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Shallow Grave (part 8)

Shallow Grave

Part 8

Thadd Presley

I never had to sign my name in blood to hear the voices. The voices have always been in my head, loud and clear, before the man came. While in my early teens, I listened to what they told me while dreaming of the day I would publish their lives in my stories.

I never thought I would publish a book every year? I didn’t know the public would enjoy the stories as much as they do. It never occurred to me that I had a future doing what I loved. I didn’t believe in myself, which is why I took the deal – if that’s what it was. I swear to you I didn’t realize at the time.

The voices didn’t care one way or the other. They were part of my life and I accepted them for what they were: a universe of characters swirling in my head, living out their lives for me to document. After the man talked with me, the voices became louder over the years, and now they grow more commanding everyday.

It seems lately that I don’t have a moment of quiet.

Usually, the voices took their turn. I wrote their stories and, once I had their voices on the page, they would quieten down again. Some had overlapping stories, since many of them lived in the same area, practically the same town. But, lately — and especially on nights like tonight — no amount of writing, no matter how much I wrote, could quiet the voices. They grew louder and louder. Underneath I heard a deeper fear than usual.


I began writing early this evening, my regular time, because I wanted to finish a story contracted through a horror magazine that my publisher told me would really pay off in the long run. I needed to get it written so that I could write my column for the local newspaper. But, it never became possible. I have been constantly interrupted by a small female voice. Mingled within her lightly spoken words has a loud cracking voice of an elderly man. They have kept up a running dialog in my head all evening and after just a few hours, they had taken over my head completely. I heard nothing but what was happening in their world.

Lydia, don’t you love me?” the old man asked again, possibly for the twentieth time. He spoke with a cracked voice between labored breaths. I clearly saw the bedroom and hospital bed. An oxygen hose hung loosely below his nose. A crown of billowing white hair ringed his head.

Yes, I do Papaw, very much. Now, please, you should sleep. It’s coming up on three in the morning.”

Yes, I thought, please go to sleep. Please, leave her alone and let me get back to my story.

But, Lydia dear, I can’t sleep, darling. Not while he’s here. He’ll take me away if I do. I know he will.”

She stood at the bedroom door looking in on her grandfather. Her face looked pale because of the wet, black mascara trails streaming from her eyes. “There is no one here except us.” She spoke, trying to calm him. She was worried about him not sleeping, because she’d seen this delusion worsen without proper rest.

Shallow Grave (part 7)

Shallow Grave

part 7

Thadd Presley

 

Whether I decided what type of life I wanted to live before I was born or decided through a series of choices made over a number years, does it really matter? I suppose if I had the choice to be bound by Fate or chose my life, I would chose to live a life determined by Fate. Otherwise, I would have to accept responsibility of my choices.

For years, I compared my life against the lives of my friends and family. I realized the same pattern appearing again and again in the their lives. It seemed as if they lived the same day, week, or month in a repeating loop. I felt bad for them, looked down on them, and even thought they were stupid. Something had to be wrong with them. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. But, I realized that they didn’t chose their life, just as the major decisions I thought I had made in my life seemed to be worked out by the time I got the chance to act. All the stress I placed on myself while trying to decide what to do was a waste of time ad energy. The things I wanted most in my my life, once I decided that I really wanted them, were simply waiting for me in the right places. College was there, my career was there, my wife was there, my children were there. Does that mean I was powerless? It seems the only decision I ever really had to make was: be alive.

So, was my life was out of my hands? Sometimes it seemed that way. The many distractions were always lying in wait to take me away from my work, not a moment went by that someone close to me failed to suggest “this” or “that” thing we should do, and for the most part, I was able to roll with the punches and dodged the big ones somehow just before it was too late. I don’t know how it all came together.

Maybe I wanted to believe this because it would mean I wasn’t responsible the decisions in my life. It would free me me from the guilt I’ve felt for so long. But, even while it seemed to be possible, I knew it wasn’t true. I knew I was responsible for the things I did and there was nothing I could be ashamed of more than being afraid to face up to my decisions. I could have chosen a different path if I wanted and I probably should have. I could have been a different person if I wanted.

