Disclaimer: The characters and events in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events is coincidental and not intended. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form without permission of the Author.
A Touch of Sight
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear." – H.P. Lovecraft
Long slender fingers clenched around each other, as though one could save the other from running across the hard, chipped plastic, the smooth, dull chrome, or thick, dirty Plexiglas around them. A thin swathe of deep purple – a color reminiscent of ancient royalty – already protected them, but it seemed to not be enough. The temptation to touch, to feel, to know, was too great.
And so, the long slender fingers on both hands clung to each other like drowning lovers.
I glared at those fingers. I knew that if I could see beneath the purple material that encased them, they would be white with angry streaks of red across the knuckles. They swayed with the lap they lay on, and I took a deep breath, let it out slowly through my nose. Impossible to keep them still, I knew, watching as the thumbs ran over each other, rubbed over and through like a greeting between cats.
The movement looked smug to my eyes. Crazy that a movement could look smug, that such an emotion – any emotion – could apply to such things as fingers. But I knew. I knew that the only thing that prevented them from removing the thin material that covered – trapped – them, the only thing that denied them from wrapping around the finger-smudged chrome pole before them was the arms attached to them.
They were, after all, my fingers.
The train came to a jerky, hesitant halt, brakes grinding and squealing alarmingly loud as metal slid against metal. The sound cleaved through the air, filled it, pressed uncomfortably against the eardrums. I noticed I wasn't the only one to wince at the sound. The passengers around me gathered their belongings even closer to themselves as they flocked toward the nearest exit. The sound of too many people moving, talking, coughing, sneezing in too small of a space managed pushed away the sound of shrieking metal.
Another deep breath and I stood up, moved into the throng of people and let them carry me from the train, feeling like a piece of flotsam shoved ashore by the ocean. I resisted the urge to close my eyes, to experience the feeling of humanity touching me with some sense other than sight. These moments, these precious moments when I became just another body, just another person in the crowd, just a young woman riding the train home from work, school, a friend's, these were the moments that I looked forward to. At these moments, I became just Ophelia Gottschalk, grad student and employee of Crimson Horizons Bookstore.
Making the twists and turns out of the sub-level station, walking up the long flight of stairs, was always like emerging from a mythological beast's cave. The spring sun greeted me with relieved warmth, as though it had been anxiously awaiting my return from the Netherworld.
The sidewalks, crowded with early evening pedestrians, were still a deep gray, holding on to the moisture from the afternoon rain. Water dripped lazily from street signs, sparkled among the leaves of the few plants that dotted the concrete landscape in an attempt to bring some other form of life besides the bipedal inhabitants into the city.
I kept my eyes away from those of the people pushing past me, around me, as I walked toward my apartment. My hands, still clenched but this time in individual fists, were shoved into the pockets of the light jacket I wore. I knew the taste of temptation and standing on the corner of the street, waiting for the white WALK sign, surrounded by a group of strangers, my hands itched to just have a small bite. It would be so easy, I knew, so easy to just reach out and brush along the tightly woven silk of the businessman's jacket next to me.
The urge to touch, to feel, to know, was always strong, a dark, morbid curiosity that was never satiated.
The red sign across the street flashed white and the group I stood with surged forward. I let loose of a breath I hadn't even known I was holding and hung back, trailed behind, tried to remember to keep breathing.
It became easier once I reached my apartment building – the breathing, that is – it always did. I slid my key into the lock of the front door, pushed the small lever above it down with my elbow. The security door had no handle or doorknob. Instead, a bar sliced across the middle of the clear shatterproof glass. This particular feature was the main reason I chose this building to live in. It wasn't that I didn't feel safe, that I mistrusted my fellow citizens.
It was that I didn't have to use my hands to actually get into the building.
When I had first looked at the apartments here, I had told the landlord that, being a single woman, I didn't want to have a ground floor apartment. The only other one left for me to move into was number six on the eighth floor.
Some numerologists say those numbers represent responsibility and sacrifice, respectively.
I should have known then.
Eight flights of stairs and I stood outside my apartment door. There was an elevator, but it was an old, rickety thing that made loud groaning noises, like an elderly man unfolding himself from a comfortable chair. The idea that the elevator could stop working at any time, or that I could be stuck, suspended between floors for however long it took for someone to realize I was in there, wasn't what bothered me. Not much, anyway.
Plummeting eight stories and smashing into the hard concrete basement scared the crap out of me, though.
I tossed my coat over the back of an armchair in the living room, let my keys clatter across the kitchen table, and contemplated the contents of the fridge.
