You have the special ability to see the cause of death of the person you look at. For most of your life, you chose to not pay attention to it, but now everyone you look at has the same cause of death
When I was a child, I thought I saw demons trying to possess people. It only happened when I looked into their eyes, and if my gaze lingered a few seconds too long. Sometimes it looked like I was looking at their present self and their future self at the same time. I could see that person both as a young person and an elderly person at the same time. Those were the tame versions. Other times I would see fire and skin turning black and crack to reveal the raw flesh beneath. I’ve seen faces shatter into little pieces, I’ve seen them spew blood from every orifice. As I grew older I was convinced that some part of my brain was broken and if I told anyone about my hallucinations they would lock me up in padded room and throw away the key.
It wasn’t until my college years that I realized that I was seeing people’s deaths. My friend and I got into a car wreck after a late night party. He passed away at the scene and I remember staring at him, as the bloody gash on the right side of his face. It was exactly how I had seen it all the years I had known him. I wasn’t crazy, I had the curse upon me to know in a general sort of way how anyone around would die. That night I had put honest thought into the idea of blinding myself to save what little of my sanity remained. All those years I had told myself that I was a touch insane only to find out the truth was so much worse. I didn’t want to have that kind of knowledge. It’s not like I could help anyone.
That’s not true. I had one tried to save someone from drowning. I had followed a young child around and it hadn’t taken long for people to pick up on my interest in the little girl. By the end of the day I was in handcuffs and had to spend the night in jail. Explaining to the cops that I was just concerned about the girl’s safety when I didn’t even know her first name didn’t go over well. Two days later I read about a young girl drowning in her neighbor’s pool. It hit me hard. I’m a grown man and I’m not afraid to admit that I cried over the news of her death. I had wanted to save her, but in the end I hadn’t been able to do a thing to change her fate.
I learned to keep my gaze downcast and when people couldn’t be avoided I had a habit of standing around with my eyes closed. I grew older and I found a sense of peace in my odd quirks of never looking at anyone in the eyes. As my hair began to turn gray I could lie and say that sight was starting to fail me so it didn’t matter whether or not I had my eyes open. The few friends that stuck with me accepted the peculiarity. I never married, although I had loved a couple women enough to want to ask them to stay by side until the end of days. I already knew that I wouldn’t have been able to bear the weight of knowing her death, or the death of any of our children. Besides, if this curse of mine was something that could be passed on to my children, I wanted to spare anyone of living in such torment.
It was an August morning. A chill hung on the air but the sun promised to warm it up by the afternoon. I looped a scarf around my neck to ward off the coming of winter and headed for the corner where I could buy a newspaper. The sidewalks were abnormally busy this morning so I had to take extra care about how I moved through the crowd. I bumped into a young man that was in a rush, and as he turned to mutter an apology I naturally looked at his eyes. It was only for a brief second, but in that moment I saw his skin peel then peel away as ashes. His skeleton was revealed to me in that moment, until it too crumbled to dust.
It terrified me. I hadn’t seen something that horrifying in years. I pushed the young man’s hands away and turned to put as much distance between us as possible. I didn’t make it far as my heart began to ache inside my chest and I had to lean against the wall of a building to wait out the pain. A woman noticed my distress and bent to check on me, but then I saw it in her face too. Where once was concern on a young, beautiful face, there was a smashed skeleton that whittled away to dust. I covered my own face with my hands and told her repeated that I would be alright. She didn’t seem convinced, but without my cooperation, she couldn’t do much more than be concerned for my well being.
I shook the images from my head and once my heart had slowed down, I determinedly tried to make it to the corner store. Men and women alike were milling about the entrance, all of them with a paper in hand. As I tried to push past them, I heard them talking adamantly about the news I their hands.
“It says they’re going to bomb us.”
“They can’t do that.”
“They’ve made official threats.”
“There’s no way we would let them get close enough to bomb us.”
“Why they printing it then?”
“To sell papers to chumps like you.”
I made it into the store but found the newspaper rack empty. The storekeeper, who knew my morning routine, called to me from the register. He passed me a copy he had saved just for me, explaining that he had done it as soon as he noticed the papers were selling faster that hotcakes. I tried to thank him, but my voice quavered as I stared at his face that was turning to ashes. I paid for my paper and began to look at the faces around. It wasn’t a coincidence that everyone I looked at now had the same death. They were all skeletons in suits and dresses standing around in a death’s parody of life. I opened my paper with shaking hands and took in the front page news. It was just as the men had said, our homelands were being threatened by enemy bombings. I felt sick.
“We’re going to be bombed,” I whispered.
“Don’t read too much into it,” A man said from next to me. He glanced at the paper in my hands and scoffed, “The writers are just exaggerating to up their sales.”
I watched him turn to ash, “No, a lot of people in this city are going to die.”
The man arched an eyebrow at me, then simply walked away. I stood on the sidewalk and watched them continue on with their lives as if threat didn’t loom on the horizon. As a mother and child walked around me, I felt tears spill silently down my cheeks.