"Hak-Kin-Dak mantra"
As translated by Alicia Hoyle
Borrowed from "House of Leaves"

I am not a fool. I am wise. I will run from my fear, I will out distance my fear, then I will hide from my fear, and I will wait for my fear, I will let my fear run past me, then I will follow my fear, I will track my fear until I can approach my fear in complete silence, then I will strike at my fear, I will charge my fear, I will grab hold of my fear, I will sink my fingers into my fear, then I will bite my fear, I will tear the throat of my fear, I will break the neck of my fear, I will drink the blood of my fear, I will gulp the flesh of my fear, I will crush the bones of my fear, and I will savor my fear, I will swallow my fear, all of it, and then I will digest my fear until I can do nothing else but shit out my fear. In this way I will be made stronger.

Eye Contact

Dedicated to Dan and Vickie, for inspiring this in a roundabout way.

I've tried everything imaginable to make sure that I can't make eye contact with anyone ever again. I've used eye drops to try and make sure no one wants to look into my eyes, I've worn sunglasses, I even tried using a seeing-eye dog once and just closing my eyes. Nothing worked. People stared at me more when the eyes were bloodshot, the sunglasses just didn't help, and I couldn't trust a dog with my life.

People are scared to make eye contact with strangers. It's a common fact, albeit an unproven one, that you can tell just by looking at people. Make eye contact with a stranger walking down the street, and they'll look away almost immediately.

I don't know what they're scared of. Maybe people think that if you look into someone's eyes, they'll read too much into it. Maybe the eyes on the receiving end will make the body blow a kiss, or force the mouth to ask for your phone number, or maybe even convince the mind to form an obsession over you, and then the body will stalk you. Or maybe that dirty, eye-averting creep just wants to get rid of the memory of you forever. Or maybe they even think that, if you look into their eyes, if you look hard enough, you can see all their deepest darkest secrets. Every nasty little thing they've done and managed to hide from the world would be laid out for you on a silver platter, just if you looked into their eyes.

But of course, none of this is true, right?

Well, in my case, it is. That part about the deepest darkest secrets. I can look at any given stranger and tell you what they're most scared someone will find out.

And it's making my life a living Hell.

I can't get close to anyone, because the second I take a look at them I find out why I can never get near them. I'm scared to go outside, people are outside, and people have some horrible, horrible secrets. I've been fired, I was too scared to talk to my boss, coworkers, or even clients. I was alone in my office, with the lights off and my sunglasses on, when I first got word of my unemployment.

I used to be married. But my wife hasn't spoken to me in ages. I haven't even seen her in ages. I can't remember if we got divorced (after all, I couldn't look at her, talk to her, help her, or love her) or if I killed her. Neither would surprise me, honestly.

It happened about two years ago, I guess, give or take a few years. I've locked myself in my apartment, alone, for who knows how long. Sometimes the seconds seem to take months, and sometimes the months seem to be seconds. But it feels like it was two years ago.

These visions, notions, this whole idea of me being able to look into someone's eyes and know everything about them, it started in an art gallery. There was this one painting, by a local unknown, really a genius. The painting was called "Shine," though I don't know why, and I saw it and it saw me. The painting watched me as I walked around the room, and it really began to creep me out, and so I dragged one of those heavy stone benches over in front of it, really screwing up this gallery's floor, and I sat down and I looked at that painting as hard as I could. It was of a girl, maybe eight years old, and she was dying. She was almost naked, and you could tell that she had gone without food for so long that the stomach acids had begun to eat away at her insides. We sat and watched each other for several hours, and while I was there, I think the girl died.

It sounds stupid, doesn't it? I looked at a picture so long it died, and now I can read people's minds. Only that's not it, that's not it at all. You weren't there, and you have no right to judge me. You, of all people, have no right to judge anyone. Especially because of what you did.

That's right, I know. And, God, I wish I didn't.

Don't worry, I'm not done my story yet. We won't dwell on yours.

I had jury duty once, and it was one of the worst times of my life. It was a triple homicide, we were sequestered, and I was alone with 11 dirty old people with tainted pasts, and we had to decide whether or not the man was guilty. He was. I could see it in his eyes. I could feel the axe as he brought it down on the grandmother, sleeping in her bed and breathing from a tube in her throat. I could feel him travel down the steps and enter the parent's room. I could hear the mother sobbing; she was in the bathroom, reliving her past in every bloody detail. The man, the father, had learned to sleep through it, and only awoke when he felt his tongue. In his hands. He drowned in his own blood, was stabbed in the chest, and pushed out the window. All silently, while the mother sobbed in the bathroom. And then the man walked into the neighboring room, and he picked up the baby, and...

If you really want the details, check some newspaper articles. I can't go on. It feels like I murdered those three. As far as my mentality is concerned, I really did.

