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metamorphosis

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 “I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

 


 

He’s in the storage room the first time it happens – no, the first time he notices it. The first time his mind doesn’t just immediately discard the new change as the delusions of a recently resurfaced mind. He’s been out of the coma for less than a month, after all. He doesn’t remember most of it.

That’s also a lie. He wants to not remember, the explosion and the ash and the debris. The getting his leg stuck by a falling rock. The nightmares. But the truth is that his mind rarely does what he wants it to, not anymore, so he has no choice but to remember. Sleeping is difficult these days, to say the least. His eyes always seem to be open.

He’s looking for- looking for a statement. Particular one. No, that’s a lie as well, he has to stop doing that – he has looked for a statement. He Looked. Somehow, he knows it’s in there. Second box to the right, underneath two other statements as well as an old coffee mug someone had left behind, and no one had bothered to discard yet. There’s a stain, either from sweat or spit, he’s not sure. But he can see it, right there. His feet haven’t even fully hit the ground yet. His mind does that these days. Just Look without his permission, if he’s not careful. He tries to be careful; he doesn’t want to become – someone else. Someone like Elias.

Jon goes straight to the box without even closing the door, just lets it dangle open. It feels like there’s a hook attached to his left hand, leading him towards said box. Read me. Is that good or bad? He hasn’t decided yet. It certainly makes his job easier. It also makes the loneliness more bearable, if he can imagine the – the Eye there as well, conspiring with him.

Someone’s changed the lightbulbs since – since the last time he’s been here. Everything is in stark contrast, completely illuminated. He used to not be able to read a damned thing with the lightning in here, always bordering on too little no matter how many times they’d tried to change it. They – him, Sasha, Tim, Jon, and. And Martin. Sasha is hopefully dead, Tim is definitely dead, Martin is – Martin is alive but doesn’t want to see him; and Jon … Jon is alive, sure, though probably not in the traditional human sense. Funny how he still thinks of the staff as those four.

This is why, when Basira lightly knocks on the door, he’s almost surprised to see her. Almost wants to tell her that visitors aren’t allowed in, except she’s not a visitor, is she? Stupid brain. Sluggish coma response. Must keep up. His left hand is rested on the stacks of paper, stroking lightly. It’s convenient how much he favours it these days.

“Jon?” she asks, trying for concerned but missing the mark and ending up with conspiratorial instead. Doesn’t matter. They’re probably right in not trusting him. Martin has the best idea out of all of them. “What are you doing down here?” Right to the point.

“I do still work here, you know,” he replies in kind. He still tries to think of it like that in his mind as well, just a job, his profession. Nothing unusual. Nothing at all like the ribbon he feels being stretched from his heart all the way to the archives, drawing taut but never snapping. He can’t ever escape; he knows that now. Because he chose to live. “Just trying to get back into my usual routine.”

“That makes it sound like you went on vacation instead of being strapped to a hospital bed for six months. Take it slow, Jon. I’m serious.” She starts making her way towards the other side of the wall and he tracks her movement in the hanging mirror opposite. She tracks him as well. It’s a dance he knows well. “And don’t go fumbling around in the dark. You’ll trip and break your neck during your first week back.”

A part of him wants to respond immediately with ‘Pretty sure if I broke my neck in the Archives, I’d just respawn in my office like a game character’ but what he still struggles to comprehend is the – “Excuse me?”

She flips a switch, casting the room in a different glow than before. “Hate it in here. Can’t see a bloody thing.” The change is so sudden his eyes flinch involuntarily, but that doesn’t stop him from noticing it during the split second it happens. He swears it’s so small his denial wants to open its ugly mouth and cry foul, but something in him stops dead. He hopes, desperately hopes against all hope that Basira hasn’t seen it as well. He’s not sure if she wouldn’t have drawn her gun.

Because Jon looks at his reflection. In the mirror. And right after Basira switches the lights on, he swears he can see his eyes shift. He didn’t notice them before, because why would he? Why would he look at his eyes, the same unexciting brown ones he’s had all his life? Even when his pupils had been clearly dilated, and then switched instantaneously. For a second there, they’d looked like tiny slights before stark, before changing back to their original shape. They’d – they’d been shining. And they’d been big. Damn had they been big. Like the night vision of a mammal.

Basira audibly sighs in relief when the light switches from cold to warm, casting the room back into its usual useless glow. Jon’s eyes hurt a little from the strain. It takes his mind a long time to catch up with the scene he’s just been witness to, long after Basira makes her leave with a crude “I’ll be in my office if you need me”. It takes him even longer to realize that he honestly doesn’t remember flicking a light switch on during the entire day. Or even checking. He can’t recall the last time his fingers have come into contact with one.

