I Hear Voices, and now You will too.

By Tammy Poore                        7/2016


Why didn’t I think of it before now? It could’ve solved my writer’s block. For almost 5 years I haven’t heard the voices. And if I don’t hear the voices, my mind can’t contribute the words which travel from the depths of my mind to release from my fingertips as they hover slightly above the keyboard forming stories.

The voices: When did I begin to hear them?

Before third grade, of this I am certain. I remember my first written short story, I emphasize written because I think I have been a story teller since the day I learned to string sentences together. But the writings didn’t begin until I heard the voices. Oh, and how the voices infiltrated my thoughts and spawned characters… I love the characters the most!

They live inside us writers, you know? Their thoughts and beliefs may not mirror our own, but by gosh they are deeply ingrained within us, these characters we create. That might sound boisterous, I am not sure if I CREATE these characters or not. They seem to create themselves, beginning as voices, for me at least that is how they evolve.

Which is how my first written story blossomed, and those voices weren’t even human, the fact is, many times the voices aren’t human, never were and never were meant to be.

You see, my Mom changed our bed sheets weekly, and sometimes I helped, but as you will see I don’t think I was much help at all. I have always been easily distracted. After Mom would remove the comforter, sheets and pillow cases she would spray the bed with Lysol disinfectant. On this particular Saturday morning Mom was obviously trying to humor her young daughter when I inquired about why she always sprays the mattress with Lysol, she answered, “To kill the mites.”

“Mites?” My ears became more alert, “You mean bugs?”

“Oh yes, I mean bugs, so tiny that we can’t see them. There are dust mites, bed mites, skin mites, even eyelash mites. Every living creature has mites, and we are no different. They live everywhere.”

Looking at the mattress was more interesting now, I got as close as I could and looked it over very carefully, “Can we see them with a magnifying glass?”

“No, we would need a microscope, a very powerful microscope.” She was flipping the mattress pad in the air so I had to stop searching for microscopic mites. Mom continued, “We aren’t even aware they are on us, Tammy, as long as we stay clean and keep our homes clean, they can’t multiply and become a problem.”

“What do they eat?” I asked.

“These mites would eat our dead skin flakes, and hair follicles.”

I giggled. It struck me humorously to imagine a little bug holding a dry skin flake up to his mouth like a sandwich… And the first tiny voice overrode anything my mother was saying, and inside my head I heard the voice evoke its own mother, “Mom, this sandwich is too dry.” I giggled again out loud, and heard a mite mother’s tiny voice reply, “Eat your sandwich, Dorp, and stay away from the toxic spray.”

My own mother asked what was so funny. I answered, “What if the Lysol doesn’t kill them? What if it only makes them drunk?” This thought made me laugh even harder.

My Mom has the same sense of humor and imagination, she chuckled and said, “If that’s the case, I guess the mites are having a party.”

And thus The Mites were born. I ran to my room found a spiral notebook and a sharpened pencil and I wrote my first short story about a town whose population consisted of hungry mites, families of mites, who ate dry skin flakes, treated dirty hair strands as spaghetti and drank the ’giants’, (humans), blood every night and day of their short lives, but when Saturday came, oh boy, were they happy, because that’s when the giants came along  with their toxic spray that didn’t kill many mites, in fact, it  made them quite happy and inebriated, as long as they only got a “whiff”, anything more would be fatal, but a small whiff would  do it up right and the mites would dance and party all Saturday night long!

After I wrote the 5 page story I couldn’t wait to read it to my mother as she rested on the couch later that day. I think she still might have my first story, with my exaggerated and messy handwriting.

Every Saturday when Mom changed our bed sheets I laughed as I helped her, and I actually helped more after I invented the mite story, imagining them, hearing them as they would jump on the sheets like a trampoline as we fanned the linen, whipping the playful mites high into the air as they shouted with glee! Our bed mites, high on Lysol, lived the life, let me tell you. In today’s politically correct world, the mites would never make it to a children’s book because of the “bad influence” of a tiny insect world which adapted to the toxic spray by catching a “whiff” to feel the “euphoric” sensation fueled from the poisonous aerosol.

But the truth is, I prefer my politically incorrect, surreal world and all the voices from the characters inside my head. I used to get in trouble for telling my stories, my childhood friends and cousins hated a lot of my stories, and most friends couldn’t stay the entire night during a sleepover because sometimes the voices belonged to evil creatures. Like the Zombie Rooster.

His would be the next voice to be heard. Definitely fourth grade was the birth of the Zombie Rooster. My mother had a pot holder made of cast iron in the mold of a rooster. This specific rooster looked very unfriendly and incredibly angry. I imagined that he got tired of having scorching hot pans placed on him. And he especially hated the smell of his own burnt feathers. He overheard people talking about chickens one day, about how they used to kill them when my mother was young, how my Mamaw would ring their necks and Papaw would behead them. And Mom would laugh because sometimes the chicken’s beaks would open and close after death. Oh how the rooster got mad when he heard THIS! Oh yes I heard his angry voice inside my head, a baleful cluck, “I would ring more than your neck, why I would peck your eyes out of your head!” I heard him clearly and looked at my family gathered in the kitchen, unaware that the rooster was listening, and not only listening he was plotting…and waiting, because he knew on a certain night the moon would be just right in the sky, illuminating the cast iron with a coolness that brought much relief to his scorched feathers. He waited for  an electric storm brewing on the horizon, eventually swallowing the moon whole behind furious clouds.

