“Which is clearer, number 1 or number 2? 1 or 2?” the optometrist drawled repeating the numbers until I sighed in defeat.
“Number 2…?” I inquired. I received a blank stare in return.
“I’m asking you, not the other way around.”
“Then number 2…”
“Have you been wearing your prescription contacts?” he asked. We both knew the answer to that.
“On the rare occasion,” I responded. I was reluctant to wear glasses since they slid down the bridge of my nose too often and the process of putting in contacts left my eyes red and me late for work. Another sigh, this time from his end.
“We’ll run a couple more tests and get your exact prescription.”
By the time I left his office, it was noon. My eyes felt tired as I blinked up at the sun. The sun was partially covered by a large sign advertising Dr. Vance’s Eyecare with bespectacled eyes, faded over time. You could tell the sign was originally red as its colors peeped through the peeling paint, prominent in the whites of the eyes. The sign and I had quite a bit in common at that point. Rubbing my irritated eyes, I headed back to the car in hopes of a long nap once I got home.
As I was pulling into my driveway, my phone began to vibrate. “Hello?” I answered.
“How was your eye appointment with Vance?” my sister giggled. Anna had been crushing on our optometrist for quite a while now. Dr. Vance had a strong jawline with bright green eyes and a boyish smile, her type of guy.
“It was great, I’ve never had anyone handle me like that before,” I replied sarcastically, rolling my eyes.
“Ok, so doctors aren’t your thing. My appointment is tomorrow before my date with Rick. We’re having dinner at Mitchell’s and…” she rambled on about her plans with Rick. Rick. The mystery guy she met online. Anna had recently gotten into the trend of meeting men on apps. I had already lectured her about going out with strangers, but my attempts to get her to listen were fruitless.
“Anyways, have you heard about the body they found in the Callahan River?” Wait. What.
“It’s so freaky. They found someone’s body there early yesterday morning. There is no official confirmation, but the rumor is they are missing an eye,” she whispered. My stomach churned. “The body hasn’t been identified yet. I mean it was bloated when they found it. It makes going to get my eyes checked creepy, huh. You would think they would have released more information. I hate when things are all hushed up. I read on one website that not only was the eye missing, but it was gouged out. The other eye was clawed at and managed to stay intact.”
After living in the city for several years, I had become accustomed to hearing about crimes in the area… or so I thought. They ranged from drugs to rape and ended with a bullet. Mutilation was different.
“Put your phone location on before your date tomorrow,” I responded. I felt unsettled, there were plenty of crimes in the city as is. My hand grazed my upper eyelid.
“Will do and you should be careful as well! Love you! I’ll send Vance your love!” she giggled again before I hung up.
The sound of her laughter was infectious, and I found myself smiling. If only I had known that would be the last time, I would hear her voice.
“Can you tell us what happened after you talked to her on the phone?” the officer asked gently. I rubbed my eyes; it had been hours since I’ve slept.
“After we spoke, I slept for the remainder of the day. The following morning Anna sent me a couple of pictures from her date while I was working in the library. Around dinner, I checked her location, and she was at Mitchell’s off Park Street. I went to bed towards 11 and didn’t hear from her, but her location was still at Mitchell’s, so I figured she was having a good time with Rick.” Those were the last remaining traces of her existence. If I would’ve just called to see if she was alright…
“What made you suspect something was different?” he prodded. I was getting annoyed.
“I mean after that day, the next two days I didn’t hear from her. When I tried calling her the next day to hear about her date, I got no response. Her phone location still said she was at Mitchell’s. I called the restaurant since I thought it was odd and they said no one left behind a phone. I wasn’t too phased since she doesn’t have the cleanest record when it comes to one-night stands, especially after a night of drinking.”
“So, you suspect her date… Rick, was it?” No shit.
“Well yeah, he was the last person with her.” I tried not to sound impatient.
“I know this is frustrating, but bear with me here. Did you talk to anyone else about where she could be, maybe at a friend’s house?”
“Don’t you think that crossed my mind? I was obviously worried so on like the third day I ran by her apartment. The door was locked, so I used the spare key she gave me and went inside. Nothing was out of place. Her bed was made, and the mail was untouched. I called her work, our friends, and family. No one had heard from her.” All this time Rick had been on my mind. Rick knows.
“Where are your parents now then?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“They aren’t exactly worried like I am. They think she just ran off with the guy, she was the wild child growing up. But I know her, and this is not like her to keep something from me!” I was on the brim of tears.
“Do you know anything about this Rick guy?” he continued, soothingly.
“Just his name and that they met on some dating website. I didn’t see his profile or anything. I do have the pictures that she sent me while on their date.” I pulled out my phone and opened our messages. Blinking furiously, I opened several of the photos she had sent me. My fists clenched at the sight of her smiling face as she took a picture of her and Rick. My throat felt dry.
“This is your sister and Rick I presume?” The officer leaned over to look at my phone. That’s Anna alright. She had her usual wide grin and nose crinkle. Her brown eyes were scrunched in the sun and her usual messy brown hair was thrown into a ponytail. Rick sat beside her. He was relatively attractive with black hair and a smile to match hers. His eyes were slightly off though. They were an unusual gray with dark circles underneath.
