Voices From The Other Side, page 1
Also by L.A. Banks (writing as Leslie Esdaile Banks)
Betrayal of the Trust
Sister Got Game
Keepin’ it Real
Take Me There
Also by Brandon Massey
(with Tananarive Due and L.A. Banks)
Don’t Ever Tell
Whispers in the Night
(with Tananarive Due and others)
The Other Brother
Within The Shadows
Dark Dreams (with Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes,
Zane, and others)
Published by Dafina Books
VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE
DARK DREAMS II
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
Breath of Life
Wilson’s Pawn & Loan
The Light of Cree
Our Kind of People
Lord of All That Glitters
Good ’Nough to Eat
Milez to Go
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
ABOUT THE EDITOR
The trailblazing continues.
Dark Dreams: A Collection of Horror and Suspense by Black Writers was the first book of its kind: an anthology of original, creepy short fiction, following no particular theme, written exclusively by black writers. Published in trade paperback in the fall of 2004, the book sold well, garnered wonderful reviews and, best of all, opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that black writers are as capable of bringing chills and thrills to the page as anyone else.
But as good as it was, one book could not possibly express the breadth of the collective imagination of our community’s dark dreamers.
So, like the little girl cried in Poltergeist II: They’re back!
Here, in Voices from the Other Side: Dark Dreams II, I’ve been fortunate enough to entice back to the stage many of the favorite writers from the first collection. Tananarive Due is back with a suspenseful, disturbing tale of innocence lost in “Upstairs.” In “The Share,” Terence Taylor pens a startling, original story of love and heartbreak that takes place in an otherworldly Brooklyn apartment. L. R. Giles returns with “Wilson’s Pawn & Loan,” a wicked account of a man who inherits a family business that isn’t quite what it appears to be. “The Light of Cree,” the entry from Chesya Burke, chronicles the experience of a girl who comes into her womanhood—and her special power. Speaking of power, Linda Addison returns with “Milez to Go,” a sequel to her story from the first collection, “The Power,” in which she introduced us to two adorable and gifted girls, now all grown up and caught in another dangerous, extrasensory adventure.
Rickey Windell George, known for his visions of “extreme horror,” is back, too. His harrowing story, “Good ’Nough to Eat,” flips black-male sexual stereotypes upside down—and tears them inside out. Further exploring the themes of the outer limits of sexuality and the supernatural we have “Lord of All That Glitters” and “Sucker” by Anthony Beal and B. Gordon Doyle, respectively. And L. A. Banks delivers an unforgettable tale of primal lust and sensuality in the world of werewolves in “Natural Instinct.”
Other returning writers transport us to other places—or even other times—in their stories. Christopher Chambers casts us onto a slave ship in “Leviathan” to face a legendary creature of the deep. In “Breath of Life,” Lawana Holland-Moore takes us into the world of a mystic in Senegambia who is charged with the responsibility of protecting his village from an ancient evil. Patricia E. Canterbury, back here with “The Arrangements,” takes you into a mysterious realm of ageless women and their strange, lovingly tended garden.
But we’ve got some new players on the team, too. Eric Jerome Dickey, one of the reigning kings of contemporary African-American fiction, takes a stroll on the dark side in “Harlem,” a story of insanity, deception and desire. Michael Boatman, an actor perhaps best known for his roles in Spin City and Arli$$, demonstrates in the unsettling “Our Kind of People” that he’s packing some literary chops, too. In “Black Frontiers,” Maurice Broaddus takes us to the Old West, to face myths and monsters. Brian Egeston serves up a delicious dose of macabre humor in “Smoked Butt.”
Once again, we’ve got chills and thrills galore. Have fun.
But keep your night-light on, just in case . . .
Eric Jerome Dickey
People called me Harlem.
I dubbed myself after that dangerous neighborhood that I’d never seen.
A place not everybody knew about.
A place most people didn’t want to know about.
I read life is rough in Harlem and a black man isn’t expected to live to see twenty-five. Before twenty-five, a brother is almost guaranteed death, by either drugs or violence. Usually at the hand of another black man. Statistics of Harlem.
So that name fit me perfectly, described me to the hilt.
I was twenty-three.
The clock was ticking.
Another reason I took that label was because one of the nurses at the hospital, Daphane, was from there. She was the first one that was nice to me. She never forced my medication on me. Always brought me some books to read. Snuck me in some extra dessert after hours. Plus she told me what was going on on the other side of the double-locked doors. On the outside. Liking her helped me like being Harlem. She understood where I was coming from.
