Voices, The Interviews: Stephanie (Part 2 of 2)

If you have not read the first part of this interview with a book character, then please follow this LINK to catch up. Please, keep in mind, this interview contains spoilers, so if you have not read Voices, a collection of short stories, please consider doing so before continuing. You can find Voices HERE.

Lisa had known as well, but …

“Did you plan what you were going to do or …”

“I planned the entire thing. I planned it right down to me dying. If it went wrong, at least I would be dead … and free. If it went right, we both would be dead. It went partially right. He died. I …” Stephanie holds up her arms, shows Lisa the long scars that run from wrists to elbow. “… didn’t.”

She had guts to do something about her situation, Lisa.

Scary GIrl KnifeThe voice of Mr. Worrywort is back, but this time the dripping malice it had before is gone. In this voice is the childish taunt of a scared school yard bully, one that knows when he gets home, his dad is going to do so much worse to him than he could ever do to a third grader with a lisp or who wore glasses or, Heaven forbid, who came from a poor family who couldn’t afford to by him decent clothing and he had to wear the same jeans multiple times a week. 

Lisa pulls her legs up the best she can, but the pain in them and in her hip and her back are too much. One of her knees feels loose, as if it will pop out of place. She lets her legs slide down, but this time not crossing them, afraid her ankles might dislocate if she did so. Her shoulders shake and her chest heaves as a sob tears from her.

“I couldn’t do it,” Lisa says. “I couldn’t do what you did. I wanted to, but I …”

And the realization comes to her, furious in its intent. “I still want … I still want to kill him, but …”

But he is already dead and has been for nearly two decades. In the darkest part of her heart, she hopes he suffered and he died a miserable, lonely and hurting man. She hopes he is suffering now in whatever afterlife there is, be it Hell or something else. If it is Hell, she hopes there is a special place for men who rape helpless little children. In her mind she sees him, bent over a smoldering rock as a line of demons takes their turns with him, doing to him what he did to her. This makes her smile, but it doesn’t take away the truth that she wished she had killed him. That would have been more satisfying for her. 

“I admire your conviction,” she says as she thinks about the light fading, fading, fading from her step father’s eyes, until, finally, it winked out all together. She never got to see that, never got to experience the unadulterated joy of watching the very man who ruined everything about her life die. It angers her. It makes her clench her hands into tight fists. Heat runs up her chest, into her neck, then high on her cheeks. 

“How did it feel, Stephanie?” she says suddenly. “How did it feel to end his life? To end his miserable, worthless existence? How did it feel!?” Her teeth are clenched now and she is not asking a question, but demanding an answer. This is no longer about Stephanie. She thinks it is no longer about any of the characters of a freaking book. It’s been about her the entire time. It’s always been about her. But … but … but …

Stephanie smiles. It is something so haunting and full of despair, Lisa believes the answer will not be what she hopes it will be. “It felt like rebirth,” Stephanie says. “It felt like I was cleansed of … of him.”

Lisa feels her own smile forming. It is something she believes looks similar to Stephanie’s, but now she can feel it, now she understands why Stephanie did it. And she longs to have been able to do to her stepfather what Stephanie did to Carson. 

Maybe I can, she thinks. Maybe …

Go ahead, Mr. Worrywort says in that smooth used car salesman voice. Go ahead and invite him into your head. 

“I think I will,” she responds. “I think I will!”

Even if it’s dangerous?

“Especially because it’s dangerous.”

You won’t do it. You can’t do it. The taunt brings with it laughter.

“Shut up!” she screams and turns on her bottom. A sharp pain races up her hip and into her spine but she pays it no attention at all. She looks at the shadow along the wall, at the thing taunting her this entire time. “Shut your stinking mouth!”

Then she looks back at Stephanie, her eyes burning with anger and full of a lust she has never felt before. “Did it help? Did it help at all?” There is desperation in her voice. 

Stephanie hasn’t moved from her spot on the floor. She looks at Lisa with what can be considered pity. “Yes and …”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMLisa doesn’t hear the ‘no.’ She only hears the ‘yes,’ and then she grits her teeth tightly together. Some of the characters she interviewed had gone through such terrible things. They all had something in common, something Lisa didn’t have: Revenge. Spencer made a deal with the shadow people and they took Sarah and her boyfriend instead of him. They had picked on him and taunted him, and even tricked him, but in the end, he had gotten the last laugh. Nothing carved his father up with a broken beer bottle, using the very thing his father had thrown at him when he was little. It had shattered and given Nothing his first scar. Sweet Claire shot her dad to death at the biggest awards show of the year. She had acted out the very things she had gone through at his hands, and somehow, she won an award for it. Dane took it a little further than that when she killed her uncle who abused her and then killed every head doctor who came her way, every person who tried to reach her. And poor Brian, who was big for his age and whose father neglected him and his siblings. No, Brian was nothing like his father. Lewis got revenge as well, though not against someone who directly caused him pain. No, he only murdered the man his Michelle had married after she divorced him while he was in prison. It wasn’t jealousy that made him do it, but Michelle’s busted face. Then there was Cody, whose brother Jake, knew the truth about their mother, though with his scrambled brain, he could never really say what that truth was. But it wasn’t their mother Cody got revenge for. It was little Jenny Harris, who died outside of her apartment door, thanks to the brutal rape their father had committed on her. 

And, of course, there was Stephanie, who had been raped by her best friend, a guy she loved, but hadn’t been able to tell at that point. She killed him. She had been courageous and killed him, and she felt good about it. Lisa believes if she asks the young lady if she regrets murdering Carson, the answer will be ‘no.’

What if someone would have stopped each of these people when they first started? What if Nothing’s mom would have left her husband after the beer bottle incident? She wouldn’t have died and Nothing wouldn’t have suffered the way he did. What if Jenny Harris’s mother hadn’t rented the poor child out to one of the drug dealers that first time? Maybe Jenny wouldn’t have died so horribly and alone. What if Michelle didn’t give into her father’s demands to divorce Lewis after he went to prison? Would things have been different? Of course they would have. What if Brian’s father … What if? What if? 

What if you would have killed John when you were old enough to do so? Mr. Worrywort asked, his voice holding the condescending tone of a prosecuting attorney with the defendant on the stand. He wouldn’t have met the other woman. You know, the one with the young daughter? You know you weren’t the only one. Oh no, that man had the lust in him and only little girls could quell it. 

Lisa’s heart sinks as she thinks of that little girl. She never stood a chance. She looks to the door, the one she entered through what feels like ten years ago. She wills it to open. She wills it to do so with a burning hatred in her heart. She wills it, not only to open, but for the very man who started the vicious cycle of rapes and sexual assaults to come strolling through, even though he has been dead nearly two decades. 

Come on, Lisa. Do it. Go kill old dead John.

John! That’s right. All this time she had tried to visualize him, to make him as real as the other characters currently in her head. His name was John and he wasn’t a big guy, but still a giant to a little girl who hadn’t reached first grade yet. 

You can’t do it, Mr. Worrywort laughs. You can’t do it, just like before. You can’t kill him. You’re too scared of him. You’re nothing but a coward.

Something inside of Lisa snaps. “I can and I will,” she growls. Though it hurts her to do so, she rolls onto her knees. The left one wobbles, but she doesn’t wait for it to dislocate or hyperextend. She grabs hold of her seat and pushes up, praying her elbows or wrists don’t buckle with the added pressure. Her arms shake as she does this. Her legs tremble with the effort of standing after being seated on a hard floor for the last few minutes. She gets to her feet and stares hard at the door, even as her body trembles with pain. 

“Walk through the door,” she growls. 

The doorknob clicks and the door opens. In steps a man who hasn’t aged a day, much less one who has died and whose body has probably rotted down to bones with skin like parchment wrapped around them. He is somehow shorter than she recalled. His glasses are thick black plastic with thick lenses that make his blue eyes appear almost as black as his hair. 

She will never be able to recall where the broken bottle came from, but it is there, in her hand. Lisa lets out a hateful scream and runs toward John, the man who has tormented her her entire life. He tries to back away, to turn and run back out the door, but it slams shut. Though her legs and hips and arms feel like they are going to come apart at any moment, she doesn’t let it stop her. The growl tearing from her throat matches the anger in her heart, mind and soul. 

Lisa reaches him as he lets go of the knob. He turns and his eyes are wide and there is no blue to be seen in them behind the thick lenses. She drives the broken bottle downward. John raises an arm to protect himself and the jagged glass rips through his blue uniform shirt, gashing his arm and drawing a crimson spray that splatters against the light yellow wall behind him. 

John backs away, his face no longer that of a predatory monster, but of a scared man, one who knows his bad deeds have caught up with him. Lisa slashes at him again, this time connecting with an outstretched hand. Three of his fingers open up and tip backward. Lisa sees none of this and drives the bottle at him again, this time catching him in the shoulder. John stumbles backward, strikes the wall and falls, leaving a swath of his blood behind.

Lisa, feeling young and spry and moving like a woman in her late teens with no pains in her joints, drops onto John. She slams the bottle down, striking him over and over in his chest, shoulder, stomach, anywhere his arms aren’t trying to block. She doesn’t hear his screams or his pleading. Her brain blocks out all noises. She doesn’t need that nightmare playing over and over in her head. The bottle strikes John’s face. A piece of green glass breaks off in his cheek. 

John tries to shove her away, but manages only to doom himself. Lisa lifts the bottle high above her head and brings it down into the side of his neck. The bottle rips through the vulnerable skin and tissue there, spraying blood on her body and face. He coughs several times. A fine mist of blood and saliva fills the air around them, then falls to the floor like red rain. His shredded hands fall away and his body relaxes against the floor. 

Broken HeartHer breaths are hard and painful. A million pins poke at her legs, hips, back, shoulders, elbows and even her fingers. She stands, slips in the blood, but catches herself on the wall. Any other time and that slip would have sent her to the floor, with one or more dislocations in her hips and legs. Her chest heaves up and down and the look on her face is nothing shy of insanity. It is a look she feels and she likes it.

“Walk through the door,” she says again. The world that was is now gone. She feels heat boiling up from the depths of the Hell parts of her her life has been. 

The door clicks and opens again and a tall man. clean shaven and wearing the bewildered expression of someone who has been in a coma and has just woken. His hair is brown and she knows him right away as Claire Edgecomb’s father. The front of his dress shirt is a blossom of red and his face holds the pale, pale skin of someone who has lost a lot of blood. 

She lifts her hands and in them are guns. She points them at him. 

“No.”

Lisa turns. Standing at her chair is Claire and she is shaking her head. 

“He is mine,” Claire says and lifts her own gun. It is something she has held before and it belongs in her hand. She pulls the trigger. The blast is loud and the center of her father’s chest opens up again. He spins in a macabre pirouette and strikes the wall near where John lays dead. He bounces off the wall and falls to the floor.

