Quartteto by venetas
Panting breaths echo in eerie darkness. The pounding of small feet in soft shoes against hard ground accompany the sounds. Running, someone is running, it seems. But who? And where to? Or, what from?
A scuff, a small cry of surprise, a loud thud. Whoever was running has fallen, tripped. On what? In this darkness, it’s impossible to tell.
The heavy breaths continue, and soon, are mixed with hiccups and quiet sobs. Crying… why are they crying? If only there was some light to see by.
It was odd, only being able to hear. Why couldn’t anything be seen, felt–anything? What was happening to this person, so obviously wracked with dread and fear? Could they be helped?
“Would you shut up with all the damned questions? Jesus.”
The sudden voice startled the crying person, causing them to still and attempt to stifle the noises they made.
“Not you,” the voice continued, with a tone of exasperation. “Though crying isn’t going to help you with this. I’m talking about ’20 Questions’ in here.”
Suddenly, the questioning consciousness found its voice. “M-me?” Had they been thinking aloud? Was that possible, for… whatever they were?
“Who else is rambling in here? Sure as hell ain’t me.” The person whimpered, and the annoyed voice groaned. “Trying to be quiet for their sake.”
“What?” Suddenly there was blinding light, but it soon cleared to reveal a blurred, sideways view of what looked like a public restroom. Sideways? Oh–“Why are we in a bathroom? What’s going on? I don’t–”
“What the hell did I just tell you? Shut up!”
And then another voice spoke, soft, sad and apologetic. Where were all these voices coming from? The vision of the blurry bathroom floor and walls shook–the person cringed–and went black for a moment before returning. A blink? “I didn’t know talking would make this happen…”
“It was fine in here until you opened your mouth,” the annoyed one said. “I don’t think this new one was aware, and hell, I thought it was just me. But then you open your trap and scare the poor thing, and now this one is questioning everything…”
“I just woke up myself, I was saying hello…”
“I’m confused, isn’t that understandable?”
The sad and confused ones spoke at once, and the view of the bathroom disappeared yet again until they went quiet once more.
“Until it drives the poor kid we’re in crazy. Hearing voices is kind of a weird thing, don’t you know anything?”
“P-please…” All the body-less voices went silent. This was the first time any of them had heard the person speak. Even the annoyed one, who had been aware the longest, had existed in silence, simply observing.
It was the voice of a young child. A shaky breath followed the stutter, and the worm’s-eye-view of the restroom shifted until it was right-side up.
“P-please be… be quiet for a minute, okay?”
Standing, the child slowly looked around the room. It was empty, surprisingly, but it was also late and in an area of the airport that didn’t have many flights leaving right now–an older section, in serious need of a remodel. All the same, it was large–the confused one now understood how this child could have run for some time without stopping, especially if they’d run into the restroom. They were near the end on the child’s right-hand side. Must have come in from the left.
They walked slowly to the sinks, and the child was just barely tall enough to see their own face in the mirror. Seeing it, however, made them flinch.
The fall had been harder than any of the voices thought.While landing on the smooth tile didn’t cause any scratches, already a bruise was forming, and a blood vessel had popped in their right eye, staining half of it red. Tears still smeared the little one’s face, which was as red as their eye from crying.
The sight of their eye seemed to aggravate the child more, and tears started welling again. Tentatively, they reached for it with a shaky hand. “M-my…”
“A-ah, please don’t cry any more!” the sad voice sputtered. It seemed any time the voices spoke it startled the poor kid. The confused one felt guilty now for its thoughts before–no wonder they’d asked for silence. “It’s okay, it’s okay!”
“But my e-eye…”
“You just broke a blood vessel–prolly when you fell,” the annoyed one chimed in, trying to sound soothing. It didn’t seem to suit them. “It won’t be like that forever. You can still see, right, kid?”
“The blood will go away, and you’ll be back to normal,” the confused one added, wanting to be helpful. A disdainful snort followed the comment. “What?” the confused one asked, indignant.
“Normal is far from what this kid is gonna be,” the annoyed one muttered.
