jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

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Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part VII

Author’s note:  If you’ve not read Eliza’s whole story, scroll back to the first entry.  Thanks for reading.

There was something in his eyes that always scared Eliza.  Even when Jeremiah Goddard smiled it never showed in his eyes.  And with those thin lips and hollow cheeks, he looked more like a possum bearing its teeth than someone who was happy.  So she avoided him at almost all costs, retreating to the relative safety of her small room whenever he was around.

When she heard the door slam that evening, Eliza decided it was now or never.  Her mother had been in a particularly ebullient mood that day and with her step-father gone, she would approach her mother one final time.  She padded down the steps toward and toward the kitchen.

“Momma, can I talk to you about something?”  she asked hesitantly.

“What is it, Eliza?”

That was encouraging.  So many times before her mother had simply shooed her away, telling Eliza to finish her homework.  Or to go and read her Bible lesson.  Or to get ready for bed. Girls her age, she was almost eleven, were old enough to take life seriously and not to be foolish, her mother often told her.

“It’s still happening,” Eliza said, her eyes downcast.

“What is, honey?”

“You know.  The voices.  I still hear them.”

Eliza braced herself.  Her mother had warned her that such nonsense would not be tolerated.

“I’m scared.”

Waiting for the onslaught of her mother’s rebuke, Eliza took an imperceptible step back.  But there were no furious admonitions.  No threats of punishment for telling tales.  Instead, Angela Goddard invited her daughter to come into the den and and to sit down beside her on the couch.

Overcoming her dismay, Eliza did exactly that.  She told her mother how and when she had first heard the voices.  And how they had never really stopped.  Eliza had just relented to her mother’s demands not to speak of such things any more.  She told her mother that there were times when she thought the voices were angry.  “Not at me,” she said. “Just angry.”  Other times they seemed like they were maybe in pain.  Eliza said she had pleaded with them to stop, to leave her alone.  But nothing had worked.

Angela Goddard listened patiently and nodded that she understood.  She placed her hand on Eliza’s shoulder and told her that everything would be alright. Eliza took a deep breath and realized her heart was no longer pounding.  Tears of relief filled her eyes.  It was more than Eliza could have ever hoped for.

Her mother told her that there were things in this world that we don’t always understand. She said sometimes our minds play tricks on us—especially when we are young.  She gave her daughter a warm warm embrace.  She told Eliza not to worry.  She said she would tell Jeremiah and that he would know what to do.

*****

Somehow, Liza had managed to keep it together after she and Jason finished talking to Pax.  But from the moment she heard the strange man tell her about what had happened at her father’s funeral, her thoughts had become a cocktail of memories and fear.  Jason had asked Liza what she thought of Pax, but she told him she didn’t really know.  Sure.  It was weird.  Learning all that about her father.  And Pax’s confession was even more bizarre.  But she was just too tired to discuss it very much.  She had begged off with, “Can we just talk about this tomorrow?  It’s been a long day.”

She slammed the door to her apartment behind her, forgetting to lock the door.  She had to find that book.  There had been something in it.  Something about—what was it?  Bardos?  Yeah.  That was it.  Bardos.  The space between life and death and life.  The place Vedic religions believed the soul went between times of reincarnation.

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Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part VII

Author’s Note:  For the first six installments of Eliza’s story, scroll past the previous blog entry, a poem entitled Winter.  

 

Eli Paxton moved more like a Praying Mantis than a man.  Watching him contort his almost six-foot-five frame into the back booth of the diner was a study in resolve.  He slid across the worn gray vinyl, finally drawing his feet under the table.  Only then did Jason and Eliza take their seats opposite him.

A weary-eyed waitress, her hair pulled back into a tight angry bun, appeared beside the table.  BATTRICE was inscribed on her name tag, no doubt the result of either an inept or hasty manager who’d seen no reason to correct the error.

“I’m Bea.  What can I get you?”

They all agreed on coffee.  Nothing more, prompting a contemptuous glare from BATTRICE.

“Don’t rent tables here,” she blurted.  “If you’re not gonna eat, don’t overstay your welcome.”

