“The Lepers in Your Head” / Chapter Nine: The Chase

This is the ninth chapter of a novella I’ve written. It will be published here one chapter at a time, roughly twice a week. Trigger warning: this story is very dark, and may be triggering for those with suicidal ideation. It’s also not the kind of thing you’d expect your pastor to write. So, fair warning.

I was running. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see what was in front of me. It felt as though I was running for my life. My heart was racing, adrenaline surging through my blood. I was running from something. I’m not a runner, can’t normally hold a jog for more than a minute or two. But this was no normal time. This was war, and time was slowing down all around me. The air around me was thick as molasses as I ran through it, escaping from the clutches of the nightmare I’d just witnessed. What was it?

I could not remember. I heard noises around me, shouting and yelling, and thousands of whispers. I saw flashes of colors. Glimpses, glimmers, shadows of a life once lived, a life once told, a life better forgotten. I saw my children. I saw my parents.

And I felt the wind. A wind behind me thrusting me forward, faster, faster, faster. A wind in front of me struggling to knock me back, to flip me backwards whence I came. A wind rushing past me, the hours and days and years of my life flashing past me.

And then I remembered. I remembered the conversation at La Crème de la Café, and I ran even faster. I remembered my doppelganger informing me that he was the real Damon. That I was the Dead Voice all along. I had to escape that memory. It was not true – could not be true! It was a lie. A lie that was chasing me down Newton Street in Pennybrook, a lie that was chasing me down the corridors of my life, a lie that was so monstrous, so hideous, so enormous that the lie itself had gained sentience. A lie that was running behind me, matching my speed. The lie that I was the Dead Voice.

No. No. No. I’m not the Dead Voice. I’m here in 1996 because of the Dead Voice. I came here because he never shuts up, he never stops, he never gives me a moment’s peace, and I want peace. I want peace finally. I’m here to shut up the Dead Voice forever. I am performing a brave deed, a mighty task, a hero’s quest. I am here because this day, November 3, 1996, is a nexus point. This place, Pennybrook, and more precisely Cisco Park, is a nexus point. A point where things are flexible, a point where things converge, a point where I can do something hideous yet brave. And here’s the point: at this nexus point, right here and right now, when I do that hideous and brave thing, the damage can be less, the pain can be minimized.

Through the swirling colors around me, I saw visions of people. I ran past friends and family members. I ran past a funeral in an old wooden church. A wedding in a banquet hall. High schools and dorm rooms, a tent in the woods, a sunset behind a highway.

The wind behind me was now a hot breath, growling and salivating after me. I kept running. I knew that if I stopped running, the lie chasing me would swallow me whole. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I dared not turn to look at it. I knew that lie, the lie that held my shoulder now. The lie that always tells me that I am worthless. The lie that always tells me I am useless. The lie that has access to all my memories, to all my intellect, to all my faculties, because that lie is a shade of me. That lie is the Dead Voice.

I saw a tree. A tree in a park, and a rope. I heard crying. I heard music.

And the lie ate me. I stopped running. I am the Dead Voice.

Snip. From all around me, I heard a sound like the synthetic squeal that a cassette tape makes when it is suddenly stopped.

And there in front of me was the tree. I knew this tree. I looked around. It was now evening. I was in a field of grass, trees here and there, paved paths going in various directions. This was Cisco Park. While I was running through that imaginary void, I must have also been running, in another sense, right here from La Crème de la Café. It was now the evening of November 3, 1996. I was standing in front of a tree at Cisco Park. I had reached my final destination. I sat down on the ground, pulled the lighter and cigarettes out of my pocket, and lit one.

Next chapter: The Tree.

(c) 2021 Michael J. Scholtes

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