To the backs of their skulls: The First Approach
The nights, of an open closet door inspiring paranoid terror, or a shadow by the moonlight causing a heartbeat's skip, have worn Kaylisha thin. Her concept of just what was, after all, out to get them (wasn't it?) was too vivid for Kaylisha to sleep regularly, two months after she'd seen the Harvester of Eyes. In the house of this man now lying wounded on a stretcher at the back of the medivac airplane, she had cried out, times a few, as she imagined her pursuer still lived, following her for no other reason save he had been summoned for the sake of her life, and she had born his singular witness.
Flashes running like floaters, dust motes across her eyes, could in the lamp-lit room call to mind the sparks that scintillated as "hair" on a head nearly otherwise human...save for the baby arms. Upon tentacles they waved mindlessly, giving the deathlike creature greater height than human, and what those baby hands did...the men who'd sneered and bullied Kaylisha only moments before still cried in her private, horrible memories as their eyes...
With a shudder, Kaylisha looks out the airplane window, as the land three miles from the airport resolves into building tops, intersections, neighborhoods...the airstrip plunge waits. Waymon's goatee catches moonlight, as he snores lightly beside her.
She glances to Buddy on the unlit stretcher, an antiseptic smell wafting occasionally to her. What an odd moment to remember Buddy's silent treatment...his mean-spirited slurs. For three days he refused to allow her to sleep in the house, which he offered to her companion, and his childhood friend, Waymon Jarrell. She recalls Buddy's anger, with the rifle, as she cried out in paranoid fear, and the slow dawning of realization that his friend Waymon would not abandon her now, and the seriousness of her true medical panic attacks, all converged to create a bridge of grudging tolerance that made him question the best course of action. Something scared the shit out of all three of them, and he became involved, and gave them what they needed: an isolated, easily-patrolled refuge, out of reach of any neighborhood.
Why did Buddy decide he would risk his life for Waymon, who'd only met Kay about three weeks before he'd shared his horrible secret to protect her? Strangers, thrown together: Buddy had not seen Waymon in years. He had so little in common apparent with the soft-spoken poetry student, her new friend, in whom she'd confided that gangsters had shown a chilling interest in her whereabouts and personal life. And why should anyone die, she wondered, over that two faced shitbag of a father she'd never really known, either? She suspected these gangsters knew more about his real world than she ever had.
When Waymon finally called Buddy, they had fled the grisly scene of the crime, burned in flames, spending her savings for three weeks of restless wandering away from the
Long Island site of her abduction, and the bizarre, homicidal incident which had left one of the mobsters alive, still in critical condition and unconscious when last she heard. Who would ever want to wake up, after that?
Yet, here, Kaylisha felt she could never again enjoy sleep. Somehow, her problem ensnared the intelligent tendencies in Buddy, who was still unclear on how Waymon had met this Gemini woman who Waymon claimed had given him the tiny parchment that seemed to call, upon its destruction, the most terrifying thing Kaylisha ever had experienced. The sheer mystery began the bridge of understanding. In two weeks time, Buddy had begun presenting Kay with clean sheets for her bed, his, while he dutifully took the fouton and Waymon, the sofa. A man who had lived alone for two years found himself unable now to live alone. Perhaps the danger made it good.
The bond of friendship led to ten weeks of three in hiding, rather than two constantly on the run. In the good of the wilderness, the anti-social hideaway hosted an uneasy truce. Over time, she began to wonder which of the two of them were truly more haunted!
Kaylisha gradually straightened out her sleep, without any meds or psychiatric help, which was out of the question, anyway. After all, wasn't it academic what a responsible doctor would do with a person who was running from the Harvester of Eyes? If you beg, explain something wants your life...are you ready to be locked up?
Buddy, all along, had enough homegrown pot to fill in the necessary chill pill, and over the course of twelve weeks, a place Kay had not planned to remain one single night became, gradually, the one place she first felt safe.
Whatever the reason, their stay was always temporary, and two months afterwards, they were in Oceanside working their first ongoing jobs, with so many issues unresolved, she couldn't help wondering if he might ever regret listening to her, getting involved, trying to be the shining knight of whatever. Doubtlessly, he'd had some poem in mind when he agreed to jump a bus with with her.
