“Let me know how those feel,” Dr. Crowe says.
I pry my eye open, using my thumb and forefinger to keep the lids apart. With my free hand, I guide the contact onto my pupil. My eye fights to close, but I force it open as the contact brushes against the curve. I blink furiously until the lens settles. Then I repeat the process with the other one.
I wore contacts years ago, but they bothered my eyes so much, I gave up. I thought I’d always be a glasses guy, but this new technology is supposed to revolutionize eyesight. The ads promise “a seamless integration between contact and pupil. Forever Contacts bond with the eye, creating a lasting correction. You’ll never have to buy another pair. Safer than Lasik, better than glasses. The Forever Contacts.”
Not sure whether I believe all that, but for the price I’m paying, they better last longer than a pair of glasses.
“So?” Crowe asks.
My eyes water, but I blink the tears away. I look around the room. It’s dark, but even with the darkness, I can see details better than I ever have before. It’s like I’m looking through a filter on my phone, but it feels natural, like this is how I’m supposed to see things. The corner of the room, which only seconds ago was pitch black, now radiates an almost imperceptible glow. I’m able to see the rip in the wallpaper and a tiny spider crawling up the surface.
Crowe snickers. “That’s the general consensus.”
“I don’t...It’s...How is this possible?”
“It’s difficult to explain, but basically, the contacts latch onto electrical signals your brain and eyes send back and forth and amplifies them.”
“I’ve never seen this much detail before. Like even before my eyesight went bad.” Crowe nods, and I can see the muscles in his neck tighten and contract.
“They really do revolutionize eyesight,” he imitates the ads.
My eyes dart around the room. I’m trying to maintain composure, but it feels like I’ve never actually seen before. Like I’ve been looking at the world through a grainy picture of a photograph on an obsolete computer. But now, I finally know what the world is supposed to look like. I feel overwhelmed with excitement.
“Do you have any questions?” Crowe asks.
“Yeah, uh, how long until the bonding is complete?” I ask.
“The contacts have been designed to attach to your eyes in increments. Right now, they’re in the initial stages. You can still take them out pretty easily for the next day or so. But I don’t recommend that because it degrades the technology and may actually cause more discomfort. Within 48 hours, they’ll be completely adhered to your eyes. You won’t be able to remove them after that.”
“What if I wear them a few days and can’t get used to them? Is there a way to reverse the bonding?”
“They seem to work immediately without any period of adjustment. So, if you aren’t feeling any discomfort right now, then you’ll be fine.”
“They feel good,” I say.
He nods. “Great. If you really want to reverse the bonding after the 48 hours, we have a machine made for that. It’s invasive and somewhat dangerous, but if you want to do it, we can.”
I clear my throat. I hadn’t heard of that before.
“Trust me, you won’t need or want to return them. They’ll change your life.” He smiles. His whole face screams “trust me.” From the curvature of his lips over his teeth, to the slight wrinkles spiderwebbing from his eyes. I can see that he’s telling the truth. Can’t say I’ve ever been able to read people like that before.
“Thanks, Doctor. For everything.”
“You’re welcome, Benji. Now get out of here and see the world.” He laughs. “Sorry, optometrist joke.”
“It’s been three days. No pain, no dizziness. No anything. Even with glasses, it always took me a few days to adjust to new prescriptions. But these contacts just work! Not only do they help me see better, but they help me experience life more fully. I’m not nearly as tired as I used to be, and I notice things that used to go unnoticed. Like yesterday, I spent like two hours just sitting at a park bench and watching people and birds and butterflies and praying mantises and worms and potato bugs and ants and little specks of dust in the air. I could see it all!”
Jenny just stares at me. Her eyes furrow together so tightly I can see her veins pulsing under her skin.
“I know it sounds like I was paid to say that, but it’s true.”
She sits back on the grass, lets off a sigh, and smiles. Pearly white and perfect.
The freckles dotting her fair skin are almost alive, painting tiny constellations on her soft features. Her hazel eyes glow, and I realize they aren’t just hazel, but brown, blue, green, magenta, and a dozen colors I can’t even name, all intertwined into perfect little colored discs. She’s even more stunning today than she was three days ago, and three days ago she was statuesque.
“No, no, I believe you. I’ve read reviews. I’ve just never seen you so passionate about anything.”
I feel my face turning red. “I just feel…good! I can’t really explain it.”
She places her hand on my arm and I feel tiny goosebumps rise where her fingertips brush against my skin.
“I’m really happy for you. You deserve it,” she says.
I smile. “Thanks.”
She stands up and shakes grass off her pants. I notice tiny dust particles floating in the air like an aerial dance. I watch them slowly drift to the ground.
“So, New-Benji, now that you’ve got this new superpower and confidence, I think it’s time you use them to find yourself a girl and come on a double with Jake and me.”
I look away and let off an embarrassing half-laugh. “That’s not gonna happen.”