“Did she send you any other photos?”
I gave him my phone as he scrolled left through other photos I received that day. A picture of the food she ate, her waiting in the optometrist’s office, her outfit… he paused at a photo of her at the optometrist’s office. “Where was this photo taken?”
“That’s Dr. Vance’s office. Our optometrist. He’s the guy facing away from the camera.” Anna was smiling in the chair, her usual mischievous grin. Dr. Vance was turned away, as he was writing something down. In the corner was a blur of a small kid walking past the door.
“Why would she send you a photo of her at the optometrist’s office?” The officer’s voice was sharp.
“She’s had a crush on Vance for the past couple of years. Her eyesight’s near perfect so I’m pretty sure she just goes to see him.”
“I see… well the best we can do now is…” the officer began to list off the usual. Question family and friends, check out her place, learn more about Rick. All this was going to take too long. Anna was somewhere, and she needed me. If I would have just called her, checked to see if she was OK. I nodded as the officer continued.
“And if there is anything else that comes to mind, let us know.” He paused. “I know this will be hard on you, but you reached out to us earlier than others have. Her running off with Rick is a possibility, but I will do the best I can to find her in the meantime.” He reached over and squeezed my hand. “Things will be OK. Remember if you know anything else ask for Officer Steele at the station.” After gathering the photographs, I had of Anna with her basic information, he walked out the front door and I was alone.
The next week I hardly slept. My parents were starting to worry and started questioning neighbors while I went to Anna’s work and apartment, combing over everything. We reached out to all our family and friends and went on social media to raise awareness of Anna’s disappearance. I contacted missing person databases and my family, and I tried every hospital in the area, even the local jail. Nothing.
By Friday I decided to retrace Anna’s steps. I have been avoiding this all week. It all felt too real, retracing the last moments before her disappearance. I began at her apartment, I went through all her drawers, overturning every cabinet, still nothing. I sat at her desk in annoyance and pulled out a breakfast bar. As I threw the wrapper into her trash can I noticed a crumpled-up note. Hesitantly I pulled out the note.
A slip for her optometrist appointment. I dug around in the trash can looking for more information, but I just found other articles of trash that were irrelevant. I put the note in my pocket, it probably wasn’t important, just seeing the remainders before her disappearance provided me some form of comfort that she is real and that she might still be out there.
I then drove to Dr. Vance’s office. The bespectacled eyes of Dr. Vance seemed to be following me as the billboard cast a shadow on my parked car. At the entrance, I took a deep breath and looked at my reflection. My eyes were red and swollen from crying. Walking in, several kids were playing in the waiting area. It was too surreal seeing their happy faces. One of the kids in a bright red shirt was staring at me as I made my way to the receptionist. I guess my appearance was worn out after this past week.
“Hello, I’m Beth Morrison, Anna’s sister. I came in to ask some questions about her last appointment. I’m sorry for not calling in advance. We haven’t heard from Anna recently, and I know she was here the last time I heard from her,” I said the last part in a hushed voice. The receptionist smiled kindly.
“I’ve seen the local newspaper, hun, no worries. I checked Anna in and out of the office the other day. I’m afraid I can’t give you too much information for confidentiality purposes. We told the police everything we knew just yesterday. If you wait a little bit, Dr. Vance will be on lunch break and I can see if he’ll talk to you then.”
I slowly nodded and took a seat near her desk. So, the police had been there after all. I fidgeted my hands together with impatience. The entire week I managed to keep myself busy, determined to find Anna. The moments of rest were the worst as my mind would wonder about the horrible possibilities. What if Rick was involved in human trafficking? What if she was attacked on her way home? What if…
The trail of thoughts was broken as I looked up to see Dr. Vance’s bright green eyes. His face was stern, no hint of his usual smile.
“Hey, I just stopped by to ask some questions about Anna and see if you might know anything.” I was determined to keep my voice steady, ignoring the kid still staring up at me.
“I figured you would swing by eventually. We can talk in my office.” Dr. Vance led me back behind the receptionist’s desk. I trailed behind, looking at the anatomical posters hanging along the hallway walls. At the end of a hallway was a red door, before we reached the door, Dr. Vance hung a right into a small office space. His office was compulsively neat. A desk, bookshelf, filing cabinet, and two chairs took up the entirety of the room with no personal touch whatsoever.
“Please, sit down,” Dr. Vance gestured to the chair across his desk. I sat down and began fidgeting again. Why was I so uncomfortable talking to Dr. Vance? There was no charm to his demeanor. No hint of his usual self. “I’m sorry about Anna’s disappearance and I, unfortunately, don’t have much information to provide.”
“I know, I just wanted to retrace Anna’s steps. I know something isn’t right and it’s not her running away with some guy.” I continued picking at my nails under his desk.
“Alright,” he sighed. “Anna had an appointment with me around 11:00 am the day she supposedly went missing. She seemed like her usual self,” he paused. Anna’s usual self was flirty and full of laughter. She was at times irresistible to other men. “She mentioned how she had a date later that night. Her eyesight was great, as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary. She left around 11:45 and…” he paused again looking a little embarrassed. “She mentioned something about the next date being me…” Dr. Vance glanced away.
