Jillian did not like what she was doing. The city streets were bright, but the world beyond was dark, the Sun having set long ago. She walked with several of her coworkers, a communal sense of drunkenness existing among them. She had already passed her comfort zone and was approaching a sense of desperation. Anything to get out of this situation—call a taxi, walk into a space to breathe, spot a street sign she recognized—did not appear around her.
For the thousandth time that night, give or take a few hundred, Jillian asked herself why she had chosen to go on a nighttime trip. This was not her usual habit. This was outside what she considered “safe”. Once her colleagues had gotten intoxicated, they slurred for Jillian to “stay close” and guffawed at imagined shadows in the shadowed buildings and alleyways.
Walking near the middle of the pack, Jillian kept her eyes to the ground, hands sticking to her side like glue. She looked at the quiet streets, run-down buildings stacked up against each other, and the many shadows that flickered the longer she looked at them, with tension and simmering fear. She just wanted to get back to places she knew, back home and safe. It did not help that the conversation around her slowly grinded into more risqué and improper elements.
Hope surged in Jillian’s chest when she saw neon signs on the path ahead. The city, the real city, was just beyond her reach. Once she found a landmark, she could start trailing her way back home, taking whatever shortcuts she legally could. The alcohol she had drank at the bar was also starting to kick in; some of her coworkers were already slurring and stumbling with dopey smiles. Walking the city streets in a more vulnerable state than usual only increased the risk of bad things happening.
Jillian felt the city’s aura wash over her when she saw the well-lit parts and buildings coming up ahead. She knew the neon lights were reflecting off her long black hair even as the wind disheveled strands of it out of place. Brushing those strands back from her face, she quickened her pace a bit. Her blue eyes searched for something recognizable, something she could trust to get her started on the way home.
Something would pop up, she was sure, amidst all the cars and lights and people and…, voices…, horns, traffic lights, and bells and whistles. Everything she saw and heard all rolled over and echoed alongside each other, so many pieces in a grander tapestry of color and symbols and sensations. Jillian’s senses cranked into overdrive, her brain trying and failing to process it all.
Too much. There was too much noise, too much color, too much chaos. She could not step into it all, or she would lose herself in the maelstrom. This was the city center, a place she knows. Why did it hurt to see it all when she could get through it all just fine in the daytime? What was wrong with her tonight?
Jillian’s coworkers took entering the well-lit portions of the city much easier than her, splitting into pairs and trios with goodbyes and see-you-tomorrows. None of these sendoffs were directed at Jillian specifically, and in their mutual intoxication not one of her coworkers—the people she had trusted to come out here in the first place—asked her if she would be okay making it home. No, they were just too wrapped up in their own lives, their own worries, and their own happiness.
Jillian almost regretted ever knowing these people. But she told herself, over and over with each passing second, that this was an exception to the norm. Surely, she could also act outside her normal routine and go home alone. Across the city. While slightly intoxicated. Late at night.
Oh, what was she thinking? She wasn’t brave enough to do it, sober or drunk. The fear was too well built up, impossible to cross or break through via sheer determination. She could not do this… at least not in one sitting. She rushed to assure herself that she could really do it as taxis, cars, and buses raced by on the adjacent streets. Maybe if she took it in stages, she could do it. Go a few blocks, wait in a safe place, go another few blocks, wait in a safe place, repeat previous steps until she arrived at her destination. It seemed simple enough that her confidence overshadowed her fears for a brief happy moment.
Looking for the nearest landmark to start tracking her way home, Jillian kept her hands close to her sides and started walking. Despite the business-appropriate top, pants, and shoes she had on, all those beneath a body-length overcoat colored a muted gray, she felt exposed to the elements. All these people that could be looking at her, judging her, seeing her fear, thinking maybe she’s too scared to be out on her own.
No! Jillian shook those thoughts out of her head, and then shook her head a few extra times for good measure. Don’t think about the big stuff. Just take it in stages. How many blocks have I gone by now? She had not kept track; she should have kept track from where she had started.
Jillian almost looked back, but she couldn’t remember where she had come from against the greater storm moving and speaking around her every which way. There was nowhere she could go that was completely safe and completely absent of all the things she did not want to experience. Therefore, Jillian kept walking. Then she continued walking. As she did so, she kept looking for anything she thought was safe to rest, judging places by her own opinions rather than logical facts.
