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 …

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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 …

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 …

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 6

Lisa takes a deep breath. She has taken quite a few of them through these interviews. She glances down at her notepad and realizes she is only a third of the way through them. She flips the page. The heading at the top simply says “B” in her looping script. The questions are straight forward, but when she turns to her right she sees the young blonde with the wavy hair and blue eyes. She doesn’t appear nervous or even sad like everyone else in the room. She is not angry and Lisa believes if this young lady smiles it will light the room up. 

“Hello, B,” she says.

She is right. The young blonde smiles. It’s not much, but it is radiant. “Hi.”

“Is it just B or would you care to share your name?”

“I go by B only with my boyfriend. It’s kind of our thing. My real name is Becka, as in Rebecca. I really don’t like Rebecca, so Becka to my friends and B to my love.”

“Can I call you Becka?”

“Sure.”

She’s confident, Lisa thinks. More than I thought she would be. This relaxes Lisa a little. After the previous discussion with Jeddy and Mr. Worrywort’s appearance she is still a little shaken. 

“Should we get into this?”

“Sure.”

“You lost a friend.”

“A couple, actually. Dorian and Robert.”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMBecka tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Though she still seems confident and at ease, Lisa sees the slight change in how she sits. Her shoulders slump and she rubs her hands on her jeans.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Becka says. “It’s not your fault.”

“I’ve lost friends myself, so I won’t presume upon your grief.  But … I would like it if you told me about the guilt.”

Now Becka’s demeanor changes a little more. She leans forward in her seat, puts her feet on the bar beneath it as if she is a bird perched on a limb. She rubs her hands together and then looks at the palm of her left hand. 

“Dorian was my best friend.” She smiles. Her eyes hold the distant stare of remembrance. “I met her when I was knee high to a grasshopper, as my grandfather would put it.” She holds her hand down around her ankles as a visual. “We did everything together. You know, thick as thieves. That’s another thing my grandfather said about us. ‘Y’all are thick as thieves.’”

A tear trickles from one eye. She wipes it away, sniffles and continues. 

“I guess I thought we would grow old together. Not just me and H, but Dorian and Robert. We were going to get houses in the same town and we were going to hang out on the weekends and we would be parents together, them watching our little ones and us watching theirs.” 

The breath she releases holds all the sadness her demeanor didn’t show minutes before. 

“We would have been the little old ladies in the knee high socks sitting around playing bingo on Friday nights in one of those parlors where old fogies mingle and compete for a handful of dollars.”

She laughs, wipes away more tears.

“I guess … I guess being there when Dorian died …” her breath hitches and she swallows it down. “And then, you know, Robert … Robert … doing what he did. I guess the guilt was worse for him. He loved her so much. I can’t imagine losing H and trying to carry on with life. I guess that’s why he did what he did.”

She’s nodding as if she is finished with the answer. Lisa waits a couple of seconds. Becka wipes a few more tears from her face.

“You aren’t responsible for what happened.” Lisa hears the words come from her lips and almost shakes her head. She knows how Becka feels—at least she has a very good idea. Experience gives you a clue on the grief life throws at others. She pushes the thought aside. then realizes she knows the answer to the next question. She asks it anyway. “What makes you feel guilt over something you didn’t do?”

She shrugs. Her hands are now between her knees, clasped together like a little girl who has lost her favorite doll. “I was there. We had been drinking. We were all underage. If we weren’t drinking, Dorian doesn’t die and Robert doesn’t kill himself. I participated in my best friend’s death. I might not have held her head under the water, but I didn’t say no to drinking at the river and I didn’t stop her when I saw she was drinking way too much. H tried to intervene, but Robert got mad. I keep thinking if I would have just taken Dorian’s hand and said ‘no more alcohol for you, young lady,’ then she would still be alive and Robert would be too and life would have been hunky dory.”

Lisa looks down at the yellow notepad in her lap. The next question holds her attention. She goes to ask it, then stops. Her heart sinks into her stomach. Hazy memories of friends who have passed on, either by natural causes, accident or their own hands, surface. She can still see their faces, still hear their voices, still see things they did. She feels the tears form in her eyes. 

You don’t want to ask that question, Lisa.

I have to.

Oh come on. You know you don’t have to do anything.

I have to.

No one is holding a gun to your head … or holding your head under the water.

There is something in the voice that makes her sit up. She looks directly at Becka and she knows immediately Mr. Worrywort is there again. This time she feels the anger rise up faster than before. Or holding your head under the water … It’s a dig he couldn’t resist. The devil on her shoulder smirks. She wants to smirk back, but isn’t sure she can. The sadness tugs harder on her heart and she wants to cry, not for herself, but for her lost friends. She believes that is probably how Becka felt—feels—about her lost friends.

