Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Hills Have Eyes

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king that saw all things.

There is a place where the hills are paved with cobblestones. You can walk among them, each foot pressing against each stone, and climb each hill's gentle slopes. Sometimes you will come across a building (also made of cobblestone) and inside will be a roaring fire (for it will be quite cold, even though the sun is shining brightly) and a pint of your favorite alcohol waiting for you.

As you wonder whose house it is and if perhaps they would be angry if you had some of the pint, a man and woman emerge from a door inside the cobblestone house. "Oh, I'm sorry," you say, "I should have knocked, but there was no door-"

And then you stop because of what you see: this man and woman, this couple who are smiling at you, have no eyes, nothing but empty sockets. "Oh, hello," the man said. "We've been expecting you. Come, have a seat. Have a drink." He motions to the hearth and the pint.

Since there are no chairs, you sit on the ground and take the drink, even as you try not to look at their lack of eyes. And then you remember what the man said. "What do you mean, you've been expecting me?" you ask.

"Oh, we saw you coming a while away," the woman said. She is holding a rag and wiping down some of the cobblestones, though you don't know how she can tell if they are clean or not.

"You...saw me coming?" you asked with confusion in your voice.

"A figure of speech," the man says. "I realize our appearance is somewhat disconcerting. The fact of the matter is, without eyes, we can hear so much better and we were able to hear your footsteps on the path as you walked."

"Ah," you say. You lift up the cup and take a slow drink. It tastes delicious. "If I may ask, about the state of your, well, eyes."

"Yes," the woman said. "Our eyes. It was better we put them out. They were of no use to us here."

"No use?" you ask. "How so? Surely it is better to see than be blind."

"Our king sees for us," the woman says. "Our king can see all."

"Ah," you nod. You have heard of such megalomania – leaders claiming that they are omniscient and omnipotent, but you hadn't yet encountered subjects that truly believed those claims, not until now. You lift up your drink again, but when you look down, the foam, unbelievably, has formed into the shape of an eye. You set it down. All this eye talk is getting to you. "Would you mind if I stayed the night here?" you ask. The couple is creepy, but any shelter is better than none.

"You may stay," the man says. "Please, rest."

You take off your pack and use it as a pillow. You are awfully tired. And the fire is very warm. You start to fall asleep in front of it and as sleep overtakes you, you think you see the flames form the shape of an eye.

You wake up in the middle of the night. The fire has gone out, leaving only a ring of ashes and a dark spot in the center, like the pupil of an eye. There is a bright light outside, however, and you stand up and walk through the doorway and see a raging bonfire. The man and woman and many others are standing around it. You slowly notice that all of them are eyeless.

"Come," the woman motions for you. You do not know how she saw you – not only does she have no eyes, she wasn't even turned in your direction. Perhaps her hearing really is that good, though how she could hear over the crackling of the fire, you do not know. "Come. I told you we were expecting you."

You walk over to the bonfire. "It is time for the judgment," the man says and the rest of the eyeless people around the bonfire nod. "It is time for him to meet our All-Seeing King."

The woman turns to you and motions to the sky. "It has a thousand eyes," she says and you look up.

"Those are the stars," you say. "It's just the night sky."

"Look again," she says and you do. And you see.

All the stars. Every single one. They are eyes. Eyes looking at you. Thousands and thousands of eyes, all of them looking at you, looking into your very heart and soul. You turn away from the sky, but still you see eyes everywhere. There are eyes in the fire, eyes in the cobblestones, and now there are eyes in each and every one of the people's faces. All of them look at you.

"A girlfriend in his hometown," one of them says. "Broke her heart."

"Left his mother," another says. "So lonely. Died alone."

"Stole food," the man says. "Took another's livelihood."

"I was hungry," you say. "I had no money. And the girl and my mother...I was young. I was stupid."

"No excuses," the woman says. "No reasons. Only judgment."

You feel the pain of all of your mistakes, all of your crimes as you feel the eyes of the All-Seeing King stare at you. There is no escape from its gaze. There is only you, the eyes, and the fire.

The fire. You can feel its heat. It is your punishment. It is your judgment. You feel the people around you take hold of you shoulders and you do not resist. They push and you go with it and you fall into the fire.

And the fire burns you away.