Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pictonaut September 2014 - Soulful!

Here we are again, I just scraping by to get a pictonaut done in time, feeling it unfinished and wanting to come back to it later, but I know I never will. But here it is for you, and before that, the link to John's blog where he posts these little challenges every month. One picture, one thousand (well, three thousand for me this time) words. It's fun. You should do it.

This month's picture...

... and the naut.


It was my eyes. But then, it always is. They're a dead give away, aren't they. Never trust a person who doesn't smile from the eyes. Look me in the eye and tell me that. When it comes to betraying secrets, the eyes always have it. Even from before, I couldn't hide much of anything from anyone.One look would blow my cover.

I used to get a lot of compliments for my eyes. The most vivid green, men (and women) would compare them to emeralds, oceans, the sun through the leaves. The things people would say, the words they used, were kind, but their eyes told a different story; lust, jealousy, indifference.

I remember being sat at a bar. People thought me pretty, and in my harder days (at least, I had thought they were then) I could generally guarantee a few freebies from hopeful lads, looking to show off their wallets and whatever else they had stashed away. I never let it get that far though. I'm no one's whore. It was a dangerous game to play, some of my more concerned friends would tell me, but I was quick and careful. I always looked them in the eye before I took their gifts, always sought for their intent, their limits. That's how I survived then, and it's how I survived after, too. Quick, careful, observent, no one's whore.

That night had not been a successful one, and I had been nursing my tap water long enough for the bar staff to be evicting me with their gaze. I remember thinking it a shame, this had been my favourite hunting ground, safe-ish and reliable. I had hoped it would never come to an end. Eventually, I gave up hope and got up to leave and it was at that moment a cold, clammy hand came to rest on my own and arrested my departure.

"Your eyes," he started and I thought here we go. I was careful not to roll my eyes, however. They were the ticket after all.

"They shine to me, like beacons through an abyss." He was poetic, this one. Corny as balls, but he didn't speak like it was a play. There was a far off quality to him, something other I couldn't place. I held his gaze and went looking for it while he continued.

"They're perfect," he concluded, tritely. Nothing. I could get nothing from him. I looked him over quickly. Suit, grey and bland; hair, short; stubble, minimal. Normal, normal, boring, normal. So why did he send a shiver down my spine?

"I want them," he let out. It took time to register what he said to me. At first I giggled, playing my part. 'I want you,' I had thought he had said. That's what they always said. Eventually, the truth of the situation sank in.

"What?" was the only pathetic response I could manage in the moment.

"Give them to me!" At that, I switched gears. Be quick, I thought, be careful. Run! I did, spilling my water behind me, out of the club, into the street, past the bus stop, all the way home.

It didn't take long, with my glad rags discarded for a onesie, every lock on my door done up tight and a very Irish cup of tea in my hand, for me to shake off the strange man's spell, and I began to laugh at my own foolishness. For a few moments, I was so messed up by the encounter I had considered calling the police, but for what? To tell them what? A man sat down next to me at a bar so I ran home, he's clearly a dangerous psychopath? 'Sure,' they'd say. 'He's crazy!'

Even if he had done anything, even so much as touched me, I didn't feel as though I could be a useful witness. Those eyes as cold as his hands. What colour even were they? I'd seen eyes like that many times since, but I still couldn't answer that little enigma. Laugh it off girl. Just some creep looking to put the willies up some little girl (probably literally). Don't give him the satisfaction. But I already had, hadn't I? You could see it in my eyes.

Whatever the case, be it creeps, losers or psychos, that well had run dry. And not just that one. Over time, and not much of it, one by one, the bars all closed. Not to regular customers you understand, but to me. The gentlemen stopped coming, so I stopped going. But it was more than that, more than mere disinterest in me. I was not losing my looks, my eyes shone with all the splendour that they ever had, I had not aged overnight. It was not that men did not come up to me, but they actively moved away from me, seemed repulsed by me. I had the stench of something on me, what I never knew, but it was something that I could not purge. I was pariahed. Oh how things change.

I blame myself, in part at least. I've always been a creature of solitude, having taken little interest in current events. I do not own a television, do not watch the news. I never saw the missing persons reports, never heard the stories of people changing, did not notice the rise on the reality shows of 'my partner won't make love to me anymore', 'you're not the man I married' and 'my wife is an alien!'. I might have seen things if I'd looked, seen the patterns with these wonderful eyes of mine. I'm good at patterns.

They had come for us.

At first they took little people. I don't mean dwarfs, I mean nobodies. People who wouldn't be missed, who were easy to replace. I might not have seen the pattern, but I definitely saw the change. Those eyes, grey (or white? Maybe silver?) and cold, started staring out at me from people on the street. One to begin, and at first I thought it was him again, all I could see were those eyes. Then more and more and now they're everywhere, and the game has really changed. One night before then, however, they finally came for me.