I sat a bit stunned. I knew about Anna’s crush on Dr. Vance, but that was a bit brazen even for her. I took a good look at Dr. Vance’s face. His eyes, a bright green, were shaded a darker emerald. The rims were tinged red and slightly swollen. Was he crying earlier? The persistent frown on his lips did not suit his otherwise boyish looks.
“Is that all…?” I tried to pass the moment of uncomfortable silence. I awkwardly shifted in my chair.
“Yes… she really was something wasn’t she?” This time I felt a tinge of annoyance.
“Was? She is.” I hated the use of past tense. She’s fine. “Look, is there anything else that might be useful for me to know?” I softened my voice; Dr. Vance didn’t seem like he was handling her disappearance well either.
Dr. Vance stared past me into the hall. “No, there’s nothing else that comes to mind. I didn’t mean to say it like that. She meant a lot to me too; I mean as a patient that is.” Dr. Vance glanced away again. The room was uneasy as I shifted in the chair. Why is there no window in here? I was beginning to feel uncomfortably warm.
“Well, I should get going now…” my voice trailed off with no response in return. I walked back down the hall and thanked the receptionist for her time. Did Dr. Vance have a crush on my sister?
My drive home was plagued with thoughts. Where in the world is Anna? A couple of days after her disappearance, the location on her phone was off. A gray icon sat on top of Mitchell’s indicating her last known location. I had combed through social media looking for Rick. Who the heck was this guy? A few results in the area popped up, but none of them matched the picture Anna had sent me. I groaned. What dating app did Anna use again?
Once inside my apartment, I plopped down in bed and downloaded several dating apps Anna frequented and created a fake profile. Maybe I can find his profile on one of these. A couple of hours of swiping passed until I nodded off.
I woke up abruptly to my phone ringing. I quickly grabbed it to see my mom was calling me.
“Hello…?” I answered, my voice groggy.
“Beth, they found him!”
I jolted up, feeling light-headed. “Who? Rick? Where? Was it him? Where’s Anna?” The questions tumbled out until I gasped for air.
“Beth, stay calm. All Steele mentioned was that they found Rick near Callahan River and that they are taking him into custody. Your dad and I are driving to the station right now, please be…” I abruptly hung up and already grabbed my keys headed to the door. My phone went off again as I got into the driver’s seat and checked the notification. My heart dropped. I had a notification saying my shared location was updated. I opened maps and saw a bright purple icon with an A on the Callahan River. My pulse quickened as I hastily tried to zoom in on her exact location. Before I had a chance to zoom in on the area, my phone turned off.
Cursing at myself for not charging the phone before napping, I hooked up my phone to charge in my car. What just happened, why was Anna’s notification going off?
“She’s OK,” I assured myself out loud. She probably found a way to charge her phone or something. Or they have her phone, and her location wasn’t properly synced. Shaking slightly, I sped to the police station.
After speeding through several red lights and honking furiously at any pedestrians trying to go on the crosswalk, I ran inside the police station.
“Anna?!” I yelled as I ran in.
“Beth, sweetie, calm down. Officer Steele will be with us shortly.” I turned to see my parents getting up from a bench in the waiting area. Still quivering, I silently nodded and sat with them. Minutes passed as I squirmed in anticipation, unknowingly picking at my fingers. The skin around my nails was torn as beads of blood began to form from my incessant picking. My dad absent-mindedly wrapped his hands around mine.
“Mr. and Mrs. Morrison,” a familiar voice called out. We looked up to see Officer Steele headed in our direction. “Follow me,” he directed us. Steele led us to an office where he crammed us in three seats in front of an empty desk. “The police captain will be with you shortly.” He closed the door before I had time to look back for any indication of news. Soon after, the police captain came in.
With a round stature with strawberry blonde hair and beady eyes, the man in front of us better resembled the Pillsbury Dough Boy than a police captain.
“Hanks.” the man said in a surprisingly deep voice. “Due to the investigation still undergoing there is little I can say on the matter,” he paused to clear his throat. “However, due to the unusual circumstances, I decided it’s best I tell you directly.” His eyes scanned our faces as our interest peaked. “We have yet to find An-”
“I know where she is!” I exclaimed excitedly. I had just remembered the notification. “My phone went off earlier, showing her location! I can show you!” My phone was charged enough to turn on. My parents sat silently stunned. I clumsily opened my phone app only to see no shared location. What?
“Beth sweetie,” my mom reached towards me until I shooed her hand away.
“I’m serious, my phone alerted me that her location was at the Callahan …” I trailed off as I saw everyone’s concerned expression.
“Anna wasn’t there,” Hanks said gently. “We currently have people out searching the entire area and divers in the river.” I sat in disbelief still staring at the screen. I know it wasn’t just my imagination.
“It’s OK sweetie, maybe there was some glitch,” my mom whispered, tugging at the phone until I released it.
“So…” Hanks began, breaking the silence before clearing his throat once more. “We found Rick at the edge of the river. Some locals called in about some man babbling to himself. Several officers arrived to find Rick in hysterics.”