Eli Paxton unfolded a wrinkled twenty from his shirt pocket and slid it across a table that was still damp with ammonia and water.  “Okay if I pay in advance?  You can keep the change.”  BATTRICE offered a grunt of approval and picked up the twenty.

After exchanging some pleasantries, and Eli’s admonition to “Call me Pax.  All my friends do,” they settled into an unusual exchange.

“Your father was something of an enigma to me.  He had no better education than most of us.  But he was familiar with all sorts of things.  Said he read a lot.  History.  Science.  Even philosophy,” said Pax.  “Did you know that?”

Liza shook her head.  Jason admitted he remembered his Dad reading every evening and that there were books all over their home.  Books his mother had thrown out after his father died.

“Once, over lunch, I asked him what his favorite book was about.  Just idle chat, you know.  I figured it would be book about history or science.  But he surprised me.”

Jason and Liza gazed at Pax, hearing an almost reverence in his tone.

“What was the book?” asked Liza.

Pax took a sip of his coffee and grimaced.  “Bleh.  Worst coffee I’ve ever had.”  He paused.  Took a sip of water, swished it, then swallowed.  “It’s called The Bardo Thodol,” he finished.

“What?” asked Jason.  “Never heard of it.”

“Me neither,” said Liza.

“Not likely you would have heard it by that name.  Maybe not even by the English translation of the title:  The Tibetan Book of the Dead.”

Pax went on to explain that their father had read lots of religious texts.  “He read Catholic scholars.  Stuff about Egyptian beliefs on the afterlife.  And some ancient Jewish works too.  He was always looking into things about the afterlife.”

“I don’t remember anything like that.”

“Don’t suppose he would have talked much to you about it, Jason.  He didn’t talk to me that much either.  But your father was kind of hung up on the idea that matter couldn’t be destroyed.  And that whatever was inside of us, he figured, couldn’t be destroyed by death either.”

After several refills of their coffee and increasingly antagonistic stares from BATTRICE, the three of them realized they had worn out their welcome in the diner.  Jason and Liza had peppered Pax with questions, most of which he wasn’t able to answer.  In the end, Pax offered them a summation.

“You’re Dad figured if there was an afterlife, then you should be able to communicate with those you’ve left behind.  He wasn’t a nut about it.  More matter of fact.”

“Mr. Paxton—Pax, I mean—can I ask you one more question before you go?”

“Sure thing, Liza.”

“Why did you come to our mother’s funeral?

Pax cocked his head, lowered it a bit and gave his neck a quick scratch, thinking.  The reluctance he felt hung over the table like a foreboding cloud.

“Mmmh,” he grunted.  “Eh.  It sounds crazy.  Even to me.”

Jason could see BATTRICE headed their way.  This time she wasn’t carrying a carafe of coffee.  He urged Pax to finish.  “Please, Pax.  Why did you come to the funeral after all these years?”

“Gah. Might as well say it.  When your father died, I was a pallbearer.  When we were carrying him to the graveside, I’d swear I heard him whispering to me—from the casket.  Scared the shit–pardon my French–out of me.  Swore I’d never tell anyone.  Never have until today.  Never went to your father’s grave again.  Never came by to see your mother.  I think I wanted to see if I heard anything like that come from your mother’s casket.”

Winter

Wrestling against the wind,

like dry souls clinging to life,

sweetgums and dry leaves

rustle in the barren branches;

 

Rooftops dusted with winter,

the vapors of my breath

appear, then vanish

in the frigid morn’;

 

Tender fingers,

pink and aching,

the tip of my nose

pleading for my wool scarf;

 

A wandering pup

plodding across the brown Bermuda

he stops and sniffs,

perhaps searching for spring;

 

My body longing

for warm Gulf waters

emerald shorelines

and toes in the sand;

 

The cold quickens me,

a reminder that life,

like the seasons

will come and go;

 

Memories of snow,

of sleds and steaming hot chocolate,

of a childhood

with little worry or fear;

 

The breeze pauses,

Mother Nature catching her breath,

she watches me,

wondering if I will relent;

 

A child—a boy?

