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by Y. C.
Ohio, United States
genre: Horror
content warnings: Homophobia in Relation to Coming Out

The back of my neck is sticky with sweat. My pale, bony knees tremble behind a curtain’s shadow as I peer through a bright sliver. There are eyes—tens, hundreds of eyes boring into my skin. They twitch and blink, pupils shifty and slanted in boredom. My clammy fingers pinch away at the layers of tulle around my petite frame.

“Next, ladies and gentlemen, we have a special, solo performance from our first-grade class, Melissa Rainer!”

Cheers and applause reverberate through my ears, but all I hear are the quick—too quick—tremors in my chest, my throat, my head. The thrumming accelerates; the force in my ribs spikes in magnitude when the curtains start to separate. My body teeters dangerously on the verge of collapse, but I still step into position and move.

I leap; I spin and twist and bend my limbs in tune with the dainty music playing from the speakers around me. One earthquake after another rumbles through me, but I continue to fly unsteadily across the stage.

It ends within five minutes, and relief floods me; it courses through my veins and saturates every cell in my body. Then, I feel the eyes again. Their stares crawl up and down my skin. Tremors erupt in me again, and the pungent taste of bile is sharp against the heartbeat in my throat. My legs begin to buckle, but the curtains promptly fall, enveloping me again in their comfortable embrace.


“So, Melissa, where’re you from?” 

I look up from the tendrils of steam in my coffee to a warm pair of hazel eyes.

“Oh, uh, I’m from Michigan.” I pause to adjust my scarf. “Sorry.” I smile awkwardly. “My glasses were foggy. I, uh, where’d you move from?”

She grins at me. “I’m from California. San Francisco to be exact. I’m not really a cold-weather person, so moving here was a pretty bad idea on my part.” Her laugh sits softly in my ears.

“At least we have coffee and hot chocolate, right?” My feet shuffle beneath the bench. “And I apologize for asking you on a date here. I didn’t think it’d be this cold, and I really wanted to show you this spot ‘cus it’s pretty and all with the snow. I just- I just didn’t think it through hard enough, and-” 

A gentle laugh cuts me off. “Don’t worry, really! I think it’s a great place for a date.” She turns to look at me directly.

“Are they…?” Faint whispers itch at my ears, but I tell myself they don’t exist.

“And even if it’s chillier here, I got to meet you, didn’t I? Besides, you’re way prettier to look at than the snow.”

She lifts a hand to cup my face, and I flush warmly under her tender gaze.

“Are they…? Are they…?” They don’t. Exist.

I grin bashfully and look away to admire our surroundings. Snowflakes dance above us while a few cars drive past. Glow from the stores across the road and the streetlights lining the icy sidewalk beneath our feet illuminate the snow. Everything feels perfect. An arm wraps around my waist, and I lean to my right, resting my head against a shoulder. I close my eyes and breathe in the frigid winter air.

As I open them, a girl and her mother walking down the sidewalk catch my attention. The girl’s eyes form upturned crescents as she giggles. Suddenly, her round face swivels, and she points at us, her short, raven pigtails swishing while she curiously looks up at her mother. I freeze—all the warmth earlier instantly evaporates, and I’m left with a caustic numbness in my body.

The mother’s dark eyes land on me. Winter nips harder at my skin when her face harshens, and she quickly pulls her daughter along. She whispers something to the girl as they walk past us.

“Ignore people like them, okay, sweetie? They’re not normal.”

I’m now all too aware of the people around us. There’s a familiar sense of eyes digging into my skin, trickling down my body, and piercing through me—all filled with disgust. Shadowy figures appear in the corners of my vision: long, lanky people with white, fuzzy dots for eyes, and gaping, blurry mouths—all asking the same thing over and over again.

“Are they…? Are they…? Are they…?”

It’s too much. I swallow down the taste of bile building in my throat and stand up stiffly.

“Hey.” My voice is slightly hoarse. “I’m gonna, um, go to the bathroom? I’m not feeling too well, so I might call it a night after.” I laugh shakily.

