Sclera

I don’t know why it started. I just woke up one morning and my eyes were burning. The whites of my seeing organs were the site of an intense horrible searing, an unrelenting fire that stung and scalded and stabbed. It was as if in the night someone had pried back my eyelids and poured paint thinner mixed with battery acid beneath them. When I blinked it was like a sandpaper scraping – no, much worse than that – like the jagged teeth of a rusty old saw scraping away the white fibrous flesh set in my skull.

Nothing helped. The doctors were baffled by my strange affliction with no apparent cause: no foreign object, no inflammation, no infection – my eyes were, under all examinations, completely normal. They still assaulted me with a barrage of treatments: eye drops, salves, creams, painkillers of ever increasing power and with more extreme side effects; nothing changed, the horrible burning fire still permeated the whites of my eyes.

I wanted to claw them out with my fingers. I’d rather be blind for a thousand years than experience another millisecond of this searing agony. All the hellfire of damnation in Inferno must have been but a bee sting compared to what I was experiencing each moment.

In a thunderstorm of burning pain I rose from my hospital bed and staggered out into the antiseptic corridor, its existence a blur through the streams of tears pouring down my cheeks. I heard noise coming from one of the closed doors – an operating room. I kicked it open and was faced with a doctor and team of nurses looking up from their work in surprise.

“Hey! What are you doing? You can’t be in here!” I saw the blurry green blob of the surgeon turn from the operating table with scalpel in hand.

Mindlessly I reached out into the haze and plucked the bloody instrument from him. I threw my head back and stared at the ceiling and the hot tears streaming from my burning eyes ran down my temples. I held it high above me. My hand shook.

“Wait! Stop! What are you doing? Don’t…”

The nurse screamed as I plunged the bloody blade deep into my eye socket and twisted.

Where’s John?

“John!” I called out as the door slammed closed behind me. “Are you home?”

I walked in and threw my purse and keys on the kitchen table. The keys made a metal jingle and slid across the wood. “John!”

He wasn’t home. I looked all through the house – the bedrooms, the living room, even out in the yard (I thought maybe he’d be working in the garden). He was nowhere to be found. Strange, as the SUV was in the driveway.

He must have gone out for a walk, I thought, and sighed. I went inside and put on a pot of tea, and settled into the couch to make some headway on my Agatha Christie.

Hours passed, and it got to be the evening, around the time we would normally start making dinner but he still hadn’t come back. I was starting to become worried. I picked up my cell and dialed, and heard, far off, the sound of his phone ringing, and the distant muffled hum of it vibrating.

The basement! Of course, it was the only place I hadn’t checked.

“John!” I called out, phone in hand, running down the creaky wooden steps. The vibrating hum continued and I realized something wasn’t right; the sound was coming from the ceiling, from a far dark corner of the basement.

“John?”

And then I looked up a saw it: John’s bloody body, wrapped up in silver strands of gossamer in a giant cocoon, his limbs bent all at wrong angles. His eyes were still wide open in horror and his mouth agape.

The creature crouched atop him hissed, and turned to face me.

Supply Run

Beep-boop.

“Shame about that girl,” said the clerk, swiping another item.

At the next till there was a crying child, an obvious product of poor parenting. It was clear from his mother’s hurried attempts to calm him who was really in charge. If it had been up to me I would have lit him on fire and drop-kicked him into the East River.

She was attractive though.

Beep-boop.

“Been almost a month,” the clerk continued, looking down from the droning newscast in the background. “Almost a month since the first one disappeared.”

“I know,” I muttered, still distracted by the unfolding drama between the mother and what was undoubtedly her bastard child.

Beep-boop. The last item, a pair of needle-nose pliers.

And then I heard it. I didn’t need to turn around. I knew whose face was on the television screen, bordered in a little blue rectangle above the left shoulder of the anchor.

Police have released a photograph of the suspect for the first time, and are asking anyone with information to come forward. As the number of missing women in the city continues to rise…

A frightened expression, a terrible mixture of dawning realization and growing horror, began to spread on the clerk’s face.

“F-fa-fa-fa-fa-fortynineforty.” He stammered.