Wrapped in wool and fleece.

His boots patting over the pavement.

Or is it a girl?

 

 

A crystal sky,

clear and clean and fresh,

envelopes me,

washing me with peace.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza Jackson–Part VI

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?

Venable smiled.

“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.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza Jackson–Part V

Author’s Note:  Please refer back to the previous postings if  you want to know about how  Eliza finds herself her in Part Five.

 

Eliza walked into the house that afternoon and called to her mother.  She called again.

“Momma?  Momma, where are you?”  Her small voice seemed to echo through the house, bouncing off of the colorless walls and dusty hardwood floors.  Silently, she waited for a response.  She heard a soft hissing coming from the kitchen.  She patted across the floors, the damp soles of her second-hand Reeboks squeaking with each step.

Weekah.  Weekah.  Week—

Halfway down the hall, she realized her folly and quickly stooped to pull the shoes from her tiny feet.  She quickly backtracked, trying to erase the damp marks from the floor before she was discovered.  She paused again.  Nothing. Pheww.

Entering the kitchen, she located the source of the hissing.  The kettle was shuddering, purging itself of the last bits of steam.  Rising on her toes, she reached for the kettle.

“Don’t touch that,” her mother ordered from behind her.

“I was only trying to help,” Eliza protested, jerking her hand away.

Her mother had still been Angela Jackson back then.  But she hadn’t been the Angela Jackson she had been before the death of her husband.  Eliza saw her mother’s cold stare.  In times like these, when her mother had been suffering from one of her spells, Eliza wondered how the woman could seem both frightened and angry at the same time.  Grief had transformed a once warm woman into a stranger.  And it was getting worse.  Her mother’s eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets during the worst of those spells.  They were bulging today.

“Don’t back talk me, child.  Now go upstairs to your room.  There will be no dinner for you tonight.”

“But Momma!”

“Go!  Now!”

She clambered up the stairs, almost stooped onto all fours.  Her feet feet peddling and hands pushing, driving her upward.  She flung open the door to her tiny bedroom and began to sling it shut.  Before she released the knob, she caught herself.  Slamming the door would only bring more of the darkness out of her mother.  Better to suffer in silence.

Later that night, as she hoped sleep would relieve her hunger, she heard a tapping at her door.

“Liza?”

She saw the doorknob turning slowly and feigned sleep.

“Liza?  You awake?  I got you something.”

Jason pulled something silver from under his shirt, producing his offering.  Something hastily wrapped in aluminum foil.  Hidden inside the foil was a cold piece of sausage, wrapped in an overcooked biscuit.  It was the best thing Eliza had ever tasted.

“I can’t stay long.  She will be up in a minute.”

Liza nodded, stuffing the food into her already full mouth.

“Slow down.  If you cough or choke, she’ll hear us.  Then we’re both dead.”

Eliza muffled her assent and obeyed.

“She’s getting worse,” said Jason.  “Just try not to upset her.”

Tears welled at the corners of her green eyes.  She had called to her mother earlier wanting to tell her about the voices.  To tell her that she wasn’t imaging things. She was glad she hadn’t.

“Don’t worry,” said Jason.  “I’ll take care of you.  Just try to get some sleep.”

When Jason closed the door behind him, Eliza climbed into her bed and under the covers.  She fell asleep listening for the sound of her mother climbing the stairs.  Tomorrow, she resolved, she would tell Jason about the voices.

***

The funeral was a gothic bit of theatre.  The pastor had reminded the dozen or so mourners that the wages of sin is death and that their dear sister Angela was now with the angels.  Liza wondered how the man could move from tears to fury and back again to tears all within the course of twenty minutes without his head exploding.

Mourners came to offer their assurances that Angela Goddard was in a Better Place and that her mother was a Good Woman—a godly, if a bit peculiar, servant of the Gospel and the Kingdom.  Jason and Eliza shook accepted their embraces and willingness to be called upon if there was anything they could do.  When it was over, Jason turned to his sister and proposed they go have a cup of coffee.

