Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
I awoke on the day of my reconstruction. Grogginess left my body like a rusted machine. The room seemed to stretch for miles in my drowsiness, an eternal void that I lay in the center of. I reached my arm as far left as I could, rolling onto my side and grasped my cane. It eased the pains of walking. I pressed atop the thin beam and stood erect, my knees still tired from their necessary rest. Upon dressing myself I made my way to the front door of my creaking home. A deep breath and then out I went into the world once more.
The city blared with angrily honking horns and cars zipping by at high speeds. Not a day went by that I hadn’t feared for my life at least once while walking down these streets. The stench of exhaust and waste filled the air, intertwined with rich and welcoming aromas of nearby food stands. The concoction wasn’t necessarily anything to make someone hungry. I continued my way down the sidewalk. Video ads booming from billboards, taxi cab drivers calling out, and newsstands with small televisions yelping information of today’s events all formed an orchestra of busyness in my ears. As I neared a cross walk a young woman clasped my arm.
“Wait sir, you don’t want to be run over! Here, let me help you cross the street.” I grumpily waved her away and continued forth at my own pace.
I’d been helped enough in my day and that would soon be an issue of the past. After crossing the street I rounded a corner. A quiet prerecorded voice chirping from an intercom drew my attention to where I needed to go. Getting lost was easy in this city and sometimes I had no idea where I was going. The intercom yelped and barked self-promotion in a manner as cheerful as any likely overpriced establishment might. I found my way to the door and pushed it agape. The space was very quiet and the air was stale with faint sniffles and coughs breaking the silence amidst the few people who sat in the waiting room.
“Hello, sir. How can I assist you today?” a woman said in a calm, reassuring tone.
I made my way over, still unsure of my decision. “Uh..yes, I have an appointment today at ten for a reconstruction.”
A buzzer chimed and startled me, spreading a white chill through my body.
“What was that?” I inquired nervously.
She responded with the same calm, reassuring voice, “That means it’s time for the next procedure. You must be Mr. Edwards. Please, right this way.”
As she began to walk away she stopped, spun around, and reached for my hand.
“I will escort you to your surgeon now.”
There it was again, another need to help me walk. Thankfully in just a few of hours I would be able to walk without assistance.
The receptionist led me down the hallway through a door on the left. She walked me into a cold room and asked me to wait before leaving. I was surrounded by that same chilling silence I had become too familiar with. Dust found itself in my throat and I let out a small cough that echoed throughout the room. Suddenly the door behind me burst open lighting up all of my senses and shooting adrenaline through my body until I could feel my pulse in my ears. I whirled my head around to better grasp what had seemingly broken down the door.
“Mr. Edwards, I’ll be your surgeon this morning. You’re wanting a reconstruction. Is this correct?”
His toned seemed stressed and he was mildly out of breath. In light of this observation I realized I was still holding mine.
“Yes!” I heaved, releasing the air from my lungs.
The surgeon shifted to his heels for a moment, “Don’t be nervous. This is a common procedure.”
I adjusted my posture and shifted myself so that I was facing him. “So I have a few concerns I’d like to discuss before we-“
“As much as I’d like to talk about your concerns I have several more patients waiting on me. It’s a cake walk. You’ll be fine.” He nonchalantly reassured me. It became evident that this surgeon had no patience for patients.
“Come on then, we’ll get this over with in no time. This way.”
He placed his arm around the lower half of my shoulders and helped me to the operating room.
The doctor asked me to lie down. The bed was made of cold leather that stuck to my arms and its length fell just a bit too short for me so that my feet dangled off the end. I fluttered my feet like a tyke. The surgeon made his way to me and placed something over my nose and mouth.
“This will make things go quicker for you. Take deep breaths and we’ll see each other soon.”
I heeded his orders and breathed in, filling my lungs with air and released. I took another in and then another release. My efforts to do this task became more and more cumbersome with each breath. I grew light and began to lift off the table into nothingness. My thoughts grew further and further apart and I almost forgot why I came here. Then I remembered and my face melted away into a tiny smile.
My mind went black.