Daphane. She looked a few weeks shy of twenty but claimed she was around twenty-four. She came here right after I was boxed up and shipped here. A sweet, cute, caramel-flavored, thin sister who always gave a sincere smile back at me when I sent an earnest smile toward her oval face and light brown eyes. She’d always wink and speak when I passed by her on my way to therapy. Whether I was handcuffed or not. My fat-assed, cigarette-smelling, Grizzly Adams–bearded, Bozo-bald counselor never smiled. He talked down to me in a slick sort of way. I hate that Doc Brewster with a passion. First chance I got he would be my next one eighty-seven.
All the rooms were white. White walls. In the corner, a white, twin-sized bed with white sheets sat next to a white porcelain sink that had white fixtures. Like they were trying to make this hellish place seem like it was somebody’s Ku Klux heaven. Nothing up in here but southern white nurses in white uniforms. Me decked out in a white hospital prisoner uniform.
Daphane and Phyllis were the only women of color in this joint. Heaven and hell.
Again, I just woke up in a heated sweat, calling out for them to stop. In my nightmare, my little arms struggled with the police as they pulled me away from the paramedics. As I woke, my eyes stung from the salty blood. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was a grown man and not still that terrified child. That it wasn’t still that day my soul died.
I kept having the same nightmares. If you were religious, you could call them a recurring set of vision
The dreams didn’t bother me at first, because I kept my secrets to myself. All I did was read. Closed myself off from the world with newspapers, Shakespeare, Iceberg Slim. But reading let me escape only until my eyes got tired. My mind stayed awake and reminded me of what I had done. I knew I was to blame for it all.
When I became violent, they said visions like these were the reason. That I was reenacting what I had seen. I could’ve told them that. They said I had shit pent up and repressed inside and that was the only way I knew how to release it.
Today, Doc was trying to get inside my head and find out why I killed the people at the inconvenience store. That was the day I got caught. Silent alarm. I made it barely two miles on foot. Police helicopter chased me. It was live on three news channels simultaneously. Had higher ratings than Seinfeld. They showed me running, jumping fences and whizzing through brush. Great stride. I should’ve run track or something. They played the tape of me shooting the guy.
Damn, I looked good on tape. Great profile.
That was my fifteen minutes of fame.
Should’ve been an actor.
“Why did you kill those people in the Seven-Eleven?”
“One.” I flipped my middle finger. I had to sound harsh and remind Brewster. “I killed only one. Damn, why you always exaggerating? I only wounded the others.”
“But you killed eight others. Three women. Four men. One child.”
“That’s between me and you.” I chuckled. “Patient-client confidentiality. And I already know the 187 count.”
“It’s between me and you.”
Daphane cleared her throat. “Why did you shoot him? The Caucasian man at the Seven-Eleven. He wasn’t bothering you. He was only twenty-four. He had a family. A pregnant wife.”
“So I heard. He was smoking a cigarette.”
Brewster asked, “You killed because of a cigarette?”
Daphane asked, “Why?”
“Dunno. I was just in one of those moods, I guess.”
Brewster asked, “How did you feel when you shot him?”
“What do you mean? I felt like I needed to reload.”
“What Doctor Brewster is asking is,” Daphane said, again clearing her throat, “did you feel any remorse for shooting an innocent man?”
“Nope. He tried to keep me from getting away. That’s a no-no. Plus, his arrogant ass didn’t want Habib or Abdul or whomever to give up the money. And like I said, he shouldn’t’ve been smoking. Cigarettes kill.”
Heard the 7-Eleven guy’s wife of three weeks had a nervous breakdown when they told her. Miscarried on the spot. She was too screwed up to come to the trial to watch me get ruled insane, then to watch me giggle and blow kisses when they took me away.
Why did they think I was crazy? I was sane. Their idealistic view of the wretched world made them crazy.
Iappreciated solitude and darkness. They both echoed what was inside me. So at night, I wanted to stay awake so I could appreciate myself by myself. But no matter how hard I tried, I wouldn’t. The medication left me weak, wore me down.
They said jacked-up memories were trapped in my mind and had to be released if I was going to survive, if I was going to make it back to their version of sane. If I was to get normal again. I never talked about them: my insignificant black secrets. They stayed in me, sheltered from the rest of the nonchalant world. Now I was supposed to “let them out to play.” From the darkness into the light. From “slavery to freedom.” Why did they use racist terms like those to try to persuade me? Were those psychological clichés supposed to be so damn appealing to my blackness?
I had very few memories, and no positive memories of my mother or father. Not one, and I always hated that. I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with her, Father’s Day with him, birthdays with both. But the jacked-up memories had me trapped. Hey, they happened, right? Reality was a real mutha, for ya.