The man approaching them must work for the funeral home.  He hadn’t been a guest.  Or if he had, he’d been sitting in the back of the chapel and somehow had gone unnoticed.  Instinctively, Jason stepped just ahead of his sister, placing his body slightly between the man and Liza.

“Good afternoon.  I’m Eli Paxton,” said the man, offering his hand to Jason.

“Did you know our mother?” Liza asked.  It sounded like more of an accusation than a question.

“Indeed.  Indeed, I did.  Not well, mind you. But I did know her.  I knew your father better, though.”

Both Jason and Liza were startled by the man’s confession.  They had almost managed to forget Jeremiah Goddard.  Almost.  ButFor too many years he had made their lives miserable.  Yes. He had helped mother pull out of some of the darkness that haunted her.  But the price had been high and paid mostly by the two of them.

“You knew Jeremiah?” challenged Jason.

“Oh, no.  I didn’t know him.  Your father.  I knew your father, Ben. Ben Jackson.”

After a few moments of polite conversation, Liza invited Eli Paxton to join her and Jason for coffee.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part IV

Author’s note:  Be sure to check the prior blog entries to see Liza’s full story.

 

“I don’t really remember him,” said Liza.

“Yeah.  Me either.  Not much.  There are things I remember.  His voice.  It was really deep.  Or at least that’s how I remember him.  I remember how he smelled too.  He always wore Aramis aftershave.  He used to let me stand on a chair and let me watch him shave,” Jason said, a touch of sadness in his voice.  “He was a good man, I think.”

“I was only two or three years old, right?”

“You were three when he died.  I was five.  I do remember that night, though. It was terrible.”

Their father had died in a freak accident.  Ben Jackson had been a man’s man—the kind of man others called if something went wrong. When one of the men at the plant was having trouble with the two-ton crane, Ben had gone to offer his assistance.  No one was quite sure how it had happened, but when Ben was inspecting the jammed gearing, the motor suddenly engaged.  The die carried by the crane had struck him in the chest—but just barely.  Whether it was a result of him losing his balance or just being startled, the fall had ended with sound of skull hitting concrete.  Ben had made it to the hospital and through the most of the night.

“Momma wouldn’t talk about it.  But some of his friends told me it was probably for the best.  If he’d survived the fall he would have never been the same.  Momma sure wasn’t.”

Their mother had remained single for a respectable time after their father died.  In her grief, she had turned to the church.  There she met a man named Jeremiah Goddard, whom she married after a brief courtship.  And if their father, Ben, had been loving and kind, their mother’s new husband had been nothing of the sort.  On the day of his marriage to Angela he had made it clear that his word was law—just like God intended—and that children were to be seen and not heard.

***

Liza didn’t hear the key sliding into the lock.  Nor did she hear the door open.  When the orderly said “time to go” she almost leapt from the bed.

“Jeezus!” she blurted.

She looked at the man dressed in white pants, white shirt, and white work shoes.  He looked like he had been stuffed into a shirt that was two sizes too small.  His shoulders strained at the seams.  His biceps were so large the sleeves were bunched up above them.  The veins in his forearms looked as if they would explode from his skin at any moment.  Later, Liza would begin referring to him as Mr. Clean.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Sorry, my ass,” she said.  “Is your job here to try to scare the hell out of people?”

Liza knew she was overreacting.  It wasn’t the fact the man seemed to creep into her room unnoticed.  It was the sound of his voice that made her heart race faster than it should have.  For a moment, she was sure it was them—the voices.  Worse.  It was that one voice.  And the words he had used.  “Time to go.” Shit.  That had been too much.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jackson.  The doctor is ready for you now.”

The warmth of the doctor’s office stood in stark contrast to the hallways of the clinic.  His desk was piled with manila folders that bulged with papers.  There were two worn leather wing back chairs sitting opposite the desk, one of which the doctor was already sitting in.  Steam rose from porcelain mug on which was emblazoned “#1 Dad.”

After explaining to Liza that he was her friend, that he thought he could help and that he hoped she would trust him, Doctor Venable asked her if she would mind telling him why she thought she was there at the clinic.

