Dépaysement

This was a piece I wrote for the show "Are You Scared" by Watcher. (In case you haven't watched any of their episodes, I highly recommend them!) It wasn't chosen to be read on the show, but I had a lot of fun writing it, so I wanted to share it here! The premise of the show is that the stories are written by regular people and found on the internet, hence the first-person narration. I hope you enjoy!



Dépaysement


For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been alone.


Since I was a child, I’ve heard far off voices. Not in a way that would point to something like Schizophrenia, but rather in a way that made me feel like I was hearing something I shouldn’t. As a child, I could only hear these voices when the world around me was silent. When I was sick at home by myself, for example.


I would lay in bed, trying to sleep, but like most kids who are forced to stay in bed when they’re sick, I would end up laying there for hours wide awake. It was in those moments I’d hear them: far off conversations that sounded like a man and a woman were in my kitchen some thirty feet away from my bed. I’d hear their voices but couldn’t make out their words. Cupboards knocked as if they were opened and closed. The conversation would ebb and flow like any conversation would. It was as if everything were normal.


But I should have been alone, and so things were far from normal.


I’d asked about what I was hearing only once, which my parents did not take well. I was a sickly child when I was born, requiring an emergency c-section birth after my heart stopped while still in the womb, and so my parents always handled me like I would fall apart at any second. After the mountains of negative tests and psych evaluations, my parents finally decided I was probably just hearing the neighbors, as they could be quite loud. I agreed with this fantasy, but only because I was tired of the pokes and prods and doctor’s offices.


So, for the next eighteen years of my life, I continued to hear these voices. After some time, they started becoming louder and harder to ignore. In the library, driving alone in my car, taking walks out in desolate areas; the voices followed. For a while, I decided the way to deal with the voices was to just drown them out with noise. Music would always be playing, white noise machines would run when I would try to sleep, and I’d avoid quiet places like the plague. But after enough noise complaints and a warning about hearing loss, I had to learn to live with the voices.


The only time I would ever be granted silence from these voices was during the thunderstorms that would roll through the city a few times a year, though this never gave me comfort. Often, these storms would terrify me, though I didn’t know why. In those moments, I wished I had those voices to distract me from the storm outside.


But when do we ever get what we ask for?


For years, I’ve lived with this arrangement. The voices speak, and I sometimes listen, or I sometimes try to drown them out.


This is how life was for so many years, but three weeks ago, the status quo changed.


I was clumsy. Too much soap on a dish while trying to simultaneously shoo my cat off of the counter. The voices were chatting idly, which I found myself listening to partially. I couldn’t catch the plate as it fell, and as it smashed against the floor, the voices stopped. For a long moment, the only sound was the water running in my sink. And then, the woman’s voice came through louder than it ever had before.


“Hello?”


I jumped. It sounded like she was right next to me.


“Hello? Is someone there?”


I looked around wildly. Her voice was so clear and concerned, and I had no idea how her voice was so close.


Then, ever so hesitantly, she whispered: “Anna?”


A burning sensation tore at my chest. My name was not Anna, and yet the utterance of the name hurt me in a way I’ve never experienced. I gasped in pain as I ran, grabbing my keys and bag before rushing out the door, away from my home. Away from the voice. Away from what had just happened.


It took a day for me to return, but I couldn’t find peace in my apartment any longer. I lost sleep all week as I tiptoed around, doing my best to be quiet, though the voices didn’t address me again. That weekend, I left. Driving into the mountains, I found myself in a small town, which eased my anxieties some. As I wandered, I happened by a small antique shop, which I decided to enter. All antique shops provide a good hour of mind-numbing entertainment, and that was all that I wanted.


It was cluttered in the way all antique shops are, yet there was something about this space that felt different. The moment I’d stepped through the door, there was silence. Silence from the voices. It was something I’d never known in my life, and I had no idea how to react other than to freeze where I stood. My eyes looked around at the full walls and cluttered shelves, trying to locate the reason for this bizarre experience, though nothing stood out to me.


“You’re a long way from home.” I looked around, startled at the sudden voice in this deathly quiet shop. An older woman stood in a doorway across the room from me, eyeing me intently. Her grey hair was pulled back into a messy bun, her eyes framed by wrinkles from years of smiling, and she was covered in a heavy purple tunic, giving her a friendly grandmother sort of look.


I laughed awkwardly, trying to hide my startled reaction. “Yeah, just visiting for the day, you know?” I rubbed my arm as I watched her, her eyes intently focused on me.


She looked me up and down before giving a sort of… knowing smirk. “That’s not what I mean, my dear,” she countered as she watched my face, looking intently at my expression. My face turned to one of unease, and I took a small step back.


She watched me carefully before speaking again. “Must be nice in here. So quiet compared to what you’re used to, isn’t it?” She smiled sweetly again, and though it was genuine, the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end.


“What,” I asked, feeling incredibly exposed to a person who should know nothing about me. She brought a hand up to her mouth, looking me up and down once more before turning around, walking deeper into the shop.


“A cup of tea is in order, I think,” she called behind her, disappearing behind another doorway. My mind was screaming at me to turn around and walk out of the shop, but a small part of me wanted to know how she knew what she knew. How she’d pinpointed my deepest secret without more than a look. And so, indulging that tiny voice, I followed her into the store.


I found her sitting at a small table; two teacups, a teapot, saucers, and a tin set before her. She gestured at the open chair opposite her, and I sat down. In the tin were various types of teas, all of which were packaged nicely. She pulled an envelope of green tea from the tin, and I grabbed an earl grey. I looked around the small room as she poured hot water into each cup, not sure of what to do or say.


