Black obsidian looked back at Jason: a few feet from his face, the giant statue of his own eye hovered heavily above the canyon. The pedestal of the shining Ocularity jutted out at the tip of the narrow path of land jutting out over Colorado River’s millions of years. Around him, the red rock of Glen Canyon exuded sensation. Roiling storm clouds led the indefinite grey horizon on a charge against the twilit cobalt sky.
The rain splashed off the statue into his eye, and back again. The wind gusted him nearly into the yawning space below, and he turned to put one foot directly in front of the other on the rocky narrows. Wind knocked him to his knees, and he crawled along, gripping the sides with his hands, his thumbs holding onto the top’s flat surface. He reached the edge where he could stand up, and walked a few yards toward a Manzanita bush. He turned back around and stared at the eye.
“What See You?” he asked, to trigger interrogation. The degree of automatic judgment against him during Ocularization had not been revealed. He sweated. He thought he should jump. To motivate himself to be brave, he imagined touching the face of the mysterious woman with auburn hair. Yes, survival was worth struggle.
A storm blowing onto the statue from behind was lit by the rising moon. The Ocularity swiveled around on its axis to watch the spectacle.
Jason’s body tensed. Could he run out, risking the wind and the slippery wetness, pushing the Ocularity over into the abyss? If it smashed, the record of his life would be unavailable. He would be safe from punishment, unless he went down with it.
But though he prepared to run, he knew no one could dislodge it without the help of lightning. He tightened the muscles along his scalp and arms, and felt testosterone-mastery over the elements. He stared at the mirroring eye. It turned back around to face him.
It was the only tall spire on the horizon anywhere. He was the second tallest, and the most shaped like an antenna, more vulnerable to an electrical strike than the Ocularity. The thunder shook his ears. He could die.
He took off his shoes for better grip on the wet rock, girded his loins, took a deep breath, and ran along the narrow path jutting out into the vast canyon, his arms out to his sides for balance. He grasped onto the Ocularity constantly re-configuring his grip as his hands slipped on the wide round surface in the rain. He shivered as the evening cold fell on his face pressed against the veiny stone.
He waited as the storm reached its peak. He decided he was silly for expecting anything to happen.
He had a split second when lightning struck to manage to pull away from the Ocularity so he wouldn’t be part of the direct hit. It flashed, the sound numbing his ear-drums. He flung his arms open from the Ocularity, taking fast steps backwards from the blast while balancing on a foot of earth. He waited for the eye to cool enough to be touched, yet remain malleable.
The pupil dilated, and knocked him down. His field of vision darkened. He was sucked inside the eye, which was larger on the inside. He rationalized it was bigger because of rounded walls covered with mirrors. The wireless optic nerve center ,which apparently used to communicate everything in reverse to headquarters, looked partially fried. Jason looked around trying to piece together this puzzle.
The Ocularity swayed, and he held onto a cord, as if that would save him if the eye fell to the bottom of the canyon floor.
The face of the mystery woman flashed before him in the bright aftermath of the lighting, a gold blotch everywhere he looked. He winced, insecure remembering the day he’d left home in a hurry directly after showering, his hair flattened on his head, showing how pointed his scalp was. She never saw him a day he had just gotten done at the gym, his muscles bulging extra large in his tight shirt, his agility obvious by the bounce in his rubber soles. Maybe she watched him all the time. Maybe she was a superior at the Lab. Maybe they tested people with sensitive information this way.
Why did she show up around street corners, and walk on past, and why did she call him and ask him to go to empty offices around the city, with only her at the desk, and then stare at him?
How had she gotten his number and how did she know his name? Why did she call ahead at restaurants he went to and ask the waiter to pass him an enigmatic note from her? And why only when he went to restaurants where the walls were covered in mirrors?
Why had she given him the map to the Ocularity, with instructions to say “What See You”? She had called him to the empty bar downtown to sit in front of the mirrors on the stools drinking absinthe, staring at each other, saying nothing. Then, she handed it to him.
The map was covered with red lines, like sclera on the white of an eye. Jason wondered how the maker of the Ocularity knew his eyes. The dark patch in the “kidney zone” came from his kick to it during a game. He noticed gold flecks in the eyes. Had the maker of Ocularium had studied an eye scan used to identify him when entering the building where he worked, the Federal Surveillance Lab?
