The Voice is soft, plain, urgent. It speaks to me through shadows and sunbeams, reflections and dreams. The words creep in between my waking thoughts, insisting that I dig. I try to tell It to stop, but It won’t listen.
As each minute passes, Its pleas are more frequent. Yet, the Voice never changes its calm, serious tone. It seems I have no choice — none at all — but to listen to It. Not if I want my head to be clear, to belong to me once again.
It attaches itself to my skull like a giant leech and feasts upon my brain, sucking my common sense dry. I roll out of bed and dress quickly: khaki shorts, black t-shirt, baseball hat. My breakfast consists of a large, juicy apple. I choose this particular fruit because I like the way my teeth bite through its tough, red skin. I bite down hard, defiantly, because It doesn’t care that my stomach is empty. It is single-minded, unrelenting.
I head over to my rotting woodshed and grab a rusty shovel. My backyard is filled with weeds and wildflowers that compete for sunlight and water. Their green battle sickens me. Everywhere I look, I see the dried husks of long, stringy grasses and brown daisies. I’m not sure why, but I feel guilt weighing upon my chest like a marble statue.
Before I know it, the shovel is out of my hands; it’s been replaced with a small weed cutter. I grip the tool’s paint-chipped ends and attack the healthy plants until they bleed. Soon I am covered in the remains of dandelions, thistles, bluebells and tiger lilies. Their flowery corpses bring color and shape to my madness. A thin, green fluid runs down my leg. It feels good — necessary — a sign I am heading in the right direction. Down, down. Down I go.
“Okay,” I whisper as I hang the weed cutter on my belt. “I’ll dig.”
The shovel calls to me like a forgotten lover. I clutch the handle and force its rusty tip into the earth. My foot takes its place on the blunt end on the spade. As I ram it into the moist dirt, a warm, familiar feeling washes over me. I have dug before. I have listed to It before.
But I do not remember when or how or why. Only that I’m familiar with It, and I’m not sure I want to be.
I lift spade after spade of root, rock and soil. The hours wither and fade. The Sun laughs at me, for I have found nothing: no bones, no boxes, no clues. He retreats into Night’s comforting arms, threatening to come back tomorrow.
As daylight turns to dusk, my mind burns with a single thought: “Dig deeper.”
My body feels feverish. I cannot eat or drink or piss. I cannot speak or cry for help. I have to dig. Nay, I must dig. I cannot stop. Not yet.
The Moon takes pity on me. She shines down and offers Her silvery support. I pause — only for a moment — to salute Her with a shovelful of dirt. To comfort me, She asks the stars to come out, to add their distant, lonely splendor to Her own.
Judging by the Moon, I assume it’s well past midnight. My body reeks of sweat and damp earth. My stomach grumbles; I haven’t eaten anything except for a single apple. I review my activities for the day: I have dug a hole in my backyard I can no longer see over the top of. Four, maybe five coffins could fit comfortably inside. The thought frightens me. Why do I know that? How?
The Voice implores me to continue, but I am not sure I should. Now I wonder what will happen if I ignore the Voice, if I tell It to find someone else to torment, if I run for miles in any direction.
Oh, how I wish I could but I can’t! A bell tolls in my mind. The sad strains of Death’s mournful song surround It like a ghostly shroud. I’m frightened because I can sing the words to each and every verse. Still, I do not possess the why or how or even when.
“Dig deepest, please.”
Its tone has changed. It is polite, friendly. It relaxes Its grip on my mind and I collapse into a pile of sunburned flesh and muddy clothes. Something sharp pokes my leg. I assume it’s the weed cutter. Blood — my blood — trickles down my leg. Drip, drip, drip.
Suddenly, my world contracts and I have my mission. Questions remain, but I do not care to discover the answers. I will do anything to make the Voice stop.
“Dig deepest, please.”
“Yes,” I reply gravely. “I will dig deepest and be damned for it.” I prop my body up against the side of a dirt wall and carefully roll up my shirt. Closing my eyes, I brush my fingertips over my stomach, searching for a sign.
As soon as my fingers touch a Y-shaped scar, the Voice falls silent. I revel in the peaceful moment, believing that it may be my last. Then, I take the weed cutter, and I carefully run the blade’s sharp edges along the faint incision. I carve deliberately and deeply. I cut something other than flesh. There, beneath folds of skin and fat, is my treasure: a piece of worn paper wrapped in plastic.
I touch the prize. My mind wanders. I picture my library, my flowing black robes and the cemetery next door. Though I am bleeding, I can think of nothing else — an unfinished ritual spoken on the wrong day when the moon was new. I had a bad translation, so I used a red candle instead of a black one and sacrificed a trout instead of a raven. It wasn’t my fault! There was no way to fix what had already been done! It was too late!
I feel It lurking in the back of my mind crawling, slinking, twisting, gripping the inside of my skull like a fat, parasitic worm. Terrifying thoughts burst through the folds of my aching brain: I am not imagining It. Its torment is real. But where is It? Why can’t I see It?
“You know why.”
It answers me and suddenly we are having a conversation. Yes, It has responded. It can hear my unspoken words and I can see visions of Its dark desires. In fact, It has heard me and I have obeyed It ever since…
…the ritual failed.
Truth shines in front of my mind’s eye as bright as the naked Moon up above. I had hidden It, tucked It away, forgotten about It – hoping It would leave and take my sins with It.
“Let me out.”
No, I understand what It wants and that fancy cannot be fulfilled. I would rather die than let It escape into the world. For all my wrongs, for all my murderous deeds, I cannot let It have what It wants.
“Let me out, please.”
Does my fragile Will matter anymore? If I diminish here in this hole, will It slither free? It does not have to answer my questions. Live, die, eat, shit, sleep, wake – stupid and tragic and useless. It must have claimed Victory the minute I brought It forth from the place where nightmares walk beneath hot suns. There is no other explanation. It does not understand the concept of Loss, because It lives on a diet of Tragedy and Sacrifice.
“Let me out, now.”
“No!” I shout at It. I grab the weed cutter and plunge it into my body again, and again, and again. It screeches in pain; Its cry is so loud it drowns my own. Blood weeps from my wounds and gathers in a small pool by my side. Did I get It? Can I die happy and repented?
Wait, what’s this? My heart’s blood is not red – it swirls into a sooty, alien solution. My own, precious juices shine in the moonlight with an otherworldly glow. What madness! I watch in horror as the sticky fluid coagulates of its own accord and seeps into the ground like water drawn to a long-buried seed. Alas! There is no time to stop It! The voice leaves my mind but takes Its just and heavy due.
The last joyous words I hear before my consciousness fades comes not from me, but from It: “Ahhhhhhhh! Deep enough!”
Monica Valentinelli is an author and game designer who lurks in the dark. For more about Monica and her work, visit www.mlvwrites.com.
If you enjoyed this story, let Monica know by commenting below — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.
Story illustration by Miko.