From the author: Working in animation can come with its own particular, and bizarre, risks....
VOX POPULI 2,037 words
By David Perlmutter
It started when the doorbell rang.
Amber had been in the midst of something on the computer at the time. She generally didn’t like to be interrupted, but her inner politeness prevented her from a taking a rude response to the situation, so, sighing, she closed and saved the document she had been working on, went downstairs and opened the front door.
What she saw was rather unexpected, to say the least.
Her visitor was a young woman in her late teens, with chalk-white skin, black eyes with large pupils, and short hair, which, while presently black, seemed to have originally been a different colour entirely, as had the rest of her body. She was clad simply, in a Roman-style toga. What gave away what she really was, however, was her physical carriage. She was not standing in front of Amber, but, rather, levitating, as, occasionally, a drop of red blood fell from somewhere within her body.
In other words, Amber was being haunted.
It took Amber a little time to realise this fact before the other shoe dropped.
Amber was an actor who made much of her living recording the voices for characters in animated television programs. It wasn’t exactly a position with high media visibility, but, as Amber did not like the idea of paparazzi stalking her 24-7, it suited her fine. Besides, it paid well enough, and she was skilled enough at it to get work on a regular basis at multiple studios on multiple shows. And it wasn’t very taxing. Most days, she could get her “loops” done in a couple of hours, and then be free to do whatever she wanted until the next call-back.
She wondered what this visitation was about, not initially suspecting poltergeist activity. Some sort of cult or other freakish thing, she wondered? This was Los Angeles, after all. So, after initially expressing shock, she began to approach the whatever-it-was cautiously.
“Do I know you?” she said, suspiciously.
“You should,” was the response.
At that, Amber withdrew in shock once again. The creature was speaking in a familiar voice. Hers!
Well, not exactly. The voice was deeper, blunter and ruder than Amber would normally allow herself to be in public. But it was still hers, in a way. A voice she had employed in her work, on multiple occasions.
Once the creature spoke, Amber was able to glimpse her the way she had first encountered her- as a drawing made of ink on a piece of paper. And then came the sudden realisation of who it was.
“Viper?” Amber blurted out the creature’s name in shock.
“That’s my name,” was the snotty answer. “Don’t wear it out.”
“But how did you…?”
“You oughta know that!”
“Because you’re the reason I’m like this now, you BITCH!”
Amber flinched at the insult, but kept cool.
“And just why is that?” she said, braver than she felt inside.
“Man! You human broads sure are dumb when it comes to this stuff. Because you were my voice, and you didn’t stand up for me when the show got cancelled, and so I got banished to this hellhole existence. Same with the others.”
“Yeah. They’re out back. Waitin’ for ya!”
“Why do ya think? REVENGE!”
“I don’t understand….how this is even…possible,” blurted Amber. “I mean, you’re just a fictional character I played…God knows how many years ago….and here you are…”
“‘Just a fictional character’ THIS!”
Viper struck Amber in the face, her ghostly face connecting squarely with Amber’s real nose, and knocking the human clean off her feet. Having trapped her, Viper grabbed Amber’s nearest arm and held her tight, with a formidable amount of strength.
“You’re crazy!” Amber said in protest. “And stoned! It’s right on your face!”
“Sure, I am,” Viper agreed, glowering at her. “The whole lot of us are crazy to begin with, being cartoon characters and all. As for being stoned: yeah, you called it. There ain’t much to do when you’re like this except drink and do crack and screw each other. Granted, some of us were doing those things before we became ghosts, but…”
“But how did this all happen?”
“Damn it! Have I gotta explain everything to ya?”
“It’d…put my mind….at ease,” said Amber, trying to hold on to her sanity.
“Alright. If it’ll help ya….”
For the first time since she arrived, Viper moderated her voice so that she wasn’t simply bellowing at Amber. She took a deep breath, let go of Amber’s arm, and then continued.
“You remember the first time you saw me?” she asked.
“Sure. You were just a drawing, then…”
“No more of this ‘just’ stuff, ya hear?”
“Well, as soon as you taped my voice, and the other folks did theirs, and it got combined with the drawings and film and what have you, we came to be. For real.”
“Real,” Amber repeated, horrified. “As in…. but you’re not….”
“Right. Only not the type of “real” you are. It’s some sort of parallel universe thingy. We exited alongside your world, but couldn’t take part in it. All the shows are like that.”
“I see.” Despite the calmness with which she uttered those words, Amber was convinced that she had now gone completely insane.
“ ‘Course,” Viper continued, “the interesting part comes when we get cancelled. All the stuff related to the show gets dumped down the drain, ‘cause apparently they don’t need us to make any more of their fucking MONEY for them! And we end up getting put away as spooks like this for the rest of eternity! Don’t call us, we’ll call you. That sort of thing. And I don’t need to remind you, Ms. Actress, exactly how many shows there have been over time- or how long most of ‘em LAST!”
I’ve not only gone insane, Amber thought, but I’m also gonna die….unless…
“But why me?” she protested. “I had nothing to do with those cancellations. If you want revenge against anyone, it should be….”
“The creators,” finished Viper. “And the producers. And especially the goddamned SUITS! Don’t worry- they’re getting theirs, too. That’s what we came for. But you still gotta go down with them.”
“You still don’t get it, do ya? You PROFITED off of us, and didn’t share the bounty. Right? You got paid, didn’t you?”