Claire lower the gun, and from somewhere else in the room comes the words, “Walk through the door.” 

Like before, the door opens and in walks Cody and Jake’s Dad, but there is no Cody or Jake. Instead, there is Jenny Harris and her torn and broken body. She clutches a huge knife in her little hands. She appears behind him and brings the knife across the backs of his knees. Face first, he falls and clutches at his legs, his screams are loud at first, but end quickly when Jenny brings the knife down on his back.

Again, the words, “Walk through the door,” comes and Nothing’s Dad enters the room. Then comes Dane’s tormentor, her uncle who thought little girls were his playground. Followed by him are the duo of Sarah and Bobby, there bodies mangled masses of flesh, their faces ripped and torn. Brian’s dad appears next, limping, his face sagging on his busted skull. 

Brian walks toward him, a bloodied hammer in hand. He cocks his head but doesn’t raise the hammer. He only stares at the man who had been his father once upon a time on the pages of a book, one where violence seemed to rule each story. 

“No, son,” Lewis says. He steps up beside Brian and takes his hand. “You’ve done your deed. No need to repeat it.”

Brian gives a simple nod, then drops the hammer. It clatters on the floor, one that had vanished while Lisa exacted a measure of revenge on the man who first touched her in a way he should have never done. 

Lisa is breathing much too hard for her liking and there are no longer guns in her hand, but the broken bottle she used on John. The adrenaline that had coursed through her blood earlier is now gone and the pain, true and raw, inches its way along the nerves of her body. She stumbles, weak and exhausted, hoping to get to her seat before she collapses to the floor and suffers the very real possibility of broken bones. 

I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to make it.

Her hands go out in front of her. Not that they will do much good. A fall on this hard floor would surely break bones in her hands and wrists, at the very least. She tilts forward and braces herself for the pain she is about to be in.

It is Stephanie who catches her and keeps her from the devastation of the fall. She holds her up, balances her the best she can, then helps Lisa to her seat. Her muscles ache and she lets out weak breath after weak breath. She closes her eyes. She wants to be done with this. The interviews have opened so many memories and let out so many … voices. She shakes her head and wishes herself back to the room where the writer waits for her return. When she opens her eyes, the room is still there. Lisa lets out a laughing sob. 

“I can’t leave until it is finished,” she says. Her voice sounds so far away, as if it belongs to someone else and she is not in this broken body, but outside of it, watching, watching, watching. 

“Until what’s finished?” Stephanie asks. 

Lisa turns to the young woman who looks at her with a frown that holds more sorrow in it than before they began talking. “This,” she says and lifts her aching arms as if to say, ‘look around you.’

She realizes then that she has one more question for Stephanie. She sits up in her seat the best she can.

“Stephanie, did you learn to trust men again?”

Stephanie doesn’t answer the question. Instead, she poses one of her own. “Did you?”

Lisa laughs. “Did I?”

“Yes. Did you learn to trust men again?”

Lisa gives a slow shake of her head. It’s an easy question to answer, but one burdened by the truth and sadness of it all. “Not completely, no.”

“Then maybe I can help.”

Lisa and Stephanie both look to the young man—well, younger than Lisa, but older than Stephanie. He has a sheepish smile on his face, one that says ‘you can trust me,’ though Lisa doubts that very much.

“How can you help me?”

“I know a place and I know a person.”

Voices: The Interviews: Stephanie (Part 1 of 2)

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before reading: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 14 

Part 1

She is breathless and heartbroken. The little girl never had a chance in life. How she made it as long as she did before her death is nothing short of a miracle in Lisa’s eyes. But it hurt. Yes, it hurt Lisa to talk to this little girl the way she did. A part of Lisa—a part so deep down inside it made her soul ache—hated how she had to pull the answers from Jenny. Another part, the part of her that was not just deep down inside, but a part she keeps hidden from most people who know her, realizes Jenny was like her when she was a child: sweet and innocent until ….

Until it was taken from me.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMHer heart shatters and she leans forward in her chair. Her arms go around her stomach. Nausea swims in her belly and pushes upward toward her throat. Tears form again in her rimmed red eyes. She feels like she has been crying for more than a couple of hours. 

It’s been days, weeks, months and years … so many years. 

Remembering life as that little girl, first with the innocence of life and the future, then … then with the pain and the skewed view of self worth (or a lack there of) made her ache worse for this poor child. Without warning, Lisa suddenly hates the writer, the one who asked her to do these interviews, to talk to the ones whose voices controlled them until they either conquered or gave in. She rocks in her seat, not caring if any of these … these … ghosts see her. Though she knows they are not truly ghosts but people from the Land of Make Believe; that they came from the pages and will return when they are finished, she absolutely knows in her heart they are spirits, and each one of them experienced their own form of torture, their own Hell. She hates the writer for peeking into her heart and into the spaces where so few have gone and where her innocence died. She hates him as strongly right then as she ever hated anyone. 

That’s irrational, she thinks as she rocks in her creaking chair, as she clutches her stomach and prays no vomit will come. But is it? Is it irrational to hate someone who only wrote a book about people and the bad things they do or that happen to them? Is it rational to hate someone who asked a question that led to another one and another one? Is it irrational to hate someone who didn’t make her relive the painful events of her past, but yet somehow she did? Is it? Is it? Is it?!

She doesn’t believe so, even as the hate subsides a little, even as the pain in her heart that fills her very body and soul tells her it is okay to hate him. That has to be directed at someone or it will eat her up. 

It’s not his fault. She fully believes this. He didn’t do anything to her. He didn’t twist her arm. He didn’t do … what others had. 

The hate falters and she sags in her chair. She wants nothing more than to close her eyes and …

No! No! Nononono! I have to see this through. I have to. If not for me, then for her. 

Her? 

Yes, her. 

As if she had spoken her name, the young lady is there, sitting, not on her chair like the others, but on the floor. Her head is down and she wears a pair of gray jogging pants and a plain white T-shirt. It could have been her dad’s or a 

(best friend’s)

boyfriend’s. Lisa knows better. She wouldn’t wear a man’s shirt—not one that belonged to a man anyway. Not after …

Lisa takes a deep breath. She is going to do something she knows she will pay for dearly later. She scoots to the edge of her seat. The thought of kneeling onto the floor makes her joints hurt. The act of doing it is far worse. She eases herself down to the floor. It is cool on her bottom and she knows that might be the only time for the remainder of the day, and maybe even days to come, that she feels anything other than pain. Still, she sees the young lady and hopes it will be worth it.

No pain, no gain, she thinks. Her inner self shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Behind her Mr. Worrywort chuckles. She tunes him out the best she can and gets onto her hands and knees. The first crawling step forward sends slivers of pain into her left knee, thigh and hip. The next one does the same to her right leg. By the time she reaches the young lady sitting on the floor, her head still down, her hair dangling and covering her face, the lower part of Lisa’s body is on fire. Joints and muscles scream their indignities at her, and when she lets herself fall onto her bottom, she lets out the first of many long, agonized  breaths. 

It takes a couple of minutes for her to compose herself, but when she does, she looks to the young lady she now sits beside. She reaches a hand out, then stops. She drops it back down. 

“Stephanie,” she says in her best motherly voice. “Stephanie, are you in there?”

Of course she’s in there, Lisa. She just might not want to come out and socialize. 

She knows this to be true. She’s been where Stephanie is now—in her own head, replaying the events that led her to do what she did. She not only feels violated by what happened to her and by who was involved, she also feels guilty for what she did. Once upon a time, Lisa was in that head space, and sometimes, she believes she still is. But the strength to kill someone, to seek out and take full revenge on someone who had hurt her, Lisa doesn’t know completely. Sure, she played out multiple scenarios in her head, but she could never go through with the act. For that, she feels weak and maybe even unworthy to talk to Stephanie.

Lisa reaches her hand up again. This time she touches the young woman’s hair. It is in need of washing and it doesn’t sit on her fingers like it should. She pulls a few locks of hair away from Stephanie’s face and tucks it behind her ear. “Stephanie. My name is Lisa, and I’ve been where you are. I know what you are feeling.”

Stephanie doesn’t move at first. She only stairs down at her hands.

“Stephanie, I have a secret I want to tell you.”

Lisa swallows. She closes her eyes and lets the moment flow through her. She leans in, places her lips near Stephanie’s ears and whispers, “I was raped, too. Several times.”

Stephanie slowly looks from her hands to out in front of her. Then, she turns her head and stares directly at Lisa. Her green eyes aren’t dull like Lisa thought they would be. They glisten with tears in them. 

“Hello, Stephanie.”

“You were raped?” Her voice sounds weak, or maybe it had been asleep and had only woken seconds earlier. 

“Yes. Several times by men I trusted.”

 “I’m sorry.”

“Me too, but I can’t change what happened to me. I couldn’t do what you did. You’re very brave. I admire what … admire your … Um … I admire your strength.”

“I wasn’t strong.”

“Oh, but you were. You are.”

Stephanie shakes her head. The hair Lisa had tucked behind her ear falls away and drops to the side of her face. “I wasn’t brave.”

“But you …”

“The dead helped me.”

“The dead helped you?”

“Susannah. She told me I wasn’t dead, yet.”

“Susannah?”

“Yes.”

“The dead girl?”

“Yes.”

“So, Stephanie, um, how did you find Susannah’s grave?”

“I went to die,” Stephanie said. “I wanted to be over the pain and guilt and the feeling of being nothing but meat to someone.” She laughed a mournful laugh. “I guess I deserved it, you know. I brought this on myself and … and … I … I guess she found me there.”

“Susannah found you?”

“When I was walking through the cemetery. She … she called me.”

“Called you?”

“Called me.”

Lisa understands this. She lives in a house near a graveyard and often feels the need—not the want, but the actual need, as if the very threads of her sanity depends on it—to walk through it, touch some of the headstones, have conversations with those who no longer have family to visit them. She understands the calling Stephanie speaks of, and she is jealous of the young lady. Where was the dead when she needed them all those years ago? Where are the dead now?

Broken Heart.jpg“A lot of people are afraid of graveyards,” Lisa says. “They find them … spooky. Scary. You and I know they … they are not so scary. But you are not afraid of them. Of cemeteries. Why not?”

“The dead can’t hurt me,” Stephanie responds. “Only the living can.”

So true. So very true.

Lisa realizes right then that her notepad is laying on the floor by her seat. All the questions she meant to ask Stephanie were on a page with the young lady’s name at the top of it. The notepad is facedown and several of the pages are skewed. It’s the notepad that makes her change the subject to something she is curious about. She thinks of Dane, the girl with the fear of numbers. A male head doctor played a prominent role in her story. He had a yellow notepad similar to Lisa’s. Stephanie’s therapist …

“I can’t help but wonder: how did you get stuck with a male therapist? That had to be … to be …” She pauses for several seconds, then continues. “How did that happen?”