She couldn't remember a word of the one he'd recited when he took them both to Buddy's to hide and, well, attempt sanity again. Waymon, for their differences, has her heart. She could feel it break when they'd returned to find Buddy...dear God...and now, here they were escorting a critically wounded man to the nearest hospital capable of handling the skull trauma.
Not that she quite liked the guy---he was an instigating asshole, but...to see him lying there, sedated, his face covered in gauze...a guy she'd shared Cully Stout Beers with---at some point, much as Buddy could not admit it, he had cared what became of this insane-sounding woman of a skin tone for which he did not approve. But what a terrible price he'd paid.
The landing she expects does not occur. She realizes they are headed skyward again. But that does not make any sense. She's flown four times in her life, and the certainties of touchdown are a reliable source of relief...
"...but this is nothing." Kaylisha knows she can do nothing. As she had discovered during her deep woods refuge: there are times one must let go of the semblance of control to find out what is really happening.
That is why she could buy that, after her erstwhile boyfriend's banishing spell, they would not see that thing again. She would never again witness the inhuman things it did, and with the burning of the scroll upon which she'd also put a drop of blood, the one means of which she knew (but never would've believed!) to summon the Harvester of Eyes was now absent the world.
Yes. yet...when he'd been given the scroll...did that person have more? Would it ever walk the Earth again? And would it plan to visit her again? Why had it not killed her?
She'd already expected she might die: kidnapped at last by men who'd harassed her over the course of a week, she found herself shocked with battery cables as they questioned her about her father's dealings, on things which the no good bastard had never shared, only making her speculate more widely what her mother never told her.
Her boyfriend, bleeding from a shot fired moments before in her kidnapping, added his blood to the paper, and with its burning now apparently magic o shit IS real, the shaking this time's not you being drunk it's a real fucking earthquake, this...man...steps into the warehouse room with Kaylisha and her captors and...
always, her mind returns here, on circuits ranging far and interested, yet the reason for her sleepless nights had its way with the teases caught in her imagination.
Pulled into the mire of her mind, darkened daydreams arriving by surprise repeat this very unman's figure, standing out like fire in leather and deep-shaded jeans, addressing the mobsters with a kind of mocking, "pukey" announcer voice: "conga-rats!" he said. "Your eyes are outstanding."
They'd sworn loudly at this apparition, one initially, the other quite unbelieving until their eyes....their eyes...how could any creature with eyes its won not see more perspectives, when thinking through so many eyes held along to see? Yet the addition of these two new sets of eyes, pulled from their sockets by some invisible, ruthless force, into distended nerves gushing with blood flowing around their human mouths, screaming with agony and awareness...the men she'd wished dead suddenly had problems of a seriously fatal nature.
Some memories need the present moment more than others. In the skies, she searches for something greater than her troubled heart, her sickened worry returning like a gall bladder attack as she watches out the window for the airplane's second approach.
“Waymon,” she says, from the next seat, “you’re awake now.”
“Thought I felt us approaching to land,” he says.
“Almost were. I wouldn’t wake you before necessary.”
“Sorry you weren’t still asleep yourself. How is Buddy?”
They didn’t need to repeat the facts; they had learned they should not.
She thinks back to something she heard on the news five days before...six?
The eyes taken in the mass graves by the Mexican border told her he was back.
Then, Ladell, the last person they’d stayed with, renting his converted garage.
They had come back to Buddy’s farm the next day, but there was no sign of Buddy until they checked the barn, and there, beyond a trail of blood droplets, in the hay he lay, unconscious. His eyes were pulled from his head, scattered aside with contempt nearby on the ground. They had moved as fast as possible to get him to a hospital, keeping his eyes on ice in Tupperware found in the kitchen. His brief awakening had been one of the most awful instances in life. How did Waymon calm him down, even elicit a chuckle, while living with the fear of the damage to his eyes?
There was so much to forget, no wonder Waymon had taken to filling their time together with poems he’d memorized. Kaylisha never remembered more than the chorus of songs she’d heard a hundred times, nor ever knew anyone who loved poetry so. Those words were calm in nerve-wracking instances. They were a mental sedative, a release, an occupation to recall life aside from the vile happenings of their four months together.