But the rooster wouldn’t be alarmed, he would be eager, and anxious awaiting the bold lightning strikes, listening to the claps of thunder as the storm got closer and closer, and on one of these nights the lightening would strike close enough for the hot currents to zap the cast iron rooster through the kitchen window, igniting an energy within this tortured creature, a type of life that he had never known but always wanted, bringing to our earth and my home the Zombie Rooster!

He clucked and chattered in a voice only I could hear, planning the violent assault on all the humans he could find. He would only have minutes, because after the storm and just before sunrise he would return to his cast iron state, patiently waiting for the next sizzling, hot, summer storm. But until then he would listen. Carefully, he always listened.

He enjoyed it when I would tell my cousins and nieces and nephews of his existence. I could see the glint in the eye on the old pot holder. That one rooster eye watching and waiting, as he was forever cast in profile, ever listening to our family’s conversations with Him standing proud and erect perched on one foot, with his tail feathers tall and glorious. I could hear him chuckle when I warned of the sharp beak and his razor sharp claws. It sent a shiver down my cousins’ spine to know that when the Zombie Rooster emerged he would grow taller and bigger, almost the size of a child, and when he unleashed his fury no one would survive, no one. Not even me, unless I continued to bring him offerings of cooling, soothing things and promise him one day he would be free of the scorching, hot pans. Free at last.

“The next time I come back it will be your mother’s eyes.” He would seethe at me. But to save myself and my mother I would sit a cold glass of milk on the pot holder and promise I would find a way to free him from the cast iron. ”Then bring me your snotty nosed nephew. Bring him to stay overnight and I will pluck his eye balls from their sockets and toss them high into the air on my beak, and finally when I tire of playing ‘ball’  I will place them in your mother’s refrigerator in the jar with the olives.” And his scratchy voice would fade to a mere whisper as he clucked and watched me with that one eye.

Naturally, my younger relatives did NOT want to stay the night with me, especially on stormy, summer nights. And when they did come to play, of course being subjected to my notorious storytelling, I would show them the cast iron rooster, instructing them to pat him asking for his favor. ” But watch out, sometimes he will follow you and when you least expect it he will show up in random places, marking his next victim with his photographic memory. If you turn around and the pot holder is nearby, then YOU will become his prey!” Naturally, the poor Zombie Rooster never came to life, and soon enough other voices trumped his fowl character and a few characters were even fouler than he.

During this time of my life we lived near the edge of a wooded area and I loved to explore the woods, in spite of the fact that my mother forbid me to go into the woods alone. At times I convinced my neighborhood friends that a black panther lived in these woods and with much anticipation and exhilaration we “hunted” for this panther, this is one tale that I almost convinced myself was true, because anytime we heard a rustle or unexplained noise my neck hairs would stand on edge. I am certain that I loved my own imaginary world as much, and probably more so than anyone else. But the panther never “spoke” to me. I never heard his voice, even though I thought I glimpsed his beautiful and dangerous eyes watching me from his stealthy hiding spots.

As fate would have it though, as I hunted the panther, a voice finally did speak to me. It was a gravely man’s voice. And it came from the tops of the trees. As I would look up into the trees I could hear the voice riding on the wind that whipped the leaves in unison, “I am so hungry.” It would say. For weeks I searched for the speaker who was so very hungry. “Bring me food.” It would demand.

I would sneak food from my meals to the woods, and place it atop the ground covering the roots of this very large, and beautiful tree. Naturally, when I would return the next day or the day after that, the food would be gone.

I decided not to feed the mysterious speaker until he showed himself to me. And this seemed to anger the voice, because he seethed, “You would NOT like what you see!” And the leaves rustled with contempt and the wind would gather speed and I would feel the urge to get away from the tree.

Of course I shared my experience and story with other children, my friends and my relatives and I would let them take food to the tree to leave it for the hobo and without fail, every time we returned the food was gone. I never allowed them to convince me it was small animals that ate the food. “No, he speaks to me, he is an old man.” Because his voice was so gravely. “And I feel him watching me with his bulging eyes.” And he began to come to life, this man. I would catch glimpses of him in the largest of trees. Sometimes I found remnants of his clothing or shoes as I explored the wooded area. He was a smoker because I also found the cigarette butts, and he must have been a drinker because I found the discarded beer cans.

And then one day I heard him say, “I came by way of the train.”

