Monday, November 21, 2016

Eyes, Part 6

Well, it seems we’ve reached it. The end of my serial short story. This is part six, and the final part as well (hence the end). If you’ve come with me since part one, congratulations, you’ve reached the last leg. If not, you can certainly read the previous parts, which can be found under the “My Words” label to the right. Feel free to read at your leisure, and let me know what you think!

Meanwhile, part six of Eyes:
Eyes, Part 6

The door to my bedroom creaks open.
I’m awake, staring up at the ceiling. Long ago I learned to sleep with my eyes forced open, it’s second nature. But it keeps me alert.
And my door shouldn’t be opening.
Light streams in, falls on the foot of my bed. Footsteps, creaking floorboards, the sound of the cabinets opening. I smell strong cologne, a heady scent like a dead skunk crossed with lilacs. The average cologne, then. All those footsteps, creaking, creaking. Lots of people.
My breaths come in short gasps, stifled by my blankets. Who is here?
Not burglars, not here. Everyone knows everyone and everything around here. Even I know who everyone is. No one breaks into places and steals things in this town.
Maybe they saw me at the game last week, saw me and wanted to convince me to never show my face in public again. Locals teaching that freak girl a lesson for coming to their football game. Tears trickle down my cheeks. I won’t do it again, if it is them. I’ll learn. Maybe they’ll leave me alone, just trash the kitchen and living room, leave warning messages.
Footsteps approach my bed.
Maybe not.
The light on my screen goes on, a terrible white light on my nightstand. Inside, I scream. It wakes up when it thinks I want to speak.
No, no, no! Go back to sleep!
“I know you’re awake.”
A rough voice, old. I freeze, unable to even breathe, now. My heart thuds slower than it should. Time seems to creep along, yet not creep at all. Race.
“We’re not here to hurt you or your things. Just to check up on you.”
The government. I relax, inhale deeply.
In the middle of the night? I think the thought onto the screen.
“Yes. We’ll be gone in a minute.”
I shift under the blankets and hug my sides.
Do you need anything from me? I hope not. I’m wearing a long T-shirt and nothing else, besides the muzzle.
“No, you stay in bed. I’ve just got check one thing…” a shadowy figure steps close, leans down, presses the side of my muzzle. It beeps once, twice, thrice. “There. Go back to sleep, we’ll be gone in forty-five seconds, all right?”
All right. What did he do with my mask? And what about the bumping and shifting in the other room? Were they searching my things? Anger burns in the pit of my stomach, hardens to a rocky lump that shifts when I swallow. They can’t read emotions off of me, can they?
Sure enough, the noise in the other rooms fades in less than a minute. The door clicks shut. I count to ten, waiting, then throw the blankets off and creep into the other room. Everything is dark again, shadows against darker shadows. Lights move across the walls, reflections of headlights through the windows. Then darkness. I play with the hem of my shirt and reach over to flick the light.
My eyes complain at the sudden brightness, but I can’t even squint. That’s all right, I’m pretty used to pain in my eyes. Everything in my apartment looks the same, tidy and neat as before. I shrug. Weirder things have happened. I shut the light off and stumble back to bed.
Sleep. Dreams of before the nightmares, back when I could blink. Ages and ages ago, back when my parents still pretended to love each other.

