< Eyes
Eyes

by

James I. Wasserman




Joseph Kaufman was a model citizen, a model employee -- and was ready to put a fist into his laptop.

"Bloody machine." He stopped himself short of vulgarities and looked out the airplane window.

Joseph was flying home from a business deal overseas. If he could do anything he could sell. He had a sort of wimpy, nervous but endearing face, speaking softly -- his salesmanship was probably rooted in his ability to evoke either pity or trust -- this man wouldnít rip me off -- just LOOK at the nervous little bugger .

Joseph didnít care. However it happened, he was a star sales representative for his company -- NexusLink, one of the biggest and most profitable internet services group -- even though he felt like a tiny speck in the great cogs of the machine.

A tiny, tiny fish in a huge ocean.

He was paid well and had good benefits; the job was, all around, a pretty good situation. The problem? There was a fair amount of traveling. His wife, Carol, and their 6 years old daughter, Rachel, were clearly not happy with that particular clause. Joseph was a good breadwinner, and loved his family, but he couldnít just refuse these

business meetings and opportunities. As much as he would have liked to make some kind of compromise, the situation couldnít change. If he told his immediate superior, a tall, somewhat intimidating man named Henry Trenton that he didnít want to fly anywhere, he would probably find himself flying out of the building. Past the fine American flag next to the flag of the NexusLink logo. Well, he may come out unscathed due to his exemplary work record, but it wouldnít come out positively -- that was for sure.

That was pretty much the only thorn in his side. His relationship with his wife was getting more and more tenuous -- she had to give up a prestigious scientific journal editor position, and she loved her work. Rachel was not happy either -- Carol had to take on several roles, including being mother and father.

Joseph knew this was a recipe for disaster -- the sword of Damocles aimed at the top of his head. What can I do? It seemed futile.

The plane touched down. He had parked his car in the airport, but it was quite the zoo getting out of the area. Despite the fact that this would poke another hole in his family situation, Joseph elected to return to the office immediately.

#

"Went A-O.K., Iím assuming?" Trenton asked. He and Joseph sat in Trenton's office, decorated with mostly pictures of baseball players and little kill-time toys on his bossís desk.

Joseph stretched in his leather chair.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Trenton," Joseph said with a nod.

"I keep telling you, Joe -- call me Hank."

This wasnít the first time heíd said this to Joseph. Joseph was just -- well, too conservative, he supposed. Maybe a little too polite.

"Well, anyway, they contracted us for a number of those huge mainframe networks they use. I think it could be a real deal."

Hank smiled. "I know I can always count on you, Joe. Anyway, why donít you take the rest of the day off? Go see your family."

See, everyoneís aware of my family problems, Joseph thought. Probably more aware of them than me.

Joseph packed up at about 12:45 and left for home.

Home was a grey-bricked house, of decent size, and with all the standard fixtures and odds and ends. There was really nothing to complain about -- or compliment.

He put his key into the door. The door flew open before he could turn it. It was Carol.

"Well, look who stopped by for a visit!" Carol said, hugging her husband.

Joseph smiled. "I know, sweetie, I know. It just so happened that I could get away for the day."

Rachel ran to the door. "Hi Daddy!"

Joseph scooped her up. "So, you still want to play some rocketship?"

Rocketship was sort of an inane thing that Rachel seemed to like: Joseph would put her on his back and sail her across the room. This, of course, excited Rachel to no end, but was slowly pulling the discs out of his vertebrae.

"Ya ya ya ya!" Rachel said, and ran inside. "Come on, Daddy!"

Joseph kissed Carol and came into his home. Whenever he was with his family, everything seemed great. It was hard for him to come to terms (and no doubt hard for Carol as well) with the fact that while his presence was an infrequent treat, his absence was cutting things apart. It was like Joseph and Carol pretended to be a perfect family while he was there. Made it more comfortable that way.

He spent most of the day damaging his back and talking about work and such sorts of diverting topics.

She had given up, and as much as Joseph resisted, he still found himself going on about business deals and such. He rationalized it as informing Carol about how much money was to come in, and how that might make everything better -- a pipe dream. They both knew that that wasnít working. Joseph had just emotionally distanced himself -- at times, talking to Carol was almost like talking to a stranger.

