The storm slithered across the countryside, consuming all in its path. Hurricanes are nasty, especially in southern Florida. This one was a category four, with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. Most people evacuate in such a tempest, but not my grandpa.
The man is as stubborn as a boulder with less emotion to boot. He’s a hard man; difficult to love but not entirely without his charm. He is faithful, slow and steady and always does what he says. Grandpa is cut from a different cloth, old school through-and-through. His face is as severe as the storm and his demeanor equally so. No one would consider him a pleasant man, not even his wife. For this reason, he lives alone in Hendry County on a plantation.
I found myself stuck in the crosshairs of this ungodly devastation for his sake. I was worried for him. I’m his eldest grandchild, so I felt responsible for caring for him. To this day I regret my decision. It left me scarred. Sleep eludes me. I lay in my bed unable to keep my eyes closed. In the stillness of the early morning, I hear his desperate cries. I told myself there was nothing I could do. This is probably true, but fear stole my breath away.
I was powerless to stop them.
Storms are the worst. The panic attacks begin. The memories come back in a flood of emotions. I remember all the details. I hear the screams; the noises no human mouth can produce. My therapist says they are fantasies my mind conjured to distract me from my loss. I want nothing more than to believe this, yet I know it is not so.
I saw the eye.
The crotchety old bastard shouted, “Jeb move your ass, the storm is approaching and we still need to gather all the cattle into the barn.”
Thoroughly regretting my decision to help the old man, I responded, “I’m going as fast as I can. Yelling at me isn’t going to make it better.”
At this point, the wind was whipping through the trees. The rain was pelting us in the face, feeling like pin pricks on our exposed skin. This was so stupid, the old man had insurance on the farm and all damages would be recompensed.
Love makes you do dumb things.
The old man was the only family I had left. My mom died in childbirth and my dad drank himself to death. Suicide one sip at a time. Death by bottle. I was left alone, with no family members who cared for me. No legal guardian at the age of fourteen.
Confused, lost, bouncing from couch to couch; consumed by anger at my mother for abandoning me, disgust for the weakness of my father, and jealousy of my friends who had loved ones. This is how Terrance “Terry” Clearwater found me. He took me in without a second thought. His level-headedness grounded me. The old man was the only consistent thing in my life. He genuinely saved me.
Guilt and shame shatter my heart when I remember this. A debt to my grandpa will forever be unpaid. When he needed me most, I froze.
The storm roared. It surprised me how loud hurricanes can be. A war was being fought outside, an onslaught of winds and rain against the longevity of the trees and stones. Judging from the noise, it seemed as if the storm was winning.
We made our way in doors, stacking the heaviest beds and dressers against the windows. We weren’t keen on having a branch tossed through the window to impale anyone. I began to fill the bathtubs and sinks with water, knowing that at any time the power could go out.
After we felt confident enough in our fortifications, the two of us gathered in the living room. To distract ourselves from the tempest huffing and puffing and trying to blow our house down, I dealt out cards.
It was in the second game of poker when the lights began to flicker. Before we could even finish our hand, the lights were out altogether. For a second, we sat in the dark, listening to the wind and rain. It was oddly peaceful. That was the last peaceful moment I had with my grandpa.
Sometimes I wake up tears staining my pillowcase, yearning for that moment again. I don’t think I would light the candles this time. I think I would just let that moment linger, stretching it out for as long as possible.
I miss his gruff voice and rough hands. The sturdy pat on my shoulder, his signature way of showing me that he cared for me. He never outright said he loved me, but it was clear by his actions. Words are cheap, but actions are invaluable.
He was invaluable to me.
I ignited the flashlight and lit a sufficient number of candles. My nose was assaulted by warring scents. Each tried to compete with its counterpart. The room smelt of pomegranates and maple, cinnamon and ocean breeze, any smell imaginable was present. The smells made me queasy, at least that is what I thought then. Looking back at it now, I am convinced somewhere in my conscience I was aware of what was about to happen.
My grandpa grabbed his portable battery-operated radio, the one he used to listen to the ball games, and switched it to the local weather channel. In a crackling, staticky tone, the weather host predicted that the eye of the storm should be passing Hendry County in the next few minutes. The charming woman’s voice promised that, “the worst had passed and there shouldn’t be much more to worry about, stay hunkered down and light your candles.”
