Voices: A Novel Excerpt by Cat Matchuk

Below is a large majority of chapter one from my unpublished novel: Voices.
I’m excited to take up this project again, and will be determined to turn this into my debut full length novel if it gains enough popularity. Enjoy!

          “I liked you better when you were just a voice inside my head.”

          “Don’t be like that after everything we have been through,” Echo tells me mockingly. I briefly cast a sideways glance at her. She appears to be staring intently out the window, lost in thought. The setting sun casts low flashes of light across her features and illuminates a small smile tugging at her lips. The bus comes to a shaky stop, letting a wobbling old man climb aboard. As the bus slowly begins to accelerate, he walks along the crowded aisles until he’s standing in front of me.

            “May I sit there?” he asks, nodding towards Echo. Echo laughs loudly before leaning in to whisper, “tell him it’s taken,” in my ear. I flinch involuntarily, earning a quizzical look from the man.

            “Sorry,” I begin, “it’s taken.” He raises an eyebrow at this, but does not question it further. He begins to stagger to the back of the bus, muttering to himself.

            “Oh, Ransom, I believe I heard that gentleman swear at you,” Echo says and shakes her head disapprovingly. Always trying to instigate. Always trying to make me look crazier than I actually am. “It is a good night to be insane,” Echo says, leaning back comfortably in her seat.

            “I beg to differ,” I mumble in response. “I don’t want to look like a dick, you know.” I retort, slouching in my seat in an attempt to dodge the wandering stares. The rest of the bus ride is spent in silence. Occasionally I check the seat next to me to see if my nightmare is gone, but Echo is still there. Silent, but present.

            As I hop off the bus at my stop, Echo is already outside, leaning against the street sign. “You are so boring, let’s go out!” she tells me enthusiastically as I walk pass her.

            “I really don’t feel like it, Echo.” She wails obscenities loudly in response. She twists her fingers in my leather jacket and tugs, then picks up a rock and throws it at a car’s windshield, causing the alarm to screech in protest. And I’m the crazy one? “Seriously, Echo. Dig your claws into someone else if you think I’m that boring.” Her wailing stops and she flings an arm around my shoulders.

            “But you’re my best friend.” She pulls me in close, attempting to bite at my face.

            “Ugh, just get off!” I push her away, but my hands just wave feebly at the cold night air. “You’re not real.” I whisper, more to myself than her.

            “Oh my,” Echo says sarcastically, suddenly appearing on my other side, “people are staring at you.” Story of my life. I’ve given up on trying to hide it. I quicken my pace as the outline of my apartment comes into view. A safe haven from the cold night.

            “They don’t have annoying hallucinations to deal with.” Echo brings a hand up to her chest in mock pain.

            “Ouch. That hurt, Ransom. You know what? Maybe I don’t feel like sleeping tonight.” And there it is. A threat. If she’s awake, I’m awake. I pull out my keys, insert them in the door and let out an exasperated sigh.

            “You know what tomorrow is, Echo. I really think –” I stop suddenly and spin around. She’s gone. “Echo?” I question the night, looking up and down the deserted street. Gone. I slip into the dark abyss of the hallway and climb the stairs to my apartment. And still I am alone. I unlock the door and slip in, glancing behind myself nervously. I bolt and lock the door before leaning against it, letting out a sigh of relief.

            “I don’t fucking think so.” My eyes snap open instantly and I find myself staring into the cold grey eyes of Echo.

            “Not again.” I whisper to the air, but the only response I get is maniacal laughter. Cold, hollow and echoing against the walls. I was naïve to think it would be that simple.

#

            I can barely drag my body out of bed this morning. My eyelids, dark and heavy, refuse to open. Echo has her legs swung over my chest, squeezing the air out of my lungs.

            “That was fun,” Echo says in a chipper voice. “I’ve missed torturing you. Call me sadistic but I think that was a turn on for me.” She says this with a sincere smile, to which I frown. Something I don’t need to hear. I have a couple hours to get ready for the funeral. I begged Echo to let me sleep, but she was persistent. I would ask her nicely to stop banging pots and pans, but she’d just do it louder. I reminded Echo we had a funeral to go to tomorrow morning. She would agree, wait for me to start drifting off to sleep and then scream loudly in my ear.

            My life is hell.

            “Echo get off of me, seriously.” Echo huffs but obliges by swinging her legs around and placing her feet on the floor. She slithers off the bed.

            “Now that your mother is dead, I’m all that you’ve got.” Sadly, she’s right. I roll out of bed, my knees buckling as my feet hit the ground. “Maybe I was too harsh on you. She was my mother too after all. I’ll leave you alone for a bit.” I wish I could formulate a response, but I just don’t know how to react. Echo has been by my side ever since my thirteenth birthday, she’s the closest thing I have to a sister. I wish I wasn’t so crazy. I wish we met under any other kind of circumstances in which I might’ve called her friend, instead of demon. At least, for now she leaves me alone to shower and get dressed.