She hears a soft laugh. Mr. Worrywort is enjoying himself. She thinks her heart will explode if she holds this next question in. 

It’s best to talk, she thinks. One of the reasons so many people don’t come out of depression is they don’t think they can talk about things. 

She looks at Becka and feels the need to ask the question grow stronger, even as Mr. Worrywort laughs at her, believing she can’t, or won’t, ask it.

“Becka, did you ever think about suicide? Like Robert?”

She looks up from her hands and shakes her head from side to side. “No. Never.”

“Never?”

“Never. I’ve seen what it does to the people left behind. I can’t speak for other people, but for me, that’s not the solution to the problem. I’m not even sure the problem would be how I feel about what happened with Dorian and Robert. I think my sadness was a symptom of the problem. If you only treat the symptom without trying to pull the root from the ground, then it just keeps rolling. It’s a cycle. Dorian died. Robert killed himself because he never allowed himself to truly grieve. He blamed himself for her death just like I did and and just like H did when Robert died. If I would have committed suicide when Dorian died, what would that have done to H? Would that have sent him into a worse depression than he experienced, especially after Robert did that very thing? What about my parents or my baby sister? What would me doing that do to them? I’d much rather not think about those possibilities.”

Lisa tilts her head. Mr. Worryrwort’s laughter ceases. She can feel him sulking. She knows now that he is there, in her, just as Jeddy said earlier. But for now, Becka has quieted him. She looks down at the last question on the notepad and smiles.

“Your remembrance ceremony for Dorian and Robert was beautiful. Your idea?”

“Oh no. That was all H’s. He is a viking at heart and thought a funeral pyre would be a fitting tribute to his best friend. You know, send him out in a blaze of glory.”

Lisa nods. There is a smile on her face. She likes Becka and she can see why H would as well. She says, ?I’m very sorry for your loss,” and moves on to the next page in her notepad. 

To be continued …

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 …

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 4

She knows this one, at least that she is fragile in many ways. She is pretty, but not in a movie starlet way. It doesn’t matter that she won a big time award on a big time show. Nothing has changed about her. Her clothes are conservative, not showing off any skin, other than her hands, face and neck. She wears blue slacks and black flats. Her shirt is a long-sleeved pullover a shade lighter than her slacks. Her dark hair hangs down the sides of her face, covering the front of her shirt. 

Intentional, Lisa thinks.

“Hello, Claire.”

Claire doesn’t look away. Lisa finds this only slightly odd. Normally, those who have gone through what Claire has are usually withdrawn and shy, not wanting to discuss anything about the … assaults (yeah, that is pretty much what they are, right?), but the vibe Lisa gets from the teenager is one of desire. Desire to talk, to get it off her chest. 

“Hello, Ma’am.”

Manners, Lisa thinks. She wonders if Mom taught her those before … she shakes her head and focuses on Claire.

finalOscar“Thank you for speaking with me today. Are you nervous?”

“Maybe a little. I’ve never talked about … Dad … in a group this large.”

“Really? You’ve talked in a group before?”

“Well, the police and investigators and all the psychiatrists were in groups of at least two and sometimes six. The court room … I didn’t say anything in the courtroom. The attorneys told me not to.”

“I don’t think you had anything to worry about in court. The evidence came out about these terrible things he did to you.”

She nods, but doesn’t smile. Instead, she frowns, takes a deep breath and speaks evenly. “Well, maybe so, but the attorneys thought it best I didn’t take the stand at the trial.”

“Is it okay if I ask you some questions now?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And your attorneys are okay with this?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask them. It doesn’t matter anyway. I want to talk to someone. I need to talk.”

“Okay, Claire, let’s start with this: did you even enjoy acting?”

“I wouldn’t call what I did acting. I just did what came natural, so acting, I didn’t really act.”

“I’m sorry, Claire … I mean, did you have fun when you were working on movie sets?”

“Sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Well, the scenes where the father would do the things he did were not fun. The ending wasn’t all that satisfying. I mean, she leaves home with the boy of her dreams, but she never got to exact any measure of revenge for what her father did to her.”

She has gone from timid a couple of minutes earlier to aggressive now. Lisa hears her words, hears what she doesn’t say and she wonders if it was revenge Claire was after or resolution. 

“So, if the acting wasn’t all that enjoyable, what was it like to play the role of Josie, a little girl who was abused, after what your father did to you?”

“It was no different than the life I led. You know?”