Stephanie shrugs. “They didn’t think a woman would understand what happened to me? Or maybe she couldn’t be, I don’t know, unbiased because she was a woman? Or maybe they thought I was dangerous? I don’t know.”

“Are you dangerous”

Stephanie says three words in a voice so firm and resolute that Lisa completely believes her: “Not to women.”

Lisa thinks back to after she had been attacked, assaulted … whatever people want to call it these days. To her, it was, and always will be, rape. It had been an unwelcome and unwanted violation of her body. And it didn’t happen just once. She had been like a magnet for bad men, starting at an age far earlier than most. She tries to block out the bad things done to her before she turned six. She doesn’t try to block out her friends, what a few of them had done to her one night when it was her and a bunch of the boys and the boys wanted what she had but didn’t offer to them. She doesn’t block out her ex-husband, a man she loved at one point and who she thought loved her. She feels every touch, every insult, every violation and the anger she felt years before (and even sometimes now when she thinks on it like she is right then), comes rushing back. 

“They should have never put you with a male therapist,” she growls.

Another shrug, but this time Stephanie doesn’t say anything.

“It was unfair to you. I bet he didn’t get it, did he?”

Stephanie looks at her with big doe eyes. It’s as if she sees something in Lisa she hadn’t just moments before. “He was a man.”

Lisa is shaking her head now, almost furiously. Her bottom lip is tucked under her top teeth. Her nostrils flair. “Did he ever get to where he understood?”

“No.” Stephanie is looking down at her hands, at the crescent moon scars her own nails left behind after so many times of digging them into her own palms.

“Of course not,” Lisa snaps, then stops. Stephanie’s eyes are wider now. Lisa’s voice is softer when she speaks next. “Sorry. I guess I knew the answer to that question already. And the truth is how could he? How could he  ever understand? Unless he was raped, he wouldn’t. No man would.”

She closes her eyes and tries to focus on Stephanie, to push her own sorrows and anger aside and asks the tough questions, questions she might already know the answers to.

“Stephanie, I don’t want to sound like an insensitive shrink, but please, if you can, tell me, how did you feel when you realized it was him? Carlton? Your friend! How did you feel when you knew you’d been betrayed by someone you trusted? How did you feel about that? That initial feeling when you knew, you knew …” Lisa realizes her questions came rushing out of her and with that same vehemence as the hate in her own heart. Behind her—no, all around her—she hears the gleeful laughter of Mr. Worrywort. He is no longer just some shadow on the wall or a figment of one man’s imagination. He is very real and very much in her head. He is getting to her and … and … she is not in the least bit concerned about getting him out of her head.

Deep breath, Lisa. Deep breath.

(Take all the deep breaths you want. It’s not going to help.)

Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath.

I’m sorry. Um, Stephanie, how did you feel initially? When you remembered your rapist was your friend?”

Stephanie’s head shakes, as does her hands. She clenches them into fists and Lisa knows if the young woman had fingernails they would be sunk down to the quick into her palms and the crescent moon scars would have been reopened. Her jaw clenches and her breaths are quick and shallow.

“Stephanie?”

“I broke,” she says and looks at Lisa. Her eyes are puffy from crying. Her face is stained with tears. “I broke. My heart. My soul. My … my entire world died. He wasn’t just my best friend, but I … I … loved him. I mean, I loved him.” She’s crying hard now. Snot trickles from her nose. Her face is pulled down and her eyes are almost completely closed.“I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t think he loved me. I thought we were just going to be friends, and I was okay if that was what he wanted. But … but … he wanted something else. He wanted it and he took it and … and … and …” 

The next words she speaks are illegible and she sniffs up the snot on the edge of her lip. She wipes her nose and mouth with the back of one hand and then rubs it on her jogging pants. She inhales, releases it, inhales again. She does this several times until she is composed enough to continue. 

“He beat me. He didn’t just rape me. He beat me. Me! His best friend. He beat me like he never had any feelings for me, like I was a stranger and he knew nothing about me, my dreams, what I wanted out of life. It was like he never knew how much I truly cared about him.”

She wipes her eyes with the balls of her palms. “I hate him, now. I hate him so much.”

Lisa nods. She understands this all too well. Though she had been raped several times, she only truly hated one of the men who did the deed: her stepfather. He was the one who first touched her when she was a child, long before she developed anything that remotely looked feminine, other than the area between her legs. It was that area he wanted, that area he took. 

It wasn’t until later, after the other rapes, after her ex-husband took what he wanted while she slept, that she sought one on one therapy. The women’s group she had attended did little for her except maybe make her feel less like a survivor and more like a victim, something she tried hard to not be, not to become. Yet, she had become that very thing. 

“It’s the victim mentality,” the therapist said. She was a mousy woman, slight of build with short gray hair and glasses that hung off the tip of her nose. She held a yellow pad in her lap as she sat behind a desk, not in a chair, cross-legged with hose coming up to her knees. “You are still with your husband because you have a victim’s mentality. Your only worth is in being a victim. You don’t want to escape your situation. Without it, you are, essentially, nothing in your mind. Until you change that, Lisa, you will always be a victim and never be a survivor.”

She wanted to change. She wanted to no longer be the victim, but …

“All of this stems from being raped as a little girl. If that doesn’t happen …” the shrink looked down at her, over her glasses like a professor about to give a troubled student a flunking grade. “… you probably never get raped by anyone. But what happened to you when you were a little girl defined you, who you were, who you are and who you will be.”

Her mind is racing now. Heat feels her body and that horrid nausea is back. After that visit to the therapist, she quit going. All the years leading up to that, she had treated the symptoms, but never got to the root cause of the problem. Now she knew where it had its roots and all she wanted to do was …

“When did you decide to end him?” Lisa asks. 

Stephanie gives Lisa a look of stunned amazement. It is clear she didn’t expect the question, but it was out there and Lisa hopes she will answer it. 

“The very moment I realized he raped me. I knew I would kill him.”

Lisa had known as well, but …

To be continued.

Voices, The Interviews: Danny

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here: HERE). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 12

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMShe had not been ready for the final words Lewis said to her before looking down at his leathery hands and seeing tear drops strike the floor between his feet. He takes a deep breath and leans back in his chair. He gives a dismissive wave and shakes his head. He doesn’t have the heart to go any further.

Lisa’s mouth hangs open and she shakes her head from side to side, not knowing what to say. She wants to get up from her seat and give him a hug, but that won’t happen. 

Laughter comes from her right. Mr. Worrywart bends down beside her, his shadowy face just inches from hers. She can smell his fetid breath, feel the heat from it on her cheek and neck. “Way to go there, Lady,” he says in his smooth, sinister voice. “You’ve done went and made him cry.”

Lisa swallows hard. Though she disagrees with him, she also thinks he is right. Lewis was bound to cry at some point between his story and his interview. He doesn’t feel guilt about anything he’s done. He is lonely and had been since he found out his Michelle divorced him while he was in prison. Her questions—her final question—and his answers—his final one, specifically—was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It cracked the dam and tears were bound to flood his face as he thought about being alone for the rest of what was left of his life.

“I didn’t cause this,” she says.

Mr. Worrywort laughs again. “Sure, you didn’t.”

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t what, Ma’am?”

Lisa turns at the sound of someone else’s voice. The man kneeling in front of her has kind eyes and dark hair, peppered with white streaks. Though his face doesn’t hold a lot of wrinkles, making him appear younger than he probably is, his eyes hold an age and wisdom in them that is unmistakeable. A half smile is on his lips, and Lisa knows instantly he can be a charmer when he wants to be.

“I … umm … I don’t know,” she says. The world around her shrinks a little. Her face grows hot. 

“You look a little upset,” the man says. He glances at Lewis, who has his hands between his knees and his eyes to the floor. “I guess I understand. The old man got a little emotional there.” 

“Yeah, he did.”

“It’s okay, Ma’am. We all have those moments where someone else’s life affects us.”

Lisa smiles, takes a deep breath, smiles and says, “Hello, Danny.”

“Hello.”

“Do you prefer Danny or Coach?”

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter. All the kids called me ‘Coach,’ but no one outside of baseball ever has.”

“Then Danny it is, if that is okay with you?”

“Absolutely.” Danny stands straight, walks to his chair, picks it up by the metal back, and sets it in front of Lisa. He sits down, crosses one ankle over his knee, and places both hands on that ankle. He smiles and nods to her. “Do you have some questions for me, Ma’am?”

“I do.”

Lisa looks down at her notepad, turns the page and reads the one word at the top: COACH. She looks up at Danny and asks the first question. “Being dubbed ‘Coach’ is a respected honor where I’m from. You must have done great things with those kids.”

DSCN1640Danny shrugs in an aww-shucks manner. “I wouldn’t say I did anything great. I just listened to them, their words, their body language. Kids are fairly transparent when they are young so reading them is easy. It’s when they become teens that you really  have to pay attention to what they are saying. Being a coach isn’t about winning. It’s about teaching; it’s about showing these young people how to become young adults and then young men and women and how to respect themselves and others. Show them respect, and they are bound to respect you back.”

“Well, if we can get right to it, how old were you the first time you saw The White?”

Danny rubs his hands together as if he is cold. His brows crinkle as he thinks. “I guess I was in my early teens the first time it happened. I got really sick—bad headache, an odd dazzle in my eyes that were similar to the washed-out spots on old film reels. I was sitting in the dugout. My dad was the head coach of that team. It was the championship game. I remember that easily enough. I had a hit on three at bats and made an error in the top of the inning that got me benched for a defensive replacement. I was pissed. I couldn’t believe my own dad would take me out of the game because I made an error.”

“There was this kid on the other team—his name was Scott Hall—and he was the team’s star. He struck out to end the game. I’ll never forget the look on his face—or the half look, I saw mostly white where the left side of his face should have been. I remember the intense pain bloom behind my eyes. I remember sitting on the dugout’s concrete floor, my head in my hands and crying like a baby. My dad thought I was upset that he benched me. I was, but that wasn’t why I was crying. One look at my eyes and they knew something was wrong.

“We won the game. While everyone else went out for pizza and ice cream, Dad’s treat, I went home and went to bed. Six days later, Scott Hall came up missing. A few years passed, and some kid named Reed Baker decided to dig a hole at the ball park. He found Scott’s body.

“So, I would say that was the first time the White came on. I just didn’t know it.”

“You mentioned thinking it was a migraine. Do you get migraines often?  More specifically, have you been diagnosed with migraines by a doctor?”

“Yeah, clinically the types of migraines I get are called ocular migraines. They start in the eyes and within twenty minutes or so, if I don’t take any medicine, they become full blown explosions in by head. It sucks, and when one comes on, I can never tell if it is the White or just a normal migraine, at least until I see the white wash over someone’s body. Then I know.”