Waking brings groggy thoughts, bleary eyes, stuffed nose. I wander into the bathroom, rub my paralyzed eyes, shower, and brush my teeth. Then I meander back to my bedroom, pull a pair of pants on, a clean shirt.
A red light blinks in the corner of the living room. Just a tiny red flicker, then gone. I tilt my head, walk over to it. There, up in the very corner, sits a tiny, tiny camera. The side of my thumb and the same color as the walls. That red light blinks again as I stare at it, so quick and small I almost miss it. That anger from last night returns, harder, hotter. They’re spying on me, now. That camera wasn’t there before.
I glower up at it, clench my fists. Before I can think about it further, I jump up and grab it. The camera snaps off the wall mount and I land back on the floor with a thud. It beeps at me, like a car alarm. I open the window and throw it out, listen to it crash against the dumpster below.
My screen lights up.
I’m an idiot.
Yeah, the screen is right. I am an idiot. Now they’ll come back and tell me not to break the camera anymore. Claim it’s for my protection, that’s all. If I’m good, they’ll take it down someday. The anger smolders, though, and I can’t say I’m sorry.
I sit on the couch and read until noon – a new book I found in the library about a girl who meets the perfect guy and they fall in love or something. It’s the most boring and unrealistic thing I’ve ever read, but at least it’s something to do.
The girl hurts the guy’s feelings, they make up. For some reason he apologizes more than she does… what’d he do wrong again? I can’t remember. Probably something trivial, since the rest of the book paints him as perfect for her.
I glance at the other corners of the room. No blinking light there. Frowning, I put the book down and walk into the kitchen. There, just out of sight above one of the cupboards, a light blinks. Might as well do the job right: I pull a chair over and yank that camera down, too. Toss it on top of the dumpster.
Then I glance down at my screen. They can read everything I think onto it.
I don’t like being spied on.  I think onto it. Not that they care, but maybe they’ll take me into consideration when they come to install new ones.
The clock rings two. I blink, enjoy the blissful dimness, and wait for the doorbell. Five minutes after two, as always, the doorbell rings. I smile behind the mask and answer it, it’s Arnold.
“Did you blink?”
I nod.
“Good.” He shifts on his feet. “You want to go to the football game again tonight? We’re facing a real good team, but I think we can beat ‘em.”
I’d love to!
And that… that was the happiest thing I’d ever thought onto my screen. Even if it was an exaggeration. Love is a strong word. A stupid word, in some ways.
“Great! Hm. We’ll leave a little earlier so we can get better seats. Sound good to you?”
Sure, whenever. Whoops, there the screen goes again, being all distant and passive. I’m good at that. We walk into the living room and sit down.
“So. Now that I know where your mask comes from, I don’t even know what to talk about.” Arnold laughs a little. I try to act amused; it’s hard with the muzzle covering my grin.
He folds his hands. “Er… can I ask why you have it on?”
My heart stops and skips a pair of beats. Then I can breathe again, deeply. He… he wants to know. Not that he can guess. If I tell him… the scientists told me not to tell anyone in this town why I have the muzzle. They’ll take me away, keep everyone I tell silent. By force.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me,” he says, fingering the inside hem of his jeans. “I just… was curious. You… Nevermind.” Arnold looks away from me, his cheeks reddening.
When I close my eyes, time stops.
I take a deep, shuddering breath, and hold the screen toward him. His eyes widen when he reads the sentence.
Yes. And… and when I speak, things stop existing. All I have to do is close my eyes, say something doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t.
He stares at me. His hands tremble in his lap. “And… they… don’t want you to speak?”
“Why? Did you…” he grips the armrest of the couch.
Yes, I did bad things. Killed people. It’s… it’s a long story. They chased me, when I was a little girl. I couldn’t get away. So I made them not exist. In the end, the caught me, experimented on me. Then put this mask on me, set me free. I… I shouldn’t have told you. They’ll come, now. Take me away. Make sure you tell no one my secret. They…
Arnold reaches out, touches the mask. “How does it come off?” he asks.
It… why?
His big, calloused hands take hold of the sides of the mask. He flexes his muscles, pulls. Metal snaps, creaks, then breaks. The muzzle cracks and falls off my face. I suck in a deep breath, my first breath of free air in… forever.
