Our Final Hour |
Two days ago, JSDC readers embarked upon an adventure. Now, over 1,000 words later, we have:
The Aye of the Beholder
Frances never had questioned why his father had stacked boxes in front of the fireplace in the basement, or, even more peculiarly, why he insisted that no one touch them. In fact, Frances didn’t ever question what his father said. His father was the type of man who expected to be obeyed and Frances was the type of son who obeyed. Their interactions consisted not of long "father-to-son" talks, but of short interactions that usually ended with Frances saying, “Yes, sir.” But now that Frances was quickly becoming a young man, he wanted more from his father.
Considering that his father was going to be away for a few hours, if not the entire day, his curiosity got the better of him. Frances now stared, mesmerized, at the neatly stacked boxes and felt a powerful burning of curiosity, like someone had freshly kindled a fire on that hearth and the flames were burning madness into his mind. The danger of incurring his father's wrath was quite real, but opportunities like this were most surely not to be wasted. Still, there would be consequences for indulging in his curiosity, he had experienced them before.
Deciding which box to peer into first would be easy - Frances began pointing to each one, singing "eenie-meenie-minie-moe." Then he saw the little box at the corner, hiding among all the others. Frances stopped mid-song, leaving the tiger's toe relatively unrestrained, as he took one last look around the room to make sure no one was nearby. Approaching the little box, Frances immediately noticed the letters "G.A.D." on the nearest side, clearly written long ago as they were very faint. If he thought, for a moment, that he could resist the temptation to peer inside - to catch a glimpse of this hidden treasure - that resistance was now shattered. Before he could change his mind Frances opened the box quickly and was surprised that the box was mostly empty except for a small piece of paper.
Curled and yellow from age, it clung to the shadows of the small container as though it saw danger in the possibilities that lay outside, and wished nothing more than to spare the world from that which was inevitably to come. Frances stared at the object, wondering what secrets it must hold and thinking how in a moment, he would know those secrets as well. As he moved the paper into the light the faint lines on it began to form a map of some kind with what appeared to be strange symbols on it. Though the symbols were foreign to him, on one edge of the map were words that Frances could understand:
"An Aye for an Eye."
"An Aye for an Eye." His father had often muttered that phrase before tucking into his dinner. Frances always paid attention in school, especially in history, so he thought it odd for his father to quote The Code of Hammurabi in place of a dinner prayer. As was usual with his father’s many peculiarities, however, he hadn’t lent any more time to the subject. Now, seeing the word “aye,” he knew that the phrase meant something wholly different, and he stared off at the fireplace, wondering at it all. It was then that Frances nearly fell over, for something quite frightening had happened:
The fireplace was staring back.
The fear in him welled up and the urge to flee started to overpower him. But Frances could not move. The fire was swaying, a slow rythmic dance of smoke and flame that beckoned Frances closer and closer. Only he hadn't lit the fireplace; it had lit itself, and the boxes blocking the grate were now under threat of the flames. The eyes had vanished. The flickering light made Francis feel calm. He gracefully folded the map in his pocket and slid the boxes away from danger. But almost as soon as he did, the boxes pushed back, cornering him, forcing him towards those once-calming flames.
As if amused, the fire lashed out with two arms of flame that wrapped around Frances' waist, shocking him by such an action but also surprising him in that the flames were ice-cold. Frances felt a sharp yank and, before he could yell for help, found that the frigid flames had dragged him over the ash-filled grate and into a dark tunnel beyond.
As for the eyes, they were back.
Frances peered into the eyes, and beyond them he saw things unimaginable, things that took his mind off of the icy-cold touch of the fire as he kept being pulled further and further down the tunnel. A voice came into his head (was it his father's?) quietly urging him, pushing him--before he knew it, Frances uttered a single word into the swallowing darkness,
Suddenly, Francis was released. He fell and hit the ground hard, wincing as his elbow scraped against the rough, cement floor of the tunnel.
