VOICES: The Interviews
Allow me tell you about the little project AJ Brown and I are working on. In the coming months, one character from each story in AJ Brown’s collection VOICES will be interviewed by me! Hmm… Actually, let me tell you what AJ says about our project:
“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. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers.”
So, as the man says, Spoiler Alert!
* Spoiler Alert * Spoiler Alert * Spoiler Alert *
While this project was originally intended to be a promotional piece, it has taken on a life of its own… or maybe the characters have taken over. It’s hard to say. Read Voices, follow the interviews here and at Type AJ Negative… let me know what you think.
Voices: The Interviews
Session 5: Jeddy
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.”
Jeddy 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.”
“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.
The 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.
Run away, Lisa. Run away.
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 …