Eyes of Gyges

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A killer stalks his victims in a lens-filled future.

Submitted: October 03, 2016

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Submitted: October 03, 2016

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Eyes of Gyges

 

People are the worst.  They don’t know how to leave well enough alone.  Maybe they can’t help themselves.  Either way they’re a bunch of greedy fools, every last one.  Maybe even me.  At least I can see it, though.  Once you become an observer don’t you cease to be a participant?  I’m willing to give myself a pass.  And I for one am making a real difference.

I watch her walk out of the Paradise Diner.  I don’t imagine paradise has such infirm art deco windows or neon poorly illuminating a semi-circle of purpled damp pavement at the foot of the pearly gates.  Nor is it wedged beneath elevated train tracks in deepest shadows of the darkest city.  Then again, maybe it does and maybe it is.  I’ve never been and by most people’s reckoning I never will.  Been to the diner.  Great pancakes.

She’s such a pretty girl.  If I was the romantic type I’d probably think I was in love.  She is young and fit, clearly works hard.  I’m willing to bet she’s a grad student or an artist.  There must be some passion that keeps her slinging coffee colored sludge.  Tough work, waiting in the Paradise.  The clientele is not without charm but is devoid of class.  It’s the last cash industry.  That’s how I found her.  I love diners.

I almost feel bad it’s her turn.  Almost.  I’m so excited.

I take a pull on my vape and the little glow in front of my face hides the shadows all around me.  I remember real cigarettes.  Some of the older folks still roll their own.  Every once in a while dementia lights up some tobacco and falls asleep in bed, taking down one of the old buildings in town.  It is quickly swept up and replaced with a tower of condo-pods.  They move in and when they can afford to they move the whole pod someplace nicer.  If they can ever afford to.  The conspiracy theorists cry arson.  Everything keeps them busy.  Even me these days.

I feel a tingling in my pants.  I swear to God none of this is sexual.

As my eyes follow her down the sidewalk I can hear the buzz of an approaching drone.  They’re usually quieter, but not on this street.  They’re the eyes of the city- nasty metallic dragonflies.  I know they’re on a nine minute circuit until midnight.  I pull up my wristwatch (my dad’s, pure twentieth century) and start the timer.  I can count in my head but I worry I’ll get carried away and careless.  I feel it pays great dividends to invest in caution.  This is a bit reckless.  I can hear a rat squeaking by my lunch pail .They have no manners.If the drone hears it I’ll have to figure out how to turn invisible in a hurry.  I pivot and kick the rat in one motion- thank you training.  It lands with a thud further down the alley before the dragonfly zips past with eyes of pale green fire.  I am unseen, pressed against the wall amid garbage cans and waterspouts.

Drones can’t resist rats.  Electrocuting vermin is their primary function.  They battle for the surface.  All the bots sent underground never returned.  The signals would stop and they’d never be seen again.  So they sent the special workers into the sewer tunnels to kill the rats.  Special.  My Grandma used the word “retarded” and my Dad would caution her that it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say.  The specials always came back unscathed apart from complete filthiness.  Rodents have a heart it seems.  More than humans.  Killing rats was the only thing to put the brakes on the extermination of Specials.  Now they had a purpose.  Where robots fear to tread they went to work with purest enthusiasm.  I can appreciate that.  And they’re mostly very nice.  They’ll trade anything for a cheeseburger.

I step from the shadows with lunchbox in hand.  I look like the type of working stiff whose job hadn’t been mechanized yet.  I keep pace with her, three-quarter block separation.  I know she can sense me.  Her breath is quickening.  The vapor clouds of her breath come faster with each step.  She turns east at the corner.  There’s a cam down that way.  ‘Monitoring Traffic Patterns,’ but snapping images intermittently.  Accumulating visual evidence of violation of the traffic code.  I duck down another alley.  I’d rather not be accumulated.  On the next block are two pawn shops, both across the street.  Both will have multi-lensed video.  Peering out like decrepit night watchmen.  I keep to the far side of the street.  The overalls are camouflage enough for them so long as I keep my hat low and my head down.  My lunchbox catches the brick wall to my side with a squeal.  This part of the city is so rotten I should be able to demolish these buildings with a nudge.  The whole place is rotten, even the shiny and new.  Especially.

