In the afternoon blaze void of any kind of comforting wind, Vince Raines skulked down the driveway of his enormous home toward the mailbox. His fingers dug at the stubble on his cheek, a normally unacceptable look but with the world crumbling around him, he no longer gave a shit.
All the networks yanked their offers. Right after the lawyers revealed the thrilling news, they proceeded to follow the leader and quit. Sinking ship mentality--none of them wished to drown like the Empire of the Spiritspeaker. Throughout the day, more and more ties snapped free until Vince had nobody. Clients cancelled, or started to, until Vince finally surrendered to the inevitable and cleared the schedule for the next two weeks. Thinking ahead, he gave the whole debacle two weeks to blow over. Then, his loyal followers would return, forgiving him for his transgressions, and all would be normal once again.
What a load of shit--no, his career as a "psychic" speaker of spirits crashed so hard last night that nothing short of a miracle (ha) would save it now.
Lacy's guilt affected Vince about, oh, zero percent. The nerve of that girl calling here repeatedly like some lovesick teenager and trying to get him to listen to her attempts at justification just so she could feel better about her self. Pathetic. She made a choice to turn over that tape; hell, she made a choice to keep that tape. Whatever she had to say concerned the fallen Spiritspeaker not one iota. Betrayal at its finest. Part of him admired her for stabbing him so thoroughly in the back like that. Maybe her time with him made a difference after all.
A large black gate loomed ahead of him. Set within the gate, a smaller gate allowed passage for people. Taking his key out of the pocket in his silk robe, he unlocked the gate and stepped through.
Across a street a red pickup truck idled, its door flung open. Vince rolled his eyes, turned toward the gold-plated mailbox. The last thing he saw before the black bliss of unconsciousness was the smooth surface of a baseball mere seconds before it cracked his face.
Waking up was an adventure in pain that Vince Raines preferred not to experience again. His face felt as large as an elephant; blurred vision made seeing anything near impossible except for the vague lump moving around in front of him. A buzzing in his ears irritated him with its constant vibrations rising and falling in waves. Trying to breath through his nose sent a new front of pain across his face; it was like trying to breath through sand. As he licked his lips, he tasted the metallic, bitter blood caked in his goatee.
A high-pitched shriek filled the air, startling the fallen Spiritspeaker. "Liar!" It wasn't so much the shriek that startled him, though; he recognized that voice. "I talked to that girl at work. I told her we were destined to be together. You told me my mother said she was the one! You told me everything would be all right!"
Vince tried to move his hands--a futile gesture; they were bound to the arms of the chair on which he sat. Each twisting attempt at freedom only served to dig the ropes binding his wrists tighter.
"She laughed at me because of you. You and your lies. I believed you. I trusted you!"
Blinking, trying to focus, Vince shook the cobwebs from his mind. He was in some kind of shed. Tools hung from hooks attached to the wall straight ahead--a shovel, a rake, a garden hose, a saw. He couldn't see much more given the whale of a man standing in front of him. What was his name? Ben? John? Paul? Off in the corner of the room a raggedy old lawnmower sat covered in spider webs.
"You--" Vince struggled to find his voice. "The agreement. You read the agreement. It clearly states the reading is entertainment only. Now let me go before you get into even more trouble."
The buzzing in Vince's ears raised a decibel and shifted into a mingling of low buzzing like a bee and static from a poorly tuned radio station. He could almost hear scattered words in the jumbled mess. Voices outside, perhaps, or maybe he was just hearing a radio.
"Don't even care, do you? Don't even remember me, do you?"
"Oh, I remember you," Vince said. "I'm eternally grateful you broke my nose, by the way. I don't need to be reminded of the smell you gave off."
"Vince!" barked a voice from behind.
Vince just sat there and tried to convince himself he imagined it. That didn't work. "Lacy? Is that you?"
"No talking!" the behemoth said.
"Peter, please," Lacy said in a calm voice. "Just let us go. We won't call the police."
Peter! That was his name. "Like hell we won't," said Vince. "Your fat ass is going to jail for a long time. Breaking my nose with a baseball bat. What do you think you're going to accomplish with this?"
He's scared. His entire belief system was shattered with your egotistical outburst getting aired on TV.
"No shit he's scared, he should be--" Vince frowned. "Who said that?"
Tell him it's all right to be scared.
When the voice in Vince's head spoke, the buzzing static died down to an almost infinitesimal level. Of course, there was a voice in his head. That bothered him.
"What are you doing?" Peter lumbered over, slammed his meaty hands on the arms of the chair, which happened to have Vince's arms. Vince grunted at the pressure. "You think you can fool me?"
"Stop it, Vince," Lacy said. "Don't--"
Tell him, Spiritspeaker.
Too loud! The voice in his head drowned out everything around him when it spoke. It had no definable sex or inflection. It was just there amongst his thoughts; only it wasn't one of his thoughts. It intruded on his mind, forcing its way into reality.
"Answer me, you fake," Peter shouted. His hot breath blasted Vince's face, again reminding Vince that a broken nose had its advantages--aside from this pain-induced hallucination. Or maybe the bat to the face knocked something loose; a shard of bone could be digging into his brain.
Vince stared at Peter. "Kill me. The bitch behind me already destroyed everything in my life. Just kill me and be done with it."
Not the effect Vince aimed for, still Peter took several steps back, eyes widening. "And leave her out of this," Vince added. "She has enough weighing on her mind to punish her for a lifetime."
"I don't feel bad about exposing you," Lacy said. "Not one regret. You were hurting people, Vince. Look what you did to this poor man. I was just worried you might do something to yourself."