Joseph lay in bed with his wife, too wired to sleep, just looking at the ceiling.

#

The next day at work was pretty pleasant. ĎHankí was happy, and his coworkers seemed happier too. His two best friends, also in sales (but lacking Josephís skills), were Don Barker and Greg Hill. Barker was a tremendously chatty man. Whether that worked for him, as he so claimed, was still a mystery. Greg Hill was the quieter, more thoughtful one.

"So Kaufman, how many dreidels, would you say, you had in total?" Barker liked to make these comments to Joseph, who was Jewish. However, it pretty much balanced out, since it was really all in good humor, and usually Joseph came up with the best comebacks.

"Quite a few. You see, Christians often mistake them for little popsicles, and usually choke on them and die. Thus I need quite a stash, especially with you around."

Hill smiled, saying nothing. Barker laughed.

"Back to the office, boys." Joseph said.

Joseph usually started his morning with a coffee (his own brew; what they kept in the office was dreadful) and a newspaper. Nothing terribly interesting. Joseph hated the news. For some reason, he felt an obligation to educate himself about these things that happened around him.

He read the banner headlines: Two men charged in massacre at convenience store that left 4 dead. Debate rises over smoking bylaws. Police raid third cult basement in two days. Famous Nazi hunter dead at 63. New allegations in sexual abuse case.

Usual crap,
Joseph mused to himself. Too bad about the Nazi hunter, anyway.

The end of the day came quickly, and Joseph dashed to his 5-year-old Honda Accord, looking forward to seeing his family, but a strange wave of dread was floating over him. I canít keep doing this to Carol, he thought, weíre coming apart at the seams and we know it.

#

Joseph sat in traffic on the freeway, roasting in the summer heat. His air conditioning had given up -- destroyed by the sheer power of the sunís rays. He couldnít wait to get home.

It took about an hour before traffic really let up. Joseph was pretty wired. He pondered asking Trenton to shorten his travel time. Maybe thatíd work. Finally, the aloofness, the facades, the make-believe perfect family would be washed away and there would be some sincere and true family relations.

Joseph was distracted for a moment. He realized that some idiot had been tailgating him, even though he was in the slow lane. Whatever this person was on, it wasnít legal. He tried to motion to him to back off -- the other lane was pretty packed.

Sheesh, Joseph thought, why do people do shit like this?

Finally, there was an opening in the other lane. Joseph changed lanes just in time before the tailgater would have barreled through him.

Unfortunately, another idiot was in the other lane, sitting in Josephís blind spot. Before he could get a good look --

Joseph tried to back off, but the tailgater was pacing him. Despite the clearly dangerous situation, the tailgater wouldnít let Joseph back in. He swerved --

BANG!

The inevitable happened. The three cars smashed together, spinning and sliding down the freeway in what turned into a major accident. Joseph felt himself careening into the concrete median --

#

"Mr. Kaufman?"

Joseph awakened in a world of darkness. He felt weak and pained... his other senses and the rest of his body had apparently not kicked in yet.

"Ungghhhh..." Joseph moaned. He detected bandages -- which would explain the fact that when he opened his eyes, he was still in the dark.

"Mr. Kaufman, youíve been in a terrible accident. Can I ask you -- what is your first name?"

Joseph spoke to the hidden man, most likely a doctor. "Joseph." He said.

"Can you tell me your address and the current date?"

Joseph endured a number of such questions. He remembered pretty much everything except around the time his car was demolished. Spotty recollections of sliding cars, hitting each other from side to side...

"How do you feel?" The man asked.

Joseph moaned. "Still... waking up... Feel aches and pains... numbness..."

"Expected. You sustained a number of serious injuries as a result of the crash. We had to perform a number of exploratory surgeries immediately."

The voice paused momentarily. "By the way, Iím Dr. Gerald Commons. Iíll be overseeing your health situation."

"What kind of situation?" Joseph asked.

Dr. Commons informed him of the consequences to his functioning as a result of the damage. His limbs would heal, but he would lose some dexterity. He would probably need physiotherapy. But worst of all, he had sustained some damage to his primary visual cortex, which generally oversaw, as one would guess, the process of vision.