Feeling more limited than a slightly drunk person would normally be, she passed by alleyway exits and street shop corners without pause. No one seemed to notice her or spare her more than a glance. The worst places were anywhere with rowdy people, drunk or sober, their eyes looking at her and adding two to two together to make a very attractive seventeen.
Seventeen? Okay, Jillian told herself, she was now too drunk to continue without rest. She could still walk normally, but she had no idea how much longer that would last. Any moment now, she might collapse into a heap on the street and be completely vulnerable to the assailments of passerby. Frantically looking around, she caught a glimpse of a darker space. A second glance at that space gave it a hopeful glimmer.
What Jillian first saw was a small set of stone steps leading to a long, rectangular door. Her second look revealed a pair of mounted electrical lights, currently turned off, one placed on either side of the door. The building all these objects were connected to sported carefully arranged stone blocks that were pressed between the three-story brick-and-metal buildings pressing against both its walls.
Despite this forced compression, Jillian’s hopes were sparked by the sight of a tiny steeple atop the building’s roof and the dim orange light coming through the single window to the door’s left side. Even Jillian knew this building was a religious space; it was most likely a chapel, considering its small size. A chapel was a good place to recuperate and renew her strength. She didn’t really care about whether the place was “bad” or “good”, she just wanted somewhere quiet.
A chapel was known to be quiet, a full church even more so. Jillian would prefer a church, more open space allowing greater chances to escape danger. But a chapel would do.
Jillian quickly ascended the steps and pressed her hand against the door. To her joy, the door slid open nearly silently when she pushed it. Inside there was, as she had seen outside, a dim orange glow she now saw came from hundreds of individually burning candles. The candles rested in special spaces on the left and right walls, the central passage lacking any light whatsoever. Between the passage and the candles were six rows of pew seats, all facing a central altar at the far end of the chapel’s “sanctuary”. There were no other rooms, no other doors; it was all one space, enclosed and separated from the outside life.
A smile began to form on Jillian’s face. This was a safe space. She slipped into the darkness, feeling with shaky hands for the door to close it again. The outer world became distant behind the door and the neighboring walls. Jillian’s smile grew when she noticed the silence, able to hear her own heartbeat and breathe more clearly. Then she heard a tapping sound from the front altar, and her terror snapped back into its previous, forefront state.
Someone robed in black emerged from the shadows, close to one of the rows of candles. The wavering flames worked hard to show a female face beneath the robe’s wide hood, and the white gloves covering her hands. Jillian’s mind raced to catalog this creature and concluded this was a nun; a religious person who tended to religious places and helped people who came to worship there. Jillian did not know that nuns could have as clean a face as this woman’s was; what little she could see of this woman’s skin looked like polished porcelain, her mouth dainty and circular. But her eyes were shrouded by the hood’s shadow, the darkness around them too thick for mere candlelight to penetrate.
The nun noticed Jillian at the same moment, a smile easily sliding over and covering up her momentary surprise. “Ah, good evening,” she addressed Jillian with smooth inflections and a quiet, matronly voice. “Have you come for an evening prayer?”
Jillian cautiously stepped forward to the pews, placing one hand against the closet seat for support. There was about half of the chapel’s length between the two women now. “I-I’m sorry,” she quietly said, automatically reacting to the muted sounds around her and replicating that level of volume. “I’m not here for a prayer. Can I just stay for, um, for a few minutes?”
The nun’s pretty, shadowed face—it was getting more beautiful the longer Jillian looked at it—shifted its mouth to show concern. “I am not allowed to keep the church doors open past our closing time,” she quietly warned.
“I know, I know,” Jillian insisted while placing her other hand on the same pew and leaning forward slightly. “I’ll be out of here very soon. I just need some quiet time.” She placed a hand to her head as her head started throbbing from her continued stress. “I had a bad drink, I think. My head is killing me.”
The nun inclined her head, but her eyes remained hidden beneath the hood. She grabbed a candlesnuffer polished in bronze that glinted in the candlelight. “Then I shall work around you to extinguish the candles. Once I am finished, I am afraid you must leave. There will be no one else here until we open in the morning.”
