They’d warned me that Kevin, Leila’s brother, was blind, but I guess I wasn’t really prepared for it. I’d seen blind people in the movies and they were always very unremarkable about being blind. You know, like even though they were blind, they’d compensated for it with super hearing and a great sense of their surroundings. So mostly what you had to watch out for was not sneaking up on them or doing something insensitive like asking them to pass the salt.
Kevin wasn’t like that.
But his blindness wasn’t the first thing that hit me, even so. The first thing that struck me about him was how freaking perfect he was. When Leila led me into the high-ceilinged dining room, mist pressing up against the tall, narrow windows outside, I heard breathing across the room and saw Kevin standing in the opposite doorway. Tall, dark and handsome? He had the bases covered. He was this tall lanky guy with dark curls and absolutely dreamy blue eyes and there was a set to his shoulders that made me think about what he’d look like shirtless.
Wrong, I know. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it.
“Kev,” Leila said, and he didn’t move. “My friend Alex’s here. Girl-Alex.”
That was the first clue that his beautiful eyes, light and ringed with darker blue, were useless. Because my bushy blonde hair and ski-jump nose tipped most people off to my girlness right away.
“Hi,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
Kevin turned away without answering and headed back down the hall, one hand skimming along the wall as he did. Leila cast an apologetic look in my direction. Back in the hall, Kevin stumbled over a narrow table. His hands fumbled over the top of it, found a grip on either side, and then smashed it into the wall. Glass shrilled as it fell to the wood floor.
He backed away from the mess he’d left, shoulders crashing into the wall behind him as he misjudged the distance, and then felt his way through another doorway.
I didn’t say anything, and neither did Leila. She just sort of chewed on her lip in an embarrassed way.
“He’s still getting used to it,” a voice said behind us. I knew before turning that it was Leila’s mother; I’d heard her breathy voice on the phone before. When we turned, she was smiling in that bright, shiny way that my mom did when there was not too much to smile about. “He didn’t really have a lot of warning. We all lose things that we think we can’t live without. He’ll come round to you, Alex. He’s just embarrassed.”
Later, in Leila’s bedroom, the cold gray evening seeping through the windows, smelling of lake, we lay on Leila’s bed and she told me that it was retinal separation or something like that, and that they’d discovered it on his eighteenth birthday. Light to complete dark in thirty days.
I looked out the window. All I could see from here were colorless clouds and the tops of the weeping willows that surrounded the house, all painted in shades of blue and gray and dull green. There wasn’t much to see at the Connollys’ old stone house, even if you did have eyes.
“He’s a horrible person now,” Leila said. She showed me where she’d written retinal in her diary, four months earlier. She had very girly handwriting. “He’s better when Dad’s here, but Dad’s on a business trip. Mom says he’ll get used to it, but he doesn’t want to. He just wants us to hate him.”
Outside, the wind moved through the willow branches. I couldn’t see the willows moving from where I was, but I could hear it rustling through the leaves. I wondered what kind of blind person I would make.
So I got out of bed and found my jeans without difficulty. There wasn’t much difference between day and night here, it seemed, because the full moon outside glowed through the mist and lit the room just as well as the hidden sun had. Bare-footed, I padded out of the room and down the hall. I paused by a door with sounds coming from behind it; someone other than me couldn’t sleep. The muffled noise was of someone pawing, digging through stuff.
The light was on, shining in a thin light under the door, so I knew it wasn’t Kevin.
At the next door, I recognized the breathing on the other side from earlier that day. I knocked softly with the back of my hand, and even though there was no response, it seemed like a listening sort of no response. So I pushed the door open and went in.
Kevin sat on his bed, a guitar laying next to him, and he turned his face toward the door even though his eyes couldn’t get a fix on me. His expression was so aggressive that I was surprised by the sound of his voice whispering, “Who is it?”
“Alex. I can’t sleep.” I came in and sat down on the end of his bed, jumping and generally being noisy about it so he’d know where I was.
“So you decided to come and wake me up instead?” No humor in his voice.
“You weren’t sleeping. Do you play that?” I realized he couldn’t see me gesturing to the guitar and added, “The guitar.”
“I know what you meant,” Kevin said. “And only when I have to.”
Behind him, on the wall, charcoal drawings wrestled for space with band posters and weird, beautiful, 3D murals with nails and rivets glued onto them. Some of the images were half torn down and remained where he’d thrown them on the floor.
I tried to think of what people would have already told Kevin about being blind and what I’d want to hear if I had just lost my sight. I couldn’t think of anything, so I just asked a question. “Can you see in your dreams?”
Kevin closed his eyes.
“I’m blind in my dreams,” I told him. “I dream all the time about everything getting fuzzy and then black and then I just can’t see anything. People have to lead me around. I’m quite good at it, in my dreams. I think I’d make an excellent blind person in real life.”
He opened his eyes again, and they were as startlingly beautiful as the first time I saw them. “You’re horribly tactless.”
“I know,” I said.
“Thanks for that,” he said, and he sounded like he meant it.
