Gomez, he has your father's eyes Who: Nate & Mercy. What: Things...people...start falling apart. Where: Mercy's apartment. When: Oct. 21, evening. Warning: Some blood, some eyes, some body parts mixed with food. Good Halloween fun.
"Ugh," Mercy groaned as the projector shorted again. She popped up from the couch where she'd been seated with her brother, moving around the furniture to where the small device was propped up. She liked the device because it was small and portable, and because it didn't trap her into having an oversized TV screen that immediately seemed out of date. On the other hand, the cheap device had a myriad number of problems that she wasn't equipped to deal with.
"Do you want another beer?" She asked as she messed with the thing, muttering a small 'aha!' as it suddenly spit forth an image again, showing Father Tomas reading from a bible over a young, terrible-looking white girl in a small second story bedroom. Before Nate could reply a yes or a no toward her question, she plopped back down onto the couch, snatching up her own bottle and tucking her feet together on Nate's lap.
"Now why'd you even ask if you were just gonna…"
Nate sighed, shaking his head. He laid a hand on her bare ankle, his thumb rubbing thoughtlessly at the soft place just behind it. The show continued, and he paid attention; it was not disrespectful to his calling, as he had feared, and he had to admit it was a little unsettling. He found himself enjoying it more than he would yet admit to his sister.
So to better distract from this fact, Nate reached across her and plucked her bottle from her hands, putting it to his lips and draining nearly half of what remained.
Mercy groaned again, and poked Nate in the stomach with a foot; she wasn't entirely annoyed by his reaction, given that she'd asked, but she rolled her eyes regardless and bounced up to fetch both of them new drinks. She pouted in his direction.
"Did you try anything out with that key hall thing when it was around? It's...it was nuts," she offered, the volume of her voice shrinking slightly as she grew more distant. The sound of the fridge opening followed by the tinkling of glass bottles marked her passage. The chili Nate had brought over—infamous and insistently cooked—was bubbling quietly in a crockpot in one corner of the room.
"Yeah, I, um…" He paused as the combined noise of the commercials and the glass reached a level that precluded his speaking. He told himself this hesitation had nothing to do with how foolish he felt speaking such things aloud. Mercy started back from the kitchen, holding out a bottle for him to grab. "I tried this one blue key. I don't really know what I saw, but…" Nate paused and opened the bottle, buying himself time enough to consider the wisdom of sharing this tale. "You ever had a real religious experience? Like… you know something is there, maybe something you should do like Moses and Joshua and remove your shoes for. There was… I dunno. Someone like that, there."
Embarrassed, Nate cleared his throat, shaking his head as he tipped the fresh bottle to his lips. Licking his lips, he handed the bottle opener back to her. "Uh, what about you? You try anything?"
She plopped down next to him, a brow raised as she used the bottle opener to crack wide her own beer. "Yeah, I got lost in this goddamn maze with a really cute guy named Daniel. Of course he's taken, but whatever. It was... my bathroom turned into the goddamn labyrinth sans goblins and David Bowie." She offered the bottle opener to him.
"So you're saying you opened a door to Heaven, or something?" Her voice sounded like she was less than convinced, no small amount of disdain dropping from her tone. "Because mine was... I mean, it didn't seem like anything that should've been possible, here, on Earth, but I mean, I wouldn't run crediting it to the all-mighty or whatever..."
"Yeah, I know. I'm not saying it was that, it just felt like that." He dug a thumbnail under the label on the bottle, picking it to shreds as he looked pointedly away from her. "Just weird, that's all. No weirder than a maze in your bathroom, right?" He shrugged and hastened on to the next topic, hoping to keep her from lingering on his uncomfortable admission. "So Daniel, huh? When's a guy being taken ever stopped a determined woman like yourself?"
Mercy comforted herself with a long draw from her beer; she put her feet right back where they'd been on Nate's lap previously, crossing them at the ankles.
"Because one, he's taken, and two, he's like one step above gay, which I did not get at all on my read of him, so..." Nate snorted a laugh. She shrugged, drawing one foot up to nudge her brother's thigh. "I guess I'm stuck with you for another Halloween, if you can stand it." Despite her words, she was smiling all the same, and she took another drink before turning the question on him. "What about you? Any cute girls catch your eye in here yet?"
