Voices Carry
Written by Valeria

NOTE: A first-person story, offered both as an answer to the challenge and as proof that I can *so* write something shorter than 200 pages. And have you heard me complain about how difficult it purportedly was to finish? Why, no, you have not. So nyaah.

Please be advised that this story deals with mental illness, and contains material some may find disturbing.

DISCLAIMER: H:LOTS characters property of NBC and Baltimore Pictures. The final line of this story is also the final line of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Everything else herein is mine.

So after twenty years, you suddenly wanna say hello?

Ain't that a real treat. Twenty years, and you up and decide you wanna humor me. That's good. Good humor truck bell's ringing for the crazies. Everybody come running.

Sorry, Charlie. Long time, no see. That train don't come 'round here anymore.

Looks like you left again--the doctor said so, anyway. He's a good guy, most of the time. Doesn't get that shit-what-is-it-now look some of 'em do when you start actin' like you actually belong here. I can't help it, I tell 'em. Even with all these magical drugs, I can't help it. They don't listen.

Do you know, little brother, that I have met some smart people bein' in here? I'm not kidding, I mean brilliant. Head of the class, A-plus-plus, smarter than the average bear. Smarter than I'll ever be. And they talk, they do. War, God, Jesus, the state, magic, music, angels, China White, the pictures in the clouds, the CIA, sex, love, why we're here, where we're going when it's all done. You never heard anything like it. Even when you don't understand it, it tastes good to your ears. Think about it. Doesn't do 'em any good, of course, they're still stuck in here. Wasting it all on me.

You never talked to me. Never once, never, and don't you deny it never.

You think you're smart? You think you got me all figured out? Shit, kid. I was already halfway around the bend before you were born and there wasn't any going back. You never knew me. Never tried. Too busy watching old Niederman doing target practice on the rats in the stairwells, too busy trying to get laid. You had your plans.

Remember him--Neiderman? Closest thing to a daddy you had for about a year there. He had a few women across town too, though, he couldn't waste too much time on Moms. So damn many mouths to feed. Get what I'm saying, little brother? Mouths. Nobody's a saint and you know it. But I guess nobody's as bad as me either. Not according to you.

God, Jesus, war, the state. Clouds. Think about it, brother. China White. I met some smart folks in here, but I've got the smartest ones of all living right here in my head. Every time you think they're gone, they dried up and died off for good--whoosh! They're back. Just like those damn rats. My head's the stairwell. Niederman's the doctor and his magic bullets ain't worth shit, they just help him show off to his friends. Ain't I tough, messing with rats all the live-long day. Just look at the way your woman's lookin' at me.

I was thirteen. I remember I was thirteen when the voices first strolled up to my doorstep and said hi. I'd been having trouble before then, big trouble, so I guess in a way I kinda invited them in. Like vampires. They can kill you, sure, but you gotta be the one who lets 'em in. Your fault. My fault.

Voices all the time, day, night, up, down, everywhere, always. Didn't sleep. Couldn't sleep. Didn't dream, the voices talked over it all. I saw some TV show once, this Roman emperor or some shit, who went crazy thinkin' he heard hoofbeats in his head. Every day's a stampede--can you imagine that? I can. Easy. No rest. No quiet. Hell. It's hell. Fire-and-brimstone pure preacher hell.

Guess I'm dead already, and everybody else behaved better than me.

The voices grew fingers and pushed on the inside of my head--I could feel 'em, feel the fingers trying to break my skull open from the inside. Couple of times I banged my head on that metal bed railing I used to have, trying to make a hole for 'em. They'd get out and then I'd have some relief. Maybe it'd have worked out if Moms hadn't caught me and had my head stitched up tight again.

They used to drill holes in people's skulls, you know that? Literally. Trying to let the devils out. That's why I stole that pickax from the fire truck that time--I was thinking maybe I could use it, the pointy end. Didn't mean to scare anyone. They should've just let me do what I had to do.