There was a tapping sound then, and Kevin turned his head sharply towards the window. He reached out, groping, in my direction, and I stared at his fingers, light shapes in the gray darkness, for a moment before putting my hand in it. He jerked my hand in the direction of the window, gesturing. “Do you see anything?”
“No,” I said, just as another tap came. But I didn’t need to see anything; I recognized the sound of a pebble on glass. Whoever was throwing had a good arm; Kevin’s room was on the second floor, facing the long sloping bank that led to the pond. “Who’s out there?”
Kevin didn’t answer. Another tap, a little louder. And a
nother. This time I saw the pebble dance off the glass before ricocheting back into the mist.
“Pretend you’re sleeping,” Kevin whispered to me. “Pretend like you can’t hear it and maybe they’ll go away.”
Another tap, harder, smacking against the glass. It must’ve taken a lot of force to throw a pebble all that way and still get it to rap that hard.
I let Kevin pull me down beside him, my head on his pillow. We lay facing each other, our hands crushed between us, and I could feel his heart pounding through his shirt. Or maybe it was mine. Kevin’s eyes were open, unfocused, moving as if suddenly he would be able to see me.
“Don’t move,” he breathed, “Don’t move, Alex.”
A hand slapped the window pane.
I watched it drag a slow print through the condensation on the outside of the glass.
“Kevin,” I whispered, and my voice sort of caught on the second half of his name. “I saw something.”
The odor of brine and rot wafted into the room, and Kevin shivered.
“Kevin,” said the mist. It rolled the name, sighed it, insisted it. There were a lot of voices. “Kevin. Kevin. Come out or we’ll come in.”
“I have to go,” Kevin said. “Go back to Leila’s room.”
“Where are you going?” I couldn’t stop looking at the still-streaky hand print on the glass.
Kevin sat up. “Outside. To them. If I don’t play for them, they’ll come in again, this time for Leila, and screw that. Screw that.”
“What are they?”
He got his guitar. “How the hell should I know? I can’t see, remember?”
I couldn’t imagine being that brave, or that stupid, or that suicidal. But I could imagine going with him, so I said, “But I can.”
As we made our way to the lake across the close cropped grass, my feet cold and wet in the dew, the branches of the willows dragged over our shoulders. I looked for the source of the voices, but saw nothing. I could hear their voices still, though, their singing hanging in the air like the mist.
And then we were by the lakeside, and I pulled Kevin’s shirt to stop him from stepping into it. Sitting in the soft clay of the bank, Kevin pulled his guitar onto his lap.
“What do you see?” he asked me.
I was about to say that I didn’t see anything when the water shivered and broke at our feet. I crouched behind Kevin, my hand on his shoulder, and watched faces rise out of the lake. Girls — pale, shining hair, smooth, green skin, features perfect in every way. They laughed and pushed each other, water streaming from their nostrils and mouths. My brain searched for a word for them, because girl wasn’t right. Nymph, maybe, or sea monster.
“Kevin,” they said, and their voices lapped against the shore. “Kevin, sing for us and we’ll sing for you.”
More of them lifted out of the water, farther away from the shore, until thirteen of them dotted the water between us and the island that jutted dimly from the middle of the dark lake surface. I saw lumps of fur lying on the sandy beach of the island, but they weren’t moving.
Kevin looked up at them, past them into the night, eyes blank, and strummed a chord. They shrilled their delight, a weird sound that was a cross between a bird call and a whale song.
As he strummed another chord, the nymphs splashed and jostled closer, their fingers too long, with too many joints, and their jaws opening wider than they should have.
“Kevin,” I said, because I had suddenly seen something. “They have –” I stopped, because they were all looking at me now. Thirteen milky gray eyes, like the eyes of deep sea fish.
I couldn’t say what I’d seen: three of the nymphs passing something between themselves, laughing and licking and sniffing it. Something that looked like two pale blue skins, each barely the size of a tea bag. A beautiful blue like a Caribbean sea, ringed with darker blue like the Atlantic.
“I know,” he said, and I heard an edge to his voice that matched the image of him throwing the little hall table. “But how am I supposed to get them back?”
The nymphs with the eye-skins had seen me looking, and they dove under the surface. Disappointment burned the back of my throat, only to become shock when they reappeared, several feet closer, right at the edge of the water.
“Girl,” they sighed. They reached towards my feet with their too long fingers, and Kevin, as if he could see them, smacked their hands away.
“Keep your hands off her,” he snarled.
“Girl, listen,” the nymphs breathed. “You listen because he does not.”
My foot burned where the water had dripped from their fingers. “Listen to what?”
“Ransom,” they shrilled, and they waved Kevin’s eye-skins at us.
“You said that before,” Kevin snapped. “I don’t know what you mean.”
I remembered the sound behind the other door in the hallway; the frantic sound of secretive searching. “I do.” I looked at him and hoped he was listening to all the meaning in my voice. “Would you rather have your sight or your mother?”
Author’s Note: angsty selkies.
image courtesy pictoscribe.