I check my watch.  Thirty-three seconds to get across the street and around the next corner.  Time moves so quickly.  It never stops coming while there is never enough of it.  The traffic on Masheegan Ave won’t stop for anyone, sometimes not even for red lights.  I am eager to bolt, but I make myself wait.  When the walk signal comes, I have fifteen seconds and I stride as quickly as I can without looking hurried.  Six lanes crossed in eleven seconds without looking like the mad dasher.

I step into the recess of the vacant free press building.  The windows are boarded up or soaped.  Heaven knows what filth is on the other side.Once upon a time it was called a cathedral to journalism.  Some referred to it as a Mecca of integrity.Now it’s a statue of Zeus, hollow and unworshipped.  The gargoyles on the façade can testify to a golden age that once was; the rats on the inside can tell you that age is long gone.  The former occupants were the messengers who warned of the monsters roaming the city streets.  Now all the stories are broken on television and twisted online.

The news had taken to calling me the Devil.  The maniacs on the web called me Mr. Circle, they say because I keep the cops chasing their tails.  I wonder what name the typewriter keys would have clapped out in the heyday of the Free Press. The drone passes.  I can’t see its eyes so it can’t see mine.  There’s a song stuck in my head.  “Looker,” by Moniker.  One of those old keyboard driven rock songs my grandmother played when I was young.  Songs always get stuck in my head.  I heard once that means I’m a music lover.  I also heard that could indicate sociopathic tendencies.  Why must things always get labeled and categorized?

I mean it.  People are the worst.  They have to twist things into other things, like a child turning a toy into a broken heap.  Can’t leave well enough alone.

I step from the shadows into the familiar false light of the streetlamps.  I feel a moment of panic.  What if she isn’t headed home? What if she rerouted past the grocery?  She could have gone somewhere for a drink.  The questions in my head start to drown out the music.  Relax, comes the soothing voice presiding over my roiling inner parliament.  She can’t afford to drink, says reason.  She works in a diner to save money on groceries, offers intuition.  Such grown-up voices.  Panic is such an agitated child.  Who let him in?

I wind down Masheegan, chin to my chest, scratching the bridge of my nose as I pass a massage parlor.  If the world knew how many cameras were there, the clientele would probably stay home with their wives.  The girls can’t be too careful.  Some of the greatest atrocities in the city happen behind those doors.  No one seems to mind.  I can’t be too careful either.  Cameras are everywhere and I’ve certainly been spotted by many.  There is no such thing as walking through the raindrops.  But all of the cameras are seeing.  None are looking.  Staring, not watching.  That’s what I’ve figured out.  If they ever look they won’t see me.  They’ll see an image in disguise, as substantial as a picture of smoke.  They capture truthless pixels.

I turn up Peerson Street and catch sight of her.  I’m tingling everywhere.  Everywhere.  Perhaps I am fallen in love.  That which first pleased my eye now nourishes my heart and stokes my need.  Isnt true love supposed to be at first sight? Isn’t that what they say anyway?  They lie so often, when theyre not wrong or confused.  Demons and maniacs mixing shadow into truth.  I think if this isn’t love then it’s a reasonable facsimile.  If she wasn’t chosen for me right off the bat then it was close enough.

XXX

It was in the Paradise.  Like I said, I love diners.  The food there is no better or worse than any other diner.  Their mediocrity is their most exceptional quality.  It is different in that it has television and cold beer.  Some diners have one or the other.  I rarely drink beer, least not in public.  I did put down a lot of coffee and a tall stack of banana-nut pancakes.