There’s a slight tremor to the motions of his hand as he fetches the statement that his mind is somehow still forcing him to get. Jon’s not sure how he manages it, not sure who’s operating his body right now, but he manages to walk closer towards the mirror even in sheer panic and terror. He’s afraid to look. He has to look. In his mind he imagines Martin encouraging him because lord knows he needs them right now. He can’t – can’t do it. But he also can’t not. So he risks it.

Mundane brown is what greets him.

 


 

He looks it up at home the first chance he gets. Night vision – the ability to see in low-light conditions. Nocturnal hunters like owls and cats have pupils that, when open wide, cover the entire front of the eye. So do tree frogs, which have to be able to jump from branch to branch. In owls, eye size approaches the extreme: their eyes occupy over half the volume of their skulls. Some mammals possess a layer of tissue called the tapetum, behind the retina, which helps them make the most of small amounts of light. Light that passes through the retina is reflected off the tapetum, giving the retinal cells a second chance to sense it. This makes some animals’ eyes shine in the glare of car headlights, most typically seen in domesticated cats.

He knows all of this, of course, none of it’s new. But it’s still a shock to take the facts of bioscience and to describe it to oneself.

He doesn’t feel so well, sitting down in front of his laptop, reading all of that. He’s checked the light switch in his living room twice. His body feels hot, culminating sweat under his sweater, yet his fingers are cold and clammy. Jon feels – he feels like he’s about to have an honest to God panic attack. His breath is coming out in short, high octaves. He’s all alone. He’s all alone in his flat and his eyes are – they’re … Jesus. Jesus Christ. Fuck.

The wheezing sobs sound deafeningly pathetic in the empty room. He needs to stop this, needs to regain focus. He’s no longer a child. “Calm down, christ’s sake,” he wheezes out with all the disapproval of his grandmother’s voice. “It was one occurrence. Your mind might be playing tricks on you, you need to – need to investigate. Need to document.” Document... “Where’s my tape recorder?!”

There’s a medium crash as something is slammed to the floor by his feet. Tumbled out of his work bag, something he’s sure he hadn’t put there beforehand. He doesn’t usually like having them at ho– at his apartment. But he has to admit, now it’s useful at least.

He picks up the tape recorder with shaky hands, the left hand taking a hold of it more firmly than the other, as usual. It’s been recording this whole time. He wishes he could know for how many minutes. He wishes he could know anything.

Jon wheeze-coughs, composing himself. Closes his eyes for a few minutes, breathing in deeply, and pointedly doesn’t feel for any extra layer of skin while reopening them. He brings the tape recorder close towards his mouth.

“Supplemental,” he begins, and almost feels like he’s making a fool out of himself but, when doesn’t he? He’s well past the point of denial, knows by now that he needs the tape, needs them to keep him sane. That and – the others. God, he wishes Martin were here to bring him some tea.

He coughs again, tries to compose his voice back to his usual disapproving veneer. “Sup- Supplemental: I think I … I’m not sure, but … Well, let’s just say I hadn’t realized the Eye to be quite so… literal. Foolish me.”

CLICK

 


 

CLICK

“Supplemental: Well, that’s that then. That’s settled.” He laughs bitterly. “I went ahead and checked again in the bathroom. I want to, need to be able to document every step, every change, otherwise, I’m just going to go insane. And I …” A shaky breath. “I think I’ve got it now.”

“Should I – wait, should I go ahead and preface this with a -? Oh, what the hell. Might as well. Saying it might even bring me some perverse form of comfort, so: Statement of … Statement of Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, regarding a few noticeable changes to his appearance after a … a miraculous recovery from a six months coma, most likely aided by the Eye. Statement given straight from subject, in his… on his bathroom floor. August 12th … Or wait, was it 13th …?” He sighs, resigned. “2018. It- It’s a little late, almost 4 AM, so excuse my sloppy documentation. I’m sure you’ll survive, you bloody stupid piece of plastic.” He coughs again, trying to reign in his temper. It’s harder than he’d imagined, now that he’s thought of the recorders as an extension of the entity, of himself.

“Let’s start this off with the facts: My eyes are brown. They’ve always been brown, with the slightest of differences depending on the percentage of sunlight hitting my face. No dark brown, no almost black, no muddy-brown-that-could-be-almost-green, just … brown. Here’s another fact for you: They’re still brown. At least, right now, with the lights turned on their brightest setting. I’m directly looking at them, at myself in the mirror. I’ve-“ He laughs bitterly, almost hysterically. “I’ve still got a reflection thank god, I’m not one of those vampires Herbert’s been hunting. That’s another fact. So far, we’ve got three: My eyes are brown, currently are brown, and I’m not a vampire. That enough documentation for you, Elias?”