“Did he mention anything about Anna?” my dad inquired, sounding hopeful.
“That’s the thing,” Hanks rubbed his neck in distress. “The officers tried talking to him and brought him in since he was disturbing onlookers. There was an ID in his pocket with the name ‘Richard Thompson’ and he fit the description of the guy Rick Anna supposedly went on a date with. We had to escort him to the hospital, however. He was covered in long scratch marks and was severely dehydrated.”
We sat in stunned silence.
“Did Anna defend herself against him or did someone else do that to him…”
“That’s what we are trying to find out. He is currently resting and under surveillance. One of the officers brought up Anna to him but Rick’s hysterics got worse. He was babbling about hiding and wanting his eyes. He was shaken up real bad.” Hanks waited for a reaction. “If there’s anything you may know about this or why he was near the Callahan …”
“Wasn’t there a body found in the river?” I asked, remembering what Anna had told me from our last phone conversation.
“Yes, but that was dismissed as an accidental drowning and the body was found several miles downstream,” Hanks said dismissively.
“But weren’t there scratch marks on the body?” I pushed.
“That was due to scavengers eating at the decayed corpse. This has nothing to do with Rick or your sister, those are loose connections.”
I sat back down in my chair and tuned out my parents conversing more with Hanks. The scratch marks, why scratch marks. Anna had a nasty habit of biting her nails and I doubted she had enough nails to leave any mark.
“Captain,” I heard a female voice behind me. All conversations ceased. A brunette officer was at the door. “The press is here.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to provide you with more information regarding the whereabouts of Anna. I can’t give any conclusive feedback as we continue to investigate more on Rick and his potential attacker. If you have any more information to provide us, please feel free to reach out anytime.” Hanks’ tone softened as he gave us one last look before departing.
I stumbled out of the station feeling more tired than ever. This past hour had drained what little energy I had left.
“Bethany, why don’t you spend the night with us. You’ve been taking on so much stress,” my mom soothingly said, and she stroked my hair. I glanced up and noticed how my parents had dark circles and looked years older than I remembered. Numb, I nodded and followed them back home.
The familiar scent of my mom’s potpourri wafted throughout the house as I climbed the familiar set of stairs. By habit, I stepped over the last step to avoid a loud creak. My parents’ house was old and as children, Anna and I would sneak downstairs late at night for a snack and would avoid the step at the top of the landing. The loud creak would wake up my parents and lead to a long scolding about sneaking sweets late at night.
Sighing at the memory I walked into the bedroom Anna and I once shared. Bright purple walls with stars glowing on the ceiling, just as I remembered. I laid in her twin bed, staring up at the stars our dad had put up for us as kids. I heard the TV turn on downstairs. My dad seemed to have the news station on at all times. I listened to Hanks’ voice alerting the media about finding a potential suspect. My stomach churned as I turned over and nodded off to sleep.
“We just received news that our potential suspect has passed away at Riverside Hospital.”
My blood ran cold.
The darkness of the room enveloped me as I cocooned myself in blankets. Little light filtered into the room as the blinds were shut for days. The air was stale and during the times I was conscious, I would relapse into hysterical sobs. My resolve had finally worn away as the daunting realization that I may never see Anna again set in. After hearing about Rick’s passing, the media went into a frenzy. A couple of news vans milled outside my parents’ house as phone calls continued to spill in from concerned family members and neighbors. The police station was receiving anonymous tips that led to dead ends and with each passing day, I could bear it no longer. I holed up in my apartment with the dim light from my phone serving as my guide and only hope. The only connection I had to Anna.
There was no solace as my dreams soon began to be haunted with the peeling eyes of Dr. Vance’s Eyecare staring at me. It was just me, standing in a void, with only those eyes as company. The longer I stared, the more white paint would peel off, exposing the crimson beneath. The eyes were unrelenting, bleeding as I gazed in horror. What was behind those eyes, what was desperate to peer through? In these dreams, I would extend my hand forward, yearning to see what the cause of my anguish was and before my fingers would make contact with the board, I’d wake up in a cold sweat.
It was another night with the same dream. I felt my arm raise, hands outstretched, determined to claw at the board, and as I barely felt my fingertips graze its surface, I awoke to my phone vibrating. Frustrated that I was so close this time, I answered gruffly, “What.”
“Bethany, sweetie, it’s been over a week now,” my mom’s voice was timid.
“Your dad and I want to see you… it’s been hard on us and it’s better we stick together as a family…” her voice trailed off as I heard it quiver.
“And? It’s not like that will bring Anna back.”
“I know sweetie, but we are still doing what we can to find her. She’s out there somewhere.”
“And what makes you say that? All the postcards she’s been sending?” There was silence on the other end.
“You were so determined you would find her before… why are you acting like this now? Are you afraid you-”
“Afraid?! I’m not afraid! I’m just done! What don’t you people get, I’m done!” My outburst had me panting in rage. Why don’t they just leave me alone?