And the last bit of icing on the cupcake?

Between the brain injury and the direct trauma to his eyes, from this day forward, Joseph was blind.

Joseph stayed dead still through the report. Dear god, Iím blind.

"This, of course, is going to have major repercussions, especially for your work. We will need to talk about your options." Dr. Commons said calmly.

A door slammed.

Joseph was given more morphine for the pain. As he was spiraling towards unconsciousness, he heard a new voice. Despite his impaired judgment, he knew it wasnít Commons.

"Hello, Mr. Kaufman. Iím Dr. Stein. Iím going to be spending some time with you when Dr. Commons isnít around."

"Uhhh... hello..." Joseph was hardly aware that he was speaking.

"I know youíre confused right now. Give it time. And if I may say so, speaking candidly, this situation may become more positive."

Joseph, even in his stupor, was confused by the remark.

#

"Good day."

Joseph groggily snapped out of his sedated state.

"Whoís there?" he asked.

"Itís Dr. Commons. How do you feel?"

"Never better." Joseph moaned.

He heard a door open. Someone walked into the room.

"Howís our patient?" It was Dr. Steinís voice.

Before Joseph could respond, he heard the two men whispering. It sounded like an argument, by the quickness and soft intensity of their voices. He caught a few words... my... patient... behind...

He heard someone leaving, the door echoing a nice slam.

"What is going on?" Joseph asked. He was more lucid, but as a result the pain was returning.

"Itís Dr. Stein, Mr. Kaufman. Dr. Commons has been called away."

"Ah."

"So tell me, Joseph, how do you feel? I donít just mean your current physical state. I know it hasnít been long, but how are you taking this mentally? Emotionally?"

Joseph paused for a moment. "Where is my family?" he asked quizzically.

There was a pause. "It hasnít been very long. Theyíve been sent for -- I contacted them myself. In the meantime, it leaves us with a little chance to talk." Stein continued.

"Talk about what?" Joseph said confusedly.

Dr. Stein was silent for a moment. "Youíve just recently been injured. Unfortunately, itís rendered you blind. Do you want to give this news to your family? See how it devastates them? Iím also sure you donít want to lose your sight."

"But..." Joseph replied, still confused, "... I donít understand."

"You may have a rather pleasing opportunity available to you."

"And... that is?"

"Iíve discovered a new, radical treatment for your ...optical situation.

"Itís a surgical procedure for eye repair. I can regrow some of the connections between the optic nerve and your brain, and also to the most extent, repair your eyes through insertion of a small device that acts as a catalyst for cell division. What it does is redirect some of the pathways away..." Stein began to drone on with technical and medical jargon.

"What does this mean? Donít I have brain damage? Doesnít that render me completely visionless? Can you please answer me like Iím a 5 year old here?" Joseph interrupted.

Stein paused again. "Okay. This is a risky technique. Yes, you sustained brain damage. However, the brain is an interesting thing -- the Stein device reroutes pathways from your eyes to other parts of the brain that can, hopefully, compensate. It also stimulates eye recovery."

Joseph was somewhat flabbergasted. "You can seriously do this? I donít know much about medicine, but it occurs to me that something like this would have huge repercussions for disease or something? Like Nobel quality..."

Stein laughed. "Donít worry about that. Thereís a few ... factors that would prevent me from attaining that honor. Never mind that.

"So I asked you, Mr. Kaufman: Do you want to see again? Now would be the time to think about it. What if you could prevent the suffering that faces you and your life in general?"

Whatever this man was talking about made him seem more optimistic. Should I really care about the details, Joseph asked himself, if this man can cure my blindness?

"Yes... I donít want to be blind..." Joseph said solemnly. He had only experienced blindness for a short while but he decided that he didnít like it.

"Dr. Commons has been summoned away. I could have you on an operating table in 5 minutes."

Joseph felt the sense of urgency. It was time for a split second decision.

He made it. "All right... If this will make me see again..."

"Excellent," Stein said, and Joseph could almost detect a smile from the man, "Iíll send for my staff immediately."