The point is, we deliberated for four days. Eleven of them said he was innocent and I, I said he was guilty. How could I not? But he had an amazing lawyer, and the crime was perfect, somehow it was executed perfectly, and there was no hardcore proof. Four days, and then I snapped. I couldn't stand that bunch of sniveling drug addicts, molesters, and butchers who were all guilty of crimes almost as bad as those of the man on trial. I just couldn't take it, and I couldn't convince them of the truth; whenever I got into an argument and made eye contact, I broke down. I broke, and now a guilty man is walking the streets, and someone else will die, and it's my fault.

My parents only married after Dad raped Mom on a date, and she got pregnant. With me. Everything'd be different if they could have only afforded an abortion, but Dad lost all his money before he even graduated, all boozing. My drunken father abused me up until I was two, because I was just a stupid mistake. My mother watched.

My old wife cheated on me. On our honeymoon.

My old boss, Mr. Gilman, has been stealing from the company trust and is wrapped up in an affair with his a family member of his supervisor, Mrs. Torrance. Actually, it's with her husband.

My old best friend, John, has molested people, even me, while they slept.

I can't eat.

I can't sleep.

And I can't live. Not like this, I can't.

But then, I guess this all means nothing to you. How could it, possibly? It's just the story of a recluse young man who's only dream is to be blind. Now, though, all I get is nightmares if I manage to sleep at all. All those sleepless nights, and all I've done is memorize what my ceiling looks like. My ceiling can't look back at me. My ceiling has no eyes.

That's what brought me here, to an old and decrepit apartment, too scared to even go outside.

And now my hunger is getting to me, no, more than just getting to me. It burns. I'd go get something for it, something out of my medicine cabinet, but that's behind the mirror. And there is no way I am looking into my own eyes. I'm scared of what I may find. So I stumble into the kitchen, shivering and cold, and my pupils as big as saucers because I won't open the windows to let light in, I might see someone on the street outside my apartment building. The lightbulbs all burnt out long ago, except for the bathroom light. You know, the one near the mirror.

I pop open the refrigerator and the light blinks on and almost blinds me, and I kind of wish it had. But it doesn't, though I do see dots for a moment, maybe a sign that it's been burning holes in my retina? Oh, I hope so.

And then I realize that I'm out of food. All that sits in my refrigerator are some ice cubes, which won't do much for me. I've been out of food for days, and I've known this for days, but I've been checking the refrigerator almost every other hour. This is getting bad. I need food if I want to keep on living.

And that's where the real question comes in. Do I really want to go on?

I sit on my bed and I think about this a while. Why should I? If I died, right now, the only people who would notice are the people who live in the apartment above me, when the stench gets so bad they call the cops. Or maybe the landlord, when he notices I haven't slid my rent under the door and out into the hallway. I'm almost out of money, now, come to think of it. Completely.

Have you ever wanted to know more about your neighbors? Well, make sure to get rid of all those thoughts. I can tell you, from first hand experience, you do not want to know your neighbors.

Anyway, I'm sitting on my bed, trying to figure out whether or not I should keep living or not. I really don't think I want to, and so I resolve not to go to a local convenience store, but then the pain kicks in, and my stomach begins to dissolve, the acids eating away at it, and I scream in agony, and I writhe and I twist, and I decide that if I'm going to die, I'm not going to starve. I'm going to shoot myself, or jump off a roof, or something considerably more quick.

Ten feet over is the bathroom. I haven't opened that door in months. The mirrors are in there. You don't want to know what I've been doing, instead.

I've put a giant smiley-face on the door, taped there with it's eyes gouged out. It is worn at the edges, and is no longer its old vibrant color, but more of a dull, beaten, bruised banana. I go over to the door, and I rip off SeƱor Smiley, and I tear him in two, and I grab the doorknob. It's cold to the touch, freezing my bones, and I twist it. It refuses to budge for a moment, stuck in place, but I force it open. The bathroom sits before me, still clean because nothing alive has entered it for so long. I step in, and I find the light switch. This is it. The big moment.

I look down so that I can't see the mirror, and I flick the switch. Light floods the wooden room, and I squint in the almost blinding brightness of my 40-watt lightbulb. I fumble around the counter, desperately searching for my wallet. I'd taken it out and put it on the counter when I'd undressed that night I'd come home from the art gallery, and left it there so I'd know where it was in the morning, right next to the laundry bin. Which reminds me. The clothes I'm wearing, my worn and ragged, dirty and soiled, aging clothes, they haven't been changed since I locked the bathroom door.

I snatch the wallet, a fat little green thing filled with a thousand receipts and cards of things I'd never needed and certainly won't need anymore. I shove it in my pocket, hands trembling, and turn to go out of the bathroom, and fumbling for the light switch. I don't want to burn out my last light, I might need it if I ever get the courage to blind myself. But the switch isn't there. It's been so long since I've been in this bathroom, I might be on the wrong side of the room, and I wouldn't know. So I take a huge risk, a stupid one, and I look up.