Jillian nodded, starting to walk down the center passage before sitting at the end of a pew somewhere in the middle of the single-room space. The nun stayed by the candles, and from the folds of her robes she pulled out a small golden object with a bell-shaped tip at the end. She put that tip over each candle, one at a time, to snuff out that small flame. Jillian’s position in the pews gave her a good angle to see the nun work, but even with the candles shining right on the nun’s face her eyes could not be seen.
Jillian’s heartbeat began to slow, her breathing return to normalcy, as the minutes ticked by. Despite the lack of a clock, she still felt a rhythm hanging in the air. Many years had gone since she last entered a church for any reason, but her imagined depiction of a holy space looked quite like this one. It had everything she needed, even if it was quite dark and she would only be here for a short while. The soft candlelight flickered in her eyes, flames dancing along the edges of her vision. She wiggled her body slightly against the seat, feeling the hard wood beneath her body, and tried to relax even further.
The nun’s snuffer individually tended to the candles. Jillian felt her body begin to loosen, muscles easing out their tension. But she clearly heard another voice in the chapel. Someone was singing. Who?
Jillian heard music flowing into her ears, a wordless tune that shifted from note to note seemingly at random. The only person in the chapel besides Jillian’s was the nun, so she reasoned the nun must be the one who was singing. Jillian did not know many people who sang while they worked, but she did not feel courageous enough to question it. No sense in being thrown out for what might be taken as insolence against a holy ritual.
The lone voice continued as the nun kept working, not spending more than a few seconds with the snuffer on each candle. As the chapel gradually grew darker, the lights vanishing like twinkling stars, Jillian felt even more relaxed. A particularly strong note in the song—she didn’t have the pitch sense to tell what key it was in—triggered a vibration in her aching head. She braced for a wave of pain, but instead felt tingles of pleasure ripple through her skull and scalp. Her hands shot to the pew in front of her, grabbing the wood for support as more waves of tingling sensations spread across her entire body.
Panic came, and went, from Jillian’s mind as she rapidly blinked. Okay, she told herself, that’s the alcohol kicking in. Have to ride it out, just ride it out. Ride… it…
The next car in Jillian’s train of thought derailed; her eyelids fluttered as fast as an insect’s wings, the song repeating that one special note over and over. Her headache harmonized with the sound, pain turning into pleasure as the alcohol dulled her sense of awareness. She did not know alcohol had this kind of delayed reaction; after another vibration ran through her head, the thought no longer felt necessary to address.
Jillian’s emotions locked onto the sound. To her joy, listening more closely to it made its effects more prominent and pleasurable. That nun can really sing. Well, she’s in a… a church… so, uh, that’s just fine. She then quietly giggled like a young girl, her shoulders shaking as tiny breaths escaped from her grinning lips, still working hard to keep her voice down.
The left side of the chapel’s interior had grown noticeably darker. The nun was seriously going to snuff out every candle individually. How long would it take, Jillian wondered, for her to fall asleep? That was something else people did in churches, right? The thought of sleeping off the stress of being in a new place and having to travel amidst the hubbub and noise of a big city was funny to think about. But it very quickly became something nice for her to visualize; she was already part of the way there.
Jillian leaned forward, touching her forehead against the top of the pew in front of her. The hard surface felt cool against her skin, sweat she had not realized was there sticking her in place. And the song kept going, no longer on that one vibrating note but remaining around that level of pitch and intensity. It felt so good, just what she needed to regain her strength and nerves for the journey home.
But she didn’t have to leave right now. She had some nice music, a nice place to rest her tired body. I can rest here. I’ll be fine if I fall asleep here. I’m… safe… here…
Jillian’s eyes fully closed, the alcohol filtering through her blood combining with the special sound filling the chapel she was in to give her a sense of tingly, happy safety. She slept, her breathing shallow as her body hung balanced between the pew she sat and the one in front of that. The nun did not give Jillian a moment’s notice as she worked, moving quietly across the edges of the pews to the opposite walls when all the lights before her were snuffed out.
All the while, the song went on to its captivated audience.
Hands shook Jillian’s shoulder. “My dear?” inquired a woman’s voice. The hands shook harder. “My dear, you must awaken.”
Jillian snorted as she drew in a sharp breath, startled out of what felt like just a few minutes’ rest. She tasted the dry roof of her mouth with an equally dry tongue; she had been sleeping with her mouth open. Her forehead ached as she pulled it back, dried sweat peeling away from wood like an old bandage. She looked around, slowly coming to realize the candles no longer shone. The only light in the space came from the front altar, where a larger candelabrum sat above a white cloth.