Lisa believes maybe she does know. She feels sorry for this pretty little girl—no, young lady—in front of her. 

“I apologize Claire.”

“For what? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“For asking about the role of Josie.”

“It’s okay. Really, it is.”

“But … well, didn’t it just make you relive it in your head?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM“Yes. The role made me realize how bad things were, how bad my father was.” Claire pauses. She looks away, wipes her hands on her slacks and then rubs her fingers together. “He was a very bad man.”

“Can I ask you another, more personal question?”

“Sure.”

“Claire … when did you decide to kill your daddy?”

“My dad … I’m no longer a little girl and I no longer see him as a daddy. He was my father and I associate that term as not one of endearment, but as one of being despised … and I despise him.”

Lisa nods. “Fair enough, Claire. When did you decide to kill your father?”

Claire shakes her head. “I don’t know if I ever really decided so much as I knew where he kept his gun and I knew he was the reason my mom was gone—did you know she is dead?”

“Excuse me?” This is not what she expects. 

“He killed my mom.”

“How do you know this?”

“I just do.”

“There is no just do, Claire. How do you know this?”

Claire looks at her with the sadness of a child who has lost everything she ever had. Her face is long, her brows are arches above her eyes. She shakes her head. “He said she left him for another man. She needed a different life. That is what he said.”

Lisa listens intently, her heart breaking for the young woman in front of her. She will never be the same, not because she killed her dad—no, her father—on national television, but because whatever she tells Lisa is going to be the truth, not how she sees it, how it really is.

“If Momma had left, then she would have taken her license with her. Her cellphone. Her wallet. She took none of those things.”

“How do you know?” She feels like a recording on a loop, asking the same question over and over.

“I found her stuff in a box in the cellar a few days before the awards show.”

“In the cellar?” What were you doing in the cellar, young lady? the voice in her head whispered. It doesn’t sound like her at all. It sounds like an accusation, one she thinks Claire may not be able to handle.

“Yes. I … “

Before Claire can answer, a shadow comes over her. It’s not much, but it is there. Lisa sees it and she knows Claire feels it. The young woman looks over her left shoulder, then over her right, as if someone is talking to her. 

“Claire, look at me,” Lisa says. “Look at me.”

She does, but only briefly. She shifts in her chair as if pulling away from someone. When she does, Lisa sees the shadow lean down and put its head near Claire’s ear. 

“Get away from her,” Lisa yells. She stands, but doesn’t walk toward Claire and the shadow. Part of her wants to grab the teen and pull her away. The other part wants no part of the shadow. Fear holds her for several seconds. “I said get away from her.” This time she does take a step forward. 

The shadow shimmers, then pulls away. It solidifies for fifteen or so seconds and Lisa sees it is Mr. Worrywort and he is smiling. 

“Get away from her.”

Mr. Worrywort’s smile is hideous, dangerously electric. He puts a hand on Claire’s shoulder as if claiming her for himself.

The fear in Claire’s eyes is sudden. They grow wide and her mouth pinches shut. Her chest heaves and she holds the breath.

“Tell him to leave, Claire,” Lisa says. 

Mr. Worrywort whispers in her ear. She lets the breath go and closes her eyes.

“Are you going to send me to jail?” Claire asks.

Lisa’s nose crinkles up at this. At first she doesn’t understand the question. She won’t go to jail. She knows she won’t. The legal system did  its job for once and … No. It’s him. Mr. Worrywort. He is doing this …

“Claire, no one is sending you to jail. You’ve paid your price for what you did.”

Mr. Worrywort leans down again. Claire shakes her head.

“Claire, don’t listen to him. He’s not on your side.”

“Are you?” she asks.

“Very much so, but I can’t help you if you don’t tell him to get away from you, to leave you alone.”

Help? I’m not here to help. I’m here for answers. What is …

You must help her. She looks around, searching for the voices, though knowing they are in her head or on her shoulders or just out of view like all voices tend to be. One came through stronger than the other. Help her!

It comes to her what she needs to do. Lisa walks over to Claire and puts her hand out. “If you will just trust me, he will go away.”

Claire stares at the hand as if it is a snake, as if it is about to strike her and sink its long fangs into her hand.

Lisa extends her arm further. “He can’t hurt you if you don’t let him. All he does is whisper lies into your ears.”

Claire visibly swallows, glances over her shoulder. Though Mr. Worrywort is no more than a shadow again, he is still there, his venom-like voice in Claire’s ears. Tears trickle down her face. 

“Claire, the voice in your head, the thing over your shoulder … it is your father.”