“Oh, ok! When do you wanna meet again? I have some ideas for a second date.” She smiles cheekily and winks.

“Are…they? Are they…? Are they…?” I hear the blink of lids growing in number.

“Uh- You can text me about it later! Bye. Have a good night.” I wave and flash a quick grin before walking away briskly.

“Are they…? Are they…? Are they…?”

I try to ignore the ghastly figures and the slimy twitch of eyes around me.


I’ve made a mistake.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” 

I snap out of my trance, turning to the person next to me. “Nothing.” I frown. “I-nevermind. It’s not important. Really.” A piece of skin severs from my finger, blood welling up as my nails find another to pick at.

Her hazel eyes droop a little. “Just because we broke up doesn’t mean I can’t care about you anymore. You know that, right?”

I wipe away the blood. Was the elevator always this slow? “I know. Thanks.” 

She gives me a pointed look. “Melissa, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Then why are you so distant?” Her voice cracks the slightest bit.

“I’m not being distant.” The papers in my arms warp from pressure.

“You are! You clearly are! You’ve treated me like a complete stranger ever since we broke up!” She exhales shakily, tears threatening to spill. “We were doing fine, and then you were suddenly ‘too afraid’ of people judging us! What does that even mean!?” She bites back a quiet sob and a moment of silence rests between us.

I inhale sharply. “My parents- wanted us to break up.” She sniffles. “I’m sorry,” I murmur.

“Then prove it.” Her hazel eyes are glossy when she looks at me. “I’m trying to fix our relationship, Melissa, but you’re making it impossible to-”

“Well, maybe you’re the only one who still wants this.” I glare at her, “Look. I know that I ruined things and my parents ended up hurting us, okay? I’m sorry! I really am! But we’re co-workers now! Can’t we just keep it that way?”

An ugly, twisted scowl tears across her face. “At least I was happy. You couldn’t even admit you were gay.”

I visibly flinch away from her.

The elevator dings and I nearly slam myself against the doors to get out, ignoring the choked sobs behind me. I greet my co-workers—some wishing me luck with my presentation. I thank them weakly before rushing over to the auditorium.

Time passes; the first people present while I wait for my turn. It’s when the person before me steps up to the podium that my heart rate starts to triple in speed. I feel my gut contort, shudders slowly trailing up and down my spine. Shadows prowl the dark auditorium. Their fuzzy, white eyes narrow into thin slits, and wide mouths filled with sharp, crooked teeth curve into sneers. They don’t say anything; not yet, at least.

When it’s finally my turn, thousands of eyes settle on me as I walk toward the stage. Confidently, I glimpse at them. Nausea crashes and explodes against my stomach as every single eye stares at me. An abrupt onslaught of whispers nearly knocks me over, and I grip the podium until my knuckles bloom white. They impede my lungs—burying my voice underneath their shrill, feathery sounds.

“Stupid. Pathetic. Ugly. Disgusting.”

The edge of my vision blurs, but I can’t look away—eyes glued to eyes. They erupt from the people in the seats—now lumps of raw, red flesh. They adorn the seats themselves. They bedazzle the walls, twitching, staring. More and more of them appear on the human-like lumps in front of me.

“Stupid. Pathetic. Disgusting. Ugly. Disgusting.”

“Ugly. Disgusting. Ugly. Disgusting. Disgusting.”

“Disgusting. Disgusting. Disgusting.

My blood runs ice-cold. I can’t feel my feet anymore.

At last, I free myself from the vast horde of eyes. I look down, vision throbbing with colored spots and lungs heaving for breath. My throat constricts on itself at the sight. Hands—clawed hands—grab at my legs and drag me into the empty black void beneath. Their nails puncture my skin as I sink further, paralyzed. There are eyes. Millions of eyes squirm in the murky vacuum, and the pink, veiny webs lacing them together pulse vigorously.

I descend fully, embracing the comfortable darkness before the eyes swarm me


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