"Haven't met any yet," he admitted, "but I'm looking. So if you see somebody you think would fit the bill..." He grinned over at her, one eyebrow raised. "Maybe if I get this chili recipe down I could invite some folks over for dinner, maybe hook us both up. There's bound to be more single people in here, right?"
Mercy shrugged. "I dunno, the place is pretty empty; have you looked at the mailboxes in the mailroom? There's just a handful of names. It's weird," she replied, shaking her head. Her stomach started rumbling, and she frowned.
"You getting hungry? I think it's time to check on that stuff you call chili," she offered, poking Nate in the side with her foot. Rising from her spot, her form cut a thin silhouette in the show as she passed through the projector's beam and headed toward the kitchen again, beer in hand. She drank often from it, the bottle already slightly less than half empty.
Bare feet padded into the kitchen; Mercy exchanged her beer bottle for a ladle and put the former on the kitchen counter as she reached for the slow cooker's lid with her free hand. With the lid came the delicious scent of cooked beans, meat, and spices, and Mercy leaned into it as she stirred. It looked mostly ready, but she thought she'd sneak a little hot sauce into the mix before serving it. The lid went down into the sink, her hand reaching for a cupboard door.
And then everything went black; she heard two plopping sounds like something had been added to the chili. Mercy froze, trying to understand what had gone wrong. She dropped the ladle, the utensil clattering wetly to the floor. Touching her face, she felt blood, like she had in the restaurant. Paralyzed, she tried to think of what to do to hide this apparent episode from Nate, even when she couldn't understand how it was happening—she was taking her medication, she'd been feeling good... She would have started crying, with the simple exception that she couldn't feel anything where her eyes should have been.
That was when she screamed.
Nate started at the sound, short hairs rising all along his nape. He set his beer down on the coffee table; it landed heavily, with an audible crack, so loud he briefly feared he had broken the glass. He did not turn to look, though, genuinely terrified by the sound his sister had made. In all their years together, through all the episodes he had witnessed, he had never heard such a soul-deep cry. And when he rounded the corner and entered the kitchen, he raced to her side to find out why.
"Mercy, I'm here," he gasped. His right hand slipped low against the small of her back, reassuring her with a firm, sure touch. "I'm here. What's wrong? Talk to me, Mercy."
"My eyes," she started immediately, no longer caring if he knew. Her hands fell away from her face to reveal two gaping, black holes where her eyes should have been. Streaks of gore brushed the tops of her cheeks; her fingers were bloodstained. Mercy groped for Nate, grabbing at the cloth of his shirt to leave streaks of red. "I can't see, I can't see!!"
Nate's mouth hung open, but there were no more words on his tongue than there were in his mind. There was only animal fear, a gnawing in the pit of his stomach. His hands tightened on her. He wanted to tell her everything was OK, but that meaningless platitude died on his lips.
"Just breathe," he said, as much to himself as to his weeping sister. It did not seem to help either of them. "Mercy, I—"
Every instinct told him not to look in the pot, and yet something else, something darker and quieter goading him on. He almost let slip a nervous laugh, but bit it back at the last instant. Then he peered down into the pot. His gaze immediately landed on two small, slick orbs floating amidst the ground meat and beans; one rotated, a brown iris ringing a black cornea meeting his gaze. Bile rose in his throat. His voice was weak and faltering. His hands tightened, nails digging into her skin.
"What?! What's wrong?!" Mercy couldn't imagine a worse scenario than what she was already dealing with. A hand went hesitantly back to her eyes, feeling the blood. "Am I really bleeding, Nate? This, this isn't happening, right?!" His anxiety was tapering into hers, making her fear grow exponentially. The same hand that touched her face reached for the countertop, drawing two small lines of red away from the crock pot and toward the counter's edge.
Nate quickly grabbed her hand and held it pressed firm to his chest. She left bloody streaks everywhere she touched, but he paid them no mind. Better for her to keep touching him, to keep grounding herself to something real, something plausible. He drew a shaky breath.
"Mercy," he began, a tremor in his voice he could not hold back. "I need you to stay calm. We're going to figure this out. I'm going to call an ambulance. My cell phone's in my pocket, and I'm gonna grab it right now."
He did so, keeping one hand firmly on his sister's back, holding her close against him. He dialed 911 and put the phone to his ear. His eyes firmly remained where hers should have been. "They're gonna ask if you're hurting. Are you?"