The woman could not have been more wrong.
The storm, in one final torrent of ungodly furry, blew with all its combined strength. An awful ripping noise, a crack, and an explosion; the 100-year-old oak in our front yard smashed through the kitchen window. I remember staring up through the gaping hole in the ceiling seeing the pitch black of night, darkened by the suffocating clouds and whipping winds. I felt as if I was staring into the depths of the abyss itself.
The storm at that moment ceased. No more wind, no rain, the clouds parted so that the moon was visible. It was full, the eye of God peering down on us. I stared perplexed at the blood moon. It was the color of blood congealed on a corpse. The visage was malevolent by nature. It was not the celestial body I was used to. It was foreign, uncomfortably large. The moon seemed to open wide and swallow the night sky.
The false moon had one dark spot in the center. A pupil in the center of an eye. The longer I looked at it, the more it peeked into the depths of my soul. It was alive. More than that it meant harm. I was certain of this. I can’t tell you how I knew this, but there was no doubt.
The night sky, other than the crimson glow radiating from that celestial eye, was darker somehow. It wasn’t merely darkness; it was inky blackness. Void of any light. It was a sky bathed in pitch. No light refracted. No light illuminated. My flashlight’s beam seemed to be choked in the night. An anorexic illumination emitting from the spotlight. Where my LED light would’ve ignited the sky like an offspring of the sun itself, it barely allowed me to see the far wall of the room.
It was as if the cruelty of the storm split the fabric of our reality only to have the hole filled by this monstrosity. Perhaps that is exactly what occurred. Regardless, I found my adolescent-self staring at the night.
I can’t rightly tell you how long me and my grandpa stood looking at the eye in the sky. We didn’t speak. What was there to say? We were glued to our spot neck contorted; eyes locked on the celestial body. I am not even sure I blinked the entire time. My eyes refused to break the soul gaze for one moment. Soul gaze it was. I understood vileness at that moment. I met true darkness. Fear did more than fill my heart. It consumed me, a shadowy beast tearing into my sanity. I felt myself wandering, my consciousness being lost forever.
It was the blood curdling cries in that inky blackness that broke my mind’s wandering. It was off in the distance, but I could not locate the origins. The darkness did more than distort light, the sound was odd. It was as if the night had substance to it, causing the soundwaves to bounce off of it. Echo location was impossible. One moment the sound would come from behind me. The next would be just outside of my field of vision. I could not tell if the creatures were leagues away, or if they lurked right outside of sight.
A different type of fear seized me. This kind was animalistic and natural, whereas, the previous type was philosophical and soul retching. There was a predator on the loose, my mind could comprehend. Before, the fear instilled by that eye in the sky ripped at my understanding entirely. It was something superseding my insignificant intellect.
Still, my body became erect. My senses fired on all cylinders, attempting to detect and protect. The carnal portion of my mind took over. Self-preservation kicked in, and I unconsciously shuffled towards my grandpa.
Safety in numbers.
We huddled there under my dinner table, unwilling to make a sound. Hoping, praying that the howls would fall off in the distance. No such thing happened. Fear muddled our minds and we could hardly even breath.
Eventually, my grandfather whispered in a voice barely audible, “We need to get to the attic. We are exposed here. We would stand a better chance of hiding, also my guns are in the lockbox in there.”
Mostly because I lacked a better plan myself and I was petrified to be left alone, I followed him as we crept from under the table to the corner of the room.
On all fours we crawled from one side of the room to the other, careful not to make a sound. The cries were getting desperate; hollering, slobbering noises produced in the back of the throat. They made my blood run cold. In the dim light of my flashlight, I saw my grandfather trembling. His hands shook and his face grew sweaty. The bestial calls were terrifying, but I had never seen my grandpa scared. This absolutely paralyzed me with fear.
My grandpa survived the Korean War, Vietnam War, and helped train people in Desert Storm. If he was worried, then I knew we were in dire straits. We were not moving fast enough. I was deadly afraid that those creatures stalking us would catch up to us.