In one movement, Jenny crouches down, turns my head to face hers, and grabs hold of my shoulders. “Well not with that attitude. What about that girl, Kate, from work?”
I shake my head. “She’s not interested in me.”
“And how do you know that?”
I shrug. “Well, she’s…she’s…she’s just not.”
“Hey! You’re amazing! You’re smart, successful, and you’ve got the looks. What’s not to like?”
My cheeks feel warm. I look away.
“I-I don’t have time for dating right now. Work’s busy and I—”
“No, no, no, you’re not getting off that easy. This Saturday night, you’re coming out with us. If you won’t put yourself out there, I’ll find someone for you. Meet us at the bowling alley at 8 pm.”
I look up at her, about to protest, when something catches my eye. It—he—is standing in the woods. Usually, I’d think my eyes were just seeing things, but I can’t say that anymore. Not with my new sight.
The man stands under two large trees. His head is tilted straight up, looking into the sky. Blood streams down his neck, soaks his clothes, and pools at his feet.
The alarm in my voice must startle Jenny because she yelps and twists her head in the direction I’m looking. I jump up and run toward the woods.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“There’s someone out there. He’s hurt. Call 911.”
Jenny whips out her phone and runs alongside me.
The man is as still as a scarecrow. He hasn’t noticed us coming. I run faster.
As we get closer, I yell.
“Are you okay?”
I’m fixated on the man and don’t notice the roots in front of me until it’s too late. I fall on my face. Shaking it off, I stumble back up and look toward the man.
But he’s gone. I twist my head around. I must have just gotten turned around.
“Where’d he go?” I shout.
I hear Jenny rush up next to me, out of breath. “Are you okay?”
I wave off her question. “Where’d the man go?”
I scan the woods, but even with my clear vision, I can’t find him. I can find a tiny frog under a root, but I can’t see the man.
“What are you talking about?” she asks.
“The man. He was just here. His neck was bleeding. We need to help him.”
Jenny places a hand on mine. “I didn’t see anyone. It was probably just a shadow.”
“It was no shadow. I saw him. He was standing out here and blood was pouring out of his throat.”
She squeezes my hand. “There’s no one out here. Everything’s okay.”
I ignore her and scan the woods. The trees. I find them—the ones he was standing under.
“There.” I run.
I get to the trees and slow down. I’m afraid of what I might find. My heart pounds so hard, I think it’s going to rip through my chest and leap away.
But the area is empty.
No man. No blood. No sign of anyone being there at all.
“He was right here,” I say, trying to convince myself.
Jenny steps up next to me. She places her fingertips on my chin and guides my face to her eyes. She’s calm. Her eyes brilliant even in the darkness of the woods.
“It was just a shadow. There’s no one here.”
I look down at my feet. Obviously, she’s right.
I nod. “Sorry I freaked out like that.”
“Don’t be,” she says. “If you really thought you saw someone hurt like that and didn’t react, I’d be worried about you. Don’t want to be friends with a sociopath.”
I let out a half-hearted chuckle.
“Come on. I’ve got to find you a date.”
She grabs my hand and leads us out of the trees.
"You look so different without your glasses,” Tianna says.
I nod. “Yeah.” I stare down the lane as Jake launches a ball way-too-hard down the greased wooden surface. It hits the gutter, bounces back out, and knocks a half-dozen pins down.
“Woo!” he shouts.
Jenny runs over to him and gives him a hug.
“It’s a good look,” Tianna says.
I half turn, my eyes barely looking at her, and say, “Thanks.”
I attempt a smile, but when she returns it, I turn away completely. I don’t know why I’m so bad with women. It’s like when I’m around them, my mind devolves into a childish state. I’m awkward, scared, and boring.
The only girl I’ve ever been comfortable around is Jenny, and that’s probably because we’ve known each other since we were like three.
“I think it’s your turn.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“To bowl.” Tianna points to the open lane.
I step up to the ball return, choose a shiny ball that reminds me of the Milky Way with its swirls and speckles, and step up for my turn.
Looking down at the pins, I can see tiny black marks and dings covering them. They look like they’re right in front of me, not on the other side of the alley.
I pull my arm back, take three steps and release. The ball curves and hits the pocket dead on.
“Nice shot!” Jenny and Tianna shout at the same time.
“Lucky!” Jake retorts.
As I make the awkward walk back to my seat, I shrug. I’m not very competitive. Never have been, and I don’t often like attention.
Tianna stares at me. Her eyes penetrating. I attempt another smile, but I’m sure I look like Sloth from The Goonies.
“My turn!” Jenny exclaims.
I sit next to Tianna, who still gazes in my direction. I try terribly to think of something to say, but my mind is blank. I gulp, knowing I’m ruining her night. Luckily for me, she’s able to fill in the awkward beats.
“Jenny tells me you’re a graphic designer. That’s really cool.”
Oh, you’re nailing this! I think. Stop being lame.