A low murmur slipped its way in through a crack in my hearing like a small mouse cautiously on the prowl for a snack. The sound ceased.
The same murmur oozed out into my ear drums louder and longer this time, somewhat forming a rhythmic beat as it went. The sound halted once more.
Then came the murmur once more, but this time it was audible. I felt myself come back to life. I could feel my entire body again and I remembered everything and why I was here. I began to shift from excitement but felt a warm hand rest easy on my shoulder. It was the surgeon.
“Mr. Edwards? Mr. Edwards. There he is. Now I need you to stay relaxed. You’ve been out for some time and I need to go grab some antibiotic solution for you to take home. Try not to move or mess with your bandages while I’m gone. It’ll only be a minute.”
He stepped out of the room and my patience wore thin immediately. I sat up and began working to remove the bandages. I wanted to see everything. I wanted to see how successful the procedure was. As I unwrapped the bandages I felt small nicks and pricks from the adhesive used to hold them in place being pulled unstuck from my skin. After each revolution of the wrap being removed the more excited I became. I finally made it to the last revolution. I paused and took a deep breath, closing my eyes tightly for the big reveal and slowly peeled it off.
I opened my eyes and… Oh my God. Tears crashed waves onto my cheeks. Everything was perfect. So vibrant and radiant! I had no idea what color meant until this moment and even though I didn’t understand how it worked, it was utterly magnificent. I looked down at my body, my hands and feet, my arms and legs. I looked so weird! Not what I expected. I stood up and began wandering around the room examining everything I could, or at least felt was safe to touch. I reared my head around in every direction until my heart dropped into my stomach.
Is that me?
Time stopped as I neared the mirror and looked at who I was. My salt and pepper hair, the slight crook of my thin nose, my dark eyes, the strangest colored lips, and the ears aside my head that have been my best friends since I was born. To be honest I think I looked pretty good for my age but what did I know? I had never seen anyone or anything before. Attractiveness was just an idea and feeling to me. I knew things felt pretty but that’s different.
The surgeon wasn’t back and I didn’t feel any negative effects. I merrily made my way into a dim hallway, and the moment I did, what I saw will ring through my soul and memory for as long as I can bear to stand it. Shivers shot down my spine. I couldn’t move, petrified with fear. Before me was a creature sprawled across the floor as still as silence, watching me. It had to be a demon or apparition of some sort. What was this foul being and why was I not told about this? Is this why the surgeon was taking so long? Had it devoured that poor man? Was I next on the menu? I took a half step forward and as soon as I did the creature grew larger as if ready to attack. My jaw dropped and I nearly stumbled to the floor from shock. I regained my balanced, leaped back into the room, and slammed the door.
I pressed my back against the thin barrier and waited.
What madness was this!? I shut my mind off for a second, suppressing my overwhelming fear. I couldn’t just stay there locked up in that room forever. That’d be ridiculous. I had to make a run for it. I grabbed a shimmering tool from a nearby tray. It was short with a rough grip and tipped with what looked to be a very sharp, small blade. This could do some damage if it came down to it. I gripped it tight and made my way toward the door. I gathered my thoughts and played the situation through my head. When I felt ready I burst through the door.
The creature rose from the ground once more as I entered the hallway. I leaped into a gallop, throwing the blade at it. Too panicked to see if I hit my mark, I rounded a corner and burst through a door ramming it into the surgeon’s face and sending an ear shattering crunch through his nose.
“Oh my God, my nose!” The surgeon belted, dropping the antibiotics to grip his face.
“Move! Everyone out! Run before it gets you too!” As I yelled I caught glimpse of the nurse who had helped me previously. She was gorgeous! Her skin was flawless and her hair was of a miraculous color! I was so caught off guard by the nurse that I stumbled over a seat. The room of patients stared at me wide eyed.
“What are you waiting for!?” I cried. “It’s coming!”
As I smashed through the front door I went nearly blind from a light in the sky casting its piercing rays down into my newborn eyesight. This must be the sun. I winced, shut my eyes, and covered them with my hands. I stumbled around for a moment, disoriented, frequently opening and squinting my eyes trying to get them to adjust. A man made his way over to me.