Why had they stayed together? Why did she not put all the blame squarely with Waymon Randall for using the spell that ...but then, she could never know what would happen after she was taken by her father’s mob cronies.
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
Waymon had been so funny and kind, and she’d been so miserable, it seemed like three or four times talking to him at her job had forged an unbreakable bond, already scary and joyous enough in itself. He glances over at her, and continues reciting Yeats:
I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
The sunset as the plane inexplicably rose again from its approach formation.
Immediately, Kay walks up into the cockpit to ask why.
“No one from the tower,” says the pilot, shaking his head.
“What the hell, are they asleep?” she says, in disbelief.
“I’m going to figure something out. Just take your seat, it’s fine.”
Kay quickly relays this to Waymon, who sits gazing out the window. Her stomach begins to drop. He turns to her, wordlessly. Her internal monologue begins to rush over her conscious mind, as worry gathers in her countenance.
But now they’re thrown together in life or death and she realizes: it was all for her. The conjuring, the sacrificing...how many more need die that she might live?
Here, love, this is "The Mouse’s Nest", by John Clare.
I found a ball of grass among the hay
And proged it as I passed and went away
And when I looked I fancied something stirred
And turned agen and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat
With all her young ones hanging at her teats
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me
I ran and wondered what the thing could be
She recalls the ceremony that brought the Harvester at their darkest moment.
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood
When the mouse hurried from the crawling brood
Her blood and Waymon’s mixed on the paper Waymon burned.
In her mind, it’s there again. "Harvey" makes crude, insane jokes and literally gets drunken on its enhanced awareness, as it adds stolen eyes to its mind and goes psychic joyriding, seeing sights from superhuman perspectives, as though taking on additional imaginations.
Waymon finishes his poem:
The young ones squeaked and when I went away
She found her nest again among the hay
The water oer the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun
It did its grizzly work of attracting the eyes, literally, on outstretched vessels and nerves before snapping bloodily, pulled invisibly to its tiny baby hands that stretched out of the top of his otherwise human head. She recalls the Harvester, digging through garbage to find eyes for his pouch of leather. Waymon’s smile fades. He is sorry the poem did not pleasantly distract her.
“Why didn’t the Harvester kill me, Waymon?” she asks. “You were lucky to be in the alley behind the warehouse. “I used to think it simply wanted a witness.”
“How many times have we talked about this?” Waymon pleads.
“No, how many times have you listened quietly? What don’t you want to tell me?”
Waymon now reveals to Kaylisha why she'd been spared during the Harvester's first manifestation. “I did not want you to have to deal with it. I’ll tell you, but I can’t take it back.” He pauses for a moment. “You, too, were possessed by the Harvester of Eyes that first night. I thought the spell I used would banish the creature. Remember the image of great fire, before the warehouse went up like a tinderbox?
Only you, Kaylisha, remained, and for almost three months we did not see anything.”
“Why didn’t your spell put it away forever?”
“You know I’ve tried again. I’m not sure what else to do. I won’t stop trying.”
Waymon had been racking his brain for a new banishment spell ever since they realized the Harvester was running wild, only three days before. They had not slept since!
The plane begins approach once more. For the longest three minutes, they wait. Her stomach drops. Harvester laughs, his eyes now visibly around her. The fusilage begins to rip off the top! Standing atop the ripped open plane, his eyes squirm as though they will drift out of the ghostly baby hands.
“I’ve been sight-seeing like you wouldn’t believe?” says the Harvester of Eyes. “Big city madness! Some concert promoter found me and begged me to come on stage for a heavy metal concert. I had live TV on my eyes, baby! I was a star in the wild! A reality celebrity more outrageous than any ever seen by mortal eyes!”
The wheels begin to scrape the tarmac.
“But I haven’t shown them the REAL goods yet! No. And already, they’ll never know what I’ve taken from them as they watched. It’s been a wonderful vacation, your world.”
“I’m not afraid of you!” Kaylisha screams hoarsely.