“You must go, my dear.” The woman’s voice sounded muted to Jillian’s ears, but only for a few moments. “The church is closed.” Jillian turned to face the speaker and felt her heart jump in her mouth. The speaker’s entire body hid inside the darkness of a robe and hood. But Jillian recognized the voice of the nun from earlier coming from this phantom.
Jillian had to go. Go where? Oh, right, she had to go home. This wasn’t her home. She had come here to rest. The memories slowly came back, along with an immense fatigue that ate at her every thought. She knew alcohol could make it hard to remember things, but this felt more like she had just woken up from a full day’s sleep than being hungover.
The nun stepped back a few paces, giving Jillian space to stand up on her own. She did so, with difficulty; her legs felt weak and shaky. Walking was difficult at first, but she did not fall or stumble in her slow journey to the chapel’s front door. She concentrated on walking and breathing, her brain lethargically reminding her that she first needed to get outside of this place before she could go home.
Beams of colored light shone through the window adjacent to the door, shining down on a section of floor just in front of the pews. Jillian looked down at them as she walked past, observing the shifting hues and combinations as they changed forms. After just a few moments’ viewing, she felt her eyes begin to strain. Turning away, she ambled up to the front door and managed to grab the handle after a few moments of patting around. A car honked in the outside world, the piercing sound yanking Jillian into a fully awake state.
Jillian remembered what was out there. She remembered what she had felt. What she had feared. And she knew, without the need of checking, that nothing had changed on the other side of the door. Out there was chaos, the stuff nightmares came from. Through it, beyond it, was her home and peaceful sleep. But to get through the nightmares… impossible!
The hand holding the door handle shook uncontrollably. Jillian heard the rattling handle, her bones and muscles shaking as well. Paralyzing fear gripped her, fear of stepping into the unknown like this. Her hand wouldn’t pull open the door.
“My dear?” The nun’s confused questions came from several steps behind Jillian. “What is wrong?”
“I can’t. I can’t go out there.” Saying it only made it feel worse. “I’m scared,” she squeaked, and she pulled her hand back to the safety of her body. It was embarrassing to admit, but it was true.
Jillian heard the nun’s robes swish along the chapel floor as she walked—or perhaps, glided—towards the distraught woman. “The world is a scary place,” she informed Jillian as she moved closer. “You are right to fear it. But you must not let your fears take you over. That will only drive you to an unhappy end.”
It seemed it was too late for Jillian to take that advice. Her fears had a death grip on her heart and head, and everything they contained. She could not generate the will to go outside. The door handle rattled in her ears and head, taunting her to throw herself into the chaos and run screaming through the city streets. But Jillian’s fears did not make her crazy.
Jillian heard the nun stop moving, seemingly mere inches from her position. “What is your name, my dear?”
“Jillian,” the woman sputtered. “W-What’s yours?”
“I am Sister Vivian.” The nun’s voice remained at peace, severely contrasting Jillian’s panic. “I am pleased to meet you, Jillian. I do not recall you attending this chapel before.”
“No, no. This place isn’t on my radar.” No need to mention anything more than that, she figured. She would be out of Sister Vivian’s life once she got out of her chapel.
“Have you visited any other churches recently? Temples? Burial grounds?”
“No, none of them.” Jillian felt she was getting nowhere with these questions. She did not want an interrogation from this religious figure. “I’m sorry, I just can’t—!”
“What are you afraid of?” Sister Vivian’s question cut straight through Jillian’s thoughts, stunning her. In that confusion, the root cause, the core of her fears, splayed out before her. She was able, reluctantly, to put it into words. To admit the truth.
“The noise. So much, too much of it. I thought I could get through it; I can get through it during the day. I can’t do it now. I can’t. I don’t know why, but I can’t!” She shook her head, tears starting to form in her eyes. “Maybe it’s the drink, the sleep, or some other thing, but I cannot go out there and I know I must.”
“How far away do you live from here, Jillian?” Jillian gave the address, not knowing the exact distance. “Do you have any acquaintances nearer here you can lodge with?” Jillian shook her head harder, not trusting her throat to let out words instead of terror-fueled sobs. “Then you must stand against your fears and go out there. I cannot take you in for the night unless you are an ordained member of the chapel, and I cannot ordain you by myself.”
