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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith

A Killer’s Eyes 
The world of dreams is a strange place. Often, I’m playing a part in a dream, but if I catch sight of myself in a mirror I’ll often be greeted by the visage of a stranger – even though this is never truly distressing. It’s only if my memory sustains the dream after I wake that I’ll take notice of the differences; my brunette hair may be blonde, my normally rounder features might be sharp and angular in the dream. Regardless of what I look like, I simply accept that I have stepped into a new character and appearance in my dreams. And really, why should I not? The answer is that when I am not myself, often times, I’m living the life of someone who is about to be touched by some tragic event that I’d rather not experience. If I’m truly stepping into another’s life, we share the burden; if these dreamed events are the result of my own imagination taking out some deeply-rooted subconscious frustrations on my higher psyche, then I curse whatever caused me to hate myself thus. I distinctly remember waking from this next dream, in hysterics, before the calming realization dawned that I have never owned nor worn a top hat in my life.

*** *** 
I stood outside the palatial mansion, at the front door. Giving the heavy oak door two loud raps with my cane, I waited. It was a beautiful day. I could feel the sun heating my back nearly to the level of discomfort, and I hoped Ms. Eston would hurry. I knew that Tuesday mornings were the day she let her manservant, Wales, spend the morning in town. He would do some shopping for her, but they both knew that it was his excuse to step into his club for a nip of brandy and to trade some stories with others in his position. She said it was good for him, though the necessities of the house definitely functioned with less efficiency while he was out. This was evident by the sweat that began to form on my neck as I waited at the unanswered door. I rapped again, a little more insistent this time. Maybe she hadn’t heard? If I were to lay into the great front door any harder, I was worried that I might permanently gash the heavy wood, or even dent the pewter skull of the cat’s head atop my cane; I couldn’t be sure which ending would be a greater tragedy. I was just pondering the expression on the cats face – bemusement or annoyance, I couldn’t quite tell which – when the old door in front of me finally creaked open. “Punctual as ever,” Ms. Eston said. She looked impeccable as usual. Her jet-black hair fell over her shoulders and down her back. Her skin was pale, though not a healthy ivory, but more of a pasty lack of color from 1

The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith the woman’s lack of exposure to sunlight. Still, she smiled and invited me in, and I was happy to escape the oppressive rays of the sun myself. “I wouldn’t miss our appointments, Ms. Eston,” I replied, removing my top hat as I entered the foyer. I tossed it three feet away, and landed a ringer as it caught on the hat hook. “You will make a sport of anything,” she teased as she whisked by me, through the foyer and into the great room just ahead. “Come sit down, I have a few things I’d love to discuss with you today!” Ms. Eston was a recluse. She had inherited this mansion, fortune, and elevated social status from her parents; try as they might while raising her, she never wanted anything to do with the townspeople who lived, worked and played down the hill from the ancient family estate. After a few torturous years of schooling as a child, her parents decided it would be better for her adjustment if they brought in a private tutor. She wasn’t nearly as disruptive and unruly if taught in her home. After a year of this, seeing how well she was responding to in-home lessons, her parents decided that they could give her the most normal life as a child her age should have if they brought in every aspect of a childhood. For this, they would hold grand parties for the village children nearest her age, though many of them chose not to come. Children don’t always understand these difficult things, and they simply branded her as weird. She was easy to avoid, since she never left her house. My parents were the type who raised me to do things for others not for reward, but simply because it was the right thing to do. For this reason, I never missed one of her parties. While I can’t say that we became fast friends, it was plain to see as we got older that she really cherished my companionship. We grew up; my parents died young, as did hers. We had this common ground, and she had no other companionship, so I began paying her regular visits. I didn’t mind, and I knew it was good for her. “I was watching the television one recent evening…” she said, and I nodded and smiled to myself as I entered the great room and found my usual seat. I told her to read more – she was left a great library by her fortunate parents, who were avid readers like me – but she insisted on watching television. I always thought that it might be the visual aspect of TV, the moving pictures, that provided a window to the outside. It’s not that she wasn’t curious about what went on outside of the mansion, but she was afraid of it. “John, are you listening?” I was brought out of my thoughts as Ms. Eston looked gave me a cross look. “You are so easily distracted these days!” she said, exasperated.

