“Sight” by Laura Grace Terry
Noah locked gazes with the hulking figure of the young woman standing in front of him. The patch of hair remaining on the right side of her head had recently faced a vat of violet dye. A golden ring dangled from her nose, and her ears displayed an array of every type of metal found in jewelry shops. Her body pressed against the confines of her tank top when he had last seen her, but she now could no longer put her arms through the clothing’s straps. The supportive strips of fabric now lay squelched beneath her armpits.
Her followers reclined in the haphazard clusters of chairs scattered throughout the chamber. Most of them rose from their seats to gawk at the stranger who had entered their abode, but some could only shoot him a listless look before returning to a drug-infused stupor.
Panting, Noah brushed a wavy brown lock from his sweat-drenched forehead and stepped toward her. The suffocating stench of marijuana permeated the humid air, creating a haze around the faded couch where the woman had reclined.
“Augustine…” he choked.
“We don’t talk to fascists.” A muscular teenage boy approached the invader, unsheathing a stained pocket knife. “Who the hell do you think you are, trapping us and marching in here to stop the good work?”
“Back off, Nick,” the large woman commanded.
“I said, ‘Back off.’ Let me handle this.” Augustine waved a hand at her opponent.
Nick said nothing, only slipped his weapon into his pocket and made his way back to his previous position. He would never resist an order from his precious leader.
“It just takes ahold of you.” The scrawny man’s words echoed in Noah’s mind. “She gets ahold of you with those eyes—” he had pointed to the young man’s dull blue gaze— “and you forget.”
“So you ratted me out.” The woman narrowed her bark-colored eyes at him and crossed her arms. “How long until your cop buddies show up?”
“You know it’s not like that,” Noah answered, resisting the urge to cringe at her swollen face.
She used to be so beautiful.
The image of Augustine as a high-schooler flashed before him. Chocolate-brown hair hanging past her shoulder blades and one hundred pounds lighter, she had once strolled through Perryville with him. He had never asked her if she had interest in going to that new Hibachi grill, never pressed his lips against hers.
Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t.
“Oh, really?” she scoffed. “When did you start spying on me?”
Noah winced at her icy glare, but he did not avert his gaze to the dirt-covered floor. His opponent’s face contorted into a frown, and a sheen of tears gleamed from her cheeks. Wiping a hand across her face, she glanced upward at the ceiling before balling her fists.
A shot of adrenaline rushed through his chest and settled into his fingers. He had observed criminals tense their muscles while speaking with an officer; a lurch toward the unlucky cop often followed the display.
Don’t you dare give in. You’re not alone.
“I thought you’d understand once you figured it out.” Augustine dropped her arms and shook her head. “Maybe you’d see how much needs to be changed. I mean, I’ve always heard that we should use our gifts to make the world a better place, right?”
“Augustine…there’s a team out there waiting for you and your followers. Please, don’t make this hard.” Noah’s voice wavered as he took another step toward the young woman. “No one’s going to shoot. They just want you to walk out with your hands up and get in a car.”
“So they can try me and sentence me to Death Row,” she snarled, placing her hands on her hips. “Or life in prison. You use your eyes to track me down so they can kill me, but I can’t use mine to help spread peace?!”
Peace. A word depicting simple pasts forgotten by those who lived in the present. The serenity of afternoon walks and weekend visits to the local coffee shop.
Who are you, and what have you done to her?!
He scanned the dark pools of light for the gentle coolness that had always remained beneath any expression. Two pits of searing anger greeted him instead, reddening as more drops of liquid emotion streamed from their corners. Augustine had no more need to answer his question than a rattlesnake had to bite a human after shaking its button-like tail.
“I’m saving the damn world, Noah!” Her voice sliced through the haze. “Why can’t you see that?”
The young man opened his mouth, only to close it again as she edged toward him. Inhaling through his nose, he flexed his quivering fingers and planted his legs onto the cracked linoleum beneath his feet.
Augustine cleared her throat and took another step toward him. As she wiped the remainder of her tears from her swollen cheeks, she straightened her back and clenched her jaw. A weak spurt of moonlight stole into the room through a tiny nearby window, casting the splotchy shadows of an oak’s branches upon her face. Her gaze gleamed in the dim light like that of a leopard caught out of a tree.
