Sarah Newman stared at her reflection in her bathroom mirror. She studied the small tear sliding lazily down her face. It lingered momentarily as it reached the curve of her chin before it succumbed to gravity and tumbled down in the sink.
The six fluorescent tubes lined side by side on the small ceiling buzzed away in the silence. Three other tubes had been hastily nailed to the bathroom walls. Another fluorescent tube lay on the floor. Sarah reveled momentarily in the comfort that the artificial light made her feel but she knew that sooner or later the feeling would be replaced by the familiar terror.
No one could ever understand fear more than Sarah Newman. She could still remember when it wasn't always like this. Her early years of childhood had been happy. She used to draw pictures of unicorns, butterflies and rainbows and hang them on her bedroom wall. She would lie on her bed for hours, dreaming about becoming a cheerleader and an astronaut. She would be the first to cheer in zero gravity and people would love her. Her parents would be so proud of her. She could still remember when she roamed the streets on her pink bicycle, riding over Ms Rosenberg's perfect lawn and smiling mischievously when it wasn't so perfect afterwards. She used to have so many friends. They had sleepovers and spent hours making their Barbies’ hair match theirs. It was all perfect. All she knew was happiness and love and an unquenchable yearning for life.
She remembered the day when her existence had been shattered; when the horror had intruded on her life.
Sarah was nine years old when her parents took her to uncle Bob's retirement party. He lived in an old house, an hour drive away from their home. It wasn't the first time Sarah had visited the place. She loved the big open space surrounding the house, and the swing on the porch was one of her most favorite features.
It was a nice cloudless day. The flowerbeds surrounding the perimeter of the house were buzzing with all kinds of insects. Sarah tried to stay away from those. She hated bees and wasps. The buzzing sound they made was enough to make her flee.
Sarah was really looking forward to the big cake sitting on a table in the middle of the living room. It was decorated with dark blue icing and in the middle of the cake there was a gun and a police badge made entirely out of frosting. Sarah thought it was the coolest thing she ever saw.
She was overjoyed to see that her cousins, Marie and Ronald, were there as well. They were brother and sister and a few years younger than her. They had hit it off since the first time they met and their presence was what made family gatherings all the more worthwhile for Sarah.
Ronald had just stolen one of Uncle Bob's golf balls and they quickly started a heated game of soccer. The main goal was to get the ball away from the other team players. Kicking such a small target made the game a bit of a challenge and Sarah quickly ended up with a lot of skin scraped off her ankles and a broken shoe-latch. She finally managed to land a solid kick on the ball which sent it flying towards one of the big oak trees growing near the house. It bounced off the tree trunk and slipped right through the basement window which was propped open.
“Oh no! Why did you do that Sarah?” whined Marie; her lower lip trembling.
“I didn't do it on purpose, you silly girl,” replied Sarah out of breath. Her knees were stinging badly and her right shoe was uncomfortably loose.
“Uncle Bob's gonna be so mad,” added Ronald, his eyes wide.
Marie gave out a sob and covered her mouth with her fists.
Sarah rolled up her eyes. “It's OK, I'll go get it back,” she said with strained patience.
She took off her shoes and placed them under the porch, lowered herself down on the ground, and squirmed feet first through the open window. She gripped the window frame tightly while she felt around with her toes for somewhere solid to land. She finally found a sturdy surface to stand on and slowly dropped down into the basement. The surface, which turned out to be an old overturned cabinet started wobbling under her weight so she immediately jumped off it before she ended up with more skin scraped off.
Sarah looked around the dusty basement while she waited for her eyes to get adjusted to the darkness. It was full of old furniture and other things that should have just been thrown in the garbage. There was a huge pile of framed paintings on the floor and one of those green desk lamps she sometimes saw in movies. She searched around for the golf ball. It shouldn't have been so difficult to spot seeing as it was the only thing that wasn't covered in dust. Sarah got on her hands and knees and scanned the floor. A rat whizzed by and Sarah yelped in fright. She covered her mouth embarrassed.
“Is everything OK Sarah?” asked Ronald from the window behind her.
“Yeah, I'm fine,” replied Sarah, still looking around for the ball.
She finally spotted it nestled in the corner of a big colorless couch.
“Found the ball. I'm coming up now,” she yelled at the window.