The swaying stopped, and he felt no longer about to tumble inside a ball of mirrors and silver gadgets. He shook out his arms and hands, breathed. He cried.
He explored, taking off his clothes to cool his skin. He put them on the floor, avoiding burning his feet. He didn’t yet know if he was being recorded. He had no idea what the Ocularity did, though he was convinced it relayed everything he’d seen in his life to headquarters for the sake of judgment, humiliation – or possibly forgiveness.
Impulse made him flip a large lever. The mirrored walls that reflected repeated infinitely in all directions of dome-shaped reality darkened. A dream he had experienced that morning displayed in front of him on the shiny surface, mirroring a dream from the beginning of the night, which was going on behind him. Their reflections interchanged and interwove with other dreams on the sides, all of them morphing into each other’s scenes, trading characters, their costumes correct for the other dreams, not theirs, their dialogues interrupting each other with stories about previous nights’ dreams, which began to intrude and argue, some of them catching his eye with naked ladies.
One dream was predicted his situation: he had to nakedly walk a tightrope above that very canyon, while a rusted clown with a frightening orange afro nodded and took notes, ticking off his successes and failures, before Jason fell to his death below.
When he fell off the tightrope, all the other dream characters watched. One jumped down after him, grabbing him in his strong fresh-from-the-gym arms, and flew him back to safety.
This was collection and projection surveillance, he decided, a magical out-cropping of advanced technology employed at the Lab against ordinary activists, people useful for possible CIA work so undercover even they don’t even know: dream-hacking. Some of the employees swayed public opinion using subliminal propaganda movies en masse. Jason was one of the carriers.
The sub-movies played continually on the surface of their dark sunglasses. He was supposed to wear those glasses on his commute to the underground facility. He was never allowed to know how they extracted from the others around him information about what they needed to “see” in order to be brought back into line. The movies would play out in distorted ways in people’s dreams.
He knew he was meant for better things than categorizing how to record relevant images from criminal’s dreams and memories – he was ready for some fantastical role in the future of the universe.
His goals changed. He wanted heroism. And he hoped this was a dramatic test — to have a date with the red haired woman, a chance to show her what he was made of, and woo her for life. He thought that was the intention of the map-gift.
Ocularity: “A measure of the number of eyes needed to see something.”
He flipped the lever another notch. He then realized why the Ocularity was larger than it appeared. It was space itself, not to mention time. He didn’t like that, and flipped it to the next notch.
He felt the woman’s hand on his. “Oh, hello . . . Can’t you tell me your name, at least? After all this?”
“I’m Dynasty,” she said.
Embarrassed by his nakedness, he awkwardly put his pants on. He reached out and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, or why you’re here.” He touched her arm, and for a moment, left his hand there. He leaned back, and smiled.
“I’ve been watching you,” she said.
He at once blushed with embarrassment over his secrets — the way he pressed his hand into his cheek when he worked, distorting his face. He wished he’d been keeping his closet more organized. He hoped she’d seen him rescue spiders. He wanted to her know he gave money to people on sidewalks. He let flowers live. His world hinged on that moment.
“It’s past your dog’s meal-time,” she said. “You should go home and feed him now. Thank you for coming.”
Maybe she would feed their dog on weekends and he would feed him on weekdays, and she might even understand why he gave the dog raw organic beef, the healthiest because of the available enzymes. This was like having God for a Girlfriend.
He shakily exited the Ocularium. Smiling, he reached back to help her exit, but once outside, he saw nothing but the darkness of a dark pupil that contracted immediately to stare at him with what felt, because of its tiny size, like a steely glare.
He tried to go inside it again, desperately pushing on it, lunging up against it, kicking the rock around it. “Answer me?” he called to her. The Ocularity swayed farther over the edge of the canyon. It snapped.
He jumped backward, nearly falling off the narrows himself.
The pedestal gave way, the hollow Ocularity, with the mystery woman inside of it, falling down, down through the maroon canyon, into the Colorado River.
Jason cried out as he balanced on the edge of the narrows.
As the Ocularity disappeared into the water, Jason went blind.
Life made sense. Once blind, he could see everything.
He bowed to all, before feeling his way in the rain toward solid ground.
Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing with UCLA X Writing Program, Writers College, and her own academy, featuring Interstitial Fiction Genres: Magical Realism, New Wave Fabulism, Surrealism, Slipstream, and Weird. http://lucidmembrane.weebly.com/