This story is by Peter Leslie Watson and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I had been aware of the Voices for as long as I could remember. To begin with, they were external. Then, some moved inside my head. One refused to leave.
Mostly, they seemed to be telling me what to do. Let’s get your nappy changed, Susie. Time for beddy-byes. Cootchy, cootchy coo! Much of it was gibberish. Perhaps they were simpletons. But they were kind, so I went along with their chatter.
As I got older, the Voices took on a sterner tone. Don’t touch the fire. Don’t pull your brother’s hair. Don’t throw your food on the floor. Even at a young age, I understood that the Voices sought to control me, to limit my behaviour.
At school, things got worse. Don’t run in the corridor, Susie James. Stop talking. Senior school was so regimented I thought I had somehow ended up in prison. So many rules and all those bells to signal time to change class. Have you done your homework? Detention for you, young lady.
At least I had a social life, although the Voices certainly sought to control that. Where are you going, Susie? You don’t think you’re going out looking like that, do you? Who are you going with? Be home by ten-thirty.
University brought freedom. No Voices told me where to go or when or with whom. While lectures and tutorials had to be attended, they were few and far between. Don’t forget to hand in your assignments, Miss James. There were not too many assignments.
But freedom brought its own problems. I had grown up in a conservative family that was disinclined to break the rules. At uni, I was free to make my own decisions—for better or worse.
“Hey, Susie, come and have a drink with us.”
This group of students had plenty of money, cars and exotic tastes. I thought they were exciting—even a little wild.
“Come on, Susie, everybody tosses back ‘shots’.” So I did.
I drank way too much and barely made it home safely. That’s when I discovered a new Voice inside my head.
Don’t drink so much. Don’t walk home alone at night.
The next day, reflecting on the risks I had taken, it crossed my mind that the Voice might have a point, but I parked that thought in a dark recess of my mind.
“Come on, Susie, it’s only cannabis.” So I smoked it. And other stuff.
When are you going to learn your lesson?
“Come on, Susie, everybody has sex.”
“Not me. I don’t want to get pregnant.”
“You’re not on the pill?”
“But you can’t get pregnant the first time anyway. That’s a medical fact.”
So I did it—and I got pregnant. My parents are going to kill me, I thought.
“Don’t worry,” said Timothy, “My father has connections. He can arrange for an abortion.”
“I can’t afford an abortion!”
“Dad will pay. He wouldn’t want me lumbered with a baby.”
I burst into tears, but I had the abortion. I had no choice: I couldn’t tell my parents and had no-one else to turn to. I did wonder how Timothy knew what to do.
Then I went on the pill.
These people are not your friends.
I believed this Voice wanted to protect me, but I had not listened and it was getting more persistent, more demanding, sometimes with malevolent undertones. My head became a battlefield for my friends and the Voice. They were tearing me apart.
I did try to break free.
“I don’t think I can hang out with you all anymore. You keep getting me into trouble.”
“You can’t do that, Susie. You mean so much to us. What would we do without you?”
I was popular. I fitted in. I was having fun. And I loved my freedom.
“OK. You’ve convinced me,” I conceded, against my better judgement.
Are you sure they’re not just using you?
Perhaps they were.
“I have news,” I announced to my friends at the end of term. “I’m transferring to Bristol for my final year.”
“Oh Susie, that’s terrible. We’ll miss you so much.”
“Let’s throw her a farewell dinner on Saturday, before we all go home.”
“Thanks. That would be great.”
Big mistake! Just drop them. Be rid of them for ever.
But I didn’t listen and I went to the dinner at an out-of-town restaurant. I had a really good time.
“Would you like a ride home?” Alasdair asked.
“Thanks. That’s kind of you.”
We were both very drunk. It was pitch black and he was driving far too fast.
“Alasdair, please slow down. You’re scaring me.”
“I haven’t had that much to drink. I can drive just fine. I’ve never had a problem.”
Suddenly, a pedestrian materialised in front of the car, slammed onto the bonnet, flew into the windscreen, careened over the roof and crashed onto the road behind us.
I screamed. Alasdair screeched to a halt and we ran back to the body.
“God, his head is all smashed in,” gasped Alasdair. “I can’t find a pulse. I think he’s dead.”
Don’t listen to this spoilt good-for-nothing brat? Find a telephone box and call for help.
“He may not be dead. We must call an ambulance.”
“No way! The police would get involved. I’d get arrested and go to jail. My life would be ruined.”
Don’t let him talk you out of this.
“We have to! This man may be dead.”
“That’s the point. No-one must ever know about this. We have to get rid of the body and the car.”
Drunk, confused and frightened, I couldn’t find the courage to do the right thing. I followed Alasdair’s instructions in a blind stupor.
“We’ll drag the body deep into the woods and cover it with piles of branches and leaves. No-one will ever find it.”
Then he drove the car to a nearby lake and set it on fire before we pushed it into the depths.
“We must go home separately,” ordered Alasdair. “A taxi, even if we found one, would leave a trail.”
Now he leaves you in the lurch!
The next evening, I learned from a friend that Alasdair had already left town. Later, I heard that he had started a new life in Australia.
The Voice continued haunting me with the hard questions that I did not want to face, but I did manage to rebuild my life and became a well-known author of children’s books.
You’re enjoying life too much. Here’s a reminder of your secret. Surely you didn’t think I’d forget.
And I was plunged deep into the nightmare of my secret. I woke in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, terror-struck at having had to relive that dreadful night. Malevolence was mutating into cruelty. I had always feared my secret would be revealed, but with my unindicted co-conspirator safe in Australia, my chief worry now was the Voice.
Then the mind games began.
An anonymous letter with an Australian postmark arrived, cut-out newspaper letters on ordinary cardboard. ‘I have never forgotten what we did. I cannot live with it much longer.’ My heart skipped a beat or three. It had to be from Alasdair. If he had a crisis of conscience and confessed, I would be in serious trouble.
I had no way of contacting him. All I could do was wait.
Four months later, a second letter arrived. ‘I have terminal cancer and only months to live. I cannot go to my grave knowing what we did, so I have left a letter for my solicitor to send to the Metropolitan Police upon my death. Sorry. You will just have to deal with it.’
I was distraught. I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t write. I thought about getting professional help, but what we had done was too awful to acknowledge, too dangerous to reveal.
This time, I made every possible effort to find him. To no avail.
He’s too clever for you.
I had no idea what to do.
The only thing to do is sell up and flee the country.
Right, but did I have enough time?
A third letter answered my question. ‘I have days to live.’
Time was a luxury that I did not have.
How are you going to get out of this mess?
I couldn’t risk the police acting on Alasdair’s letter. They would soon track me down and arrest me. As an accessory to causing death by dangerous driving, I would serve years in jail.
Reverting to my university behaviour, I got exceedingly drunk. Then I got everything ready to take an overdose of sleeping pills.
In Australia, Alasdair was reading an online British newspaper headline: “Author Susie James found dead of an overdose. No apparent motive.” He heaved a sigh of relief. She was the only witness to his crime. The cancer ruse had worked. He was home free. The years of being stalked by fear were over.