When I was very young, I sewed my eyes shut.
Like all stories, there are details and particulars, but the part that matters is this: once, when I was very young, I decided that I would rather not see anymore, because once, I was almost eaten by a monster. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Later, in the long blind time that followed, I listened to tales the demon men told. Fables full of platitudes. Their words confused me. Demon girls are indestructible, which was not true, because I had watched countless other girls bleed and break and shriek as they died. Demons girls are the fiercest creatures in the world. But the monster had been fiercer. Demon girls feel no pain. But when I held the threaded needle and slipped the point through the skin of my eyelid, it hurt.
Being blind was a welcome thing, and although the stories of invincibility were untrue, demon girls are sturdy. I could live comfortably without sleeping, without water or food. I had an idea that, if necessary, I could live without air. I lived in a box, looked after by one of the collections agents, a man named Moloch, whose face I had never seen.
To me, Moloch was a feeling. He was a pair of hands. He sat behind me, fingers guiding mine, and shaped letters with a brush. Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese. He said the characters into my ear like poems. Time passed, but like a slow, meandering breeze, and I was happy.
When I was very small, I never wanted to be put down. With Moloch’s cheek resting against mine, everything showed clearly. Pictures came and faded again, the world revealing itself in flashes. When he said the words for things, I could see them, vivid and alone—one solid object rotating in space, without the chaos of the world to obscure it.
His work for the devil was serious and demanding. It took him around the world, which was a confusing thing. I saw tangled pictures in his head, and sometimes it looked like buildings and teeming streets, forests and meadows and water. And sometimes, it looked like a blue and green ball small enough to hold in his hands. I lay in my box and imagined the grim possibility that he would not come back.
Every time he opened the lid to take me out, it was like a familiar record, hissing and crackling, starting over. Until, at last, he came back to me smelling like hot, stifling woodsmoke, and the sea.
I had grown too big to hold by then and so I sat cross-legged on the floor. I wanted him to put his forehead to mine and show me the fires he had witnessed, trees and prairies burning, but he didn’t tell me where he’d been.
Instead, he sighed. “I’ve made you into a doll,” he told me, and his voice was painful. He was holding my face between his hands and his palms were warm. “I shouldn’t have kept you here.”
“Where is here?” Which was a pointless question. Here didn’t matter. The box where I lived was long and narrow. It was the world.
He leaned close anyway, to show me the surroundings. With his cheek against mine, I saw the place in changing frames. A small, crowded room with a peaked ceiling, red walls, red sofa, chair, and carpet. In his mind I saw bags and boxes, all the other things he had collected and stored away. There were carved figurines and stringed instruments and books and a cracked snowglobe. Attic was the word that beat in his head, attic and attic and attic. There were no other blind, sturdy girls.
“How long have you kept me here?”
“Years,” Moloch said. “Much longer than is decent or right. But I can’t in good conscience keep doing it. I’m going to fix you.”
I did not ask whether men like him could actually be said to have a conscience. “I don’t want you to.”
“Don’t make this difficult,” he said.
“I’m not making it anything. It’s just difficult by itself—without me.” I sat very still and when he moved closer, I pulled away. I lay down.
“Will you cry when I do this?” he said.
“I need you to promise. I’ll be doing some blade-work here and I need to know that you’ll keep still and not go squirming and weeping all over the place.”
I lay with my fingers sunk deep in the pile of the carpet and the floor felt hard beneath. “I’ve never cried.”
“Ah, well, the millennium is young.” He sounded sad, and like he might be smiling. “I imagine that little life-experience is only a matter of time. After all, the world is incurably heartbreaking.”
“Why are you doing this to me, then?”
“Because the world is heartbreaking, but you lying around useless in a box like this—this is death.”
I ran my fingers over the carpet and did not answer. I had sewed my eyes shut to keep out the world and now the world was coming in.
Moloch was a glowing shape against my eyelids suddenly, sea-green, twinkling with gold. He shone with the patient colors of duty and solitude. “Sweetness,” he said in a grave, steady voice. “This has gone on too long. You need to be able to see again.”
The floor was level and solid against my back. “I can see you already.”
When he held my chin in the palm of his hand, his fingers on my jaw were capable. The blade was cold as it touched my eyelids. I did not move and I did not cry. The thread fell away in soft whispers against my cheeks.
When my eyes opened, the light of the room was so bright that I thought the world was coming to an end.
Above me, Moloch hovered, wavering around the edges. I had never seen him, but I’d been hearing his voice all my life.
I thought of the righteous monster, wrath of God, all teeth and claws and hunger. “I want to stay here, in the attic and the box, where it’s safe. What if she comes again?”
“She will,” he said, and I still could not make out his expression. “It’s just the way of the world. You and I, kitten? We’re abominations in the eyes of God and you had better get used to that.”
“If He’s God, He can do whatever He wants. He doesn’t have to look at us.”
Moloch laughed and sounded like he would rather not have. “Well, He makes His own divine policy, has His own messenger of vengeance, and she might come at any time. It’s just uncertainty. We live with it, and it makes you no different from anyone else.”
My eyes were full of a clear, stinging water that made the light tremble and blur, but I was not crying. “So this is the condition—the price for being bad, for being a demon?”
“No,” said Moloch, holding the scalpel, looking down into my face. “It’s the price you pay for being alive.”