The Wallpaper was beautiful, ethereal. When you looked at it from a certain angle, it could make you erupt into fits of laughter. Tilt your head, and now you softly weep. Try another angle, and your heart would skip a beat. Another still, and your soul would soar beyond the corporeal. One might say there was a special magic to it, though there were but few capable of seeing it.
It covered a single room, smallish in size as far as rooms go. To say that the room was in a severe state of disrepair would be an enormity of an understatement. Furnished with two worn chairs, a small, stained and rickety tea table, a lone bookshelf overflowing and buckling from its burden and a dingy window showing only peeling paint and crusts of dirt.
There was a time when the chairs, so richly upholstered, would have been considered beautiful and welcoming in their comfort by anyone’s standards. There was a time when the varnish on the bookshelf was so rich and polished that you could see your reflection if you held your head just so. There was a time when the dingy window was carefully kept clean and crystalline, so that you could gaze upon the beautiful and wondrous lands of The Dreaming.
The Wallpaper made up for the room’s deteriorated state. In fact, only the room’s Inhabitant recognized what was happening. Only the room’s Inhabitant knew that the Wallpaper was next. The Keeper of the room, however, remained oblivious to the creeping neglect and the devastation it would wreak.
The last day of Autumn found the Inhabitant ensconced in the only chair ever used. One leg bent and tucked beneath the other thigh, the Inhabitant reached for a sip of tepid tea. The chipped cup forthwith dropped from a trembling hand as the Inhabitant saw it. The first crack in the Wallpaper.
Terrified, the Inhabitant bolted to the door and woefully wailed and begged for help. With obvious annoyance, the Keeper approached to inquire what could possibly be so wrong as to create such a ruckus. Choking on sobs, the Inhabitant pointed at the crack in the Wallpaper.
Moving closer to inspect, the Keeper fingered the new curl in the Wallpaper. Whirling back on the Inhabitant, the Keeper proclaimed that this was nothing. The Wallpaper is fine. In fact, the tear gives it character. When the Inhabitant pointed out that damage left in disrepair spreads and rots, the Keeper angrily chided and admonished against overreaction.
I am the Keeper! Not you! Only you would even notice such a thing! This is NOTHING!
With the slam of the door, the Inhabitant slowly stanched the flow of tears and sat back down. Keeping watch over the Wallpaper became the Inhabitant’s sole fixation. Slowly the tiny crack spread. Down, down, down, until finally an entire sheet had curled to the floor.
Once more, the Inhabitant begged for the Keeper to tend to it. This time, the Keeper showed a modicum of concern and immediately re-glued the curled strip back upon the wall. Mollified, the Inhabitant returned to unlocking the worlds within the precious tomes littered about the room. The Keeper stayed away, doing whatever Keepers do instead of Keeping, ignoring the Inhabitant’s warnings about the Wallpaper’s fading luster.
The day before the first frost, the wilting Inhabitant mournfully watched as the Wallpaper covering one entire wall crumbled to dust and slowly settled about the room. The Keeper heard a strange sound and finally checked on the room and its Inhabitant. The Keeper was alarmed to discover the Inhabitant keening and rocking and scraping at the thick crust of dirt covering the window.
“What’s the matter with you?”, questioned the Keeper.
The Inhabitant’s throat was coated in dust, and the response was gravelly and subdued. “I need to see. I need to dream again before it’s too late.”
“You see what I want you to see. This is My Room. And I am the Keeper,” admonished the Keeper.
With great trepidation, the Inhabitant pointed a gently accusatory finger at the naked wall and tried once more, “Look. Look at how you’ve Kept it. I warned you this would happen. I begged you not to neglect it. The Wallpaper. It’s dying.”
“It doesn’t matter. Nobody even notices Wallpaper. You’re crazy, and stop scratching at the window like some caged animal,” the Keeper scornfully returned. “I’ll paint over it. The window and the Wallpaper. So we can be done with this nonsense.”
Deep in the heart of winter, the Keeper suddenly thought of the Inhabitant and stormed into the room only to pause and look around with perplexity and great fear. The shoddy paint job allowed bits of irreparably damaged Wallpaper to peek through. The rest lay curled and crumbled about the floor. The books had gone to dust and every surface of the room thinly cased in ice.
The Inhabitant had faded: skin nearly translucent, head lolled to one side, breath coming out in slow, measured, white puffs of air.
Slowly meeting the eyes of the Keeper, the Inhabitant whispered, “It is time.”
“No… No, you can’t mean it! I forbid it!,” shouted the Keeper.
“But the Wallpaper is dead. It has suffered, and it has died. Only dust and decay remain,” the Inhabitant stoically replied.
“Why did you allow this to happen? You can’t let this happen,” implored the Keeper.
The Inhabitant shed a single tear and solemnly raised a mirror to the Keeper’s face. “Tell me what you see.”
“A Keeper. A Keeper that couldn’t Keep.”
The Inhabitant stood and touched the Keeper’s cheek. As the Keeper wailed and reached for purchase on the Inhabitant’s body, the Inhabitant slowly faded from the earthly plane. Returning home, to The Dreaming, with a faint twinkle and hope of Spring.
The Keeper cursed and wailed and blamed and pounded the floor and begged the emptiness. And the vacuum created by the Inhabitant’s departure caused the door to swing inward, locking the Keeper into a room now devoid of anything worth Keeping.