A blink, and the shadowy image of the African predator stood beside her, ears laid back and mouth drawn into a crude snarl. But this beast’s flesh had long eroded from its muzzle, exposing a line of dagger-like fangs. Its dull pelt hung in patches over a decaying frame, and spikes arose from its spine. Uttering a raspy growl, the animal stumbled in front of Augustine on cloven hooves.
Noah’s eyes widened to almost twice their size as the dark creature lifted its head and roared.
He glanced over his shoulder to meet the amber sight of a lion behind him. The golden feline bobbed its head, tossing its tawny mane upward.
“The Other Self.” The words escaped his lips in a murmur.
As soon as Augustine’s words sliced through the thick air, the monster standing before her locked its eyes upon its target. Though the poison-yellow pools of light roved in Noah’s direction, they did not acknowledge the bony young man. A growl from the lion, and he stepped to the right.
The pair of cats met each other in the space between the inhabitants of the physical world, casting icy glares and flicking their tails.
Oh, Augustine… Is that what you look like? Is that your Other Self?
Noah shuddered at the pair of creatures occupying the space between himself and his former friend. All of the cult members had turned to face him, muscles stiffened for a command from their leader, but none of them glanced at the entities readying themselves for battle.
How could they? It’s my perception. My sight. What has she done to herself?
“Was this really worth it?” he whispered, lifting his head to meet his opponent’s stare.
“You just don’t understand.” Augustine’s eyes had softened into muddy lakes. “That’s okay. It’s not your fault.”
Her Other Self dropped its shoulders and assumed a nonthreatening stance. After a couple of seconds, the rotten beast uttered a throbbing purr. Another blink, and the felines had disappeared into nothingness, leaving only that pair of bark-brown irises that had once beheld him in joy six years prior.
“You’re just blind,” came her voice, gentle and smooth. “I can help you see. Look through me.”
Darkness overtook Noah’s vision, pulling him into inky depths with warm tendrils. The faded shapes of individuals dressed in rags appeared from the black, faces contorted into expressions of horror as they fled from pale, distorted figures. White flashes erupted behind him, followed by a spray of bullets.
Blood rushed through his body, filling his face with heat. He only felt the steady thrumming of his feet against rough terrain. Sharp rocks and thick brush greeted him with every new step made into what had once been an abyss.
It won’t be long before they’re on me.
Harsh barks confirmed his prediction; the pack had picked up his scent. Of course, they would find him.
Unless I can make it to the river! The river…
A vast stretch of fast-flowing liquid stretched before him, covered by the white foam of harsh waves. Thrashing like an untamed beast, the oily river sliced through the barren landscape. Beyond its midnight-colored expanse lay the vibrant greens of summer oaks and tender grass.
So many had slipped below the surface of those chopping tendrils, unable to pull precious oxygen into their lungs. Their bruised bodies had often washed upon the stony shore after failed escapes. And some—
Some were pushed in.
Shrill cries echoed in his ears, reverberated in his skull. Men, women, and children who had entered the void in front of him and who had not risen from its slimy waters. Pursued by pale hunters only to be flung into the darkness. Into death.
“And all because they were different.”
Noah whipped his neck to his right. Augustine stood beside him, never glancing at her company. The dogs’ barking had faded into silence, and a breeze rippled across now calm waves. Sighing, she knelt beside the river and dipped a finger into its dark skin. As soon as her nail breached the surface, the inky substance receded, revealing piles of submerged bones on the silty bottom.
“This happens more than you think, Noah,” she murmured, shaking her head. “You should know more than anyone about other people’s pain.”
The young man winced at her reference to his price. Again, the torrent of emotions—joy, hopelessness, rage— He clenched his fists as others’ Sights flooded his vision. Now a mother waited in the door for him, tears racing down her face as she gazed upon the blood staining his hands. A second, and the image blurred into the dark walls of a funeral home.
He was so young. My son. I’ve lost—
The ground lurched beneath his feet as the moment faded, followed by the sickening crunch of a crane into a small wooden house. A foreclosure sign stood in front of him, stabbing a hole in the yard over which he had labored for twenty years. Its blazing white face gleamed in the sunlight. His daughter stood beside him, covering her face with a stuffed giraffe that he had presented her.
My daughter, my house… No!
Intense nausea gripped his stomach, and he covered his face with his hands.