Joseph didnít really want to think about anything else. Yes, this was an odd sort of encounter. Yes, this procedure seemed shady. He still wanted the answer to the question: If so revolutionary, why was the treatment seemingly hush-hush? Who cares, he thought, if this guy can make me see, even if itís in all shades of pink and cyan, itíll still be better than being blind.

Before he knew it, Joseph was on a stretcher. He felt movement. A short time later, he heard Steinís voice, loud amongst the chatter of what must be his staff.

He felt a mask over his face, smelled some kind of gas, and fell into unconsciousness.

#

Once again, Joseph Kaufman awoke in a hospital bed. It seemed like this situation was identical to his previous waking after the accident. Was it a dream?

Apparently not. "Mr. Kaufman: The procedure was completed."

"Successful?" Joseph asked, rising from a groggy sleep.

"Itís hard to know. The device has been planted. Dr. Commons is returning. Heíll show your family in. Remember these things, Mr. Kaufman. First, do not remove the bandages for four days. Second, come back to the hospital if there are any problems -- you must ask specifically for me. Third, if the operation did the trick, youíll see again; however, it wonít be perfect. It will take a while to get used to some ... well, visual side effects."

"What do you mean?" Joseph asked.

Stein ignored the question. "Ask for me, Joseph."

Silence.

He heard the door slam, then reopen a few minutes later.

"Oh, honey..." It was Carolís voice.

"Hi Daddy!" his daughterís voice.

Joseph felt arms around him, and lips on his cheek.

"Dear god, Joseph! Are you all right? They told me about that horrible accident..." Carol tiptoed.

"Iíll be fine, I think. I had this emergency oper --

Joseph cut himself off.

"-- Iíll have to wear bandages for a few days, but Iím expected to have a full recovery."

Dr. Commonís voice. "A good recovery. However, thereíre some details. Iíll leave you alone."

"What does he mean, Joseph?" Carol asked.

"Uhh...just that I.... may have some vision problems. Probably not major." Joseph sort of felt a chill. What if the operation had not worked? What was he setting up his family for? He felt sick. All of this had happened so quickly. The accident, the mysterious duo of physicians, some sort of experimental procedure... It was too much to digest.

"The doctor said you were lucky. That you could come home and recover there."

"Really?" Joseph asked.

"Yes, but they want to see you for check-ups. Some nurses may also visit."

Joseph thought about the strange secrecy that surrounded Steinís emergency procedure. His heart was thumping now. Did he get himself into something... not 100% Kosher?

With the help of an ambulance, Joseph returned home.

#

Nurses periodically arrived at the Kaufman home to check on his wounds. They obviously didnít check enough to know -- or they just didnít know -- what the story was with Steinís procedure. His body healed quickly. He was a little off balance, but it wasnít major and may even go away, the nurses had said.

The time came. 4 days of bandaging leading up to the moment of truth -- was his vision cured?

The last bandage came off.

Joseph trembled with shock.

He could see.

He started to laugh, and then sighed deeply.

The nurse seemed confused. "Mr. Kaufman? What --

"I can see!" Joseph bequeathed.

His family gathered around him. Carol was tearing up. It was a glorious relief. Apparently, it was also a glorious conundrum for the nurse (she was the second heíd met, a girthy woman named Regina).

The nurse hesitated for a moment, looked confused, and then spoke: "Uhh...Mr. Kaufman... You can--" she cut herself off. After all, what could she say? Youíre supposed to be blind, arenít you? Obviously, and curiously, she wasnít in contact with Dr. Stein.

He quickly discovered some problems with his vision (which he gladly accepted in lieu of blindness). Colors were odd. People standing still seemed to move slightly back and forth. There were flashes of light. Otherwise, he seemed to be able to compensate.

"Apparently, more or less, Iím going to be O.K." Joseph said, still taking in all this information at once. Well, it was an eventful day.

#

Joseph returned to work after about a week. He was still seeing some visual hallucinations, and was still on heavy painkillers. It didnít bother Joseph too much; as far as he was concerned, he had averted disaster. He felt like a new man. He was happy and so was his family; or at least, they felt relieved. One question that lingered in his mind was how his family and even the health professionals (save Dr. Stein) viewed this miraculous healing of his eyes.