“Who are you all?” the child asked, still looking pointedly at their eye but trying to focus on something else. They began trying to smooth their hair, a messy pixie cut that looked rather slapdash, as if whoever had cut it couldn’t care less–geez, this poor kid, all the voices thought. “Why… why can I hear you?” they whispered, wiping away tears.
Uncertainty. Timidness. No confidence at all. Other than suddenly being plagued by voices, what had happened to this little one?
“Um…” the sad one was just as uncertain. They all were. None of them knew why they were suddenly speaking in this little one’s head, able to see and hear what they did but unable to do anything else.
“Don’t know,” the annoyed one spoke carefully. “I know I’ve been aware since before you got to the airport–” Oh, that’s where they were, the sad and confused ones thought–“this morning, when you were asleep. Do you remember?”
“I think…” Their face scrunched in concentration. “I heard your voice, in my dream. But only a little bit. Then I woke up. At least, I think it was a dream… I can still hear you, and now there’s two more of you…”
“You were sleeping,” the annoyed one confirmed. “When I realized you were dreaming, when you woke up, I decided to just be quiet. See what was happening. I’m speaking for me, but I’m guessing it’s the same for the other two, too. We can see and hear what you do, kiddo, but that’s it. Otherwise we’re just here in… darkness, when your eyes are closed.”
The sad and confused ones mumbled in agreement. “But why are we here? What happened to stick us all together? I don’t understand any of this,” the confused one ranted, voice rising.
“Damn it, I told you to be quiet,” the annoyed one cut off the child before they could finish. “We’re too loud.” And the confused and sad ones suddenly realized that the annoyed one had been speaking in softer, albeit angry, tones for the most part.
“Please,” the child began again. “It hurts… when you’re so loud. Um. I know you don’t know what’s happening. I don’t, either. But yelling…”
All of them were silent for a bit, the child still staring at their eye in the mirror with a torn expression on their face.
“What’s your name?” the sad one asked suddenly, surprising them all. As if sensing this, the sad one continued. “I’m Warren. Since… since we’re obviously together now, at least for the time being, we shouldn’t go on without knowing each other, right? We’ll do our best not to hurt you, or scare you. Or, at least, I won’t. But I don’t like the idea of going on without at least knowing each other, you know?”
The child bit their lip and looked away from the mirror. Taking the action as a rejection, Warren softly uttered an “o-or not” and seemed to pull into himself.
“L-Laura.” The child looked up into the mirror again. The confused one repeated, “Laura. My name is Laura. Warren’s right, we shouldn’t act like we’re not all here. It can’t be good for anyone. Voices may not be ‘socially acceptable,’ but unfortunately… you’re stuck with us. And I promise to try and be careful around you, too.”
The child looked interested, expectant. They were waiting for the last voice, to see what they’d do.
There was a defeated moan. “Just call me Boss.”
There was a collective snort from everyone. Boss acted affronted. “The hell does that mean?”
“Full of yourself, aren’t you?” Laura asked
“It was my nickname,” he grumbled, obviously grumpy and embarrassed at his admission. “Shouldn’ta said anything…”
As they all chuckled at Boss’ expense, the child softly spoke.
“Riley.” They smiled at their reflection, just the slightest bit, the bruise on their cheek puffing out. “Thank you.”
Riley couldn’t see them, of course, but they assumed that the warm feeling they suddenly felt in their chest was acknowledgement.
Warren began to ask where, exactly, they were going, being in an airport, and all–
“Riley?” The new voice had them all startled, and Riley nearly leaped out of their skin at the sudden, actual voice speaking outside of their head. The voice came from the exit on their right–oh, the orphanage woman. She must have been waiting outside after Riley had taken off, claiming the need for “time, bathroom” at the sudden intrusion of a voice in their head.
“The flight’s leaving soon. I know it’s a lot to take in. This is a big change. But you can’t run away, Riley. You have to embrace change.”
Sighing quietly, Riley nodded to their reflection and walked toward the woman sending them to move far away with a relative they’d never met, quietly explaining what had happened to their face as they walked to the boarding area.
They couldn’t run, not from change, not from these voices that came from who knew where. Riley knew that, but had tried anyway.
They only hoped that voices were the least of their problems and, if anything, made it easier to cope with the loneliness that had suddenly been thrust upon them.