Her mouth worked for a moment, a hand still lingering on her face. After some thought, she shook her head; aside from the fright and surprise, there was no actual pain that she could speak of.
"They're really gone? Do you... did you see them anywhere? God, Nate, why, why is this happening?" The hand he'd pressed to his chest curled inward, Mercy dragging nails against the cloth of his shirt and flesh beneath. New worries started to entertain themselves at the forefront of her mind.
"Do you think they'll think I hurt myself?! I didn't do this, Nate, you believe me, right? I didn't do this!" Her anxiety ratcheted up again, escalating sky high. "I don't want to go to a mental ward, Nate, I'm not crazy!"
Nate was already apologizing to someone on the other end of the line. He provided the building's address and her apartment number, but he fumbled when the dispatcher asked him precisely what was wrong. He looked to Mercy, seeing—amidst the blood and tears and viscous fluid leaking from her empty eye sockets—her very real fear of being committed. He covered the phone's mic with one hand.
"I'm not gonna let them put you in a mental ward," he said. "But this… I can't fix this." He gave her an apologetic look, knowing the moment he did that it was a pointless gesture. Mercy's hand dropped to his waist, grabbing at a belt loop as her brows knit uselessly together over her sightless gaze.
"My sister lost her… vision," Nate began. He listened carefully, then appeared to be answering whatever questions the dispatcher had. "She's bleeding. Mm-hm. Yes. Yes, I'm staying with her." He covered the phone again; the dispatcher was in his ear, hurriedly sending someone their way.
"The chili," he whispered, and fought back another acidic rise in his throat.
"The chili?" Mercy repeated, her voice a murmur; she turned in the direction of the crockpot, realization dawning on her.
"They're in the chili?!" She all but screeched, which was thankfully muffled by the fact that Nate's hand was still over the phone mic. Mercy stumbled backward, leaning over the sink to start retching. Meanwhile, the crockpot continued to bubble away merrily, Mercy's brown eyes twirling in the heat.
"I need to—yeah, I'm sorry, I really have to go. She's upset. Thank you. Of course."
Nate was still halfway through his mumbling farewell when he simply ended the call and set the phone aside. "It's OK, Mercy," he said, firmly not believing it, himself. "They're on their way. And I'm gonna…" He did not finish this sentence, too afraid what hearing it might do to her.
He took a slotted spoon and carefully dipped it into the chili. He bit his lip against another rise of sick, focusing all his attention on the utterly bizarre and completely uncomfortable task of fishing her eyes out of the thick stew. Uncertain what to do, Nate wiggled the spoon a bit, shaking off at least some of the tomato sauce.
"I need… uh…"
Realizing his sister was in no state to assist, he rummaged through the cabinets until he found a small Tupperware container. He set each eye carefully down into it, shaking his head all the while.
"No idea what I'm going to do with this now," he was saying. "Saline? Should we put contacts solution in here? I just… I don't know how to deal with this." Mercy pulled back from the sink, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. She had no idea how to handle her eyes falling out; she didn't even have contacts, let alone glasses. The fact that her terrible episode from earlier in the month was even a reality was too much to bear.
She turned toward Nate, extending a shaking hand. "Let me...let me see them?"
Nate choked on a laugh at her wording, but wisely made no comment. Mercy gave no sign that she'd heard anything at all. Unable to touch the eyes themselves, he handed the little container to her, its lid removed. Her fingers grasped around it like spiders seeking purchase on a particularly slick surface. "I don't… you should probably wash them, or I can, OK? They're… ugh."
He moved closer to her, not touching, but near enough she could feel him at her side. He hoped it was encouragement enough. "Just go slow. I'm right here."
She nodded; her other hand came up to grasp the other side of the tupperware container. After a beat, she reached in and brushed one of the eyes with her fingers. Mercy jerked her hand back, her mouth curling in disgust; but something felt right in the gesture. Slowly, she forced herself to move back, gently plucking up one eye with thumb and forefinger. She lifted it, and suddenly realized that she could see.
"Oh my god," she said, voice low in disbelief. The eye moved between her fingers, swiveling and rolling freely, aiming itself at Nathaniel. It was odd, seeing him from this angle; she could see herself, too, and the black, bloody holes in her face. "Oh my god, I think I'm going to be sick..."
