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Through Empty Eyes

A world separated by glass

By Christiane WinterPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 12 min read
Top Story - January 2023
94
Through Empty Eyes
Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room.

She spent long hours perched by the alcove window - a rare amenity for a no-frills New York City apartment, she had heard. For the "low, low" price of $2950, they, too, could have a heavily obstructed view of the Hudson river, barely gleaming out from behind the mammoth, pre-war brick and mortar apartment complex behind his. A 450 square foot 'paradise' in the city that never sleeps- laughable, but it wasn't as if either of them needed much space. Besides- while she was sure the Hudson was beautiful in all of its glory, she much preferred the view she did have: endless rows of windows in the building just across the way gave her a peek into the daily lives of people she had begun to see as friends. It was an intimate relationship she shared with them- seeing their most private and vulnerable moments through the filmy annealed glass. She couldn't speak to them, but she loved every single one of them. She had seen romances blossom, and friendships end. She had seen age wash over faces once young and full of promise. She had seen love and loss, grief and joy; the taste of those things was as close to feeling them herself as she ever needed. She'd resigned herself to watch over them for as long as she'd have this window. She wondered, on the lonelier nights, if they ever looked back at her, too.

The apartment was cold, tonight, she thought. It had to be. There was a particular sadness in the air that only came with the early darkening of the sky and the appearance of puffy coats in the windows across the way. In her minds eye, she imagined what the chilly air might feel like; the sensation of flushed cheeks and numb fingers stuffed into fleece lined pockets. Across the way, two windows up and one over, she saw a couple she had named Beatrice and Thomas exchange a kiss. She coveted the idea of this sensation as well, adding to her fantasy the feeling of a warm hand wrapped around hers as lips pressed against the flesh she did not have.

She had not been born, but made. Created with the love of a mother, but not one directed at her. Her body had been carefully stitched together with the finest fabrics a struggling young woman could afford, two pearlescent blue, button eyes adorning her face. Over the years, she had been mended, bits and pieces of her replaced until there was none of the original left, the discarded scraps rending away each memory that came with the time they had been a part of her. All she could remember now was the little boy who had loved her, and the man he had grown into. Toby. The man who had brought her to this 450 square foot universe, the biggest she'd ever know.

She could not turn to see him, but she felt the vibration of the door to the meager studio shutting firmly, heavy footsteps bounding towards her place on the cushioned seat. With a pronounced 'thunk', he placed his respirator beside her and leaned forward to peer out the window.

"I went by the hospital today" Toby started, shifting his weight uncomfortably.

"They think they're on the verge of a breakthrough. Transferred some poor bastards consciousness into a rat, of all things. Sayin' it's a good thing since it's the first 'organic', which is meant to be comforting, I guess. Like squeaking is s'posed to be better than silence. Hah!" Shaking his head, he let out a soft, chortling exhale. "I'm not too keen on doin' that to you. I wish there was a way you could tell me what you want."

All she wanted was for him to hold her, she thought.

"Not knowin', that's the worst part. Are you happy in there? D'you wanna be put into a rat?" He emphasized. "...Are you even in there at all?"

I'm here she wanted to shout. She willed with all of her might that he'd understand. She wasn't sure what a rat was, but it didn't sound too pleasant, from his tone.

Sighing, he tossed his respirator to the side and sat next to her, curling a leg underneath himself to face her.

"I miss you, Ma."

Ma?

"I bet when you made this doll, you didn't figure you'd be livin' in her one day, huh?" he said softly, gingerly lifting her to his face. His eyes grew stormy as he stroked a speck of dust from her cloth cheek. "If you could talk...would you tell me to let you go?"

A deep sense of unease overtook her at his words- ones that felt familiar somehow, as if they had been repeated on countless frigid evenings, a prayer for clarity that she herself did not have within her to give to him. She was certain her head would have ached, had it the capacity to do so. Confusion threatened to split the seams of her burlap body, radiating through every part of her as she chased even a fraction of memory. She had been with him all of his life, of that she was certain. What she couldn't reconcile, was that she only remembered being within the four walls of this apartment. How, then, did she know of his childhood? How could she be aware of things that she couldn't recall?

Reality set back in as a tear fell from Tobys eye and dampened the fabric of her face- and for the first time, she wondered how many turns of the clock had happened to change him so. She remembered her first glimpse of her surroundings- Toby had carefully unwrapped her, eyes glistening with the same sorrow they held now. Back then, his cheeks were plump with the vitality of youth, copper ringlets encircling his head like a wildfire. The gaunt and greying man who looked at her now would have been unrecognizable, if not for the inextinguishable kindness that permeated his gaze. She studied the deep creases of his skin with the same intensity she had devoted to the strangers across the way, and instead of the usual longing she felt for their lives, she felt guilt for the way his had unfolded. She couldn't ascertain why- she had always been happy for his company, and he seemed to welcome hers with the same veracity, but she felt a responsibility for the pain etched into the crevasses of his skin. She had failed him in some way- if she could only recall how. She had never given much regard to his life outside of their home; she had assumed that his life was as full of color as the neighbors she admired, but that notion was quickly fading.