There I am in the mirror, uglier than I remember, staring back at me, looking at myself. Looking into my eyes.

"What are you doing?" I say. Only not me. Other me. Mirror-me.

I can't respond. You wouldn't be able to, either, and you haven't seen what I've seen. Though, of course, I've seen everything you have.

"You're finally going out there?" Mirror-me asks.

"I, uh, yes." That's all I can say, and really, I'm ashamed of it, but it'll have to do. "Yes, I'm going out there."

"My God, man, it's taken you long enough." And Mirror-me laughs.

"What has?" I ask.

Mirror-me's laugh stops. "I guess not. No surprise there. I'm not going to tell you, though. It's so obvious, I shouldn't have to. And you don't want me to get all preachy on us. Certainly we're in no position to preach, yeah?"

"What are you talking about?" I say. Actual me.

"Oh, come on! Those people out there, everything you've seen in their eyes-"

"Don't forget felt!" I scream. That's the worst part, feeling it all. "Don't you ever forget that I have been dragged through everything I've seen in them. I've had to feel it all!"

"Exactly, man!" it screams. "Think! What are you seeing?
Or just another demented reflection of yourself? All you're seeing is what you've done in your past."

That felt too planned, I fell into his trap too easily. But of course I did. I'm Mirror-me, I'm everyone I see, but Mirror-me controls me, and he made me say all that, made me fall into his trap, he controlled everything about our conversation, all the lies. "I don't lie," he says, and I realize that, of course, he knows everything I do.

I want to leave but I can't. He leans over the counter, closer to the mirror, even though I step back, and he keeps coming forward. His eyes seem to buzz with energy, and I'm drawn closer, and I see... me.

They say that right before you die your life flashes before your eyes. Well, if that's the case, I don't ever want to die. All my dirty little secrets have come back and hit me in the chest like an unsuspected sucker punch, and wow, it hurts. My life has gotten so torn up, so horrendous, that I've begun to make excuses, to blame all my insecurities on others. What I did and what I've seen other people do, I don't know anymore.

That wasn't me. That wasn't me. That wasn't me. That may have been. That wasn't. I hope.

Here I am, going through my life, bit by bit, deciding how low I think I may have gone.

Was me, was me, wasn't me, was me, wasn't, wasn't, never could be, no, no, no!

I've spent so much of my own life wrapped up in others that I no longer know which is mine and which is... not...

I run from the bathroom, from the apartment, and stumble out into the hall. Mirror-me disappears with me. I inch down the steps, step by step, familiarizing myself with the process all over again. It's been so long since I've gone down steps of any kind. Nobody's on the stairwell, thank God, but I realize with horror that I don't have

(deepest darkest secrets)

my sunglasses. It's too late to go get them now. They're in with Mirror-me, and up the steps I may not be able to climb. So I stumble through the street, head down, staring at the ground, trying not to look at anyone. But I can't keep that up forever, every once and a while I have to look up for something.

Here's a guy who raped his wife, forcing her to get pregnant when she insisted on no children. She didn't press charges, the case sounded too silly to her and she didn't want her friends, family, or unborn child to know what had really happened.

Here's a man who, pennyless, forced his ten year old daughter into a life of prostitution.

Here's a hobo who has done nothing outside begging for money and digging through dumpster after dumpster, but he has paid more than anyone.

Here's an ex-soldier who burnt down three Vietnamese town and killed an uncounted number of civilians, all in the hopes of winning a bet with some friends. A pal of his burnt down two more towns than him, and got the rewards, which consisted of a pot of cash and two prisoners, both young Vietnamese virgins captured in the sacking.

Here's a girl who refused to let her boyfriend dump her without a fight. For her revenge, she kidnapped his mother and forced her ex to watch as she peeled Mom's skin off, slowly taking flesh and giving pain. She'd then forced her boyfriend to eat the skin before killing him. And she'd never been caught.

Here's me, a man on the edge of insanity.

Here's a man who's been sitting outside a girl's window as she sleeps for three weeks, now, and plans to break into her bedroom that night. I stumble into him and he falls to the ground, scraping his palms, bloodying the streets, losing a brown paper bag of tools down the sewer, putting off his plans for another day, and I disappear into the crowd before he knows what happened. I want to say this is just me being nice, doing a good deed, but it's just to shut Mirror-me up when I get home.

I cross a bridge, an old antique bridge, on my way to the store. There is a painter there, and I almost bump into him while I'm looking down at the ground, but we do miss, and so he keeps on painting this beautiful portrait of a "beautiful" girl who has been anorexic for years.