The young woman jerks as if she had stuck her tongue to a battery. Her hand goes out in front of her, gripping Lisa’s tightly. When this happens, Mr. Worrywort growls in anger. His shadow flees back to the corner as if being banished. 

Claire’s face shows relief. She shivers and then laughs. “How did you know?”

Lisa shrugs. “I didn’t.”

After a minute goes by, Lisa asks, “Are you ready to continue?”

Claire gives a nod. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Why were you in the cellar, Claire?”

“I was looking for the cleaner—my father never kept it in the living rooms of the house, only in the cellar. When I didn’t find it on the shelf where it normally was, I looked for it, and came across the box at the bottom of a shelf unit.”

“At the bottom of a shelf unit?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“You didn’t believe your mom had ever left home, did you? After all, what loving mother would leave their child, right?”

“Right. And I was right. She never left. What person, when leaving forever and ever and ever, wouldn’t take their cell phone, wallet and i.d.?”

”One who never left.”

Claire nods. Her lips are a thin line across her face. 

“Claire, did killing your father really make you feel better?”

She doesn’t smile, this teenager. She only looks up at Lisa and says, “Yes. Yes, it did.”

“How?  I mean, in what way? Umm… what about it made you feel the way you do?”

“I felt relief,” she says. “And like I had gotten some justice for my mom. He killed her. I killed him. If I hadn’t, he would have killed me.”

“One more question, Claire, if you don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“Was it the right thing to do?”

Claire and Lisa stare at each other for a minute, then two. Finally, Claire speaks, “No. The right thing to do would have been to tell someone, let the police arrest him and have him thrown in jail. But that wasn’t what felt right. Killing him felt right. It was the only thing I could have done.”

“I understand,” Lisa says, and she does. She thinks hundreds of thousands of young girls have gone through what Claire has and many of them remained scarred for their lives because of it. But Claire had faced the monster who scarred her and had vanquished it. She doesn’t feel sorry for Claire. Instead, she feels great pride and respect for her. 

“Thank you, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

Lisa turns in her chair, takes a deep breath and begins her next line of questions for the next character on her list.

To Be Continued …

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. 

You can also read the first two sessions here:
Session 1: Spencer 

Session 2: Mr. Worrywort

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 3

Lisa looks away from where Mr. Worrywort slinked off to when she hears a sound. A young woman, possibly in her early twenties, but maybe even in her late teens, rights Mr. Worrywort’s seat and sets it back in the U. Others watch her, but say nothing. She is pretty, a blonde with sharp cheekbones, thin lips and hauntingly beautiful blue eyes. Her hair falls to the middle of her back and when she leans over to set the chair right it looks like a yellow veil has been placed on her head. She is petite, but not brittle in appearance. In truth, Lisa finds her very pretty, strikingly so. 

“Thank you,” she says to the young woman.

“You’re welcome.” She is polite and gives a slight curtsy with her statement.

“What’s your name?”

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PM“Lena.”

Ahhhh … Lisa thinks and looks around at the faces of the other characters. She had expected Nothing to be here, not Lena, but she doesn’t see anyone who might fit his description. 

“Hello Lena.”

Lena nods, “Hi.” Her cheeks turn pink and she looks down at her hands. She twists several of her fingers together, almost as if she wants to turn them into knots.

“You’re … umm … you’re Nothing’s girlfriend, right?”

The pink in her cheeks darkens to two blossoms of red. “Yes, Ma’am,” she says without looking up.

“You know, Lena, you and I have something in common.” 

 Lena looks from her hands up at Lisa. Their eyes meet and Lisa sees the clear blue of Lena’s and it almost takes her breath away. 

No wonders he loves her.

“We do?”

“Yes. We both believe in loyalty.”

Lena doesn’t respond to this.

“You are very loyal to him, aren’t you? Loyal to Mr. Nothing?”

It sounds weird in her own ears. Mr. Nothing, as if the boy this girl loves is nothing … nothing to her, nothing to anyone. Adding a prefix to his name doesn’t change the way loyalty to nothing sounds to her. A tinge of sadness touches her heart. 

Lena shrugs. She is looking at her hands again. 

“Loyalty is … loyalty is good. It’s a good thing, Lena. Don’t you think so?”

“I guess.”

Lisa take’s a deep breath, let’s it out as a loud sigh. Just ask her the other question.

“So, Lena, I was wondering, are you actually into his fetish for cutting and scarring, or do you participate in it out of loyalty?”

Lena’s bright blue eyes grow wide, her mouth drops open. She closes it, then shakes her head. “I … I …what?”

“Do you not understand the question?”

