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*includes a digitally signed author note*


Have you ever seen flashes of darkness where there should only be light? Ever seen shadows skitter past out of the corner of your eyes and looked, only to find nothing there?
Forced into a sabbatical following his affair with an undergrad student, university professor Jim Grayson rents Holloway Farm for the summer, in the hope the time away from his wife would help salvage their marriage. But all is not what it seems at the secluded farmhouse and he soon finds himself at the mercy of powers beyond his understanding. 

The Other Side of the Wall is a spine-tingling, standalone short story from the author who brought you the bestselling Seventeen and Legion series. If you like tales of things that go bump in the night, then this story will make you shiver.


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Jim Grayson shielded his eyes against the dazzling sun.

The white silos of a dairy farm gleamed on a low hill several miles northwest of where he stood, on the side of a dusty country road. The shallow elevation was the only splash of green in an otherwise golden landscape of corn and soybean fields, stretching as far as the eye could see.

He glanced impatiently at the broken-down Prius behind him before checking the screen of his cell phone.

According to the car’s satellite navigation system, the drive to Dunfell should have taken just over an hour and a half. It was now two hours since he’d left his home in the western suburbs of Champaign. He’d followed Interstate 72 for the first fifty miles before exiting onto one of the state roads crisscrossing the open countryside of central Illinois.

In the five years since he’d owned the Prius, Jim had never seen the battery light so much as blink. When it had started flashing intermittently, he’d told himself he had enough gas to run the generator until he got to the town.

The car died twelve miles from his destination, in the middle of a whole lot of nothing. Luckily, he still had reception on his phone. The AAA emergency roadside service operator promised they would have a guy out to him within the hour.

A buzzard was circling the power lines running through the fields when the faint rumble of an engine rose from the south. A truck approached in a cloud of yellow dirt.

Relief flashed through him.

‘Finally,’ he muttered.

He tucked the cell into the rear of his chinos, took out a handkerchief, and mopped the sweat beading his forehead.

His elation was short-lived. Instead of a white AAA truck, a junky, rust-colored Ford pickup pulled up next to the Prius. The billow of dust dissipated. A figure became visible behind the windshield. The window wound down.

‘You got engine trouble, mister?’

An old man sat at the wheel. His face was a map of pockmarks and wrinkles beneath greasy gray hair protruding from his faded cotton cap, his crow’s feet running so deep the orbs seemed to have sunk inside their sockets. His lips parted in a friendly smile, exposing tobacco-stained teeth. An elderly basset hound with a gray muzzle and milky eyes propped its paws up on the window’s edge before subjecting Jim to a solemn stare.

‘I sure do,’ said Jim, masking his irritation behind a neutral tone.

The old man observed the Prius with a jaundiced air. ‘I see you got yourself one of those fancy new contraptions.’

Despite the fact that the hybrid had let him down, Jim felt obliged to come to its defense. ‘To be fair, this is the first time it’s broken down.’

The pickup driver grunted something unintelligible and scratched his cheek. White flecks came off his skin and disappeared under his dirty nails. ‘If you’re waiting for the recovery guy, he’ll be a while. Saw his truck on the state road some fifteen miles back. He was fiddling with something under the hood.’

Tension knotted the back of Jim’s neck. Great. This is all I fucking need.

He ran a hand through his hair, anger making the movement more forceful than he intended. His fingers came away slick with perspiration and a few broken dark blond strands. He resisted the urge to wipe them on his pants.

‘I can give you a lift into town if you want,’ said the old man. ‘I’m headed that way.’

Jim looked up and down the empty country road. He sighed. It was likely the best offer he would get all day.

‘Thanks, that’d be great,’ he said, injecting a degree of gratitude into his voice.

He transferred his luggage from the trunk of the Prius to the bed of the pickup and left a note on the car’s windshield, along with the keys. He opened the passenger door of the Ford and was immediately assaulted by the hot stink of sweat, engine oil, and dog breath. He climbed inside reluctantly.

‘Don’t normally get folks coming to Dunfell for a holiday,’ said the pickup driver. He shifted gear and stomped on the accelerator. The truck jerked forward.

The basset hound dropped onto the old man’s lap and sat looking at Jim, tongue lolling out one side of its drooping chops. A thick glob of drool oozed from the shuddering pink flesh before plummeting onto the old man’s trousers, adding to an already large stain.

‘I’m not here for a holiday.’

Jim rolled the window down. A wave of humid heat struck his face, along with the rich scent of fertile soil. Fresh beads of perspiration dotted his upper lip.