“Sir, are you alright? Do you need help?”
“No I’m fine. It’s just so damn bright out here!” I waved him off as the sun beat down on my face in front of me. I was starting to be able to see again and as soon as I made that realization I remembered how I got so disoriented in the first place.
My heart skipped into my throat and I began running again, hopefully in the direction of my home. I wasn’t even sure where that was with this new sense to rely on. I would do my best to listen for the landmarks I was familiar with. I was too afraid to look back for fear of laying my eyes on that monstrosity again, its image still printed in my brain. I remembered its faceless body harboring pure darkness with long, thin arms and legs that shivered and contorted in strange intervals. It seemed paper thin so there’s no telling where and when it could pop up again.
I decided to take a chance and peek behind me to see if it was still in pursuit. I struggled to swallow my terror as I panted from my sprint. I began to rear my head back slowly and I fully regretted my decision immediately. Behind me was that hideous entity, barreling towards me nipping at my heels, flailing its arms and legs across the floor reaching to grab me at every given opportunity. A surge of icy cold white seared my entire body in waves as I lost all control of all rational thought and only did what made sense.
Run and survive.
As I began to near a busier part of the city I came up on a clump of pedestrians. The closer I got to them the more dread befell me. It made no sense. I could not comprehend what was happening. Before me amongst the crowd were nearly an equal amount of these creatures looming around the pedestrians, latched onto them, seemingly controlling their every move. There were too many cars passing through the street to cross and there were no alleys to veer into. I braced myself then sprinted harder and leaped through the crowd, shoving people aside, hopping over countless puppeteers of darkness, hearing derogatory barks from strangers behind me until aches began to ripple through my legs. Then I saw it across the street. My apartment, beautiful and almost angelic the way it was lit by the sun lowering from its perch in the sky. I knew it was mine because it was just a matter of feet from the newsstand. Without thinking twice I bounded across the street dodging cars with blaring horns. The left headlight of one car nicked my hip and I spun out of control tumbleweeding to the asphalt.
“Watch where you’re going, jackass,” shouted an angry woman from the driver’s seat of the car.
Before I could give the demon a chance to catch up I hopped to my feet and rushed for my apartment. I scrambled for my key, unlocked the door, shoved it open, and slammed it behind me locking it as fast as I could.
It was incredibly dark, but safe. There were no bulbs in the fixtures as I didn’t have any friends or family that visited, so I never had use for them. It was an old apartment and I had been there for many years. For my protection I asked the landlord to add a layer of brick to my windows to prevent intruders from preying on a blind old man. I already knew my home by heart so traveling through the darkness was second nature to me.
I waited until my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Neat thing, eyes, how they can do that. My brief moment with sight was only a memory for now but what I remembered still glowed bright and vivid in my mind: colors with their vast variations, the shape and form of all things that were once only felt sculptures in my imagination, my eyes’ sensitivity to light being so new and oblivious to harm’s way, and the fascinating glimpse of myself and what I truly was. It was overwhelming to say the least, but wonderful to know things now that I thought I never would.
I cautiously scouted every area of my apartment to be sure I wasn’t in any danger. All clear. When I felt calm again I made my way to my bed. Once I reached it I realized I had left my cane back at the surgeon’s office. The fact that I no longer needed it was a comforting thought but it didn’t last upon quickly remembering the nightmare that these eyes had brought with them. Was this normal life for people? Have these things always been here and I just didn’t know it? The thought made the hairs on my neck stiffen. This was not what I had imagined life would be like with vision. This was not what I wanted. Always being watched. Always in danger of being ripped apart or controlled. I had a well-stocked cabinet of food. I decided to stay indoors for a while.
Two weeks had passed since my last outing. The irony of it was that I remained in total darkness for this entire period. I had grown weary of this existence but the gravity of the events following my surgery was essentially a thing of the past. I knew it was still out there waiting for me but I knew I was safe inside.