But, I chose to do all the things I did for a reason. I wanted to get all the things I ever wanted, and because of that I’ve had nightmares for most of my adult life. I’ve feared for my immortal soul every time the lights went out and I stood alone crying out to God for some sign that I’ve still got a soul to cry for.

There were times when I claimed responsibility for all the sins I committed only because I meant I was responsible for the good things that happened in my life as well. It sounded shallow and weak even then, but that’s who I was. I wanted to look big in the eyes of some people, but not everyone.

I saw clearly what fame looked like early on and steered clear of it because it was interfering and imposing. A shadowy figure didn’t have to tell me that I didn’t want to be on David Letterman. That was my choice and it was an easy choice.

A pact with the devil wasn’t the reason I kept my career to myself. The people close to me knew what I did and sometimes knew where I went, but only when they needed to know what I was doing. There wa was no good reason to tell everyone what I did and how I spent my days. I chose not to look for adulation or seek out false praise from people who thought they knew me.

I wanted to be able to live in my small town and remain as low key as possible. It was important to me, my wife, my kids, and my own sanity. Everything depended on my ability to be a normal person, and to be able to live a normal life in my home town.

I didn’t want my name in the tabloids, the gossip pages, all the scandal rags. There was a class of people – a sub-human species of man – who lived off other people; the moochers hunt weaker people and eat everything left behind; the leeches attach themselves onto a person and suck the life out of them, usually it is painless; and then there are the parasites who find their way into a person who has achieved a level of success higher than they are capable.

The prospect of these people getting to me or my family and ruining our lives to make themselves rich turned the mansions and bright lights of Hollywood and New York into mausoleums for hollow-eyed corpses and I didn’t want to be part of it. So, if things turned out the way they did simply because I signed my name on the dotted line, that was just part of my life. Not all of it. I’ve done so much more than that single act.

Shallow Grave (part 5)

Shallow Grave

(part 5)

Thadd Presley

“They offered me Fifty grand. But remember I said I was going to publish it through Amazon? That means I’m not taking their money.”

“Fifty grand? That’s all?”

“Yeah, that’s a hell of a lot of money, Allen. And it’s only an advance on the royalties. I would eventually get more money when it begins to sell.”

“I thought that it being the devil and all that he’d make it a million or something.”

“Well, it wasn’t the devil then, was it. Plus, I’m self publishing.”

“OK. But, you can’t deny that they book was magically inspired. You told me you wrote it in like a week right?”

“I’m not sure. More like a few days.”

“That sounds like magical inspiration to me.”

“First of all, you don’t realize how much I write once I get started. In just a few mornings I can do 20 thousand words no problem.”

“Well, how did this one go? Did you know the whole story before you started or was it…”

“What? Was it magic? How should I know.” Allen looked up then and we both realized it was soon time for the bar to close. He raised his glass and I did the same.

“To us old pal, to you and your writing, to me and my new company, so that the next year is the best we’ve ever had to date.” I smiled and nodded my head.

We both drained our beers.

“OK. So was it.”

“No. It wasn’t magic. It never is. I wake up early and write stories. Coffee, cigarettes, and booze, nothing more.” He was looking at me and I knew he knew when I was lying. “Ok. This time was a bit different. The entire story was in my head that morning. Usually, I just have a glimmer or a scene and after awhile I can tell if it’s a short story or a part of a longer one. Well, I knew everything about every character, every scene, before the first word was written. I even had an address to a publishing house in New York. Avocet! The name was just sitting on my desk along with the phone number. It must have been given to me by someone because it wasn’t in my hand writing, but I can’t remember when or by who.”

“So the guy in your room that night was real and not just your imagination? You knew then that he was some sort of… I don’t know … demon.”

“He might be, Allen. I’m a bit scared and excited at the same time. I know the story is good, hell great, but it’s not worth selling my soul for.” I told him this knowing that I was tempted to send the book to New York just to know what they would say. “The publishers might reject the book.”

