I’ve been blind for most of my life. Apart from contours of shadows or clouds of color, I haven’t been able to see anything past that. Ever since that fateful day that robbed me of my vision, being only 6 years old, I yearned for the chance to see once more. To remember the difference in red and blue, to see the rainbow of waves reflected through the fading blue skies, to see the bright green color of my girlfriend's eyes. I would give anything to experience what most would take for granted. That’s why when the opportunity arrived through a newspaper ad for an experimental eye surgery, I took no hesitation in signing up.
As I walked into the building, my sweaty fingers intertwined between my girlfriend’s, I could feel my nerves becoming mangled twists inside my chest. My heart quickened to the point of arrhythmia. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, just try to relax.” I exhaled a deep sigh of composure as the doctor walked towards us, my nerves only now beginning to dissipate. “Hi, I’m Doctor Slaten, I’ll be the one doing your procedure. If you would please follow me and I’ll explain the process.” I stood, holding tightly to my girlfriend's arm as she led me in the direction of the doctor. I was escorted into a brightly lit room and led onto the examination table. I listened closely as the doctor began to explain the procedure.
“As you know, this procedure is extremely experimental. We have only tested it out on lab rats, but so far it has been successful. You will be our first human recipient of this surgery.” I nodded my head, accepting of his declaration. When my girlfriend first informed me of this program, I was already well aware of the implications. I weighed my pros and cons, and figured it was in my best interest to take advantage of the opportunity. “What we will do is use your brain's natural ability to process light and exploit it. We’ll stimulate the right cortex, forcing it to project light to the optic nerve and the macula first to sharpen their ability to process shapes and colors. Then we’ll send signals to the rest of the eye and brain once they begin to improve.”
The science of it all made my brain feel as if it were being shredded by a cheese grater. Despite my lack of comprehension, I knew that this surgery would change my life. The doctor prepped me for the procedure, carefully placing specialized contact lenses onto my pupils and fitting me with unusual looking bifocals. He excused himself from the room for several minutes before returning, wheeling in a rather heavy device.
“This is the strobe light that we will use for the procedure. We’ll hook your brain up to the computers to monitor its activity while we stimulate it with patterns of light.”
I stood, slowly reaching out towards the machine. I felt its cold, metal exterior beneath my lukewarm fingers. If only I could see what it looked like. The comforting touch of my girlfriend's warm embrace allowed me to put the thought of losing my sight so suddenly out of my mind. Soon I would no longer have to dwell on that horrific night. No longer have to remember my mother’s cries as the toxic chemical spilled onto my irises, their panic-induced wails as the doctor announced to my parents that I would permanently lose my sight, the regret and resentment in my father's voice for now having to care for a disabled child. The bitter nostalgia was almost too much to bear.
I slinked back down onto the exam table as the sounds of the machine powering up pricked my ears. Following the sounds of working machinery were flashes of blinding illumination. I can usually pick up on subtle shimmers of light, but this was something even a nocturnal creature living in the depths of Antarctica would notice. The goggles lessened a bit of the sting, although the translucent beams still managed to dance around violently behind my irises. After what felt like half an hour, I heard the machine shut down and felt the goggles removed from my face. “There will be some discomfort in the eyes after the removal of the contacts, but that should diminish over the next several hours. You’ll have to wear prescription glasses for the first couple of days. Your next appointment will be a week from now. I’d advise you not to stay out in the sun for too long; it could cause irritation to the eye.”
I nodded in comprehension and thanked the doctor for the opportunity, then was escorted out by my girlfriend. On the way home, she began babbling endlessly about how the color of the machine matched my eyes and how the brazen lighting caught her off guard. The doctor had been right about the discomfort. My eyes were in more pain than Michael Spinks receiving multiple blows from Mike Tyson. Even the curative nature of pain meds couldn’t cheapen the pique. As the hours ticked by, just as the doctor promised, the pain began to disperse, and I felt better than a virgin getting his dick wet for the first time. I hadn’t taken notice of any changes within my vision but I was feeling pretty optimistic. After all, it was only the first of many surgeries to come.