I love that the Paradise has rat traps all over the place.  They are barely visible but there if you know where to look.  I was shown long ago how to tell if a joint was doing well with the rats.  It’s in how the glue trap shines.  Not too dull and never too gleaming.  Things are ok in paradise.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I had been there before that night.  Four. Twelve.  Who knows?  I’m a creature of memory, but the diner experiences tend to blend into a thin fog like those rolling in off the lake every fall.  They blend together into one sense memory of greasy countertops and sticky salt shakers.  Thin useless pointless napkins.  Unmerciful light and dirty stainless steel reflections. Of course and always the smells.  Underneath the imitation syrup and burnt coffee and medium-well eggs there is the musk of the patrons. They smelled of misery. Yesterday’s whiskey and unwashed pants. 

In the corner, where the counter turned to the wall ten feet to my right, sat a quartet of the miserable.  The light of the television above them there was less harsh but still sufficient to expose every pimple.  Two at the counter and two on stools at the ledge beneath a false window painted to look like a happy streetscape.  The television spoke of the killer in the midst of the city and so did they.  The TV was a relic.  Two-dimensional image- but what an image!  The chiseled authoritative features of Pedro Cruise.  I always wondered if he was real or generated.  He was the sort of yakking jawbox that a skilled puppeteer would invent for a newscaster.  Anything was possible. I could find out pretty quickly, but I liked the surprise.I heard his name wasn’t even Pedro.  He certainly looked like a Pete.  But then, what does a Pedro look like really?

Pedro Cruise, lead news anchor for our fair city’s Dogon Broadcasting affiliate.  It was the network owned by the country’s richest man and watched by the city’s poorest people.  Every bit of news they provided was more processed than the flour in the flapjacks.  Every spun particle came with a generous slathering of indignation, skepticism and- every once in a while- cruelty.  The DBC had an artfully crafted veneer of moral authority in a bald-faced appeal to faith-based people.  Bald-faced to all but the faithful who appreciated the attention.  They presented themselves as spiritual, and that was why they called me, unfortunately, the Devil.

In the chorus of the miserable, one ridiculously mascara-ed grandmamma could not agree fast enough with Pedro Cruise.  A Devil.  Indeed.

“Indeed it’s a devil.  Perhaps not the Devil himself but some kind of demonic power.  It’s supernatural.  There’s no other reasonable explanation for it.  Why can’t they identify DNA?”  She was upset, but emboldened by her convictions. I couldn’t tell if her tragic makeup came from a desire to blend in with a bygone era or a desire to blend out cruel age.  I can remember when ladies did their eyes like that.  It was the rage when I was a child.  I’ve heard it often derided as clown makeup.  I think of it as the façade of a funhouse seen in a funhouse mirror.  “Evil walks among us,” she continued.  “Perhaps he brought the rat plague.”

“Maybe the plague conjured him,” added one of her fellows from under an earflapped cap.  He pulled on a beer with satisfaction.

“No,” said Mascara, “we conjured him through our wickedness.”

“Crime statistics are down.  Every year they go down,” said Earflaps.

“I’m talking about sin, not crime.”

“I don’t view a difference between them.”

“You can’t always see sin.  We sin in our hearts.  Crime is just the execution.”

“You need less coffee and more beer,” he said toasting her. “It’s a man.  A sinner and a criminal, but a human being.”

“He’s not just a man,” said a squat little mushroom-man squinting as though the wind was blasting in his face.  He held an upturned finger around like a lantern in their faces.  “A hero.”

Both Earflaps and Mascara howled in unison, talking over each other and the stern voice of Pedro Cruise.

“Yes!” piped the Squint bending his head slightly and elevating his finger slightly.  “Yes!  Yes!”  Slighter and slighter.

“You are insane,” said Mascara.

“Oh good,” said the Squint, “I was worried you were going to diagnose me with demonic possession.”

“That’s blasphemy,” she scoffed.

“No,” said Earflaps, and with that he turned towards her and I could see he was wearing thick quadfocals.  Probably second-hand. “It’s blasphemy to mock God.  Mocking you is acceptable.”