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith “My dear Ms. Eston, I have had a lot on my mind in recent days. The markets haven’t been well, and not all of us were granted our futures in a will,” I responded coyly. If we had been among other acquaintances, my forwardness with that statement might have raised eyebrows, but she just smiled at me. “Yes, well, perhaps you will next time choose to be born into a more fortunate family, John.” This was the sympathy I could always expect from her. “As I was saying, I was watching television the other night, and I heard the most curious phrase used by a news reporter. Did you hear about that rash of murders a few weeks ago, those particularly brutal ones, where the killer would…?” I cut her off before she could go into any further detail. I was familiar with it, having more knowledge of the incidents than I’d ever like to have, every grisly detail being carefully chronicled and repeated dozens of times by any and every media outlet who could get hold of my attentions. “Ms. Eston, you don’t need to go into detail. I’m very well aware of it. Didn’t they catch the gentleman responsible, just a few nights ago?” “Yes!” she said with a palpable excitement in her voice. “That’s what they were discussing on the television! He was captured after witnesses identified him as being at the scene of too many of the crimes,” she said, a devilish grin the only outward indication of her growing excitement. I absently pulled at a loose thread on the arm of my favorite chair, a great blue thing with a high back and stiff, old cushions. It, like most of the other furniture in this house, was undoubtedly a finely-crafted antique; I should probably leave the thread alone. “…and?” I asked. Honestly, I was used to having to dig a little bit to get to the point of her fancies. She was often times like a child, unable to keep a secret, impatient and excitable. She would make sure she had my attention, however, before she would finally reveal what it was that had her so worked up. Next to my chair was a small table that I knew would have a teacup resting on it. Sure enough, there it was – a patterned porcelain cup with two sugar cubes on the matching saucer. Ms. Eston knew just what I would ask for if she offered tea, so she skipped the formality and had it waiting for me. I dropped the cubes into the still-hot liquid and looked up to meet her gaze again. “And, they said ‘He has a killer’s eyes’,” she exclaimed triumphantly, like a magician who had just yanked away the veil to reveal an empty box that had once contained his assistant. If there was a joke or a second meaning here, perhaps I was missing it?

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith “Yes…?” I questioned again before taking a sip of my tea. It was delicious, as usual. Ms. Eston’s refusal to step beyond the boundaries of her home yielded her plenty of time to master the crafts she chose to pursue, and one of her fancies a few years back had been tea – she had read and learned all she could about it, and the result was her ability to make a masterful pot, one of the few things that could be accomplished with success when Wales was out. That was often how things went with her though – one flight of fancy to another. I wondered what the precise nature of this one was about to become. “So they said he was a killer. What of it? We know that much by now…assuming he’s guilty,” I said after my sip, wanting to give a proper nod to the judicial system. “No, they did not say he was the killer. They said he had a killer’s eyes!” she said again, and I suddenly caught it. She was hooked on that turn of phrase, for some reason. “Yes, so, he has a killer’s eyes?” I asked again, my mind unable to grasp what she found so interesting. “That’s not very objective reporting, is it?” Ms. Eston shuffled in her chair, tucking her legs under her so that she could raise her body up a little bit and learn forward. It wasn’t a proper way to sit, but it was her domain, so I said nothing. “I was not aware that you could tell a killer by looking at their eyes!” she said, ignoring my statement about the reporting but choosing to continue along her train of thought. This was the point where my bewilderment now controlled my side of the conversation. “Dear, you cannot tell a killer by their eyes,” I started. “There is no scientific proof to that. The media was probably just trying to say things to fill another ten seconds of air time.” For the first time since my arrival, Ms. Eston frowned. “I don’t know if I agree with you,” she said, settling back into her chair. “I had Wales fetch me the paper this morning, just so I could see the man’s picture.” Quick as a cat, she was on her feet. She strode toward the kitchen. “Wait here, I’ll be right back with it. I want you to see,” she called over her shoulder. I chuckled to myself and took another sip of tea. It was a little more bitter than usual. “Can you get me one more lump of sugar?” I yelled toward the kitchen. “Of course,” her voice floated out from the kitchen. She appeared a few moments later, another sugar cube balanced in a napkin in one hand, the local paper from this morning tucked under her other arm. “Sorry,” she said as she set the napkin and sugar cube down on the table next to me, “I should have anticipated that you would need an extra today.”