Barker and Hill joked as always, but something was a bit strange. Since the procedure, things had changed. One thing was interesting. After a walk down the hallways and some usual jokes with his water cooler buddies, Joseph returned to his office and sat in front of the computer.

It was all red. The whole computer was red, apparently. The image persisted; he stared at the screen.

Joseph decided to take a walk to the menís room. Inside, he stared at himself in the mirror. Everything seemed pretty copacetic except for some mildly strange hues. He also looked a little blurry; the image of him seemed to slightly waver.

Well, clearly heíd have to live with this for a while, he just didnít know how long.

He turned away, but he could swear, for just about a split-second, that his clothes looked a little different: the wavering image seemed to portray that he looked more ragged than he was. Well, maybe he was running himself ragged, which would not be surprising considering his medical experiences.

Joseph sat back down at the computer. It seemed like the red-colored hallucination had abated. He sighed and began writing up his next sales proposal.

#

The next few days were wrought with bizarre images. Much like before. However, the situation got stranger. Partly through the day, Joseph picked up a local newspaper to read while he drank his coffee and popped some Tylenols for lunch. He gave the front page a quick look -- mostly crappy, hyped-up sensationalism (the paper was somewhat tabloid-esque). Headlines like police officer dies an untimely death (when would it be a timely death, Joseph wondered) and --

Local doctor killed in gas leak.

Joseph had a funny feeling about that. He read the article, or at least the important parts:

...who was killed by a gas leak. He was mostly an independent, but slightly controversial due to his use of unorthodox procedures.

Joseph looked at the next sentence, but he knew what was coming.

... Dr. David Stein was found in a laboratory. He was already dead when he was discovered.

BINGO.
Joseph had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He wanted to think about it, mull this over, but his brain was too taxed to be involved. There were a lot of unanswered questions, but the newspaper didnít address them. The article was almost a blurb. This probably explained the lack of follow-up on Josephís operation.

He went home early, tired from visual inconveniences and this information about the late Dr. Stein.

That, he could not escape. Carol looked concerned.

"I think you should go back to the hospital," she said.

"Dr. Steinís dead," Joseph mumbled, sounding (and looking) very fatigued.

"So? There are other doctors who can probably help. You need a check-up or something."

Joseph sighed; he realized that Steinís death might render him without further treatment. "All right, tomorrow. Now I need to rest my beleaguered brain." He plopped himself into bed.

#

The next day he returned to the hospital. After a good wait he saw Dr. Commons, who was probably the next best doctor as far as knowledge of what Dr. Stein did to him.

"You were right to come back. I was concerned about what Dr. Stein had done to you." Dr. Commons said.

What Stein DID to me? Joseph mulled over the statement for a moment.

"How is your vision?" the doctor had a funny sort of look on his face, like something had upset him. Joseph figured that was just a function of Dr. Steinís split-second work that he probably viewed as Ďdangerousí and/or Ďcontroversialí.

"My vision is quite good, but... " Joseph sort of trailed off.

"But?" Commons asked.

"Well, I sort of see things... distortions of colors and such. Blurred vision that makes me see certain oddities in some people --"

Commons jumped in, still unsuccessful in hiding some kind of aggravation. He looked alarmed. "Iím concerned, Mr. Kaufman. I mourn for Dr. Stein, make no mistake -- but Iím afraid these Ďmiraculousí techniques he performed are extremely unstable and dangerous. What if these ...oddities got worse? What if you started seriously hallucinating, losing touch with reality?"

Joseph mulled over Commonís statements for a moment.

"What are you saying?" he asked the doctor.

"Iím saying that this miracle cure is likely to completely break down -- youíd be threatened not only by psychological issues but the possibility of infection which could spread to other parts of your body. I am mostly concerned about whatís behind your eyes and how it would be an easy target. Brain damage, infection, cancers -- you may be at risk for all of these. You may also go blind again. But in that possibility lies also the potential for further damage to your eyes and the nerves that serve them."

Joseph felt a cold sweat. He had asked Carol and company to leave him alone with the doctor; they didnít know about the problems, the mysterious procedure, and the real situation. Well, Joseph still didnít know the real situation yet. He feared it, however.