Jillian’s hand squeezed around the handle. Her muscles strained, but they pulled against the immovable force of her own mind. “I can’t go out there alone. It’s too noisy, Sister Vivian. Too crazy.”
A chuckle came from the shadows. “I never said you would go alone, my dear Jillian.” A light touch on Jillian’s shoulder followed Sister Vivian’s strange statement. “Come, follow me to the altar.”
Sister Vivian pulled Jillian’s shoulder back, and the rest of her body followed. As Jillian turned around while walking, the pair went to the back of the chapel, the light from the candelabra the only illumination. That was enough for Jillian’s primed eyes to make out the altar, and the space with cushions before it. She knew that believers would kneel or prostrate themselves there before their divine saviors.
Perhaps, Jillian fleetingly imagined, Vivian was going to fulfill a “divine” role for her now. That image did not upset her very much. Nothing upset her as much as what was outside.
Sister Vivian directed Jillian to stand just in front of the cushions, moving to the opposite side so that the candelabra’s radiance silhouetted her shadowed form. “Look at me,” she ordered Jillian, her voice at last gaining rigidity. “Listen to me. Listen to my voice. Let it fill your ears; let it spread through your soul. You’ve heard me speaking and not turned away, so my voice must be comforting to you.”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, that’s right.” Why did Jillian need to hear this? She already knew it, or she wouldn’t be accepting Sister Vivian’s help.
“Yes, dear Jillian, my voice comforts you. You want to be comfortable, and I want that for you as well. That’s why I am fine talking with you, and you are so comfortable hearing me talk like this. Is that correct?”
Jillian played along, eager for the solution to her problems. “Yes, that’s all correct.”
“And you are okay with me asking you these questions, dear Jillian? Are you okay with me helping you conquer your fears?” Sister Vivian paused, waiting for an answer. Jillian remained silent, not looking eye-to-shrouded eye with the nun before her.
“You have opened your fears to me, Jillian. You have shown what others may call your “sins”, and the desire to receive my aid to absolve them. What I offer you now is what was shown to me long ago, what helped me learn my place in this time and space.” She nodded to the chapel around her. “This is my place. Believe in my guidance, my dear Jillian, and you will find your place in turn.”
Sister Vivian extended a gloved hand. The white surface of the glove drew Jillian’s eyes automatically, and she nearly reached out and took it instantly. What kept her back was the piece of her head not consumed by hypothetical horrors. It was an important piece, and it was screaming at her to remember the danger of asking aid from strangers. She was smart; she shouldn’t just let others take advantage of her weaknesses.
Would a nun take advantage of someone looking to be “absolved”? Maybe. Did Jillian have anyone else to turn to for help? Not in this place. Did she want to overcome her fears, return home, and perhaps wake up tomorrow treating all this like a bad dream? Absolutely.
The situation seemed destined for Jillian to accept the offer, as much for her own desires as the long-term improvement of her future. To turn against it, to face her fears alone, seemed an insurmountable challenge. To face it with another person’s support seemed far better. Jillian looked to Sister Vivian’s hidden face, looking for some sign of trust within that shadowed, picture-perfect skin she had seen before.
Instead of an image to see, Jillian heard a voice. Tingles instantly went down her spine. The voice whispered sweet murmurs of trust and safety against all odds. It sang of courage and power. This voice had guided her to sleep in this sanctuary. She wanted to hear it again. She needed to hear it again.
“I want your help, Sister Vivian.” Jillian’s tongue licked her dry lips, heart beating faster in anticipation to get the strength she desired and deserved. “Please.” She took Sister Vivian’s hand and gripped it firmly in hopes her actions conveyed her desire as much, or more, than words allowed.
The nun’s mouth appeared in the light and flashed a smile, her lips twinkling as they moved. Then she turned completely serious again. “Look at me,” she commanded. “Listen to me. Give me all your attention, all your focus.”
Jillian nodded and stood straight, looking at the shadows within Vivian’s face. Vivian drew her face even deeper into those shadows. The smile vanished as well, its image lingering in Jillian’s memory. Then Vivian began to hum.
