I used to think everyone had an inner voice. A little disembodied narrator that, when unfocused, sounded familiar yet not. But something we could take from our own voice and turn into that of a celebrity, a cartoon character or whatever we wished.
So it was a shock when I found out that it’s likely a third of the population has no idea what that is like. No guiding voice through their actions, reminding them of the tasks for the day or even helping them run through problems in their mind.
Nothing. Just blissful silence. Or maybe agonising, depending on who you talk to.
My inner voice was always prominent as I grew up. I don’t recall the shape or tone of it as a child, just that it was a good confidant when things got rough. If my dad came home drunk and decided to take his anger out on my mom, my inner voice would advise me of the safest places to hide and tell me stories or replay songs to cover up the horrible sounds.
The voice would soothe me in bed as I healed, sobbing into my pillow as my Father stormed out to “get some air”, usually only returning days later in a trance like state.
Being an only child, I spent a lot of my time either playing make-believe in my room with my Transformers and Lego, traversing fantastical worlds on my DreamCast or exploring the vast fields that surrounded our little village of Minoesha, just next to Mantis Bay. There weren’t many families around and my folks were isolationists, said that Sturgeons big cities had plenty of evil within them, that their god wasn’t the right god and if we wanted to eke out a safe living, it’d be here, off the land.
My inner voice would always warn me not to go to the Coyle family plot that bordered on Minoesha and the nearby woods.
I remember this was the first instance where I could recall the shape and rhythm of the voice inside me. Cool, collected, mystifying.
“It’s too far, and your parents will get mad. We don’t want that. Besides…”
A strong wind blew from the depths of the woods and rattled the rotted wooden foundations, threatening to unearth secrets buried in the soil.
“Great tragedy will befall the next person to go into those woods.” It sounded almost sombre, melancholy in its tone. Amid the rationalisation in my own mind, this voice stood out and felt like it was urging me in its own way to take those tentative steps back and away from the family plot.
But someone else in the town lacked the same kind of voice I had.
And it was the first time I got scared of it.
Micah Duponse was a very outgoing kid, and this being the 90s, was given a lot more freedom to do so than nowadays. Parents either weren’t as aware of the dangers in rural communities or they simply didn’t pay as much attention. Micah had decided that he was going to venture beyond the borders and go near the Coyle plot, knowing full well that all of us in Minoesha were told repeatedly to avoid it.
The alarm was raised some 6 hours later when the lights came on and Micah was nowhere to be seen.
3 days later, Micah’s body was discovered within the run-down shack. He’d been strung upside down on a hook like a slab of meat and, if the rumours were true, had been partially feasted upon before discovery by the authorities.
I remember the moments following the discovery, in the deafening silence between breaths and feigned apologies to the community for not doing a better job of safeguarding their young against unseen dangers. My inner voice chimed in:
“I told you it wasn’t a good idea. Now, let’s see how close to the bone this will end up being…”
I tried to formulate the question in my mind to ask the voice, picturing a puzzled look and even a question mark, but it yielded nothing of merit save for a coy response.
My dad began to act more reserved, cagey in his behaviour. He ate meals on his own, loud slurps from his soup bowl and bloodshot eyes darting to every exit our house had. No more beatings, berating, or night time trips.
It was a couple of days later when my inner voice woke me up out of bed, the kind of loud noise that snaps you awake but without the clarity to understand what happened.
“Go for a walk. You need the fresh air.”
I blinked, eyes still heavy from tiredness and the desire to put my head on the pillow overwhelming. I began to rest back down when the voice rang out again, this time from the corner of my room:
“You really do need the fresh air, Sunny.”
I felt a primal sense of fear that I can only equate to being in a tiger pit or any small space with a creature you have no business being so close to. I wasn’t able to make out any features in the corner, no terrifying aspects to burn into my mind or send my fear to new heights. It was entirely obscured, but I knew it was there. Watching me.
“Get out of bed and climb down the tree by your window and go for a walk, Sunny. Go until I tell you to come back.”
I obeyed, still young enough to respect an authoritative voice and one that admittedly had proven itself on a handful of occasions. I grabbed some sturdy clothing and did as instructed, walking around the block and keeping to the streetlights, enjoying the cool air on my face.
For about a half hour, each time I rounded the corner to go back, the voice would softly tell me.
“No, not yet, Sunny. One more walk should do it. If you go back now, your path will change.”
On the fourth rotation, I ignored the voice and my sleepy body was beginning to overpower my urge to listen; I turned the corner and saw flashing lights emanating from my house. Surely I’d not been gone too long for them to call the police? 40 minutes at the very most?
Figuring out what I’d say as an excuse, I started to tentatively walk closer to the front of the house when I realised what I was seeing.
Officers taking up positions by their open car doors, firearms trained on the front of the property, focused and ready to fire.
