave the driveway, I made the phone call.
The police pulled the rest of the lathe and plaster wall down in that room. It was just the one body they found. She had been only four years old when someone had sealed her in the wall, hands bound. They told us later that her little mummified corpse was over a century old and that she had been born with Downe syndrome, which was most likely the reason for her murder. They told me that she had been killed before being sealed away in the wall but I just can’t bring myself to believe that.
We have since sold the old farm and moved out of province. I heard recently that the farmhouse burned down but I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t care to go back and find out.