“… It’s not your fault.” My mom’s words were barely audible across the phone. “You can’t blame yourself if what happened to Rick happened to-”
“That’s your fucking daughter you’re talking about!” I threw the phone across the room, seething. How could she not care? How could she ever think that let alone mutter those words? I clawed at my hair as I sobbed into my pillow. No. No! NO! The thoughts were tumbling in and I couldn’t control them. The river. The eyes. The scratches. Rick. Her body. The eyes. The eyes! I was desperately gasping for air. She’s fine. I felt my sanity ebbing away as the thought I had repressed most paralyzed me to my room for days. What if we find her, and she’s dead and it’s my fault?
Hours passed as I lay, fetal on my side. A familiar ping was heard by my bookshelf as I scrambled over the covers. Tripping over the blankets, I landed in front of my phone, its screen now cracked. Anna’s location. Trembling, I typed in my password, bits of my hair still wrapped around my fingers from earlier. I opened my notification, but there was no icon indicating her location. The screen was soon warped as my tears splashed onto it, sliding along the cracks. The phone then vibrated. I received a reminder text.
“Hi BETHANY, this is Dr. Vance’s Eyecare. We’ll see you today at 4:00 PM. Call us at +1897####### for questions or to reschedule. UNSUB to stop”
Confused, I texted UNSUB. I didn’t have an appointment for an entire year. Another notification.
“Hi BETHANY, this is Dr. Vance’s Eyecare. We’ll see you today at 4:00 PM. Call us at +1897####### for questions or to reschedule. UNSUB to stop”
Frustrated, I wiped my screen and hastily typed, UNSUB.
“Hi BETHANY, this is Dr. Vance’s Eyecare. We’ll see you today at 4:00 PM. Call us at +1897####### for questions or to reschedule. UNSUB to stop”
Bewildered, I was about to shut off my phone when a call came in. It was an automated reminder service.
“Hello, this is Dr. Vance’s Eyecare with a reminder that you have an appointment at 4 PM today at our North Street address. Press 1 to confirm your appointment or Press 2 to reschedule your appointment.”
I felt uneasy as I listened to the voice and pressed 2.
“Thank you for confirming your appointment.”
The phone screen went dark as I stared in silence. I opened the lock screen to glimpse the time and it was a quarter till my appointment. Realizing how ridiculous this all was, I trudged towards the bathroom to rinse my face and as I glanced at the mirror my eyes were gone. Screaming, I fell back into the shower, hitting my shoulder against the soap bar. My shoulder was burning in pain as I stumbled back to the mirror only to see my brown eyes reflected back at me. No empty sockets. No empty void. Just my eyes.
I turned on the sink to splash more water on my face. I have to calm down. I can’t let myself go again. I need to regain some sanity. Panting, I sat on the toilet and turned to see a crumpled note in the trash can. The note I found in Anna’s trash. The note I threw away when I got back home. The note to Dr. Vance’s appointment. The eyes. They know. I swung the bathroom door open, grabbing my phone on the ground, and was headed to the door. The answer is there. I know it is.
I clumsily thrust my key to start the ignition and gripped the steering wheel tightly. I replayed everything in my mind. The body found in the Callahan, the missing eyes, Anna and Rick missing, Rick in hysterics, Anna’s location, the billboard, the red peeping through the whites. It’s behind the eyes! I slammed on my brakes as I was in the office parking lot. There it was. The billboard.
The sun was low in the sky and the billboard’s shadow greedily stretched towards me. I stopped in my footsteps scared to walk further. Blinking furiously, I gazed up. The pupils were almost black as they leered at me. My arm instinctively reached forward as my feet carried me closer. I could see it, the white paint curling from age, itching for my fingers to free it. A burst of high-pitched laughter threw me out of my trance as I turned towards the entrance of the office. I guess people were here as it was still daytime. I focused my attention on the office as I cautiously opened its doors and peered inside. Sunlight was streaming in through the waiting room’s windows, illuminating the receptionist’s desk. I saw no one waiting and the receptionist’s desk had a small sign reading “Ring Bell for Assistance”.
I rang the bell impatiently. Why was I here again? I felt dazed and confused. Did I have an appointment? There was a faint shuffling sound in the hallway, and I turned to see Dr. Vance’s back turned towards me, facing the red door at the end of the hall.
“Dr. Vance?” I called out, my voice hoarse from lack of use. He whipped around and gave me a look of horror. Before I had time to respond, I heard a movement behind me, and everything went black.
I was in front of the billboard again. However, its eyes were different.
A peal of shrill laughter was heard in the distance and I felt myself waking up. As I moved my head towards the source of the noise, I felt throbbing, and my stomach churned. I opened my eyes and saw spots of light until I could focus on the scene in front of me. I was sprawled out on a damp concrete floor and there was a blurry figure near me hunched over. I was struggling to focus as the pounding in my head grew worse. Breathing through my nose, I closed my eyes and tried to think. Where am I? Another giggle came from the direction of the hunched figure followed by a squelching noise.
I turned over and allowed my eyes to adjust to the dark. I instantly regretted my decision. I felt my body lurch as I turned to the side to heave violently. I heard something splatter onto the concrete and I resumed dry heaving. My throat burned as my eyes were watering. I couldn’t breathe. What I saw can’t be real.