"Whatís the bottom line?" Joseph asked with some hesitation.

"I want to undo what Dr. Stein did. I think itís better for you. We do have safer procedures and methods which may help you."

"You mean... Iíll be blind again?"

"Iím afraid so, certainly at the beginning... but your case is slightly different. Maybe we can repair the damage in some way."

Joseph grits his teeth. No way, he thought, Iím not going to be blind again, I donít care about some hallucinations -- I can see. Why is Commons now so optimistic that he could help me? Moreover, Joseph detected urgency in Commons. The man wanted to undo this quick. Was it for Josephís well-being? Somehow, he felt like there was a piece missing.

"Sorry," Joseph said, "but I would rather bear the risks and stick to the current program."

Commons nodded. "Of course, itís your choice. However, I assure you that --

Joseph jumped in. "I have no doubt that you are trying to help me; however, this works, if not for a few minor issues. Itís probably the best sight Iím going to get, so I choose to bear with it."

Commons bobbed his head, seemingly defeated and not liking it.

Joseph spoke again: "So what can I do as far as follow-up treatment?"

"Dr. Stein was going to follow you up. Unfortunately, due to the terrible tragedy, no one really knows what heís done. I wouldnít know how to navigate your treatment.

"However, these antibiotics may help control any possible infection. But keep my proposal in mind. And make sure you come back if these hallucinations get worse."

Commons left the room and returned a few moments later with a bottle of pills.

"Shouldnít I get a prescription?" Joseph asked.

"No need, at least for a while. Physicians often get mounds of free samples of medicines."

"But you canít check on the healing? These risks you talk about?"

"As I said, our expert is dead. If you want to keep his procedure intact, youíll have to live with it. Again: please come back if your vision gets worse with these ...symptoms, or you change your mind."

Joseph took the bottle of pills, which were apparently some high-strength codeine-containing analgesic, and left the room to meet his family.

#

The following day, Joseph had gone to work as usual, but his doubts about his sight were alarmingly growing.

Very alarmingly.

He was seeing things, all right. But this time things had worsened tremendously. The colors, the places --

And the people.

Joseph was learning to be quiet. Despite his concerns, something made him uneasy, to say the least.

His coworkers had changed. Or at least some of them. It was as if he had come in on Halloween without knowing it.

Hill had come down to his station, and that was when it had begun.

"So, whatís up? You OK?" his friend said.

"Yeah..." Joseph said.

But things werenít OK.

It wasnít the usual business apparel he saw when he looked at his coworker. Instead of the symphony of blues and grays with the occasional funky tie --

Something that looked... almost... like...

Military fatigues. Torn greens and grays. Like a uniform.

Some symbols too. Odd symbols.

There was some kind of shape, ill-defined, on Hillís arm. He couldnít make it out--

"Man, you awake? Jesus!"

"Yeah.. Yeah, just a bit tired, yíknow. Doc gave me some painkillers. Make me a bit dizzy." Joseph was shaking, but he spun in his chair, feigning an Ďuncomfortably numbí portrayal.

"Okay, well, have fun. Hope you feel better." he said, walking away.

#

It got worse, much worse. It became hard for Joseph to go to work. He saw so many things. And he began to mistrust people. If they were hallucinations, fine -- but he was learning to keep his mouth shut. Commons had been weird with him. Aloof. As if he was disappointed with his sight. The man was hiding something. Something, maybe, that was related to his resentment of Stein, the man who had made him see. But see what, exactly? There was some method behind this madness.

Everyone was starting to look weird.

People on the streets, some dressed in those odd military-like suits, some in what appeared to be old and worn attire -- unusually worn. And some people --

Some people were just not there.

He could see them, but at the same time, not see them. Like among some of the crowds of people, some were translucent. It scared the hell out of Joseph. He tried to keep calm, but there were little voices inside of him.

Youíre losing it, one said. But Joseph was reluctant to accept it. Heíd been stable. And over days, the hallucinations remained consistent.

#

He decided to go to Steinís funeral. Maybe talk to some people, see what was going on. He wanted answers, but was somehow afraid to ask. This was happening too regularly, and his sight was changing, but in a strange way, becoming stable. Stable in its bizarre instability.

