I hear voices.
They creep like ivy up the walls of this once grand house, rising like smoke, scuttling like rats, sneaking like thieves, they rattle like the bones of the skeletons stuffed into the closets. They sound, these voices, like violent death.
Portraits of my once grand family decorate the walls. The owners of these voices stare at me with frozen eyes, well dressed prisoners captured under glass. Vanity was just one of their deadly sins. The same mad blood pulses through my veins, pounds in my ears.
I try to ignore their ceaseless cricketing, maybe it’s just a trick of the wind, the house settling. I try not to listen, not to hear. It never works. Ignored, they increase, in volume and number, untended, they grow like weeds, like rust on a forgotten blade.
One voice, unmistakable, deep as a dry well. My grandfather’s voice. Mean and nasty, like the picture of him hanging in the study. A gray moustache droops over the closest he could get to a smile, a vicious sneer. I know what he wants. Always the same thing. Insatiable. But I want it too, sometimes.
Let’s take a drive. His voice is syrup, thick and sweet but it leaves a bitter cough medicine aftertaste. I shiver.
They hanged him. A murderer, they called him, a rapist, a monster. He’d been a Doctor. One article suggested he had developed an unnatural curiosity about human pain. I have all the newspaper clippings.
After that, the family, the house fell into disrepair. We are run down, this house and I; ruined; ruins. The sun is just a pink rumor in the sky as I drive down the long, curvy driveway, an alligator’s back of cracks and bumps. It looks as though the foundation plants, rhododendron, azaleas, hydrangeas are trying to pull the estate down. Or are they the only things holding it up?
There are always lone joggers at the University at night running around the pond at the edge of campus. His low, rumbling growl says, Her. Tired of ignoring him, I give in, surrender to the darkness, join it.
I am the shadow at the far end, the dark end, that comes to life. My grandfather was fond of chloroform. I am too. The more they struggle, the deeper they breathe, and so on. Such a little thing, she doesn’t put up much of a fight. She fits nicely in the trunk of my Chevelle.
The voice of my grandfather is quiet, satisfied but his gang hoots and hollers. In the condemned hallways of my mind, nasty echoes of his infernal voice resonate. Muttered agreement. Yes, hell yes, amen, they chime. A thug chorus seems to rub its palms together.
There are other voices. Pleading, plaintive voices. They flutter, struggling to be heard amidst the howls of the others. They are the only beautiful things in my life, an enchantment, a symphony. Will-o’-the-wisps. If only I could capture them, hold their melody close to my ear.
Again, one voice leads. A high, female soprano begs me not to listen to the others.
This voice I know.
There are no picures of her on the walls, no reminders of what happened. She sounds a lot like she did when she was alive, beautiful and sad. Always trying to get me to do the right thing, Let her go, Son. I miss her.
In the background, still more voices. I know these too, but not as well. Mostly women, girls, the occasional unlucky witness. They blend together, the victims, gasping a collective, No.
The first voices, the bad voices get loud, angry. They shout. They mock the soft voices with their cruel falsettos, try to drown them out. Is there a tremble of fear, a note of worry?
I can just make out my mother’s quiet sobs and a soft humming behind her, a phantom choir.
I have to bring the girl to the study, so he can watch. I savor the feel of her in my arms, her little bones, warm skin, shallow breathing, this rare intimate touching.
Set her right there. His bellow an ecstatic whisper.
The girl’s eyes are pure terror and confusion.
When she sees the knife, the confusion evaporates. She perspires, liquid fear, her scent intoxicates. She squirms against the straps on her wrists, her ankles.
The knife glides up the middle of her shirt. I’m surprised by her curves. Her whole body quivers, her skin is all goose flesh. Her jogging shorts are off with one stab. A piece of my drool lands on her skin. She flinches, as if it was acid. Her bra and panties are pink. A whisper of the blade and they are gone. She screams silently into the rag in her mouth.
I need to hear her voice.
My grandfather doesn’t like it. The hard voices cajole, Gut her, have at her. What are you waiting for, boy?
I remove the rag. She takes a deep breath. Stops crying. Gathers herself. Hazel eyes, like my mother’s. A simple, breathless, No, is all she offers. My mother’s flock echoes her. Or is she their echo? Can she hear them?
A memory returns, like a faded black and white photograph. My mother in this room. My grandfather with a knife. I was what? Three. Four? Watch and learn, boy. My mother’s eyes held mine. Never raised her voice. Sang to me. Lullabies. Can this girl hear her?
Get on with it! The old man hollers. You know what to do.
The girl begins to hum, softly, as if I’m not in the room, an incantation. My mother’s eyes look at me.
Give me the knife, son.
An unholy din erupts in my head. Voices snarl and bark. I hear a rhapsody of black oaths. Thoughts like bee stings – make them stop, Mom, make him stop. Stop.
I offer the blade to her.
The voices have become a heavy metal opera. Something Wagner would have composed. A collision of cymbals and bass drums and soaring arias. The girl must hear them because each stab of the blade is in time to the twisted music in my head. The pain is exquisite. The girl holding the blade is a vision, a Valkyrie, wearing only my blood.
The voices fade.
The girl fades.
Now, just my mother, her face, her voice, a lullaby.
Mike Miner lives and occasionally writes in Connecticut. He has been published or has work forthcoming in Narrative, Pank Magazine, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey and Solstice :A Magazine of Diverse Voices. He received his MFA from the Solstice Program of Pine Manor College. He sometimes hears voices too.