Sometimes I see eyes. At the height of summer, bloodied and wet under the warm shadow of a large tree. Maybe on an empty seat on the bus. Later in the year I might see them nestled in piles of autumn leaves, staining the orange and brown a deeper red, pieces of meat and fat hanging from them in uneven pieces.
Mostly the eyes come in winter. I see them on the snow-trodden footpath, and outside the frosted window at the supermarket, the pupils glazed and rheumy with ice. I know why they watch. They watch for non-believers, as I do. They see all the shallow lives built on material things. They add them to his list.
Winter nights like this one bring the magic of the season – the snow is soft and the sky is clear. The streetlamps are pools of liquid brightness. Under one I see eyes – these are dark brown and each has a short gristly nerve like a stumpy, bloody tail. They are a comfort.
The eyes regard me and then turn to stare into the dark. My mouth goes dry. Amongst so many, they have finally seen me. They have judged me. And now they are guiding me.
I have travelled years amongst the non-believers, watching. Seeing as the eyes do. Now I follow my faith into the night.
The lane is dark but I am used to looking for small things. I kneel down, my breath steaming, and this next set of eyes pivot slightly as well. It is enough. The house rises above me, dark and silent. I place my foot carefully on the ice-covered first step. The door will be unlocked, I know it will.
The floor creaks as I enter. The fireplace in the front room glows with red and orange coals. I take one step into the room before I notice the chair, and the figure in it.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” The voice is deep and pleasant. Rolling.
It is hard to make him out in the low and flickering firelight, but it is surprising how thin he is. His beard is long and grey and wild, and his suit is the darkened red of dried blood. He leans forward, and the firelight flickers and then draws back as if not worthy, leaving only the hint of gaunt cheekbones.
“You are a believer,” he says.
“Yes,” I whisper.
Coals shift in the fire and the light flares. I gasp. There are so many eyes. They glint darkly on the mantelpiece. They crowd the floor before the fireplace. Some trail ragged optic nerves. The dim light glitters like starlight across a hundred gazes.
There is a pair on the arm of the chair, and as I stare one of them rolls onto my host’s lap. Impossibly, it moves up, wriggling its way across the thick woollen jacket, the second following close behind. They disappear in the long, tangled beard, and then re-emerge to twist and roll their way up the sunken cheeks.
I can see now that he has no eyes of his own, only twin dark holes that seem too large. The eyes roll into these, their ragged nerve-tails flicking as they disappear. They appear again, and he is suddenly regarding me. He smiles and holds out the gift, the naked steel glinting in the firelight.
I step forward and take it. It is heavy, but feels so right.
“The list continues to grow. I need to see more,” he says.
He gives so much, and what he asks is so little, for a true believer. I lift the knife to my face.
About the author
Matt lives in northern NSW and writes in a dark hole behind the woodshed. He is afraid of the dark, and of holes. He tweets sporadically @MKTighewrites.