“Can we talk about Coach Davis for a minute?”

“Sure.”

“To be blunt, Coach Davis did not seem like a nice man or a good person. Tell me about why you were so driven to try to save him when you knew trying to save people had not worked in the past.”

DSCN1668“There’s always a first time for everything, right?” Danny pauses. “Peter wasn’t such a bad person. He was just a bad coach. He wanted to win more than anything else. He was a lot like the guy who coached Scott Hall. His name was Barry Windstrom. I don’t remember much about him—I never played for him—but what I do remember is he yelled a lot on the field, but off of it, he was supposedly a kind man, wouldn’t harm anyone. Turns out, he was the person who killed Scott Hall. 

“There was good in Windstrom. There was good in Peter. Most people just didn’t get to see it because they saw his on field antics, specifically on the day he died, and that is what they remember about him. 

“Besides, if I didn’t try, I would have to live with the ‘what if I would have tried to help him?’ thoughts running in my head. Guilt is a horrible thing, and I didn’t want any unnecessary guilt.”

“You were shot for your trouble. You could have been killed. How do you feel about that?”

“How do I feel? Well, it told me to stop waiting around for life to happen. I had spent the majority of my kids’ lives coaching them. My wife divorced me, and I went into a small bout of depression. When I came out the other side of it, I told myself I wouldn’t ever date again. That was a mistake. I let one thing, one person, change how I viewed an important aspect of my life. When I got out of the hospital, I went back to the ball field and sought out an old friend, a team mom, and I stopped wasting time wishing I had married her instead of the woman I chose to be the mother of my children. It gave me an appreciation for life.

“On the other end of that, a good man went to jail. I’m not happy about that.”

“I can’t help but wonder why this manifests as White when other people who report similar, um, abilities describe it differently.  Where do you think this ability to see when people are near death comes from?”

“Head trauma,” Danny says matter-of-factly. “At least for me. A couple of days before I saw Scott Hall, I had been hit by a pitch.” He touches a spot above his left ear. “Right here. I walked it off. That’s what we did back then. Right after the championship game, my parents took me to the doctor. There’s a dent in my skull where the ball hit. The doctor claimed that is where the migraine came from, and I chalk it up as the reason I still have them and why I see the White.”

“That makes sense. Does it frighten you?”

“Every time.”

“So, how do you think you will handle it going forward?”

“The same way I always have. If there is a chance I can help them, maybe alter the course of their life so they don’t die, then I’ll do what I can. It’s a burden, but I have to try, right?”

“I guess so, Coach,” Lisa says. “Thank you for your time.”

“And, Lisa, whatever is there, that voice you are hearing right now, it can’t harm you. It won’t. I think it is scared of you. I think it knows the only way to get to you is to taunt you.”

“Can you see him?” Lisa asks. 

“Oh yeah. But he can’t see you—not the real you. It only sees what you allow it to see.”

With that said, Danny stands, picks up his chair, and takes it back to where he originally sat. He sits, and Lisa turns her attention to the notepad once again.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Voices, The Interviews: Lewis

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMNo, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here: If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 11

“That be a good child,” said the old black man sitting almost directly across from Lisa. He’s hunched forward, elbows on his knees. In his hands is an old cap, folded almost in half. His fingernails are yellow and his hands look like those of a man who had done hard labor his entire life. In truth, he had, and sometimes still does, even though he is well into his seventies. 

“Hello, Lewis,” Lisa says.

“Hello, Ma’am.” He nods appropriately. His voice is deep and holds a rasp in it. 

“How are you today?”

“I’m fine, Ma’am. You?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when we’re done here. How’s that?”

Lewis nods. “That be fine, Ma’am.”

“Lewis, I would like to be candid for a moment, if that is okay?”

Sad Woes of the Trashman“Yes, Ma’am. I ain’t got nothin’ to hide, so you go on ahead and be … what’s that word you said?”

“Candid?”

“Yes, Ma’am. You go on ahead and be candid.”

“You seem like a really good man.  A hard worker.  A caring person. So … Why …? What made you think it was acceptable to steal another person’s car?”

“Umm … I ain’t never said it was accep’ble. It ain’t. I just, well, I wanted my Michelle to be happy. You know, not regret marryin’ a man of my color. You know her pappy wasn’t all too keen on us gettin’ together.” Lewis takes a breath, lets it out in a long, sad sigh. “I reckon I was scared she would leave me, so I stole the car for some money. I didn’t do it out of malice or spite. I reckon I went and took it out of love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He shakes his head. His hands twist the cap a little. “Love makes you do some bad things. Stupid things.”

Lisa nods. “Yes, I suppose it does.” She pauses, then says, “It must have been degrading to be called ‘boy’ and, um, other things by the policemen.”

“I reckon so, Ma’am, but back then that’s just the way things were. Boy was the least insultin’ thing I was called by any white man back then.”

“You endured a lot in prison, Lewis.”

He shrugs. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“How did you keep your composure when they killed Marvin Jackson?”

Lewis shakes his head and twist the cap some more. “It ain’t all that hard when you want to stay alive. I was ‘fraid they was goin’ to kill me, too, so I just did what I hads to do to stay on this side of the ground.”

“That’s a smart way of looking at things.”

“It’s the only way in prison, Ma’am.”

“And you went to prison because of your wife, right?”

“Oh no, Ma’am. I went to prison ‘cause I was stupid and wanted to impress my Michelle. If I had just been me …” he shrugs again. “things might’ve been diff’rent.” 

“You obviously loved your wife very much.”

“I still do. Though she’s dead and all, I still love her.”

  

“Is it fair to say you loved her so much you have no remorse for killing her second husband?”

“That wasn’t no husband, Ma’am. He was a monster. I just saved her from the monster. That’s all.”

“What about when you killed the other man?”

“Well,  I reckon that was self-defense, Ma’am.”

“After everything you have been through, can you tell me why you decided to turn yourself in to the police?”

Lewis sits silent for a few seconds. Then a few more. He looks up with tears in his eyes. “When you ain’t got nothin’ you need somethin’ to hold onto. Somethin’ like structure. And prison has structure. Besides, I ain’t long for this world, Ma’am. Ain’t nothin’ worse than dyin’ alone.”

TO BE CONTINUED …

(The wonderful artwork for The Sad Woes of the Trash Man was provided by the amazing Troy Rider.)

Voices, The Interviews: The Angel

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our continuing project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 9

Lisa releases Dane. It was an embrace akin to a mother and a daughter. It’s one she had experienced many times raising her own kids, but this one had been different. Dane had needed her touch, her reassurance—she ventures to believe she still will, maybe even always will. 

Dane takes a deep breath, goes back to her chair, and sits down. Lisa does the same. She picks up her pad from the floor where she dropped it. She flips through the pages until she comes to the next name on the list: Kimberly. She recalls the young lady whose boyfriend broke up with her before they could get married. She recalls the house, the room she knelt in. 

An eerie feeling crawls up her legs and into her spine. The room feels damp. The walls are somehow moldy, the ceiling sagging. Though the floor is intact, there are dips in it. More importantly, there is blood in the center of the room and there are images on the walls. Lisa tries to recall if they were there when she first arrived. She believes they were, but now, with Kimberly in front of her, the graffiti on the walls looks more real, as if at any moment they can come alive. 

The prophets holding Bibles wear black suits and their eyes are punched out holes—something she feels is different from before, but somehow the same. Graffiti gangsters hold boom boxes and music notes rise up from them in whites, blues, yellows and oranges. A knight in dull armor sits on a hobby horse, the lance he once probably used in jousting competitions splintered at one end. A snake slithers along the baseboard, but the image that holds her attention is the angel with black wings, like a demon’s, leathery and too short to actually carry him on the wind; blue eyes like bright lights that mesmerize, and shockingly white hair that covers his ears and flows down his back. It is this creature she feels uneasy about.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMNonsense, she thinks. Kimberly is the one here to talk to you. She is right there, directly to your left.

And she is. Though she doesn’t bear the scars of the young woman who died in the story, her arms and clothes are covered in blood, as is her long blonde hair. She, however, doesn’t look at Lisa. She looks beyond her, to the wall where the angel hangs, painted there by an artist probably named K. Kwik (or something like that) with spray paint that is neither expensive nor cheap, but somewhere in the middle. 

“Kimberly,” Lisa whispers.

The young lady doesn’t react. She doesn’t blink, but her head slowly tilts to one side, as if she sees something no one else can. Lisa now knows it is quite possible she does. After all, so many of these characters have seen things she hasn’t, but she has seen things they haven’t either.

Lisa reaches over and touches the young woman’s leg. “Kimberly.”

Kimberly looks at her, her eyes focusing for a couple of seconds, then growing distant quickly. “To know me is to feel me.”

“But to feel me is to know …” Another voice says.

“Pain,” Kimberly finishes.

Lisa’s body jerks with the new voice, one she is afraid of. She looks to her right, to the wall of graffiti art. The angel’s head is free of its sheetrock home. His cartoon features have faded from his face. His white hair somehow flows behind him, as if there is a wind blowing through the millions of strands. His body doesn’t tear from the wall. It peels, like a sticker …

Like a Fathead, Lisa thinks.

… and he is much bigger than she had thought he was when reading the story of Kimberly’s demise.

He doesn’t walk, but glides across the floor; his legs are shrouded in gray clouds. He is beside them quicker than he should be. His leathery wings are not black, but brown and Lisa can see the many bones that make up its forearm-like wings. Unlike a bat or bird, she doesn’t think the angel’s wings could help him fly and she doesn’t believe they are anything like homologous structures, handed down from an ancestry of flying creatures. Heat radiates off him, and from the short distance between them, she feels as if she sits next to a hot furnace.

“What are you?” Lisa asks.

He smiles, though it isn’t radiant. There is something inherently creepy about him, and it’s not just because one minute ago he was firmly attached to a wall fifty feet away from them. 

“I am an angel, young lady.”

“Young lady? That’s cute. Flattery will get you nowhere. Neither will lies. What are you really?”

The angel’s smile doesn’t falter, but there is a twinkle in his eyes. Lisa believes he is about to try and deceive her. When he speaks again, she knows that is what his intention is.

“I am an angel. That is true,” he says. “But what I am an angel of does not concern you. It only concerns those … I visit.”

“Oh boy, I’ve got the evil version of the Riddler here,” she says, then adds, “Why have you chosen the image of an angel?”

“Because I bring release.”

“Angels bring the Word of God. You bring blood and death to the innocent.”

“The innocent?” The angel doesn’t quite laugh, but she can see humor in his eyes. She can feel the laughter spilling from the heat of his body. “No one is innocent. Everyone has sinned, young lady. Everyone. I only bring to the desperate what they long for.”

From behind his back, the angel produces a long knife, one with the blackened handle of ancient bone. The blade curves in the center, giving it a decided hook at the end. He holds it out to her. 