The hunched figure in question had elongated fingers, curving like claws towards the tip. It was rather small in its red shirt and resembled that of a child. In front of it was what appeared to be a body, covered in blood. Its head was mutilated, beyond recognition and long scratches ran down its torso. I started crawling away from it. I had to get away. I slipped on the wet floor and realized I was in a small pool of blood. I began screaming and its echoing laugh drowned out my terror.
“Do you really think you can get away?” Its voice sounded just like a child’s. It looked up and I was paralyzed. It was a child. Its skin a mottled gray with its lips, bright red, pulled back in a contorted smile, revealing tiny razor-sharp teeth. The worst part was its eyes. There was nothing. The sockets were black from dried muscle tissue and congealed blood. Its fingers stopped moving and I could see its nails were crusted black.
My arms were barely holding me up as I was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t bring myself to move away. It resumed its desecration. It picked up a small object from the ground. In the dim room, a sliver of light reflected off a sphere held delicately between its nails. The creature smiled and placed it in its eye socket. It was an eyeball. There was no movement, just mortified silence. The creature then twisted its mouth in rage.
“NO NO NO!”
It grabbed the eyeball and threw it on the floor and started howling. It stood up in anger and stomped repeatedly on where it threw the eye. Taking my chance, I dragged my body away from that thing. I had to find a way out, any way out. A sniffle behind me had me freeze. I turned to see another figure in the room with us.
Dr. Vance was curled up in a ball, rocking slightly. He was sniffling, as tears and snot ran down his face.
“What is going on? What is that?” I whispered, praying that thing was still distracted. Dr. Vance continued to rock, avoiding eye contact. Impatient, I grabbed his shoulder with a shaky hand and nudged him hard. “Why the fuck are we here?”
Drawing in a breath, he stuttered, “It… it has me… and I can’t leave… he promised… I…” and sobbed harder. I glanced at the creature who was consumed with his ongoing mutilation, in fear Dr. Vance’s sobs would attract his attention.
“Is there any way out? Why am I here?” I shoved Dr. Vance harder. His eyes briefly lingered at my face before answering.
“The text.” He replied.
“What text?” I hissed back.
“You don’t remember receiving a text for an appointment?”
I racked my brains for a couple of moments. The last thing I remembered was the phone call with my mom.
“Ahhh…” Dr. Vance sighed. “He called you in for an appointment. One way or another, you never miss his appointments.” Dr. Vance’s demeanor started to change as he continued talking.
“He is desperate, he needs to find the perfect set of eyes. But he can’t! Because he will never find his own eyes. They’re gone! And I’m an optometrist!” Dr. Vance shrieked the last sentence, spit flying from his mouth. His eyes were manic, and he laughed. “He will only find the worst set of eyes!” Dr. Vance’s laughs transformed back to sobs.
“Why does he need eyes? What is he? Why are we here?” I felt bile rising up my throat as the mounting fear had my whole body shaking.
“I… I don’t know…” Wiping his eyes, Dr. Vance looked like a helpless child.
The creature stopped screeching; a horrible drawn-out yell reverberated in the empty space as I got closer to Dr. Vance’s shaking form. It grabbed its victim lying on the floor and dragged it along the concrete until it reached what appeared to be a dark exit into another part of this room. Remembering my phone, I felt around my jean pockets, but they were empty.
“Where are we?” I asked Dr. Vance, shaking him until he met my eyes.
“In… in the office basement,” he whispered.
“Is there a way out?”
“The basement connects to the sewers that are near the river,” his voice began to quiver again.
“Get your shit together,” I spat. “Now is not the time to have a fucking pity party.”
“He… It went out the only exit and we have to find the stairs back.”
I glanced towards the direction I saw the creature leave and could hear the faint sounds of a body scraping against the ground.
“There’s no point in running, he may not see but all his other senses seem heightened.”
“How do you know so much about it?” I tried to remain calm as I scooted along the walls, trying to find anything I could use to defend myself in case it came back.
Dr. Vance shifted, his hands quivering as he rubbed them together. “It came to me…”
“What do you mean ‘came’ to you? For your eyes?”
“I was part of an optometry mission trip, volunteering to help in third world countries… Along the coast of South Africa, I was helping an old lady with cataracts when I felt a weight on my shoulders. The weight grew and when I was alone, I saw it. That, that thing. I couldn’t shake it off. No one could see it and I would go days and weeks, remembering nothing. My mind was a constant fog, and it finally spoke to me… it offered a deal. He’d choose his victims as long as I provided him with options… He would choose random patients of mine and I’d forget for periods he was even there. The weight was gone, and I felt like myself again. That was… Until he grew more desperate.” Dr. Vance’s voice was barely audible as I strained to hear him.
“He was never satisfied. He can manipulate your memories and fog over your mind. His presence can even affect electronics. I don’t know what demon he is, but he will never leave.”
I was several feet away along the wall as Dr. Vance quieted down and my hands grazed something sharp. I drew back my hand and, in the darkness, saw blood forming on the tip of my finger. I leaned forward and saw a rusted pipe on the floor. I grabbed it. The pipe was as long as my forearm with a jagged point at the end.