"Then stop touching them," Nate said, open disgust in his voice. His nose was wrinkled, his brow furrowed as he watched her toy with her own eyes. It was only then that he noticed the organ seemed to move on its own, connected to her once more. "What the fuck. What the fuck, Mercy, what are you doing? How are you doing that?"
"I don't know," Mercy whined, still cringing with the eyeball between her fingers. "I'm just...looking." The eye swiveled around to peer at the rest of her kitchen, before coming back to herself. It seemed to pulse in her hand, trying to tell her something she couldn't quite comprehend. Mercy tried to...listen wasn't quite the word, but it was the closest. Then her hand holding the eye inched forward, stopping and starting like an old car that barely worked, before pressing the eye back into her head.
She paused there, her other hollow socket half blinking, before withdrawing her hand to glance in Nate's direction. The blood was still there, gobs of it, but her eye was otherwise back in place as though it had never been removed.
He was blinking, his eyes almost comically wide, his head shaking as if he could ward off what was happening. "This isn't real," he said. "This can't be real. Did you put something in my drink? Is this some kind of Halloween prank, or…" He knew it wasn't, and his voice trailed off to a weak little croak. His hand raised up to cover his gaping mouth. Again he shook his head. Squeezed his eyes shut. Opened them again. The terrible image remained. His hands were shaking when he lowered them again.
"How do you… how do you feel? Does it hurt?"
Mercy took a moment before replying; her eye moved in her head, the lid blinking slowly closed. She looked back at Nate before speaking, shaking her head.
"No, it... It feels all right. It's not a prank, I swear, Nate, please don't be mad. I don't know what's happening." She glanced down to the tupperware in her hand holding her remaining eye. Just as she reached to take it and attempt a second transplant, there was a series of heavy knocks on the door.
"Paramedics, we received a call from this location?" A woman's voice carried through, all business. Mercy's hand curled up like a dead spider, hovering over her remaining eye, and she withered, looking to Nate with the single eye in her skull.
"What...what do we do?!"
"Put the other one back," Nate hissed. "And hurry. They can't see this."
He did not wait for her to answer. He left the kitchen on hurried steps. It was not difficult at all for him to appear haggard and harried when he opened the door; his mind was still reeling with the events of the last handful of minutes, and how on earth he was going to explain any of it to the responders. His voice trembled as he opened the door and looked down to a woman whose expression made plain she had no time for nonsense.
"I'm so glad you're here," he said, too loud. He stumbled over his words, distracted by his own silent prayers for some miracle to save them both from the mental ward. "She's in the kitchen, we didn't know what to do so I just tried to deal with the bleeding…"
Mercy did as her brother instructed, all but jamming the remaining eye back into its socket. For a moment, it seemed like her eyes were looking in two different directions; disconcerting, and dizzying. She knocked herself on the side of her head with the flat of her palm, and that seemed to do the trick—she was seeing straight, as well as she had before. Frowning, she looked down to the tupperware in her hand, and put it in the sink, turning it upside down as though that would hide the few traces of blood in its bottom.
Rather than go to where Nate and the paramedics were speaking, she waited, glancing down to the spoon on the floor. The smear of chili along her counter cabinets and the floor brought a wondering hand to just under her eye, feeling the blood that was beginning to coagulate on her skin...
She was still looking down when the first paramedic, a blonde woman who'd knocked on the door, popped her head into the kitchen.
"Miss? How are you feeling? Let me take a look at your face." Mercy glanced behind the woman, who was promptly followed by her partner, a burly brunette man; Nate lingered behind them, and she met his eyes as she was instructed to look up toward the ceiling. Gentle, latex-gloved hands started to press around her face.
"Can you tell us what happened?"
Nate quickly cut in. "We've been cooking some chili," he said, pointing to the crock pot. It was set on low, and its contents were barely bubbling; it looked perfectly safe and not at all tainted by displaced organs. He swallowed against the lump that had risen in his throat. "She came in to stir it, I guess. I don't know if it boiled over or bubbled up or what, but by the time I got in here she was bleeding."
He moved further into the kitchen, wanting to be closer to her while these strangers poked and prodded. "Sometimes when you stir it, you know, it pops a little? I think that's what happened. I should've been watching it, myself…"
The man behind him reached into a heavy duffel bag, withdrawing a packet of sanitized wipes. The woman stepped away from Mercy and he took her place; with slow, careful motions he wiped the blood and sauce—which blessedly blended well with the blood, Nate realized—from around her eyes.
