Past Voices in Your Head

an open packet of old film-style photographs

Emma stirs, pushes at hot pillows. She can’t shut off the storm warnings banging through her head every time she rolls onto the side where she’s facing Preacher’s short wave radio antenna. It’s not the radio she’s hearing, it’s Preacher’s unique voice, when he’s trying to reach some of the local folks who forget in storm season and don’t turn their radios on.

She’s not sleeping very well anyway. Besides Preacher going off, sometimes the boys are waking her, whimpering and bashing around with bad dreams in the crowded bed.

And there’s the nightmare voice, thundering through her dreams, making demands in the room that always stinks of cigar smoke.

Lately she’s been dreaming of the General yelling into his cell phone, getting loud in one of his annoying one-sided dramatic pieces. That was the last time that she ever heard him before he was gone, before he locked away in hospital with no way to reach him, and the labs taken over by antagonistic strangers.

“It’s not so much the Don’s intransigent demands about completing the audits which is the problem here, sir, as it is the fact that six of these contractors apparently can’t keep records well enough to provide documents in a timely manner as he reasonably and repeatedly asked for. Hell yes, he’s from the Ridcully branch of the family, what do you think he’d do with an assignment like that? Oh yes sir, no hope of that, don’t you worry. This is the kind of officer who keeps his superiors informed when a contractor is failing to perform to spec.

“Yes, of course he’s been out to the facilities in question, with documentation. Part of the job, getting footage from the ground.

“I must say, he gives beautiful reports. With footnotes. Must have kept him up all night, getting each of these ready in case this blows up in my face and it’s time to brief the committee. I can’t say I’m impressed with the documents that these so-called scientific laboratories have been providing us, so I wouldn’t expect it to go well for them with our current Chairwoman in charge of the Oversight Committee, as her staff are quite the terriers on audit reports.

“If anything, the Don’s reports are doing everyone a favor, one of those annoying little klaxons you hear before the boat meets the iceburg. Yes sir.

“I must say, sir, I have known it to happen often enough that I would certainly expect the same out of any of the officers I would rotate in to give the Don a much-deserved rest.

“Yes sir, and a very good vacation to you too, sir.” With a wicked little smile in the voice, and then after the secure connection has gone silent, the General is laughing.

“You stupid sonuvabitch, run you chicken-footed bastard, run hard and long, you have no feathers and your squealing pig Emperor is gonna be looking silly too. Run like the wind, it ain’t gonna save your naked plucked ass!”

Emma blinks away the memory of the fat bastard roaring with laughter, lighting another stinking cigar, damn his eyes.

She’s quite annoyed with herself for injecting any trace of modern information into some pre-existing fragment of memory, some framework of nightmare that catches things, like barbed wire snagging at your jeans.

Hardly anybody knows Drin’s full name. Why on earth would she yank parts of his name and stuff it in there, just to get some names propped up in there, or something? It was probably somebody similar enough that her subconscious blurs them into one.

It’s ridiculous. Why on earth would Wojo praise an auditor to the skies? He never did that. Besides, somebody like Drin would never get along with the General, not in a million years. Too much mutual stiff-necking. They’d be butting heads from the moment they met. Absurd.

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