Lisa looks at it. A rainbow appears in the blade, shimmers, vanishes, then reappears. It’s mesmerizing.

“What are you?” Lisa asks again. Her voice is dreamy and distant.

“I am pain.”

The notepad slips from her hands but remains on her lap. Her right hand reaches up, hesitant at first.

“To know me is to feel me.”

A female voice comes from her left, soft and sweet and hypnotic. “To feel him is to hurt.”

“To hurt is to bleed,” the angel whispers. He turns the knife in his hand so the blade is on his palm and the handle facing away from him.

Lisa’s arm extends further. The blade glistens with its rainbows and the voices of Kimberly and the angel are a harmony in her ears that doesn’t scare her, but entices. Her fingers stretch, touching the cold bone handle. 

“To bleed is to live.” they say in unison.

Lisa takes the blade and holds it inches from her face. She can see a reflection in the rainbow of colors, but it is not hers, at least not the her of the here and now. The image staring back at her is younger. Her hair is darker, the lines on her face are barely there. Her eyes still hold the vibrancy of a little girl. 

“To know me is to feel me,” the duo says. “To feel me is to hurt.”

The image changes. The young girl is gone. Replacing her is a teenager, maybe even someone who she was in her early twenties. The vibrancy in her eyes, though still there, has dulled. And in her hand she holds a knife, just as Lisa does now. The young woman holds the knife to her wrist, as if she is going to bring the blade straight across it. Then she turns the knife, the point touching the base of her palm. If she pulls it straight up, it will flay the skin from palm to elbow and …

“To bleed is to live,” the duo chants.

She repeats it back. The tip digs into her palm. She feels pain as it breaks skin. A drop of blood squeezes from the small wound and slides down into her palm. Her breath catches.

“To live is to die.”

She grips the knife tight. Her mind screams, No. No. No. NO! but she can’t release the blade. Her other arm comes up. She watches as the blade moves toward it, almost in slow motion, but still entirely too fast for her liking.

He killed her! Lisa’s mind screams.

And now he is going to kill you. Mr. Worrywort says from his corner. He is not near. She knows this. She feels this. He is afraid of the angel or whatever it is.

She turns to Kimberly. She is holding her hand out in front of her, much like Lisa is, though there is no knife gripped in her fingers. “He killed you,” Lisa says.

The young woman looks at her. There are tears in her eyes.

Then a hand is on her wrists, one that holds scars on the fingers. Lisa looks at the hand, then up the scarred arm to the young man in front of her. Nothing takes the hand that holds the knife in it and pulls it away from her palm. There is a hint of blood on the blade, but nothing like it could be. Though he is clearly a strong man, he can’t remove the knife from Lisa’s hand.

Nothing looks at Kimberly. One of her hands is clenched into a fist, as if she holds a knife in it. Her other arm is up the way Lisa’s is. 

“Let her go,” Nothing says.

Kimberly blinks. Behind her, Mr. Worrywort appears. His face is nothing but a shadow, but the grin in the darkness is outlined in white, the teeth within yellow. A hand settles on her shoulder and her eyes widen, her lips become an O. 

“She can’t,” Mr. Worrywort says.

“I wasn’t talking to her,” Nothing says. Both of his hands hold the knife from Lisa’s arm. “I’m talking to you.”

Mr. Worrywort’s face changes. He doesn’t look as defiant now as he did seconds earlier. Then the smile returns and he laughs. “Make me.”

Nothing squeezes Lisa’s hand. The pain is sharp and intense and her fingers straighten involuntarily. The knife slides into his hand, and before Lisa realizes it, he lets go of her and slings the knife toward Kimberly. The knife doesn’t have to travel far, so the chances of him hitting her is high. It zips by her head and strikes Mr. Worrywort’s shoulder. He spins away from Kimberly, releasing her as he does so. 

Kimberly’s arms drop, her hand unclenches from a fist to an open palm. Lisa’s arms drop. She rubs the bleeding palm on her pants

“How did you do that?” the angel asks.

“I’m not weak,” Nothing said. “Suicide is a sin. You feed on the hopeless. You create monsters who feed on the blood and suffering of the living. You create them from the living.”  

“Why?” Lisa asks. “Why do you do this?”

The angel and Nothing and everyone else turn back to her. 

“Because I can,” the angel says. “You understand that, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t understand.”

“I think you do.”

“No, I don’t.  I don’t.”

“Everyone does things because they can. Everyone.” The angel stares down at her, his eyes like angry embers.

“Not everyone,” Lisa responds.

“Everyone.”  

“Even you?” Lisa asks. She knows what he is. She even thinks she knows why he is, but those two things could be different. “What are you?”

“I am Death, young lady, and I come for everyone.” 

“No, you’re not,” Nothing says. He steps between the angel and Lisa. “Death is indiscriminate. He favors no one and he doesn’t choose when someone’s time has come. He certainly doesn’t help someone kill herself.” He looks toward Kimberly. Her head is down. Tears fall from her eyes and land on her bare legs. “You are opportunity. You weed out the weak, one at a time. Those who are hurting are your prey, your victims. You are a bottom feeder, at best. And by that token, you are nothing, like me.”

“I can kill you.”

“No. You can’t. I’ve faced my demon and I conquered him. I have the scars to prove it. You exist on fear and if no one is afraid of you, then you … don’t exist.”

The angel steps back, not voluntarily, but as if he is pulled backward. He reaches for Nothing, his hand catching only air. “You fool.”

“Maybe once upon a time,” Nothing responds. “Not anymore. Go away. You are not welcome here.”

“You have no sway over me.”

“Not true. You have no sway over me. Go away. Be gone. No one here fears you.”

The angel looks to Lisa. “She does.”

Lisa stands, straightens her back and steps beside Nothing. “I’m not afraid of you,” she says, her voice strong. “I’m not afraid of the demons in the ceiling or Mr. Worrywort, who keeps trying to get into my head. You are nothing to me.” She looks to the young man beside her, “No offense meant.”

Nothing laughs. 

“She is,” the angel yells, his voice booming and bouncing off the walls in vibrating echoes. He points at Kimberly. “She is terrified of me.”

“She’s not,” Nothing says. “Are you?”

Kimberly looks up. The tears in her eyes aren’t from fear, but pain. “I don’t fear death—not anymore. I fear being alone, dying without ever being loved. But I don’t fear him.”

The prophets on the wall pull free. They tuck their Bibles under their arms and approach the angel. They grab him by his arms.

“No! You can’t touch me!”

They say nothing as they pull him away from the circle, away from the group of characters assembled for their interviews. 

“Let me go!”

One of the prophets howls when they reach the wall. He grips the sheetrock with one hand, the angel with the other. The prophet’s face distorts into a grotesque grimace, his jaw dropping to his chest, his eyes melting as he pulls, first himself, then the angel into the wall. The angel’s white hair bursts into flames; his blue eyes explode; his flowing robe smolders, then gets swallowed into the fire, consuming him. The other prophets follow the first one into the wall, but they don’t melt away like the first one, like the angel. They reattach themselves to the sheetrock, their eyes fixed on the smoldering creature on the artistic floor at their feet; at the angel’s hand reaching from the ashes of its body, its hand still smoking. Then they are all frozen in place and once again become nothing but drawings.

Nothing stands beside Lisa. At some point, he had taken her hand. He releases it now. 

“What just happened?” Lisa asks.

“An opportunity lost, I think,” Nothing says.

“What was he?”

Again, the young man laughs. “It doesn’t matter. He is nothing now.”

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Dane

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 8

There is a moment where Lisa says nothing, only stares down at the pad, at the page she just flipped to. At the top are the words “NUMBERS—DANE” in black print. She can see where her hand shook when considering what to ask for this part of the interview. She thinks this one could be the death of her. A touch of fear edges along the sides of heart. The title holds her eyes.

Numbers.

Lisa considers her own carefully repressed and controlled obsession with numbers; odd numbers, prime numbers, exponential sequences, other numbers she doesn’t like.  It’s a childhood quirk. Nothing more. At least that is what the doctors always said. She knows better. She knows it is not just a childhood quirk. It is so much more, even to the point of a phobia with a name: Imparnumerophobia. 

She thinks of Spencer and his fear of shadows. Some would say he is ridiculous and he needs to get over the mental hurdle in his head. But there is no getting over something that terrifies you. Though Imparnumerophobia is more of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, the truth, at least in her eyes, is simple: odd numbers might mean nothing to most, but to people like Dane, they are bad. Worse than that, they are life threatening. 

She shoves the thoughts aside, locks it away with some of the other things from her childhood best left alone. A deep breath follows, then she looks up at the only person in the room (besides herself) who might suffer from this … this … disorder. 

“Hello, Dane.”

The young lady’s body jerks as if she had been jabbed by a hot poker. Her lip trembles and she clutches her arms in a terrified self-embrace. Her lips move. Lisa’s not sure what she is doing until Dane speaks.

“Hey.”

Three letters, Lisa thinks. Odd numbers.

She considers how to ask her first question. It is the only one she believes she must ask to move forward. She considers the words and the letters in each one. 3-2-4-4-7-5. The odd numbered words equal the even numbered ones. She licks her lips.

“Are we safe from numbers today?”

Again, Dane jerks. It’s something Lisa is not expecting. If she was to look up the case study on this child, she would see a nervous twitch, or in this case an almost violent full body spasm, is unlike Dane.

A sound ripples through the room. It sounds like someone tearing a large sheet of paper. But that’s not it. Lisa knows this. She knows that somewhere in the room a hole will appear in the ceiling or maybe the floor or one of the walls. She knows this one could be dangerous and part of her is scared. Pushing aside her childhood concerns might be too hard for this one.

Dane shakes her head, her eyes wide and shimmering, as if tears are about to roll from them.

“Which numbers are … “ She pauses. She believes the answer will be ‘odd,’ but does she know for certain? “… safe?”

Dane shivers, but the nervousness is not as bad as a few seconds before. She looks up at the ceiling. Her fingers move, as does her lips.

She’s counting, Lisa thinks. Trying to determine the numbers in each word before responding.

Dane licks her lips. “Odd.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMLisa nods, then asks again for clarity. “Odd numbers are … safer?” She counts the numbers in the last word to make sure all of them are odd.

A nod from Dane. “Yes.”

Lisa wipes her lips. Odd numbers are safe. She almost laughs. Anything even could be dangerous for the two of them—for all the characters still sitting around the U in that room. But odd numbers … odd numbers bug her and speaking in solely odd numbered words feels off. 

Go ahead, the voice in her head whispers to her. She knows it is Mr. Worrywort, or one of the other demons in the room, all of whom speak to those around her as if they can control them, can make them do whatever they want. Speak in even numbered words and see what happens. It could be quite entertaining.

