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The Reader

If Walls could talk

By Shane DobbiePublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 11 min read

Detective Harrigan swept together the photos of the the dead girl and tucked them back into the folder. She had no more answers for him today than she did yesterday. He closed the folder and called it a day.

At home, he hung up his jacket and went straight to the lockbox to secure his gun.

“Hey, Dad.”

His daughter. Katie. 19. Her whole life ahead of her. Just like the girl in the photos had. He locked the box, took a deep breath, and assumed his family face - the one where everyone is alive and well, and the worst thing he has to endure is dry meat loaf.

Katie gave him a big hug. “How was work?”

“The usual,” he said, adopting an affectionately weary smile, “Unicorns and rainbows doing their usual unicorn and rainbow stuff. It gets to you eventually, all the sparkles and the colours. Everyone’s so bloody nice all the time too. It’s a relief to get home.”

“Sounds awful,” she said, playing along with the bit, “In movies and TV it’s all serial killers, and crack heads.”

“Don’t believe everything you see on TV.” He ruffled her hair and managed a genuine happy smile. “Mom in the kitchen?”

“Yeah. Spag Bol. Again.”

“That’s alright…wait, who made it, you, or your Mom?”

Eye roll. “Mom!”

“Oh, well.”

He crossed the kitchen to his wife, who was busy stirring the sauce. She gave him a big smile. He gave her a kiss in return.

“Needs oregano,” he said.

She looked at the sauce. “How do you know, you haven’t tried it?”

“Always need oregano. That’s what everyone says on TV.”

She tried a spoonful and gave it some thought. “I don’t even know what oregano tastes like.”

“Do we even have any?”

“I don’t think so.” She picked up the empty sauce jar and read the ingredients. “Hey, Oregano! It already has some.”

“Job done then.”

They both managed a smile but she’d known him long enough to see past his. “Bad day?” she said.

“The usual-“

“Unicorns and Rainbows?”

He nodded. She knew the shtick well and knew what it was hiding. She glanced at Katie, now waiting expectantly to be fed, and then back at him. It’s all she needed to do. He kept most of the horror out of his home life but occasionally he would open up when it was a tough case. Or one that felt close to home. “Still nothing,” he said. “Gotta see the chief in the morning. I’m worried he’s gonna close the book on this one.”

“Can he do that?”

“Yeah, it’s all money and resources. We take each case as far as we can but some get away. This one though-“

“I know. C’mon let’s eat. Try and forget about it for tonight.”

He didn’t.

Next morning he’d barely reached his desk before the summon came.

“Harrigan! My office!”

He was ready though. He had his speech prepared. He headed in to the Chief’s office and closed the door. “I just need a little more time on this one, boss. Something I’m missing and if I can just-“

“That’s fine. I get that this one feels personal. You’ve got a daughter about the same age, right?”

Harrigan paused. He’d been expecting to have to haggle for this. The prepared speech went out the window. “Katie.”

“I want you to see someone. Can you do that for me?”

That was unexpected. “I’m fine, Boss. It’s not affecting my ability to -“

The Chief waved him off. “No, not Psych, or any of that crap. I want you to take one of these new Reader’s with you. See if they can’t unlock something.”

Harrigan’s face fell. “No offence, Chief…”

“None taken. He’ll be in shortly. Take him to the crime scene and let him do his thing.”

“C’mon, Chief, these guys are flakes. You’re not taking them seriously are you?”

“What was that famous Sherlock Holmes line about eliminating the probable?”

“Once you eliminate the probable you still don’t want to consider involving a guy who talks to walls because it’s fucking stupid.”

“Close. He’s on his way. Take him to the crime scene. Let him do his thing. End of discussion.”

Fuck sake.

Harrigan slumped into his chair and stared at the folder. He wanted to solve this one, see justice served, but, not like this.

“Detective Harrigan?”

Harrigan looked up at the voice. A grey haired man with a matching thick beard was smiling down at him. He offered his hand. “Arnold Voight.”



“So, you’re the guy who talks to walls?”

Voight gave a tight smile. He’d heard it all a thousand times. The disdain in the voices, the sniggering. He pointed to an empty chair. “May I?”

“Be my guest.”

Voight sat down and screeched the chair across next to Harrigan. “Detective Harrigan, talking to walls would be pointless. I don’t talk to walls.”