Lena nods. “I … I understand it, but it’s … it’s not a fair question.”

“It’s not?”

“No.”

“Okay, okay,” Lisa says. 

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Lisa smiles softly. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so direct. “Look, I do understand what happened. I really do. But, what is in your past that you would embrace a relationship with someone like him?”

“Someone like him?”

“Yes. Someone like him. I mean, do you even know his real name?”

“His real name?”

“You know, he has to have an actual name. Nothing? Really? Is that his real name? It can’t be.”

“I … I …” She looks around. Her hands clench together. Lena’s neck twitches. She bites her bottom lip and one of her feet bounces on the floor. 

She’s freaking out, Lisa thinks. She starts to speak, to try and calm the young woman down. “Lena, it’s okay …”

The door opens. In steps a tall young man. He is lanky and has no hair. A loop earring is in his right ear. He wears a long-sleeved gray shirt buttoned all the way to his throat, and baggy black pants. There are no shoes on his feet. There’s a puckered scar along his chin and others pocking his cheek and neck, and one directly under his right eye. He closes the door gently behind him and walks over to the U shaped group. He grabs the chair Lena had righted minutes earlier, the one Mr. Worrywort had cast aside when he abruptly stood and slinked off to the corner where he, no doubt, sits, staring and listening to the voices of the rest of the participants in this … group interview. But is that what it is? Lisa isn’t too sure. She thinks it is more like a group therapy session, with each person here dealing with their own demons, trying to escape their own pasts, escape their own presents, and maybe forget their own futures.

The young man picks up the chair and walks down a few spots. He looks at the guy sitting next to Lena. “D’you mind?” he asks and nods for the kid to move down. The boy says nothing, only moves his chair to the right. The person next to him does the same; all of them do until the gap left from the empty spot Mr. Worrywort had vacated is closed. The young man sits down, looks at Lena and takes her hand. 

“It’s okay, Baby,” he says and he sounds like he is not just in love with her, but is her protector, maybe even her savior. Or maybe it is the other way around.

“Mr. Nothing, I assume. Good of you to join us.”

Nothing looks at her, but there is contempt playing on his face, a sneer on his lips. Like Lena, his eyes are captivating. Unlike Lena’s, his are green. He looks back at the pretty girl, whispers something to her. She whispers back, then cast a mournful glance toward Lisa.

“Why?” he asks Lisa.

He catches her off guard with his sudden question. It strikes her as an accusation, as if she has done something wrong, and not him, the young man who mutilated his father with the broken neck of a beer bottle. “Why what?”

“Why did you try to hurt her?”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I meant no offense. Really.”

He whispers to Lena again. She nods, but she doesn’t smile.

“You have questions?”

“Yes.”

“I do, too.”

“Okay, Mr. Nothing—“

“It’s Nothing. Just Nothing. No mister, no last name. Just Nothing.”

“Okay. Nothing it is,” Lisa responds, then adds, “I was actually hoping to get to speak with you.”

“I’m here.”

“Okay,” Lisa says and licks her lips. She wishes she had a notepad with a list of questions on them, but she hadn’t been prepared to step into the room, not like this at least. “Like I said to Lena—“

“Do you love?” Nothing asks, interrupting her. 

“Do I love?”

“Yes. Do you love?”

“I love my husband.”

“No. Do you love?”

Lisa shakes her head. “I just told you I do.”

“You said you love your husband.”

“I do. Very much so.”

Nothing laughs. “You love … a person. But do you love?”

“Yes. I love. Deeply.”

Nothing and Lena exchange glances. One side of her lips curl up. Her eyes aren’t quite dazzling, but Lisa sees something in them that could be good for her. 

“Ask your question,” Nothing says.

“Okay. As I was telling Lena, I understand why you felt the need to do what you did.”

“What did I do?”

“Excuse me? What did you do?”

“Yes.”

“You killed your father.”

“You understand what that is like?”

“I said I understand why you needed to kill him.”

“How? How could you know that?”

“I just do.”

“How?”

“I …”

“How!?”

“There’s only one way I COULD understand isn’t there!?” She clenches her teeth. She fights back the urge to stand and walk up to Nothing. She fights the urge to slap him hard across his pale, scarred face. She fights the urge to say ‘screw it, I’m done,’ and leave the interview and not look back. She can. She knows she can, but she doesn’t. Instead, her jaw relaxes and she takes a deep breath, letting it go before speaking evenly, “I apologize for the outburst, Nothing. I won’t claim my … um … history is quite the same as yours, but I do understand the impulse, the desire to fix something or right a wrong or just get good old fashion revenge on someone. I just never would have followed through with such compulsions. All I really want to know is … why? Why would you follow through with it?”