Sarah prepared to start her climb back outside but a sudden movement to her right stopped her. It wasn't really a movement. It was more like that flash of something you sometimes catch a glimpse of from the corner of your eye when you're least expecting it.
Sarah scanned the shadows between the cupboards and chairs stacked on each other, and that's when she saw them. Looking straight at her there was a pair of eyes. She stared back at them, trying to understand what she was seeing. They were dark, almost black, but she could make out the pupil in each of the eyes. The white was a mixture of pink veins and mottled yellow. The colors reminded her of a snail that had just been stepped on. Just when she was deciding if what she was seeing was real, the eyes blinked. They didn't blink the way regular eyes would. They had no eyelids, in fact there was no visible skin at all. Instead, the shadows surrounding the eyes sort of engulfed them momentarily before reappearing again to resume their incessant staring.
For the first time in her life, Sarah felt real fear. It was unlike any other feeling she had ever felt. She always thought that fear was what she felt when she saw a spider or a scary movie. This was different; it pierced right through her like an ice-cold knife. She was surprised to find out that fear had a taste. It reminded her of that time when she threw up the salty porridge her mom had made her eat for breakfast. Sarah sort of scuttled backwards, tripped on her own feet and fell backwards in a sitting position. Her head hit the overturned cabinet with a loud snap. She figured it should hurt but it seemed like the fear had made her numb. All her senses were focused on the eyes which hadn't stopped staring at her. She was distantly aware of Marie and Ronald calling her name and she was also aware of someone screaming loud. It was only after a few seconds that she realized that the screams were her own.
The basement was suddenly bathed in light and the pair of eyes was immediately replaced by an empty stretch of cobwebbed wall. Sarah heard loud footsteps coming down the wooden stairs and uncle Bob suddenly stood in front of her.
“Sarah? What happened? Are you hurt?” he asked while he searched for bruises.
Sarah couldn't answer. She couldn't even speak. She just hugged her uncle and closed her eyes tight. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she remembered what she had just seen.
Uncle Bob carried her upstairs and put her on the sofa while her relatives swarmed around her. Sarah's parents pushed through the small crowd and sat on either side of her. She wanted to tell them what had happened but every time she thought of the eyes she started crying again. Her mother hugged her tightly which made her feel considerably better. Maybe she had just imagined what had happened in the basement. It had been very dark after all.
Marie and Ronald gave their own version of the story: that Sarah decided to explore the basement and she fell and hurt her head. Her mother started fussing over her again, checking her head for bruises. She did find a big nasty bump at the back of her head. Everyone seemed satisfied with the story and Sarah was more than pleased that she didn't have to explain what had really happened.
She stayed on the sofa the whole time while her relatives brought her party treats. Her uncle cut out an extra big piece of cake for her and also gave her the police badge made out of frosting. In no time she was as cheerful as ever; running around the place and playing on the swing with her cousins.
By the time they were ready to leave the party, Sarah was exhausted. She lay down on the back seat of her parents’ car, closed her eyes and immediately fell asleep.
Sometime during the journey back home, Sarah woke up and stifled a yawn. Both her parents had their car windows rolled all the way down and the breeze made her shiver. She tucked her hands under her arms, turned on her side and committed herself to study the intricate floral design chosen by her father to cover the car seats. She wondered about the person who had drawn the delicate patterns of intertwined leaves and flowers. Her eyes trailed down the design of the curled vines.
Sarah bolted upright in her seat and, for the second time that day, she screamed. Her father swerved the car wildly before bringing it to an abrupt halt by the side of the road. Her mother sprinted out of the car and, in no time, was by her side. Her father turned round in his seat, concern etched on his face.
“They followed me!” cried Sarah, pointing under the seat. “What do they want from me mom?”
The eyes stared up from under the seat, judging, questioning.
Sarah’s mother looked under the seat.
“What is it Sarah?” she asked confused. “There’s nothing here.”
“The eyes!” exclaimed Sarah. “Don’t you see them mom? They keep looking at me. What do they want?”
Her mother looked at Sarah concerned then she hugged her.
“Make them go away mom. They scare me”, cried Sarah, her face pressed to her mother’s shoulder.
“I will baby, I promise”, replied her mother, caressing Sarah’s hair.
Sarah spent the next six hours in hospital. They took a CAT Scan of her head and found a brain hemorrhage and a minor skull-fracture. The doctor told her to get plenty of rest and to drink lots of water and juice.