“Guess I misheard then.”

“I listen to them.”

Harrigan raised an eyebrow. “Great. Makes perfect sense now.”

“You’ll understand when we’re at the crime scene. Well, you won’t because ‘science’ and years of study, but you might get a better grasp of what it is we do.”

“Guess I asked for that.”

“It’s a simple fact, Detective Harrigan. People distrust the new. Behavioural Science was sniggered at when it was new.”

Harrigan looked away from Voight, who, it was becoming very clear, was a very intense man. And, frustratingly, he was also right. Harrigan passed the folder over to him. “That’s everything we have so far, if you want to catch up?”

Voight shook his head. “It’ll just colour my reading.”

Harrigan rubbed his forehead in frustration.

Voight sighed, realising he was going to have to explain himself. “Have you ever done an online test for fun? We can guess your age just by answering three simple questions? That kinda thing?”

“Detective is a title, Mr Voight, not my first name. They log in to your social media account and get all your information, then everyone thinks it’s a really clever trick.”

Voight waited for the penny to drop.

It took a moment. Harrigan tapped the folder. “Which is what you could do if you knew all the details in here.”

“Indeed. It’s best I just see the crime scene and do my thing. I’ll tell you what I read, and you can use it as you see fit.”


Voight hesitated. “The building is an old brownstone, correct?”

“Uh, it’s old and made of stone. Beyond that I’m not sure. Why? Is that important?”

“Somewhat,” Voight said, “Plasterboard has very little to say for itself.”

Harrigan rubbed his forehead again, still not believing he was actually going through with this nonsense. “I’ll get my coat,” he said.

The building was indeed a brownstone. A beautiful one, probably, at some point in its life, before the area changed for the worse. Once vivid sunny yellow paint had turned to nicotine stain brown. Damp had moved in when the more discerning clientele moved out. Harrigan kept his head down and tried not to think about the abuse that lay beyond every rotting door: drugs, emotional, alcohol, all of the above.

Voight, on the other hand, seemed quite taken with the place. He had, what Harrigan assumed to be, a smile on his face. He followed behind him like an enthusiastic puppy. He was carrying a large case. Harrigan had offered to carry it for him, but just got a look in reply. He was curious to see what was in it.

They trudged up to the second floor in silence.

“This is us,” Harrigan said. “See if you can guess which door the crime scene is behind.”

Voight walked past him to the door covered in police ‘crime scene’ tape and waited.

“Right first time.”

Voight continued to wait patiently.

“Tough crowd,” Harrigan muttered, ripping the tape down.

It didn’t take any special skills to know you’d entered a crime scene. Little number cards littered the room. Fingerprint dust had settled over everything. Blood, so much blood, splattered up the walls. A large pool of it on the floor. It was starting to turn brown.

Voight flinched and took a deep, calming breath.

“Sorry,” Harrigan said, “Should have given you the heads up. Sometimes forget this isn’t an everyday occurrence for everyone. You okay?”

Voight nodded, but he was not okay. He was, however, a professional, so he set to work. He’d better start getting used to this.

Harrigan looked on with curiosity as Voight opened up his case and began setting up his equipment. First out was a machine that bore an uncanny resemblance to an old telephone - one of those ones with the trumpet mouthpiece. Voight placed it in the centre of the room and made some adjustments. He noticed Harrigan watching. “You like that?” he said.

“No idea what it is but it looks cool.”

“If you like that, then you’re going to love this.”

Voight went back into his case and removed some sort of helmet. It had wires running around it and didn’t look safe.

“Nice,” Harrigan said, “not seen anything like that since Buck Rogers when I was a kid. You actually going to wear that?”

Voight nodded. “I’ll try and explain.”

“Good luck.”

Voight switched on the telephone machine which beeped to life and began to turn in place. “This,” Voight began,” is listening to the walls.” He paused, and pondered how to explain. “Walls hold information. Trapped sound, radiation signatures, the detritus of daily life. This machine can read that information and give us a ‘picture’ of recent events.”

Harrigan looked skeptical.

“Think of it like a tree,” Voight continued. “If you cut a tree in half you can tell its age, and much of its history, correct.”


“Think of these walls as the same. By reading each wall, “ he pointed them all out for emphasis, “we can see the history of this room.”

Harrigan still wasn’t sure. “But, won’t you just see us coming in and having this conversation.”