Nothing eyes her. His jaw moves from side to side. He is leaning forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees. Lisa sees him then for who he is: a scared child just looking for love and acceptance. 

“You say you understand.”

“I do.”

“Then answer me this: Do you hate?”

It’s Lisa’s turn to laugh. She brushes a lock of dark hair from her eyes. She is not smiling when she responds. Even if she wants to, she doesn’t think she can. “Do I hate? Oh, I did. Oh, I most certainly did. And sometimes I still do.”

Nothing nods. “Me too.”

“The difference between you and I is I never let it consume me. I certainly could have, maybe even should have. But I didn’t.”

Silence fills the room. With the exception of a gleeful laugh from Mr. Worrywort in the corner, there are no sounds to be heard. 

“It’s your turn to answer my question: why did you follow through on your compulsion to kill your father?”

Ten seconds pass. Twenty more follow. A full minute of silence ensues. Nothing stands. He unbuttons his shirt and slips it off his shoulders, dropping it to the floor. He wears a white t-shirt now. He pulls this off as well. There are several audible sounds of disgust and wonder and shock from the other characters. 

Nothing doesn’t stop there. He unsnaps his belt and the button that holds his pants closed. He unzips and drops his pants. He steps out of them and stands before them as naked as the day he came into the world. Nothing lifts his hands out to his side and slowly spins around for each of them to see the multitude of scars lining his body, the puckered, discolored skin that will never be smooth again. 

When he has come full circle, he bends down, picks up his pants and slides it back on. He sits down, but doesn’t move to put either of his shirts back on. 

“This is me. This is who I am. I am hate. I am nothing. And he made me this way.” He pauses, looks at Lena. She nods. The look on her face is hopeful, like a mother’s would be if her child was afraid of something and finally facing it. “He was my hate and as long as he was alive, I could never love.”

“Why involve her?”

A smile, genuine and warm, crosses his face. “Because she is my love. Without her, I couldn’t have faced him and I would still hate, not just him, but myself, my life. Now … now … I love.”

“I can see that,” Lisa says. It’s true. She does see what most probably have never glimpsed. She also knows a truth she didn’t before. It is Lena who helped Nothing overcome his fear, overcome the monster that had stalked him his entire life with words of hate and loathing. It wasn’t his idea to kill his father. It was hers. And he had followed her lead and allowed her to scar him, not the way his father had, but with their version of  affection. “I have one more question, if that is okay?”

“What is it?” He is holding one of Lena’s hands now. His leg is next to hers, his foot touching hers. There is no doubt in Lisa’s mind that they are meant to be together, that they are destined for one another. 

“Nothing, what is your real name?”

He stares at her, as if contemplating the meaning of life. Lisa thinks he knows the meaning. It is love and not much more.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I thought I might remember after he died, but I don’t. As far back as I can remember, my father called me nothing, so nothing I became. I am Nothing. No one else. There is no other name.”

Lisa smiles at this. It is a truth, and if not, then it is the truth she will take with her when this is over. “Fair enough, Nothing. Thank you for your time. And, Lena, thank you, also. If I upset you, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

Nothing and Lena look at each other, their eyes lock and remain that way for several seconds. Finally, Lisa pulls her own gaze away and settles them on the next person she has questions for …

To be continued …

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: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BJ73QP9). 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 2: Mr. Worrywort

Lisa takes a deep breath. She didn’t expect the defiant tone in Spencer’s voice. She didn’t expect him to sound as if he enjoyed what happened to Sarah and Bobby. She wonders, very briefly, if Spencer knows Sarah didn’t die. Oh, Bobby had and he had suffered greatly before doing so, but Sarah still lives and is currently housed in the Century Falls Mental Institute, a place surrounded by brick walls that span twenty feet from the ground. One could try to climb it, but with no foot or hand holds and the top laced with razor wire, no one is getting in or out that way without paying a painful price. 

She releases the breath and looks around the horseshoe shaped chairs. Fourteen are occupied. The one where Spencer had sat seems, to her, to have never had anyone occupying it. The cushioned yellow seat appears bland compared to the others. The brown of the metal legs are lighter than the others. Lisa shakes her head. 

It’s all in my head.

The faces of the other fourteen individuals in the room are turned in every direction except toward her. One of them … one of them looks different. She cocks her head to the side and stares at him. She doesn’t recognize him from the character sheet she had been given before arriving. 

“You,” she says. 

The man she speaks to flinches, but doesn’t look up.