“I’m either crazy.  Or possessed.  My mother wants to know which,” she said.

Venable sipping his coffee when Liza answered and he almost spewed a mouthful onto the freshly cleaned carpet.  Somehow, he managed to swallow, but not without some effort.  When he regained his composure, he smiled.  Then he burst into laughter.

“That about sums it up, Liza.  I won’t bullshit you.  I mean that’s why you’re here, so to speak.  So maybe you can tell me what you think.  Are you crazy?  Or are you possessed?

Liza looked at the doctor solemnly.  A smile inched across her mouth.  Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as she had expected.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part Three

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment of Eliza’s story.  Hope you will thumb back and read the prior to posts to catch up.

“You have to go,” said her mother.

“But I don’t want to,” Liza pleaded.

“It’s for your own good.  Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid, Mother.  I just don’t see the point.

They left before daylight, arriving at clinic before nine a.m.  The nurses and attendants greeted Liza with benign smiles and the kind of “poor thing” indifference that teenage girls despise. A middle-aged woman with thick ankles and drugstore make-up escorted Liza through the door down a corridor that smelled of disinfectant and despair.  The woman urged her onto the scales with a bite mark covered Bic pen.

After the woman took Liza’s blood pressure, she made some notes on her clipboard and motioned for Liza to follow.  Approaching another set of doors, Liza noticed the sign.

BEYOND THIS POINT VISITORS MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY STAFF

PLEASE WEAR YOUR NAME TAG AT ALL TIMES

THANK YOU

 

There, at the bottom of the sign, the afterthought Have a nice day!  punctuated the command.   

Liza didn’t think she would have a nice day.  In fact, she didn’t think she would have a nice day for the next three.  At fifteen, this was the third time her mother had subjected her to an extended time of the invasive poking and prodding of her mind, body and spirit.  Once, she had been to a clinic where “they help people like you,” as her mother said.  Once, she had gone to a sort of religious camp where well-meaning people quoted arcane verses from the King James Bible and prayed for Liza to be healed.

“You like fish?” the woman asked, guiding Liza into a small colorless room.

“What?”

“Fish sticks for lunch today.  French fries, too.  Jus’ wonderin’ if you like fish?”

“It’s okay,” said Liza.

“Thursday’s always means fish sticks. Lunch’ll be in around Noon.  Sheet says Doctor gonna see you at 1:15. Somebody will come by to get you.”

“Okay.”

As the woman left, Liza realized the lock on the door could only be opened from the hallway.  She sighed and sat down on the bed, her back to the door, and for a moment thought she’d heard the voices say something that gave her hope.

***

“Liza?”

She was sleeping soundly, her feet propped on the coffee table.

“Liza.”

She stirred, more sensing a presence than hearing her name being called.

“Liza!”

Liza bolted upright like a jack-in-the-box bursting from its dark tomb. She looked around for Jason.  Before she could let herself decide whether she had been dreaming or if it had been them, Liza heard the muffled sound of her phone ringing.  She recovered the phone from between the sofa cushions and answered.

“Hi, Jas.  To what do I owe the honor?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound as anxious as she felt.

She could tell he was trying to be casual.  But the uncharacteristic absence of inflection in his voice told her something was up.  Something was wrong.

“It’s Mom.  She’s gone?”

“What do you mean gone?  Gone where?”

“I mean gone.  She’s dead.”

As impossible as it was to believe, Jason was right.  Their mother had been found by a friend, someone from the church who had stopped by to give her a ride that night.  The woman had rung the bell, she said.  She had banged on the door.  She had called out for their mother to come. But she had instantly known something was wrong.

Even on the coldest winter nights, Angela Goddard was always sitting in her chair, barely visible in the shadows of the dim yellow porch light, waiting.  The friend said she had been reluctant to open the door.  Angela was a private woman.  But the woman’s concern had been prescient.  She found Liza’s mother lying on the floor, her body as cold as the floor upon which it lay.

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part II

Author’s Note:  If you haven’t read Part I of Eliza’s tale, be sure to scroll back to the prior entry.  