“Am I going to be OK mommy?” Sarah asked her mother that night.
“You’re going to be just fine baby,” her mother told her reassuringly while tucking her in bed.
“You just bumped your head a little bit and it made you see some things that weren’t really there,” she added before kissing her good night.
Sarah ducked under the bed sheets. She was afraid that she would be seeing them again. Had she really seen what she thought she saw? She dared herself to open her eyes. Maybe she would see them again, but now she would be armed with the knowledge that they were not real; they were just a figment of her bruised brain. After a few minutes she peeked from under her bed-sheets and slowly scanned the room. The light from outside shone dimly on her rows of Barbie dolls and on the drawings stuck to her wardrobe.
Sarah felt their presence before she saw them. She thought she would be ready this time but the fear cut through her without warning. Her lungs tightened and she felt a scream boiling up from her chest. Sarah covered her mouth and told herself that what she was seeing wasn’t real, but the feeling of fear was just too overwhelming. Tears started sliding down her cheeks as the eyes glared angrily from under her desk.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed. “What do you want from me?! Get out of my room!!”
Sarah started throwing pillows at the horror watching her. She stood on the bed and screamed some more before her mother came rushing in.
“They won't leave me alone mom,” cried Sarah. “They're real. They keep looking at me.”
Her mother just shook her head sadly and cried along with her daughter.
Weeks passed and The Eyes became a constant terror in Sarah's life. Wherever there were shadows, The Eyes would be there.
They had to use the CAT Scan on her again and the doctor told her that she was OK. There was nothing physically wrong with her head anymore.
The Eyes would still stare though; from under the teacher's desk, between books on shelves or under cars, they would look at her and their presence was always as terrifying as the first time Sarah had seen them.
Sarah’s new doctor said that she was seeking attention; her parents stopped rushing to her bedroom whenever she cried out at night, she was not invited to sleepovers anymore and her class-mates nicknamed her Sad Sarah.
Sarah’s world had become bleak and frightening. It seemed to her that everything had been covered with a veil of grayness. The lawns and flowers had lost their color and the song of birds induced headaches. Sarah no longer ran whenever she saw wasps; she knew what real fear was like.
As Sarah studied the lines around her eyes and the streaks of gray in her hair, she wondered what life would be like if she hadn’t gone down into that basement twenty years earlier. She probably would not have become an astronaut-cheerleader but she was sure that anything would have been better than what she had now.
She grabbed the bottle of cheap vodka from the floor and shuffled out of the bathroom towards her bedroom…if you could call a mattress on the floor and no furniture a bedroom anyway. Anything that could cast a shadow had been thrown out. Her few belongings had been placed in cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other and placed in a corner of the room. Fluorescent tubes had been nailed to the walls and she made sure that they were never switched off.
Sarah took a swig from the bottle in her hand, knelt down in front of the cardboard boxes and started rummaging around in them.
She had been psyching herself for what she was about to do for a long time. Today she felt ready.
Another tear rolled down her face as she looked at the bright pocket knife in her hands. It would probably hurt, but this was a fail safe solution for her problem.
She put two cardboard boxes side by side and left a space between them. Then she stacked another box on them so that they formed an arc. Sarah switched off one of the fluorescent tubes. She could already feel their presence. Her heart started beating like it always did and she felt her chest tighten. She grabbed the bottle of vodka and the pocket knife and crawled towards the mattress.
Sarah emptied the remaining contents of the bottle and smashed it against the floor. She opened the pocket knife and, with trembling fingers pressed it against her wrist. She cried in pain but pressed on. She understood the importance of what she needed to do; had thought about it for years. This was the only way.
Her hands flopped limply by her sides as she felt the life draining slowly away. Sarah looked at the darkness between the two cardboard boxes and regarded her nightmare. They were there. Ever-present. Watching her.
“This is the last time I'll be seeing you,” she whispered.
Sarah smiled as reality started slipping away. The fluorescent tubes became silent. She could not feel the mattress underneath her anymore. The few colors in the room faded away. The shapes made no sense anymore and everything dimmed into nothingness. Soon they would be gone too. Sarah smiled again, triumphantly, as the darkness closed in on them. Soon the room was no more. She waited for the darkness to take them away.
The darkness was beyond dark. It was blacker than black. This was what eternity was made of.
They were still there. They were everything now. There was nothing left but her and them.