writing day

Michael and Anne and the kids--Aaron, Katie, Adin, and Elise--arrived yesterday afternoon, surprised and happy to see me. But before they tumbled in I had time to work on another story, one I've been thinking about as I walked:

Self help

It was shortly after moving into his new apartment that he started hearing the voices.

He was so excited about having a place of his own that he didn't notice them at first. Then he became aware of something that sounded like a low hiss. He started looking around for a leak of some kind, dreading some hidden flaw in his new home. But he could find nothing.

Soon the sound was barely audible whispers. This made him suspect that he might be hearing his neighbors' conversations, but he couldn't make out any actual words. He crept to the wall and pressed his ear against it. But the sound didn't seem to be coming from there. He walked around the apartment, listening. The faint whispers were heard in every room, but always from somewhere behind him; when he would turn to follow the sound it would slip away. Then it was behind him again.

For a week he considered the possibility that his new apartment was haunted. Because he didn't hear any whispers when he was at the office, or even on the drive to work. This thought seemed ridiculous, but he had seen too many horror movies for it not to at least enter his head. He began to work longer hours, simply to avoid going home, though every night he convinced himself that wasn't the reason. And he even briefly considered moving out, despite his lease.

But soon he began to hear it on the way home from work. Then there were whispers when he was still at his desk, or in a meeting. And by this time, the voices at home were noticeably louder, like the murmuring of a restless crowd. Not only in the apartment, but also when he went running, or to the park to read. He began to worry about his mental health.

So he went to the bookstore, a large, plush store that had a coffee shop built right in. Shopping often comforted him. A new purchase was always so hopeful, even if it was just a toilet brush. As he walked through the rows of new books, shiny on the tall hardwood bookcases, he didn't hear any whispers. He found his way to the "Self Help" section. Perusing the titles, he picked two that looked interesting: Listening to Yourself, and Me, Myself, and I (Can't We All Just Get Along?). Then he noticed the classic, I'm OK, You're OK, and grabbed it, feeling optimistic. And as he left the store with his books and a cappuccino, there were still no restless murmurings. He smiled, thinking he may have just taken his first step towards recovery.

But by the time the books were on his shelf at home, the voices were back. Pursuing him. And reading the books was no help at all; he quit before he finished any of them.

It was then that he decided to see a psychiatrist. Making the appointment made him feel better; the sound of the receptionist's voice sounded so confident and professional. The psychiatrist was very professional too. After their first meeting she suggested that his problem may be caused by stress, and recommended that he try spending some more time with friends. So he threw a dinner party. It was catered and everyone admired his new place, and it did feel good to be the host. He remembered reading somewhere, "Who has but once dined his friends, has tasted what it is to be Caesar." But he woke the next morning with the guests gone and the table cleared and the voices buzzing at the back of his head like a hangover.

His psychiatrist prescribed medication. Taking the slip to the pharmacist was comforting, but he had to take the pills for three weeks before he could expect to see results. And then the only result was that the voices were louder, more menacing.

Thoughts of hauntings returned to him; he actually imagined that he might be possessed. In a moment of desperation he went looking for a priest. The church he found was impressively built and the priest was respectful, professional, nodding thoughtfully as he explained about the voices. "What do they say?" the priest asked.

"I can't always make out words, but sometimes it sounds like... 'Not enough.'" Not good enough to sell.

The priest considered that for a moment. "Do you think it could be your own voice you're hearing, maybe? In our culture we're conditioned to push ourselves..." No one is going to pay for this story. The priest recommended that he take a personal retreat. "I know this beautiful place not far from here. A good place to pray."

"Can't I pray at home?"

The priest smiled, leaning back in his chair. "Yes, of course. But it sounds like you need some quality spiritual time. The retreat center is a little expensive, but isn't it just as important to invest for our mental and spiritual health as it is for our physical health?" This is a waste of words. You should be writing something people want.

Ha! But I like the ending!

He saw the priest again two weeks later. "Ah, did you go? How was it?"

"Yes. It was... enlightening."

The priest grinned broadly. "Excellent. I thought it was just the thing you needed to relax and clear your head. Feeling better?"

He didn't know what to say. But then he heard his voice reply, "You're coming along fine, my good Reverend, but you still have a few things to learn."

The priest's smile faded and his brow darkened. "Such as?"

"Such as," his voice answered, "you cannot cast out Mammon with mammon."