The only way to get relief was to do what the voices said--then they'd only whisper a little, or even let me alone completely for a while. Silence! Quiet! Days at a time, sometimes. I can't help what they told me to do, little brother, have you ever understood that? I didn't have any choice. You never did nothin' bad because you had no other choice? Knowing how awful it was? No, not you. Never. You're above it all.

I'm sorry about those animals I hurt. Old lady Johnston's little puppy that never hurt anything, too timid to go after the rats. That ginger tomcat of Niederman's. He didn't even leave after that, can you believe it? Maybe he really did love Moms, a little bit. Laying what was left of that dog on the ash pile behind J-Building, I cried and cried. I'd have given it a burial, but how would anyone find it if I did? She had a right to know what happened to it, Mrs. Johnston did. Things shouldn't just disappear on people.

Other kids, too. Beating up Trey Ferrell because I had to. Got a bad ear now, because of what I did to him. I'm sorry. I had to.

That was what got the folks "asking" us to leave Highland Terrace. Trey Ferrell. Beating on a retarded kid. And that goddamned dog and what I did to it. Highland Terrace, Edgar Allan, Lafayette Courts. There's only so many damn housing projects in this city, I know that. After a while, you gotta make a decision. Moms made hers. I don't blame her.

You wanna hear a secret, little brother? People think you take your damn medicine and hey! Magic! All the voices and all the craziness, chalk marks in a rainstorm! Why the hell didn't I think of this before? No. Doesn't work that way. The voices never go away, you understand that? Get it? Never. All they do is jabber, jabber, jabber, and all the medicines do is throw a heavy blanket over them so the jabber-jabber isn't as loud. Maybe you can't really make out all the words anymore, just the sound. But you still got the sound. Understand? Nothing gets rid of that.

Say you got a fly in your ear. It's buzzing and buzzing, and it's anybody's bet whether it's that sound or the feel of those sticky little legs marching up and down in there that'll make you crazy first. Then you spray some bug shit in there, and the buzz-buzz gets sloooooooower and looooooower, and there's less marching around...but that fly's still in there and no amount of head-pounding's ever gonna kill it or get it out. Crazy yet? You will be.

Another thing they don't tell you is everything else that bug shit's gonna do to you. Headaches, muscle aches, dizzy, can't see right, tired all the time, hyper all the time, sad all the time, sleeping all the time, so nervous your legs jitter when you sit still, so constipated you get sick from it. Used to love to just sit and talk to folks, when I could think straight enough to do it--you know that? Shoot the breeze, chew the fat, godjesuswarthestateclouds. Two of those medicines they tried dried up my mouth so bad that my tongue stuck to the roof. You could hear the sound when I opened my mouth, this fwaaah! kind of smacking noise. Sucked on candies, drank water and juice and Kool-Aid by the gallon, didn't help. King Cottonmouth.

Then they tried one that was like, be careful what you ask for, because the drooling. Wiping my hand across my mouth constantly. Constantly. Chin was always shiny. I'd just sit there and it would start dripping out. Pillow was soaking wet each morning. Everybody got a good laugh out of that, following me around like the goddamned Pied Piper--buy your ticket for a look at the drooling retard! Handkerchiefs, shirt cuffs, sopping. I couldn't stand it anymore so I threw the stuff away. The voices never quit anyway. Them and the new voices, assholes following me around to laugh their asses off. I don't like being laughed at. Those were the voices that told me to beat the shit out of them, not the ones in my head. They're so smart, they know when to shut up and just let me take over. Sometimes.

She took me to church too, Moms did. Preacher reading in his little book about Jesus casting the seven devils out of Mary Magdalene, laying his hands on my head like he wanted to crush it. Fingers pushing from the inside, fingers shoving from the outside. I thought my skull would explode. He was a smug one, that preacher...he's gonna work the cure. Little hint, reverend? You ain't Jesus. Hell, for all the good he ever did me, Jesus ain't even Jesus. He's lost it, lost the old magic. Just sits around at the right hand of the father collectin' money from the rest of us, passin' the plate. Jesus is a welfare queen.

