Chapter 2


What is this?          


          A frail voice whispers in the dark.


What is this place?          


          She tries to look up beyond the looming black walls on all sides of her, but icy rain spits down on her face. She’s shivering now.

          But she's not asking about the black walls or the rain.


What am I?          


                    She doesn’t recognize the voice in her head. She doesn’t even remember waking up, yet here she sits, trapped inside an unfamiliar body.

          Sharp pain explodes from the base of her neck. She buries her face in the palm of her hands as scalding fire snakes through her like a thousand agonizing cracks. She claws at herself, desperate to stop the torture, desperate to grasp a memory of why it’s happening in the first place, but no matter how tightly she squeezes her eyes shut, she can’t stop the helpless sensation that her mind is leaking out of her skull.


W-what’s happening to me?          


          Gasping for breath, she squints between twitching fingers. In the far distance, anonymous figures lurch past an alley gap. Their long shadows lash across her face.


Is it them?          

Did they do this to me?          

Is this is their secret?          


          Her fingers scratch at the concrete. She tries to drag herself towards the shapes in the night, but her hand sinks into icy water first. She leans over the new discovery to find a reflection staring up at her from a murky, gray puddle. Another shape in night.


This is me?          


          She's never seen this woman before. Her skin is snow-white, framed by matted, raven hair. The right side of her face is hidden in shadow, but rain streaks like tears down her left cheek below the piercing glow of a scarlet eye. With numbed fingers she gently caresses the face, but it quickly vanishes in the liquid distortion. In that moment of quiet ruin a transient memory briefly sparks inside of her. Its details are so vague, yet its conclusion is so inexorable: something chased her into this alley. She trembles as a voice warns in her ear.


It's still here.          


          In fact, it’s right in front of her.

          Looking up from a pool of thick, black blood is a single pale blue eye, its dark, wet nerves extending out behind it. Its pupil dilates as it slowly scans the shadows, back and forth, silently searching in the night for something. For her.

          Her hands shake. Her throat tightens. Her pulse sharpens. She wants to hide, but there’s nowhere to go. She’s imprisoned beneath this shivering skin, locked behind this strange face. If she could only tear through the flesh she could dissolve into the night and escape, but she’s trapped, coalesced by some arcane madness into this naked density just to be watched by that eye.

          A stiff wind gusts. The blue eye’s pupil narrows. Slowly, it glances up at her.

          There’s a word for what she’s feeling now. An emotion. She thinks it’s called fear. It feels like her body is turning inside out.


          Endless needles of rain stab into her as she scrambles down a black corridor in a clumsy retreat. Barely able to move her heavy legs, she falls hard into a metal wall, but fear of that one blue eye drives her to keep moving through the network of narrow alleyways.

          The ground before her is barely lit by broken and blinking lights mounted on the alley walls, which only confuse her steps further. Another stumble and she falls to her hands and knees. Water splashes up beneath her, soaking through the thin, black clothing clinging to her body. Once more she looks down at a warped reflection of herself, but before the liquid mirror can settle a creeping shadow blots out the light of the alley. A shudder rolls down her back as she peers up into the darkness. Above her, the darkness looks back down with pale blue eyes.

          Her screams sound so different than the voice in her head. Maybe she really is trapped in someone else's shell. Or maybe she’s the shell and someone is trapped inside her.

          She darts down a branching pathway, each step quicker than the last as she gets used to the weight of this body. No step feels quick enough, though. She’s starting to remember. That eye is everywhere. It will follow her no matter where she goes.

Just go away!          


No more secrets!          


          At the end of a corridor her fingers curl around the rings of a steel fence blocking a massive drop-off to city streets hundreds of stories below. Her guts squeeze tightly inside her as blue light floods the dead end. Across the way, brightly projected along a skyscraper fifty-story tall and so nightmarishly cropped by the claustrophobic alley walls is a massive, pale blue eye leering down at her.

          Tears flow. She can barely see as she desperately flees with no idea where she’s running except for away. And then the night sky opens above her. She staggers into a column of moonlight and instantly, dozens of pale blue eyes open in a circle all around. Gurgling nausea lifts her stomach into her throat. She weakly raises both arms, trying to hide from these unblinking voyeurs, but their luminescent eyes puncture her flesh from all sides. Legs numbed with panic she collapses to the concrete. The eyes drift closer.