Within the following week came my second surgery. The doctor once again prepped me for the procedure and wheeled in the heavy strobe light. “This time we’re going to make minute changes within the procedure. I’m going to make small incisions within the irises and insert a tiny plate behind the lens. Since the optic nerve has been exposed to the light, it should be easier to stimulate.”
“Will this incision be painful in any way?” I was shaking more than a junkie during a heroin binge.
“We will be using numbing eye drops so you shouldn’t feel too much discomfort. The procedure should only take about 10 minutes; it’ll be over before you know it”.
I didn’t take much solace in the doctor's words, but I had come too far to opt out because of a cut to the eye. I tried unsuccessfully to calm my nerves as the drops trickled onto my pupils. The numbing effects took its dominance shortly after; my eyes could’ve fallen from their sockets and rolled to the floor and I would still have the urge to blink. Imagining the scalpel slowly slinking towards my eye forced my heart to sink below the soles of my feet; my eyelids wanted desperately to shield my eyes from the oncoming danger. The moment that scalpel touched the tip of my eye I felt like a frightened kitten in room full of kennels.
The drops must’ve worked, because I couldn’t feel a thing. As he worked, the doctor described the M.O. of the surgery, detailing each incision and insertion of the plates. The surgery seemed to go by a lot faster than originally announced, which forced my quickened heartbeat under submission. Once again, I was fitted with the goggles and the blazing strobe light flickered patterns of light into my eyes. This time, however, I could see faint multicolored silhouettes of various shapes within the room. It was amazing- the shape of the machine, the outline of my girlfriend's figure, the tones and shades of the designs that lined the walls, I could see it all.
It wasn’t anything close to perfect eyesight, but it was something I never would’ve dreamed of witnessing. I never wanted the images to end, but the moment the light was switched off, the images vanished with it. I was devastated; the visions had me under their spell and I wanted nothing more than to stay within its grasp. I felt the doctor remove the goggles and tried my best to disguise my discomfort. “Ok, all done. Once again there will be some irritation in the eye for the next several hours. If the surgery is successful so far, within a couple days your vision should start to drastically improve. Before we finish up today I want to give you a shot of Hexolmaltrate. It’s a trial drug but should speed along the process. I will administer the shot just above the eye; this should only take about a minute or less for each side.”
Oh great, more sharp things near my eyes. I could feel the anxiety from before rearing up inside of me. As I felt the needle enter the fragile flesh of my eyelid, I mustered all of the stereotypical manly distractions I could to keep my mind off the pain; the numbing drops’ stronghold had long since worn off. The moment the needle plucked from my eye I wanted to run full force out of that room in fear of more scalpels and syringes. The doctor managed to put my hysteria to rest with his next words.
“Your next appointment should be your last surgery. There will be one last administration of the drug but instead of using the strobe light, we will be using small, controlled flashes of infrared wavelengths.”
“Aren’t those types of wavelengths dangerous to the human eye?” my girlfriend asked in a solemn tone.
“No, infrared light is 100% safe. There should be no ill health effects from being exposed to it.” My girlfriend and I swapped heartening glances. We both had total confidence in the surgery. Before leaving the exam room, the doctor handed me a small bottle of pills. “These are called Metrapoxial Cepridol; these are also experimental but have been proven useful in adding to the optic nerves’ ability to process images. Take 2 pills during every meal with a full glass of water.”
The doctor handed me another pair of specialized glasses and we were on our way. For the next four days, I didn’t notice any permanent changes to my eyesight and my hopes for the surgery slowly dwindled. I desperately wanted once again to marvel at the stunning silhouettes I had witnessed several days ago in the examination room. I was just about to lose hope, but two days before my last surgery, I received something far more valuable than colored shadows. I could now see full figured blurs of the objects around me. The different colorations, hues, and shades molded and compiled together to form the structures I’d lost sight for so long ago. Gratified tears flooded my face as I looked around the room in awe.
