Don't Tell Them
As I feel my way along the wall from my front door to my living room, I pause with my fingers over the light switch. It has been nearly two years since I’d flipped that switch to on. On the bright side (no pun intended), all our electricity bills plummeted.
Although we still hear about The Great Blinding on the radio every day, I guess we’ve all sort of gotten used to it.
“Johnny? Are you home?”
I give it the customary five seconds before assuming Johnny is still out. Maybe he’s still at work.
“Siri: Did Johnny check the voice message I sent him?”
“No, he did not. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Props to Apple for making Siri more useful than ever — I guess that saying about necessity and invention still rings true. She still sounds super robotic.
So, if Johnny didn’t check his messages that means he didn’t go to the store.
I grab the key ring I just set down on the counter and head back out.
The night is darker than usual. Don’t ask how I know that, being blind and all, it’s just a feeling, I guess. Maybe it’s because my other senses seem more heightened than usual. Typically, I can hear the train from miles away, and the sound of my neighbors’ TVs, but tonight I can hear Mr. Walker’s cat purring.
I lock the door behind me and hope the last train hasn’t left for the evening.
Walking to the station, I can hear footsteps of passersby, and the air feels heavy. It’s likely going to rain soon.
“Train Four leaving in three minutes,” a conductor calls over the PA near the train stop.
It’s kind of amazing how quickly the U.S. government was able to improve all public transportation. It was only a few years ago that our representatives were making excuses for not installing high-speed trains to connect cities across states. Now I can buy a ticket from Los Angeles to New York City for $100, and get there in nine hours. Yeah, it’s still twice as long as a flight, but it’s a fraction of the cost.
I scan my fob at the train and find a seat.
As usual, I count the bumps of the seams in the tracks. It’s 129 seams to the grocery store; 312 to my office; and only 39 seams to Daniel’s house from my office. Though, I usually walk to Daniel’s house from work.
The aisles of the grocery store aren’t packed tonight, so it’s quick and easy for me to find what I’m looking for. A pound of potatoes feels lighter than they did back in the day — I’m sure the grocers are taking advantage of the customers not being able to see the scales themselves.
Standing at the checkout stand, I scan the magazine rack with my fingertips. Most of the tabloids are reporting that a manmade virus is what caused the blindness. There’s also a story about Matt Mercer’s latest radio show and how he made more money than his co-star Tara Strong.
As I walk back to the train station, I feel a whoosh of wind that nearly knocks me off my feet. I stop and listen carefully. The leaves on the trees are still. Weird. I wait for the telltale ding that lets me know the doors to the station are clear and walk through and down the stairs.
Like any subway station, the air down here is stale and smells a bit like a cross between a dirty locker room and a dusty basement. I glance down at my watch at the same time as I ask Siri for the time (old habits die hard).
This time when I look down, though, my eyes prick with light. Little green bars alight on my watch and I can read the time: 8:54 p.m. I can read the time.
“It is 8:54 p.m.,” Siri says, dutifully.
I blink my eyes rapidly, thinking maybe these are just phantoms. You hear about it all the time on the news. It’s like when someone loses a leg, but they swear they can still feel it.
I look around me, and though the lights are dim, there are still lights. There are three people standing right at the motion-detecting line that keeps us from walking right over the edge and onto the rails. I gasp, and all three people turn to look at me. But they simply turn my direction — their eyes are cloudy and white with no pupil, no color to their irises. I recoil involuntarily and clasp my hand over my mouth.
There are beige benches and bulletin boards covered in braille. An old billboard on a wall is tattered and muted in colors from years of nonuse. Another wall boasts graffiti, of course. Initially, I barely register what the red letters read, but the color of the spray paint is brighter than anything else down here. So, it catches my eye again.
DON’T TELL THEM YOU CAN SEE
My eyes widen and I look around me, like a dog that’s stolen food off a plate fearing she’s been caught in the act.
I can’t decide whether I’m more excited that I can see again or frightened because the message seems like it was written for me. If that’s the case, though, if it was written for me … then there are others who can see, too.
Quietly, I return to my spot in line for the train. It’s probably best if I just go home. I can tell Johnny. He’ll know what to do.
Once I board the train, walking over to a seat far away from the white-eyed zombies in the car with me, I look around me. Similar to the station, there are old ads from years ago when we could all see, but they’re faded and torn. Every other one has a spray painted message on top, though: DON’T TELL THEM YOU CAN SEE.
My hands are shaking as I try to unlock my front door. I drop my keys, and look around me before kneeling to pick them up again. I remind myself it isn’t uncommon for any of us to drop our keys. Two years is both a long time and not long enough to become totally comfortable with doing literally everything differently.
I manage to get the door open and close and lock it behind me. Johnny is sitting on the sofa and Lend Me Your Ears is playing on the living room radio — the new Matt Mercer talkie.
“You’re home,” Johnny says. “Sorry I didn’t get to the store today.”