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith “It’s really no problem,” I answered as she opened the paper, flipping through the pages until she found the one that she wanted. Folding the pages back on themselves until the photo she wanted was in one manageable square wrinkled newsprint, she tossed it onto my lap. “Look!” she said, smiling once again. “Look there, at his eyes!” I couldn’t deny that the face captured in the photograph had a rather disturbing quality to it. I’ve seen these mug shots before though, and I’m of the opinion that no one ever looks their best for them. Still, Ms. Eston had a point, because there was something about his eyes that didn’t look normal. I placed my hand over the picture, covering his mouth and nose. I looked at the eyes, trying to pick out what it was that she might be seeing. With my other hand, I covered his forehead, leaving only his eyes showing, not the furrow of the brow or the turn of the lips. What stared back at me was a pair of eyes, nondescript. “I’m afraid I can’t agree with you,” I stated in a disinterested monotone that I had perfected when dealing with the fish mongers in the riverside market. “There doesn’t seem to be anything to the eyes. Maybe there is something to the entire expression, a sort of vague detachment, or more of an unhinged look, I think,” I said as I removed my hands from the page to gaze at the killer’s face again. Ms. Eston frowned. She wrung her hands for a moment, looking from me then back down to the page, then back to me. She let out a quick grunt of dissatisfaction. “I hate to admit it, John, but you could be right.” She paced back and forth for a moment, worry lines forming on her brow, and then she sat down. “Let me see the picture again?” she asked, standing to her feet once more and approaching me. “Sure,” I said, handing the newspaper photo to her from my seated position. “What’s gotten into you, anyway?” I asked. It was unlike her to be this animated, yet…nervous. Everything I had seen her done had been calculated, each action had always been careful and deliberate. I watched as she covered the mouth and nose with one hand, examining the picture. She then covered the brow, as I had done, and tossed the newspaper photo to the table next to me. “You are right, John. What a fool I’ve been!” she cried, staggering over to her chair and flopping into it. “Hardly something to get so anxious about, Ms. Eston. Are you sure you’re feeling alright?” I asked, concern for my longtime acquaintance growing by the moment. She was acting so out of character, it was putting my nerves on edge. The hair on my neck felt like it was standing straight, and I could feel my throat tightening.

