The stories that you hear as a child are among the first things to stimulate your imagination and creativity. Some of these tales stay with you well into adulthood and you often try to recreate that sense of wonder or tension in your own work.
Today we seem to be losing the oral story tradition of past generations because there is such a huge choice of media available to entertain the young. This is a pity. It is a good idea to write down the oral stories told to you by your grandparents and parents so that they do not disappear altogether and so that you can pass them on to your own children.
Sometimes the stories that you remember most are the creepy ones, because of the excitement that they generated on the first telling. My father told my sister and I a great scary story when we were children. My grandmother also told it to my mother when she was a child while they were doing the dishes. It was from an old mystery storybook that she owned but which has long since disappeared.
I do not know the original title or the author. I have searched for it on the Internet and have not been able to find any reference to the work, so I am writing it down here in case anyone out there might know the original tale (it is not The Yellow Wallpaper), as well as to share it with others. I can only remember the gist of the story so I am filling in the gaps with my own words to make it sound coherent and to give the feeling of the original. It is set around the turn of the twentieth century.
The Mysterious Wallpaper (unknown author and Me)
A Man, who had been travelling for several years, returned to London to complete some business in the city. He took a room in a small hotel not far from the central business district. It was a small cozy room that contained a single bed, a small desk, an easy chair and a wardrobe. However its distinguishing feature was that it was decorated with intricate wallpaper of a jungle leaf pattern, the like of which the traveller had never seen before.
After depositing his bags, the traveller went about his daily business in the city and thought no more about the curious wallpaper. At the end of the day he ate his evening meal and retired to his room for the night. Relaxing in the easy chair to catch up on some reading by the soft gaslight, he became aware of a movement out of the corner of his eye and looked towards the wall. The foliage in the wallpaper seemed to part for a moment and he perceived an indistinct figure in the distance. As he gazed at the spot the leaves closed as if nothing had happened. The traveller thought that he must have been imagining things and that the port he had drunk after his meal was probably the cause. He went to bed and slept soundly.
The next day his routine was much the same and he retired early to his room to complete some business correspondence. As he sat at the desk immersed in his work, he suddenly became aware of the sound of rustling leaves in front of him. Again he looked towards the wallpaper to see, between the swaying parted leaves, the distinct figure of an ape-like creature moving through the dense undergrowth. It turned and looked towards him, stopped, then quickly disappeared into the tangled jungle.
The traveller jumped up with a start and knew that this time he was definitely not dreaming. He determined to find out more about the strange wallpaper. After a restless night, with one ear cocked for any unusual disturbance, he went down to the manager’s office and inquired about the wallpaper in his room. The manager only knew that the wallpaper was a prototype designed by a local artist, who had since died, but that the artist’s sister still lived in the area. After obtaining her address from the manager he set off to pay her a visit.
Introducing himself to the artist’s sister, the traveller explained that he was a guest of that particular hotel and was interested in learning more about the incredible wallpaper in his room. The woman was most cordial and proud to talk of her late brother’s work. She explained that after returning home from an expedition to the dark continent of Africa, her brother became obsessed with recreating the atmosphere and appearance of the jungle. The wallpaper was the culmination of his efforts and he had been allowed to decorate the room, in fact his own, with the only examples of his final design. Unfortunately he suffered from poor health and died suddenly before it could be put into commercial production. Moreover, he had expired in that very room, something that the hotel did not advertise.
This whole story made the traveller extremely uneasy and he reluctantly returned to his room for the night. Rather than retiring to the bed, he made himself comfortable in the easy chair with his trusty pistol by his side as a precaution. So he would not fall asleep and miss any activity in the wallpaper, he left the gaslight on high and settled down to read.
Despite his best intentions, he could not stay awake much past midnight and dozed off to sleep, in spite of the strong lighting. In the early hours of the morning he suddenly sat bolt upright. The room was filled with the sound of violently rustling leaves. He turned to the wall on his left and there, to his horror, between the wallpaper’s leaves and staring directly at him, was the face of the huge ape-like creature. As he made a grab for his pistol, the gaslight went out and he was surrounded by darkness and the sound of crashing undergrowth. He fired wildly and repeatedly in the direction of the beast as his terrified screams rang out in the blackness. Then silence.
After the mysterious disappearance of the guest in the jungle room, the hotel manager had the wallpaper painted over, as it was not good for business.
As a child I chose floral wallpaper for my bedroom, but I never wanted any jungle leaves.
There is something special about having a story told through the spoken word that gives it another dimension and creates immediate pictures in your head, as well as effecting the mood. This tale gave me a love for reading horror and mystery stories that I still have today. It also made me appreciate the bizarre and this has influenced some of my own artwork. Maybe you also have a childhood story that will trigger your imagination and lead you to create something new.
I hope that you have enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed recreating the piece. And if anyone knows of the original author and title please contact me via this website, as it would solve another mystery.