“Daphane, hand me the green folder on Harlem’s parents.”
“Yes, Doctor Brewster.”
“You want to talk some more about your mother, Harlem?”
“My mother? Let’s see, where should I start? Alcoholic. Liar. Alcoholic. Child abuser. Alcoholic. Selfish. Alcoholic. User. Alcoholic. Chain smoker. Did I mention alcoholic?”
Daphane rubbed her neck, then sighed. “Yes, you did.”
I heard Brewster’s frustrated breathing. I started to nod off.
“Harlem, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, Doc. Unfortunately, I’m still with you.”
“I’m going to take you back.”
“Been there, done that. But go right ahead. I’m ready for another depressing déjà jacked-up vu. My day was going too good anyway. And we can’t have that, can we?”
“Start counting backwards . . .”
“From a hundred. Why can’t I count up to a hundred?”
“If you wish, you—”
“It was a joke, Doc. Yeah, yeah. Don’t matter. I know the routine,” I said. “Daphane?”
“I’m right here,” Daphane said. I loved her smiling voice.
“Thanks, Daph. One hundred. Ninety-nine. Ninety-eight.”
I drifted to another horizon, went to a place where I was asleep and awake at the same time. I was here and there.
“What do you see?” Daphane asked. “Look around.”
“Lots of trees. Daffodils, and bumblebees looking for food. Close-cut grass. Sunshine. Lots of nice sunshine. Warm. It’s . . . damn . . . it’s beautiful.”
“Maybe five. I believe about five, because I don’t have a memory of school. I’m in South Memphis. Ain’t it funny how black people always live in south something or on the south side? You want to find the ghetto, go south, young man!”
“Tell me everything,” Doctor Brewster interjected.
“Clock-watching MF. Brewster, you a punk.”
“Harlem,” Daphane said, her voice having that nice smile. “Pretty please?”
“Tell Doctor Brewster what happened.”
I exhaled. “Okay. Anyway. I’m five. My mother. We never bonded. When I was fresh out the vagina, she dropped me off with some old Mississippi folks who lived down the street, and didn’t make it back until I was six years and some change. I guess she forgot, or maybe something more important came up at the racetrack. Maybe she just couldn’t hang. I wasn’t a terribly atrocious child, so I know it wasn’t because of my looks. I wasn’t too dark, which was fashionably incorrect according to some stupid black folks back then. Nobody wanted a black-ass baby that looked like it came from deep, deeeep, deeeeeep ju-ju country in Africa.
“Anyway, I’m mind-rambling again.”
“That’s okay,” Brewster said. “Let your thoughts flow.”
“Sorry. I’ll try to stay focused.”
“Try not to get upset, okay?” Daphane said.
Doc Brewster was trying this hypno bullshit on me.
I was supposed to regress, go way back into my past, and see what else has me so jacked up that I behaved the way I did now. He kept calling me Ronnie, and they knew how I felt about that name. If I didn’t have these thick leather straps on my arms, I’d choke the life out of him. But I couldn’t, because the whatever shot they just gave me left me too weak. I was fading.
“My name is Harlem. Can’t you remember? Harlem. H-A-R-L-E-M. Harlem.”
“Right, right. I apologize, Harlem. I’m sorry. I was reading off your charts.”
“That’s alright. I’m sorry for going off in front of you, Daphane.”
Daphane smiled. “That’s okay, Harlem. Don’t be too mean today, okay? I had a rough night last night. Just do what Doctor Brewster asks, and I’ll sit down with you and we’ll look at yesterday’s newspaper.”
“You save me the business section and the funny papers?”
“Yeah. I’ve already circled your investments. One of the stocks you picked out went up a whole point from yesterday.”
“Thanks, Daphane. I appreciate it.”
“When is it?” Doctor Brewster asked. “Can you see yourself?”
“I can’t really tell. It’s kind of foggy.” My head dropped. Closed my eyes. “I hear voices. Screams.”
“What do you see?”
“Magnolia trees. Four-leaf clovers. Weeping willows. Dandelions. Children my age. We’re young and happy. Then all of a sudden I’m not. Shit is happening.”
“Because of hell.”
“Yeah. Hell showed up.”
“That’s irrelevant. When it happened, it didn’t seem that important. It wasn’t obvious to me. My naïveté. My ignorance.”
Other author's books:
- NanaThe Darkness To ComeFrenzied - A Suspense ThrillerDon't Ever TellSuspenseful Tales (2011)ThunderlandCovenantCornered
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