 

The floor of her closet was strewn with an assortment of toys.  Legos.  American Girls.  A Game Boy.  It was just how Eliza liked it.  Everything was in plain view.  No need to sort through the clear plastic boxes her mother always insisted she pile them in.  Order was over-rated and almost an impossible achievement for her eight-year-old mind to accomplish.  Why have to put them away when you just wanted to let them inspire you to mix and match them in unexpected ways?  That was the best.

Eliza was sitting in the floor when she heard her mother calling.  Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it was nearing time to get ready for school, but she could pretend she hadn’t heard her.  She estimated she could play another five minutes without invoking her mother’s disapproval

“Eliza,” her mother called again.

Eliza decided she decided she’d better see what her mother wanted.  She put down the doll and wandered into her mother’s room.

“’Mam?”

“What is it, Eliza?” her mother asked impatiently.

“What do you want?”

The blank expression on her mother’s face surprised Eliza. She’d seen the look before.  Experience had taught her not to decided not to challenge her mother.  Later, when everyone else called her Liza, she would remember this as the first time it had happened—hearing something that wasn’t really there.  “I didn’t call you Eliza.  But it’s time to get ready.  I’ll make you some oatmeal.  Now, hurry.  Get dressed.”

After Eliza swallowed the capsule her mother handed her every morning, medicine that helped Eliza sit through seven hours of school, not interrupt her teachers, and pay attention.   The same medicine that also made her feel oddly detached from the world—the medicine that everything she saw seem gray and everything she heard sound hollow.  She plodded to the car waiting on its effect.  She would need to hurry if she was going to talk to her mother before the medicine took hold of her.

“Are you okay, Mom?” she asked, watching her mother’s futile attempts to will the car in front of them to pull into traffic.

“Why do you ask, Eliza?”

“When I came to your room this morning and asked why you called me, you just kinda looked at me.  Like maybe you forgot you had called me.”

Her mother made it clear she hadn’t called Eliza and that she must have been hearing things.  Maybe it was the radio or the television, she said. Eliza winced.  Like so many other conversations with her mother, both before and after that morning, Eliza knew her mother wouldn’t be convinced.

But neither the radio or the television had been on that morning. Eliza was certain of it.

***

The table of contents read almost like her biography.

Chapter One—A World We do not Understand

Chapter Two—Psychosis

Chapter Three—Physiological Disorders

Chapter Four—Footsteps in the Hallway, Bumps in the Night:  Physical Causes

Chapter Five—Dreams, Visions, Angels, Demons: Is that you, God?

Liza thumbed to Chapter Five.  She had grown up believing in the gifts of The Spirit.  The interpretation of dreams.  Healing.  Speaking in tongues.  Prophecy.  She had known them to be true as surely as she knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west. And she had understood spiritual warfare too—that angels and demons fought for the circumstance and souls of men, women, and children. Before she reached the age of five, Liza had seen into the spiritual realms and had been a witness to the deeds of spiritual beings.

Thinking back, Liza remembered she had decided the voices—especially that one voice—it must have been God himself, calling her.  After all, there was nothing really menacing about them.  They didn’t make threats.  They didn’t tempt her.  But there had been nothing comforting about them either.  There had been no instruction.  Why would God call to her like that?  At some point, she had begun to wonder if the voices were evil.

In many spiritual traditions evil is manifest in a being or beings.  The Vedic tradtions, while having no specific incarnation of evil, have their asuras. Buddhists see Mara as the tempter, the incarnation of evil.  And, of course, in Judeo-Christianity a fallen angel, Satan, is the one who disguises himself as an Angel of Light.  In short, these traditions teach that spiritual creatures are capable of deceitful deeds intended to distract the faithful from the proper path.  While Hollywood has made millions with frightening tales of possession, such examples of the occupation of a human body by some outside force appears rather infrequently, particularly in the Western world.  Yet plaguing the faithful with frightful dreams and physical disturbances—strange sounds and peculiar voices among them—are far more commonplace. 

 Liza snapped the book shut and shivered.

