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One


There is something wrong with the yard of the man with the terrible eyes.

The yard is small, and not really his; it, like the house, belong to the company he works for, but they allow him to live there. The house is small as well, with a bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchenette in a room that can either be a dining room or a living room, depending on what he feels like that day. Normally he would be up at around three or four- depending on when the nightmares wake him up- and would spend the morning tidying the house, or listening to the radio. He has a TV that came with the house, but it never works for him and only displays lines of static or, occasionally at night, when he isn't sure if he's dreaming or not, coal black eyes against a snow-static background.

But this morning he makes himself a cup of coffee, and, after finding nothing of interest on the radio, goes outside to look at the grass. The grass doesn't need to be watered; it's on an automatic sprinkler system that he doesn't know how to turn off. But he occasionally goes outside to look at the grass, and will wander around the small, small yard, doing a leisurely lap along the fence's perimeter. He sometimes wonders whether or not he should plant something- flowers or vegetables or something- but he worries that he might have to ask his Supervisor's permission, and if he does, that his Supervisor might say no.

Now he stops short on the short cement steps leading from the house and looks silently at an unfamiliar hole in the ground. It is a large hole, and when he goes to investigate it, he guesses it to be roughly six feet by three in a rough oval shape. It's probably five or six feet deep, but he doesn't want to jump in to check. There's no sign of the removed dirt.

He goes back to the house and checks the analogue clock on the wall. It's seven. He starts work in an hour but, if he's remembering correctly, the local hardware store should be open. It's only a few minutes away. He grabs his keys and drives down.

He returns a short while later with several bags of dirt and a shovel, and spends the next while filling up the hole. He loses time and is just finishing when he hears the phone ringing.

It is an old wall phone, complete with curly wire connecting receiver and hook. The only ones who know his number are the ones who gave it to him. He answers, and his Supervisor says,

"You're late."

He looks at the clock and sees that it's 10:45. He looks just in time to see the hand move to 10:46.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't be- I mean- I lost track of time. I'm so sorry-"

"Are you feeling alright?"

He knows a lifeline when he hears one. "No, I don't think I am," he says, almost honestly.

"You don't sound well. I think, for today, you should stay home and rest. It doesn't look like we'll be needing you today, anyway."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay. Thanks."

The phone goes dead. He hangs it back up on the receiver and stares at the clock. There's no conceivable way he could have been digging for three hours, he thinks. His internal clock isn't that bad.

As an experiment, he waits for the clock to hit 10:47, then goes out to the now-filled hole. He stands on top of the dirt mound, and after a moment, he returns to the house. The clock says 11:18. He takes a deep breath. Slowly, he lets it out. After a few more deep breaths, he removes the clock from the wall. This time when he goes out to the mound, he takes the clock with him. The only only change he sees is the steady tick of the second hand.

He returns to the house and goes to his bedroom to see the alarm clock there. It reads 12:59 in glowing green numbers.

He does not panic. He tells himself, specifically, that he is not panicking. Strange things happen, this is a fact he knows. He, of all people, should know that sometimes strange things happen for no discernible reason, and furthermore he is not panicking.

He replaces the clock back onto the wall and paces around the house. He is calm, he tells himself. He is in control. The room feels warmer than usual and he has the overwhelming urge to run, but he is not running. He is merely pacing, and he is in control of the situation.

I'm sick, he thinks, and it's like a wave of fresh air has washed over him. Of course he's sick. It's the simplest explanation, and the one his Supervisor caught on immediately. It isn't the room that's feeling hot and stuffy, it's him.

There's nothing left for him to do, and he has the rest of the day off. Sleeping at home doesn't appeal to him, so he puts on his sunglasses and walks down to the local park. No person bothers him, and he comes across only one dog; a large gray stray or a pet off the leash. It glares and growls at him as he walks by-- the usual reaction he gets from dogs. He raises his sunglasses and looks at the dog. It yelps and whines and runs away, tail between its legs. He allows himself a small smile. He does not like dogs.

He enjoys his walk and, after his mind is feeling clearer, he takes a nap under a tree. Nobody disturbs him, and while he is eventually woken up by the nightmares, he cannot recall what they were specifically, and so chalks it up as a nap well done. He goes home.

When he gets back to the house, he casually glances out the kitchen window. The hole is back.

He stares for a moment, then goes outside to see it. The hole, definitely, is back, looking no different than it had that morning. There are still some bags of dirt left. He drags them out and fills the hole again. By the time he is done, it is 10 pm, according to the wall clock. He lies on the couch and listens to the radio, trying very hard to ignore the yard and the growing sense of unease.

In the morning, the hole is, again, back. There is exactly one half of a bag of dirt left. He chucks it into the hole, making sure not to get too close, and then leaves for work. Going to work that day is pointless. They do not need him. He just sits in his cubicle and catches up on sleep he did not get the night before, this time blissfully free of dreams. As soon as his time is over, he goes down to the Home Depot and buys more dirt.

The hole is waiting for him when he gets home. He fills it again. The clock reads 8:34 when he's finished, but he doesn't care. He goes for a drive, and does not return until morning.

