Lucas Wellman smiled as he stepped into the Edenvale Grocery Outlet. He took one cursory glance around, let his smile widen by a few more teeth, then headed straight for the booze.
The teetotalers in his head were not amused.
It's filthy, said Mrs. Amberdaine. Lucas could almost picture her elderly face all pinched up and scowling in disapproval. An utterly filthy habit you shouldn’t be wasting your money on.
Our money, cut in Dr. Anthony Rogers (PhD).
He stood in front of the shelves and tried to ignore them. Which one? So many choices. It was Friday, and he needed something that would ensure he didn't remember the weekend.
The unfortunately named Reverend Aleister Morgan was in agreement with Mrs. Amberdaine. Take a moment to think about this, son, he said in a thick southern drawl. It does terrible to your health-
Our health, cut in Dr. Rogers (PhD).
Right, continued the good reverend. Does terrible things to your liver. Rots your mind away.
Good! Lucas thought as quietly as he could. He could feel everyone in his head stiffen a bit at that, save for Mrs. Amberdaine (who wasn't paying attention) and Jeff who managed to be in a perpetual state of being stoned despite the lack of basic human physiology. They didn't like the thought of him wrecking their living space.
Now that's not a very nice thing to say- began the reverend.
Very spiteful of you, said Rogers.
Mrs. Amberdaine hadn't stopped talking. I remember back when they started up that Prohibition to stop this kind of nonsense-
He tuned them out. It was difficult, especially with Mrs. Amberdaine, who was one of those people who liked to hear themselves speak, but he managed it in the end. He'd certainly had enough practice.
There was a slight nudge on the side of his mind. It was the mental equivalent to someone coughing quietly to get attention.
Yes? he thought in the nudge’s direction.
Bacardi, 151 whispered Max. It'll get you completely plastered. You won’t even remember your own name, much less ours.
Lucas smiled and pulled out a bottle. Out of all the voices in his head, Max was probably the most bearable.
There were six of them, total. He had no idea where they’d come from. There had been no slow descent into madness, no sudden urge to start writing cryptic things on walls, or paranoid delusions about the government tracking him through his dental fillings. No, Lucas had simply woken up one night in a dumpster off Heaton Moore with a killer hangover and several minds too many.
Stop it, said Axel. You’re making me sick with all the reminiscing. His voice had the sporadic quality of a late bloomer going through puberty.
Axel probably wasn’t his real name. A few of the people in Lucas' head had refused to reveal their full names to him. Axel was just the name the teenager sharing his brain had picked out to sound cool.
Hey! said Axel. For all you know I could be your age.
“Not likely,” he said aloud. “Your voice is still cracking. When I think of you, I get images of greasy hair, freckles, and zits.”
He wasn’t alone –Ha! said Dr. Rogers (PhD), you’re never alone- in the aisle anymore. A woman a few racks down was looking at him curiously. “You talking to me?”
“No, sorry,” he mumbled, taking his basket and heading for the register. The peanut gallery in his mind began playing devil's advocate.
Go talk to her, said Morgan. It’ll be good for you. You’re not social enough.
Go get another bottle, said Max. Something to mix it with. You’re going to regret it later if you don’t.
Toss the bottle, said Rogers. I don’t want you getting drunk. You'll get all clumsy.
Ignore the Doc. Max’s got the right idea, said Axel.
You have a minor in your head! shrieked Mrs. Amberdaine. Doesn’t that account for anything? Get rid of the alcohol!
Yeah, said Jeff, who was only now waking up. Get some weed instead. You all need to mellow out.
Lucas stood in line at the register while everyone began to argue. Again. He hummed a song under his breath. He didn’t know which song it was- he certainly didn’t remember hearing it before, but he hummed it anyway. His right eye twitched slightly as he paid for the drink.
“I need to see your I.D,” said the cashier.
Lucas obliged, his hand shaking violently as he displayed his license.
Good thing you didn't drive here, said Max quietly. They'd pull you over for sure.
“You okay, man?” said the guy at the register.
Lucas smiled. “Yeah,” he said. Inside his head, all the voices were trying to one up each other. One began talking loudly, the other began shouting. He couldn’t tell what they were going on about. It was all just one loud mess of half garbled screams. “I’m cool.”
He walked out of the store with his prize, wishing he'd thought to get some aspirin for later. All the mental pushing and shoving they were doing was giving him a headache.
I really need a drink, he thought.
They were on him almost instantly.
You'll get hit by a car or something, said Dr. Rogers (PhD), then where will I be?
"You'll be wherever the hell you were before you started following me around!"
The couple people on the other side of the street stopped to stare at him.
Smooth one, Axel snickered.
Face burning red, he hurried on. Home was only a couple blocks away, but the couple blocks seemed to drag on forever.
I'm bored, said Jeff. You need to take up a hobby.