“Why is it so quiet,” I finally asked, still marveling at how many sounds I could hear now that disembodied voices weren’t taking all of my attention. She smiled and pointed to something behind me. I turned and saw another doorway with markings etched into the frame, carved with a careful and steady hand.


“Wards are an amazing thing. I want to ensure everyone who comes here finds peace, no matter what their situation is. Luckily, these wards are powerful. Even for you.” She pulled out a small crystal container of sugar to replace the tin between the two of us.


“For… me? What do you mean by that? Who are you?” She looked at me, sitting back in her chair while I stared at her intently.


“My name is Marnie, and I’m a medium. I’ve seen just about everything when it comes to this world and the powers that operate in and around it, so trust me when I tell you: I believe you’re in danger.”


I felt myself fall back in my chair, looking at this woman in disbelief. “You don’t know me. You know nothing about me. How can you feel so confident saying something like that?”


She spooned some sugar into her tea, stirring it before taking a small sip and nodding with approval. “Tell me, these voices, how long have you heard them? And when did they start becoming more responsive to you?”


I shook my head, my eyes stinging with incoming tears. I would not talk about this with a woman I didn’t know. Even my own parents were unaware of all of this.


“What are you talking about,” I asked, though not very convincingly.


The woman smiled her knowing smile once more, “My dear, you are a lost child.”


“I’m sorry?”


“A lost child. You were meant to go to another place, but you didn’t make it there, or rather, you made it there but were stolen back. The voices you hear are from the place you were meant to be, but were stolen from. You exist, in essence, between two places.” She took a sip of tea, eying me intently.


“What… what does that even mean?”


Marnie smiled slightly, looking sad. “Everyone has an existence, which has many entrances and exits throughout. Some of the lives we’re meant to have are short-lived, while others can last a century or more. Sometimes, though, we don’t make it to the place we’re meant to go, which then derails our existence. Ergo, we become lost.” Marnie took another sip of tea before she continued. “In some instances, the connection we have with our lost life is not severed fully, which is what you are experiencing. You have been listening to the life you were supposed to have.”


We sat in silence for some time following that statement, as I processed what she had said while she waited for my response. Finally, I began to laugh, the laugh becoming more and more hysterical until I’d run out of breath. I stood to leave, my body practically moving on its own.


“Yeah, ok. Sure.” My hands shook as I grabbed my things. Part of my mind screamed to sit back down and get more answers, but a louder part screamed to get out of there. The safety I’d felt when I entered the shop had vanished, and I needed to get away. Marnie watched, sipping her tea quietly. I turned my back on her and I heard her cup return to the saucer.


“When you’re ready to hear more, come back.” Her voice was quiet, but sure. I nodded, my back still to her, before I began walking to the exit.


“A warning, before you leave,” she called, halting me at the door. “The place you were meant to be, these people don’t take their citizens being stolen well. They’ve been searching for you, and with your connection now, they will find you sooner or later. If you hear a storm, run. That’s a sign they’ve come searching for you. And watch for the owls. They will be the ones to steal you away.”


I turned back to look at her. She looked concerned. Scared.


“Storms and owls,” I asked, my voice quiet.


“Thunderstorms. It’s nature’s reaction to a hole being ripped into space and time. The owls are their hunters. Silent and accurate. Don’t take it too literally.”


We regarded each other for a moment, and then I left, leaving Marnie to stare after me as I walked down the street.




Several uneventful days passed. Then, two weeks after the kitchen incident, I had a nightmare: figures in the shadows reaching for me as I ran from an unseen pursuer, Marnie’s voice dancing all around me with her cryptic warning. It was the most terror I’d ever felt in a dream.


A loud noise startled me out of the dream, which I was earnestly thankful for. I sat in bed; my breath short as I tried to slow my racing heart. It was a good minute before I’d calmed down enough to take in what was going on around me: a large thunderstorm was raging outside. Rain plastered the window in a way that made it look like rivers were descending the glass, the trees outside shook violently with the wind, and the thunder was the loudest I’d ever heard. The storm itself was the worst I’d ever seen.


A crack of lightning brightened my surroundings, and from the corner of my eye I saw something standing in my room. I turned to look, but the light had dissipated, leaving the room dark. My heart began to race, my breath caught in my throat, and my muscles tensed, freezing me solid to where I was.


I heard it in the stillness of the room: breathing. Slow and steady. Another crack of thunder and a flash of lightning crashed together, illuminating the room and drowning out any sensible thought I had. In the corner of my room a person stood, massive and formidable. They were cloaked in a feathered shawl, which moved with every breath, the feathers shaking almost with anticipation. Their face was covered by a mask, which looked like an owl’s face. The mask’s large and unblinking eyes stared at me as I sat there, my fear overtaking me.


The lightning’s light vanished, cloaking us in darkness again. The storm began to quiet, and for a moment, everything was still. Then, as clear as if she were beside me, the woman’s voice whispered: “Anna. It’s time to come home.”


The thunder became deafening, the lightning too bright, and my body finally began to move. I ran, evading the figure in the room, who had lunged for me in that moment. I took my keys and ran, making it down to my car before driving off, the masked figure staring at me from my front door as I fled.




It's been five days since then. The storms have come every day. The moment I hear them, I get in the car and drive. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve fled too far from Marnie, and I don’t know if it’s safe to go back. They will keep coming, and I can’t run forever. They will find me, and on that day, I fear the worst.


If you hear the voices, if the storms seem to follow you, if what I’ve written sounds familiar, run. Run now, because you will be found. If you’ve ever felt like you weren’t alone, you weren’t. You never have been.





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Cover photo credit: Pat Whelen

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