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 9: The Angel
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.
Nonsense, 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.
“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.”
“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 …
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 Session 7
Voices: The Interviews Session 8