“Excuse me. Who are you?”

“That is Mr. Worrywort, Ma’am.” 

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMTo her right a man whose skin is like mahogany sits forward in his seat. His elbows rest on his knees and his hands are clasped together as if he is about to pray. He looks as if he has worn life on his shoulders and the weight is pulling him down. 

“Mr. Worrywort?”

“Yes’m.”

“How do you know that, Sir?”

The old man smiles. His teeth are yellow and there is only a twinkle of hope in them. “We all has a bit of Mr. Worrywort in us, Ma’am. It’s our thinker.”

Chet! her mind screams. The sudden realization strikes her and she knows the questions she needs to ask.

“Mr. Worrywort?” she asks. 

This time the man looks at her. His features are plain, almost nonexistent. She studies him for a few seconds. She sees his eyes and nose and even his lips, but she can’t make any of them out. She knows that later when she tries to recall anything about him, she won’t remember. 

Sometimes, remembrances are not good, she thinks, then wonders if the voice in her head is her Mr. Worrywort, or in this case, a Mrs. Worrywort. She licks her lips and speaks again. 

“Are you still willing to speak with me?

He nods. 

“Thank you. I will keep this short. Okay?”

Another nod.

“You are the inner voice of Chet, right?”

This time he shrugs, then nods. “I suppose so.” His voice is monotone, flat, a voice she won’t remember. 

“Is ‘inner voice’ the correct title for you, or do you prefer something else?”

She hears him take a deep breath. When he releases it, his words come with it and there is a touch of resignation in them. “That’s what some people call us. Others say we’re this thing called a conscience.” He makes invisible quote marks in the air, using two fingers on both hands to do so. “Some people see us as a devil or an angel who resides on their shoulders. However, most people call us demons, and use us as excuses for why they do bad things or do nothing at all. Chet calls me Mr. Worrywort because I try to warn him when he is about to make a bad decision.”

“I’m getting the feeling you don’t care much for Chet.”

He smiles. This she sees. It is plain … nothing worth remembering. “I care quite a bit for him. After all, without him, I do not exist. I’m like a rudder on a boat meant to steer the vessel on its course and out of trouble. Some people’s rudders are broken. They are tired or even lazy. They’ve given up on their vessel, so they let them float in the waters, near the rocks, into storms. I … I don’t do that. I do my best to steer him clear of bad actions.”

Lisa’s lips purse for a second, maybe two. “Do you feel like Chet listens to you more or ignores you more?”

“He …” Mr. Worrywort pauses. “He used to.”

“Used to?”

“Yes, before he married that woman.” There is anger in his voice, a true emotion, though some might say it’s not a real feeling at all, but a secondary one, something easily controlled and is never truly felt. 

“You mean Kay?”

“Yes, she is who I’m talking about.”

“Interesting.”

absolutely-ideas-hercules-folding-chairs-i-have-destroyed-scribblings-in-the-dark“It’s not interesting!” he yells. The room shakes. The characters in the other chairs are all looking at him now. Some of them look fearful, while others look bored or amused. “She’s going to get us killed one day. She’s almost gotten us killed a couple of times, but the last time … the last time was the worst. ‘Let’s take a trip,’ she said. ‘It will be fun,’ she said. ‘If it snows I’m sure we can find something to do.’ She said that all flirty-like, knowing Chet wouldn’t—couldn’t!—resist her. It was snowing! I hate driving in the snow. But Chet wouldn’t listen, you see. Chet was all, ‘okay, Babe,’ and she almost got us killed.”

“I don’t see how she almost got you killed, Mr. Worrywort. Chet made a decision—it was his choice.”

“He ignored me because of her! If not for her, we wouldn’t have been in that situation.”

“I see. So, since he married Kay, he ignores you more and more. Is that what you are saying?”

His arms are crossed over his chest now. His legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. “Yes, that’s what I said. If he would have just listened to me when his friend offered to ‘hook them up’ we would never have to deal with the things she does and the danger she puts us in.”

She nods and shifts the conversation slightly away from Kay. “How do you feel when he ignores you?”

Mr. Worrywort laughs. It is much like Spencer’s and something she feels is a sign of a deteriorating conversation. His chair creaks when he sits up. There is a frown on his face that appears to have been carved into his nonexistent features. “How do you feel when someone ignores you?”

Her first thought is, I ask the questions. She doesn’t say that. Instead, she answers him. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like it?” Another of those angered laughs comes out. “I hate it. I loathe it. How can you ignore someone who is always right?”

“But, are you really always right?” It is out before she processes it. Again, she wonders if her inner voice came up with that one.