My unsteady hands coupled my eyes, exploring the objects around the room. My girlfriend watched on as I tinkered them in my hands, pairing its name to its appearance. Although they were blurry, I could identify nearly everything in my house. I could even lay my eyes on my girlfriend's beautiful green eyes for the first time. We spent the entire day roaming the landscape of our neighborhood. The colors of our surroundings were more vibrant than I could ever imagine. As my eyes scanned the area, a child-like curiosity pierced my thoughts, and I began to wonder just how much my sight could improve.
The day of my final surgery had finally arrived and I felt like a chimp in a crowded zoo with a butt-load of excrement. The doctor was captivated by my progression, feeling that the infrared lighting should cure the blurriness I was experiencing. The surgery itself took only fifteen minutes; I was so excited to see the results that I didn’t even flinch when the hexo-whatever drug was administered into my eyelids. The doctor handed me one last bottle of pills and instructed me to wear prescription glasses until the blurriness faded away. Of course I had to buy them myself, but I was prized a nifty little 50% off coupon for my participation.
Over the next few days, my sight began to drastically improve and soon the blurriness that plagued my vision had finally dispersed. Soon, my sight was completely synonymous to 20/20 vision. The water in the nearby lake was a resplendent deep blue; the grass mimicked the vivid hues of freshly ripened apples. The surrounding buildings seemed to animate under the sun's puppeteering rays. With each passing day, my sight became sharper and more precise, eventually graduating to the point of alarming concern.
About a month later, I awoke besieged by needlelike convulsions tormenting my irises. Colors swirled into frenzied starbursts, turning the familiar pigments into indistinct tinctures. The immense pain forced my addled brain into a chokehold, causing pressurized bile to leak up my esophagus. My girlfriend watched in horror as she hastily dialed the number to Dr. Slaten’s office, a voicemail prompt greeting her on the other end. We both elected to hop into the car and drive there unannounced. I opted to bring along a paper bag as a makeshift barf bag just in case. Once arriving at the hospital, my mysterious ailment seemed to get worse by the second. My vision blurred, mangling the objects around me, clouding my eyes with disorienting tangles of extrinsic colors, creating ones I’ve never seen before.
I collapsed to the floor, shrieks of excruciating pain burning from my throat and fluttering through the air. Nurses began to surround me, slowly inching closer, most likely weary of my mental health. “C-can you explain what’s wrong, sir?” one of them managed to stammer out through trembling chords. It didn’t take them long to realize my mental state wasn’t the issue. “Someone get a gurney, this man needs medical attention stat!” Somehow they managed to lift and strap my reluctant body to a gurney and wheel me to the emergency room. My girlfriend walked alongside them, trying her best to explain the situation.
“Dr. Slaten? He wasn’t worked in the medical field for over 10 years. Are you sure it was him?”
I could hear the hesitation in my girlfriend's voice as she forced out the word yes. The nurse who wheeled me to the emergency room ordered one of the others to get in touch with Dr. Slaten in any way that they could. That didn’t sit well with me. The nurses got to work, quickly putting me under the influence of anesthesia. Soon after I black out, waking again several hours later. My girlfriend stood at the edge of the bed, tears falling like pouring rain down her pale cheeks. She had a look of terror sprawled across her face. Judging the circumstances I was afraid to pry, but I had to find out what she knew.
“Dr. Slaten was fired a long time ago for deadly practices with experimental chemicals; he was working here illegally during your surgeries. I swear I didn’t know when I told you about it. This is all my fault, I should’ve checked into it. I’m so sorry, Adam.”
I was speechless. I certainly didn’t blame her, but hindsight hit me hard like a steel bat to the skull. Before I could say anything, one of the nurses came in carrying a couple papers in her hand. Something seemed a bit unusual about her. Her skin seemed to glow with a subtle orange tint, small scales slithering up her arms in a rhythmic pattern. I was sure my eyes were playing a sick practical joke on me, so I dismissed the matter for now; less than a minute later, her skin was back to normal.