As we barreled forward, scuttling as fast as we dared, we turned the hall to run face-to-face with one of the creatures. It resembled a dog; I mean this in the loosest way possible. It was made of shadow. I don’t mean it was shadowy, I mean the body was formed by the swirling darkness. Its paws were too large for the sleek frame, extended even longer by cruel claws protruding from its tips. The beast had twisted spines piercing its bent back. Its’ skin was flaky, like it was afflicted with a serious case of mange. Thank God I was unable to see the creature’s face. Its’ ears were notched and stood erect. They shortened and lengthened in a mesmerizing pattern that was oddly pleasing to the eye.
We backed away slowly, making sure we didn’t lose sight of the demon dog. In reverse, we made our way to the living room, hoping to make it to the staircase. As we scooted along, we heard a scratching sound coming from the kitchen. My head twisted with break-neck speed to get a glimpse of a second creature climbing through the hole created by the fallen tree. We were exposed to it. The creature only had to look up from its incessant scratching to see us.
Forgetting all pretenses, we climbed to our feet scrambling across the hardwood hallway for the living room. I wasn’t even trying to hide my footfalls, I fled with all my might. My grandpa was right behind me.
The creatures heard our ragged breathing and our heavy footfalls. In seconds they were in hot pursuit. Snarls, and slobbering yawls echoed down the hallway after us. Panic seized me, and I ran faster than I ever thought possible.
When I made it to the stairway, I turned to look back. My grandpa was a few strides behind me. The creatures were barreling towards him. He wasn’t going to make it. Our eyes locked. I saw that he saw he wasn’t going to make it. His lips formed, “I love you son.” It was the first time; I had ever heard him say it. Tears filled my eyes. I knew I ought to help him, yet my feet remained locked firmly to the spot. I watched as he changed course and began to run towards the front door.
The creatures were drawn further away from me. Still, I was unable to move. I stood there stunned, struck dumb in the presence of my grandpa’s final heroic act. Time was put on rewind, and for a second, I saw the man my bent grandfather used to be. A glorious man, young and full of life. He stood tall, accepting his death with stoic grace. My grandpa turned to me and we locked eyes. A moment passed, then he bellowed, “Go, get out of here. Grab the gun and hide.” As if it was magic, the ice in my veins melted.
I moved with the grace of an Olympic athlete. I flung myself up the stairs three steps at a time. I barreled through the spare bedroom, slamming the closet door against the plaster wall. I pulled the draw string for the attic door up above my head. I shot up the pull-down ladder and found myself in pitch darkness. If I could only get to my grandpa’s shotgun, maybe I could help him. It couldn’t be too late. I can’t lose him too. He is all that I left.
As if to make a liar of me, immediately I heard a familiar voice echoing from downstairs. It was my grandpa screaming. Tears filled my eyes and my vision began to sway.
Those god awful pleas for help.
They tore great swaths out of my still beating heart. I was consumed by those creatures, if not bodily, then emotionally. My grandpa. My strong, stubborn, and independent grandpa. I was left alone, again, in the dark with on one to guide me. I collapsed to my knees in that scorching attic. I looked to the heavens hoping to see God. All I saw through a leaking crack in the roof was that damned eye.
The blood moon seemed to wink at me, pleased with the activities of this night. I heard the unearthly screeches of those dogs’ taper off. It was just me and the celestial body. We stared at each other for a moment, then two. The eye in the sky didn’t want flesh, it wanted this. It wanted to gorge itself on my pain. The kind that remains. The kind no doctor can heal with clever medicines. The insatiable pain of loss with no hope of recovery. A broken heart, unable to be mended. Guilt for actions not taken, and prices not paid.
I used to think I was brave, a strong man. Now I know the truth. Me and that eye both saw. I am a coward through-and-through, willing to let those I love pay the price.
With one final glance, I looked and saw that eye and it saw me. I knew it, and it knew me. Then the winds picked up, and the clouds obscured that eye from my sight. I would like to say I have never seen it since, but every time I close my eyes, I still see it.
You see, I live my life underneath the watchful gaze of that celestial eye.
Credit: John Westrick
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