One thing was becoming clear.

There were three kinds of people, or three ways they appeared. They were either garbed in those bizarre suits, those bizarre greenish grey fatigues, they were translucent, or they were clothed in those odd worn, almost moth-ridden rags.

The funeral was no different. Commons was there. So were loads of people --

Now, there was a clear distinction. At the funeral, most of the people looked like the third kind.

With some exceptions. Every now and then, there was a fatigue-clothed individual. They looked --

Angrier. Meaner. As opposed to the others, with blank expressions or a look of resigned exhaustion and pain.

Commons was one of the former. He looked at the grave with disdain, as if pleased Stein, his rival, was dead.

But the grave, oh the grave --

It was no normal grave. Not like any other funeral Joseph had seen, at least before the operation.

It was sloppy. The coffin was sloppily constructed of what looked like rotting wood. It was lowered into the grave, also sloppily constructed, with careless abandon. Like no one really cared, or even liked Stein.

Commons looked up at Joseph.

"Well, Mr. Kaufman, interesting to see you here."

"Uh... Yeah, well, the guy was the one who cured me. Decent thing to do would be to at least attend his funeral," Joseph replied, still shaking. He tried to hide his uneasiness.

Commons nodded slightly, looking away as if not really hearing Joseph.

"Well, uh, thanks for everything, Dr. Commons."

"Youíre lucky to be alive," Commons said, "If I were you, Iíd come back to the hospital. That little experiment of his probably will give out sooner or later."

"Iím fine." Joseph lied.

"Regardless. Stein was a bit of a loon, really. Iíd like to take another look."

"Well, no side effects so far. I can stop by --"

Commons looked annoyed. "Iím your doctor, Mr. Kaufman. There are two kinds of people. Those who play it safe and go the smart route, and those who have their little rebellions. Stein was one of the latter. In the medical community, frankly, he was a little unstable. Iím not comfortable with what he did to you. You never know what these experimental medical procedures can do. Donít get me wrong, Kaufman, I want to help you. But I also want to be cautious."

He called me Kaufman. Joseph nodded. Commons walked away.

Then something stranger happened.

A woman walked up to him. She was dressed all in black with a veil. Judging by her position at Steinís grave, he assumed she was his widow.

"Mr. Kaufman?" She asked.

"Yes." He said. Then he shook his head. "You must be Mrs. Stein. Iím so sorry--

She cut him off. "My husband wanted you to have this." Mrs. Stein handed him an envelope.

It was addressed by name to Joseph.

"Goodbye." The widow walked away.

In hindsight, bitter hindsight, Joseph shouldíve known what was in there, and he shouldíve probably followed what it said.

He ducked into his car and tore the envelope open.

The note inside was brief.

Dear Joseph:

If you have this it is because I am dead. What you see is real. What you must do is remain silent. Choose your allies where you can.

The last addendum was the oddest.

They probably know.

DONíT GO BACK TO WORK.

Dave Stein, MD


#

For some reason, Joseph didnít heed the noteís warning. Maybe it was the routine of day-to-day that Joseph had established for so many years. Without thinking, he returned to NexusLink.

Commons was right. There were two kinds of people around. Some looked tired, others meaner and more authoritative. The tired ones looked like their clothing was ragged, their faces downcast. They rarely spoke. The others, mostly his superiors, seemed to be clothed in some kind of...

Fatigues. Bizarre colors of bland brown, green and black.

Joseph decided to do something. He walked into Hank Trentonís office.

What he saw there shocked him.

The office was bizarre. What used to be pictures of nondescript artwork seemed to be...

Maps. Blueprints. Like right out of some strange army game.

"Hello, Kaufman." His boss said.

Joseph nodded.

"I know you can see."

The statement his boss made was odd. What did he mean? Of course he knew Joseph could see. Unless it was something...

Different. Something, maybe, he wasnít meant to see.

"The operation worked well." Joseph concealed his quivering nerves.

"Too well, maybe."

Joseph was confused as hell.

There are two kinds of people, he remembered Commons saying.

He remembered something else.

