The Man in the Eyes

For the majority of the world, Covid-19 was an inconvenience. For certain people, the elderly and and those with predisposed conditions, the virus spelled a more dangerous possibility. But for Jerry Kincaid, the outbreak was a return to true form, an opportunity to allow the beast out to frolic and cause as much havoc as possible. The pandemic was a straight six months of that movie, The Purge, and Jerry Kincaid was loading up for a lifetime of repressed violence and suppressed urges. After a lifetime of hiding his special abilities and his search for that illusive knowledge that would make all his dreams come true and let him finally know what this life was really about, maybe taking out just one here or there, this pandemic was a straight-up god send.

It had started early for Jerry, at age eight, when he had smothered the puppy because he was afraid all that barking would wake his dad and then he’d really get it. He had started out scared, afraid of his dad, who, as it turned out, was dead drunk in his bed and wouldn’t have woken if Gabriel himself was sounding his horn from up on high. But Jerry didn’t realize that. All he knew was that the dog was barking and he wasn’t about to get his dad’s belt on his butt if he could help it.

Without thinking, or maybe, he reasoned later, he had known all along what he was doing, he brought his hands around the dog’s throat and squeezed and squeezed. The dog fought, of course, but Jerry wasn’t about to let go. If he let go, that damn pooch would probably start yammering louder and then he’d really get it. So, he squeezed harder, allowing the dog’s claws to rip strips of flesh from his arms.

It didn’t last long though. And that’s what Jerry realized over the years. It never lasted long. It’s almost like they were waiting to die. Like it was all a game and death was the prize. The pup slowed down, stopped struggling at all. It’s tail finally stopped beating uselessly against the floor as saliva poured out of its mouth.

And then it happened. The dog was almost gone. It hardly moved at all now. And just before it let out that last rattle of breath, something appeared in the almost rolling eye gazing up at its young master. There was a flicker, a clouding over. Then the cloud split down the middle and there was just a face, smiling at him: a man’s face. It winked at him, like it was promising him something to come, some great riches, some treasure of wisdom or true knowledge, something so beyond mortal man that he had to find out what it was at any cost…and then it was gone. And so was the dog.

After checking on his dad, only to find the drunk passed out in his bed, Jerry made quick work of the dog’s lifeless body by digging a hole out back beyond the shed, along with all the other holes he’d dug over his short life, and dumped the body down.

His daddy never asked him about the dog and he never volunteered. But he did know that he now had a simple, single purpose in life. He had reason and he was gonna find the answer if it was the last thing he ever did.

Jerry also knew that he couldn’t afford to draw any undue attention to himself. If anything could come between himself and his goal, it would all be for nothing. So, he did take many lives, but he was always careful and he was always random. He couldn’t afford to set a pattern. Humans always could spot patterns, that was one thing he knew above all else. As long as he danced around, never leaving a trace, never leaving that proverbial trail of breadcrumbs, he could pursue his goal and maybe someday that man in their eyes would find him worthy to convey that knowledge.

He found that the best way to experience randomness was to be around death and sickness. After all, if those around him were already sick and dying, then, if they suddenly were to let go of life, no one would be any wiser. So, after much deliberating and soul searching, Jerry hit upon the perfect employment to pursue his passion: healthcare worker.

At first, he thought that being a hospice worker might aid him best, but he soon fell into a steady pattern. And if he could spot a pattern, then someone else might as well. So, he tried his hand at working in the ER, working as an RN. Heck, he even spent a stint working in labor and delivery. But he didn’t dare take more than one baby there. And the man in the eye didn’t even bother showing up for that one.

Retirement homes were his most profitable. It was easy to gain the old people’s trust. It was even easier to recognize the ones that were on their way out. Jerry could smell the first throes of death a mile away. And you could bet your last dollar, he could find a way to get alone with them so he could accidentally give them the wrong medicine, or turn off a machine or slip something into their drip. He never smothered them with a pillow though. He couldn’t afford to let them claw at him and he might miss the man that way. If he didn’t get to see the man, maybe he’d miss it. Maybe that was the time when the man would tell him the secrets of the universe and Jerry couldn’t afford to take any chances.

So, Jerry would take out one or two in a home and then he’d have to give his walking papers. It was too much, he’d tell them. He was tired of getting attached just to know that the patients were going to die and leave him. Of course, he shuffled the stories as well and he never gave his true name on any applications. No one was the wiser, especially not the cops.

Oh, there had been that one fella in Indiana…

Jerry had slipped a little something in the old lady’s drip and was just waiting for the effects to take hold. He could tell in her face that she knew something was wrong. She had that scared, alarmed look in her eye and when she locked onto Jerry’s face, she knew he had done something to her. She couldn’t talk, a stroke had taken that away from her, but her eyes were accusations enough. But the stuff he’d given her would work fast. He just had to wait.

And then, right before the man in the eyes appeared, the son showed up. He came busting through the door and ruined everything. He started yelling at Jerry to do something and stop standing there, watching his mom die. What the heck was he thinking?

Jerry couldn’t admit that, yes, that was exactly what he was doing, but he really wanted to at that moment. He really wanted to get in that angry little man’s face and yell, “Of course she’s dying, you idiot! Who do you think did this to her?”

But he held his tongue and continued in the great charade. He acted frightened and called the nurse on duty. And they came and administered CPR and checked the drugs, not knowing that Jerry had the vial and syringe in his pocket all the time. And, in the end, the old woman died and Jerry couldn’t even be in the room when the man showed up in her eyes. He’d been forced out by the son and boy was he mad.