“No,” she blurts out without thinking.

The tearing paper grows louder. Lisa doesn’t need to search for the sound. She can see by the looks on several of the other characters in the room that it is just behind her and off to her left. She wants to look back, but finds she can’t, finds she is terrified. She knows from reading the story that the hole expands and retracts based on the number of letters in each word.

Look. The voice—the demon in her head, no doubt—holds the sinister glee of a murderer just before putting a knife in the throat of his victim. It’s a taunt she finds hard to resist. She can almost feel the knife at her throat.

Look.  

Her muscles tense up. She takes a deep breath that feels as if it wants to stop halfway into her lungs, as if it will go no further and will not come back out. 

Look! 

She grits her teeth, trying to figure out what to say, how to get the hole that has surely opened behind her to close back. 

“Not …” In her mind, she counts the letters of the next word. Nine. “… happening.”

Though the voice grows quiet, she can feel it tap tapping on her shoulder with a long-fingered hand. The sound of tearing paper has also become silent. She lets out the breath and tries to smile through the pain in her chest she knows is high anxiety.

“You … are …” she grimaces, knowing she can’t avoid all even numbered words. “… ready to … discuss?”

Dane shakes her head. She doesn’t take as long as Lisa did to respond. “Not. I can.”

All odd numbered. Dane exhales. One edge of her lips curls up a little. It’s not quite innocent, but it doesn’t hold the sinister evil Lisa believes could be behind those dark eyes and that pale face, behind the mask she no doubt wears.

Dane then adds, “You are?”

Lisa waits for her to finish the statement, then realizes she has. Dane wants to know her name. 

Double whammy, Lisa thinks, recalling the head shrink who last saw Dane. His name was even numbered. A double whammy. She thinks hard on this. The wrong combination is dangerous. She knows she will sound ridiculous, maybe even illiterate, but doesn’t particularly care. Now, her concern is with surviving … again.

“I …” she taps her chest with one finger, “… named … Lisa Lee.” She pauses. The combination is good so far. Three words with odd numbered letters to one with even. Still safe. “You calls me Lee. All right?” She wanted to say ‘okay,’ but four letters are bad. Even is bad. 

Dane nods. “Yes.”

Lisa relaxes and slips at the same time, going into her question, but catching herself immediately “Your … you! You! Uncle raped you?”

Dane nods again, gives another, “Yes.”

“Uncle was a bad man. It’s not your fault.” She lets out a long breath. Nine words, eight of them odd numbered.

“Bad man. Yes. Bad. Bad man.”

“Discuss, maybe?” She feels childish, as if she and Dane have their own language, one most people will not understand. 

“No,” Dane says sharply. The tear in the ceiling begins again. She thinks she hears a giggle from behind her. She can’t tell if it is from above or directly in her ear, but she knows someone is there, and that someone is waiting for her to make a mistake.

Lisa’s hands go out in front of her in a warding off gesture. 

“Not. Discuss. Got it.” She waits for the tearing sound again, but it doesn’t come. Though her last word was even, the previous three were odd. She’s catching on. She believes if the odd numbered words outweigh the even numbered ones she will be safe. It will be dangerous, but she doesn’t believe the demons can—or will—get her if she continues this way.

She looks down at her pad. The next question makes her nervous. There are too many even numbered words. 

You summoned your dead family to save you.  

How am I going to ask that question without getting killed?

You can’t, Mr. Worrywort hisses in the back of her brain. She feels his hand on her left shoulder, his breath on the nape of her neck, flapping several strands of her long hair. She is going to get you. They are all going to get you, and I’m going to watch them do it.

Dealing with demons scares her, but dealing with a voice in her head, or even one outside of it trying to get in, didn’t bother her so much. She dealt with him earlier, she can do it again. 

“You can … not,” she says, a smile on her face. “You can get lost.” Seven words. Six odd. One even. She’s safe. She waits a moment, listening for the tear in the fabric of the world around her. It doesn’t come. 

Though Mr. Worrywort grows silent again, she can still feel him behind her, his hands wanting so badly to caress her face, maybe touch her chin with his elongated claws, maybe twist that chin fast enough and hard enough to snap her neck. Then he would laugh and dance like he’s at a funeral in New Orleans.

“Get lost?” Dane asks. Two words. One odd. One even.

Lisa hears the tearing noise behind her. A hiss follows. Lisa knows it to be Dane’s mother.

“Not you, Dane. Not you.”

“I do not … understands.”

“There is another one who is among us.” She does some mental math. Eight words. Five odd. Three even. She waits. Listens. There is no tearing sound. “I have questions for you. One about you family …” More counting. Nine words. Seven odd. Two Even. Safe. She lets out a breath. 

Dane releases a long breath. She looks down at her feet. “Ask.”

Lisa looks up at the ceiling. “You … calls … family …” She cringes at the six-letter word because she knows she will follow it up with a two letter one. “to … aid you. Right?”

Dane nods. “Yes.”

“Why?” Yes, her mind screams. She didn’t think she would ever get the question out, but she did and now it was in Dane’s hands. She hopes—even prays—she answers the right way.

“‘Cause I needs the helps.” Dane cringes. Lisa can see it on her face, the way her shoulders shrug involuntarily; the way her eyes squeeze together; the way her lips pull apart, showing off her yellowing teeth. Her mother had been an English teacher. The grammar she displayed in that sentence would have made her mother twitch. 

“You needed aid?”

A nod, then, “Yes. You understand, right? You do, right?”

Lisa sees determination in Dane’s face, but there is something else, maybe even a little bit of malice in her eyes. She knows Dane can turn at any second if she doesn’t like the question or if she feels like Lisa—or anyone—is out to get her. She will string together a line of even numbered words and the demons will be able to crawl from the ceiling where they hide. They would take Lisa, and quite possibly, some of the other characters in the room, and the end will not be pleasant for them. 

I wonder what the demons will leave behind, what trophy Dane will take to remember me by?

“I … I understand … I get it … I …” She listens for the rip in the ceiling, for the electric hum the demons bring with them, but doesn’t hear them. What she does hear is the giggling from behind her. Mr. Worrywort is here, and he is taking delight in her struggles to ask the questions she feels needs to be asked of Dane. 

He’s getting stronger, she thinks. No, that’s the wrong word. He’s getting bolder. Why is that? Too many thoughts. Too many questions. Too many …

Lisa looks up at Dane. The young girl’s head is cocked to the side. I’m taking too long. She takes a deep breath and pushes on.

“How? How did you … summon?”

The rip comes this time. It’s not much, but it is there, and it is loud enough for Dane to look up to the ceiling and wince. 

“I …” she says, then stops. The single letter word seems to make her relax again. “ … calls thems and theys comes.”

Dane smiles the best she can. Lisa thinks it is forced, but it is better than the sad looking child in front of her. 

“The other … persons … Why? Why let them die?”

This time Dane’s smile is not forced. It holds that underlying sinisterness about it. It is what Lisa has worried about from the beginning of the interview with Dane. 

“They needs to eat.” 

The tear in the ceiling is louder this time. Four words. Two even. Two odd. They don’t cancel each other out like Lisa thinks they should have. Another giggle comes from behind her, but this one is different. It’s a cackle, and it’s feminine. Joining it is Mr. Worrywort’s laugh, deep and full of glee.

Fear grips Lisa now. I’m going crazy, she thinks. She tries to swallow, but her throat is dry, and she is thirsty. 

She would take my notepad, Lisa thinks and looks up at Dane. The smile on her face is one so knowing that Lisa’s skin prickles. I’m going to die. Right here. Right now. Unless …

“But the woman … you liked the woman! You did!”

Dane doesn’t hesitate. She has confidence. It shines in her eyes. It shows in her smile.

“She was angry.”

“Why? Why was she angry?”

The laughter dies down.

“She blamed me for what happened.”

Another rip, louder this time, follows Dane’s statement. Six words. Four even. Two odd. The demons in the ceiling are laughing, all of them, not just Dane’s mother. Mr. Worrywort is clapping and his maniacal shrieks of joy blend with the demons.

Lisa blurts out, not worrying about the words or whether they are odd or even. She no longer believes it matters, not where Dane is concerned. She is going to let them kill her. This much Lisa knows with certainty. “I’m not angry with you … at you … Not angry. Not mad. I just…  I … Please…”

Fifteen words. Ten odd. Five even.

The ripping stops, but she can still hear the demons, though their laughter is somewhat muffled now.

“Why the woman? She cared about you.”

“Did she?”

“Yes! Yes, she did.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes! Why can’t you not let someone help you?”

“Help?!”

The demons hiss in anger and what Lisa thinks is excitement. They are hungry, and they can smell her, smell all of them.
“Yes! I can help you.”

“No one can help!”

Laughter. Tearing. Hissing. They all come from behind her. Lisa can feel them peering out of a hole that is probably larger than she thinks it is. She can feel Mr. Worrywort’s hands on the back of her neck, his fingers wanting to wrap around her throat. He would show himself to her, what he really looks like, as he chokes the life from her. 

“I can! Why can’t you let someone care for you?”

Dane puts one hand up in a wait gesture. Though Lisa hears the demons and feels Mr. Worrywort behind her, she feels that, for at least a minute or a few, she is safe. 

“People only want to hurt me.”

All six words are even. They are spoken with a determined resolve to get it through Lisa’s head that no one can help her. They are spoken with intent. Her hand is still out and the demons are silent. 

Lisa licks her lips. She knows she doesn’t have much time to make an impression. If ever there is a time to do an elevator pitch, it is now. 

“I know how you feel,” she says. Oh my God, am I about to do this? “I’ve been hurt, too. Many times. By people who I loved and who I thought loved me. I could have chosen to hide away in a shell or to get bitter, and for a while, I did. I did what you are doing, but not with the demonic form of dead family members. I have scars, both outside and in. They are part of me. They are part of who I am. Would I like to go back and change things? Sometimes I think so. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘hell yeah, let’s change the outcome of this situation.’ But if I did that, I would not be who I am today. I learned from those situations, from each heartache and lie and every single bit of pain that was inflicted on me.” 

Tears are in her eyes, not from fear of dying, but from trying to get through to Dane, trying to get her to understand she doesn’t need to hurt anyone else. Sweat beads on her forehead.

“I can help you. I’m not like the shrinks. I’m not angry with you. I want to help you. You and I are alike in so many ways. Let me care for you. Can’t you do that? Can’t you just try to let someone help you?”

They stare at each other for a long time. Tears are in both their eyes. The silence is loud. The other characters sit, watching, none of them speaking or moving or possibly even breathing. 

“Yes,” Dane says.

“Yes?”

“Yes. I’ll let you help me.”

Then something odd happens that not even Lisa expected when she walked into the room that morning. Dane stands, walks over to her and puts her arms out. Lisa stands, folds her arms around the young woman and hugs her tight as Dane cries into her shoulder. When she finishes, Dane pulls away, wipes her eyes and looks up at Lisa. 