My apartment was a mix between a germ-a-phobe's wet dream and a pack rat's haven. In the back were my bedroom and a spare room that had been converted into a small study, both of which were in disarray. Only a large, heavy mahogany desk – the temporary home to my laptop – broke the line of bookshelves that stood against the study's walls, floor to ceiling like quiet sentinels. The shelves were crammed full and, while they sported pretentiously intellectual titles such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Steppenwolf: A Novel, and various poems by Ezra Pound, there were other books that had no modern binding – some were simply sheaves of paper held together by frayed twine. The yellowed and torn edges of single pieces of paper stuck out from between the books, some far enough that strange symbols written in red-black ink were visible.
What appeared to be knickknacks hunkered between groups of books; strange little Aztecan-ish figures, earthenware bowls with permanent scorch marks along the sides and bottoms, clear jars full of unidentifiable elements, and even an ornate dagger that gleamed like a national treasure where it sat on its specially made ebony stand.
The desk was an unorganized mess; papers scattered haphazardly across it, books opened and abandoned mid-sentence. An old mason jar held one pen and one pencil while the others rested at odd angles to each other underneath or atop the papers, or snuggled inside the center creases of the opened books.
My room was no better. Books adorned the edges of the bed, the clear space in the middle just wide and long enough for me to fit. Loose pieces of paper confettied the floor around it. Bookshelves hid the walls opposite the bed, but the contents of these were less serious. Here, too, the knickknacks were less ominous looking. There was a small stuffed rabbit whose fur was patchy, was missing one eye, and whose nose was hanging on by a thread. A short vase contained a bouquet of dried roses, their once vibrant red now that deep hue of burgundy that one only found in nature.
In stark contrast, the kitchen was as sterile as a hospital; everything bleached and vigorously washed the minute I moved in. The glass top of the table in the center of the room was crystal clear, without so much as a smudge, as were the glass panes that served as the front of the cabinets. Nothing sat in the sink and its chrome shined in the low light that was slipping through the windows above it. Every time I bought something new for it – a new purifier screen for the faucet, paper towels, a new set of knives – the process repeated itself.
The living room wasn't much different, although it went through a less rigorous sterilization than the kitchen. Thick pillows of various greens and blues sat at regular intervals on the hunter green suede sofa. A plain silver lamp stood on the end table to the left, a group of candles sat on the one to the right. In the corner was my only concession to trying to bring the outside in; a large Mother In Law's Tongue plant shot its thick, green-striped leaves toward the ceiling from a terracotta pot.
Everything had its place that it never – or rarely – moved from. Every new thing purchased had gone through the same cleansing...ritual. That was the best word for it.
Various therapists had diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I wish.
Today, there was nothing to do but slouch unladylike onto the couch and stare at the black void of the television. I slid the purple gloves from my hands and the fingers on my left immediately sought out the plush comfort of the pillow next to me. The other hand hunted for the remote, which, no matter how much I tried to keep on the coffee table, always managed to get shoved into the cushions.
The television came on with a soft hum, the picture slowly coming into focus. For some reason, I had left it on MSNBC.
"...shot Sunday night on a sidewalk just a few doors from home. Milton County police are still trying to puzzle out what motive Davis' killer may have had. The seventeen year-old boy –"
I should have predicted the muted thumping from the front of the apartment. I should have known that, even though I was exhausted from work, even though I had a ton of studying to do – or, maybe, because of it – my already long day would be pulled, stretched, folded over like warm taffy.
I tossed the remote control onto the couch as I stood up, doing that absentminded walk as I tried to keep my eye on the news while moving toward the front door.
Even though I had set things up with the post office so the mail carriers could just drop anything at my door that wouldn't fit in my box outside, they still sometimes knocked. It was irritating when I was at home, but I usually just had them drop it on the floor for me until I had the energy to deal with it.
"You know, I signed the waiver," I said, as I opened the door. "So you can – "
Something large and heavy fell toward me and I instinctively reached out. My arms were suddenly full of soft wool and my hands gripped soft flesh.
I closed my eyes and cursed my lack of discipline...
...coming close enough to someone to touch them without my gloves...
I knew better – knew better – even in my own house, to not wear my gloves. They were my protection against...well, everything. The simplest brush of my fingertips could throw me into an almost catatonic state. Normally, the reaction wasn't so severe, but it had happened – only once, but it had been one time too many as far I as I concerned.
So, I wore my gloves – I had different thicknesses, different colors depending on the weather and my mood – and I stayed safe.
Most people thought the colorful accessories assumed the same function as a surgical mask, that I suffered from a phobia of contamination from dirt or germs. But microscopic organisms were the least of my worries. I hadn't, as far as I knew, ever been sick. As far as I knew, I could walk into a plague ward and come out neither sick nor a carrier.
My fears did not lie in the crippling diseases of the body, but in the terrifying insights that could – would – take over my mind.
Because, you see, I am a clairvoyant.