Stamp collecting is nice, said Morgan, glad for the change of subject.
Skydiving! said Axel.
No! said Rogers. Too dangerous. Go with the stamps.
I used to knit, said Mrs. Amberdaine.
Lucas bit his lip. He didn't notice he was doing it until he caught the coppery taste of blood.
Nobody else noticed. They were all talking about their old hobbies back in the days of- when? Lucas blinked. When was all this? Where were they before they found his head?
Or am I making it all up? he thought to himself. Am I insane?
He started to laugh, but managed to stop himself in time.
You're hearing voices, Lucas. Of course you're insane.
That wasn't any of his headmates; that was him, thinking to himself.
"Oh God," he said. "I'm fucking nuts."
You really want us gone, kid? said Max.
Lucas frowned. Was that. . . guilt?
"What is it, Max?" he said quietly under his breath. He was on his own street now, and though there was nobody around, he didn't want to risk the neighbors hearing him talk to himself.
Max, shut up! they all hissed. He felt them all drag Max away and shove him aside.
Hey, wait. What was he going to say?
Nothing, said Mrs. Amberdaine. Nothing at all.
You know Max, said Dr. Rogers (PhD). Always going on about something or other.
Lucas felt both the reverend and Axel shifting uncomfortable in his mind. Jeff wasn't taking part in the conversation; he was probably keeping an eye on Max.
Morgan, said Lucas, unlocking the front door. Axel. What aren't they telling me? What aren't you telling me? He felt the reverend clam up, but Axel was starting to crack. Axel? What are they up to?
Max burst in before Axel could pour his heart out.
We know how we got here!
Dammit, Morgan, he's got a right to know.
And we've got a right to exist, said Rogers. Lucas was shocked to hear how desperate he sounded.
They all began to talk at once, everyone screaming over everyone else. He slammed the front door behind him.
"Everybody shut up!"
Nobody paid him any mind. The voices in his head were ignoring him. Furious, he threw the bottle across the living room.
"Shut up shut up shut up shut up-"
The bottle shattered on the far wall, scattering bits of glass and alcohol everywhere.
The silence was instant. For the first time in months, Lucas could hear his own thoughts without interruption. It seemed like such a waste, then, when the only thought he had was;
Damn, now I'll have to go back to the store.
He stumbled across the room, thrown off balance by the quiet.
"Max," he said. "What aren't they telling me? How'd you all get here?"
You ever wonder why you could never remember what happened?
Yes, he had. Every time he tried to think back to that night, every time he tried to remember, he'd draw up blanks and wind up with a migraine.
Guilt that wasn't his floated around in his head like thick incense.
"That was you? You guys did that?"
We didn't want to die, said Axel quietly.
Those kids, said Jeff. A bunch of 'em. Doin' like a séance or somthin', Called us up. Called us all up. Hundreds of us.
Lucas sat down on the sofa. "Hundreds?"
Everyone in the cemetery, said Morgan.
They got scared, said Axel. We got scared. We were awake again, and we were dead.
We screamed, whispered Jeff.
They tried to put us back down, said Max. They didn't want all of us running around.
"It didn't work?"
We were dying again! Mrs. Amberdaine's voice was choked up, as though she were crying. This time we knew we were dying. We could feel it happening. We didn't want to be nothing-
Don't make us be nothing! said Rogers.
You were walking by, said Max. We saw you. We ran for you. The kids- they were in a circle. We couldn't get to them. You were open.
You were safe, said Morgan.
Please don't kill us again, said Axel. Please don't get rid of us.
We can help you! said Rogers. I can teach you-
I can guide you-
I can make you laugh-
Give you advice-
Don't make us nothing again!
Lucas screamed as the torrent of voices in his head intensified. He curled up on the couch, his hands clapped over his ears in a vain attempt to block out the noise.
"Stop it stop it stopitstopitstopit!"
The noise died.
We're sorry, said Axel. He was crying.
Lucas lay on the couch, breathing heavily.
Okay, he thought. Listen. We can deal with this-
Don't kill us!
I won't. You guys. . . you all just gotta calm down, okay? Just. . . please. Give me room to think about it.
He could feel them nodding nervously. Nobody said anything, which he took to be a good sign.
He sat up and looked around the room. The booze had soaked through the carpet. He scowled at the stain.
I know how to get that out, said Mrs. Amberdaine eventually. I used to clean up messes like that all the time. I was a maid.
Lucas stared blankly into space for a moment before nodding.
"Okay," he said. The awkward tension in his head eased up a notch.
He went into the kitchen to get some cleaning supplies.
Not a rag, said Mrs. Amberdaine.
A scrub brush would work best, said Max.
We have a kitchen? said Jeff (who really didn't pay attention to things).
We're still going to get more booze, right? said Axel. I've never gotten to drink before.
Lucas sighed. It was going to be a long night.