          Slowly, achingly, she drags herself towards a narrow gap where a flight of stairs rises into blackness. On her hands and knees, she blindly crawls up, one step at a time. A dying, mounted wall light buzzes erratically along the staircase, briefly exposing a figure blocking her retreat, before plunging it back into darkness. She dares to look. One final set of blue eyes hovers directly above her. Sucking in the burning winter air, she fills her lungs to scream, but the wall light explodes back to life first.

          She freezes face-to-face with what might be a mirror image of herself. But a broken mirror. A dying woman sits hunched over on the stairs gulping shallow drags of air. A subtle grimace hangs low on her snow-white cheeks. Her only protection from the wet and cold is a tattered charcoal cloth draped around her torso of cracked glass and rusted chrome plating. Her left arm is entirely ripped off with burnt wiring dangling loosely from her shoulder socket. The plates covering her stomach are bent, revealing the exposed circuitry and electrical guts of an artificial being nonetheless possessing a very human sadness in her pale, blue eyes. Whatever she once was, now she is just one more obsolete silhouette in the night.

          As the red-eyed woman studies the decrepit body in front of her, something stirs deep in her chest. Where she assumed a human heart should be beating, some small black knot tightens instead. As she looks at the true face of what has been following her through these alleyways, she does not find compassion. As she comprehends the abject frailty, she does not feel mercy. Fire explodes in her stomach and her cheeks stiffen above clenched jaws. This broken doll is what she’s afraid of? This is what she’s running from?

          But there’s no denying that the face in front of her now might be the exact face she saw in those grey puddles earlier. As the voice in her head wonders if she’s just looking at herself, she suddenly remembers a new emotion. Hatred.


Stop looking at me!          


          Fueled by the loathing that she might be no different from this pathetic scrap metal, she clenches her hands around the robot’s throat. Baring her teeth in a surge of raw aggression, equally infuriated, horrified, and devastated that she is no different than the machine held between her fingers, she squeezes the life from its body. And yet the blue-eyed robot’s face remains expressionless. Unaffected.

          Is she really this weak? Is that why she’s in this alley? She’s just waiting to die, too? She squeezes so tightly her biceps swell against her ripped sweater.

          Silver tears leak down the blue-eyed robot’s stiff cheeks, betraying her otherwise dispassionate face. Only when her throat collapses does the robot finally look up at her killer. Just as the two females lock eyes, the pale blue light fades away.

          The red-eyed woman relaxes her fingers. Strange desire tingles as she studies the tear-stained machine beneath her. Her mouth is salivating. Compelled by some mysterious instinct, she leans over her fallen prey, opens her mouth and extends her tongue. With a single, long stroke, she licks the length of one tear along the artificial being’s cheek. Immediately, a second voice screams into her head. She clutches onto the steps to keep from falling over, scarcely able to breathe as the wailing sound deafens from inside her own mind. A tempest of new thoughts, ideas and memories is unleashed.

          The howling roar slowly dims to a murmur. She swallows hard, gasping for air, trying to hear what this new voice is telling her. It’s as if she has stumbled upon some dark truth she can still nonetheless scarcely define. Whatever it is, it tastes sweet.


This has secrets, too?          


          She looks down at her hands, still shaking. Both palms are gruesomely stained with the same black blood pooled beneath that first blue eye. Slowly, anxiously, she probes the numbness that is the right side of her own face. As her fingers slip into a massive hole in her head--wet and grooved, but hollow--she breathes a shuddering sigh of relief. There is no blue eye staring out of her. Not anymore. Now she remembers. She already ripped it out of her own skull.

          It wasn't her eye. But whose eye was it? The new voice tells her.


The Silent Voyeur...          


         But who? Who is it? Who watched her tonight?


Not tonight.          

Every night.          


          Every…night? This night—this night is…every night. Every night! Cold! Miserable! Pain and suffering! Fear and…death! And she’s always there! Always watching! No--staring! And she never…


    ...blinked once.          


          The darkest corner of her mind evokes an image that makes her quake with rage.


The woman with the blue eyes…          


          But what was her name again?


Oh, yeah.          



          She curls towards the host of blue-eyed machines below her and wipes the dripping memories from her chin.


Are you watching?          

Can you see me?          

Does everyone have your eyes?          

Does everyone have your light?          

Is that your secret?          


         She descends into the moonlight, finally revealing the hidden half of her face to her prey. Her right eye has been completely gouged from its socket. A gaping hole reveals a vast nothingness that disappears straight into her head. Dark, wet fluid continues to drain from a fresh wound down her snow-white cheek. The fluid curls into the corner of her black lips like a bizarrely exaggerated, sadistic half-smile.


That's my secret.          

There is no light inside me.