Seeing is Believing

By MARK CASSELL

Simon told us about seeing the darkness and none of us believed him. You know the type; the drunk bloke at the bar, the guy you have to at least acknowledge when you’re up there getting drinks. Towards the end, I don’t think he once took a shower. Or washed his clothes. Kev and I had always called him Sad Simon.

It began several weeks ago as he sat on his stool. He was excited about laser eye surgery. He announced it to the entire pub, which was weird because none of us knew him; usually he remained quiet, sipping his one drink of the evening. He’d saved up enough, he told us, been wanting it for years and was finally going for it.

Apparently, and this had him in hysterics when telling us, he’d opted for enhanced night vision. That didn’t mean he’d be able to see in the dark.

The next night he sat there wearing sunglasses, his head high. When he removed those glasses I saw his bloodshot eyes, demonic. It was the surgery. He said there was some light sensitivity but could cope, so we shouldn’t worry. With eyes burning behind those shades he explained the elation at being able to read his bedside clock. None of us cared. Kev and I continued to mock the poor bastard behind his back.

Jenny was the first he spoke to, one to one. I overheard something about a darkness that follows us. She was a good looking girl. She had a tattoo on her wrist, it was a yellow circle with a smiling face inside, nothing special.

Sad I never got to ask her about it.

A few days passed, and when Simon came into the pub he was grubby like he’d been sleeping rough. Since the operation this was the first we’d seen him without sunglasses. His eyes were still as red as you’d imagine the Devil’s would be.

Simon’s outburst filled the evening, shouting about the darkness he saw. Everywhere, he said, all around us. The landlord ignored him, didn’t even tell Simon to quieten—I’d seen our landlord shout down every potential troublemaker. I guess Simon must’ve spoken with him, changed him in someway so he wouldn’t throw him out.

The way I think he changed Jenny, too.

That was the same night Simon touched me. The back of his hand brushed my knuckles as he pushed his empty glass across the bar. My vision briefly darkened and the overhead lights seemed to flare. And that was what changed me. Why me, I don’t know.

Last night when Jenny came in, she wasn’t her usual self. She didn’t even acknowledge me and it was then I realised I liked her. Though her tattoo still smiled at me.

The first time I saw the shadows they warped the air behind Jenny’s head, a shimmering cloud of grey. She stood in the corner near the juke box watching a game of pool. The darkness flickered and inside there was something else, difficult to see.

The pub was packed and no one else saw it. I knew it was only me. My hands shook and when I set my drink down it almost spilled. Jenny’s eyes were sad and it was as if her face reflected shadows. I squinted as the darkness shrank then vanished. It was as though it gave up trying to show me something.

I watched her for awhile, puzzled and thinking of the exchange she’d had with Simon. What was that he’d said about a darkness that follows us? She went to the ladies room.

Kev, sitting beside me, didn’t see anything. He was busy eyeing some girls as they walked to the bar. And there was Sad Simon, his eyes burning into mine. His mouth twitched at the corners. He knew. It was only me and him.

“What is it?” Kev asked me.

Pulling my gaze from the man at the bar, I focused on my friend. A darkness seethed behind his head too, only there was a faint image within those black wisps; his face dripping blood.

My breath snatched and I coughed. I tasted smoke and like a TV switching off, the image vanished. I pushed my glass away and closed my eyes.

Kev said something else but my personal darkness blocked him out. When my eyelids parted, there was Simon still staring at me. Shadows were behind him now. They showed me his face, his eyes pouring blood, his flesh peeling and curling away.

My stomach catapulted and I thought I’d be sick.

Just as it had with Kev, the vision snapped off.

There was a strange silence in my head, the urge to spew subsiding. I dragged an unsteady hand down my face.

A door slammed and the sound yanked me upright. It was Jenny staggering from the toilets. Behind her, the shadows had returned but this time it was different. It wasn’t only me, others now saw them. People screamed, leaping from their seats; stools and tables upturned in a collection of thuds and crashes. Everyone charged for the exit, shoulder to shoulder, pushing others out the way. Their cries filled my head.

Billowing like curtains, the coruscating darkness bunched up and folded around Jenny. Her face twisted and she thrashed in its embrace. Her piercing scream ripped into the chaos of the fleeing crowd. The shadows collected, pulled at her, and in seconds her body vanished.

Only the shadows remained. Their surface shimmered like a diesel spill.

My head swam as blood roared in my ears.

Kev shouted something, started pulling at my clothes. He pushed me towards the door. My legs failed me and I sprawled across the table. Drinks soaked my shirt.

The shadows whirled and something white pushed outwards, reaching for me and Kev. It was an arm, and I recognised the smiling face tattoo. There was only Jenny’s arm, nothing else of her, stretching from the darkness. She clutched something.

A knife. Ornate and magnificently crafted.

Still without seeing the rest of Jenny, the shadows surged. Her arm rigid, the knife pointed forward. Kev shouted, shoved me sideways, and the knife thrust into his face. Jenny’s fist pumped the knife in and out. The sound of that blade stabbing, sucking and splashing into his screams overtook the cacophony of everyone’s escape.

Kev collapsed in a red mess. Life rushed from him and pooled around his body. His leg twitched then was still.

I snatched my eyes away. The shadows were receding, shrinking into a tighter darkness. Jenny’s hand still clutched the knife as the shadows closed around it. Only her arm remained, just above the elbow, hanging in the air.

With a crunch and red spray it dropped, thumping to the floor.

My vision blurred and bile rose to my throat.

The fingers still clamped the knife, the tattoo smiling at me.

I think I whispered her name.

The blade, glistening red, sparked as if something ignited. Flames spurted from the blade and caught the carpet. Spreading outwards, catching the furniture. Unnaturally swift.

Simon now stood beside me. He held two broken bottles and rammed one into each eye. His blood splashed me and I blinked it away.

My stomach was ready to lurch upwards.

He twisted the glass into his sockets. That grinding and slurping sound was all I heard. He yanked them free, threw them aside and dug fingers into those twin holes. The mess oozed down his face. It dribbled over his gaping mouth, down his neck and soaked his clothes. He tugged at flaps of skin and peeled them away.

I remember the sound as they slapped the floor.

Simon muttered something but the shouts of the remaining few to leave the pub drowned everything. That, and my heart stampeding my skull.

Finally I rushed for the exit, fire biting my heels. I lurched into the street, coughing and tasting smoke. Chest heaving, hands on knees, I spat.

When I looked up I saw the crowd around me. Their eyes tore me down. And playing in the air behind their heads were the shadows. It was only I who could see that darkness. Whether it was tomorrow, next year, or fifty years’ time, I saw their death. One was a fiery plane crash, another was peaceful but alone in a care home. There was cancer and diabetes, and all kinds of disease. There were car crashes and cycling accidents, there was a mugging and a stabbing…but not with that ornate knife Jenny had.

Death surrounded me.

I sprinted home.

That was yesterday. And that darkness is still there now, flickering behind every person I meet. My mother, my father—I know how they’re going to die. No matter where I go those shadows exclusively reveal how everyone dies.

This morning I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. It was instinctual. Inside the shimmering folds of darkness that floated behind my head I saw myself holding that beautiful knife—the one Jenny used on Kev’s face—and I am thrusting it into my abdomen. I twist it, pull it out halfway and then push it further in. Blood pumps over my knuckles. My jaw is relaxed and I do not scream. Nor are my eyes closed; they are like black marbles. It’s as if they focus on something, or perhaps somewhere, else.

I fall to my knees. My shallow breath fills one last red bubble while still that knife continues to work its way inside. My eyes remain open.

The fabric of shadows embraces me.

StoriesMark NixonComment