The driver gave him a curious look.

‘I’m writing a book,’ Jim added reluctantly.

The old man's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. ‘On Dunfell?’

‘No. About the econometrics of the world’s evolving superpowers.’

The old man’s stare persisted.

‘I’m an economics professor at the university in Champaign,’ Jim explained before gazing out the window at the hypnotic vista of gently swaying crops. He didn’t tell his rescuer that his employers had forced a sabbatical on him.

‘So, where you staying at?’

‘The Holloway Farm.’

The old man startled. ‘That run-down place?’

‘It seemed kind of quaint in the pictures.’ Jim frowned at the expression that flashed on the old man’s face. ‘Is something wrong?’

The old man hesitated before shaking his head. ‘Just thought the place was empty is all,’ he mumbled. ‘Haven’t seen any folks up there for a couple of years.’

Jim recalled what the realtor had told him about the property. ‘The owners only put it back on the rental market in the last month.’ The old man’s silence piqued his curiosity. ‘Do you know the family?’

The old man pursed his lips. ‘Not really. They were only around for a little while before they upped house and disappeared some six years ago.’ Grooves furrowed his brow. ‘They seemed nice enough. Kept mostly to themselves. Wife came to church every Sunday with the two little girls. Husband was some kind of big shot in Springfield.’

A junction appeared ahead. The old man braked and pointed the vehicle left along a highway. The engine chugged under the hood as he accelerated once more. The basset hound had gone to sleep in his lap.

The fields gave way to a stretch of empty countryside. Dunfell appeared in the distance. They were soon driving down the main street.

Jim studied the collection of redbrick buildings lining the thoroughfare.

Dunfell was typical of the dying heartland of America. The small, picture-perfect towns that populated the great Midwest and were once its greatest source of pride had been sliding into decay for over half a century, well before the recent global recession that had driven so many out of their jobs and homes. With falling local birth rates and successive generations leaving for the bright lights of the cities, the gradual population implosion heralded the demise of many traditional farming communities.

Jim was gazing at the limp star-spangled banner hanging outside the town hall when his cell phone rang. It was the AAA man.

‘Just got here and saw your note, Mr. Grayson. Thanks for leaving the keys. I should have the car fixed within the hour. Where would you like me to bring it?’

Jim looked through the windshield and spied a building with a faded awning next to the church.

‘There’s a diner on Dunfell’s main street. I’ll be--’
‘I can drop you off at the farm if you want,’ said the old man.

Jim paused. ‘Hang on a minute,’ he mumbled into the phone. He gave the driver of the pickup an awkward grimace. ‘Look, I couldn’t possibly ask you to--’

‘I’m headed past it anyways, son.’ The old man shrugged. ‘It’s no trouble at all.’

Jim stared at him for a moment. ‘Thanks, I really appreciate that.’ He gave the recovery guy the address of Holloway Farm and ended the call. ‘I’m Jim, by the way. Jim Grayson.’ He extended a hand.

The old man shook it. ‘Nice to meet you, Jim. I’m Frank.’

They sat in companionable silence while the pickup rolled through Dunfell and out the other side, the basset hound’s faint snores underscoring the swish of tires on hot asphalt. Lush fields dotted with farms and grain elevators soon replaced the scattering of houses north of the town.

Five miles later, Frank turned off the highway and headed up a narrow, dusty lane flanked by cornfields. Gravel popped and crunched under the pickup as he negotiated a shallow rise.

Holloway Farm appeared some two hundred feet ahead.

Set on an acre plot, the building was a traditional, two-story, white clapboard country farmhouse, its gable roofline broken by a brick chimney and a dormer window. A maple tree towered to the right of the property, branches laden with crimson leaves.

Frank brought the truck to a stop in front of the porch steps.

Jim stepped out of the vehicle and looked up at the weathered building. Paint was peeling off the wooden siding, gray flecks curling to expose the dark wood beneath. The porch was strewn with dead leaves and twigs. A thin film of dirt coated the dark windows, the glass reflecting the bright sky behind him.

It was just as he had imagined.

For the first time since his world turned upside down one month ago, Jim felt a small measure of excitement. He turned to unload the suitcases and saw Frank sitting still behind the wheel of the pickup.

The old man was staring at the land next to the farmhouse. ‘Wonder what happened here.’

The basset hound woke up, one eye blinking open lazily.

