Butler F. Temple, ‘The Third Voice’, The Lily and the Dying Bird – (Terminal Transit excerpt)
The Third Voice
Once upon a time there was a cottage. The cottage stood on top of a hill. An old lady lived there with her daughter. Her daughter liked to paddle in the stream that gurgled beside the cottage, feeling the stones move between her toes. The old lady suffered from dreadful nightmares and cried out in her sleep, ‘Please don’t eat me, Monster.’
Kept awake by her mother’s nightmares the daughter took to reading in her bed by candlelight and as the light flickered she read about adventures in other lands. She thrilled as lost travellers found an oasis in the desert and fell to their knees to drink the refreshing water. She said to herself that one day she would travel the world, seeking out adventures. The daughter fell asleep with the book on her breast.
Later she woke with a start. The candle had gone out out and her room was as black as night. She reached out to find the candle stub but it was missing. Listening carefully, the daughter could hear voices softly whispering in the room her mother’s bedroom. There was only two people in their house so why could she hear a third voice? She listened terrified as her mother cried out in anguish ‘Please don’t eat me, Monster.’ The daughter thought she could hear the monster speaking. So troubled was she by the thought of what she was hearing that the poor daughter passed out.
The next morning it was as if nothing had happened and the mother and the daughter went about their daily business. In the afternoon, while her mother was at the stream, the daughter went into her mother’s bedroom and found three small stones laying on the floor. They were shiny and smooth and beautiful. The daughter fancied that these were the most amazing stones that she had ever seen in her whole life. Just then her mother returned from the stream with the water so the daughter hastily went back to her own room. She lay in her bed all afternoon, cradling the stones in the palm of her hand. Just holding them made the daughter feel different somehow, marvellous even. She fell asleep with the stones in her hand.
Later the daughter woke to hear her mother dreaming again. ‘I threw them out with the dust,’ she said and began to weep. ‘Do not tell me that,’ said the third voice. ‘The stones were yours to keep safe. They shone wonderfully like the brightest stars. What did you lose them for?’ The mother began to weep louder and more violently. ‘Please give me your forgiveness, my Lord, before I flood my bed with tears.’ ‘You mortals are all the same,’ said the third voice. ‘As if I care about any of you.’ ‘If we mean but naught to you,’ said the mother, ‘then why is the night such a dread time for me?’ ‘Silence, I say,’ said the voice. ‘What a pointless sentence.’ The voice laughed as it marvelled at its own wit.
‘There is such emptiness in your soul,’ the voice continued. The old lady fell silent. The third voice continued. ‘I like you,’ it said. ‘I like the way that you let me spoil your sleep each night, with my foul and angry ways.’ The voice grew louder and the listening daughter gripped her blankets, pulling the material tight between her fingers. She hid, lest the monster fall upon her with the full vent of its fury. ‘I am raging now,’ shouted the third voice. ‘None so moved as me will ever stride this planet’s paths again.’ The daughter pulled her blanket up until it covered her face entirely. ‘You are not only person in this cottage, are you?’ asked the third voice. ‘I know all there is to know about you and your ever-thieving daughter.’ The daughter feared she would never see the next morning now. ‘Oh, why did I find those stones and fall asleep with them in my hand? Will I regret this moment forever more?’
But then the daughter found courage deep inside her, a courage that she had never known existed until that moment. She climbed out of her bed and went into her mother’s room. ‘Are these what you are looking for?’ she asked. The old lady drew strength from her daughter’s strength and she mocked the third voice. ‘Have you lost your voice?’ she asked but the third voice did not reply this time. Nor ever again.
And now each night the mother and daughter sleep peacefully and have never heard the third voice ever again. But what of the stones, I hear you ask? The daughter threw them back into the stream where all three shone briefly just like the brightest stars ever seen before fading from sight.