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith “John, you’ve always been so kind to help me with my experiments. Whenever I need to know something, you understand how the thirst for knowledge grips me until I can’t think about anything but solving that mystery.” I nodded. The things she had been taken with over the years were sometimes so odd, too; still, her thirst for knowledge would drive her to the brink of madness until she had figured out the “why” behind mundane things that most of us could simply accept and move on from. Of course – in some ways, my mind works the same, which is why I think we’ve enjoyed one another’s company for these years. She nodded to me, and then laid sideways in her chair, legs splayed over one arm as she leaned her head back over the other. Her hand rose to her forehead in a swoon. “Oh, John,” she said. “If you had only shown up a bit earlier, I wouldn’t have poisoned you!” she said, her voice trailing off as she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, the realization of her error apparently causing quite the strain on her fragile soul. “You wouldn’t have…what?” I asked, shocked. I glanced down at the cup of tea I had been sipping on, the cup now empty save for a few escaped bits of black and green in the bottom of the cup. “I wouldn’t have poisoned you. You always help me, and I had to see what the difference was in a killer’s eyes compared to the average person,” she answered, still not looking at me. “I thought you’d be willing, based on your help on my projects in the past. I’ve enjoyed our visits, you know!” She finally turned to look at me, offering a helpful smile. I don’t know what surprised me more; the coolness with which I was taking the news of my being poisoned, or the fact that Ms. Eston seemed to be more upset by the fact that her whole experiment was really just a waste due to an angle she hadn’t considered. “How long do I have?” I asked, getting to the business at hand. She shrugged. “Oh, who knows? It should be quite painless, though. Like I said, you’ve always been such help to me; I wouldn’t want to put you out. Besides, Wales is planning a complex dinner tonight, and he won’t have time for extra cleaning this evening.” I started to rise – I knew she had a phone in the kitchen, and I suddenly felt the need to make a call. “No, don’t stand up!” she nearly shouted to me. I quickly sat back down. “Why not?” I asked. “I’d like to make a phone call.” “Moving will just accelerate the poison.”

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith “Can you bring me a telephone? I’d like to make a call,” I asked. I glanced toward the kitchen. Part of me screamed that I should be fighting back, that I should do what I could to see that this cold-blooded killer was punished properly for my soon-to-be-murder. Another part of me, the reigning part, really couldn’t see the sense in that. After all, she had been hospitable; she had apparently gone out of her way to ensure that my death would be painless, which is more than I could say for the fate of many others in this world. The rational part of my mind thought that my cool acceptance could actually be a side-effect of the poison, but if it was, I had to admire Ms. Eston’s anticipation there as well. “I do not think that would be prudent,” she answered, frowning at me again. “What if you were to call the police?” She thought for a moment, and then the corners of her mouth turned up as she landed on a satisfactory idea. “Could you promise me that you would not call the police? I do trust you.” I thought about this for a moment. Would I call the police? Why would I want to call the police, anyway? I turned this question over and over in my mind, my enfeebled brain unable to make sense of the words or even the structure of the sentence anymore. So this is what it would feel like to die.

*** *** 
I watched the final scene of the dream play out as if on a screen in front of me, my spirit somehow present, but with the knowledge that I was there only to observe. I saw Wales open the door and stagger into the house, his mouth hanging open and his eyes squinting against the artificial light in the foyer. He looked on curiously at the lights in the great room that were still on, which was odd for the hour. The inebriated manservant hung his coat on the rack, just underneath the top hat – my hat – the observance of which just added to the puzzled look on his face. Almost on instinct, I reached a hand out for my hat, but my incorporeal fingers slipped right through it. As he stepped in from the foyer, Wales saw Ms. Eston standing at the great mirror on the far wall. She was staring at herself, holding a hand up to cover her nose and mouth, her other hand covering her brow. As he looked at her, he cursed, suddenly remembering the dinner he was supposed to have prepared hours ago. “It’s tough to tell if John was right,” Ms. Eston said to Wales absently, focused on whatever it was that she was trying to find in the mirror. “Something seems different, but…I can’t tell what.”

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The Killer’s Eyes Christopher Smith The look on Wales’s face suggested that Ms. Eston’s actions were only compounding his confusion. He expected to be scolded for coming in so late, or for forgetting dinner, but he didn’t expect this. She seemed so preoccupied with her own thoughts that she didn’t notice his state. “Oh, and before you get to bed,” the lady called to him, “please clean the mud from near the back door. I ventured out into the yard today,” she said, causing the man to freeze in his tracks. “Madam?” he questioned, instantly sobered. “Is everything alright?” She finally turned her eyes away from the mirror and turned to look at Wales, who was in no fit shape to be standing before his employer – but again, if she noticed his countenance, she didn’t let on. “Don’t worry, Wales. It was awful. I won’t be going outdoors again for a very long time,” she said. “Goodnight.”

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