“Thank you,” Dane says.

“You’re welcome, Dane. Now, can you do me a favor?”

Dane frowns and cocks her head to one side. “What’s that?”

“Your family, can you put them back?”

Dane smiles. “Yes.”

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Dave

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 7

Lisa feels better about the interviews. B’s went well. The young lady had been honest and forthcoming. She had given Lisa hope that all of the interviews wouldn’t be filled with deception or anger or lies. She looks at B and smiles. As she does so, she has a feeling her interview is the only one that will go that well. 

On the pad in her hands is the name ‘Dave’ and the words Crisp Sounds. She looks off to her left, a slight smile still on her face. The guy sits not quite apart from the others, but the two people on either side of him have moved their chairs away from him, leaving gaps to his right and left. His hair is shaggy. His face is dirty and a rough beard covers the lower half. His clothes are filthy and there is an odor coming off of him. Beside his chair is a mangy teddy bear, one that looks like it had spent some time in a trash dump somewhere.

“Hello, Dave.”

“Hello, Ma’am,” he says and smiles. He doesn’t come across as nervous or scared. Both legs are bent. He looks like a man about to tell a story. Maybe he will.

“You’ve been through quite an ordeal, Dave.”

He nods. “I guess you could say that.” 

Lisa waits a few seconds before continuing. “Do you care to talk about how you ended up on the streets after losing your job?”

“Do I care to talk about it? Not really, but I will.”

“So, what happened, Dave? How did you end up on the street?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMDave smiles. It’s not a bad smile. Sure, his teeth are slightly yellow, but many people who are not homeless have yellow teeth. Smoking or coffee or not brushing can cause that. 

“I fell down a flight of steps at work one day, and well, they felt their money was better spent on someone with two good legs and no chronic pain.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yeah. I guess so. That is the way it is, though, you know? You are only worth the money if you can perform the job or until someone better and cheaper comes along.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Dave shrugs. “It is what it is.”

“What happened after that?”

“I couldn’t find a job. Not even fast food joints or grocery stores were willing to take a chance on a hobbled man.”

Lisa is shaking her head as she listens. She feels bad for Dave, for all the people out there like him, who did nothing wrong except get hurt on the job and then get dumped, not just by the job, but by …

“When you can’t get a job, you can’t pay the bills. When you can’t pay the bills, well, your lady doesn’t tend to stick around, and well, mine left me and went home to Mommy and Daddy.”

His face changes from someone just talking, shooting the breeze with another person, to an angry scowl. Lisa wonders if he is reliving the part of his life where his lady left him. 

Of course he is, a voice in her ear whispers. What else would he be thinking about?

She doesn’t want to imagine what that feels like, but part of her can’t help it. She feels a touch of sadness sink into her heart. As he continues his story she fights back tears, even as she imagines what it would be like if she had lost her job and her man had left her in pain and alone and without money. 

Whatever happened to death do you part? she wonders.

You believe in that crap? the voice asks. She knows who the voice belongs to, but she can’t help but answer it, even though it is only there to break her down.

Yes!

So did he.

“When Cammie left I had nowhere to go. I got evicted from my apartment and ended up on the street. I wanted to go home, but … but I just didn’t want to face my dad, I didn’t want him knowing I couldn’t make it out there, you know, on my own.”

“You don’t think your dad would have understood? I mean, you got hurt on the job. That’s not like it was your fault.”

Dave shrugs again. “I don’t know. Well, I didn’t know. I left home in a fit after we got into an argument.”

“Arguments can be forgiven,” Lisa says.

“It came to blows and he told me to leave, to get out of his home and don’t come back.”

“I see.”

“Instead of swallowing my pride, I went to the streets and stayed there until, well, until a cold night in the middle of the winter.”

Lisa nods. “I guess I can understand that.”

“It was stupid.”

His response surprises her. It also washes away the sadness in her heart, quieting the voice whispering in her ear.

“Dave, I would like to ask you something a bit more personal … if that’s okay?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“I understand that during your ordeal, you heard your dad’s voice in your head … like a conscience or, um, an angel-on-your-shoulder, so to speak. Is that right?”

“Well, he wasn’t the only one, but yes, I heard his voice several times. I always did. Sometimes I still do.”

“At one point you rejected the voice as not being your dad’s.”

“Yeah, I guess I did. That happens a lot, though. I’m sure everyone hears voices and argues with them. Sometimes, you just have to reject it to keep your sanity. You know?”

That statement makes so much sense to her. The voices can be controlling and demanding. “I do,” she says, then adds, “So, if the voice wasn’t your dad’s who was it?”

Dave rubs his chin and shakes his head from side to side. “When I reject the voice, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my grandma always said voices that tell you to do things that could hurt you belong to the devil. So, I guess that’s the voice that gets rejected—it’s the devil.”

“That makes sense, Dave.”

“I guess.”

“Can I ask you one last question?”

“Sure.”

“Dave, did you finally go back home?”

He smiles. His face turns a slight pink, but not because he is embarrassed. Lisa knows the answer before he says it.

“Yes.”

Lisa smiles. She doesn’t need to ask if his dad accepted him back. She knows he did.

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Jeddy

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 5

He sits in the seat next to where Spencer sat earlier. One leg is stretched out in front of him, while the other one is bent at the knee and bouncing up and down. He wears a pair of biballs that has seen better days. The white shirt beneath the biballs has a brown stain on it that might have been red at one time, possibly spaghetti sauce or chili. His hair is thinning and it appears to Lisa that life might have been rough on him when he was younger. 

“Jed …” she says.

The man looks up. His eyes are brown and his lips are thin. 

“Or do you prefer Jeddy?”

“It’s Jeddy, ma’am,” he says.

“Hello, Jeddy. How are you today?”

“I reckon I’m all right, Ma’am. I hope you are, too.”

“I am, thank you.”

Troy Black StormsJeddy nods. His long fingers are folded neatly in his lap, even as the one leg bobs up and down nervously. He licks his lips, sniffles, licks his lips again. 

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, Jeddy. Is that okay?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I reckon so.”

“You witnessed something extraordinary. I would like to talk about it with you if that’s alright?”

“What was extra-or-dinar … extra-or-dinar …” He shakes his head in clear frustration. “What is it, Ma’am?”

“Extraordinary. It means something out of this world, something most people don’t ever get to see.”

“You mean like that thing that took Mary Marie away from me?”

Lisa smiles, but she feels no joy in the expression. She knows this could be a touchy subject for him, just like each of the other characters have their touchy subjects. But she also knows—well, maybe not knows, but believes—he will answer her questions anyway.

“Yes, like the thing that took Mary Marie. You saw something …”

“I saw the devil, Ma’am. That’s what that thing was. That thing … that thing that took Mary Marie, it took Momma, too, and who knows how many other people?”

“Speaking of your Momma, why didn’t you tell anyone that your mother and Aunt Louisa had passed away?”

“They didn’t pass away, Ma’am.”

“They didn’t?”

“No, Ma’am. They didn’t.”

“Then what happened to them?”

Jeddy shakes his head demonstratively, showing disgust in Lisa’s not understanding, or his perception of her not understanding.

“They were taken, Ma’am. Taken … by that thing. That demon.”

Tread carefully, Lisa, she thinks. Jeddy has the aggravated sound of a toddler wanting candy and a politically obsessive individual raving about the most recent candidate for garbage collector. The edge in his voice might still hold enough respect with the ‘ma’am,’ but Lisa knows sometimes that respect is as false as that politician’s promises to get all the garbage out of our county. To go with the edgy respect is this man is a  country bumpkin with, what Lisa believes, a more obsessive religious point of view. She takes a shallow breath, releases it.

“Jeddy, is it possible that thing was an angel and your momma and Aunt Louisa and Mary Marie were just taken up into Heaven?”

The color drains from Jeddy’s face. Though it is already long and thin it seems to stretch further. His mouth drops open, exposing the edges of three teeth on the bottom and possibly four or five on the top. His eyes don’t change—she’s not even sure he can get them any wider than they are with his hooded eyelids and the one eye that seems to droop as if looking at her bosom unintentionally (or maybe intentionally, she thinks).

“Listen here, missy,” he says in his country drawl. He points one of his long fingers at her. There is dirt beneath it. She wonders if it got there while digging the graves of his momma or aunt. “Ain’t no angel looks like that except maybe the Angel of Death. I saw that thing—that demon—swoop on down and land on Mary Marie’s chest. I saw it grab her eyes and rip them from her face. I saw it fly away, it’s demon wings lifting up, higher and higher into the sky. And right out of the holes where her eyes had been flowed her soul. I saw that white smoky mist leave her body and float up into the air, and when I looked back at Mary Marie, she wasn’t nothing but a blackened husk on the ground. Now, you think you’re gonna tell me that thing was an angel from on high? No disrespect, Ma’am, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Lisa shrugs. During his rant, Jeddy had waved his arms madly. His one leg stayed extended out while the other foot tap-tapped the floor. Spittle had flown from his mouth and landed somewhere on the floor between them. Now, his arms are crossed over his chest and the one foot that had bobbed up and down is still. He glares at her and she can see the righteous indignation on his face, the ‘how dare you?’ stare of the insulted.

“You’re right. I probably don’t know what I am talking about. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see this creature and I didn’t witness what it did. Can I ask you about Mary Marie?”

Jeddy’s shoulders slump. The grip on his elbows loosens until his hands fall away and drop into his lap. 

“Did you love Mary Marie?”

He barely nods and the simple yes he gives is a croak she barely hears. 

“So, you were sweet on her?”

Again, he nods, but this time there is a grayness on his face that wasn’t there before. She thinks she knows where the shadow came from. She thinks if she stares hard enough, she will see Mr. Worrywort behind Jeddy and he will be whispering in one ear the lies it tells people.

Then the shadow fades. Jeddy’s face is no longer ashen gray, but the country white reappears. His eyes, which she thought earlier could get no bigger than they are because of the heavy lids covering them, actually do get wider. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMThe shadow that had been over Jeddy now stands over her. The air around her is suddenly thick and moist and it is becoming increasingly harder to breathe. Lisa feels a panic come over her, something she hasn’t felt in years. 

Tread lightly, a voice hisses in her ear. It is as wet as the suddenly humid air around her. 

Lisa closes her eyes. The breath in her lungs freezes midway up into her chest. It holds there, threatening to strangle her just as a chilly finger runs along her right cheek. She tries to swallow the breath down, to free the airwaves so she can breathe again. Her thoughts—her true inner self—are silent now as this other … voice … tip toes into her psyche like a silent thief in the night, one there to rob her of her confidence and freedom. She knows it to be Mr. Worrywort, but she is too paralyzed to say or do anything to stop him. 