#

            My sanity is no longer with me. Fatigue masks my emotions, leading me into a gentle and numb state as I leave my apartment.

            It’s a chilly morning, somewhere between autumn and winter. The gray sky seems to glow brightly against the silhouettes of the trees. As I walk along the railroad tracks I kick stray leaves out of my way. My legs stop and I inhale deeply. I exhale, watching my warm breath mingle with the cold air and flow upwards into the sky. I’ve thought about this before of course.

            Many times.

            But when I woke up today I realized something so obvious. So embedded in my life, perhaps it was too close to see. I’m crazy. A paranoid-schizophrenic to be more specific. What sane person would interact with their hallucinations?

            Instead of walking straight to the funeral home, I take a detour through the wooded area. I jump on the railroad track and begin to tightrope my way across the length of it. I hear a heavy sigh beside me.

            “You know you don’t want to do this. You know it and I know it, so just get the fuck off those tracks.” I laugh quietly to myself. She almost sounds desperate. Maybe Echo, my hallucination, is afraid to live without me. Would I be a hollow shell without her, or would it be Echo undefined without me? I take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of it all. This isn’t a time to get philosophical.

            Without saying another word, I lie down across the width of the tracks, my head resting on one rail. The cold metal seems to pin me in place. I shift my weight a few times, attempting to get comfortable. Something’s not quite right. I lift my head, and struggle to slip off my hideous, and uncomfortable, black dress shoes. They land in the dirt with a soft thud. I lie back down and sigh with relief. With hands clasped loosely on top of my stomach, I am ready. I close my eyes.

            “Alright,” I hear Echo whisper above me in frustration, “I never took you for a selfish bitch. You want your family and friends to deal with two funerals? Fuck you.” I open my eyes to find myself staring face to face with Echo. She looks down at me apprehensively.

            “Did you even check the train schedule?” She asks, raising a questioning eyebrow. “Because,” she continues, “this is a very poorly planned suicide.” I can’t help but roll my eyes at her.

            “Yeah, well. I’m a patient person,” I tell her as I shrug my shoulders. The icy track seems to dig even deeper into my skin. “So go away.”

            I close my eyes again, enjoying the silence that follows. Echo leaves my side, but doesn’t leave me entirely. I still feel her gaze piercing my skull. The morning sun warms up my skin, only to be cooled by the gentle, autumn breeze. This would’ve been a refreshing morning, if only I lived to see it

            “Please.” I finally hear Echo plead. The sound of her voice is steady. It’s unsettling, but I can’t tell what Echo is feeling. I know it doesn’t match my own overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Loneliness.

            The feeling of a wet tongue is tickling my feet.

            My eyes snap open to see a pug attempting to devour my socks. For some reason, I find this more disturbing than my suicide attempt.

            “Mugsy!” A voice calls in the distance. I look around for Echo, but can’t find her anywhere. I see a figure weave its way between the trees, growing larger as it comes closer. “Mugsy!” The voice calls again. “Where are you, boy?” I glance towards the dog at my feet. He tilts his head and looks up at me, completely innocent.

            “Well, shit.” I hiss. I scramble to get to my feet. “Shit.” I say again.

            “Hey, are you okay?” I turn around and face the source of the voice. His eyes, one blue and one brown, dart furiously between me and the dog. I don’t know who he’s talking to until he asks again, “Miss, are you okay?”

            I laugh awkwardly in response and bend down to sweep up my shoes.

            “Oh, me?” I question, cradling my shoes to my chest. The concern on his face almost sickens me. It’s a look I’ve been given plenty of times through my life. “I’m good, thank you. How are you?” Instead of answering, he glances nervously down the tracks, reminding me of where I am and what I was doing. “This isn’t what it looks like.” His gaze remains unmoving.

            “I thought I…” He trails off and looks around. I take this opportunity to shuffle away into the woods until I find my way back to the side streets. A minute later, and I’m back on the main street, heading towards my mother’s funeral, shoes still in hand. Echo appears by my side, beaming in triumph.

            “Yes, I’m going. Just behave, please?” I ask. Echo seems to radiate at my discomfort and concern. “Sure, no problem.” Echo says. We walk past a couple people on the sidewalk. I purposely catch their gaze and grin brightly, causing them to look away embarrassed. My smile drops as I turn back to Echo.

            “You see that? They’re staring at me because I’m talking to you!” I point out accusingly. Echo snorts in response.

            “Then don’t talk to me. And maybe put your shoes back on?” I throw my shoes on the ground, and step into them. Echo looks on in alarm. “This is the part where you argue with me,” she says. I am too tired to argue. Too tired to explain that I’m too tired to argue. “Listen, I really am sorry.”

            “Wait, what?” I ask, confused. Echo’s face is etched with genuine concern. “Seriously? Where is this coming from?”

            “Let’s not pretend you weren’t in a dark place just now.” I feel my stomach twist. I choose to ignore her, unwilling to analyze my own choices.

Novel

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