A week later my food supply was nearly exhausted. My heart was cold and my sight was moot. Years of saving for this surgery only to be rendered useless inside my own home. I decided to make a deal with myself. If I was going to go out there and die on the spot or have my consciousness sucked out of my brain, I would no longer live in fear. I would become the oblivious. And I would never see it again. My wit’s end had arrived as well as a solution. I would cut out my own eyes. Yes, that was it! These twin curses. I stormed to the front door. I stopped and thought to myself. If this thing is there then let it be done and my decision final. If it’s not, then maybe I really am just fucking crazy. I wasn’t sure which result I preferred. I unlocked the deadbolt and ripped open the door.
Light billowed through my apartment once again sending my eyes into a stinging frenzy. The sun was nearly directly in front of me filling the sky, as if it had been waiting to greet me all this time. I raised my eyebrows high and blinked rapidly getting my eyes to adjust. It was incredibly hot out and the air was thick and humid. I could feel a bead of sweat start to form just below my hairline. When I could see again, I scanned out around me. My senses were as sharp as a knife. I was ready to see that demon gnashing at me.
I took a step forward onto my stoop and scanned.
Still nothing and no one in the vicinity. Had this been some sort of invasion or a major emergency that I naively took as normality? I saw some people on distant street corners and sidewalks but I couldn’t determine if there were creatures among them or not. Had I completely lost my mind before? Maybe this was a side effect of my new eyes. I didn’t give the surgeon any time to explain anything. That was stupid of me. But… it seemed clear. Perhaps it was over and I was free. Hopefully.
I felt a blanket of relief lay over me and sighed as if a heaviness were lifted off. I hopped down from the stoop to the sidewalk and began making my way down the street. Before I took four steps I noticed something in the left corner of my eye, next to my apartment. I froze. I could barely move my head I was shaking so much. I slowly creaked my neck to the side and when I saw it my eyes began to well up with tears. I tried to scream but I couldn’t even breathe. I was so taken aback by what I saw that I forgot how to function.
There it was. Plain as day next to me.
But this time was different. It was latched onto me like the others I had seen in the crowd weeks ago. Game over. This was the end. I finally took in a deep gasp and let out a loud, shrill cry that drew everyone’s attention. I collapsed to my knees, shouting and fumbling over my words, uttering pure nonsense. This was it. No more. I made a deal. I looked down at my hands and stared holes through my fingertips. They taunted me, forcing me to keep my oath. Rage filled my face, contorting it into a violent grimace. I slowly drew my hands closer to my face. I crawled my hands up my cheeks like spiders and mashed my fingers into my eyes as hard as I could, trying to reach behind my eyeballs to pluck them out. The pressure on my eyes was sickening. The pain was excruciating. I dug my nails in. My eyes began to stream tears of blood. I stayed strong and dug deeper with my nails sending piercing, searing pain into my sockets. I screamed even louder than before. I kept clawing but the pain grew to be too much and I had to stop. I shook my head violently trying to stay lucid. I had to continue. Damage was done but my vision still had blurred bits and fragments remaining. The sight was a plethora of swirls and color blending into abstraction. I began again even more carelessly than before, like I was rummaging through a box of expired fruit, soft and filled with mush. I couldn’t breathe anymore. My thoughts were nonexistent. I was nothing but agony. It felt like I had shoved a whisk into each orifice and set it to high. And with one final movement I gripped whatever chunks of my eyes were left and clench my fingertips until they burst into goop between them. I was once again welcomed back to the dark void I had been cradled in my whole life.
My nerves were fried. I was going into shock. I could barely hear the voices waving in and out around me. I heard an older woman’s voice break through.
“Oh my god, what have you done!? Why!?”
I whimpered out a response.
“I was blind. I had a surgery but… the creatures. Following me. Following everyone. They’re always there.”
I pointed in a circle around me because I had lost my sense of direction and wasn’t sure where the demon was lurking. What I heard the woman say in response hurt me more than the macabre infliction I had just induced upon myself.
“Oh you poor thing.” Her voice crumbling with pity.
“That’s just your shadow.” The more she elaborated the more my heart sank until her words buzzed out into a cloud of loud ringing in my head.
Even though I was crying, all I could do was bleed.
Credit: Neil Ervin