Sighing, I continue along the bridge, looking out onto the waters. It seems like even the water has its secrets, like even the water would shift and come at me in a giant tidal wave, to drown me, to shut me up. It's been known to before. Dozens of bodies litter the bottom of the river, and while I can't see them, I've seen the murderers pushing the bodies in, sometimes years after the fact. I'm reminded of Noah and his ark, how God came and told Noah to take his family, the last people on earth who had not yet succumbed to evil, and then drowned the rest. I wish something like that would happen soon, even if I wasn't saved myself. Death wouldn't be so bad at this point. I wish I had the guts to take my life, or at least to gouge out my own eyes.

At the convenience store I buy some food from a dirty, low-life wife-beater that I will personally make sure is not free come nightfall. He hands over the food, holding it in a hand with bloody knuckles, and I take the bag and leave. I've starved myself for so long that my body refuses to accept any food, but somehow I force it down.

I walk back, over the bridge, and the painter looks up and sees me. He smiles, and his eyes are bright and green, almost yellow, and I can see all that he has done in his past.

Which is nothing.

He's pure.

I don't move, I can't move, as the painter finishes his portrait of Ms. Anorexia. She looks at it and smiles, secretly disgusted at her size, a shockingly heavy 85 pounds. I try to leave, but can't. The painter. He's pure.

"Care for a portrait?" he asks. I nod. "Wonderful. It'll be maybe 20 minutes. I charge three dollars, plus a dollar a minute. Sound fair?"

It actually is. But of course, I knew it would be. "Very."

And so I sit and he paints me, and I look into his eyes, and I smile, because I can look into his eyes and see him giving free food to starving children, throwing dollar bills off rooftops for thankless hobos to collect, and going home and sleeping at night, and just sleeping.

I sit there for twenty minutes or so, chatting with the artist, some anonymous local genius. I tell him that his paintings verge on miraculous, but he just grins and shrugs off the compliment. I pay him the money, the last in my wallet, and I take the painting from him. It shows me, and I love it because it's accurate, but I hate it because it's accurate. It shows me, and it shows me dying, because I am. "What's it called?" I ask.

"Shine, Too." The artists smiles, winks, and then ushers someone else into the seat. He pulls out his brush and begins to make his work. I look at my portrait, it looks oddly familiar, and I look into its eyes, and it looks back at me. I stand like that for several minutes before some drug dealer pushes into me, snapping me out of it, and I go home, and I hang the picture on my wall, and I leave the eyes in.

For the next several hours I sit in my bed and stare at "Shine, Too."

Mirror-me is waiting for me in the bathroom, I know that when I go in there he will be there for me. I rise to my feet and walk in, silently, and I flick on the light, and I look in the mirror. Mirror-me looks back at me, unblinking, and he lifts his arms, but no, it's me lifting my arms, though he does the same, and I make fists, and he makes fists, and we punch each other, and the mirror shatters, and Mirror-me is gone.

I go to the kitchen, wipe my new wounds clean, and pick up the phone. It has been disconnected, no surprise, and so I grab several coins off of a table and stuff them in my pocket. I begin to exit the room, but then I turn back and I grab the portrait of me.

Out on the street, sunglasses on, I go to a payphone and dial 911. I alert them all to a convenience store owner that goes home and beats his wife, a stalker who intends to rape a young teenager tonight, and a homicidal ex who had never been caught. I tell them that I've got a long list, if they have the time, but it's not all pressing, so maybe I'll just call them back.

I hang up the phone abruptly and walk away, down to a nearby art gallery. I go in, sell the portrait for five dollars, not nearly as much as they had offered, and I can see them already trying to make room for the painting, taking down others. Somebody will come in soon and see it, and it will see them.

As I'm exiting the gallery, several police cars, alarms blaring, speed past me.

As they wheel through the streets, puddles of water are thrown up into the air. I back away and they come splashing down in front of me, but I manage to avoid it. That's when I notice that it had begun to rain, so hard that there is a constant stream of water running over my feet, heading for the gutters, to drown out the rats in the sewers. I hadn't even noticed the rain, earlier, but it's heavy.

I don't know if it's true or not, but I might be cured. Oh, God, I hope so. I've prayed for it almost every day, and now it might finally be coming true. It's odd, if it really was the artist's painting that did it. Odd, how it was probably the same man who put the curse on me that saved me. No one would believe my story, no one would have any faith in it at all, but that's fine by me, because I can tell it to them face to face, looking into their eyes. I hope.

I take a nice stroll, relaxing in the rain, until I come to a bar, where I head in and sit down with a smile on my face. No one looks into my eyes, and soon I see a pretty girl, a pretty face, and I go over and sit down and introduce myself and ask her if I can buy her a drink and she says yes. And then I ask if she'll do me a favor. I ask her if she'll look into my eyes and, please, tell me what she sees.