“If they do then you know this is all a bunch of crap and you’re no worse of then before. You got a story out of it anyway, right?”

“Right. I guess, if the devil deals with writers then I’m going to be rich.” I still wasn’t sure if I was going to do it, but Allen was sure I would.

“He does,” Allen said and suddenly stood up. We were both pretty drunk at this point and he walked towards the door without looking back. I followed him onto the street, ready for more questions but he didn’t ask anymore about the man or the deal. In fact, I’ve not see him much since that night twenty years ago.

Shallow Grave part 4

Shallow Grave
(part 4)

Thadd Presley

“He told me that all the great writers, those who came before and those still to come, have one thing in common.”

“Yeah, their crazy, like you.”

‘They all hear voices and were considered unstable.”

“And you do hear voices, don’t you?” Allen asked in all seriousness, as if diagnosing a delusional person.

“Yeah, in a way. I mean, it’s not exactly like voices but it’s not me either. Something inside me tells me what to write.”

“But, have you ever told anyone, besides me, I mean?”

“What do you think? If I told anyone I hear voices, they would think I was crazy and lock me up or something.”

“Then what did the man do? Tell me about the man.”
“He said he would give me a story to write and if I wrote it everything I wanted would be mine.”

“Didn’t that seem odd to you? A strange man appearing in your house and telling you that he would give you story and give you everything you wanted?”

“Not really. I mean at the time it seemed normal. I was desperate. I didn’t think. “Everything I wanted’ kept echoing in my head. I was focused on that part. Besides there’s ghost writers and many well known writers buy stories from people who sell stories all the time. It’s usually people like me who really come up with the ideas that make writer into famous best-selling authors.”

“Yeah, yeah. But, so far you ain’t sold shit. Tell me about the deal you made with him. Cause it seems like it was useless.” He smiled. “You’re deal with the Devil.”

“It was not the devil.” I finished the rest of my beer and this time Allen bought the round. “When it came to the story, I thought he meant he would sell me one or tell me one. I didn’t realize what he meant. I had no idea –”

“But, if he would have explained it to you in detail would you have still done it?”

“Yeah, I suppose I would have. I sometimes thought my stories came from somewhere else anyway and I was focusing more and more on the promise of everything I wanted. Anyway, my stories have always came from somewhere else, like figments of my imagination or something, and since this man was probably my own imagination, what did I have to lose.”

“Nothing I guess. Everything, probably.”

At this point, I took a long pull off my fourth beer and tried to change the subject, but Allen was having none of it. “Tell me what you did. I think you made a deal with the Devil and your new novel is what he promised. I think if you publish this book, you will be incredibly rich and famous and you will have then sold your soul. I feel it in my bones.”

“Fine. It makes no difference now anyway. I might have sold it that night.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I did exactly as he asked. I cut my right index finger with my dad’s buck knife, because I write with my left, and when he handed me a small document from his breast pocket.”
“You never told me that before.”
“I’m scared. What if I really sold my soul?”
“What did you do exactly?”
“Well, he unfolded the old piece of paper and asked me very politely to put my sign the bottom.”

“In blood?”

“Of course.”

“And you did it?”

“Damn it, Allen, you know I did. But I swear to God, I thought I was dreaming or having a delusion. I’d been drinking whiskey and I was sleepy. I’d already taken a few pain pills that I’d scored from Daniel so I could stay awake but they weren’t working.”

“OK. OK.” Allen was backing down a bit. He could see my irritation beginning to sow and he knew I wasn’t not a happy drunk to begin with. Allen was my true friend and he could handle me if he needed to but he didn’t want to have to. Instead of backing all the way off, he pressed me further wanting to hear the rest. “How long did it take you to write the novel? The one that you’ve been offered money for?”

“Well –”

“How much did you say they were offering?”

“Damn, Allen, you want me tell you the story or not?”

“Yeah, just tell me how much first.”