I was walking away from another hopeless night, sober and dejected. My belly by then had become pregnant with self-conscious doubt and I finally swore I was done; done with freeloading, done with drinking, done with men. I think I meant it, too. I really do believe that, even had that night been different, even if they'd never come, I was about to find myself a track all of my very own and get on it. My footsteps echoed around the street surrounding me, each one tapping a tattoo of resolution. I listened to each repetition intently as my feet beat out self-promises with glee. But this next sound did not bring joy. A new sound, similar yet distinct brought its own solemnity and my dread.

Careful. Quick. Run. They weren't expecting me to rabbit so soon and floundered a while before they gave chase. A few quick turns and I heard their hurried steps diminuendo in the wrong direction. That had been the first time, an easy escape. Soon there were more, and then they were most.

I didn't even consider going to the police the first time, nor the second, but by the third I'd had my fill. The constabulary proved as helpful as I had expected them to be.

"I'm sorry miss," the bland, blue uniform said to me through some poor puppets mouth. "If you didn't get a good look at them then there's not a lot we can do."

"If I'd have gotten a good look at them then I wouldn't be here to tell you about it," I countered. I was aware of the futility of the gesture, but I wanted this underling to know my logic was more powerful than his system's.

"Nevertheless, without witness or crime..." He let the sentence hang in the air. I was about to rebut once more when his superior officer walked into the room from the office door behind the desk. She looked like every other officer in the place excepting her insignia and her garnered respect. Like the plod who failed completely to deal with my accusations, she seemed aloof and disinterested. But there was more to her coldness than 'professional detachment', and while she could bear to hold my gaze for but an instant, that was more than enough for me to recognise those eyes.

Now I began to watch the news. I couldn't well afford a TV, and so I took my opportunities where I could, looking into the windows of electrical goods stores, hoping a 24 hour news station would be playing. It could not have been just me. Surely others had seen these changes, were being hounded, or was it ignored? I no longer knew which worried me, which was frightening and which a relief.

It had not been just me, although it seemed I was the only one who saw it for what it was; something alien, something other. The rest of the world were doing their usual trick of rationalizing away what made them uncomfortable, ignoring facts, compartmentalizing, denying. I stared, blank faced in amazement as parents blamed drugs and sex for their distant children, children alcohol or stress for their loveless parents. Religions saw godlessness, politicians saw a lack of citizenship, scientists saw ignorance. No one seemed to see the change, no one saw their eyes.

I watched as a minister waxed lyrical of the state of society, the duty of all people to their community, the strength in confidence in their leaders. It all amounted to the same thing: 'Do as you're told. Do not question.' He filibustered without passion or conviction, clearly reading a prepared speech and not particularly well. I remember feeling amazed that anyone could fall for such obvious insincerity, at the audacity of this man who thought he did not even need to try to convince us. And then there they were again, and I knew I was lost. Those lifeless and alien eyes.

After they had begun to infiltrate government they became more bold, their attacks more frequent. I spent most of my time running, could not answer the door. Shortly I found what limited interaction I already allowed myself with mankind was dwindling away to nothing. I have to admit, I was amazed at just how significant an affect this had on my life. We are none of us truly alone. Even in something as simple as grocery shopping, even if I could have done it online, there would be people bringing it to my door. Eating out, ordering in, drinking. No one drinks alone; we all have a bartender at some stage in the process.

Soon enough, I was driven from my home. I was scrounging, foraging for scraps and fleeing form derelict to derelict, living in the dark, moving on whenever I felt the first hint that I had been discovered. Why me, I thought, why can't they find someone else to chase down? Am I the only one left?

I wasn't, I soon discovered, as for a short time I found a friend in a young girl who showed me how foolish I had been, and just possibly saved my life. When we first bumped into each other, each hurrying the opposite way down a dark back street, she gave me such a dumbfounded look she could only possibly be a person, complete and whole.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed as she stared aghast at me. "Cover your eyes!"

With this, she swirled the bright orange shawl she wore, covering her face, from around her head and onto my own in a single swift movement of protection and love, things that I hadn't experienced for almost as long as I could remember, and certainly had never been favoured with by a stranger until that day. I was in awe, the girl's expression transferring to me with her property. Like some incoherent fool I tried wordlessly to return to the girl her property, but she pushed it back onto me.

"I'll be alright. You need this more than I do." Her eyes had the spark of real, human life, but they were grey like theirs (or were theirs blue?).

We could not stay together, but we met when we could, secretly at night and all too briefly. She shared her childhood with me and I broke an age old vow (one which I hope you'll forgive me keeping now) and shared mine with her. I would not have believed, soaking myself in sour mash in night clubs, that I might have had such a warming reaction from simple human interaction, that I'd have ever felt the need for a friend. Indeed, I had not been aware of quite how much my solitude had started to sting until she came into my shattered life.