Jillian instantly felt her arms and legs relaxing. Her brain responded to the good feelings and guided her body to focus even more on it. But she kept standing, her ears primed for each new note Vivian uttered, knowing they would relax her even more. She wanted to be as relaxed as possible against the horrors outside.
Vivian’s humming grew stronger. The candelabra’s flames flickered, each tongue of fire rising higher and shining brighter on its own. Under this new light, the shadow over Vivian’s face and eyes peeled back from beneath her hood to reveal their own brightness. Golden sparks danced on either side of Vivian’s pupils, those central objects appearing to Jillian as pitch-black pools of darkness. The combination of darkness and light pulled Jillian towards them, her upper body unconsciously leaning forward a few inches.
Jillian sighed in contentment. The nun’s face looked beautiful. She could look at this for hours and not be bored, especially her eyes. There was just so many lights inside the eyes, all dancing, twisting, and… expanding? Yes, expanding, growing to fill Sister Vivian’s iris and cornea, drop by microscopic drop.
In what felt like seconds, but could have just as much been hours, Vivian’s eyes had become golden. Then she opened her mouth and quietly sang, chanting in a tongue Jillian did not recognize. But no words needed to be defined, the meaning was clear as day. Golden light came from Vivian’s throat, and out of her mouth, as her voice grew stronger and louder.
As Jillian watched the golden light grow out of Vivian’s mouth, she questioned everything before her. Why was this happening? What was causing this? Why did this feel so right to listen to?
She wanted answers; she feared she would go insane from not knowing. The best way—no, the only way—to learn more, to relax more, was to keep listening.
Yet the questions did not stop coming. Was this a miracle? Maybe some divine act or display of faith? Was a guardian angel finally revealing itself to her? To give her what she needed in this, what most certainly was her darkest hour?
The answers did not come in a way Jillian understood. Rather, she became privy to the truth when Vivian let out that single, soul-wrenching note Jillian loved so much. The golden light flew from her mouth towards Jillian, a meteor of power that dove into her own mouth and down her gullet and into the throbbing, cold chambers of her fear-filled heart. That organ surged with warmth, light, life everlasting. But most amazing of all was the knowledge she was given.
Jillian squealed as her heart burned with joyous discovery. She screamed as her body filled up and overflowed with infinite blessings. She wailed as all her thoughts, everything that was hers, burned in rapturous fire and melted to a simpler state of existence.
The song became her. The song was her. The song perfected the universe, and she became perfect by becoming one with the song. She felt full of infinite strength, courage, and power. The song was her Voice, a fragment of the cosmic birthing cry, deserving of a name and worthy of her adoration.
Jillian’s voice fell into the eternal chorus, rapturous joy bleeding through the syllables, tones, and inflections she sang out in harmony with Sister Vivian. Her eyes and mouth burst with the same golden light, channeling the power of the Voice. Human emotions, human meaning, became less than dust in the wind, droplets that evaporated beneath the scorching heat in her core. Crimson tears bled from her eyes, nostrils, and ear cavities; the sensations of pain, of bleeding out, of gasping for air, became mute from the power of her new Voice.
An age passed. Eternity shifted. The song passed beyond even Jillian’s enhanced vocal range, and she did not try to reach any higher. The golden light dwindled, faded, and finally vanished from her body. But the Voice remained.
The universe sang to this lone woman, guiding her towards its own purpose and goals. Her eyes now shimmering with cosmic light, Jillian felt hands press down on her shoulders. She looked into the radiant golden eyes, the diamond-bright face of Sister Vivian. She yielded to an unspoken request, kneeling with pure devotion towards this night-cloaked woman, the one who had shown her the cosmic truth through song.
Jillian looked up at her guide, realizing and embracing a new truth; the roles had now changed between them. She, Jillian, had spoken in her old voice; now she was the Listener to the true Voice, not having and not caring for a name for herself. She accepted this readily as her rightful place. Her eyes filled with shining golden light, lips painted in a blissful smile, staring at the Speaker with rapt attention. Watching. Waiting.
The nun, Vivian, the Speaker, had a smile as golden as the shimmering specks in her own eyes. “Hear my voice,” she addressed the Listener, speaking with and through the Voice. “Listen to my words. Embrace my song.”
“I hear your voice.” Specks of golden dust shone in the Listener’s mouth, spilling out as fine mist as she declared her servitude. “I listen to your words. I embrace your song.”