“Totally acceptable,” muttered the fourth miserati.  She looked under heavier medication than the beer in her hand could possibly provide.  Her eyes looked too glassed over to understand the conversation in front of her let alone participate in even some small part.  I was almost impressed.  Earflaps held his hands high in the air like he was being mugged.  The others simmered down.

“I need to hear some explanation,” he said fixing his glasses with a snail shell of a knuckle as he snorted.  “Proceed.”

“Thank you,“ said the Squint leaning back and folding his arms across his potbelly before popping forward and waving his finger-lantern about.  “Look around you and tell me what you see.”

“Pancakes,” purred Glassy through a mouth made crooked by sloppy lipstick and a hard life.

“No.  Authority,” he said and pointed at the television before again waving his finger like a candle.  “We are surrounded by authority.  Every move we make is measured by these powers.  They look on from every angle.  There is a camera on every device.  Every streetlight, every house.  Maybe every pancake.  The sky is filled with those little harpies you call drones, buzzing into our lives.  What do a thousand eyes on us accomplish?”

“They keep us safe,” said Mascara.

“No.  They control us.  They pen us in.  They destroy our free will.They impose their own.  They exert authority.”  He turned toward Mascara.  “Remind me again who was given Dominion over the earth?”  She waved him off.  “Mr. Circle defies the powers that hold us bound.  You might not like what he is doing, but anything profound and revolutionary will be terrifying and obscene to those who have been rocked to sleep in the cradle of conformity.  This man is Prometheus.  He is the bringer of light.”

“Need I remind you who the light-bearer is?” asked Mascara.

“Who is the authority?” droned Glassy fingering a knot in her hair.  “Aren’t we the authority?  Isn’t this our city?”

“Please,” waved Earflaps.  “Here is your authority.”  He gesticulated toward the television like he was flicking a bug from his hand.  On screen was the latest and certainly most dramatic footage of the investigation headed by the glamorous Detective Chase of the Metropolitan District Police.  He was peering underneath a sheet of cardboard which covered the latest gift from the ‘Devil,’ a chunk of a victim left with a note for the detective himself.  “Look at him.  Handsome enough to anchor the news, although not a good enough actor to hold office.  Poring over a sample of interior human.  Detective Sam Chase.  We all know his name, this symbol of justice and inevitable victory.  The tip of the spear point of the power that is.  The oligarchs who steer the captains of our ship have given us this savior.  Look at all the men looking over his shoulder.  Do they have a face?  Chase must have a partner, mustn’t he?  Does anyone of you know who he is?  Does he even have a name?”

Glassy shrugged.

“What’s the point?” asked mascara.

“The point is that Mr. Circle, or Mr. Devil, isn’t crossing swords with Detective Chase. They’re on the same team.  I don’t know if he’s real or not.  I don’t know if he is operating at the behest of the establishment or not.  He is allowed to exist by those same powers that watch us, and that makes him their tool.  Their weapon.  He is another leash around our throats.”

“Ahh,” said Mascara thumbing at the squint.  “This one thinks he’s Robin Hood and you say he’s the sheriff.”

“I think he is a convenience,” said Earflaps adjusting his glasses again.  “Like the rats.  Do you honestly think that we can’t rid ourselves of the rats?  We lack the power?  Or is it so the mentally retarded can have a job and a home and policemen to talk to once in a while?  They are all bogeymen meant to keep us afraid.  They are twisted lullabies that rock us into paralysis.  It doesn’t matter if he’s real or not.  It’s an excuse to puff up this parade float of a detective and parade him in front of us.  The triumph of authority.  Chase has the substance of a balloon.  So does your Devil.  They keep our eyes full, our minds scared and our hands empty.”

Glassy broke the moment of silence.  “I vote Angel of Death!” she shouted raising her hand like an eager schoolchild.

“This isn’t an election,” scolded Mascara.

“Whatever it is I have completed the circle,” said Glassy.  “Mr. Circle, come around, something’s lost, around and round.”  She trailed off and finished her beer.