I square up my shoulders, muster my courage, and turn directly in front of Jenny. I don’t think she’s stopped looking at me this entire time.
“Yeah, I’m a graphic designer. I work on ad campaigns.”
“I’d love to see some of your work,” she says.
I reach for my phone. “Yeah, sure. I’ve got some on my phone.”
She sidles next to me, our legs touching. She looks down on my screen.
“The screen’s not very big, but you’ll get the gist.”
I thumb through a few of my projects, explaining concepts and my intentions with each design. She seems genuinely interested.
“We’re going to get a pizza,” Jenny explains. “You guys want some?”
“Pepperoni, please!” Tianna replies. I nod, without looking up.
As I look over my work, I begin seeing things I didn’t before. Little mistakes or things I could have done better. Things I would never have seen last week.
I shut it off not wanting to spend the evening critiquing work I can’t change.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m boring you.”
I bring my eyes to Tianna’s face. Her smile is still there, but something else lies below the surface. Her bright blue eyes have suddenly darkened. They almost look black now. And I swear her entire body seems to be covered in a light haze. Almost like a veil covering her skin.
“Sorry,” I say again.
“For what? You’re really talented.”
Her eyes change color, now a deep red. I slide away from her body and blink furiously.
I guess she notices my change in body posture because she slinks backward. Her smile disappears. At the same time, the hazy layer flies away into nothingness.
“Whoa!” I exclaim.
Her eyes, now their normal shade of blue, squint. Her brows pull together.
I panic. “Nothing, sorry.”
“You keep saying that. Is something wrong?” she asks.
Your eyes just changed freaking colors. Something is definitely wrong.
“No, not at all,” I say.
“You sure? You seem agitated.”
She nods slowly, obviously skeptical. “Food should be here soon.”
I can’t hold Tianna’s gaze anymore, so I look past her. I notice a woman standing inches behind us. She glares, but when she notices me watching, her gaze turns on me. Her eyes are completely black—no whites at all. Her mouth contorts into a crooked snarl. And that same fuzzy look Tianna had moments before blankets the woman’s features.
Instinctively, I grab Tianna’s hand and pull her toward me.
“What are you doing?” she cries.
I grasp her shoulders.
The woman steps forward and her façade changes. The darkness floats away. She waves and says, “James!”
I turn my head and see a man coming up behind us. He runs to her and plants a kiss on her lips.
“Benji, you’re hurting me.”
I release my grip. “Sorry. I-I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
“Then what were you doing?”
“That woman, she looked like she was going to….”
“She was going to, what?”
“I-I don’t know. She just looked strange.”
“Oookkkay? Well, I’m going to find Jenny.”
She rubs her shoulder as she walks away. I see her body trembling and notice her breath heaving through her top. I feel my own body shaking. What was that?
I hit my palm against my head, trying to fix whatever is going on in there.
My lungs tighten, making it difficult to breathe. I feel like I’m losing my mind and I panic. I don’t think. I just rush from the bowling alley before anyone knows I’m gone, get to my car, and drive.
Along the way, I notice strange, sickening things along the roads. Injured people standing in the middle of traffic. Others lying on the cement, their bodies crumpled into heaps. I see a few people hanging from balconies. But I also see normal people, completely ignoring the oddities.
Did I get drugged or something? Am I hallucinating?
I get to my apartment and stare down at the ground. I don’t want to see anything else, but I do. Hundreds of feet crisscross my path, leaving trails of blood, somehow not touching me. I don’t dare look up to see their owners.
I fumble for my keys, open the door and rush in, slamming it behind me.
All the lights are off, and I don’t bother to switch them on. I can see more than I want.
My heart thumps in my chest, tears well in my eyes, and my head swims. I slump on the couch and close my eyes, trying to stop the waves of anxiety.
I breathe in, hold it, breathe out.
It seems to help. I feel my mind calming, my heartrate slowing.
Settle down, Benji. You’re just exhausted.
No, I’m not. I feel wide awake.
Everything is fine.
I open my eyes.
Standing in front of me is, what I can only describe as, a horde of people. They fill every inch of my apartment. They’re completely silent. They stare. Expressionless.
I want to speak, to scream, to cry, but I can’t.
Like a flock of crows, they tilt their heads in unison to the right. Their eyes change from black to red to black again.
They’re dead. Oh, they’re dead! Bodies broken, wounds gaping, rotting, decaying, sickening.
I can see them. I can see them. Their lives, their deaths, their pain, their anger, their fury.
They want revenge.
And they want me to help.
I grab at my eyes and pry them open. I jab my fingers over my pupils and claw at the contacts. I don’t want to see anymore.
But my fingers don’t find anything except eye goop. The Forever Contacts are exactly what they say.
“Leave me alone!”
The horde encircles me, drawing closer. They envelope me, entering my body, filling my cells.
I close my eyes, call out Jenny’s name.
To be continued….