"You--" Vince started to saying she betrayed him, alas the voice in his head put a stop to that.
Tell Peter I'm here with him, Spiritspeaker.
"Who are you?"
His mother. Tell him I'm here.
I've totally lost it, Vince thought. Having his brains smashed by the tub of lard here had to have crossed some wires somewhere in his mind.
Oh, well. If it'll make this fat bastard kill him faster. Vince said, "Your mother is here, Peter. She says you're scared."
"How dare you speak of my mother!" A screeching monkey would be so turned on right now at the range Peter spoke in.
"Better give me something better than that, lady. He's about to explode."
The park. When he was seven.
Peter thrust his thick hand around the shaft of the shovel hanging on the wall and tried to yank it free from the hook. In his infuriated, red-faced attempt, the mounds of his body jiggled but the shovel stayed put.
"More, lady, more."
A squirrel bit him on the ass while I was changing his diaper.
"You did say when he was seven, didn't you?"
Peter yanked the shovel free and turned toward Vince, death in his eyes.
"Wait!" Vince shouted. "A squirrel bit you in the ass when you were seven!"
The diamond-shaped head of the shovel sliced upward through the air and then halted. Peter stared. Vince took the opportunity to go on. "You still wore diapers then."
Furiously, Lacy whispered, "What are you doing, Vince?"
The voice hammered at Vince's thoughts. All he could do was repeat what he heard. "She regrets rewarding you with all those cookies and cakes. When you were twelve, your teacher Mrs. Moyer called your mother in for a conference because all the kids were making fun of you about your weight. It had become a serious problem, very disruptive to the class. Your mother took you out of school then and decided to home school you--another mistake she regrets. Now she sees how you eat and eat in an attempt to find some hidden reward, but life just beats you down and your waistline gets bigger and bigger."
Peter's grip on the shovel loosened until it fell to the ground with a clank. "No," he whispered. "You're a fake. You can't know all that. Mama?"
"She wants you to call Uncle Eric. He's a doctor."
A frown slowly crept against Peter's features. "I don't have an uncle named Eric."
Vince lowered his eyes, listening. "Don't abandon me now, lady."
"No, I won't fall for this again. I won't let you fool me!"
"She never told you about Eric because they had a falling out when they were in their twenties. She died before she could tell you about him. She wanted you to know him, but she was too stubborn to bring herself to talk about him." Vince rattled off a phone number. "Call him. Find out for yourself if I'm lying or not."
Peter contemplated calling. His beady little eyes shifted with suspicion. He was one of the gullible ones after all; it didn't surprise Vince any when Peter's wide ass finally wobbled out of the shed.
"What was that?" Lacy asked.
"No idea. We need to get out of here before chief ten-chins gets back. Any suggestions? Are you hurt?"
"No, not hurt. He just grabbed me. Broke your nose, did he?"
"With a baseball bat. Major issues."
"Vince, how did you know all that information? I've seen you work magic on a susceptible mark before, but that was far too detailed to be a cold reading."
The buzzing static returned. As he concentrated on the sound, he could make out words here there. They made no sense in such a context, randomly drawn from a sea of millions of words. But the harder he concentrated, the more he felt the static was actually hundreds, maybe thousands, of voices all speaking at once, overlapping, mixing. He pushed the noise aside, finding it rather easy to ignore.
"How are we getting out of here?" he asked.
Lacy scooted her chair around until she was next to Vince. One look at him and her face scrunched into a horrified mask. "My God! You're a mess."
She looked as beautiful as he remembered. Even though she'd betrayed him, the sight of her brought back such strong emotions. Then she started to lean toward his lap, and that, too, brought back some strong emotions. "Uh, now's not exactly the--" She bit into the knot where the rope around his wrist was tied. "Oh, right, undo the knot. I knew that."
After prying the knot loose, Vince undid the other rope and then freed Lacy. Together they bolted the shed, passing by a window that looked into the dingy little house Peter lived in. He was on the phone, tears streaming down his cheeks.
After a few blocks of running, Vince collapsed on the sidewalk next to a payphone. Pain from his face racked his body, weakening him until he couldn't move any longer. "Call the police and report that bastard," he said, struggling for air through his mouth.
Lacy glared down at him with disapproval. "No, Vince. What he needs is help and he's getting that now, somehow because of you."
As people walked by, the static pushed to the back of Vince's mind faded and clear thoughts emerged. Seemingly random thoughts of love and regret, pain and sorrow, flittered through unshielded. Always it seemed like his voice in his own head, but it held that powerful feeling of intrusion. No, this wasn't his own thoughts twisted by some psychotic episode or brain damage. These were foreign in nature. The grammar, the words used, it always changed with each thought that passed--different speakers all with the same voice.
Then a shadow fell over Vince and he heard Lacy in the distance asking, "Who are you?" He looked up, already knowing what he'd find. The girl. The attacker.
"Your old life is over. Second chances are rare. You're free to do as you wish with your new life, but be warned there are consequences. Because of you, Peter's life has been altered forever. Take heed, Spiritspeaker. The lives of many are now in your hands. You've spent all your life learning how to manipulate people, how to talk to people and tell them what they want to hear. Now use that experience, along with your new gift, and return to this world that which you have taken from it."
Vince watched as the girl walked away. Lacy knelt beside him, a curious look on her face. He didn't know whether he'd gone insane, or if perhaps his own worldly views were not perfect. Life, however, was about to get a lot more interesting.THE END
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