Prompt: "You've heard voices all your life. One day, you wake up and those voices have become separate, but real, people."
#7: "Zatri's Fate"
[The setting sun sank below the horizon. Zatri lay on her sleeping pallet, deep within the world of dreams. Bethar did not sleep, but kept watch at the mouth of the cave. The matter wasn’t finished, but he would not wake her to dredge it up again. They would have words in the morning, for certain. Tonight, he would think and plan.]
I saved the document on my laptop, smiled with pride at the paragraph, then entered, just on a whim, two more lines for a chapter break, and the words “Chapter 6”; like Bethar, I was planning for the future. Not just theirs, but the future of their whole world, the future of all Denizen.
I had been writing and rewriting this story for as long as I could remember. It started as just Bethar; he was my alter ego, my role in the game of “Pretend.” I would hear his responses to invisible villains and noble compatriots as I went through the motions. Nobody else really understood my games, at least, not enough to take me seriously. As I got older, Zatri joined him, a desperate, determined foreign princess who needed Bethar’s skill to survive the treacherous journey back to her father’s palace, until at one point I decided that perhaps she ought to stay with Bethar, and so Zatri took over as the main voice in the story in my head, and more details about their world, called Denizen, came to life in my story. The more I wrote, the more the story morphed and changed. Lately, the two had begun to balance out as equals in importance, and at one point, I had Bethar demanding the truth out of Zatri, but instead of telling him, she had waffled about her feelings until she went to bed. I figured I had drawn out the chapter long enough, and I could end it with a sleeping scene—except Bethar; for some reason it didn’t feel right for him to be sleeping along with Zatri right now, not with the unresolved tension.
Unfortunately, unresolved tension in my writing meant that my brain busied itself coming up with every possible scenario for a way the ensuing conversation could play out. This was the sixth rewrite, after all, and there was so much possibility in just these two characters.
I tossed and turned all night, and by the morning, I hated everything. I hated all sounds, all light—and I needed coffee!
I rushed a comb through my hair, threw on some comfy clothes, and slouched my way down to the coffee shop on the corner outside my apartment. One caramel-sauce-americano-with-whip later, I felt some of my sanity and focus return. The babbling of sixty-four possibilities vanished.
That left only one.
“We need to talk.”
It took a few seconds to realize that the voice hadn’t happened inside my head. I glanced to the side. A man stood there, dressed in some kind of formal linen tunic. I raised my eyes upward, taking in his broad shoulders, the way he held his arms like a man with plenty of muscle, the way the collar that folded down just so, up to the scruffy, ill-trimmed half-beard covering the lower part of his face, and the piercing green eyes.
Exactly how I described him in my book.
I just about threw my coffee at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. He sat down across from me, holding my gaze with such eloquent agitation on his face that I could practically predict what was going on in his head, exactly as I had narrated for so many years. Words were never his forte, I had seen to that.
“See here,” the man spluttered, leaning in, “I need to know!”
“You!” I still hadn’t quite recovered, although I had made sure to finish my coffee before anything happened to it. “Y-you're...” Could I say it? Suddenly I was the one without words. “You’re Bethar!”
He gave a little frown with only his brow. Oh heavens! He still had the little scar on his forehead from when I had pretended that the blackberry bushes hid an ambush, and attacked them as Bethar! My scratches had healed in a matter of days, but I had described the fight in much greater detail the third time around, giving him the scar right across his temple.
“Of course I am,” said Bethar. “And you are... well, I don’t know your name, but you know plenty about me.” He shook his head. “I have carried your voice in my mind for a long time.”
Oh, this was too much!
“How did you find me? I’m Rose, by the way.”
Bethar seemed to completely ignore the people around him, as much as they ignored us.
“Rose, you say?” The word sounded strange coming from him. He snorted. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”
“Unfair!” I grumbled at him. This was MY character! He had no business insulting MY name!
Bethar flinched. “You are! You sound like the hostess at an inn I stayed at once.” He glanced over my rumpled morning clothes. “You don’t look much like her, though.”
My cheeks burned. The lively, capable Laurel had indeed been based on an idealized, fantasy-world version of myself, with all my mannerisms and expressions. What can I say? Every writer does a bit of self-insertion now and then!
“Bethar,” I called him back to the topic at hand. “How—“
“I don’t know!” He brought his hand down on the flimsy vinyl table and nearly broke it. We were beginning to get sideways looks.
I grabbed his hand. “Let’s go. I can take you to my place.”
Bethar followed me out of the coffee shop and up the stairs to my apartment. His weathered riding boots thudded on the concrete steps.
“You gave Zatri and me a cave large enough for our comfort, and you live in this miserable hovel?” Bethar asked as we edged into my tiny entryway.
“Of course! Why do you think I gave you all that space?” I retorted. “I was making up for the shortcomings of my own situation by improving and expanding yours.”
I sat in one of the easy chairs and gestured to the other one for him. Bethar was so tall that his knees came up higher than mine by several inches, and the back of the chair barely supported his shoulder blades.
“I can accept you don’t know how you got here,” I said. “But why did you want to talk with me?”
That seemed to get Bethar’s attention. He forgot how uncomfortable he was in the tiny armchair and leaned forward.
“Do you know where Zatri is right now?”
I frowned. “What do you mean, where she is? As far as I’m concerned, you two just went to bed in your cave and that was the end of the chapter!”
Bethar squinted. “Chapter?” He began fidgeting with his hands, a sure sign he was getting nervous—and when Bethar got nervous, he usually ended up stabbing something with one of the dozen knives concealed on his person. I just hoped my furniture wouldn’t have to suffer.
“That’s just it,” he complained. “That’s the last thing I remember too. Next thing I know, I am standing where you first saw me, and you were sitting there, and Zatri is—I don’t know.” He stopped fidgeting and rubbed the scar on his temple. “Maybe she ended up in this world too?” He raised his gaze, as if expecting assurance from me.
I threw up my hands. “How should I know?”
Bethar’s face softened, the way I would describe it whenever he would say something tender about Zatri. “She could hear you too, sometimes. Can you hear her now?”
It was strange, sitting in my apartment, across from one of my made-up (or so I thought!) characters, listening inside my own head for a particular voice. For once, my imagination lay completely stark and empty.
“No,” I told Bethar. “I can’t hear her.”
“She is lost!” Bethar cried, bounding out of the chair. “We need to find her, or we will both die!”
I certainly didn’t have any such plans with them anytime soon!
“Die?” I asked, putting a hand on Bethar’s arm. Boy, was he strong!
“What do you mean, you’ll both die?”
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