The renovations started in June.
They closed on the house in October — Judy had a feeling about the place; Steve thought it had good bones — and lived with the ugly panelling, the wonky ceilings, the strange toilet all winter long.
As soon as the weather was consistently warm, down came the hideous panelling.
And behind the panelling, they found a note, written in sharpie across the drywall.
September 20, 1970: I hung this panelling with my own two hands. -K. Thomas
Karl Thomas had been two owners before Steve and Judy, according to the paperwork. They laughed a little, snapped a few pictures, and put the panelling on the curb.
Steve started watching videos about hanging drywall.
Judy started having dreams about other words written between the sharpied letters.
Hurry. There’s no time to waste.
THe longer it takes the more you’ll bleed.
“No more cookies before bed for you,” Steve teased. He looked into insulation and signed up for a class at the local Maker space.
They pulled down the drywall with the note from Karl Thomas and found a layer of cardboard stapled and nailed to the walls.
September 21, 1940. We did these walls with our own hands. Sally and Edward Thomas.
Judy’s nightmares got more intense. The words were bleeding. The letters — these written in pencil in very elegant handwriting — were climbing down off the wall and trying to get her. To get them. There was a word stuffed in her mouth.
Steve looked up genealogy and learned from This Old House videos about installing toilets. Easy-peasy. He didn’t laugh at Judy’s dreams this time, but he quietly started pouring them both a stiff nightcap before bed each night.
The cardboard came down to reveal planks, lined up one by one like an old barn, and places where the last renovaters — presumably Sally and Edward — hadn’t even bothered to finish getting the lath down before they stapled up the cardboard.
“Did you know, Edward Thomas’ sister is my great-great-grandmother?” Steve pulled out nails like a pro. “Fun coincidence, us ending up in a family house, of sorts.”
“Is this blood on this lath? It can’t be, right? It has to be rust… but rust doesn’t splatter.”
“Rust.” Steve pulled the offending strip of wood out and dumped it in the garbage can. “Just rust that got wet. This place is full of rusty nails and strange water marks. Like - what would have leaked from up there?”
“That’s a good question. That’s a very good question.”
The dreams weren’t stopped by the nightcap that night. Judy woke up panting from a dream where the house had folded up on itself, trapping them inside the long planks until they were nothing but rust stains.
The next morning, Steve found her prying at one of the planks with a crowbar, her finger dripping blood from a gash she didn’t seem to have noticed. “We’re not taking the planks off, Judy, come on, they’re structural. They’re part of the house.”
“Not off. No, this one, look. It’s a split. A fake plank on top of-” she grunted and pulled the front of the plank off. “See! Look.” And then she fell silent, and they both looked.
Inside the plank, a small nook had been hollowed out, maybe an inch deep by a foot tall, maybe as wide as Judy’s hands together. And inside there was a piece of paper and a series of small carved figures.
September 19, 1878. We put this house up with our own hands. May it help us in the harvest and bless us forever more. Conrad Thomas, Sarah Thomas.
“It’s a blessing,” Judy breathed. “A blessing.” She pressed the plank back over the little nook, the blood on her hand leaving a print behind. Without a word, Steve helped her nail it back into place.
They hung the drywall themselves, although they hired a man to do the finish work on it.
Judy’s dreams were of pumpkins and apples, riches and happiness, and the blood dripped away on the edges of her dreams from old fears and old superstitions.
When they hung the wainscoting, they put a note behind it. September 21, 2017. We put up this wall with our own hands. May it serve you as it has served us.