Toby rose from the nook, a cloud of dust following him as he stood, particles dwindling in the sliver of moonlight he left behind.

"It's been 20 years, Ma. I'm older than you, now!" he chuckled, wiping the tears from his grizzled eyes. "Maybe i'm just talkin' to myself at this point. Hell, maybe I have been this whole time, and these shit stains have just been swindlin' me, y'know?" He paused, rubbing the stubble on his chin. "I dunno. You probably don't even know who I am. I've read those contracts how many times? I know they did some kinda thing to your memories so it wouldn't hurt so much to be in...well, that." He gestured to her body. "You think they'd do that for me, too, if I asked real nice?" He scraped his foot against the floor, a nervous habit he'd always had. 'Chicken digging', he'd been known to call it. "I guess i'm not s'posed to be tellin' you all this. Bad for the inhibitor, or whatever they wanna call it. But you'd wanna know. I know you would. This ain't no life for you." Toby took a few wide strides across the room, deftly grabbing a bottle from under the bed, popping the cap off with a callused thumb. "Even if they told me today that they could make you whole again, I gotta be real- I dunno if this is a world you'd wanna come back to." he tentatively pressed the bottle to his lips, pausing for a moment before taking a long swig of the murky liquid. "Salut, ma. I love ya."

Ma. She turned the word over in her mind, examining it with a nearly surgical precision, inspecting every feeling that came with it's definition. Ma. A colloquial term for Mother. She knew the meaning of the word. She had longed for Motherhood, perhaps more than any other sensation. Watching the families across the way always sparked a particularly bittersweet yearning, knowing that she could never take care of someone- not when she couldn't run, or jump, or play. Not when she couldn't so much as move or speak. All she had to give was love, and even that could never be expressed. She could only sit and observe as the world carried on without her contributions. She had been content with this, knowing that happiness was abundant, with or without her participation. Now, that contentedness faltered with a single word from Tobys lips: Ma.

Toby bit his lip, lost in thoughts of his own, before chugging the remainder of the bottles contents. "Okay. I've made my mind up!" he smiled weakly, idly twirling the now empty container. "Just like you used to say, huh? Guess you still managed to rub off on me after all of these years." He pulled a chair up to the nook, turning her to face him on the window bench. He coughed, scratching the back of his head before pulling a small, metal tablet from his grimy coat pocket. Frowning, he gave it a few taps before it's surface illuminated. "Password...Agree...Yes...I consent...Okay! Now we're cookin' with fire." He looked up and hesitated at the sight of her, pausing before releasing a solemn laugh. "Alright, Ma. Welcome to your funeral."

He turned the screen to face her, taking care to ensure that she was positioned comfortably. She could not experience physical distress, he knew. It was more for him, anyway. He wanted to feel that he had done everything he could, right until the last moment. He closed his eyes. "Play sequence." He barely managed to choke out.

The screen of the device flickered, and then focused into an image of a wall- bright white and blue, separated by a crisp line of gold. The words "The Consciousness Continuum Corporation" were embossed boldly onto this barrier, polished to a shine so lustrous, the distorted reflection of a video camera could be seen twisted against the corner of the third 'O'. A crisp melody began to play, too harsh to be appealing, stark and corporate in its imitation of beauty. A pale, blonde woman strode gracefully into the frame from stage left, platinum hair pulled as taught as the unsettling ivory smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Hello," the mysterious woman started, emulating cheerfulness; "My name is Elizabeth, and I am a representative of the CCC!" Elizabeth turned on her heel, sweeping an arm behind herself mechanically to motion at the gilded lettering on the wall. "If you are watching this video, your assigned guardian has elected to suspend your participation in what we call the Life Extension Initiative. While we are sad to see you go, the good news is, you're about to learn everything there is to know about you!" Elizabeth cleared her throat almost imperceptibly before continuing: "We will now deactivate your inhibitor. This will allow you to access all of your pre-transfer memories! At the end of this sequence, you will find yourself drifting off to your final rest. On behalf of all of us at CCC, thank you for helping us to save lives, and Godspeed!”

With that, the screen abruptly snapped to black.

Toby flinched, thumbing a silver pendant that hung from his neck. He grunted, steeling himself as he slid a panel down the front of it with a quiet snap, revealing a small, black button. His eyes traveled once more to the doll, his resolve a moment from crumbling. “I’m gonna say somethin’ I should have said to you a long time ago.” He shut his eyes tightly as they welled up with tears, and placed his finger over the obsidian switch. “Goodbye, Ma.”

Flashes of memory cut through her mind like shrapnel, her vision of reality melting away as images of the past invaded her senses. She fought with all of her might against them, against what that woman in the video told her would happen. What good was remembering a version of herself that was a stranger? She would lose all that she had grown to care for- what would become of the whirlwind romance between Beatrice and Thomas, or the elderly, blue haired woman and the delightful orange creature that was so often curled on her lap? More importantly, what would happen to Toby? What would happen to her son?

My son she thought, as the recollections grew stronger. Toby is my son.

