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My grandfather was an inventor.
All his life he’s be tinkering with something, either taking something that existed and changing it, making it into something brand new (Or at the very least different) or inventing something entirely from spare parts. And while nothing he invented was ever earth shaking it was always one of my greatest delights, ever since I was a little girl, to see what he’d made.
Childhood visits to his home would always begin or end with me sitting on the couch, a look of absolute fascination on my tiny face as he showed off whatever gadget he’d put together in his workshop this time around. It was like having my own personal Santa who worked all year ‘round to fill my eight year old mind with wonder and glee.
My older sister was likewise excited, no matter how much she tried to hide the excitement it filled her with, probably in an effort to appear cooler or more mature than myself. And while, because of real life getting in the way, the visits became fewer and fewer the older we got, we would always make time to see him at least a few times a year. And every time he would have something new to show us.
He really was a genius.
I should add that isn’t meant to imply something horrible happened to him. I’m sure some days he wishes it had, that it had been him who had wound up in that hospital instead of my sister but no, he went in his sleep and I hope that his passing was a peaceful one.
Even all these years later I can’t bring myself to be angry about what happened, can’t bring myself to hate him. He had no idea what would happen, no clue how things would pan out.
He knew something was wrong, oh yes. He wasn’t some doddering old fool. He knew the first time he looked through them that something was wrong but he thought it was something only a little odd, something unsettling and curious perhaps but not anything dangerous. Not anything that would HARM anyone.
I think deep down he just wanted to know that he wasn’t crazy. He wanted to be sure that he wasn’t seeing things. And who can blame him?
There were three of us that year.
Myself and my girlfriend Justine and my sister Joan. We were both used to our grandfather being bursting with energy to show us whatever he’d put together so his oddly subdued mood when he came to the door to greet us came as a bit of a surprise. I was a little disappointed in fact, as I’d been hoping Justine would get to share in the experience of having a new invention demonstrated before our awe struck eyes. We’d only started dating that year so it would be the first chance she got to see the kind of things I’d been telling her about.
The day passed pleasantly enough as we chatted, enjoyed lunch and watched the television together. I think it was
Joan who asked him, finally, if he had anything special to show us today. We knew that he’d been working on something as while this was the first time we’d seen him in person in a while we’d both spoke to him on the phone in the preceding months and he’d eagerly explained to us that he was working on something he thought would be quite extraordinary.
I still couldn’t tell you how he made them, nor would I if I could. Nor could
I tell you what his original idea for those oddly coloured circles of glass had been, before that fateful day he’d looked through them and seen what he’d seen. He never shared details of his work with us beforehand as he wanted it to be a surprise and afterwards I think he was terrified of the thought of anyone replicating what he’d made.
All I know is that when Joan pressed him to reveal his latest invention he looked nervous in a way I’d never seen him before, looked as if he was deeply troubled by something. He hesitated before speaking as if not sure he should say anything at all before explaining to us that the nature of what he was working on had changed after an ‘Unusual event’ and that he wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to show us the end result.
Now we may have grown since the days when we could perch on his knee but whether someone is two years old or in their twenties the surest way to make them want something all the more is to tell them they can’t have it. So his reluctance (Which at the time I’m sure we BOTH thought was feigned, to heighten the suspense before the unveiling) just made us both want to see his invention more than ever.
With a little persuading he agreed and left to fetch it. He came back a few moments later with what appeared to be a pair of glasses.
With one big difference.
The lenses were like no glass we’d ever seen before. I can’t even describe the colour of it without resorting to words like ‘Red-ish’ or ‘Green-y’ as they didn’t seem to be EXACTLY any colour that we have a name for. In fact they didn’t seem to be exactly any one colour at all, as if you tilted them one way they would look different to if you tilted them another. I know full well that probably sounds more like magic than something a well-meaning old man could put together in his humble little workshop but there you have it.
Joan asked what they did and our grandfather paused for a few moments,
as if not quite certain how to answer.
In the end he told us that we really had to put them on for ourselves as he was certain neither of us would believe him if he told us. Joan wanted to put them on first but as she lifted them off the table he reached out and grabbed her hand.
