Here we are again, returning to my serial short story. This is the fifth part, and you can find the first four under the “My Words” label. There’s only one more part, so that’s exciting. Right?
I don’t really have much to say, beyond this: enjoy, and feel free to comment your thoughts!
Eyes, Part Five
I live in a tiny apartment on the third floor of an apartment building in a small town in North Dakota. No one knows my name, no one speaks to me. The government gives me money, I spend it on things. Clothes, decorations for my house. Art. Even a cat. But the cat ran away last week. I never have to buy food, the mask sustains me. When the government worker stops by to giving me cash, she fills the feeder in the mask.
I am free, but in chains.
The neighbor boy likes to help me carry my shopping bags up the stairs. He’s nice, I guess. Three years older than me, ugly. His nose is too big and he’s got a lopsided grin. Too many freckles, dull colored eyes. Calloused hands, dirty-colored hair. And he always forgets to shave during the week, so scraggly little hairs blend in with the freckles.
I sit in my apartment most of the day and watch the television. Or my screen. I talk to myself all the time now.
Get up and do the dishes.
I don’t HAVE any dishes.
A pause, a moment of real silence.
Get up and do SOMETHING.
There’s nothing to do, here. Just flat fields of grain or grass or sunflowers. Nothing worth seeing, not even the ruins of Mount Rushmore. I live hours from those and they’re not even in my state. Maybe I’ll hitchhike over there, someday. I fiddle with the strings on my hoodie and shrug my shoulders. This hoodie is my favorite, my only one. I wear it with a pair of shorts most days, wash it on the weekends when I stay in bed all day and don’t bother getting dressed.
It’s your birthday in two days.
Well that’s a boring attempt at conversation. Usually I’m better at it than that. Months ago I stopped caring if some scientist saw what I was thinking. Or anyone else, for that matter. Haven’t clear the screen in days.
I’m going to be really old.
Twenty-two. You can drink now, you know.
I can’t drink ANYTHING.
Whoops. I stumped myself. There went the only reason to party on my birthday. My hands stray to the muzzle, feel the smooth metal. Each time the government worker drops by, she makes empty promises, saying that the mask might come off someday.
They’ll never let me speak. Ever.
I stand and shut the television off. Nothing on, anyway.
That screen is decidedly sarcastic. Sometimes I forget it’s me thinking both sides of that conversation. I walk into the bedroom and poke around through my closet. Clothes, clothes, a long-empty cat bed.
My life is boring, now. No chases, no starvation, no machines. Nothing. My heart flutters at the thought. A real life, that was. Always on the run, always watching over my shoulder.
Then the pain stabs me right in the stomach. They caught me. They chained me up and tested on me. Locked me up in a lab, tried to pick me apart. No, that wasn’t a real life. A farce, a play that felt real until the curtains closed and left me with this.
The clock by the door chimes two. I smile and sit down on the bed. My favorite time of day. Then, my eyes blink. Dimness surrounds me, near black. Countless seconds of swirling emptiness. I almost imagine that I said that final word. But then my eyes open again, the tears swirl back and away. Moistened eyes, back to unblinking.
I sigh, let the happiness dissipate to nothing. Five hours till the next time I can blink. That government lady also promises I’ll get to blink more often someday.
The doorbell rings.
Oh. Him again. I stand and wander to the front door and open it. Arnold stands there, smiling.
“Did you blink?” he asks.
I nod. He’s the only person in this town who knows I can only blink three times a day. Everyone else probably assume I just stare a lot because of my mask.
“Can I come in?”
I shrug, let him brush past me. Arnold. He’s got an ugly name, too.
“There’s a football game tonight,” he says as I close the door, “you coming?”
No. I hold the screen out so he can see the word.
He frowns. “You can’t drink anything? Really?”
Oh. I turn the screen away and sit down on the couch next to him. Then, I clear the screen and hold it back out to him.
“Oh. I thought maybe you took the mask off, sometimes.”
I shake my head.
They won’t let me take it off, ever.
“Who are they?”
They see what I write on this thing.
He fidgets and looks around. We go through this most of the times he comes to say hi. He’s got a short memory to go with his short stature.
“Can they hear me?”
I shake my head. Of course not. Idiot. But Arnold sighs like I told him new information.
“That’s good. Let’s see… is it the government?”
This again. He never can guess it quite right. I nod. He’ll get close, then give up. Always does. But at least he talks to me.
“Hmm… The Pentagon?”
I shake my head.
He blinks at the screen. “I thought-“
Not an important word.
“Oooooh. Right. Uhm… Top Secret?”
“Department of Human Secrets?”
I stare. He… he got it right.
He laughs, shouts, stands up. “I got it!” he shouts.
I take a deep breath, look around. It’s strange, now that he knows. Maybe they’ll look me up again. Wipe his memory, punish me for letting him guess. Don’t tell anyone, I write on the screen.
Arnold cuts off mid-laugh and his face turns very serious. “I won’t say a word. Are you sure they didn’t hear or see?”
I nod. They took the camera off my mask when I moved here. Said they did it because I was so obedient.
“What now?” he asks.
I shrug. Who cares, he guessed it.
What about that football game? I write.
“You really want to go?” He smiles, skewing up his ugly face even further.
Sure. But… I don’t know how to get there…
“I’ll take you!” He stands and looks around. “It starts at… uh… seven. I think Maybe six-thirty. We should leave at like… six. Or something.” He stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks down at me. “You really want to go?”
If it makes him happy, I guess. Besides, it’s a celebration. He finally got it right. Only took him two months of visiting and guessing. I’d go to half a dozen football games if he wanted me to.
The football game was pretty exciting. I don’t know what really went on, but everyone was cheering and shouting and our team won, I think. It was hard to tell. Either way, no one around me seemed to care for more than a second that I was wearing the muzzle. Besides, it was cold and I had a scarf covering most of it anyway. Arnold tried to explain everything, but it was hard to hear him above all the shouting people.
Best night ever.
Maybe I’ll go to the next one, too. After learning more about football.
I stop outside my door and glance over at Arnold. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, then clears his throat.
“Well, goodnight,” he says. Then he turns and walks down the hall to his apartment.
I stare after him. The cursor on my screen blinks rapidly.