To Hide So Well, You Can't Find Yourself
rating: +19+x

That evening, the eyes were in her mirror. It had just been two at first, appearing in the reflection of the window when she was flossing. A quick glance towards the window showed nothing, but when she looked back at the mirror they were there again—two yellow orbs. No pupil or features she'd ever seen, and she'd never seen them move. It was really just the spacing that made her think they were eyes. These were sized about right for a fox, but she'd seen them bigger and smaller.

She'd ignored it, as she normally tried to, but two glowing yellow eyes became four, then eight, then ten. Ten were too many, and she grabbed a glass of water and fled to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. There'd been a window in her room, but she'd covered it with cloth and cardboard. The only reason wooden boards weren't nailed over it was that it would violate her lease.

She'd been to doctors; she'd been to shrinks. None could find anything wrong with her. She just saw things others didn't, and they told her that in this day and age, that alone wasn't enough to call her mentally ill. No medicine would make her stop seeing them, they told her, not without worse side effects. They did give her an anti-anxiety medication, at least, when she'd asked.

The bottle was sitting next to her nightstand. She shook a single pill out, downed it with a glass of water, and fell asleep. Her dreams were full of eyes and shadows, but at least she was calm for the rest of the night.

Morning. Late morning, but still morning. The light bulbs she'd hooked up to a timer cast their harsh glare across the room. She'd not had them, once. Waking up to dozens of eyes in her room once had convinced her she needed the light. Still groggy--she felt more tired in the middle of the day than late at night, which was weird--she stumbled out of bed and started her morning routine.

As two sausages fried in the pan in front of her, she took a glance around the apartment. No art decorated the wall. The only furniture was what had come with the apartment, a single odd-smelling couch upholstered with vinyl, and a single table. There wasn't even the odd book on the coffee table. It was complete bare, almost sterile.

Everything was exactly as it should be. Staring out the window next to the stove, she plucked the last sausage out of the pan—and promptly dropped it as it scalded her fingers. Not enough to require bandaging, but she'd be feeling it later. As she went to run her hand under the water, her gaze happened to drift to the window above the sink. It stayed there as the water ran.

The woods went right up to the apartment building, pines all crowded together. Thick layers of needles covered the forest floor, broken occasionally by small patches of mosses and ferns. Larger plants couldn't survive in the shade, and even the trees couldn't sustain their lower branches. It was the perfect place for wildlife. But there wasn't any, not so much as a robin or a raccoon. She'd never understood why. The other people in the apartment building said it had always been like that.

During the night, it seemed to be the favorite place of the eyes. But they weren't real, she knew that. They couldn't have driven everything else out.

She turned off the water and shook her hand. It was time to go. On the way out she grabbed her lunch, fingers closing on the bag with no soreness at all.

Days were easier than nights. The greatest gathering of eyes was always in the forest she had to walk through to get to work, but they seemed to only show themselves in deep shadows where little but blackness could be seen. The forest was dim even at high noon, but not so dark as to make sight impossible. Even if she was unlucky, she'd only see a few sets. It was one reason she didn't mind working odd hours at the warehouse.

There would be even fewer when she got to work. It was probably just the distraction provided by her duties, but more than a few times she'd found herself growing quite sure they simply couldn't stand buildings, despite how absurd that statement clearly was.

They didn't exist, after all.

The warehouse was right where the city met the suburbs. Just a half mile away were the new developments, for the people who wanted to have all the conveniences of the city without living in the city--and could afford the rents. The woods she'd walked through blocked off the warehouse from their sight. The warehouse itself was surrounded by other industrial buildings, and a few run-down apartment buildings that probably should have been zoning violations.

Distraction her job might provide. But it was nevertheless boring work. Boxes were stacked in perfectly uniform brown columns. These days there weren't even labels on them to identify their contents—at least, not any she could read. They had barcodes but that was it.

She had coworkers, but they were few, and generally avoided her, and she them. For whatever reason, they never quite seemed to feel at ease around each other. Despite being at this job for… well, she couldn't actually remember how long… that never seemed to change.

The job didn't pay well and was boring, but the one thing she could say in its favor was that it didn't require a lot of her attention. She had, for instance, plenty of time to consider that two of her coworkers weren't familiar to her. They weren't much to look at--they were as nondescript as it came--but she knew her coworkers. She knew these weren't them, for all they wore the same uniform. But new hires weren't unknown.