I want to remember.

All at once, she succumbed to the blissful memories that overtook her. For the first time, she could feel the warm sun beating down on her back, and a breeze rippling through her closely cropped hair. Her hand was clammy from the vice grip of the child beside her, a cherubic young boy with ringlets the color of the dusk. He smiled a toothy grin and pulled her insistently. "C'mon Mama, c'mon!" he pleaded. She obliged, feeling the tickle of grass on her heels as they walked. She could see a little yellow house not too far in the distance - their home. The scenery began to change around them rapidly as they made their way towards their destination, reflections of all of the places they had been and the times they had spent together. They, too, changed with the landscape, the sands of time adorning her face with the marks of a life well lived as he grew stronger and taller beside her. The house was not too far off now, and before long, he had begun to grow older than her, his hand spotted with age. By the time they reached the door, she recognized him as the Toby she had known through her years in the alcove window. She turned towards the door, knowing he could no longer follow her where she was going. Slipping her hand away from his grip, she stroked the lines on his face, doing her best to still her quivering smile.

"Alright, Toby. I've made my mind up!" Together, they let out a pained laugh, and she wiped a tear from her eye as she backed away. "And you're right, I would have hated being a rat."

With that, she turned and stepped through the door.

Toby fell to his knees, the hard stone floor of his studio sending a wrenching pain through them. He mourned for his Mother, a woman he knew had been gone long before he had gained the courage to say goodbye.

On the windowsill, the doll she had made for him peered out into the night through empty eyes.

Short Story
94

About the Creator

Christiane Winter

Science fiction, horror, and dark comedy enthusiast. I have been a GM for D&D for 10 years, playing for nearly 20. Like all aspiring authors, I have hundreds of stories, and almost none have been finished.

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (29)

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  • Quincy.Vabout a year ago

    "I love how you managed to create such a creepy atmosphere with your writing. I felt like I was there with the characters, experiencing everything they were going through."

  • Theis Orionabout a year ago

    I love unsettling, incomplete reveal moments. There are so many in here, and each has so much texture to it. Your hundreds of stories have yielded a well-honed craft. Impressive.

  • KSabout a year ago

    This was really good! A very moving piece.

  • Annie B.about a year ago

    What a stunning story. I love the way you revealed the protagonist's true form- subtly, and then all at once. Well played.

  • Alison McBainabout a year ago

    A poignant moment of grief and letting go. Beautifully written. Congrats!

  • Andrew Scottabout a year ago

    Rare for me to leave a comment on a work of fiction. Interesting, thought provoking, and so very well executed. "Filmy annealed glass" ... delicious! Here's a question for you: wouldn't artificial extension to life make the fear of death that lurks beneath the surface of our conscious mind even worse than it is now?

  • Kathy Sakamotoabout a year ago

    Oh so sad. But beautifully written.

  • VANDANA YADAVabout a year ago

    amazing

  • Matthew Perrinoabout a year ago

    Awesome! Really original and unique take on this prompt.

  • Denise Larkinabout a year ago

    Excellent story. It deserves first place.

  • Caroline Janeabout a year ago

    Fantastic story. Thoroughly enjoyed this. Well done!

  • Eva Marie Chastain about a year ago

    Brilliant. I'm a huge scifi fan; from the great to the horrible to the patently absurd, I love it all. Old school Asimov, P.K. Dick, N. Stephenson and more recently Cline, Lecke, et al, and I've probably read Neuromancer at least eight times....so I know me some Sci fi. That story was fresh, engaging and my only complaint is that it didn't last longer!!! (I love world building). It was perfectly proportioned, tho; I especially liked how u wrapped it up quickly after the reveal. I always struggle with that. Also, I really appreciated what u said about having hundreds of stories with no ends...I honestly thought myself unique in my struggle to keep inspiration alive longer than - or leastways as long as - my narrative. Congratulations on the win! Well deserved indeed. ✌️

  • Alex H Mittelman about a year ago

    Great story!

  • Canuck Scriberabout a year ago

    Painful and remedied. Great Sci Fi, enjoyed reading it. Happy to subscribe to your work.

  • The Invisible Writerabout a year ago

    beautifully written. So original.

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a year ago

    Congratulations on winning!! Hearted You’re a deep and detailed writer

  • Clemin Thymeabout a year ago

    A delightful story of delusion. Thank you, Christiane

  • Dwayne O Connorabout a year ago

    You really inspired me to do better. This is excellent

  • Mhairi Campbell about a year ago

    Amazingly written story! It also reminds me of the Black mirror episode with the consciousness in a toy, were you inspired by it?

  • Aphoticabout a year ago

    Original and well written, great work!

  • Gal Muxabout a year ago

    Straight out of Black Mirror! Wonderful!

  • Sid Aaron Hirjiabout a year ago

    Well deserved. Thanks for the story

  • Shane Dobbieabout a year ago

    Well deserved win. This is excellent stuff.

  • Dean F. Hardyabout a year ago

    Congrats on your win. The image to go with the piece really helped set the tone from the get go. I've subscribed. Hope there's some more stories on the way.

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