Last in line at grocery checkout, shortest line open but short isn't the word. Running late.
First in line's an old lady moving very slow. Very doesn't cut it. Extremely. Many groceries. Unloading slow. Tick.
I comment quietly, to the man ahead of me who just calmly checked his watch. Tock.
He doesn't face me. Doesn't seem at first to hear me.
Then he says, just loud enough that I can hear but the old woman cannot, just one word.
"Transillumination," he says.
"What?" I ask.
"Transillumination, around the fifteenth circling up behind and about twenty... seven? Yes, twenty-seven and seventeen. Plus negative one... no, never mind that last bit. Definately twenty-seven and seventeen. Hamburger... No, cheeseburger with lettuce, onions, and a calculator."
So he's insane. He looks a little dirty, wears a big gray overcoat, never used a razor apparently. The watch looks cheaper now. A bum. The cart, he'd probably brought in with him and would take with him too. I should've kept my mouth shut.
He glances back at me as if to make sure I'm listening. I try to look like I'm not.
The bum holds out his hands and types in the air, staring silently at me for a moment.
"Case in point," he says. "After about four... maybe five, maybe three or a million, you say that... Well, let's recompose..." He continues to stare at my face as he speaks, keeps typing the air. "There's a knock at the door. Doorbell rings if you have one. It doesn't if you don't. You put down the cheeseburger. You answer the door."
He nods to himself and mercifully turns forward again, watching the old lady, but he just keeps on talking to himself, won't quit. "Yes, twenty-seven and seventeen, I'm sure of it." Drops his hands to his size and acts normal except for his moving mouth.
"If you had a screen door, it's gone. You don't see it even if you have one of those windows in your door, until you've swung the door wide open. It's an eye. A giant eye, much bigger than your door. You can't tell if, like the eye of Sauron, it's unlidded or lidded, except that it never blinks. You can't tell if it's a right eye or a left eye. You see no hint of a nose, an eyebrow, or anything except the eye. It's pressed up so close to the doorframe you cannot see around it."
The old woman finally starts paying her bill. Fumbling through her purse slowly.
"The eye is made of metallic wood. Yes, I said metallic wood. The circle of color around the pupil is blue -- not a human blue but a dark, pure blue with no hint of depth or texture -- just the solid color blue. The pupil... The pupil is black. Jet black, pitch black, these are not the right words. Pure black. No light reflects off the pupil. It pulls in everything. Red, green, blue, heat... even cold, though it doesn't affect the room's temperature itself."
The man appears to shudder. "The eye stares directly at your eyes... or seemingly between your eyes and a little above, at your forehead. It never blinks. It just watches."
The bum waves a hand. "You reach out to close the door, hand shaking. But the door explodes into splinters at your touch. As if it had been sliced and diced, invisibly, and restacked there just waiting for you to knock it off balance. It even seemed like the pieces were springloaded. Looking down in the rubble you see little metal coils here and there, and you wonder how you never saw them before. Through the wood. Or whatever material your door is made of."
The bum backs up a step, bumping my cart. Steps back forward, apologizing under his breath.
"You back away. But the eye advances. Crumbling through your walls, ceiling, floor. It moves forward through your house. You turn and run. Glance back. It's following, demolishing your house on the way."
The old lady finally finishes paying and leaves.
The bum walks forward and starts unloading his groceries.
But he keeps talking, at the same volume. I can tell the clerk can hear, but tries not to look like it. The man keeps glancing back to make sure I'm listening... or to make sure the clerk knows who he's talking to, perhaps.
I try to look small.
"You retreat to the farthest room, and the eye moves forward, destroying everything. The hardest materials, the strongest metals, all of it crumbles. At the widest parts of your house, you look back hoping to see lids or a nose with this giant eye, but the metallic wood part just seems to stretch beyond all of it. When you try to go towards your back door it angles around and blocks that way too. Finally you reach the last corner of your house and the eye bears down on you."
The man gets out his wallet.
"You close your eyes. Then open them."
Hands the clerk some money.
"The eye is gone. Your house is fine."
Signs the receipt. I can't help it -- I look, but it's illegible.
"The next day, you're walking casually along and some kid bumps into you, then runs away apologizing. There's nobody else on the street. You didn't see his face, or really notice even how he was dressed. He turns a corner and he's gone."
The bum pulls away and I start unloading my groceries. Waiting for the bum to leave so I can comment on him to the clerk. The clerk appears to feel the same way.
But the bum doesn't leave. He walks forward a few paces, and raises his voice just enough that I can still hear him over the crinkle and thumps of the groceries.
"Later when you try to pull out your wallet, you find out it's gone, and you immediately realize the kid was a pickpocket. But there were no witnesses, or so it would seem."
Finally the bum starts moving, but he turns one last time to add, "You know better."
And he leaves.
"What a weirdo," I mutter.
The clerk smiles. "Twenty-seven and seventeen," the clerk says.
I stare. "What?"
"That's what it comes to."
I feel for my wallet, suddenly afraid it's gone. Sigh in relief. It's still there.