It seemed like the son would never let it go, even when Martha, his supervisor had to get involved. They almost performed an autopsy. They almost checked her blood. But in the end, the son’s wife came and calmed him down. And Martha and he agreed that he needed just a slight change of scenery and everything was just as it was supposed to be.

And, he kept this great charade going for a while and paced himself. Just one every six months is all he allowed himself. He was getting older and sloppier. He couldn’t afford to let down his guard now, not when he was so close to learning the truth. He felt the man in the eyes hesitate just a little more than usual at this home in Minneapolis. It was as if the man in the eyes were considering, just considering if now was the time. Could today be the day? And then the man was gone, just like a thousand times before and Jerry was none the wiser.

Jerry was starting to get a little desperate. He wasn’t any closer to his goals, but he was getting closer to death himself. If something didn’t happen soon, he’d have to start rethinking his priorities in life. Maybe he needed to take more risks. Maybe he needed to tread a pattern or stay in one place just a little longer. Maybe he should just give up.

And the next day, God, or the man in the eyes, or someone gave him the greatest gift of all: Covid-19. It hit and suddenly Jerry had deaths around the clock. It wasn’t one a week or a month any more, it was a sumptuous banquet, that only Jerry and the man in the eyes attended.

And Jerry knew, yes, he finally knew that the man in the eyes was hesitating more and smiling more and about to pass on to Jerry everything he had ever striven for, everything he had sought. In North Carolina, eight had died in a single week. In Massachusetts, fifteen had died. But in New York, oh New York, had been amazing.

He had just left 43 dead in the Happy Haven Nursing Home and the world was not slowing down his progress. He had to leave and move on to Pennsylvania, but everything was okay. No one suspected a thing and the virus took the blame for everything. There was nothing that could stop Jerry Kincaid now.

Jerry let down his guard and regular procedures of casing a nursing home for weeks before applying for a position. He really couldn’t afford the weeks anymore. Who knows when this virus would let up. He had to take advantage of it while the taking was good.

He stopped at New Life Nursing Home in a small town outside Philadelphia and applied immediately. His cover story was hastily thrown together. He’d been out of a job because of the Coronavirus. No, he wasn’t afraid of the virus. He’d been around old people for a very long time. Plus, he was always careful to wash his hands and wear proper facial covering. He wasn’t worried.

They pushed his application through fast because of their need and less than a week later, he was starting the night shift. It took a while to get to know the residents because they kept to their rooms, social distancing and all. But that first night, he met Agnes Butterfeld and knew her time was coming up. He could just tell. Oh, she was friendly enough. She made coy jokes: most of them did. And he just played along. He wasn’t what anyone would call handsome but he definitely wasn’t ugly either and he could charm when he wanted, even at his age.

Three nights in and he was sitting in her room at 11pm, keeping Agnes company, playing a game of Gin Rummy. She won the second hand in a row and he suddenly knew he had to take her tonight. She’d been coughing, blamed it on allergies and maybe it was. Jerry didn’t care. As long as it gave someone a reason why her life had been snuffed out almost over night.

He knew by then that her bed time was midnight and that time was approaching fast. So, he bade her good night, purposely left his wallet on the floor next to the table as an excuse to return and left her room. As soon as he left, her light clicked off and Jerry waited patiently.

At 2:30 AM, Jerry walked carefully down the hall toward Agnes’ room. The orderly, Rakheem, was playing on his phone, probably talking to his girlfriend. The night supervisor was on lunch. And all the other residents were fast asleep.

Jerry paused just outside her door and whispered, “Agnes, are you awake?”

There was no answer, so Jerry slipped inside the blackness of her room. He could hear her breathing as he moved silently, searchingly from the door to her bedside. Luckily, there was a full moon shining straight through the window. Tonight was perfect. Just enough light to see the man.

He could make out her sleeping form but couldn’t make out the particulars of her face yet. But that was okay, the moon wouldn’t let him down. The man would be waiting there and Jerry would get all of the secrets tonight.

With the virus attacking the lungs, Jerry’s method was simple: he would smother the victims from the bridge of the nose down with a small pillow, allowing the eyes to peek over the top edge. Through the sheer number of victims, he was able to perfect this technique so the eyes were finally visible. While the air would slowly empty from the lungs, the eyes would flutter and reveal the man at the end. Mostly, they never fought. The virus did most of the work. Jerry just had to take it at the end.

Reaching her bedside, Jerry thrust the cushion over her nose and mouth, pushing down hard. She didn’t fight once, in fact she never moved. Through the light streaming in form the window, Jerry noticed her eyes held a glassy stare: she’d been dead for a while now.

While Jerry stared intensely at her eyes in defeat, a cloud appeared, rushing over her eyes and covering the cornea. Suddenly, the cloud split down in the middle and there was the man. But he wasn’t smiling like before. Now the man was grinning like a cadaver. He began to move towards Jerry, getting larger and larger until he filled the entire eye.

Jerry couldn’t force himself to look away. Inside, his brain screamed for him to run but another, deeper part of him said, “This is it. This is the moment.”

The man filled Jerry’s vision so completely that he wasn’t certain when the man had stopped growing in the eye and when the man had appeared next to him beside Agnes’ bed. He was much taller than Jerry had guessed: well over six feet.

“This really is it,” Jerry thought as the man placed his hand on Jerry’s shoulder. “He’s going to tell me everything.”

And then Jerry was falling, falling to Agnes, falling through Agnes. Jerry looked up into the grinning face of the man in the eyes, but he seemed so far away now. The man smiled one last time and walked slowly toward the door.

Meanwhile the clouds were coming for Jerry and the darkness was calling. He had to go, but he knew he’d be back. He’d be back forever.

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