“Not me, not me, not me.” The mantra that had left his lips so many times now emerged as a response to the hordes of views.
Warm bile rose in his throat as he crumpled to the ground. Placing his hands upon the shore, he retched. What seemed an eternity passed, measured in the rapid pulsations of his heart.
The feverish pressure of Augustine’s hand on his shoulder caused him to lift his eyes upward toward her rounded head and ears. A sweet fragrance drifted from her, a scent that had not entered his nostrils since they had graduated from Perryville’s tiny high school.
“You remember when we went out for walks? That big line of honeysuckle at the edge of your yard?” she whispered.
Noah said nothing, only nodded.
Yes, the honeysuckle. She always smelled like that after we got done because we always had to try some before we went back inside.
“Imagine everyone had their own honeysuckle, Noah. Their own jobs. Then, you’d never have to see others hurting. We’d all be happy and hold hands,” the violet-haired woman continued. “Wouldn’t you like that, Noah? To hold hands? Make the world a better place?”
She stretched her stubby fingers toward his own bony digits. A tiny smile graced her lips, and her eyelids closed halfway over those bark-brown irises. Softer than the silt lining the river’s bottom.
The water that had lapped at the pebbles in front of him had receded, forming a pathway to the other side. His sight caught the figures of her followers dancing, laughing, rolling in the thick sprigs of grass awaiting him if he simply took her hand and crossed the final obstacle. A path to paradise.
“We’ll bring heaven here, Noah. You and me.”
Noah returned his gaze to hers. Her words came in a deep purr, assaulting his ears with their continual pulses. Spots appeared on her forehead and spread to the rest of her face. The leopard’s bony muzzle emerged from her jaw, replacing her features with its own rotten skull. The stench of decay drove the sweetness of honeysuckle from his nose and permeated the thickening air.
“You and me,” the creature growled as it dropped onto four spindly legs. “You and me.”
Augustine’s Other Self swayed on its hooves and cocked its head at the young man.
No, she. It’s a she.
His feline nostrils twitched; the flowery aroma of a female arose beneath the layer of death-smell. A final growl drifted from her maw as she reached for his throat with her yellowed fangs, his vulnerable spot hidden beneath his thick mane. He unsheathed his pale claws and rose from the bank, no longer a bony human who lacked weapons.
I am a son of the King. What right do you have to tell me to bow to you?
Narrowing his amber gaze, he lifted a paw from the ground and swiped at the corpse-leopard. The slice of his hooked weapons through flesh and the cry of the monster filled his ears. The beast stumbled, blinked, and faded into nothingness.
Noah inhaled sharply through his nostrils as the cult’s dusky chamber reappeared. Every individual in the room had frozen, eyes widened like moons in the darkness. Augustine still stood in front of him, covering the stinging crimson spot that now graced her cheek. She did not open her mouth to speak, only sent him a piercing glare.
Oh, no… What have I done?! Say you’re sorry! For the sake of all that’s holy, say you’re sorry!
But though his mind rehearsed different apologies, his back straightened, and his muscles tensed. He heard nothing, felt nothing as he gave his reply.
“You’d kill people for honeysuckles?” The name of every victim that her group had claimed flashed through his mind.
Jackson, Sam, Roberta.
Limp bodies lying on the streets, waiting to be found by officers and carted in plastic bags to a morgue. Neighbors curled underneath fresh tombstones.
“They deserved it!” she snarled through gritted teeth. “Their privileged asses deserved every bit of what they got!”
“For what?” Noah cocked his head at her. “Living? What did they ever do to you except disagree?”
“They hated me. I never did anything because I never got the chance to do it! They’re all traitors to anything good! And now, you’ve betrayed me, too…”
One heartbeat. The amount of time needed for the black metal of the pistol to glint in the sliver of moonlight reaching them from the window. For thick, ring-wearing fingers to squeeze the trigger. For the thunderous echo of a gunshot.
Biographical Note: Laura Grace Terry lives in Atmore, Alabama. She was born on the second of February in 1999. A student of Judson College, she is due to graduate in April 2021 with a double major in Psychology and English and a distinction in English. She is currently developing an Honors Project titled “The Great Conspiracy: Conrad, Anti-Colonialism, and the Ivory Cult.” She plans to eventually earn a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and to publish fictional novels.