The woman stood back, turning to Nate with a stern but reassuring look. "It's a lot of blood, but facial injuries do always bleed a lot. There's loads of capillaries in the face, so one wound looks worse than it should be. We'll get her&mdashyou," she amended, looking back at Mercy, who kept glancing down as much as she could to feel involved in the conversation. "Cleaned up, but I don't see any serious problems. I think you're going to be fine, and then you both can get back to your dinner."
Mercy's fingers wound against her palms, unclenching and reclenching as she fought against her stomach's desire to upend itself at the thought of eating the chili. She kept her mouth shut, instead waiting for the medic to finish his job cleaning her face; aside from some red still staining the white of her eyes, she was found to be completely whole. The medics tidied up, and then departed almost as quickly as they'd arrived. Mercy watched as they exited, showing themselves out.
"They're gonna think we're frequent flyers or something," she tried to laugh, having drifted out of the kitchen in pursuit of the paramedics as they left and into the living area where the projector was throwing a blank white square against the wall. Folding her arms over her chest, she turned back toward Nate. "Are you... Are you OK? What... I feel like I should accuse you of spiking the chili or something but I didn't even get to taste it..."
"I'm never eating chili again," Nate said. He moved to her side, ignoring the tremor in his hand when he reached out to her; without hesitation, she took his hand, wanting the contact as much as he. Now that the immediate danger had passed, the resultant adrenaline dump left him feeling drained and tired. Still he held her hand, guiding her back to the relative safety of the couch. "I'm glad you're OK. As good as you can be. I swear I didn't put anything in the chili, and that whole damn pot is going in the trash."
He raked a hand over his close-shorn hair. "Has that… has anything like that happened before? I know you thought it did in the diner. But I mean… Jesus. This reminds me of this fucked-up dream I had." He laughed, plainly unsettled, and unable to shake the realization.
Mercy settled into the cushions, the white square on the wall cut briefly by their silhouettes; she curled into Nate's side, pulling his arm around her.
"Aside from... you know, the restaurant, nothing like this has ever happened, and I sure as hell don't want it to again," she replied. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them again, the sudden wave of relief that washed over her the voice of how scared she was that her eyes might fall out again.
"I had a creepy as shit dream since moving here, too—the night I..." she trailed off, meaning to say the night she'd snuck into his apartment to sleep in his bed. "It was weird, I was this... I guess a voodoo doll or something, and I was in Inglewood, in the cemetery, and I was upset that none of the graves were marked properly... There was someone else there, too. His name was Baron, or, at least, that's what I called him. And I had all these stitches..." She shuddered, one hand going to her shoulder as though she were afraid that more than her eyes was going to suddenly drop off.
Nate flinched as if struck. He cast a look back to her, studying her carefully; for a moment he seemed afraid she was teasing him. He chided himself for the thought. Given what they had just experienced, it seemed a stretch even for her.
"I had that dream, too," he said, his voice small. "But I guess… I guess I was the baron?" He was sure of only one thing: that he desperately did not want this to be real. He twitched a fragile smile. "Weird coincidence, right? Must've been something we watched. I told you you've gotta stop making me watch all this horror."
"Um..." Mercy sputtered, without necessarily meaning to. How had they had the same dream? And in doing so, apparently engaged in other activities that were better left nameless. Mercy opened her mouth, and closed it, leaning back and away from him.
"Yeah, coincidence. I..." Her jaw worked again, and she picked up the laptop that was via a long cord attached to the projector. "Fine, we need a palate cleanser, because I do not want to think about that more than I absolutely have to. Which is...not at all," she insisted, even when her mind clearly intended otherwise. She brought up Netflix and started to scroll, slowing down as she waited for input from her brother.
"Something funny," he said, the demand coming out more petulant than he had intended. "Or something chill. A documentary, maybe? Or, I dunno…" Something with no sex scenes, he thought. He bit his own tongue after the thought, working harder than he liked to keep from vocalizing it. "I heard that Russell Peters stand-up special was good."
"Done," she said, typing in the name to pull up the requested video. Even after it was playing, Mercy didn't feel any tension dissipate from her shoulders; she kept the laptop on her lap, forcing her hands to stay down instead of creeping up her cheeks to ensure her eyes remained in place. What was more, she made doubly sure to keep her hands—and the rest of her limbs—to herself as they were both doing their best to disremember the dream.