Under The Watchful Eye
There was no longer a sun in the sky, but the day was bright all the same, and Jerry Friedman was smiling as he stepped out into the light. He waved a cheerful good morning to his neighbour Lance, who was also heading to his car for the morning commute, and got the usual response: ‘Hello mate! Gonna be a good one, eh?’ Jerry hated Lance. That guy was like this even before The Good took over. As smug as he was boring. Perfect in every way. Jerry wanted to drag him into a dark alleyway and tear him to pieces.
‘Yeah. Looking forward to it.’
The commute was easier, he supposed. You didn’t really drive. You just sat there and watched your car shoot along the roads at speed, navigating crowded intersections with barely a pause, inches to spare yet never so much as a scratch on the paintwork. An hour long journey became ten minutes with such ideal coordination. He was always five minutes early; everyone was.
The day the eye opened in the sky, Jerry had been lying out in the back garden. A brand new .45 dangled from his loose left hand, and a half empty bottle of Jim Beam in the other. Celebrating his divorce to Grace. Ten years of hell. He’d cut her loose, but it still somehow felt like the worst day of his life. He remembered her sneer the last time he saw her, the familiar way her lip curled up on just one side. ‘You’re a worthless piece of shit, Jerry. Why don’t you kill yourself and go to hell?’
That memory was clear in his mind at the moment the eye blinked open. He sensed it at first, a softening of the light and a cooling, changing from noon to a sunset in a moment. He stared up at the sun – or at least where the sun had been, and there it was, looking right back at him. No iris, just a round white ball with a dilated pupil in the middle like a black ocean.
Work was accounting. It didn’t used to be, because he hated maths, but once he started work there – no interview required – he found it so easy that he could let his mind wander while his hands moved the paper. He was doing that a lot lately. His mind usually wandered to happy places, like the place where he had Lance, or maybe Dean, tied up in his basement and he got to work on them with a set of pliers and a blowtorch for a few hours.
He greeted his co-workers, chatted about his new life and how great it was. No need to worry about that pay check, and wasn’t that fine? Cleo from HR asked him how Grace was doing. He’d been dating Cleo while the divorce was going through. Today, he kept his tone light and his eyes on her face. ‘Great! We’re getting back together!’ Everything anyone said these days ended in a cheerful exclamation mark, their expression one of perpetual joy.
‘That’s great!’ she said warmly. Something broke inside him. It wasn’t a new feeling. Every day he woke up and saw that eye he moved one step closer to madness. It would reach him any day now. He felt like he was in a car with the brakes cut, rolling down a steep incline toward a bottomless canyon. No way to stop. All you could do was hold on tight and watch it come. You didn’t even get to scream.
That first day, Jerry found himself doing things. He didn’t decide to do them, or ponder them, or motivate himself to do them – he just found himself already doing them. He’d stared at the eye for a minute or so, wondering if he was hallucinating, and then he’d got up from his deck chair, dropped his gun in the bin and emptied the Beam down the sink. Him – who’d rather pour liquid gold down a sink than whiskey. Since then, he ate mostly vegetables and lean meat, drank only water, never overate.
Television was on for exactly half an hour each day, blinking on automatically when he got home from work, and it showed world news. There was no world news. No accidents, no disasters, no new inventions. Statistics, happy news stories. A dog that could talk, a new nature reserve, the tallest building ever built, a world government formulated, another prison closed.
The house was pristine, and Grace had cooked him dinner. They sat down to eat, talking animatedly about their incredibly boring days, and he watched her eyes for signs of life. He thought he saw some hatred in there, and that gave him a little hope. He envisioned sticking his fork in those eyes and popping them into his mouth like meatballs.
‘You know, it’s best for everyone. I mean, I don’t know if it’s God or what. I suppose He must be, to be so powerful.’
‘Could be the devil.’ The words made it all the way out of his mouth and there was a short silence while they pondered what that could mean. She made a funny choking sound and he realised she was trying to swear. Didn’t work. Shit.
‘Anyway,’ she went on as though nothing had happened. ‘It’s a force for good. No suffering, no danger. Nothing bad.’
‘Nothing bad.’ He said. ‘Nothing…’ It was possible, sometimes, to communicate like that. Get across a point without saying it. There were times he was grateful he still had his thoughts, but most of the time he wished he didn’t. That abyss came closer by the day, opening out before him so he could see the emptiness for which he was destined.
‘You have to be thankful that in the end, The Good won.’ She said, shining him a brilliant white toothed smile. Her smile had never been white, nor cheerful. It had been yellow and mean, like the snarl of a stray dog.
‘Yes. Good won.’
And the days passed this way, uniform and perfect. They had two kids together, and on a daily basis, even as he took care of them and played with them, Jerry envisioned smothering them in their sleep or drowning them in the bath. They weren’t his children, really – they belonged, like everything else, to the eye in the sky. The only difference was that they’d never had it any other way.
But there were no suicides, no murders, and the world hummed along without mishap for decades.
The Good won, he told himself many times when he caught sight of his face in the mirror. A face that aged well, along with a well-kept body that never weakened. Good won.
The abyss grew larger and darker. Sometimes, when he looked deeply into the eyes of his friends and colleagues he could see that they’d already lost their sanity, and that nothing was left behind in the shells that walked the earth. Who knew what thoughts scuttled through the broken things that had once been human minds? What were they now? Toys?
No prisons, no hospitals, no police. Early to bed, early to rise. Board games with the kids. Good won.
He could see inside the abyss, now. Thoughts of torture and death and executions. He imagined skinning his family alive and setting fire to his house. He imagined sinking an axe into Dean’s head and shooting Lance in the face. His mind was on fire with thoughts while his body bought groceries and laughed at knock-knock jokes.
The air was never too cold or too hot. Pain of any kind no longer existed for him or anyone else, nor even discomfort. He ate but was never hungry. He slept but was never tired. Night time never came, only that pleasant orange sunset light.
Good won? Perhaps there hadn’t been a battle, at all. Maybe Good had had it from the start. Every day he tried to answer questions that had no answers, not for him. Maybe the good Lord had decided that free will was a bad idea, after all, and seized the reins. But then why allow them to remain conscious like this? Maybe God had left the room and his toddler had wandered in and started playing with his creations like dolls.
The abyss was looming now and the screams within him, the thoughts of bloodshed and murder threatening to consume him utterly, to make him like the others: broken souls trapped in the cages of their physical bodies, watching a movie they couldn’t turn off, couldn’t turn away from, helpless, mad.
Sometimes Jerry thought about the famous quote, that power corrupted and absolute power corrupted absolutely, and wondered what that said about God.
Sometimes he wondered what he’d really done with that .45, but he could never quite remember. He’d been drunk, after all.
Walking towards his car, Lance looked up at him and waved. ‘Hey there, buddy!’
‘Hey mate! Gonna be a good one, today, eh?’
‘Yeah, looking forward to it.’
He smiled at Lance, but though his lips moved, there was nothing behind his eyes. Only the dark, stretching onwards into eternity.