“Oh,” now it made sense. We also lived near rail road tracks, and I would often cross the busy 2 lane road which was heavily traveled by factory workers going to and from work to the plants in the nearby industrial park. As I walked the tracks, knowing the train’s schedule, I entertained myself with the many ideas of what it must be like to travel by train. And as I reminisce at this moment, I can smell the hot smell, heavy with burning oil and coal, a warm scent associated with train tracks. And in fact, when I stood in the woods listening to the voice I would catch the same scent. “Are you a hobo?” I implored.

A scratchy laugh answered my inquiry and I knew I was right.

”Then why do you live in these woods?”

“I am hiding.” The voice of The Hobo breathed. And from that moment, I began to see the balding man, with his burn scars, a foreboding reminder of something insidious, and his bulging eyes and his yellowish, pointed teeth.

My friends dared not go near the woods after I described him. They shrieked, “You really saw him?”

And I did. I saw him…. As I see and hear them all, Inside my head, and they become as real as you or I when they are forming, demanding to be released into my writer’s world.

As the hobo became stronger from my food offerings as much as my imaginings he would come down from the tree tops, still hiding in the bushes, but close enough for me to catch glimpses of his hideous existence, I could smell the earthy aroma mixed with tobacco and beer. He told me, “I hate people.  That is why I hide. They made me what I am.”

He had been burned, caught on fire by a group of teens while he slept in a train car, and that is why he lived in the woods near my house, just until he healed though. Then he would be moving on. But he wanted to get revenge so badly. I, and my group of friends was too young to take his vengeance out on, but he wanted me to bring him teenagers, to lure them to his big tree where he slept even in the rain and storms.

“I want to make them pay, I want to make them all pay for what they have done, all teenagers.”

He was so evil, this hobo, and I would tell my friends to warn their older siblings to stay out of the woods. Because most certainly he would swoop down from the trees and kill them.

As luck would have it my Mamaw came to live with us during this time and silently she observed how I told these large tales, and wrote many more, and how I often got scolded or even grounded for scaring my younger nieces and nephews. Being older, and wise, I believe she realized that the only way to prevent me from scaring the younger kids in the family was to make a believer out of me.

One day as I told my nephew that the hobo was getting very agitated and he even threatened to come out of the woods to get a child to sacrifice, my Mamaw listened. And when the time was right she gathered me next to her and she spoke softly, yet precisely, “Tammy, I hear the stories you tell your nephews and nieces.”

Uh-Oh. Here comes trouble. The adults always liked to scold me for the stories.

She continued speaking, “I have noticed that you will take punishment for telling these stories.”

I nodded agreement.

“Do you know what that tells me?”

I looked into her dark, probing eyes. “What?”

“That you believe they are true.”

I was a little let down. Was that all? Someone had insinuated this before.

But Mamaw wasn’t done speaking, “And I believe some of them are true.”

I felt my eyes open wider and maybe my jaw dropped a little from disbelief.

“Yes, I know at least one of the stories is true, because I have seen him. I have met the hobo myself.”

My heart began to race wildly and I looked at her anxiously. “You did?”

“Yes. I went into the woods after hearing all of these wild tales. And I saw him, just as you described. Balding, rail thin with dirty teeth and even dirtier fingernails.” She held her own fingers up in a claw like pose, “He is a smelly old thing. And the scars on his face and head, that’s why he doesn’t have hair.”

I was speechless.

Mamaw paused and looked towards the window facing the woods. “He is out there. And he isn’t good at all. In fact, I would prefer it if you stopped feeding him. Stop giving him attention. Let him go away. It’s better that the hobo moves on. We don’t want to be associated with anyone with such bad intentions.” She looked at me beckoningly.

I felt a little disappointed, but I listened as she continued.

“Now, I am not going to say anything to your mother or anyone else about this. I want this to be our little secret. But when you see or hear these stories inside your head, maybe the best place for them is on paper in the form of a journal or short story. Your imagination is wonderful, but if it scares others and they get the wrong idea, I am concerned it will cause you unnecessary trouble. Some people do not understand such creative minds. And I don’t want anyone thinking my little Tammy is crazy or anything like that.”

“I’m not crazy.” I defended.

“Of course not and I know that. But not everyone will realize it.” And she kissed my forehead softly and sent me on my way to reflect on what she had said.

Did her lecture stop the voices? Of course not. There was a short period of time when I didn’t hear any, not even the hobo’s voice. I left him alone, as per her request, hoping he would leave the wooded area behind our house. For a while I stopped telling the stories to the younger kids in the family. But I did write stories, mostly for myself, mostly because they demanded to be written, only stopping during short blocks of time during life’s busiest or most challenging moments. I discovered it was just as much fun telling a scary story with full disclosure that it was just a story, for entertainment purposes only. I have discovered many things, that I am most content living in the world where make believe is more welcoming than reality.  If that makes me crazy, so be it.

I have to allow the voices to be heard, I have to nurture the voices and sometimes that means the real, tangible, human voices may have to be ignored from time to time. I have to welcome the voices if I want to write stories.  You see, I have discovered that the voices, the characters, the images and the tales are alive and real, even if it’s only inside of my writer’s world. Which is where every writer belongs.

The End