Do not misunderstand me; these were not 'coffee shop moments'. To meet at all, we were forced to squat in hovels, crouching behind the crumbling walls of burnt out buildings, or cowering like junkies under bridges in the rain. It was a miserable existence, but it was shared and halved for that. And it made escapes easier at times, splitting our hunters along different paths, although together we attracted more attention and so spent much of our time apart.

I went to meet her one night at our favourite haunt (how pointed that term has become as we become as ghosts in the world). It was the cleanest of lonely places, the best of the forgotten, which was how we had begun to see ourselves; sturdy, surviving despite the odds. We had met there many times. Perhaps one too many.

I had arrived first. I always did. I wondered if perhaps I needed this more than she did, of maybe she just found more to do than I did. Most of my day was spent waiting to see her again. I watched out from our hide to the street beyond and there it was, her silhouette, unmistakably human in its swagger. And behind it was something more purposeful, and wholly less pleasant.

Be careful, I wanted to shout. Be quick. Run! But the words would not come. I would be lost if they had, perhaps I was anyway. My friend struggled against the grip of her assailant but it was too late, she was caught. Two more of them appeared and started moving towards my hiding place. I would suffer the same fate as my erstwhile companion if I did not think fast. With a motion borrowed with great shame, I placed my shawl, her shawl, over my face and calmly walked out into the street. I walked past the one clutching my now unconscious saviour as though the scene were as little to me as dust in the wind, and with my eyes covered, they paid me as little mind.

Later, I went back to that place. I tell myself that it was to find her, to rescue her, but I know it not to be true. She was gone and beyond my help. I hadn't chance and chose myself, as I had always done. The building no longer appeared the haven to me that it once had. The walls were black with soot, the ground brown with droppings, the glass in the windows gone or broken. It was squalor of the lowest kind, it always had been.

It was then I decided to leave, to move and keep moving. I stole a car; it wasn't hard. Nothing flashy, something nice and inconspicuous. For a while I could keep mobile on my credit cards, so long as I always found 'pay-at-pump' stations, and after that I could steal the fuel I needed just as easily. This was better, this was safest.

So I drove. I had a grand plan of roaming across the country, maybe finding others like myself, and living out my final days as a wizened old nomad telling tales of the old times. When it came down to it, however, I found it hard to tear myself from the city and progressed little further than the sprawling suburbs, driving around in circles, covering my eyes and watching theirs.

Everywhere I looked, I could see them, staring blankly ahead with their cold, dead eyes, making the motions of life but certainly not living. I tried to give them as little attention as possible, wishing to draw none to myself, yet still, overtime I found that there were dull, lightless spheres staring out at me more and more as I circled estates or dove back into the city to lose myself in its labyrinthine ways.

Before long, I was panicking, surrounded by the enemy at all sides. They began lining the streets, watching me like living surveillance cameras - no, just like surveillance cameras. And then they began to move into me, narrowing the streets, pushing the walls of the great garbage disposal towards my impending doom.

I should have gone through them. I should have run them down and headed for the hills, it wouldn't have been murder, not really. But that's not how it happened. One stepped out in front of my car. I only saw him for a second, but he seemed different to the others, in charge somehow. I've heard his voice since then, recognised him for who he is. I saw him too late, hit the brakes, swerved and hit a lamppost, scattering onlookers as my car wrapped itself around the metal pole. The world went black.

I wasn't seriously injured, my car didn't explode, this isn't a movie. And so, inevitably, I regained consciousness sat up with my back against the walls in the corner of a cold room with a stone floor. There was a blindfold wrapped around my head and, in my hand, the shawl my friend had given me. I didn't even try to stand, just gripped tightly onto the shawl for comfort.

"Awake then?" a male voice asked me. I instantly recognised my captor, the government minister.

"I take it I'm out there right now," I croaked, my throat dry from the accident.

"No, no. There was little point. You’re not that important a presence in the world. Bigger fish to fry." He was mocking me, so cruel!

"Then why," I struggled. "Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"

"I told you once before, I must have your eyes."

Shock silenced me and he continued.

"There is still resistance, you see.  Small pockets but big risk. The plan was to infiltrate, but our eyes, well, you know." I did. "We had hoped to use yours, so vibrant, so alive."

"Bastard," I spat. "You'll have to cut them out first!" I could not say where this misplaced bravado had come from, but I was incensed. He merely chuckled in response.

"It is no matter. We cannot do it, cannot replicate them. It would seem we miss some vital piece, something other we cannot find. We failed."

My turn to laugh. You're damn right you're missing something, you alien freaks. Humanity! Life! I said nothing, but merely spat in what I thought was the minister's direction. There was a beat.

"You may keep these." The words seemed to spring from pure coldness. "They are no good to us."

The minister placed something in my hand, two small objects, round and wet. Before he left, he removed the blindfold - no, the bandage from my head. I opened my eyelids as my cell door shut behind the minister, and though the darkness did not recede to the light, though I could not see what I held, these facts alone illuminated me. It was my eyes.