“I’m… I’m not a vampire, but I don’t think I’m human anymore, either. Not entirely. I wish I could tell you the exact percentage, the parts and pieces of me that remained the same before this job, before all of it, but I fear… I don’t want to think about it. And I’m tired. So I’ll keep this statement short. More to follow. Or maybe not. Maybe this will be the only change. Call me a pessimist, but I sincerely doubt that.”

“But before I recorded this, they hadn’t been brown. They hadn’t been mine, they’d been … God, so many variations. Hard to keep up. I’ll try.” Jon takes a second to compose himself, regard himself in the mirror again, focusing on those prominent eye bags hollowing out his cheeks. God, he looks knackered. He needs sleep. But he fears another sleepless night if he won’t finish this, so he takes a look at the scribbled mess he’d curtly written down before. “As far as I’m aware, this change only seems to happen during night-time, when most – when humans would struggle to differentiate bare shapes in the dark. During the day my eyes are painstakingly boring. But when I changed my bathroom lights, step by step, from the highest to the lowest to complete darkness, they’d changed as well. Adapted. I think it must be some kind of evolutionary protection mechanism. After all, how is one supposed to behold if one can’t even see in the dark? Simple.”

“Here’s what I wrote down: During the dim-lit moments, they’d been broad, then narrowed, like cats. Exactly like cats. Then the dimmer the lights, the broader the slit pupil became, until it… It reminded me of a goat, sort of. You know those blocky ones? Rectangular and vertical. Not in an instant, of course not, the transformation is barely noticeable but it’s there. It’s there. And it hurts as well, like seeing without your glasses. Or, or more like changing your prescription? A pressure on the eye as the change takes place naturally.”

“I, I read up a little on goats.” He laughs bitterly. “I read up a little on all these creatures. Since we seem to have so much in common now. Herbivores, they need to be able to protect themselves from predators. A broad line of sight, aided by wide, rectangular-shaped pupils, allows them to see danger approaching from their peripheral vision even in the dark. Their eyes possess 320-degree vision. Humans, in comparison, have a measly 120-degree. I checked. Strange to think I can see better in the dark now. I can see my entire bathroom, from the door all the way to the dirty clothes pile.”

“In complete pitch black, my eye sockets seem bigger almost, forward-facing. A hawk? Or an owl without the constant need for head movement. Hawks have both a central and a peripheral fovea, which gives them excellent binocular vision.  Humans only have a central one. The bioscience on hawks and birds of prey is a little complicated, a little too sophisticated for an Archivist like me. I’m not a zoologist, but I’m sure if you were really interested, you’d be able to check up on it. For now, just trust me on my word. That’s all, I swear. All the changes I’ve noticed. My eyes feel… fine. They don’t feel strange, or foreign. Just… aggravated. Put to good use, I guess. I’ve been in here for what feels like hours.”

“Anyway, I understand now. It’s just the eyes. That’s all there is to it, right? There won’t be any more changes, because this has been a precautious step to help me adapt to my new … my new Religion. It’s The Eye after all. If I repeat it often enough, maybe it will ring true. It's just my eyes."

"I’d say… about 80% human now. Those aren’t bad calculations.”

Jon sighs, stretching his painfully stiff legs and hoisting himself up with quite the huff. He’s exhausted. He’s tired. His thoughts are swimming away from him, like fish. He’ll be fine in the morning. Provided he can sleep. Which reminds him…

He picks the recorder back up, holds it in gentle fingers while massaging and trying to rub his forehead and browbone with his backhand. He’s so tired.

“That’s all. Statement ends. For now. I’ve done what you asked, what you demanded of me, now can I please go to sleep? Please. I need to sleep. You may be an all-knowing, all-powerful omnipresence, but I’m not. I’m … Jon, just Jon. And Jons need unconsciousness every once in a while. So let. Me. Sleep. Please.” No answer, of course. Jon sighs bitterly, still feeling the tension lingering in the air. Trying to fall asleep will be fun. His body drags him towards his bedroom almost without his permission. His bed is unmade like it always is. He never bothers to anymore.

He’s so tired he almost sleeps with the recorder before thinking better of it and leaving it on the nightstand, gathering up just enough strength to end the bloody disk. The CLICK it makes satisfies him like nothing else as he rolls onto his side. The lights remain on – just for comfort.

“Bye. Just… need … ta sleep…”

He doesn’t hear but swears he can feel the defeating CLICK of the recorder vibrate around in his brain, even as he’s half-unconscious.