They weren't avoiding her like her coworkers normally did, either. It creeped her out, though she couldn't place why. It was normal workplace chit-chat—something about recent movies. She honestly couldn't remember what they'd said. Which she supposed was kind of usual, but she couldn't really remember what she said, either. That was probably a lot odder.

It was probably just really boring.

She usually ate lunch outside. Today was no different. It was a crisp, fall day. The sun was shining through the crimson leaves of the lonely maple trees planted outside the building. A raven perched on a console bracket in the shadow of a balcony, inky black feathers melding into the color of the wrought iron. The wind whistled through the streets and alleyways, and made the leaves rustle as it passed. And, well—she could smell car exhaust. That detracted from the beauty somewhat. Really she was amazed anyone else could stand it.

Her gaze turned back from the trees to the apartment building. Back to the raven. It was still there, staring down at a man staring back at it. Despite the distance and angle, she could see him clearly, sitting at a laptop and listening to something on headphones. The room he was in was spartan; not much there aside from the desk and a few chairs. A pizza box, opened to reveal its half-eaten contents, was open and sitting next to the laptop. The raven seemed to be staring hungrily at it.

The man was staring back at the raven. He appeared unnerved.

Maybe he just didn't like birds.

And back to work. Back to monotony.

Back to boxes. She made idle, forgettable conversation with her two new coworkers as they moved a bunch of particularly large boxes from one end of the building to the other. Why they should bother moving them was a mystery only fit for management to know the answer to, it seemed. When she'd asked her boss the reason they were moving the boxes, it as was if they hadn't heard her. They just walked away as if she didn't exist, muttering something about the quarterly reports under their breath.

The day passed in a bland blur, sky darkening as afternoon turned to evening. And when evening came, there were eyes at the windows. Far more than their should be, this time. She could even swear she could see faint dark outlines, pressed against the glass. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. That was new.

But that wasn't the weirdest thing. The weirdest thing was that when one of her new coworkers had happened to look over at the windows when helping her carry one of the boxes, he froze. When she followed his gaze, she saw multiple sets of eyes, staring back. In that instant, she was certain: He could see them too.

In the instant after, she realized how foolish a thought that was. Of course he couldn't see them too. They were just in her head.

She said nothing about it, of course.

The walk home was unpleasant but nothing more. She couldn't work part time, so it was dark when she left work and the way home went through a grove of trees that always seemed to have dozens of the eyes. They didn't attack, though. So it was a disturbing walk, but a safe one. Usually.

This night? This night she was pretty sure she was being followed. Two men, walking a few hundred feet behind her. They bore more than a passing resemblance to her new coworkers. It was possible that they simply lived in the same apartment building, but she very much doubted it. Especially as they were steadily getting closer and closer; something about it just reeked of feigned casualness.

Golden eyes were turning to look at them. She didn't know what that meant, but it was the first time she'd ever seen them react to anyone but her, and when she glanced over her shoulder—

The path home was dark, and there were no lights to show the way. The moon was new, and obscured by clouds besides. There was no way, absolutely no way, she shouldn't have been able to see a glint of metal hundreds of feet away, much less that it was a gun.

She could anyway.

She ran. Her stalkers followed her, deep into the forest.

A very small part of her felt a slight, almost entirely suppressed thrill.

Minutes felt like hours. She could feel every heartbeat and every gasp for breath seemed like it echoed throughout the forest, telling her pursuers exactly where she was. Whoever they were, they were fast; faster than she would have thought she was. But adrenaline clearly did wonders, for she was keeping ahead of them, if only just.

More and more of the damn eyes were showing up, just appearing out of nowhere. Not focusing on her, for once. Plenty still gazed in her direction but most seemed to have their attention on the people chasing her. The shadows themselves seemed to be shifting, too, but she was too busy fleeing to really think about it.

She was so busy fleeing that she didn't see the root, either. Not until she'd tripped over it and landed on her face. Her vision filled with stars as she rolled over, listening to footsteps as the two men approached her. One raised a gun that couldn't possibly be legal and pointed it at her.

He never got to fire it.

The eyes flowed out of the forest around her, a mass of pitch black shadows with shapes that suggested the forms of foxes, of coyotes, of cats, of weasels, of ancient creatures she did not know and alien creatures that had no name. They seemed to blend together, less individuals and more the extensions of a single force.

And so was she, she realized. She was herself, but also one with them. She could see with their eyes, hear with their ears, even feel what they felt.

Even as they ripped her former coworkers apart, she could taste it. And in the seconds before she merged fully with them, she realized—

They wanted this.

It had been ages since they had properly eaten.

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