Mr. Worrywort says nothing right away. He appears to be thinking on it, or maybe stewing about the truth. 

“When it comes to Chet, I am always right. Always.”

“I think Chet would beg to differ with you there.”

A black cloud of anger hovers on Mr. Worrywort’s face. His breaths are loud, in/out, in/out, the sound of a freight train chugging along the tracks. 

“What do you know? What do you know about me or Chet or anything for that matter?”

Lisa smiles at this. Though she doesn’t want conflict she thought there could be some before arriving there that morning. The subjects are touchy and the characters have been through more in a span of four to twenty thousand words than the average person goes through in a week. But this guy … she knows exactly what this guy is. She has come across his type many times in her life.

“I know you are manipulative. I know you get angry when you don’t get it your way. And I know you are selfish and self serving and don’t have Chet’s best interests in mind.”

“His interest is the only thing I have in mind!”

“No, Sir. Your interests are what you have in mind. You are afraid to live. Kay is not and she has shown Chet not to be afraid to live, to laugh, to love and to care. Maybe you should take a lesson from her inner voice, or maybe your own.”

“I don’t have an inner voice! None of those like me do.”

“Maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you need one.”

“I’m done here,” Mr. Worrywort says. He stands up in a hurry. The chair pushes back, tilts on its back legs and falls over, folding in on itself. Mr. Worrywort turns, shoves the fallen chair with one foot. It scrapes across the tiled floor. He doesn’t go to the door. Instead, he hurries to one darkened corner and fades into the shadows.

Lisa stares to where he went. One thought enters her mind. I can see why he might be called a demon …

To be continued …

A Little Bookstore

Posted: May 28, 2018 by ajbrown in Reading
Tags: , , , ,

When I was a child Sunday’s were lazy days. Most stores were closed. If you didn’t get your groceries during the week, you were mostly out of luck. You certainly couldn’t get alcohol on Sundays. For us, Sunday meant watching football, playing outside and reading, the reading being the chief pass time.

ithink-thereshould-be-a-toidaydedcated-to-reading-book-s-everyone-23441056My parents piled us into the car on Sunday afternoons and took us to this little book store out on Edmund Highway. It didn’t look like much—a small building that could have passed for a convenience store minus the glass windows in the front. It was owned by a couple who I only knew as Al and Laura. To get an idea of who they were, when I think of Al I think of Edward Hermann. Laura always reminded me of a white Uhura from Star Trek. Both of them were very nice.

Al and Laura didn’t peddle new books, they sold used books, which made the prices cheap, cheap, cheap. They had a great return policy also: you bring in a book, you get a credit toward other books. Each Sunday we gathered our books and comic books and turned them in. Then we used the credit to purchase more. In essence, it was a trade in system. There was a nice little perk to it: if you didn’t have money, all you had to do was trade in a book or two and you could get a book or two in return and not spend a dime.

Mom and Dad looked through the novels and my older brother and I always headed to the back where they kept the comic books. Dad always told us how much credit we received for our comics and we would pick out the same amount worth (with the occasional little bit over when we had extra money). I was into the vampire and horror based comics. I can’t remember what my brother was into. 

After checking out, we headed home and spent most of the rest of the day reading comics (and later, novels). Sometimes, if we wanted to be nice to each other, me and my brother traded comics.

Going to Al and Laura’s store was something I looked forward to each week. I was always disappointed when we didn’t go. It’s a slice of my childhood I would love to revisit. 

Al has since passed and I’m not sure if Laura is still alive. The store is long gone, taking with it one of the joys of my childhood.

onebcToday, a lot of the old bookstores are gone. The brick and mortar places have given way to the digital era. There aren’t many Mom and Pop stores like Al and Laura’s, and I don’t know of any system like theirs: bring a book, get a book in return.

When we were kids, our parents had us reading, if not during the week, then every Sunday. Those lazy afternoons are where my imagination got its exorcise, where my love for scary literature was cultivated. 

The reading population is dwindling, and as a writer, that’s a sad thing. It’s even sadder to hear, ‘I love to read, but I don’t have the time.’ Don’t have time to read? This is the world we live in. We read every Sunday for hours at a time. 

I enjoy reading. I enjoy dipping into someone else’s world. I enjoy the harmony of words, the beauty of a well-written story, the coming to life of characters. I owe that to my parents and Al and Laura, the owners of a little book store on Edmund Highway. Today, I want to encourage you to stop at some point during the day (or maybe just on Sunday afternoons), grab a book, sit and read. Let yourself relax—the world will still be there when you finish. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

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 …