Xantha

The doctors said it was a freak illness, something they’d never seen before. “Baffling,” they said. “Simply baffling.” They called it Xantha, like it was some mythical sword from a fairy tale. The disease took my sight. And it wasn’t a gradual thing. I didn’t have to suffer. I just woke up one morning, and it was like the lights had been permanently turned off in my head. The doctors did so many tests and came up with nothing. All they could tell us was that there was something wrong with my eyes. Even with the lack of vision, I could see that.

The first few months of adjusting were the hardest. I felt completely helpless, like I wasn’t able to do anything by myself. My family had to consistently remember not to leave things in the floor, to not change the position of anything if I was used to it being there. I groped the bathroom counter for ten minutes before Mom finally came in and told me that she had moved its holder to the other side of the table. It was difficult to rely on them to guide me to my bedroom, to have to remember that I can’t read the funny Facebook post they saw. It was hard on everyone, but it got better.

And then, another change happened. My friend, Mackenzie, and I were taking a day just for ourselves. She was not wrong when she claimed I needed a little normalcy in my life. It wasn’t really natural for me to cling to her side like a leech, but the smell of the mall calmed me. This was what we used to do before my eyes decided to go on strike. Walking arm in arm with her, I almost felt like myself again.

“What do you think about this one?” she asked, presumably holding up some trashy, overpriced piece of clothing from whatever department store we were in.

“I don’t know,” I mused, reaching out and grabbing what felt like a shirt. “It’s soft, though.”

“Gosh, Vee. I’m sorry,” she said, sounded more distracted than apologetic. That’s why I liked hanging out with Mac. Even when the entire world treated me like I was a fragile, broken thing to be treated delicately, I was still just plain old Violet to her, sight or not.

“Let me ask this: what percentage of your body does it cover?” I asked in lieu of looking at it.

She paused a beat before answering, “And back on the shelf it goes.”

And that’s how we spent the day. She narrated the looks of the people in the mall to me, and I made up stories of their lives and how they got here. She bought some cute sunglasses with me, and we pretended we were famous as we dug through stores way above our price range, sunglasses hiding us from the world. The day was great. That is, until we got to the subway.

I generally hated the subway before the blindness incident. That many people packed into one concrete space, each carrying on their own conversation, was not a good plan. It was even worse without sight. An intense sense of vertigo overcame me as I clutched Mackenzie’s arm, my head reeling with the fierce noise of the crowd. We had waited our turn, shuffling a little bit more forward with each load carried out of the tunnel. And finally, it was our chance. I paused as my foot cleared the gap between the platform and the transit. The world quieted around me, and something happened.

There’s no other way to describe what I saw: it was a vision. A vivid image played out before my darkened eyes. Mackenzie and I would board the train and be forced to stand near the front, right next to the window. The train would go for a little bit, and then a man, tall, cloaked in black, would unzip his duffle bag. He opens fire on the unsuspecting commuters, blood painting the beige walls a deep red. Mackenzie and I, standing directly across from him, are the last to go. She steps in front of me, trying to shield me from the threat that I can’t see. There’s a sickening thud as our bodies land on the floor. Everything faded back to the now familiar darkness.

Gasping, I yanked on Mackenzie's wrist, taking several steps back. People cursed as I backed into them, desperately clawing myself towards where I thought the exit was, to safety.

“Violet, what are you doing?” Mac asked. “We’re going to miss our ride.” She tried to resist me, twisting her arm away from mine.

“No, no, no. Mackenzie. We can’t get on the train. He’s going to kill us; he’s going to kill everyone!” I groped around to find her again, frantically grasping at the air. My fingers grazed the arms of torsos of random people. Finally, she grabbed my wrists.

“Who, Vee? Who is going to kill us?”

“Okay, look around. Do you see a guy, about 6’4”, dressed all in black, carrying a duffle bag? He should be towards the back of the train.” I could feel her shift to her toes as she looked for him, eyes scanning above the crowd.

“I see him. He looks shady, but kind of a cute shady. Like, a brooding, Edward Cullen-”

“Of course he looks shady, Mackenzie. He’s about to commit mass murder!” I interrupted.

“Just because someone looks scary, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to kill people. I mean, you went through that goth phase in seventh grade, and-”

“Dude! Will you be serious? We can’t let him get on that train.”

“Well, it’s a little too late for that.” She let out a nervous laugh.

“The doors just shut.” Hot tears welled up in my eyes, remnants of the vision still falling away.

“Hey, how’d you even know about the guy anyways? I thought these babies couldn’t see anymore.” I could feel her wave her hand in front of my face.

“It was a vision, I guess. I could just see it happening; I could see what was going to play out.”

“I hate to break it to you, but I think your fortune telling brain may be broken. Nothing’s happ-” She was cut off by a gunshot. A deadly, torturous hush fell over the concrete tunnel before absolute chaos erupted. Mackenzie and I were shoved against the wall as everyone flooded the exits.

“Vee, we have to get out of here. What if he comes back?” Mackenzie’s voice was frantic, her breathing shallow.

“Okay, go towards the exit. Do not let go of me.” I was calmer than her having already seen the outcome of the situation. He wouldn’t come back. He would wait until the next station. The police would be called when they saw the gore covered windows. All these images flashed before my eyes as Mackenzie lead me through the station.

Before I even realized what was happening, my hand was ripped from Mackenzie’s. I stopped in the middle of the current, people’s hands shoving me forwards. I lost my balance in the throng, overwhelmed by the sense of enclosure. The skin of my hands frayed as they connected with the pavement. I tried to push myself to my feet in vain. Large feet stepped on my hands, crushing my fingers beneath the weight of their panic.

New plan: the armadillo. I curled into the fetal position under the canopy of distressed people. More visions wracked my body, flooding my mind with images of the next few moments. It had changed from the previous manifestation. Everyone would flood out and I would be left lying on the ground. I was wrong earlier; the shooter would come back. He would kill me.

There’s a beat of silence when my hearing comes back. Everyone that was getting out is gone. I shakily pushed myself to my feet. I could hear the train rushing back into the station. The sound mirrors what I just heard. Twenty steps carried the shooter to me. Fabric sighed as he raised the gun to my head. The metal was cold against my forehead. He pulled the hammer back, and then my world turns darker than the blindness that brought me here in the first place.






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