See, I don't blame her. I don't. If I was her I'd get there too--I'd get to where I was just grabbing me by the shoulders and screaming in my face, crying-screaming, "STOP IT! Stop it and just act NORMAL! SNAP OUT OF IT!" I can't. I can't do it. All the medicine in the world, all the doctors, all the preaching, all the wishing, all the hoping, all the crying-screaming is never gonna do it, and that's the end of it. That's the end of me. And I don't blame her that she couldn't stand it anymore. Two kids and no husband and an old lady who just sat in the corner or hunched over the stove and never quit whining. Man who stayed after her crazy son killed his pet, but ran out after he tried setting fire to the whole damn building. Plenty of other women, no kids, no old ladies. No crazies.

I don't blame her for not visiting, either. See, it seems like you have kids, you've always got that picture in your head--that picture of who the kid's gonna turn out to be if you just put in your work and your time and your pay. Who the kid promised to be, even if they didn't know it. You gotta squint your eyes really hard to see that picture, lookin' at me. I know that. It's okay. She busted her ass and it didn't work out. Nobody wants to sit around staring at their failures.

Her failure. Because she worked for me, little brother. She worked, and she busted her ass, and it never ever worked out. What'd you ever do? You think you get the saint's medal for talkin' me off the ledge a few times? Mind your own goddamned business. The voices were making me beg, plead, crawl--I was screaming out loud every day from having to listen to them. I had to get some relief. There you are, tryin' to be the big hero to impress some girl or other. You always had the girls. You didn't care if they were the same ones who followed me around laughing at the drooling retard. Mouth's a mouth. You shot yours off too goddamn much, even when you were a little kid. You think you were easy to deal with? Little Mr. Wonderful? She tore her hair out over you too. Not that you'd notice. You never notice other people.

You think I forgot it? That time fat-ass Davey Oswald was pounding my head into the sidewalk and you just strolled on by, don't know him, never met him, crazy guy can look after himself? Gotta get his girl upstairs, he gotta. Mouth's a mouth. Too busy to visit. But he'll get around to it. Just give him twenty years.

I couldn't believe it--a cop? Same goddamn guys who chased me around Edgar Allan and screamed crazy-talk at me for fun? Nightsticks. Cuffs. The voices don't do crazy-talk, they're too smart for that. They're...insidious. They sneak up on you and make you think fire or knives or sailing through the air are the best ideas ever. You, a cop. Guess I'm not surprised. They loved me. I made 'em all laugh and laugh.

How old were you, fourteen? You came home from school and found me sittin' there. The voices, filling me with sweet talk about how it would all be so quiet if I just went sailing through the air. Voices like strong hot coffee, those perfect soft doughnuts you bite into, savoring the sugar and the grease. Tasted so good to my ears.

You stared at me. You stared. Those eyes were the cream gone bad in my good strong coffee. The voices hated you on sight; they always did. You stared.

I jumped.

I sailed through the air. I hit the ground. No voices anywhere, ever, inside, outside, for a long long time.

They kept their promise.


This is my life, little brother. I got nobody in the world who gives a damn about me. Nobody visits me. Nobody sings Happy Birthday to me. No Christmas, no Easter, no nothing. No good strong hot coffee. Still got the voices, though. They love me to death. Every day's a stampede, medicine or no medicine. This is my life. Time's stopped, and I'm waiting.

And I know you're waiting, too. Don't deny it. You've been waiting since you were old enough to know what I was all about. Waiting for that wonderful day when I'm all gone and the big family failure's erased. Wiped out. Expunged. It's okay--don't worry about it. 'Cause when I'm gone, they are too. The flies buzzing in my ears, sticky crawling-down into all the crevices until I'm out of my mind from the touch. Gone forever. I'm sailing through the air, free and clear, and the voices are getting farther and farther away, and I'm so high in the sky that the oxygen's failing but I can breathe free for the first time in my whole damn life.

I'm waiting. I'll get there. Hell, I know how it is--you've been waiting twenty years. Fine. I'm waiting all my life. Don't worry about it. Don't even think about it, 'cause it'll happen. And it'll happen just fine without you. I've learned to do without you, and without anyone else either. I adapt, little brother. I adapt. I've got no choice, being where I am.

I been away a long time.