There had been a Rabbi at Steinís funeral. He was Jewish. Wasnít a very nice burial, either. Damn confusing. Something clicked in Josephís head. Alarm bells.

DONíT GO BACK TO WORK.

"We canít have you do this."

Joseph was taken aback. What the hell was his boss talking about?

Something happened.

The blurriness was ebbing.

"Know anything about history, Kaufman?"

What happened to calling me Joe? Joseph wondered.

"A little," Joseph replied.

"Not enough, I think. Or too much."

Suddenly Joseph was caught in the grips of what seemed to be that once-visited jigsaw puzzle in his mind, slowly coming together.

As his mind whirred, the door opened. Two men came in.

There was no question about it now.

They were army men, dressed in fatigues and bland suits. Suits he remembered, remembered from a long time passed.

"You can see us now, Kaufman. We canít allow that. We work very hard here to maintain what is going on. Know anything about World War II?"

Joseph froze. He saw some insignia on his bossís and the army men's arms.

My god.

"We didnít lose, you know. Thatís the thing. We didnít lose. But you lost, Kaufman. Why did you have to see? That Jew Stein tried to help you. Now heís dead. The jig is up. At least for you."

Joseph backed off. The army men grabbed him.

Josephís boss sighed.

"We canít have you see this. We canít have anyone. All of you can be comfortable, thinking youíd won that war."

Josephís jaw dropped. He felt sick.

Suddenly something changed. His boss spoke to the armed men. It was a language he recognized.

German.

His boss was clearer now. The suit was one --

Two symbols. One was on his collar. A symbol long in the past. A symbol that looked like two Sís.

S. S.

"We won, Joseph. You lost. We keep you in the dark till the time comes. We do well here at Nexus. Do very well. Keep the world on our territory. Once in a while, people like you come along with eyes wide. We canít have that. We control the signals, the Internet, and people donít even know about it."

It all started to make sense. Stein had made him see, see something he wasnít supposed to. This whole world was a farce. But it was too late.

"You won World War II," Joseph said, near tears. "You won and you concealed it this long so we could all be deceived into thinking you lost. Nexus has control ..."

"And you wonít tell anyone, either. You Jews are all the same. And weíll continue. Continue until our foothold closes."

Joseph backed off. The Nazis were alive. They were everywhere. Stein had helped him. Helped him see them, maybe thinking he could do something. Warn the world. Warn someone that the Germans were still here, concealed.

He felt a gun at his neck.

"We canít let you live."

He knew the gunshot was coming.

"You wonít win for long." Joseph said, managing a defiant smile.

"I think we will. Weíve already won. 60 years strong."

"Good for you." Joseph suddenly found new strength. He took the opportunity and jerked free of the military men behind him. Jumping up onto his bossís desk, whatever his name really was, and smashed through the window behind him.

Bloody murderous bastards. How did they do this? All this time, an illusion. 60 years strong and no one noticed. Stein tried to help him, make him see. I canít let this happen, Joseph thought.

He shook the glass free. Feeling himself falling, he gripped the window sill and turned around--

What he saw was startling. The NexusLink flag, and the American--

It wasnít the American flag at all.

The black symbol, the red and white--

He was seeing something , all right. No hallucination. Just deceit. Deceit that somehow had been propagated through blind eyes impossibly all this time.

The shock cost him dearly. He felt feet crushing down on his fingers.

"You wonít win, and you wonít speak."

His fingers gave away, and he was falling.

Someone will see, he thought. Someone must see. They canít win. Those murderous bastards will lose.

The concrete came quickly. Joseph fleetingly recognized his sight, as well as his body, smashing away. A horrible déjà vu.

Inside the top floor, three men raised their arms and chanted.

THE END



James I.Wasserman is a 29 year old Ph.D. student in Psychopharmacology; he is a scientist as well as a writer. James is mostly a horror writer but dabbles in dark humor and fantasy. He is always looking for opportunities to display his work and has a featured story publication, "The Expiring Man", in the online magazine the Dogwood Journal as well as Planet SF, Zygote in my coffee, and upcoming publications in Wild Violet magazine, Dark Fire, and Anathematic online journals.

E-mail: severed_head@yahoo.com

Webpage: www.jamesiwasserman.com

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