Following their line of sight, I saw my father’s crazed and weather beaten form clutching my mother with a pistol to her temple, ranting and raving about how he knew this was going to happen, that they’d never find him where he was going.
“Mr. Wimslow, this doesn’t need to end in bloodshed. We can settle this peacefully, nobody else needs to suffer if you cooperate…”
Nobody else? What did he…
As I got closer, Dad saw me and took a step back, glancing up at the room I’d been in, mumbling to himself.
In that momentary lapse, Mom tried to push free, setting off the gun and a shot to her skull. She fell, eyes open and staring at me as blood pooled around her.
Time slowed. Dad stared down at her, arms still in their position, and said something under his breath before pointing the gun at me, smiling.
In an instant, he was gunned down by the officers and fell backwards through the screen door, twitching and mumbling as I was pulled away by officers, still screaming. The only sound left in my ears was that of the internal monologue, trying to calm me.
“I warned you not to go back, Sunny.”
Dad would eventually be charged with the murder of Micah and several other missing persons, including that of the Coyle family some decade and a half ago. I’ll stop short of saying my dad was a serial killer, but he was categorically a fucking monster. In the sole appointment he had with a psychiatrist, months before he got caught, he was talking about how he never felt himself when angry. Said that it was as if something overtook him and compelled him to do bad things, that he was still aware, but barely. When he finished these fits of rage and had control, he’d go out to the Coyle estate and meditate, try to hone in on the rage and control it.
He said it was here that something bad happened, and that he fed on this energy… made him stronger. I don’t know what the fuck he was talking about.
The Minoeshan Massacre was what they called it, a colourful name for an ugly man and one I was happy to be rid of, even if I did miss my mom.
The voice went silent after that for several years. I grew up, found a good foster home and settled into my life, going through high school with aspirations of becoming a journalist, looking at the truth behind what went on around this strange town.
It was on my 27th birthday that the voice came back, but with a very different intonation.
I was walking through Sturgeons entertainment district when it commanded me in my head with the force of a thunderclap:
You never realise how powerful social cues are until you hear someone say something like that or see someone gesture you to slow down when running. I did as it instructed and stood by an alleyway between two buildings; a cabaret club on the left and an arcade to the right.
“Do you know what’s down there, Sunny?” The voice called out, a degree of foreboding rippling through its voice. It knew something I didn’t… but how the hell is that even possible?
Something rustles in the darkness, not far from a dumpster situated next to the cabaret club’s back door. A pile of thick, fetid garbage bags starts crinkling as something pushes up against them.
The penny hasn’t dropped yet.
I gazed down the stretch of wonderment and bright lights, chemistry in my brain doing its best to fire up the neutrons and make an astute guess, but the voice got there first.
The penny hangs in the air, spinning on its axis and my goosebumps bubbling to the surface like insects trying to dig their way free before bad luck befalls them too.
“There is a special place people find themselves when making a critical choice. They stay a while, tell a story and have a drink, getting their answer…” it pauses, as if mulling over its next choice of words carefully. I feel something crawl on my back. “But, you need not venture down there, your path lies elsewhere. After all…”
A lumbering shape wrenches itself free from the garbage pile. A crooked limb with a malformed, greying hand drags a tall corpse free from the clutches of waste. It cracks as it stands to its full height and stands looking away from me, hiding its face behind long, spindly fingers.
The penny drops as the voice keeps talking, no longer isolated to my head, but still ringing inside my skull as the figure speaks. It’s as if I have the same dialogue playing from two sources.
“Your destiny is already set in stone, just as your Fathers was.”
I stumble back, tripping over myself and falling to the ground with a thud, heart slamming against my rib cage. What the fuck did he mean by that?
Not a single bit of dialogue exchanged on my end, yet he was able to communicate with me freely… was this all in my head? Or was it…
“Something more? Yes, Sunny. You’re not going doo-lally, I was just waiting for you to… mature. Come, I’ll show you. Cast your eyes across the street to the woman by the bus stop… the pretty thing looking anxious and frail. Red dress.”
Again, social cues being what they are, I did as instructed. Sure enough, a young woman paced back and forth by the bus stop, her makeup running down her face and glasses fogged up from the stress. She was a larger woman, carrying such grace and beauty about her, the red and white polka-dot dress flowing in the soft breeze. But her form was anything but that.
“She is going to make a decision that will change the course of four lives. You will beat a man to death as a result of that decision. Watch.” The voice called. It was pragmatic, calculated. As if reading the weather report for the next few days. Cloudy with a strong indication of violence.
I didn’t take my eyes off of her as a loud, brutish man began bellowing from the bottom of the street, hailing expletives at her without a care or concern for the people around.
“Sadie! There you are! You stupid fat bitch, the fuck you think you’re doing? Going out without my say so… I oughta smack you down right here, right now!” His eyes were bloodshot, speech slurred, fists balled into cinder blocks. Every step he took bore malicious intent, each limb ready to enact untold damage. The woman, Sadie, locked eyes with him and bit her lip to the point of drawing blood.
