Voices In My Head
By Elizabeth Arlen
He came one day when I was ten years old. I had always been my father's kid. Even my mother knew it, I had never belonged to her; he was my favorite, the only one I ever needed. The night he didn't come home, it scared me. It was unlike him, he was a very punctual man and I lingered by the front door as my mother drank herself into frenzy once again. Someone knocked on the door and my mother yelled for me to answer it.
It was my first meeting with the legendary Victor Richards. I knew nothing about him then, but I'd seen him once or twice and heard his name more times than I could dream of counting. My mother turned on the radio in her bedroom, and I heard drunken laughter and bangs that were probably the result of drunken dancing as the strange man stared at me with a somber look on his face.
"Pamela Taylor?" He asked me. I nodded. He had a deep voice that trembled and sounded veracious even then.
"Yes sir," I replied.
"You are the spitting image of your father, little one," He said with a smile. I beamed; back then anyone who knew my father or claimed to had some measure of trust from me.
"May I come in?" I admitted him and he sat down in my father's chair. My mother ambled in holding a coke can. She would pour the coke out in a glass and give it to me before refilling the can with vodka. She liked to think that it fooled my father who simply didn't drink.
"Get this man a drink, Pam. He deserves it in his line of business," My mother said.
"Unnecessary," He told me quickly as I moved to go to the kitchen.
"Get me another one then," She commanded holding the can out to me. The man stood and knocked the can to the floor.
"Honestly, Melanie," He said, "That you would drink like this in front of your daughter!" Suddenly he frightened me and I picked the can up off the floor and set it on the coffee table. He put a hand on my shoulder and gave me a weary smile. My mother collapsed onto the couch. "Melanie, Michael is dead," He said.
"What?" I asked. My mother drunkenly sat up.
"And what stupid thing for you was he doing that got him killed?" She asked. I began to cry. "You've turned her into an orphan," She accused.
"She still has a mother," The man said. My head hurt desperately all of the sudden. My mother got up and walked to the front door.
"She was his responsibility, and now she's yours," She said before slamming the door on her way out of the house. The man knelt down in front of me holding me by the shoulders.
He said softly, "Don't worry, everything will be alright. My name is Victor Richards." I could hear his voice in my head; I will take care of you…My father was dead. Dead…
"Vic-"I couldn't say anything more. He looked at me, as if surprised.
"Yes." He said, "Vic."
Victor Richards spent over a year trying to find a place for me to live since my mother left me. He moved in to my house for a week to clean things up and to help me pack my things. I quickly found that he was a kind man and to be trusted. He treated me like I was an adult, instead of a child. "You're not a child anymore, Pamela, you've got to be an adult now, and take care of yourself." He would say often, more to himself than to me.
"I can do it," I would reply, not seeing any other option and he would smile at me and nod.
"I would expect nothing less from Michael Taylor's daughter," He'd say. When he compared me to my father, I always felt so proud. It wasn't for years that he would tell me the business that he and my father did; little did I know that Vic would take me down the same path years later.
Victor moved me into his house for awhile. I don't remember the exact amount of time that I spent there, but I believe it was only a month or two. Disappointingly, I spent most of my time alone. Vic didn't make me go to school; he said he didn't want me to make friends and get settled because he knew I wouldn't be staying. It didn't bother me much either way. I wasn't ever popular in school; I was the outcast that people were afraid to talk to, and I understand why. "It's because you're so special," Victor told me one night when I asked him what he thought, "There's something about you they can't relate to, and when people feel that about someone, they shut them out." I accepted this, but I still didn't understand what he meant.
Not soon after, Victor sat me down and looked at me in the eye. "I found you a home today, Pamela," He began. My face immediately fell; I didn't see why I had to leave his company, "Don't look at me like that, I have good reasons for not keeping you here with me; it isn't safe for you. It took me awhile to find him, and even longer to convince him, but your father's brother, your Uncle Arthur, has finally agreed to take you in and raise you, provided you are 'quiet and well behaved.' I assured him you were the most polite eleven-year-old I had ever come across, so do me proud, ok?" I nodded slowly. "Cheer up, Pamela, I'll still see you as often as I can and I know your Uncle will take good care of you. You'll move into his house next week."
My uncle, it turned out, didn't own a house; he owned a mansion in the richest part of town. I stood at the bottom of the great staircase leading to the front door, my mouth agape in awe. Ten or so men carried my things out of the car my uncle had sent for me and when I went to take one myself a tall man jerked me away from the car.
"The men will take care of those boxes, young lady," He said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," I stammered. He narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing my appearance.
"Stand up straight," He said. I adjusted my posture and grew increasingly nervous as he walked around me. "Well, you inherited more of your father than your mother, at least in looks, thank God."
"I don't have a mother!" I blurted out, and then I quickly bit down on both my lips. He stopped in his tracks and stared harshly at me.
"Indeed you don't," He said, "But I won't often tolerate outbursts like that, young lady, remember that," I then knew I was looking at my uncle; I was shocked I hadn't seen it before. He shared many of my father's qualities; his dark hair and blue eyes; the lines on his face that I had mistaken for laugh lines were no more than wrinkles.
"Yes sir," I said.