* * * * *

The hole continually reappears, usually more than once a day. It has gone from simply appearing when he wakes up and returns from leaving the house to reappearing every time he stops looking at it. The time dilations get worse and worse, but at this point, he does not care. He asked for another day off. He's spent over a hundred dollars in dirt, and then cement mix. He's in the middle of mixing cement when the phone rings.

With gritted teeth, he drags himself away from the wheelbarrow of fresh cement and goes inside.

"Yes?" he says into the phone.

"You missed work again."

"I called in," he says.

"That was yesterday."

"No, that was- was it? Really?" He glares in the general direction of the hole. "I'm sorry. I'm not feeling well," he says, blatantly lying. He feels fine. He feels better than he has in ages, despite being tired and covered with cement mess.

"You don't sound ill," says his Supervisor.

"Did you dig a hole in my back yard?" he says.

"Excuse me?"

"A hole. A hole in my back yard. There's been one popping up all week, and I want to know if you or your people did it. It's a really stupid joke if you did-"

"I assure you, nobody here is digging holes in your yard. Have you considered hiring an exterminator? I know gophers-"

"It's not a gopher, it's a grave. It's weird and making time all bendy."

"What was that?"

"Nothing. It's just a big hole. Are you sure nobody there is doing this?"

"Positive."

"I. . . alright, then. Must be neighborhood kids or something. Alright, thanks. Sorry."

"Are you feeling alright?"

"Yes. No. I'm not. But I will be. I'll be fine. I'm sorry. I'll be in tomorrow, I swear. I just. . .I just need to fill in this hole."

He hangs up before his Supervisor can ask him anything else. The phone begins to ring again, but he takes it off the hook. Then, he goes back to fill in the hole.

It's back in the morning, of course. There's no trace of the cement. Nevertheless, he tries again. Then he tries bricking it in. It gets to the point where simply looking away is enough to reset it back to being empty, so he takes to not looking away from it when he can.

Time passes, though he doesn't notice.

"Hey."

He looks up. For the first time, he realizes that the sun has gone down, and the stars have come out. It is night time. His Supervisor and two large men he recognizes from work are in his yard, watching him. They avert their eyes when he looks up, but his Supervisor does not. He can barely make out the look of concern on his Supervisor's face in the dim light. The men are each holding onto things that look sort of like long suitcases.

"Hi," he says. He waves and notices the mud smeared along his hand and arms. He looks down and sees his clothes are streaked with mud. "Oh, sorry," he says. He wipes his face, but only succeeds in spreading the mud there as well. "I was just working in the yard."

"It's One AM," his Supervisor says.

"I lost track of time."

"Do you know what day it is?"

"Uh. Tuesday?"

"Friday. You haven't come to work in a week."

"I lost track of time."

"I'm going to ask you to please put the shovel down."

"Am I fired?" he says. He unconsciously tries to straighten out his hair with his free hand. It doesn't help in the slightest: he's filthy all over.

"That depends. What have you been up to this past week?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? Are you feeling alright? When was the last time you slept?"

"I'm fine. I don't know. Time gets all weird-"

"Mmhmm. And when did you last eat? Last shower?"

"I don't know-"

"And you say you're fine?"

"It's this stupid hole!" he says, unable to contain himself any longer. "It keeps emptying itself, and if it's not you doing it, then it means it's someone else doing it, or it's doing it to itself! And I'm just here like an idiot trying to fill it and it won't stay filled!" He kicks a clump of dirt into the hole. "I've tried cement and brick and dirt and sawdust and anything I could think of, but it just keeps emptying, and it makes time all warbly around it- I keep losing time. I swear, I thought today was still Monday until you showed up."

They were looking at him strangely, but he barely noticed. All he noticed was that the hole was completely empty, despite his having worked on filling it all day.

"What hole?" says his Supervisor.

"The hole. This one."

"I don't see any hole."

"But it's right here, I'm standing right by it-"

"I would really appreciate it if you put the shovel down."

"Do you know something about it?"

"I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. But I can see that you're upset. I would like you to know that you are a valued part of the company and we would hate to see anything happen to you-" The two larger men move towards him while his Supervisor continues talking. "And I'm going to ask you to come with me. I can take you to people who will help."

"I'm not crazy," he says, holding the shovel defensively. "I'm not going anywhere. I quit. Right now, I quit. I don't work for you anymore. Go away."

"You're not in your right mind."

"I'm fine."

The two men have stopped coming towards him and are now fiddling with the not-briefcases. They look like they are assembling something, but he cannot really see. He takes off his sunglasses and looks directly into the eyes of his Supervisor. The Supervisor does not look away.

"What aren't you telling me?"

"Calm down-"

"I am calm!"

"No, you're not. Frankly at this point I believe you to be a danger to both yourself and those around you." His Supervisor gives a nod to the men, who have assembled together what looks like a futuristic nerf gun of some sort.

"Wait, what are you-"

They shoot him three times.