Jim noticed the ground for the first time. The soil was dry and dark, as if burnt. Not a single weed grew there, not even a blade of grass among the black clumps of dirt. This was a sharp contrast to the rich reds and browns of the county fields he had seen so far.

He frowned. ‘Was there a fire?’

Frank scratched his head, the cap bobbing with the movements of his fingers. ‘Not that I know of.’ He looked toward the golden crops encroaching the edges of the barren terrain. ‘Land over there belongs to a local farmer. He would’ve said if something had⏤’

A low growl drowned out the rest of his words.

The basset hound stood on all fours. It stared at something past Jim’s shoulder, hackles raised and lips curled from its pale gums.

‘What’s wrong, Boomer?’ Frank gave the dog a puzzled look.

The growl deepened. Jim glanced at the empty porch behind him.

The dog barked, specks of drool spattering the dashboard and seats. It lunged across the cab and rose on stubby hind legs, its nails scratching glass as it scrabbled at the half-open window.

‘Hey, stop that!’ Frank took hold of the dog.

The basset hound struggled in his grip, its baying unabated. The dog sounded scared. The skin prickled on the back of Jim’s neck. He looked at the house again.

A shadow moved behind one of the windows. Jim's mouth went dry.

The movement repeated. Jim stared, heart thudding. Then a wave of relief washed over him and he turned.

A flock of birds trailed the sky to the south, black shapes against a blue expanse. The window cast their reflections.

Jim almost chuckled at his own nervousness.

‘Maybe it’s rats.’ Frank looked from the agitated animal to the house, visibly troubled. ‘I best get him out of here.’

Jim lifted the suitcases off the flatbed and thanked the old man. The pickup disappeared between the cornfields, the dog’s baying fading into the distance.

He headed up the porch and dug around his pocket. Metal jingled beneath his fingers. He fished out the keys the realtor had sent him, pulled the external screen, and opened the front door.

A dark foyer appeared beyond the threshold. He flicked a wall switch.

A naked bulb bathed the space in golden light. A console table stood to the left of the entrance, next to an empty coatrack and an antique grandfather clock. The doors on either side of the hallway were closed, daylight forming pale lines where they met the wooden floors. A staircase rose opposite him, curving toward the upper floors.

Bar the faint ticking of the clock, the place was silent. Jim brought the suitcases inside and closed the door.

A sudden feeling of claustrophobia swamped him. He froze, gripped by an irrational fear. He strode across the hallway and opened the first door.

A dual-aspect family room spread out before him. He crossed the floor and opened the curtains, flooding the space with light. The suffocating sensation abated. He frowned, puzzled by the anxiety that had nearly overwhelmed him. Shaking it off, he inspected the room.

Faded paintings dotted the patterned yellow wallpaper, pictures of farming life beneath dust-covered glass. The exposed floorboards and wooden furniture bore a faint patina that attested to their age. A couple of armchairs framed the couch facing the brick fireplace. An old television sat on an entertainment unit to the right of the cast-iron surround.

Jim explored the first floor, opening doors and curtains as he went. Opposite the family room was a formal dining room furnished with a farmhouse table, chairs, and an oak sideboard brimming with porcelain ware. Next to it was a small washroom and a study that looked out to the maple tree. The last two doors led to a cellar and a family kitchen with an attached pantry, laundry room, and a small mudroom for the back porch.

The yellow wallpaper continued upstairs, faded edges peeling at the coving and skirting boards. Three bedrooms and a family bathroom opened onto a central corridor that spanned the width of the house. A colorful, leaded stained-glass window stood at one end of the passage. A smaller staircase rose to the attic, off the main landing.

Jim stood in the middle of the upstairs hallway and felt a strange sense of peace.

Despite the awfulness of the last few weeks, it felt good to have a renewed sense of purpose: he was here to write his book and he meant to finish it. The enforced sabbatical might not have been a bad idea after all.

He brought his main suitcase up to the master bedroom and started putting his things into an old standing wardrobe with clawed feet and a matching chest of drawers; he had booked the farmhouse for a month and had brought enough clothes to last his stay.

He was arranging his toiletries in the adjoining bathroom when he heard a faint noise. He closed the door of the small wall cabinet and headed into the bedroom. The noise came again.

Jim frowned and stepped into the hallway.

It was empty.

He turned to head back into the bedroom. The ceiling creaked above his head. He stopped and looked up.

The paint covering the plasterboard had started to flake around the medallion enclosing a light bulb. The creaking came again. Jim hesitated.

Probably just old house noises.

The board groaned above him, the light bulb trembling as if under a sudden weight.

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