Arnold holds the mangled pieces of the mask in his hands, stares down at it.
“I…” he glances at me, then back down at the muzzle. “I…”
My heart thuds, so loud it overwhelms everything else. Blood pulses through my ears, pounds through my skull. Slowly, slowly, I reach up and touch my cheeks, lips, nose.  I stand and turn, toward the mirror hanging above the table by the door.
Pale, tender skin surrounds my mouth, covers my cheeks and the tip of my nose. My lips are pale and narrow, pressed together tightly.
“I…” Arnold stands, the pieces of the mask falling to the floor. I turn to him, smile tremulously.
My lips part. “Th… thank you,” I say. Then I blink. It happens so fast, and then is gone.
I stare at Arnold, he stares at me. I blinked!
“You talked!” Arnold said, mouth hanging open.
I laugh. “Yes, I can talk… that’s…” I glance at the pieces of the muzzle. “That’s why I wore that thing. Why they made me wear it.”
Arnold nods solemnly. “What now? Will they arrest me?”
“They’ll probably kill you.” The words sound harsh and I wince. He does, too, but then he frowns.
“Not if they can’t find us.”
He shrugs. “We could leave, I’ve got my car. We can be far away from here, where they’ll never find us.”
My laugh is bitter, this time. “I ran from them for years. They always find you. Always.”
“What’s your name?”
I blink. “What?” Oh, it feels so good to speak.
Arnold’s deep, serious eyes stare at me, don’t blink. Mine do. Oh, mine blink.
“I don’t know your name.”
“It’s…” it feels like a secret, like a special part of me no one gets to know. “Vivian.”
He smiles. “Vivian. It’s nice to meet you.”
Then the door opens. It shatters, the hinges squeal and disintegrate. Men step through, men in red bulletproof vests, holding long rifles and aiming them everywhere.
“Step away from the girl.” The harsh voice from last night.
I look at Arnold. He trembles, stares wide-eyed at all the soldiers. “I’m sorry,” I whisper to him. Then I close my eyes.
Noises vanish. Taste, smell, touch, they all vanish. I float in nothingness. The words roll around in my mind, taunting me. So simple to say, to end all of it.
No more pain, no more hiding. No more secrets or darkness or me. Nothingness.
No more football games, either. And that’s what makes me pause. I’ll sacrifice the football games, the time where no one thinks I’m different or evil, to be free.
I take a deep breath, though there’s no air or breathing here. There is nothing but me.
“Nothing…” I search the darkness for the words. “Nothing is real.”
Screams. Terrible, terrible screams. Over and over and over, resounding in my head. Everything screams as it vanishes from existence. The soldiers, the people of the town, the buildings, the earth itself. Arnold.
Then silence. Vast, vast silence surrounds me as I float in true nothingness. I can’t open my eyes, for I haven’t got any now.
I am free.
The last scream echoes in my mind, though all is silent. Though I don’t have a mind anymore. I am nothing. But that last scream…
It forms words.
Words I know, words that don’t exist anymore because of me.
I love you.
The darkness trembles.
The last scream repeats those words over and over and over into the nothingness I created.
I love you.
I love you.
My non-existent heart flutters. My mind races, trembles, quakes.
No, I can’t do this.
“It’s real,” I say with a mouth I do not have. “It’s all real.”
The darkness refuses.
“It is all real!”
Flashing light, shouts, screams, pain. I scream, curl into a ball, squeeze my eyes shut.
A hand touches my back. Soft, large, gentle. It caresses my neck, pets my hair. My eyes are shut, but I can hear distant sounds: the ticking of a clock, shuffling feet, humming. Voices whisper. I smell metal and blood and worn carpet. The sharp metallic taste of blood fills my mouth, I stop biting my tongue. That hand strokes my hair over and over.
It’s not real. I made it not real.
Then I open my eyes. My hands cover my face, press against the carpeted floor. I sit up, blink. The soldiers stare at me, at themselves, all around. None of them point their weapons. Arnold sits on the floor next to me, watching me. He really is ugly, the ugliest person I’ve ever seen.
Too big a nose, too wide of lips. Not enough hair, or the right color. Dull eyes, clumsy hands. A little slow when it comes to thinking.
He smiles at me.
Well, he’s got one thing going for him; he has a pretty nice smile.
I look down at myself, my disheveled clothes. I blink.
I can do that now; blink. Nothing stops, time keeps going.
Did Arnold do that, or did I?
Who cares. It’s fixed. All if it is fixed.
Even me. Well, sort of. I’m still broken, very broken. I feel sad, sitting there on my floor and thinking. Lonely, dark, afraid. Sad.
But I don’t kill things anymore. I don’t stop time, I don’t control the existence of others.
At last, I am free.
The End