“Of course I got paid,” said Amber, lapsing into a madwoman’s titter. “You don’t seriously think that anyone in this business does it for free…”
Viper cut her off by grabbing her neck with both ghostly appendages.
“That’s what I MEAN!” she retorted. “Now you’re getting paid METAPHORICAL-like!”
Without any further words, Viper transferred her arms from Amber’s neck to her hair, and flew her over to the back door of the house. Viper passed through the door easily, but Amber, not being transparent, crashed against it. Swearing violently and profusely, Viper used her strength to reduce the locked door to kindling, grabbed Amber, and pulled her out to the spacious lawn that dominated the latter’s back yard.
As she was carried like a log under the apparition’s arm, Amber was suddenly surrounded by a barrage of bizarre creatures, chiefly female, all with the same chalky appearance and clothing as Viper. Like her, they were either drunk to the gills and/or stoned out of their minds, even those who supposedly were “children”. The noise they produced by all talking, singing and cavorting at once was an unbearable cacophony, unfit for most human ears, but particularly hard for Amber to stomach. For it was her own voice she was hearing, multiplied in thousands of ways, emerging from all of their larynxes. Altered slightly in pitch, tone and accent, shifted through tape editing and sound mixing, shrill harridan indistinguishable from innocent nymph.
“Hi, lady that does my voice!” said a small, bunny-like creature, offering up in its paws for Amber’s potential use a white powder that was neither sugar nor salt. “You wanna cop and blow?”
“Beat it, kid!” Viper ordered. “We got business to do right now.”
“ ‘Kay!” was the response. “ ‘Bye, lady that does my voice!”
With that, the strange creature receded into the background. Viper dumped Amber roughly on the lawn, and the ghosts surrounded her like wolves around a fallen moose. Viper whistled shrilly and held her hands up for silence. Miraculously, the cacophony ceased.
“All right!” Viper barked. “Let’s get on with this. We can’t just stand around here, can we? You bunch over there, grab her feet, and then the others can…”
“What the hell are you doing?”
Again, Amber was stunned to hear a variation of her own voice come out of someone else’s throat. A newcomer had arrived on the scene, and she wasn’t pleased. She was of the same colour, build and appearance as the others, save for wearing a colourless jacket, shirt and skirt rather than a toga.
Fortunately, if only for a moment, Amber recalled that this character was much more ethical in nature than the others, certainly more so than Viper. Could it be that she had come to spare Amber’s life, rather than take it?
“I told you,” the newcomer huffed, lividly, as she pointed a finger at Viper, “that you were not, under any circumstances, to attempt…”
“FUCK OFF!” Viper snarled back at her. “I don’t need you and your goddamned “rules” around here, Falstaff! Just ‘cause yer whole raison d’etre on yer program was to bitch and complain and boss around other people don’t mean that now…”
“YES, IT DOES!” the other thundered loudly, as if she had the voice of God.
For a moment, everyone were silent, frozen into a tableau.
“I am the president of the colony of discharged animated characters existing in Limbo,” Falstaff continued, calmly but menacingly. “And I made it clear when I took office that nobody was going to get away with any blithe schemes for revenge on the “real” world that they had. Did you not hear me say that?”
“Yeah,” growled Viper. “Ya goddamn well SHOUTED it, like ya always…”
“Then why,” interrupted Falstaff, “are you having a goddamned TOGA party here, with the blatant intent of killing Amber in the process?”
“You’re just jealous ‘cause we didn’t send ya an INVITE!” Viper shot back.
The others (except Amber) chortled loudly- until Falstaff roared at them with a wordless, blood-eyed snarl.
“The party’s over,” she snapped. “Everyone comes back-NOW! And you apologise to…”
“Who sez?” growled Viper.
“I believe I made that perfectly clear, you brainless, substance abusing WHORE!”
“That’s the fucking FINISH, baby!” Viper snarled, as her whole body turned blood red in anger. “Let’s see you to try to talk me out of kicking your fucking ASSHOLE!”
Enraged, she screamed and lunged at her opponent’s throat. Falstaff was able to move quickly enough to deck Viper with a well-timed punch. Undaunted, Viper pulled Falstaff to the ground by getting a grip on her hair and one of her legs. An injurious fight began, with the pair cursing each other constantly and loudly in the process.
Amber saw in the fight a possibility of making her escape, and tried to do so. But the other ghosts stopped this by quickly surrounding her, making negative looks with their faces. Before the human had a chance to do anything, they grabbed her neck, her arms and her legs, pulling, pushing, snapping….
…until her head broke from her neck and rolled away, like an apple from a tree.
The ghosts were jubilant, and raised their voices in a cheer…
…but no sound came from their lips.
With Amber’s death, they were now voiceless-permanently. In realisation, their bodies and faces went through the motions of crying without making any noise.
Viper and Falstaff fared likewise. Pausing when they noticed what was going on, Viper tried to say something, but found herself unable to speak. Falstaff laughed- until she realised she couldn’t laugh any more.
They headed, en masse, back where they had come. For, in condemning the woman who had “played” them to an unjust death, they were now to face the rest of their lives living through death in another, far more terrible form.
This story originally appeared in Original to this site.
A history of television animation in the United States from 1948 to the present, with critical analysis of programs and biographies of major figures involved in the production of series.
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