Mustering back my courage, I crawled back to the doctor. The sound of the creature’s footsteps grew louder as it drew nearer to the room.
“Vance, I have an idea, follow my lead. I will try to get him near enough so I can attack him,” I showed him the pipe I have hidden behind me. “Then we’ll make a run for it.”
Dr. Vance shook his head vigorously. “We can’t outrun him. He will get us.”
“There’s no better option, I’m-” I ceased as a tiny figure was standing at a distance.
“Now what do we do with you?” its voice sent chills down my spine as I tried to steady my hand holding the pipe behind me.
“What do you want from me?” I shouted back, my voice quivered slightly.
It giggled, “I just want your eyes.” The thing made its way towards me, walking like a child. Slow timid steps, its teeth bared at me, hands excitedly clenching in anticipation.
I leaned against the wall as I attempted to stand up and face it. The stench was putrid, and I resisted the urge to heave. It reached out a gnarled hand when I lunged forward. I swung the pipe towards its head as it dragged its nails down my arm. I released the pipe, and it began howling, the pipe logged in its head.
I grabbed Dr. Vance by the arm and pulled him away from the creature as it continued to scream. My right arm was in searing pain as I held it close to my chest and with my other arm, I tugged Dr. Vance forward. I stumbled in the pools of blood and heard it run towards our general direction. I saw the exit and turned to a corridor split three ways.
I took the path to the left and continued blindly running.
“Are we going the right way?!” I called back to Dr. Vance, his hand limp in mine. I turned around to see him staring at the floor. I rounded a corner up ahead and slammed Vance against the wall. I could hear the creature screeching in blind rage in the distance.
“Where the fuck are we?” I shoved him roughly against the wall.
“We should’ve gone straight then taken a left turn at the first tunnel,” he sputtered.
“Well, it’s too fucking late now, where the hell do we go from here?” I cradled my arm, the scratches throbbing as I silently cursed.
“We can take the tunnel up ahead on the right-” Dr. Vance paused as we heard metal hit the concrete floor, the noise reverberating down the tunnel. “Up ahead, if we take a right, we will reach the exit,” he fell silent again.
I peered around the corner. I could hear its unsteady footsteps echoing unevenly along the passage.
“Look, we don’t have much time, let’s go,” I hissed at Dr. Vance who had reverted back to his fetal position along the wall. I pulled at his arm, hoisting him back up. My shoulder hurt from where I had fallen earlier. Ignoring the pain, I peered back around the corner and slowly edged along the wall. The creature clamored down one of the tunnels, I could hear it banging against the walls as I made my way forward.
Squinting to see ahead, I stepped on uneven ground and tripped forward. The sound of me tumbling resonated along the tunnels and the creature fell silent.
“I can hear you,” it sang. “Vance, where are you? You’re mine, you know. Why don’t you tell your little friend all about Anna,” it sniggered.
My stomach tightened as I heard that monster sing out Anna’s name. A couple feet away I could see the passage that led us back to the main tunnel. I couldn’t afford to lose any more time as its footsteps drew nearer.
“Come on, it’s such a fun story! Anna had big brown eyes; they were so shiny. And Vance said I couldn’t have them. But I still wanted them… and I get what I want. So, I told Vance if he wanted to see, he had to help me. And he did!” it shrieked, falling into a fit of giggles. I stopped moving and released Vance’s arm to fully look at him.
“He had Anna come by to play with me! But Anna brought another friend, so I had two more people to play with,” it stopped, its tone no longer playful. “The stupid boy escaped while I was having fun with Anna. Tell Beth, what did you do, Vance? What did you do to Anna while I chased him?”
My blood went cold. My hands trembled as I glowered at Vance. “What did you do,” I seethed, no longer caring about escape.
“Aww, you won’t tell her? Well, I will. He decided to stab her eyes. My eyes. You RUINED them, right, Vance? And you lost the boy so now he had to pay, didn’t he. I let him remember everything. You can’t run from your own mind, can you?”
I stepped towards Vance, my vision blurring from tears.
“I couldn’t let him have her eyes. She was dying anyway. I just did her a favor,” Vance whimpered at me, creeping backwards.
“A favor?! Killing her was a favor?!” I grabbed Vance by the collar of his shirt and raised a fist.
“I found you,” it sang behind us.
I whipped around and saw the creature several feet ahead. It staggered towards us, each step as uncertain as the last. It couldn’t quite tell where we were as its head rocked back and forth to find the source of our noise.
I released Vance’s shirt and scanned the narrow passage. To our right was a small opening, enough to fit one person through. I inched my way towards it, attempting to stifle my breathing. I slipped through and my nostrils were overwhelmed by a pungent odor. I struggled to breathe through my nose as the sickening sweet smell enveloped me.
I was pushed forward into a smaller room and I felt Dr. Vance shuffle beside me. His face was now gaunt, and I turned to see why. Lined along the walls were about half a dozen bodies. Each one in various states of decay. I backed away as something brushed against my legs. Even in the darkness I could see the dark colored hair. My eyes trailed along and before I could make out the face, Dr. Vance put his hands over my eyes and pulled me close to his chest.