“That’s okay,” I say, and I’m very aware of the tremor in my voice.
“You okay, babe?”
Johnny’s eyebrows knit into a wrinkled question mark, as they did every time he worried about me. I haven’t seen it in years, but over time, I learned to feel his face to know whether he was concerned or just asking. His eyes are as white as the eyes of the people at the train station.
“Johnny, I —”
I snap my mouth shut when I see the red spray paint across the wall in the hallway. I don’t even need to turn on a light to read it. I know what it says.
“What is it, Julie?”
Johnny pauses the show and stands up, still feeling his way from the sofa to the foyer, even though he knows the layout of our home like the back of his hand by now.
“Nothing. I just … had a long day at work,” I say, dodging his hands and walking swiftly to the kitchen. I instinctively flip the switch to turn on the light. I look over my shoulder and Johnny’s head cocks.
“Did you just turn on a light?”
“Yeah,” I say with a little laugh. “Funny, I haven’t done that for months.”
“You want me to make dinner tonight?”
“No, no. Go listen to your show.”
I put the groceries down and exhale forcefully. I just need to go lay down for a minute and I’ll be okay.
“I’m just going to go change clothes. I’ll be back,” I tell Johnny as I make my way to the bedroom.
As I close the door behind me, I quietly turn the light on in the bedroom. Thankfully, the light bulb still works, and it illuminates the same message on three walls. Deep breaths, I remind myself, trying to mitigate the panic rising in my chest.
I lay down on my bed and close my eyes, finding peace in the familiar darkness. Maybe this is all a strange nightmare. I pinch myself.
Okay, this is real.
I pull my phone from my pocket and look down at it. It looks the same as it did years ago, only the screen is bigger and the keyboard has braille on each key. It’s kind of like a large Sidekick or Blackberry. I see one new notification on my email.
Before checking my email, I turn the volume on my phone down. Just in case. In case of what?
My instincts were correct.
First and foremost, you must not tell anyone that you can see. Secondly, we want to assure you that you are not crazy, dreaming, or anything else. Finally, you will receive an email tomorrow with instructions on where you should go next. Please do not be afraid. And most importantly, don’t tell anyone you can see.
I read it three times, but nowhere in the email was an explanation of what was happening and why it was happening to me. There was nothing special about me that I knew of, and why were these people being so cryptic? And why did they break into my home to spray paint my walls?
I try to reply to the email with my questions, but my email only bounces back. Of course. I’d just have to wait until tomorrow’s email from whoever these people were. Until then, I was pretty sure I had a bottle of whiskey in the house.
Johnny’s alarm is going to go off any minute now. I’ve been awake since 4:30 a.m. I laid awake in our dark bedroom watching the digital second hand ticking on my watch for the past hour. The sun would be coming up soon. I haven’t seen a sunrise in two years — maybe longer.
I quietly slip on my robe and slippers and brew a pot of coffee long before the timer signals to make our coffee at the usual time of 7 a.m.
It’s freezing out here, but my coffee cup warms my hands. I watch my breath puff out of my mouth and dissipate in the cold air, and I laugh. The first light of the morning spills over the horizon and through the trees that are barely holding onto the red and gold leaves left on their branches.
A sunrise will never be more magical than when you can’t see it for years and finally are gifted with sight again. It’s a simple pleasure that I hadn’t realized I’d taken for granted most of my days.
“Julie? Are you out here?” Johnny says, his hands fumbling with the sliding glass door.
“Yes, sorry. I’ll come in now,” I say.
“It’s so cold — what are you doing out there?”
No answer seems to make sense, and least of all the truth.
“I just wanted some fresh air,” I say, settling on the believable reason.
“Are you feeling okay? You’ve been acting weird since last night.”
“Yeah, I might be coming down with something. I think I’m going to call in sick today.”
“Good idea,” Johnny says, feeling my shoulder as I come back inside.
He goes about his usual routine of microwaving a frozen breakfast sandwich and preparing a cup of coffee (two sugars and a heavy splash of cream) before getting ready for work.
Johnny says goodbye with a kiss on my cheek, and I lock the door after him. I wait about ten minutes before I open my email. There’s a single notification. It’s from The Team.
Hopefully by now you’ve become more accustomed to your sight. Please meet us at 1100 Jefferson Street, Twelfth Floor, No. 38, at 9 a.m. today. Do not bring anyone with you. Please understand that this is a sensitive topic, and you mustn’t tell anyone what you know.
Once again, I get no more information about how or why any of this is happening.
The building is like any other in the city: The signs and buttons all have braille on them; the doors are automatic; and there are beeps and sound signals that indicate when a door is open, closed, or blocked.
I nod a hello and smile at the receptionist and then see his eyes — and say hello instead. Crazy that I’ve had my sight back for less than twenty-four hours and all the old habits come right back.