He cautioned her that it MIGHT be startling at first but that she wasn’t in any danger and that if she got frightened she could just take them off. He warned her that what she was about to see may not make any more sense to her than it did to him but that we were all there and that she was safe. I could tell Joan was a little frightened. She always was lousy at hiding how she felt from people and even I was feeling a bit unsettled by our grandfather being so uncharacteristically ominous about the whole thing.
Joan slipped the glasses on and we waited.
She gasped and then for the next few moments she looked puzzled more than anything. Her lips moved wordlessly and I thought I caught a ‘No…that’s not right’ under her breath as she seemed to look around at something none of us could see.
And then she began screaming.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard someone scream in horror in real life. I can promise you this; it is not like in the movies. The movies do not convey the awful sound of someone you love screaming their lungs out, making a noise more like an animal than a human being. They cannot make you feel the things I felt in that moment, watching Joan yank the glasses from her head and hurl them across the room.
And nothing could have prepared us for the sight of Joan beginning to claw at her own eyes, screaming louder than anyone should be able to scream as she did it.
It took all three of us to restrain her at first. When we had her pinned down so she couldn’t hurt herself anymore Justine and my grandfather held her that way while I called for an ambulance. I had to watch as she was strapped down and wheeled into the back of one, thrashing and hissing and shrieking like some mad animal, like something utterly consumed by fear.
I explained what had happened, knowing full well how it made me sound. Justine and I both explained the series of events that lead to this to the sceptical if not totally disbelieving hospital staff and then to the specialists called in when nothing short of being tranquilised proved effective at stopping my sister from trying to hurt herself while screaming like that.
The glasses had supposedly ‘Gone missing’ which made proving what had happened difficult. And it wasn’t until almost a year later, long after my sister had been committed, that my grandfather finally confessed to me that he’d destroyed them. I don’t know if having them could have helped, could have given the doctors some way to make things right. I doubt it somehow and I can’t truly blame him for doing what he did, given that it was an act born out of guilt and an honest desire to make sure this didn’t happen again.
I asked him what my sister had seen that day, when he told me what he’d done. I asked what those glasses had done to her. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it and for the first time in my life I’d raised my voice to him, angrily demanding to know, after all this time, just what had driven my sister to this state. What had affected her so deeply, so profoundly that she was now no longer even recognisable as the person I’d grown up with.
He took me to his workshop and began digging around through the bits and pieces that littered the place, the half-finished and now long discarded inventions still awaiting completion, he produced two pieces of glass rather like the ones that had been fitted into those glasses. He told me that there wasn’t any way to describe it without sounding insane, that if I had to know then I had to see. But he begged me not to do this, that knowing wouldn’t make things any better.
He was right.
I held the glass up to my eyes and in an instant everything changed. Instead of just my grandfather stood before me now there were dozens more in the room with us. But they weren’t people.
They were pale and emaciated, hunched over and dressed in dark clothing with black lips and wide lidless eyes that seemed to almost bulge from their skulls in a manner both comical and horrifying all at once. Their mouths were full of hundreds of thin teeth, like needles. Their fingers were grotesquely long and ended in dark and viciously pointed nails that scraped along the floor as they walked. And all of them were talking, or rather their lips were moving soundlessly.
Each and every one of them was trying to say something that couldn’t be heard, dozens upon dozens of voices trying to convey something.
I dropped the glasses to the ground in shock. And my grandfather brought his foot down on them hard; grinding them to powder beneath his foot, muttering that he should have done this in the first place. He put an arm on my shoulder asking if I was alright. I was far from alright and he had been correct…what I had seen had made things worse, not better.
It took me a while to work it out of course. Why this had such a horrifying effect on my sister and yet I had survived the experience, frightened but not sporting the mental scars it had given her.
The glasses only let me SEE the creatures. I couldn’t hear what they were trying to say to me, couldn’t understand the message they were trying to impart.
But my sister was deaf.
She could read their lips
Credit: Alice Thompson