Jillian stared expectantly at the Speaker, listening for the next verse. A wave of the Speaker’s hand over the Listener’s face led to those expectant eyes slamming shut, her head tilting back and her mouth closing tight. The Speaker’s next words sank into the darkest depths of her subconscious. They exposed what lingering shadows tried to stay alive, burning them away with melody and peace.
Speaker Vivian came closer to the Listener with every sentence. She finally stopped talking when their hands touched the Listener’s forehead, and then their throat. When Speaker Vivian withdrew her hands, the Listener’s body stood with eyes half-opened, glittering golden and distant. Following her Speaker’s commands, the Listener left the church without a word, barely making a sound beyond the shuffling of their feet. The Voice, the universe, guided her to where she needed to be.
Minutes, hours, one cycle of the stars later, the Listener arrived at her former home. The Voice shifted verses, guiding the Listener through evening routines she knew from years of practice. Eventually, she lay on her back atop her former self’s bed in fresh undergarments, the Voice crooning and cooing as she let the soft sheets press against her muscles. The Listener’s eyes fluttered shut; her breathing became slower and slower as she fell into dreamless sleep. As she slept, the Voice spread its song in her and through her, stretching out forever and ever.
Dawn came into the apartment with quiet steps. Jillian cracked her eyes open when she felt the sunlight hit her eyes. White beams flew across her blurry vision, miniscule comets vanishing as she squinted to look closer at them. Her mind cleared at a torpid pace, lingering on the peacefulness of sleep.
Jillian slowly blushed at the realization she had slept in her underwear, not even getting beneath the top sheet to cover herself. What had happened last night? She had been scared somewhere, then she went somewhere to calm down and… and then she went home. Was that right? All she found in her memory was a paper-thin image of twinkling stars and shimmering nebulae. The taste of alcohol on her tongue did not concern her; if anything, it helped her figure out why she had amnesia at all.
Satisfied with her own answers, Jillian silently began her morning routine for a working day; a quick shower, a quick meal, and a quick set of motions to dress herself for the day’s work. While looking in the mirror and brushing her hair back from her face, she noticed her limbs moving a little slower, her fingers not as dexterous as usual. Considering an intoxicated look would not be helpful at the workplace, she put in extra effort to appear clean and presentable. No scars or marks were on her face, but there were bags under her eyes that she knew makeup would not conceal.
Jillian’s reflection visibly sparkled as she looked specifically at her eyes. Confused, she rubbed her face with her hands and looked again. She then stared in open shock as she saw golden flecks dancing inside her eyes, flitting about her pupils like ocean plankton. The gold did not override her eyes’ shade of blue, instead adding to that color. People were going to see this; they were going to ask questions.
“How did this happen?” Jillian questioned aloud. Then she raised her hand to cover her mouth at the sound of her voice. It was not exactly her voice anymore, not as she remembered it. It sounded better, refined, to her ears. It sounded like someone else’s voice. When had it changed? Why?
Jillian’s breath sped up. Panic crept up her arms and legs. Turning away from the mirror, she noticed distinct shades, colors, and patterns in every surface and object. All of them weaved themselves into her room’s environment like pieces of a puzzle. The world she knew became strangely fascinating, which gave her as much terror as delight.
A distant bell rang; the distinct sound of a church bell. Cutting through the walls of Jillian’s apartment, it was a sonorous and solemn note. As Jillian’s brain registered that sound, she heard a harmony with its tune sound in her head. The golden flecks in her eyes grew brighter, and then solidified. She saw herself in the mirror as it reflected the transformation for her viewing pleasure. Her eyes filled in with gold, in mimicry of the all-encompassing peace covering her entire state of being.
She smiled. She knew this sound. She loved it, this voice, her Voice. Now she knew that it was there for her, whenever the universe called out to her. This only amplified her love for everything the Voice was; it gave her all its love and courage and every good feeling she could imagine, asking only her praise and obedience in return. Whenever she needed its help, it was ready to give it. When it needed her, she would be ready to listen.
“I hear your voice.” She whispered the words without any worries, wrapped up in the warm embrace of faith and courage. “I accept your words. I embrace your song.”
That song made her as happy as a new star in the blackness of space. The Voice’s song, she knew without a doubt, would keep making her happy today, tomorrow, and for the rest of her new life.
Yes, this was only the beginning.