A Trick of the Mind

“shittynarrator” kindly narrated this story:

They never stayed long; never long enough as that I could truly recognize their shape or face or movement. They always appeared when I blinked, or when I moved my head quickly from one side of the room to the other.

Most of them seemed to have a human shape; a few looked like other creatures. I saw them on the streets, at school and in the office, in the cinema, at parties, during sports, in the shower, and most often at night while trying to fall asleep. It didn’t even matter whether I was alone in the room or not. There is no safety from errors of your mental processing. For years I thought it was just my brain that was badly wired; I thought I was the only one that saw them.

Then Garret told me about the things in his stairway.

I never liked his stairway. The one-and-a-half floor stairway led from the living room right up to the top of the garage where Garret’s room had been built. The stairs were made of dark oak and creaked whenever someone walked up or down, and sometimes even when no one did.

But what disturbed me about the stairway was the lack of light; the tight space consumed all light. Every trip up or down the stairway felt like the light at the end of the tunnel that I expect to see at the end of my life. And this darkness with the bright light at the end always made me see things.

It was usually just one slim figure, like a starving teenage girl with wide hipbones and a thin and long head. The first time I was in Garret’s house he was already in his room. His mom sent me upstairs. The moment I stepped on the first step the girl appeared – an all-black figure with thin body and arms. When my eyes closed to blink she was there, by the time my eyes opened again she was gone.

I saw the girl whenever I visited Garret. A few times I saw other things as well, but she was always there, standing about two-thirds up the stairs, as if she was waiting for me. At some point a dog started to appear next to the girl.

I played her off as a trick of the mind, a processing error of the supercomputer in my skull. Then Garret mentioned that he too hated his stairway.

“It’s pretty creepy,” I said.

“Yeah,” Garret said. “I always have the feeling there are things standing in the dark.”

“You mean, like, human figures?”

“It’s when I blink,” he said. “Then I sometimes see this young girl staring at me.”

Of course, rational minds would have said it was a coincidence; the same error in both of our brains, or a strange shadow, or a pattern on the wood. But the day Garret told me that he too saw the girl my mind stopped working rationally.

Garret also told me about the other figures he saw when he blinked on his stairs, like the man that crouched on the floor and looked up to the girl.

I rarely visited Garret after that. For a while he came to my house once or twice a week, and for some time after that we met to play pool and football. But we never talked about the figures again, as if talking about them somehow made them more real.

But that we stopped talking about them didn’t make them disappear, at least not for me. I didn’t see the same girl in other places, but I saw many other figures, hundreds, if not thousands. They always appeared just for a moment – literally for the blink of an eye – and were gone again.

When I was fourteen there was water damage in our house. On the first day in our cramped temporary housing I began to develop paranoia. That first night I lay in the dark bedroom and blinked. Dozens of figures stood around my bed and all through the room. I saw so many figures that by the third day I was scared of blinking; sometimes I forced my eyes to stay open until my vision became blurry and tears streamed down my cheeks.

I was used to figures appearing in the distance, in dark corners or behind windows and curtains, but I was never used to there being so many or to them being so close. They stood close around my bed, like fans at a concert want to be close to the band. Sometimes they even stood on my mattress.

And with those figures for the first time I also recognized parts of their faces. They looked human, except for the wide open mouths and the fact that there was black where their eyes should have been.

After a month in our temporary apartment I was prescribed what the doctor called “relaxation pills.” They worked. Whenever I took my pills on time the figures didn’t appear – neither in my bedroom, nor anywhere else. A few times I forgot to take the pills on time – and the figures came back.

I still don’t know what exactly the pills were for. All I know is that they made me feel drowsy and slowed my blinking down.

There are many tricks that our minds play on us. The worst is that if we blink we don’t see that we blink. For a moment we should see the back of our eyelids, our world should go dark, but that doesn’t happen. Our brains simply extend the last image they received until our eyes send a new signal to the brains. In essence: when we blink our whole world stops for a moment. It is just a moment, but for that moment we are blind, frozen in the world, and don’t even know it.

When we finally moved back into our old house I stopped taking the medication and accordingly the figures I saw in random places throughout the day reappeared. When I noticed that my blinking speed had increased again I told myself that the figures were caused by the fast blinking speed. My brain, I thought, was just making a mistake. For one reason or the other the real image of the back of my eyelids wasn’t replaced by a still image of what I had seen before – instead it was replaced by images of people or animals from my memory. And, surely, Garret must have had the same problem.

Then, a few months ago, I had my accident. A car drove over an empty water bottle and the lid shot off the bottle and scraped my right eye.

My eyeball was scratched but not seriously injured. For two weeks I had to wear an eye patch that earned me the nickname “pirate,” but otherwise my vision was fine.

What the doctor didn’t manage to repair properly was my eyelid. I had seven stitches in the lid; still he didn’t manage to repair it fully. The doctor said the small hole that remained could be annoying but as long as I kept it clean it wouldn’t be a health issue. Even during sleep the eyes still keep moving, so with the small size of the hole the eye would easily be able to remain its moisture. He recommended that I sleep with an eye mask.

The pain faded away; then the remaining tissue healed. The small hole in my right eyelid remained.

Then I was finally allowed to remove the eye patch.

I heard that some people’s brains never properly learn to see the third dimension. Those people have two eyes and live normal lives and never even realize that they don’t see the third dimension. But at any point in their lives, such as when they are watching a 3D-movie, their three-dimensional vision might ‘snap’ into place. From that moment on they are able to see the third dimension and understand the whole world in a different way.

For me it felt like that. My 3D-movie was the removal of the eye patch, my big realization was that my brain had always functioned correctly, and my new 3D vision was that the knowledge that the figures don’t just stay for a moment.

I pulled the eye patch off my head and blinked a few times. It is strange to explain to others that I can see when my eyes are closed, but that’s exactly what it is. For others my eyes look shut but the small hole that looks just like a scar allows me to see a small area of what is in front of me.

If I cover my right eye my left eye still blinks normally: With my right eye covered every time my left eye blinks the world freezes for a moment and when my eye reopens the world continues spinning.

But if I leave my right eye uncovered the world doesn’t stop spinning. It keeps moving with an ease and a fluency that I never realized I was missing. Of course I can only see a small part of the world and the rest is veiled behind the reddish darkness of the back of my eyelids. Still, I can see that the world and the people within it keep moving, and they do so with a smooth elegance that I can’t even begin to describe.

The strange thing is that the time I am blinking feels much longer than I thought. It isn’t just the instant of my eyes closing; the time in reddish darkness is long enough to take a few steps.

But as said, I now also know that my brain is not functioning correctly. There is no processing error. The images I see are real; the blurry figures are now solid and real. They used to last only for the fraction of a second, now they last long enough to take a few steps. And they do take these steps.

My brain doesn’t freeze anymore when I blink. I can see them now, the whole lives they life. I can see how they stand and stare when I lie in my bed. I can see how they talk to each other. And I can see how they grin when they walk up to me.

For so many years I blinked and just saw blurry figures. I would never have thought that those figures are real and solid.

And I learned another thing. When we blink our brains don’t just hide the darkness of our closed eyelids by showing us a frozen image of the world. To keep our perception of the world consistent our brains also freeze our other senses.

Now my brain doesn’t freeze anymore. Now I can see the reddish darkness. And now my other senses work too.

When I blink I don’t just see them moving towards me. I can also hear them speak and giggle. I can smell their breaths. I can feel their cold hands on my arms. And I can feel their tongues and teeth on my neck.

This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

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