“Don’t look,” he whispered. I was struggling against him, the rage in me building. He did this. I was going to make him hurt. That’s all I could think of as I violently tried to thrust myself away. “I know you hate me, and you have every right to after everything, but I need to get you out, it’s already too late for me. I tried helping them… I tried helping Anna and that guy escape.” My body went limp as tears spilled over. “She was already gone, I saved her from the worst of it and made sure he could never truly have her.”
The creature’s nails scraped against the walls, sending chills down my spine. Once the scraping had passed, Vance carefully guided me back to the main tunnel where the creature was far away. Its head violently moved side to side, attempting to pick up any sound. Vance released me and I saw his behavior had changed. His shoulders were no longer hunched in fear and his eyes were less clouded.
We crept away from the figure in the distance, and I saw it. Light was trickling into the tunnel from a door on the far right. A faint noise came from beyond the door. The distinct sound of chatter. We froze in our steps. The creature shrieked in glee and ran blindly towards us, its claws flailing. I sprinted to the door, Vance close behind me. We were a couple feet away when Vance fell forward, knocking into me. We fell onto the concrete. I turned to see the thing had its claws around Vance’s ankle as Vance kicked violently at it. I scrambled away only to have Vance’s elbow directed at my face. His elbow slammed into the left side and I fell sideways. I clutched my eye, as my vision was blurring.
“That’s mine!” the creature screamed, clawing its way up Vance’s body. The two struggled as I felt for the door. I grabbed the handle and yanked it open. I could make out a steep staircase with some tools on the side of the bottom steps. I reached for the hammer and turned back towards the struggle. I could barely make out Vance as I swung the hammer towards the general direction of the creature, snarling as he attempted to scratch at Vance’s face. The hammer made contact with its skull and it fell back. Vance took the hammer from my hand and swung repeatedly at the creature.
It had stopped moving and lay on the ground in a small black pool of liquid. Panting heavily, Vance winced as he stood up. We heard the door at the top of the steps and from the other side a woman was calling out.
“Who is it? I called the cops, no one is allowed down there!” The door rattled more.
“Go,” Vance wheezed, clutching the deep scratches along the side of his torso.
“I have to take care of this, tell them whatever, but just go.” Before shoving me back through the doorway, Vance’s eyes teared up, “She really was something, wasn’t she?”
I blindly walked up the steps, the door shutting behind me. At the top step, the woman was still hollering, and I sat down on the other side of the door. My head felt heavy as I laid it against my knees, I could hardly see out of my left eye.
I heard sirens. The rattling ceased. The locked door opened to reveal several cops, shocked to see me. The blinking red lights. The smell of disinfectant. A warm bed.
I laid propped against several pillows. My arms were bandaged, and my left eye was covered. I grunted as I heard someone enter the room.
“Beth honey, you need to eat some.” My mom was exhausted, the wrinkles on her forehead ever present since Anna went missing. She held my hand and gave an attempt at a small smile. After I was taken to the hospital, the media was in a frenzy. Officer Steele came by with questions and soon gave up as I remained silent. The tunnels felt like a dim memory and the harder I pushed myself to remember, the more lost I felt.
Steele later informed my parents that the police believe Dr. Vance had a hand in Anna’s disappearance and Rick’s death. Dr. Vance had sent Anna a message about her insurance information and needed her back at the office to scan her insurance card. The police still couldn’t piece together why Anna would go to his office past 11 at night to bring her card information or why Rick tagged along. But I knew. You can’t escape it when you’re its next victim. No bodies were recovered from the tunnel and the autopsy report confirmed Rick passed away from a morphine overdose. None of the hospital security footage was able to confirm Dr. Vance was the culprit, though, as the files were corrupt.
My head turned towards the window overlooking part of the city. The fog that had clouded over my head was gone and my mind felt clear. I replayed each detail in my head. As the creature had grown weaker, Dr. Vance was able to gain more clarity. I couldn’t forgive him and yet the rage that was all-consuming had long since numbed over. I had no tears left to cry and a part of myself was lost in that basement tunnel.
I still had the same recurring nightmare. I was facing the billboard, this time, the eyes were remarkably similar to Anna’s. They were dull brown and leered at me through its glasses. I would strain to reach out and scratch at the paint and each time, I would wake up in a cold sweat. I just wanted to see what was behind those eyes, what were they hiding?
It was Wednesday afternoon, a week after they had found me when my bandages around my eye were removed. My vision wasn’t perfect and when they brought a mirror to my face, there was a dark pool of blood behind my iris. I shoved the mirror away, I no longer wanted to ever see my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” the nurse asked. “It will go away and heal on its own. Thankfully you still have your vision, the eyes are the window to your soul after all.”
“The eyes are the window to your soul, huh,” I muttered.
“You will be discharged tomorrow, and you can come home.” My parents were sitting next to my bed, holding each other. “We can have a proper service for your sister,” my dad said holding my mom’s shaking form. They got up to leave and as the light went off, I was finally drifting off into another nightmare filled slumber.
As my eyes were closing, I saw a red blur in my peripheral vision. My mind felt hazy as a familiar feeling of fear washed over me.
“I’m back to play.”