I threw a fifty at him.

“Have a great day,” I said, and picked up the bag. I was pretty sure I had everything: pliers, hammer, saw, box-cutters, zip ties, duct tape.

The little boy was still bawling; his mother was going to be a while. I went out to the car, to wait. I had time to think about which one would be first.

The Stranger

“You best step away from them hosses, padnah.” The commanding voice boomed out over the dusty expanse of the empty thoroughfare.

The Sheriff and his deputy had caught the offender mid-act by chance, on stepping out onto the saloon porch.

The man did not move. He stood facing away from the two lawmen, his long black cloak and wide hat hiding all features. Strange, thought the Deputy, to dress all in black in this heat.

“I’m afraid,” rasped the man, “I cannot do that.” The Stranger’s voice was low and gravelly.

“Step away, you!” The Sheriff shouted, his hand above his holster now, elbow cocked.

“Perhaps,” came the voice again, up into the whirlwinds of the desert air, “it is you who should step away.”

In a flash the man spun on his heels. Four shots broke the stillness of the empty street crackcrack crackcrack and the Sheriff fell backward onto the rotting boards of the saloon porch.

The Stranger, mounted atop one horse and leading the other, rode over and looked down at the cowering deputy and bleeding marshal.

“I told you not to interfere,” he hissed. “Let others know that night is coming. I shall return.”

He rode off into the blazing heat of the desert.

The deputy was terrified. The man had won the draw with his back turned, and dropped the Sheriff from a hundred yards with four shots square in the chest.

But what frightened the deputy most was what he’d seen on The Stranger’s shadowy face. For beneath the wide brim of that black hat he’d seen only two dark empty pits. The man was blind.

DKNSTRKTD

When I awoke my arm had turned into a girder.

I gazed in horror at the monstrous metal beam which had replaced my flesh, covered in red paint chipping away to red-brown rust. Out into the street I ran, and saw it was filled with throngs of horrified people. They were changing too.

A man’s hands were twisting lengths of copper wire, and a woman’s arms steel pipe. A young boy’s torso sat atop stacks of cinder blocks. Another man lay dead in the street, his head replaced by the frosted dome of a light fixture.

Up above the buildings were changing too. The massive skyscrapers were transforming into monstrosities made of our skin and bone. Blood gushed from orifices of the towering piles of flesh, running down into the streets and flooding them.

From high above came a voice, one we heard only in our minds:

You knew this day would come. You are only getting what you deserve. Proud humanity, turning from nature with scorn; you said you didn’t need us, that you had bested us with your technology, your science, your engineering. You raped and harvested us, turned us into what you said life should be, what was easiest for you: a sterile, artificial world.

You built false idols in the sky in which to live. You shut yourselves in, away from each other. Closer and into smaller spaces you hide away, but you are farther apart from each other than ever. And you are the farthest from us that you’ve ever been.

We are only showing you what you’ve become. Gaze upon each other in horror at your true nature.

The Longest Day in the Park

When we got off the ride, the park was empty. The once bustling gaily decorated square of the east end was now desolate and lifeless. The air was stale, and empty, and it felt different somehow, colder than before.

Everyone had disappeared. Even the ride operators were gone. The whole park was at a standstill. The rides sat still against the backdrop of blue sky, frozen.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jimmy said, visibly spooked. “This doesn’t make any sense. And it’s giving me the creeps.”

We walked from one end of the park to the other, trying all the exits. All the gates were closed and locked, all the entrances devoid of life. The gates looked like they hadn’t been opened in years, or decades. Some were chained shut, others rusting.

We were trapped. Trapped in the empty wasteland of the park. There was only us and the sound of the wind, and the sight of those giant steel sentinels looming over us, immobilized.

“What is this?” Tiffany cried, afraid. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But something obviously happened. Let’s go back to Dragon’s Breath, it was the last thing we did before everything changed.”

When we got back to the ‘coaster we saw a door was open, one that had been closed before, the one beneath a tacky sign surrounded by orange flames sculpted in plastic relief: RIDE PHOTOS.

