Author’s Note: If you’re just meeting Eliza, be sure to scroll back to the prior entries to see her full story.
“So, Eliza, where do you think the voices are coming from? asked Dr. Venable.
Unblinking, she stared at the physician. She offered only a slight shrug of her shoulders.
“Do you think they are malevolent? Evil?”
For some reason, Eliza felt Venable’s question was pregnant with consequence, as if her answer might determine her fate. Saying yes, even if it was the truth, would probably mean more drugs. Maybe even more time in the clinic. Worse yet, maybe even a long hospital stay. Venable had seemed trustworthy, at least at first. But she felt a growing unease with him, like you felt when you were coming down with the flu and you just weren’t quite sure if you were getting sick.
“No. No, I don’t. Not at all,” she said firmly. “I mean, they are unsettling. But they aren’t really scary.”
Venable nodded, busily making some notes on a ragged yellow legal pad.
“Do they tell you to do anything? Or to harm anyone?”
She shook her head, trying to figure out how to satisfy Venable and somehow shorten her stay at the clinic. It occurred to her that she needed to punctuate her assurance and added, “No. Not at all. Nothing like that.”
The truth was—always had been—she really couldn’t understand the voices that well. They were amorphous whispers mostly. Sometimes they sounded like someone calling her from another room, like when her mother had called her that morning. But there had never her any real direction coming from them.
“What do you remember about your father?” the doctor asked, using his best I’m a patient-compassionate doctor, so you can trust me tone.
“Not much. It’s hard to know what I remember and what I’ve been told. I was really young when he died.”
Venable offered an understanding glance—one that actually seemed genuine.
“Do you feel grief about your Dad? Do you miss him?”
“It’s hard to miss someone you don’t really remember. I suppose I miss the idea of him.”
Venable put down his pen and the pad on which he’d been making his notes. Deliberately, he placed both elbows on the arms of his chair and raised his hands across his face. Slowly, deliberately, he interlocked his hands allowing his index fingers to form a kind of steeple. Then he leaned his head forward a bit, letting his index fingers touch his lips in a kind of reflective posture. He offered a her a slight knowing nod.
“Eliza,” he said softly, “the trauma of losing someone you love, even if you are very young, can have peculiar effects. Death is something that is hard for us to comprehend, even as adults. Every culture has its own rituals to deal with death. Ways to say goodbye. But some say the dead never truly leave us. That they communicate with us from beyond the grave. I wonder if you think the voices you are hearing might be related to your father in some way.”
She would have been lying if she’d told Dr. Venable she had never considered that. Hell, she had considered everything. But that seed—that her father was somehow communicating with her—she had plucked it from the soil of her thoughts before it could germinate.
There had been nights when she had laid in her bed, hearing to her mother “talk” to her father after he had died and that had made Eliza feel like maybe it was possible to speak with the dead. But as she had grown, she had watched her mother grow more and more peculiar and Eliza had feared becoming like her—feared that her mother’s increasingly bizarre behavior contagious—and refused to believe the voices she heard had anything to do with her father.
Again, Eliza felt vulnerable—that the wrong response to Venable’s query might somehow affect her in ways she wouldn’t like. She needed to choose her words wisely.
“Sure. I’ve thought about that,” she said honestly. “But I don’t really think that’s what’s going on. I mean nothing about the voices”—she’d never told anyone about that one particular voice she heard on occasion that was so unsettling— “is really distinct. But maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s just the trauma of losing my Dad when I was so young. Someday, I’m sure things will just get better. The voices will go away.”
Venable looked at her carefully. She felt like he was trying to peer inside her, as if he were a sorcerer with some kind of second sight that would let him read her mind. Her insides were growing warm and she felt bile rising in her throat. In that brief moment, waiting for him to finish whatever he was doing, Eliza could feel each breath enter her nostrils and pass down her windpipe into her lungs. She felt every inch of it and every fiber in her lungs expand then contract, purging herself of the spent oxygen. She heard the soft whooshing of air blowing from the air-conditioning vent. Her body and mind were alive, arguing with themselves over what to do next. Flee? Fight?
“I think that’s good, Eliza. It’s honest. I think you’re probably right. We will meet again tomorrow, but I think you are going home after that. The nurse will walk you back to your room. Get some rest. You’ve done good work here today.”
As the door closed behind her, Eliza felt like she’d been stalked by something in the darkness and narrowly escaped a shadowy predator.