 

Voices: The Unusual Case of Eliza James–Part One

Liza couldn’t take it any more.

She got up, walked around the apartment.  Nothing. She checked the door again.  She knew it would be locked but she couldn’t help herself.  She had tried everything.  The counselors.  The meds.  Nothing worked.

“It’s just your imagination,” her mother had always said.  She had said it hundreds of time. But no matter what Liza, did they always returned.  She didn’t know which was worse.  Hearing those sounds or being unable to convince anyone they were real.

There were times when they went away for a while.  Sometimes even for a few days or weeks.  Or at least they would subside to the point she could almost ignore them. Those were times when she would begin to believe she could live a normal life.  But at some point she began to realize this was part of their plan—go away for a while, just long enough for her to get some peace, only to return.

Most of the time it sounded like two or three voices.  Those were almost easier to take.  But not tonight.  Tonight, it was that single desperate voice, the one that sounded like the last pleas of a wounded animal begging for release from a terrible trap or for the relief of its final breath.

“Liza,” they whispered.

***

“I’ve got to do something, Jas,” she told her brother.

Thank god for Jason.  He had always been kind to her.  She knew he didn’t believe her—that he didn’t believe they were real.  But he believed she believed they were.  And that was almost enough.  At least he didn’t tell her it was her imagination or that she should just “snap out of it and get hold of herself.” He just listened.

“I know, Liza.  I just don’t know what to tell you to do,” he said.

“I’m not sleeping much.  Even when I don’t hear anything, I’m afraid to go to sleep.  It’s happening more and more often.”

“But it’s only when you’re at home—I mean when you are alone, right?”

She had told him all of this before.

“And you’ve even been to the hearing doctor?”

“The audiologist?  Yes.  Of course.  And the neurologist.  The psychiatrist. The pastor.  Hell, I’ve even been to a hypnotist.  And a psychic.”   She lit another cigarette.

“I wish you would quit smoking,” said Jason.  He was trying to change the subject.  She couldn’t blame him.

***

Liza picked up a book she had ordered.

The Phenomena of Sound: An Inquiry into Ethereal Voices and other Disturbances

There was no telling how many times she had searched the web for answers. When she found a book or an article she had learned how to quickly scan it and determine if there was anything new that might help her.  She had almost given up hope.  But a few days ago she had found this title and dropped it into her shopping cart.  The box with the smile on it seemed to be laughing at her when she opened it.  She skipped to the final chapter.

“In most cases, such phenomena appear to have their roots in a distinctly physical domain.  In such cases, preemption of such disturbances can be explained, if not eliminated.  In others, rational and physical interventions are useless.  These are placebos without effect.  In this narrow set of circumstances, only the illogical seems to be an adequate response.”

Well, maybe this—what was the author’s name?  Morris R. Templeton.  Maybe Mr.—she corrected the thought—maybe Dr. Templeton would at least understand—even believe me.  But he’s been dead three years, or so Wikipedia said.

She flipped back to the table of contents.

I didn’t notice

I didn’t notice,

not really, I’ll admit,

that you were gone,

that you were missing somehow,

that you had been slowly been engulfed by the pain,

enshrouded by the fatigue,

until you were almost covered,

covered by the slow and relentless approaching shadows,

the shadows I did not see,

the echoes of your memory deceiving me in the darkness,

making me believe you were safe,

that you were always there,

believing that you were stowed away like some some precious emerald,

when you had fallen out of sight,

out of sight of eyes,

eyes that did not know to look;

 

I’m grateful now,

grateful that I did not know to look,

grateful to be spared the heartache,

the fear of such grave loss,

spared the throbbing heart,

the desperate searching,

the gasping for breath,

the desperate thoughts,

crying out, “where have you gone?”

for I would have surely been ovewhelmed,

to reach for you,

to believe that you were gone,

that you were lost to me;

 

Yes,

I am so very grateful,

by your sudden return,

overcome with gratitude

to have this chance,

to know that are not forever lost,

that you are here,

here with me once again,

my heart full,

mindful,

perhaps more aware than ever,

of each moment,

each breath,

each heartbeat.