As the three of us stood and watched the screens, the park felt emptier and colder still. It was a video on a loop: us getting onto the ‘coaster all smiles and excited anticipation, it slowly, slowly rising to the top of the track for the big drop, then reaching that point at the very apex where you feel gravity do its dirty work and your stomach drop, and then…

Chaos. The dragon tear down the tracks, rocking back and forth. The screams of excitement turning to terror as the cars derailed and sent the train and its passengers flying into the track ahead in a cyclone of twisted metal. I watched Tiffany flop end over end like a ragdoll, hitting the steel struts of the track. I saw Jimmy hit his head and fall to the grass hundreds of feet below. I watched myself being twisted up and torn apart in the carnage.

“We’re dead,” Tiffany said, staring at the floor. “We’re all dead. And now we’re the only ones left. We’re stuck here… forever.”

I watched the video loop on the screens, and thought about spending the rest of our longest day in the park; the rest of eternity.

I’ll Be Dead Soon

When I came home, there was blood on the sheets.

Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit. Not again. No, not again.

But the bed was empty. Emily wasn’t there. I ran back out of the bedroom and saw that the sliding glass door to the balcony hung open – the curtains around it were slowly swaying in the wind. I hurried out into the blinding light of day.

Emily sat on the concrete of the balcony floor, her back leaned against the grey brick of the wall. Her legs were pulled up against her in the fetal position and her face was pressed into her knees, buried beneath her disheveled black locks. She was crying.

“Honey….” I said, softly, and crouched down.

She looked up at me. Her pale skin was reddened and her cheeks were coated with streaks of hot tears running her black mascara. There was sadness in her eyes, and shame.

“I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry,” she started to say, but her words quickly rose and turned into crying again.

I slid down against the wall next to her and put my arm around her. She buried her face in my shoulder, and wept. Over and over again she kept repeating: I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry…

I tried to comfort her, knowing that it would do little. It would be a long night.

I gazed out from our balcony on the 23rd floor, into the rows of cold uncaring skyscrapers of downtown. As Emily wept, I felt her slowly rubbing her hand against her forearm, over and over. I looked down at her long fingers as they smeared her blood back and forth, the same blood that was on the bedsheets, the same that covered her fingers, and had flowed from the shallow cuts she made.

She’d said before it would be the last time.


“Come on honey,” I said the next day. “Let’s go get a hot chocolate.”

In all the chaos and emotion that was living with Emily, I tried very hard to find the few things – those precious few, bright things – that stood out for her, that I could do to try to lift her spirits. There weren’t many. There wasn’t much that could bring her from her low, dark place closer to what could be considered to feeling normal, or even just sad. The white hot chocolate at the cafe down the street was one of those few things. Sometimes. “Come on babe, it’ll be fun.”

I heard her stir in the other room, and throw the duvet from the bed. Then the sound of her slowly pulling on clothes.

“Yeah, fun….” Her distant words were hollow, slow and empty.

Em came out of the bedroom. She had thrown on her black tank top and jeans, the only clothes she’d worn these past few weeks. She stared down at the floor outside the doorway. “Baby, I just don’t feel like it. What’s the point?”

The last couple months had been especially bad. I’d never seen her like this before in all the years that we’d been through. And she hadn’t cut herself before, not since she was in high school.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I said again. Sometimes it required a lot of effort. A lot of gentle but persistent encouragement to get her going. But it was worth it. Those times I could lift her spirits just a little, it was worth it.

“Alright,” she said, listless.

The barista at the cafe was cheerfully oblivious to the cloud of despair around the love of my life. All smiles and happy words and can I help you? and the contrast between her cheeriness and Em’s gloom couldn’t have been starker.

We sat at one of the little red circular tables. Emily set her hot chocolate down in front her and stared into its steaming depths. She was silent. I sipped my coffee and felt like screaming. I felt like flipping the table and spilling our hot drinks all over the floor of the cafe. I felt like getting up from the chair and taking her in my arms and shaking her back and forth and shouting I love you and you’re beautiful and smart and funny. I know you are. I know you can be, because I’ve seen you be. You know me better than anyone ever will and I love you more than anything in the universe and that’s all that really matters. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just snap out of this? I love you! I love you and I just want you to be happy but I don’t KNOW WHAT TO DO!