He will kill you if you continue on, the voice whispers. He will kill you and take your eyes and your own soul will seep from your sockets. You will never know rest. You will never know peace and your very soul will scream for eternity.

The voice drips malice on her shoulder, a dribble of icy fear that holds her close. Its hand covers her eyes, enveloping her in a terrifying darkness. Her head begins to hurt, as does her chest and stomach. Her lips feel as if they are sealed shut. Lisa realizes if she doesn’t open her mouth she will suffocate right there in that meeting hall with the characters of a collection of stories sitting around her. In the darkness beneath its hand, she saw herself passing out and sliding from the chair with the unconcerned and disinterested faces of those characters staring at her, none of them standing and hurrying over to help her.

You don’t need to be here. You don’t want to be here, Lisa. You want to get up and walk—no, RUN!—from here and never come back. 

Yes, she thinks. I want to run away and never come back. I want to get away from here. 

Her chest hurts as panic sets in. Her head is swimming with the breath stuck in her lungs. 

Get up. Leave. Ru—

Breathe, Lisa thinks. Breathe!

You will never be able to breathe again if you don’t leave … right … now.

Breathe!

Run away, Lisa. Run away.

Breathe! Breathe!

Tears spill from her eyes. She hears Mr. Worrywort’s laugh. It is the sound of joyful victory. He has her in his grip and he knows the fight is almost over.  It is this laugh that angers her. 

Lisa doesn’t move her head or her arms and she doesn’t try to force his hand from her eyes. She concentrates solely on her mouth, on her lips pinched tightly together. 

Open, she tells them. Open. Open. OPEN! OPEN!

Her lips unclench with an audible POP and the air in her lungs rushes up and out. The grayness in her vision fades and Mr. Worrywort’s hand vanishes from over her eyes. The cold, thick wetness in the air around her dissipates and the throbbing in her head lets go. The meeting room comes back to her. The shapes of the characters comes back into view. Their faces show shock and worry, but like in her vision, none of them has moved to help her. None of them asks if she is okay, not even Jeddy, the man who has seen a demon rip the soul from the woman he loved.

A minute passes. Two minutes. Three minutes. Five minutes. Though she doesn’t quite feel right, she feels better, she feels as if she can continue. 

Do you want to, though? she asks herself. It’s a seed of doubt that hadn’t been there earlier. As if to show she is not afraid of what has just happened, she smiles inwardly at the voice she knows is not hers and says, I’m not running.

Lisa levels her gaze back to Jeddy. She takes a deep breath—a feeling like Heaven to her—and speaks calmly, like nothing has happened. “You’re a Christian man, aren’t you?”

Jeddy hesitates, then answers, “Yes, Ma’am. Of course I am.”

“Do you believe God called you to intervene and save Mary Marie from the … umm … attentions of the preacher?”

Jeddy rocks in his chair, though the one leg stays out in front of him. “If’n Preacher Harry can get into Heaven, the devil can. That’s what Momma always said.” He pauses, but his eyes don’t leave Lisa’s. “He was the devil and the devil wanted Mary Marie. I don’t know if I was sent to stop him from doing what I think he meant to do, but maybe if’n I wasn’t there and I didn’t try and get her away from him, she might still be alive and her soul might not be …” He waves his hand in the air and looks at the ceiling. “ … floating around out there.”

“So, you think it is your fault Mary Marie is dead?”

Another long pause follows. “Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. But she’s gone and … she’s just gone.”

“Jeddy, may I ask you something personal?”

“I reckon so. I don’t know if you can ask anything more personal than my feelings for Mary Marie.”

“You spoke of Fear like it was … an invisible companion, or maybe … an inner voice?  And you spoke of being of two minds on more than one occasion. Do you have an inner voice, too?”

“Every one has an inner voice, Ma’am. Everyone has a good side and a bad side. Momma told me that many times. That’s why she believed Preacher Harry might could get into Heaven. If his good side could run out his bad side, he could get through the pearly gates. I guess it’s like the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. They are always talking, always in your head. Momma used to say don’t let the demons get you, Jeddy. Don’t let them get you. I never did. I always did right. I never did anything to hurt no one. The voices never got to me. Not like they did some of the other people here. Not like he tried to get you just now.”

“Excuse me?” Lisa asks.

“I saw him, Ma’am. I saw the devil behind you. He was there. He’s still here.”

Lisa turns and looks behind her. Mr. Worrywort is not there. There are no shadows near her. Outside the dark corners of the room, there are no shadows at all. She looks back at Jeddy Sanford, but he has now put his arms back across his chest. His interview is over and Lisa knows it is. Though she doesn’t expect an answer, she asks, “Where is he?”

To her surprise, Jeddy does respond. “Momma used to say the devil is in all of us, Ma’am.”

“In all of us?”

“Yes, Ma’am. In all of us.”

To be continued …

Voices, The Interviews: Spencer

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM.pngBefore reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before the first session: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 1

The doorknob is cold to the touch. Lisa let her palm linger as she takes a deep breath. She closes her eyes and gathers her thoughts. Beyond the door are the people she was sent to talk to, to interview. 

“You can do this,” she says and takes another deep breath. Forcing a smile, she turns the knob and opens the door. 

A room with gray walls and dirty white tiles greets her. The lights overhead are fluorescents and casts dim shadows into the corners where she imagines cobwebs cling to the ceiling and spiders caress the carcasses of dead bugs before eating them. There’s not much in the room. A brown piano along the right wall, its ivory keys yellow and its ebony ones having lost their luster. A table sits to her left, complete with clear plastic cups containing water and various juices. There are no snacks to be seen. 

In the center of the room are sixteen folding chairs, each one upholstered with cushions a shade of yellow out of the seventies. Stuck to the backs of each chair is a sticker that says Holly’s Mortuary. Fifteen of them form the shape of a U and are occupied. One of them—the one in the center—is not. 

Lisa doesn’t focus on any one of the fifteen people waiting for her, each one in their own little world, recalling the stories of their lives, possibly in vivid details, possibly through hazy clouds of the thing we call forgetfulness. Women. Men. Children. They all turn and look at her when the door closes with a click that is too loud in her ears. Her smile falters, but not for long. She forces it back in place, straightens her shirt and walks toward what she calls The Fifteen. She reaches her chair, turns and sits down. 

Scanning the room, she takes in the blank stares, resentful faces, some even with a touch of sadness filling their eyes. She settles on one individual, a young boy in his mid-teens and a pimple on the side of his face. She considers him for a moment. He is not fat, but he is not thin either. Most would call him chubby, something she knows bothers him. He stares at the floor, at his shoes. One of them is untied, the loose ends frayed

“Spencer,” she says and waits for him to look up. When he does, she sees the circle of gray beneath his eyes. “Hi.”

He says nothing, but he does frown, an expression that reminds her of Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. “I understand you are a good student. Is that right?”

He looks at her with those sad eyes.

“Well? Are you a good student?”

Spencer nods. It’s a jerky sort of motion. “Yes … yes, ma’am.”

Lisa smiles. It’s a start. “Good to hear, Spencer. So, what do you do for fun? Any hobbies? Extracurricular activities?”

Spencer shrugs. “I … I don’t know. I umm … There is this place I hang out at sometimes. It’s called The Game Room and it’s … it’s where my friends and I play games. You know like Munchkin and Magic, the Gathering.”

“Interesting.” She stares at the boy. She wants to go easy on him, lob some painless questions his way so he can hit them out of the park. She doesn’t want to scare him, to make him any more nervous than he already is. 

You’re not here to be his mother, she thinks. Time to take the kid gloves off.

“Spencer, what scares you?”

photo-1504401774599-1b5378bfaae3His head jerks up. His eyes are wide. His bottom lip quivers. Lisa suddenly feels sorry for him, but she knows she can’t turn back now.

“Umm … what?”

“What are you afraid of?”

He licks his lips and then wipes his nose. He takes several deep breaths. “Umm …”

“It’s okay, Spencer. This isn’t the outside world. No one’s going to judge you here.”

“I’m scared of shadows.”

“Shadows?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Lisa points to one of the darkened corners behind him. “Like those shadows?”

He shrugs. 

“Is there something in the shadows, Spencer?”

He nods. His eyes focus on the corner closest to the door. 

“Are the shadows … bad?”

He looks back at her. His lip no longer trembles and his voice is soft. “Sometimes.”

It’s Lisa’s turn to nod. Her gut tells her she isn’t going to get much more out of him about the shadows. She switches gears. “What about pretty girls? Are they bad?”

“Sometimes.”

“What about pretty girls named Sarah?” 

Spencer stiffens. He looks down at his hands, then back up at Lisa. “Yes.”

“You fell for the pretty girl trap, didn’t you?”

His frown deepens. He gives a nod, but says nothing.

Lisa shakes her head. “What makes teenage boys fall for the pretty girl trap?”

“I didn’t know it was a trap. She was … was so pretty and she needed help with one of her classes and she invited me over. I just wanted to help her out.”  

“Did you really think it was a study invitation?”

Ten seconds pass and he says nothing. Another fifteen follows. “I thought she liked me. I hoped she liked me. No girl has ever liked me before. No girl has ever shown me any attention before, and she … she acted like she liked me.” His voice holds agitation in it, an edge that Lisa didn’t think she could get from him. She reverses gears this time.

“So, the shadows …”

“They’re not just shadows,” he snaps. “They are shadow people and they don’t like humans. They kill. They eat. They don’t like me.”

“But they didn’t kill you?”

He laughs. “No, they didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, they killed Bobby.”

“And Sarah?”

He shrugs. 

“Did you let the shadow people harm Bobby and Sarah?”

The corners of Spencer’s mouth turn up slightly. “I didn’t let them harm Bobby and Sarah. I just let them take them. It’s Bobby and Sarah’s fault they got hurt.”

“Okay. How do you feel about letting the shadow people take Bobby and Sarah?”

Another shrug. “I don’t feel anything.”

“Do you think they deserved it?”

Spencer smiles fully now. It is a haunting expression. His eyes become darker. He isn’t looking at his hands now. He is looking straight at Lisa and his face is glowing. He laughs, a sound that is disturbing to hear. “Oh, yes. They deserved it. I just wish I hadn’t been too scared to watch.”

He sits back in his chair, puts his hands on his knees. “Is that all, Ma’am?”

“Yes,” Lisa says. 

“Can I go now?”

“Yes. You can return to the page now.”

Spencer stands, nods at Lisa. He doesn’t look at any of the others in the room. A moment later he stands at the door and glances back. His eyes are sad again. “Come,” he says and motions toward one of the corners untouched by light. A shadow pulls itself from the darkness and creeps along the top of the wall, staying in the unlit areas until it reaches the door. Spencer opens it. The shadow passes over the door jamb with an angry hiss and disappears before Spencer steps through and closes the door behind him.

To be continued …