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 8: Dane
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Lisa 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.
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.
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.”
“Yes! Yes, she did.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes! Why can’t you not let someone help you?”
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. 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 …
If you missed it, read
Voices: The Interviews Session 1, here
Voices: The Interviews Session 2, here
Voices: The Interviews Session 3, here
Voices, The Interviews Session 4 here
Voices: The Interviews Session 5 here
Voices: The Interviews Session 6 here
Voices: The Interviews 7