“And why would you be?” asks the Harvester, in multiple voices speaking as one. Then he turns to Waymon. From his stretcher, Buddy raises his head, and begins to murmur “no!”
Kaylisha begins to batter the Harvester’s body with her fists repeatedly. It turns its back to her.
“Oh, I’ve HAD you!”
He then takes Waymon’s struggling body up by the head, and possesses him. Now Waymon’s head flows with serpentine strands of tiny baby hands. His eyes, depraved and orange, grow wide over a joyless grin, filling with sharpened teeth. “I always wanted a head for poetry!”
“To hell with you, you son of a bitch!” swears Buddy, still strapped to the gurney.
The Harvester merely gazes at the end of his new body’s fingers, while Kaylisha’s tears flow, at his feet. Then, the space above their heads seems to fill with a bizarre claxon sound. The creature reaches for her chin, as she fights with all of her strength, hair tearing in other hand and falling as a tangled tuft on the floor of the plane. “I can’t see what you’re afraid of,” says the Harvester.
Then, the unbearable siren culminates in a blue hologram of a head above them all, as the plane slows to a stop. A cold, hard, weary visage drifts above them. The eyes begin to fire a concentrated red beam towards the head, which cloaks itself in a flashing yellow band.
“Finally, I have answered the call, with my own call,” speaks the echoing voice. “I long to war no more. Curse your kind, that I must fight on for your sakes.”
A strange, watery blueness begins to open, a cone receding beyond sight, as the creature turns again towards Kaylisha. Its orange eyes harden, as its grip around her throat tightens, her cries, choking pitifully. The blue wateriness begins to surround the Waymon/Harvester and Kaylisha, and then from within the cone flies an orange and yellow machine man, with green eyes. In place of its right arm, drifts a yellow beam, wavy, snaking out to surround the creature, who roars angrily, and then, closing all its eyes a moment, says, “yes, then, my home, at last.” Before the startled woman, now so over-stimulated as to be expressionless, the enveloping glow becomes a blob, and as the Harvester of Eyes resolves into billions of tiny red lines, the robotic visitor begins to shrink into the center point of the receding blueness. Only the head from before floats above.
“W-Waymon!” she screams. “What have you done with Waymon?” The impassive head does not answer, but fades, also. She slumps to the ground amidst the smell of ozone.
Behind his bandages, Buddy weeps.
A long, impossible moment passes as the plane comes to a halt. In her mind’s eye, the blue face now drifts above, resolving into an albino man with a black leather body suit, and a tarnished, scarred belt. She hears his voice. “There was no other way. I am a veteran of so many psychic battles as to know nothing to say of the innocents in their wake. Your friend may find his way to you again one day. His sacrifice was willing. I doubt the possession of any other body would’ve resulted in your death.” Kaylisha hears blasts of winds, as his voice distorts and grows in volume.
“I have taken from his mind the poems he loves, and words the same will remain with you until your age dims all memory. He will fade like the outcasts of the tide upon the beach. You alone will remember his words and the love for those words, and the words for those loves.” The figure vanishes like a dream upon wakening.
Detective Bloom oversees the emergency call to the airport. He interviews the pilot whose approach was delayed before the horrible truth was discovered in the control room. The plane seems whole, in one piece. The paramedics take Buddy away, and decide to take Kaylisha Nichols, as well, as she is apparently exhausted.
Detective Bloom stamps out his cigarette, frustrated. The other documented passenger, Waymon Jarrell, is lost without account. No questions put to Buddy elicit more than memories of some years before. No questions to Kaylisha provide her previous connection to Buddy, whose eyes begin to heal after surgery. An Ithaca, New York woman named Pearl Sands, 34, who had waited in the terminal for her own flight to Santa Fe, was found unconscious near the landed plane, with no memory of the hour before.
The fate of the air traffic controllers, found with eyes gouged out, leaves only a baffling, gruesome mystery, with the only person in any way connected known to be aboard the plane bringing in a similar trauma victim to two (with criminal records) in Long Island.
Somewhere, a poem remembered by heart spreads across a barrista’s lips.
Somewhere, Vera Gemini laughs cruelly.