The Last Horizon

by Michael Carter

The world was not pretty anymore. But that’s not why people no longer wanted to see. It was what came from the dark that made them wish for blindness.

The change started with acid rain, followed by blue clouds and purple smoke. Then wind cleared away all but the skeletal remains of the world.

Timkin, a surgeon in his old life, was one of the few who had the foresight to build a bunker. It was lined with two-by-four shelving that held necessities for survival: canned and freeze-dried goods, blankets, flashlights, and bottled water. He installed a generator and a sewer system. He hid in the bunker during the change, and he did not see daylight until the first knocks came at his vault-like door.

A family of three—father, mother, daughter—stood before the entrance. Wide eyes bulged out of their pale faces; pupils danced.

“Please take out our eyes,” the father said. “We don’t want to see what comes at nightfall. We will give you anything.”

Timkin’s face wrinkled when he first heard the request. He counseled the family, but he did not receive the answers he sought. Eventually, he gave in to their cries for help, and he accepted their offering of bread. In exchange, he did as they wished. He sent them back into the world, bleeding, but relieved.

When others learned of what he’d done, the knocks at the door continued. Timkin took what they offered; he wasn’t picky. Food, medical supplies, and water were the usual. Other times it was simple items, such as lip balm or matchbooks.

Occasionally, Timkin bartered for items he needed to run the bunker, such as oil and gas for the generator. This ran the heater and the incandescent bulb that hung over the operation chair. It also ran the suction pump. Gravity took the eye tissue away.

Once, a boy brought fingernail clippers. Timkin initially refused the offering because he felt bad for the child, but the boy insisted.

“You never know when you might need to trim your nails,” the boy said, innocently.

Timkin trimmed nine of his ten fingernails. The last—his index fingernail—he grew long and sharp, like a tusk. He used it to clean the eye sucker.

*

The knocks became less frequent after the first year passed. Timkin wondered how long he could live if they stopped showing up, especially after his last patient’s offering.

“Hunnert pounds,” the man with stark blue eyes said.

“Money is no longer good,” Timkin said. “You must know that.”

“Please,” the man begged, “there’s notin’ left out there. The world’s a scab. I don’ wanna live like this no more. Take me eyes, so I can be free from what comes at night.”

Timkin could not turn him down. “I will help,” Timkin said. “But, no one will tell me what lurks out there. Will you?”

“Hart to explain. We see only its shape. It comes from the woods. By the flickering light of our fires, we see it hobble towart us, makin’ that gawdawful clicking sound.”

“What is it?”

“Please take me eyes, please,” was his only reply.

Timkin strapped him to an old, metal pilot’s seat that served as the operation chair. He lowered the glowing bulb to just above the man’s forehead, revealing tiny beads of sweat. He dipped his fingernail into rubbing alcohol, cleaned the mouth of the suction hoses with the fingernail edge, and then placed the gaskets over the man’s eyes. He held the hoses firmly to the sockets and turned on the system.

Within a second, both eyes were plucked. Timkin watched the eyeballs make their way through the semi-transparent hosing—the pupils turning purple as they mixed with red socket fluids—to the PVC pipe that drained under the shelter. Then he removed the hoses, filled the man’s sockets with gauze, and wrapped a handkerchief around his head to keep it all in place.

The screams lasted minutes, but they felt like an eternity. When the man caught his breath, he said, “Thank you.”

*

After a month without patients, Timkin was emaciated and running out of water. He would have to try to survive out there.

Perhaps, everyone died, he thought. Perhaps, what they did not want to see has eaten them. Perhaps, it has died.

He cracked open the bunker door and peered up the long stairwell. The setting sun cast shadows on the steps in front of him. He climbed, one step at a time, breathing heavily from his weakened condition.

At the top of the stairs, he could see the sun dipping below the horizon. It was too late to explore. It would come soon, they had told him. He would wait for daylight.

As he turned, he caught a glimpse of a silhouette against the mountains, miles away. He paused and then saw movement. As darkness fell, it moved toward him. Still plenty of time to turn back down the stairs.

Curiosity held him a moment longer. It moved quickly now. It was getting closer.

As it neared, Timkin’s face flushed, and his lips parted. He did not gasp, but he sucked in air. He had to breathe.

He could make out its shape, which seemed to change from gas-like to solid. It developed many legs.

Then the hobbling noise: click clack click clack—grew louder.

Timkin raised his arm, slowly, and brought his fingernail to his eye. He rested the tip above his eyelid.

Click clack click clack.

Just as a spiny leg came into a circle of remaining light outside the bunker, Timkin understood why everyone had sought him. He pressed his fingernail into his eye, and he started to claw.

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