"Follow me," He began the long trudge up the stairs and I followed behind him quickly, tripping over my own feet once or twice in my haste. He opened the door for me and I stepped inside the large, meticulously clean house. Noticing the line of shoes by the door, I slipped my own off and put them in line.
"Untie your shoes," He said.
"Yes sir," I did so and he walked further into the house. I followed him closely up stairs, through halls left and right and up more stairs before we came to a nicely furnished, large room that had all my boxes sitting in the middle of the floor. There was a queen-sized canopy bed in one corner, a large walk in closet, a desk big enough for a grown man and a chair, and a large bookshelf.
"Alright now," He began sitting down in the desk chair, "This is your room…your name?"
"P-Pamela," I replied. He didn't remember my name? Or had Victor forgotten to tell him?
"Yes, that's right, well, Pamela, this will be your room. I expect it to be kept clean at all times. You will find in your closet, your new school uniform; one set for each season of the school year. You will be going to a private school near here that your father and I attended at your age. It is a yearlong school; I have no patience for entertaining children for three months during the summer. We will spend the rest of our day going through and unpacking your things. Then we'll eat dinner and you will retire to your room and start looking over your school materials…"
My life was pleasant enough at my uncle's house, but I always got the feeling that he hated me. We scarcely spoke to each other, and when we did, it was mostly orders from him and myself saying 'yes, sir' again and again. He knew nothing about me and I knew nothing about him. He looked over my homework every night to see that I was doing everything correctly before sending me to my room to study or fix any problems.
School was as distant as my home life. The kids spoke of me, but never to me. There were whispers, laughter, and pointed fingers; once and a while someone would knock my books out of my hands, or push me into the lockers, or jostle me in the halls. The teachers never stopped it; they found me as strange as my peers did.
But there was a light in the darkness: Victor. On the days I walked home from school, he would wait for me at the gate and we would walk to a small apartment he kept near the school. We would drink tea and talk for an hour or so. It was then that he began telling me legends and myths and stories that I never believed, but listened to on the edge of my seat; ready to listen to anything he said simply because he was the only friendly person I had. He told me about the legendary soul-thieves that history spoke out against so often (when there was a crime in the area, soul-thieves would be the first to be blamed). One day when I was fourteen he told me, "They still exist, Pamela, darling, but they live mostly underground or in secret, and you can imagine why. Who wants to be blamed for something they didn't do? Soul-thieves were once thought of as very gifted people. We lived openly and people came to us for help with their problems. But there is always someone who's going to have a problem with people who are different than they are. A man shot a soul-thief in hatred and the soul-thief's sister lost it. She went insane and her magic went wild and killed a dozen people. The world screamed murder."
"Vic…" I said, "Is that story really true?" He set down his cup of tea and stared at me, right in the eye. I stared back at him, unable to tear my look away.
"Ever since then, we've been outcasts and outlaws, deemed as dangerous to the public. Anyone seen possessing the magic of a 'soul-thief' is quarantined by the government and observed for the rest of their life. I have so many friends that I'll never see again," Victor said. I only heard part of what he said; I was hung up on one word.
"When you say…'we,' you mean…?" I asked. He smiled.
"I, myself, am a soul-thief," He said. I gripped the teacup in my hand so hard that it began to crack. Then he began to look concerned, obviously thinking that I would be more comfortable with his confession.
"Pamela? Pamela, are you okay?" He asked. I shook my head and stood up quickly. He followed suit and reached for me, but I shied away.
"I just realized the time, Vic, I really need to go!" I said grabbing my book bag and jacket.
"Pam, wait, I still need to in—" I was out the door and down the stairs before he could finish his sentence. My heart raced and I couldn't think straight, but I needed time to think about everything before I could speak with Victor again. I swallowed again and again, my throat was so dry.
"Excuse me!" I heard from behind me, "Hey, you dropped this!" I turned around and a handsome, red-haired boy was holding up one of my notebooks over his head and running after me.
"Oh, thank you," I said. He wore a uniform from my school and I recognized his face from the high school on the other side of campus. He handed me the notebook and I slipped it into my bag and zipped it up properly. He stared at me, a concerned look on his face.
"Are you ok?" He asked, coming closer to me.
"Yes, I'm fine," I said quickly. I went to move, but he put a hand on my shoulder.
"Tears don't often indicate a fine or happy mood," He said pulling a pack of tissues out of his pocket and handing it to me. I hadn't even realized that I was crying in the first place. But why was I so upset? Just because Victor had told me he was a soul-thief? What did that even mean? Why was I so afraid?
"I-I," I stammered, trying to think of how to explain my situation.
"It's ok," He said, "Don't you go to my school?" I nodded, "Yeah, I thought I'd seen you…But… I don't ever see you with anyone; don't you have any friends?"
"No," I said shaking my head and wiping my eyes, "Nobody has spoken to me but the teachers since I started going to school there," He took my hand and led me to a nearby bench.
"Well, then, we're in a similar boat; I don't have any friends either, so we should be friends and ban together, ok?" I nodded again. He was older than I was and I was suspicious of his intentions (could this be another prank?), but he seemed veracious enough and I tried to smile.
"I'm Pamela," I offered timidly.
"My name is Alan," He replied, "Come on, why don't I walk you home?"
"That'd be great, thank you," I said.