Voight held up the helmet. “That is where this comes in. The rooms history will come out as a jumble of information, like radio stations bouncing around, but with this, I can tune through it to find the one we want. It’s still a work in progress, so I’ll ask you to keep quiet and be still.”

He put the helmet on before Harrigan could answer.

Harrigan shrugged.

Voight flinched as he engaged with the walls.

“You okay?” Harrigan said.

Voight’s hand shot up to shush him.

Harrigan watched on in silence as Voight turned this way and that, clearly looking at something Harrigan couldn’t see.

“It’s a good read,” Voight said. “I’m trying to go back to the event.”

He jerked suddenly and then froze. “I see her. And him.”

Harrigan perked up. “Him?”

Voight waved him off again. “Tall, thin, long hair. Oh, God.” He reached forward as if to help someone, but caught himself. “He struck her with something. Back of the head.”

Harrigan nodded. Autopsy backed that up.

Voight continued. “Kneeling down beside her now…Looking around, wondering what to do…Oh, no…No…Detective, cut the machine, please.”


“Quickly. Jesus Christ. Switch it off.”

Harrigan dashed over to the machine.

“Oh, God,” Voight pleaded.

Harrigan had no idea what he was looking at so just threw every switch he could find. The machine stopped. He turned to Voight.

Voight was pale, and clearly shaken. His hands reached up very slowly to unfasten and remove the helmet. He stood quietly for a moment then opened his eyes and came back into the room. He turned to Harrigan. Harrigan flinched. Voight looked traumatised. “Tall, thin, longish hair,’ Voight said, struggling to get the words out.

“Sounds like the ex-boyfriend but we cleared him.”

Harrigan shook his head in frustration then went into his bag and pulled out the case file. He squatted down and flicked through it until he found what he was looking for: a picture of the ex. He held it up for Voight.

Voight shook his head. “It’s not the clearest image in the read, but the guy was skinnier. Weaker.”

Harrigan put the photo away and slumped down.

There was knock at the open door. The building supervisor. “You guys can’t be in here. This is a crime scene. You’re trespassin’”

Harrigan fished in his jacket for his ID and held it up without bothering to engage with the man. He did look up at Voight however, who looked like he’d seen a ghost. Voight looked down at him and then nodded in the direction of the supervisor. Harrigan turned. The man was Tall. Skinny. Long, greasy hair.

Harrigan sprang to his feet and drew his gun.

The supervisor looked like a startled deer. For a moment they both thought he was going to run, but he hesitated, probably figuring out he wouldn’t get very far so why bother wasting the energy. His shoulders slumped and he walked slowly into the room with his hands out.

Harrigan fished out his cuffs and slapped them on the man. “Goddamn building super. We interviewed the super at the time. He didn’t mention you.”

“I was off. Sick.”

“You are that,” Voight said. ”Very, very, sick.”

The super looked at Voight, eyeing up the weird helmet and the contraption in the middle of the room. “How did you know it was me?”

“Funny story,” Harrigan said. He looked over at Voight and smiled. “Turns out walls really can talk.”

Sci FiShort StoryMystery

About the Creator

Shane Dobbie

If writing is a performance art then I’m tap dancing in wellies.

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Comments (11)

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  • Lauraabout a month ago

    Awesome 😎 Story ❤️ It

  • KJ Aartila2 months ago

    Very cool story! Enjoyed!

  • Arthur Kenney2 months ago

    Wow! Loved it..

  • JBaz2 months ago

    Nice take on the challenge Congratulations

  • Rory McKenzie2 months ago

    Loved this, really creative take on the prompt. Hope the poor Reader recovers 😅

  • Thank you everyone who has taken the time to read this. It’s a lesson in ‘measure twice/cut once’ as I wrote most of this for the ‘if walls could talk’ challenge without reading the actual prompt 🤷🏻‍♂️ Still loved the idea though and decided to finish it. Glad I did now. 😊

  • Samara Simson2 months ago

    such a creative take on the walls could talk. Your description took right into the scene. Excellent description. Congratulations on Top Story.

  • Look at that! Congrats on the Top Story!!

  • Enjoyed this so much! subscribed

  • Caroline Jane2 months ago

    I enjoyed this! Surely you can get it to fit the opening sentence? It could be a fab entry!

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