“I still say he’s the Devil.  Our devil if nothing else.”

And that was when the waitress slipped in.  Sweeter than syrup, she slid up and started clearing dirty dishes.

“I think that you’re all right.  He doesn’t have to just be one thing,” she said.

“Oh?” asked earflaps with the fetid air of superiority.

“No.  Nobody is just one thing.  But if you want to know what he is at heart then I get the feeling he is an angry child.  A mean punk who resents that the world doesn’t operate the way he wants it to.  We are the flies he pulls apart in frustration.  And I think they can catch him if they can figure out how to look.  And whatever he is, we made him.  He is us.”

Just a minute of her time and her fate was sealed.  I hadn’t even noticed her before that.  The excitement built.  The heart leaped.  I always pictured acrobats feeling this way.  That rush of life meeting death in the middle of my head.  She was going to be mine. 

XXX

Here I am.  I’m still tingling.  There she is.  Her breath is still quickening.  I start to fear she’ll cross over to the crowds on GGGGGG Street before I get to her.  This is the really hard part, mixing patience and prudence into urgency.  It’s the fun part.  I know the payoff won’t match the anticipation.  If you’re chasing a dragon or trying to catch hold of an angel, it’s never as good as it plays on the screen behind your eyes. The real bliss is right now.  Feeling both sides of the vice tighten- her impending escape and the drone’s approach.

My breath is quickening now.  Only seconds to spare.  My mind is playing out the next ten minutes.  I tell myself to focus. I’ll be on her in ten seconds.  Nine.  I’ll have just enough time to see her face once more before the deed is done.  Six.  My lunchbox rattles and she starts to turn.  Four.  Good girl, off balance.  Two.  We’re at the mouth of the alley.

I shove her in while punching her head right into the wall.  She’s out cold without a sound.  I glance around the empty street before dragging her in to the darkness.  I roll her over for one last look before bringing her into the deepest shadow.  This must be love.  She looks like dawn breaking over fresh snow.  I’d give anything to touch her with my bare hands.  Well, not anything.  Not my freedom or my life.  Not my work..I guess I just want to and I hate that I can’t.  So it goes.  It takes me a minute to find the sewer drain down the alley.  I drag her towards it and roll her face down over it.  I check my watch and pull out a length of filthy cellophane, placing it over her like a slimy cocoon. 

I open up her throat.

I kick my lunchbox. 

I’ve had so many teachers over the years.  Talked murder with so many people.  Debated whether killers were born or made.  Sometimes I feel assembled.  Assembled by those same people.  They taught me where the shadows were.  How easily someone can bleed out.  They showed me how to preserve DNA and how to compromise it.  They gave me access to the specials.  Like I said they’ll trade anything for a sandwich.  Chase still couldn’t figure out how half the city’s DNA ended up on the victims.  Best of all, they showed me how a drone will drop everything for a rat.

I kick the lunchbox again and activate my hypersonic- the electric squeal that a rat can’t stand. I pull open the trap door and the rat- big fat and filthy- bolts from the lunchbox straight into the street.  It turns and bolts north.  The green eyes of the drone fly past in a blur as it drives on toward its prey.  I turn back to mine and reset my watch.

I have nine minutes until the next drone.  That isn’t nearly enough time to enjoy her.  Is there enough time for anything anymore?  Life has gotten so fast.  The world makes itself go faster and faster.  People ruin everything.  We’re left to do what we can in the time we have left.  My all too short time with my lovely won’t live up to expectation, but it will still be precious.  I tuck the hypersonic under a nearby dumpster.  Can’t have the rats disturb me or befoul her beauty once I’m done.

I have a vial of Chase’s DNA.  It should make things interesting.  It might not end any arguments but it could at least narrow the focus.

I’m thinking of trying something new with this girl.  Something special for someone special.  A circle theme.  It’s not such a bad name after all.  Mr. Circle going round and round.  Making the rounds and making the cops chase their tails.  Mr. Circle.

Then again, the Devil will always do.

 

THE END

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