Up the elevator, down the hall, and to the door marked 38. It’s the only door that has no braille on it, and the door is flush with the wall. I feel for a handle or button, but as I do, the door slides open.
I walk cautiously across the threshold and look around me. The rich, dark hardwood floors are polished to a shine. There are bright blue chairs around a yellow coffee table in a sitting area. On the wall are abstract paintings — the type you might find on a hotel lobby wall, only these weren’t painted with pastels, rather the canvases are covered in splashes of bright primary colors.
A woman in a stiff business suit is standing near the desk in the middle of the room. She’s holding a clipboard against her chest and she’s smiling.
“Welcome to the United States Department of Human Genome Modification, or simply The Team.”
“Why can I see?”
The woman’s smile still hasn’t wavered — even while she was speaking, and her smile seems to only grow at my question.
“Follow me, please.”
“Who are you? And why—”
“Your questions will be answered soon, Julie,” she says. “Please just follow me.”
More than anything, I want answers. So, I fight all of my internal alarms going off that would normally prevent me from walking into an otherwise unmarked office and following a woman who hasn’t even told me who she is.
Although the offices all have frosted glass, I can see enough of the decor inside each one to know that beiges are off limits here.
We pass a man in typical office attire, but his sleeves are rolled up.
“Welcome Julie,” he says and smiles.
“How does that man know who I am?”
The woman I’m following says nothing, but keeps walking down the long, narrow hallway.
Finally, we reach an office where she stops. She opens and holds the door open for me. I walk through and find that it’s a large lab. Everything is bright and white, and there are men and women in lab coats. It’s a pretty classic scientist scene — at least, from what I know of labs.
“Ah, Julie,” a man in a lab coat says and walks toward me. “You must be wondering why you’re here — and more importantly, why you can see.”
His voice is soothing, but I’m still prickly.
“I have dozens more questions, too,” I say.
“Thank you, Ms. Smith. I’ll take it from here.”
The woman who escorted me to the lab hands the man the clipboard she was holding and leaves. I hear the door lock behind me.
“My name is Dr. Spear, and I understand how you must be feeling. I assure you there is nothing to be afraid of.”
“With all due respect, doctor, I regained my eyesight last night and one of the first things I saw was a message painted in bright red to not tell anyone that I can see. I feel like fear is reasonable.”
“Perhaps red was not the best color to use,” Dr. Spear says thoughtfully. “In any case, we wanted to make sure any Seers would see our message first. Could you imagine what might’ve happened to you if you told others you could see?”
Okay, I hadn’t thought of that. They’d think I was crazy. Wait, did he say “seers” — as in plural?
“How many can see? Are we all going to see again?”
“I’m afraid not, Ms. Jones, or Julie — can I call you Julie?”
“So far, there are fourteen Seers, beyond those of us here at The Team. We’re only able to identify a few at a time.”
“How did you know I’d be able to see?”
“Did you ever take a DNA test, Julie?”
I’d always thought DNA tests were silly. Why did I need to know exactly where my ancestor migrated to or from? But Johnny insisted on getting me one for Christmas one year. I never got him one.
“Yeah, about five years ago, I think,” I say.
“You checked all the boxes, including the one that allowed the company to use your DNA to track and study hereditary diseases and such.”
“Okay, but that still doesn’t answer any of my questions.”
“Julie,” the doctor said patiently. “You also checked the box that gave the company permission to sell your data — and your DNA itself.”
Still nothing was clicking for me. So what? They could tell whether I’d have a predisposition for diabetes or heart disease.
“We were able to create a cure specifically for you based on your DNA. It took about a year of applications, but it finally worked.”
“A year of applications? How were you … applying the cure?”
“At night while you slept. An agent visited every night to apply drops to your eyes.”
Horror washes over my skin like a wave.
“You were in my home?” I say, my voice cracking.
“You can see, Julie,” he says. “I assure you nothing more happened than what I’ve told you.”
I try to shake off the invasive feeling and queue up my next question.
“What about the others?”
“The other Seers?”
“No, like my husband Johnny. Can you help him?”
“I’m afraid we can’t. At least, not yet. Maybe in the future.”
The other scientists are trying not to stare, but I can feel their eyes on me. Some senses stay heightened, I suppose.
“How did The Great Blinding happen in the first place?”
“Ah, now there’s a question I can’t answer yet, but you’re going to help us figure it out.”
“Me? How would I know?”
“You don’t — yet.”
“I’m so confused,” I say. “I think I just want to go back home now.”
“Oh, you’ll be staying here with us, Julie,” Dr. Spear says.
“Let me show you to your quarters,” the doctor says, gripping my elbow.
“I said I’m going home,” I say, jerking my arm away from him.
“That’s not in your contract.”
“The boxes you checked, Julie. It’s all in the fine print that no one ever reads, of course. You agreed that should your DNA be used for any future cures that it would belong to the government. Now, let me show you to your room, and we’ll go over your assignment in the morning.”