A voice from no where in particular boomed, in a deep, somber tenor: "Welcome back, Garron, it has been a long time," and Frances shuddered to hear the name his father swore would never be spoken in his house; Garron, father of Gary, father of Frances.
"Who...wha...where am I?", Frances muttered.
“You know where you are, Garron Arnold Drake!” said the voice.
“But I’m not Garron.” Squeaked Frances. “I am only a boy. Garron was an old man, my grandfather, and he died. I didn’t even know him.”
The voice grunted. Frances blinked. His eyes adjusted and he noticed a dull shaft of light that streamed into the tunnel from above creating a pale square between he and his fiery kidnapper. Frances had the horrible feeling that whatever monster sat in the dark was about to reveal itself, and he covered his eyes. He was right; the voice thrust its head forward into gray light-- Frances tried not to scream, for, through his fingers he saw...
A human face? He loosened his fingers, for it was a kind old face with two blind eyes:
The same eyes that had looked back at him from the fireplace.
"Liar! You spoke "aye" to me!"
The voice belonged to an old, blind man who was now groping him to see if he was, in fact, a boy. There wasn’t much that Frances could do but let him go about seeing with his hands. There was a crumply sound, and Frances tightened; the man's hands had found the map folded neatly in his pocket. The old man unfolded the map and ran his fingers over the strange writing which Frances now noticed was raised like brail. The old man slowly smiled and begin singing quietly to himself. For a moment it seemed that the old man had forgotten Frances.
Frances stared hard at the old, blind man before him. The song the old man was humming was very familiar to him. Frances had heard both his father and his grandfather humming that same tune.
"You know why I'm blind, don't you boy?" the old man asked. Frances just continued to stare. The old man answered his own question, "It's because I gave up an eye each to your father and grandfather. That is how they became so powerful and rich. With my eyes they held the secret of The Code of Hammurabi, particularly number 196. "Aye" summoned me, and an eye was given. But they are just a loan, and were to be returned. Apparently your grandfather neglected to uphold his end of the Code."
Frances' eyes were wide in astonishment at this point. It was true that his grandfather and father were both very successful men, and that he had never wanted for anything growing up. Then his thoughts took a dark turn, as he recalled his grandfather's last few minutes with him... Frances was very, very young at the time of his passing but he could just remember how he had called Frances over and whispered into his ear and pressed his thumb against Frances' eye....
Frances, suddenly shocked, drew back from the old man, comprehension reached in an agonizing instant--
"Yes," breathed the old man, "now you understand. My eye was passed from your grandfather to you, and must now be returned to me."
And with that, the old man leapt forward, remarkably agile for someone with no eyes, and plucked Frances' right eye from its socket. Frances felt no pain.
"An aye for an eye," the old man intoned, pressing Frances' eye into one of his own. "The circle is complete. Perhaps one day when you are an adult, you will return to claim this eye again... or perhaps even that of your father's once he passes. But for now, it remains with me. As for this map, never again shall your family use it to enter my home!"
And with that, the old man threw out his arms and there was an explosion of fire all around Frances. He felt himself being thrown backwards through a tunnel and out of the fireplace and into his basement again. He collided into the boxes, smashing and scattering them across the room, as flames roared from the fireplace, catching the boxes and carpet on fire. Frances stumbled to his feat and using an old towel discarded on the basement floor, proceeded to beat out the flames.
It was at this point that Frances realized that his right eye was still in his head. He reached up and gently felt for it, and the eye was indeed there. But then Frances realized that he had lost something even more precious. Gazing around the basement, he could no longer see through the walls, into the earth that surrounded the house. Looking up, his vision was blocked by the ceiling and he could no longer see through it to the kitchen. Sight that he had always assumed was his birthright was actually a gift from his grandfather... a gift that was not his grandfather's to give.
As Frances wiped the blood from his elbow (he had ruined his best shirt) and surveyed the now trashed basement (also frowned upon), he realized that any amount of scolding would be worth the trouble. Kicking his legs up on the nearest box, he eased onto his back, smiled, and whistled a low, familiar tune. His father would be home any minute, and they finally had something to talk about.
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