It was then I saw the bus.
I realised what was going to happen.
I didn’t think. My body acted without asking permission. I vaulted off the ground and darted across the road, desperate to get between Sadie and her partner. He was covering ground just as quickly as the bus, implausibly so. I could see her gaze focus longingly on the road, the escape from it all and the opportunity the bus provided… but I was determined.
I caught up behind the man and Sadie, shoving him out of the way in order to stop her from doing anything, grabbing her by the shoulders and looking her dead in the eyes, panic-stricken across them.
“It’s alright, I heard him from across the street, you’re safe now.” I flashed a grin and tried to find other words of comfort, but that panicked gaze wasn’t aimed at me.
It was frozen in horror at the road.
“Neil…” she breathed, just as an ear-splitting scream cut the air and was followed by the sound of a horn blaring, a thud, and bones splitting under the force of the bus’s wheels.
She pushed me aside and ran to the bus, hollering and sobbing uncontrollably, I simply stood and stared straight ahead, unable and unwilling to look at the carnage I’d just enacted.
“Do you believe me now, Sunny?”
The voice was behind me, long hands on my shoulders pushing me forward ever so slightly, as if guiding me.
What just happened?
“I’m a gift, Sunny. I’m the sort of thing that most never hear about beyond furtive whispers, in fairy tales or at large family gatherings, when the matriarch has had one too many. I’m a parasite, of sorts, that came with you as a package deal… as did all my kin in your family bloodline. We guide you, lead you down a path that best serves us and feeds us, helps our next generation grow even stronger.” He leads me down a side alley and my pace picks up. I feel my body become less under my control as I slide under one fence and hop over another, muscles performing far beyond what my average self should be able to achieve.
Before long, I’m sprinting through the back alleys of Sturgeon, deep into the slums of the entertainment district and in the heart of the concrete jungle. The hands that were on my shoulder now controlling me like a puppet, leading me somewhere.
“What… what happened with…” I try to talk between breaths, just to make sure I could still do so. The voice chuckles, but doesn’t stop my movements. I pass The grand Hotel Inertia and make a turn into a storm drain.
“Your Father? He was weak willed. The voice, my father, spoke to him early on and he gave into the whispers far too easily. Made assimilation no problem at all by the time he was a grown man… It was through this over indulgence that I sought to protect you, Sunny. Something I still wish to do.”
“Why? If what you are feeds on negativity and bad actions, then aren’t I just going to end up the same way?!” I grit my teeth and tense my muscles, agony spreading through my body as I resist, halting my pace and smacking into a wall I refused to turn away from before I could stop. My face crunches with the rebar and blood spurts from my nose as I groan.
“Sunny, there is a very fine difference between assimilation and symbiosis. I wish to join with you and make you into something… more. I controlled you only to show you what we can do, I told you what would happen only to showcase what YOU can do…”
I pull my hands from my face and see the same towering figure walk backwards towards me, feet twisted to face me, knees bent backwards and cracking with every laboured groan. It bends its back over, keeping its hands around its face as it lowers it slowly, folding its spine like a suitcase.
“Why… what is the point of this? I just killed someone because YOU showed me what would happen if I didn’t!” I winced, nose gushing and fear mounting. The voice tutted.
“I showed you what would happen because it did. That’s my gift. You killed, Sunny. And with me by your side, you’ll kill again. But I think you’d much rather kill for a cause than kill pointlessly like your father did.”
It lowered down until the head was at height with my own. The sounds of thundering footsteps and yelling echoing on the entrance to the storm drain. I looked back for just a moment as I thought about my position. The voice had always guided me, spared me, saved me… would it really be so bad?
“What would you have me do?” I asked, feeling my arms regain their strength, legs feel lighter. Even when I wasn’t looking, I felt its malicious smile bear down on me.
“There will be a place to showcase your skills. To see things before they happen and act on it. You just need to trust your… inner voice. It will bring you all the luck in the world.”
People have begun entering the tunnel. Angry shouts, a gun… no, three guns trained on the darkness ahead, in my general direction… but they can’t see me.
There will be repercussions. It’s already too late.
“I need to know, before we continue: What are y-”
I tried asking it as I turned, but coming face to face with him, unrestricted and unobscured froze me in my path. If my blood could’ve frozen out of my nostrils, it would have. I’ve tried expressing what he looks like here, but each time I go to review, it’s been erased. He doesn’t want me telling you their secret, how they get into your head and take over YOUR true inner voice until you don’t know what your old inner voice was. There’s so many of them out there, now. So many willing people to do things and guide them down a path. I can’t resist. I have to follow his instructions now.
This is all I have left.
“I’m The Monologue Man, Sunny.” He grinned as I took off for the darkness, already feeling the elation of violence course through my veins, snuffing out every ounce of terror as my inner voice… MY voice, screams for freedom in a sealed chamber.