“I’m sorry but we couldn’t get in touch with Dr. Slaten. It seems he’s fled the country during your month of recovery from the surgery. We were able to remove the plates he inserted into your eyes which was causing you the pain, but it looks like some minor damage has already been done. We will prescribe you specialized eye drops which should help reverse the damage, but considering we do not know the extent of the surgery that is all we can do for now. We will do a follow up with you within the next two months.”
We thanked her for the help and fiddled through the papers she handed us before she left. I couldn’t believe it. According to the papers, Dr. Slaten had been arrested for two counts of unlawful use of experimental drugs. He was imprisoned for over seven years before getting out on a “technicality”. There’s also speculation that he conducted the same experiment in two other hospitals.
Over the next couple of weeks, my vision imploded into a disarray of jumbled colorations, I was sure that the “minor damage” to my eyes was ten times worse than the nurse had led on. Just like the incident in the hospital, I began to notice a change in people's appearance. It started off as a minuscule distraction, appearing then vanishing as soon as I took notice. Some had blistering sores covering their entire body, others had flesh wounds that oozed black pulp that dripped onto the sidewalks. It was horrifying. I couldn’t so much as look at another person without being disgusted. The visions didn’t last long at first. However, they managed to get worse as time went on.
No matter where I went, the distorted features and abnormal physiques of the public seemed to follow. Almost every single one of them looked as though they were trapped in a Halloween costume they couldn’t get out of. Funny thing was I seemed to be the only one who noticed. I knew it had to be a symptom of the surgery, but that didn’t explain the reasoning behind it, or why I was experiencing them. I tried to get in touch with Dr. Slaten myself, although the task proved itself more than difficult. Even the aid of a private investigator didn’t conjure any results.
Trying to take my mind off the situation, I decided to use television as a distraction. The results of the surgery had not yet affected any of the shows I watched so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. Oh, how wrong I was. As I flipped through the channels, nearly every single person's appearance resembled that of a Lovecraftian monster. It wasn’t until landing on the news did I discover the reasoning behind their gruesome transformations. To no surprise, all of the criminals plastered over the news had the same distorted features as the others, but I began to notice a pattern within certain criminal behavior.
Thieves had burned and mutilated hands, rapists were covered in grotesque purple sores, murderers were soaked in dried blood. It was daunting. I put two and two together, quickly realizing that I could now see everyone’s true self. I couldn’t rip my eyes from the television; the situation was more than impossible to comprehend. After that every trip from my house turned into a scavenger hunt. I began taking mental notes of each characteristic, tallying them up and sorting them until they all fitted in neat, little categories. A little brainstorming and I was able to gather conclusions for each of the features.
Liars, rapists, cannibals, pedophiles, I could now identify each and every one of them. The most horrifying was the realization that most of those people were right outside my front door. I had some ounces of comfort when they only existed on t.v., but the violation of my safety forced my paranoia to skyrocket. I didn’t leave my house much after that; I couldn’t risk being stabbed in an alleyway or cooked up as a psycho's next meal. My girlfriend became increasingly worried for my health and wanted to make another appointment at the hospital but I stopped her. I knew for a while now, I long since saw the changes in her features, I just couldn’t bring myself to confront her. Her skin had turned a faded blue hue, burn marks and scars littered across her body. I knew exactly what it meant- prostitute.
How could so many live their lives through latent veils while wearing masks of artificial personas? It was so easy for them to hide their true selves in a world so manufactured that it frightened me. How many others were there? How many can claim truth to the personage they paraded? The more I contemplated the idea the more my fear turned to rage. What right did they have to hide themselves while so many others tried desperately to live honest lives? What gave them the right to strip me and so many others of their credulous havens of ignorance? I wanted to rid the world of its evils, to revive the safety I had felt when I was a child, when I was blind. My girlfriend’s flaccid body lay in bed as I quietly left my house. I hopped into my car, tightly gripping the steering wheel and staring down at my bloodstained hands as I started the ignition.