Emily sipped her white hot chocolate silently. She didn’t look up.


That was a week ago, when she cut herself again. After that, things only worsened. She just lay in bed in the apartment all day, most days she didn’t even bother getting up or getting dressed. I tried to talk to her but she was just so withdrawn.

When I came home from work this evening the sliding door to the balcony was open again. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. I stepped outside but Em wasn’t out there. I went into the bedroom but she wasn’t there either – the bed was bare, the duvet thrown in a heap on the floor, and her clothes weren’t in a pile on the floor next to it like they normally were. As I went back out into the kitchen, I began to think that perhaps she was feeling better and had just gone out and left the door open – she had always been very forgetful.

It was then I found her note on the counter, and as I read it, I began to cry.

My Dearest Michael,

I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for all of this. For all the tears, all the pain, all the drama, all the blood. I love you so very much and I know that you never deserved any of it. It’s all my fault. I fucked everything up. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, but I know now that I’ll never be able to make you happy if can never be happy myself.

Life is just so hard. It’s so hard to get up in the morning and face another day when deep down I know that everything is pointless. It’s so hard to pull myself from bed and go outside when I’m always so tired. It’s impossible for me to keep going on when I feel so dead and empty inside and I can never do anything right.

I’m so glad we spent this time together. Even though I know this life is just a meaningless dream, I’m glad I shared this dream with someone like you. I know that you were always just trying to help. But there are some things in life that can never be fixed, and I’m one of them. I am, and always have been, broken.

I’m ready to wake up. I’m tired of this rotting feeling inside and this empty hole in my chest that only grows larger with each passing day. I’m ready to wake up from this dark dream.

I’ll be dead soon. Maybe one day you’ll learn the truth of it all and follow me. But until then I just want you to know this is not your fault. It’s no one’s fault but my own.

I’ve always been a fuck-up. I’m sorry.

Goodbye,
Em

Beside the sliding door to the balcony, the curtains fluttered softly in the cool summer breeze, and danced in gentle beams of warm sunlight.

I knew where Emily was.

Look Mommy

“Look Mommy, that man has a cake!” Jessie said excitedly.
“Yes honey, he does.” I said, and patted her blonde hair. “Maybe he’s going to a fancy party.”

The lanky man who’d stepped onto the bus at the last stop did indeed – he carried a white cardboard box, the kind from a bakery. He sat down across from us, setting the box onto the empty seat next to him.

The wheels on the bus went round and round and the engine roared and our little metal ship slowly made its way further from downtown, one stop at a time. Passengers came on and off.

No one sat next to the tall bearded man in the trenchcoat across from us, or his cake.

“Mommy, look a robin!” Jessie was kneeling on her seat backward, peering out the window at the bright sunwashed streets and trees as they sped by.
“Yes honey, spring is in the air.”

The bus stopped at the corner of Elm Street with the sound of escaping compressed air. The doors closest to us shuffled open and the tall man rose from his seat and strode off into the sunlight like a wraith.

“Look Mommy, the tall man forgot his cake!” Jessie squealed, turning around. The white box sat alone across from us.
“SIR!” I yelled, getting up from my seat, but he ignored me and continued down the sidewalk.

The doors swung closed. Again there was the sound of compressed air, and then of the bus engine revving.

The noise subsided, and it was then I heard a sound coming from the box – the sound of ticking.

Going Up…

DING.

“Ground floor, going up.” A pleasant voice, a woman’s.

“It really is a nice building,” he said. “Please, after you.” He gestured.

I stepped into the elevator and turned around. There was a mechanical clank and I watched the door slide shut with him behind, smiling back at me; he hadn’t followed.

“Hey!” I yelled, and went for the open door button.

Every hair on my body stood on end. Panic shot up my back in a cold electric chill.

There were no buttons. Inside the elevator there was only smooth steel.

“HEY!” I yelled again. “What…”

There was a loud thunk. Slowly, the elevator began to descend.