"Don't worry," His Supervisor says. "We have your weight on record. Normally it's accuracy is updated when you walk onto a particular panel in your cubicle's flooring, but since you haven't come to work in a week, we may be off slightly. Nothing worth concerning yourself over. Is it starting yet? It should be. It's a special fast-acting mix of the company's own design."

He's already pulled the needles out of his neck. When the men come for him, he glares at them. It's enough to make them back off.

"You were briefed on the eyes," his Supervisor snaps. "If it's that upsetting, don't look at them."

"Get away from me-" he slurs. They grab him.

"Don't worry," his Supervisor says. "We're here to help."

And the world goes dark before he has the chance to argue.

* * * * *

He wakes up, and the only thing he knows for the longest time is that he is in pain. Voices are speaking above him, but he doesn't understand what they are saying. The lights are blinding.

People tell him things, things he will not recall later. They are trying to make him understand something. He recognizes the urgency in their voices and in their actions, but the only thing that gets through to him are the lights. They burn. His eyes burn. Thousands upon thousands of white-hot needles are stabbing through his lids. Something is eating them from the inside out. They are being torn to shreds by the light. He might be screaming, and he might not be, but all that matters is the pain. He cannot tell if his eyes are open or closed, if they are being touched or if they are not. But they hurt.

He cannot see, but he can feel. He feels wires and needles and knives and gloved hands. The voices continue to speak to him.

"I think that's enough," someone says eventually. He hears, but he does not understand the words. "Knock him out."

And the lights turn off.

* * * * *

He is in a hospital room. The walls are pale blue and the room smells faintly of antiseptic and lavender air freshener. The bed he's in is crisp and clean, and is slanted upwards slightly so he is almost sitting up. His Supervisor is sitting on a chair across from the bed.

"How are you feeling?" says his Supervisor.

His head throbs in pain. He touches his eyes, expecting to feel something- the gooeyness of healing burns, or the roughness of scabs, or something- but they are fine. Completely normal. "Fine. What happened?"

"Why don't you tell me."

"I don't remember," he says, faltering.

"Try."

"You shot me," he says, halting slightly after each word as though he isn't sure.

"We were concerned about you. You had a psychotic episode. Do you remember? Do you remember the hole in the ground?"

"No," he says. "I think. . . I think I went a little nuts."

His Supervisor raises an eyebrow. "A little?"

"I went off the deep end." His face flushes with shame. "Oh god, I'm an idiot."

"There's no need to beat yourself up. The doctors say it was stress."

"I'm sorry," he says.

"Don't be. Just take your meds."

"My meds?"

His Supervisor gestures to a bottle of pills on the table nearby. "Your prescription. Three a day, one after meals, and an extra if you feel like you're losing it again. Doctor's orders."

He doesn't know what to say, so he says nothing. His Supervisor stands.

"Your cubicle will be waiting for you. Unless you were sincere in your desire to leave the company?"

"I quit?"

"You tried to."

"No, I don't want to quit." For some reason, quitting seems like the worst possible decision he could possibly make. "I'm sorry for putting you through all this-"

"Say no more." There is what seems to be genuine warmth in the Supervisor's voice. "You are a valued asset to the company, and we like to keep our assets happy."

And under control. He blinks. He is certain his Supervisor did not say those words, but he heard them all the same.

"You start work again Monday. We've taken the liberty of relocating you to a different house so as to prevent triggering any more episodes. All your things have already been moved. I'll have a chauffeur come 'round and drop you off later. For now, get some sleep. You look like you can use it."

His Supervisor leaves.

* * * * *

The new house looks very much like the old one. What few things he has have been moved, but they're all in places where he would have put them himself. When he turns on the new TV, it shows a news anchor at a desk and manages to hold the image for all of two seconds before devolving into a flurry of static. He sighs. Same as the last one. He spends the evening puttering around, moving things only to wind up moving them back, and pacing the house until it's as familiar to him as his own hands are. Someone has put his sunglasses on the table. Those, he leaves there.

The sun has already long since set when he finds the courage to go outside. The back yard is very much like his old one, except that this one has a tree in the corner. He doesn't know what kind of tree it is, but in the weak porch light, he can make out the faint outline of blossoms. He smiles a little. A fruit tree would be nice. He lets his eyes slide idly across the yard before letting them drop to the ground, specifically the ground in the center of the yard.

There is a hole there. It looks exactly as it had at the old house.

He goes inside. He locks the door behind him. And he spends the rest of the night drinking from the supply of cheap beer that someone so kindly left in his kitchen for him. He knows he ought to take the pills the doctor gave him, but he remembers that most medications react badly with alcohol, and he wants to be drunk right now. When morning comes, he still has not slept.

It's seven, according to the wall clock. After a brief inner struggle, he hauls himself off the sofa, shuts off the static-filled TV, and begins collecting all the beer cans lying around into a trash bag. When the bag is full- and it gets very full indeed- he goes outside and he tosses the bag into the hole. He turns his back for a moment, and when he looks again, the hole is empty. A hysterical giggle bubbles up and he stops himself from breaking into uncontrollable laughter.

He goes inside and, with only the occasional loose chuckle, gets ready for work.

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