Eyes are the windows to the soul — or so she’d been told.
She’d seen it herself often enough to know its truth. She’d seen it in the adoring eyes of a faithful dog. She’d seen it in the first sleepy blinks of a newborn. She’d seen it in the bright happiness of new lovers.
She didn’t see it when she looked in the mirror.
She didn’t know when she’d become aware of this apparent lack in herself. Sometime around puberty, she thought, when she spent countless hours at the vanity, applying makeup and curling hair in a desperate effort to look like all the other girls. Despite the pretty clothes, the pink blush and the glittery eye shadow, she never succeeded. She wasn’t like the others, and she knew it.
Worst of all, they knew it, too. Her peers recoiled from her, shunned her. Her attempts at friendship were rebuffed, and her pursuits of romance were shrugged off.
She was alone — isolated from the world by her differences.
By 17, she could feel it — and understand it. There was a lack in her, a dark chasm that couldn’t be filled. An abyss where a soul should be.
That’s when she took her first set of eyes.
There was a boy she liked. He was a prince among the youth, a paragon of strength and goodness. He had a large pack of friends and an even larger pack of admirers. His teachers adored him. The lowerclassmen worshipped him. His parents loved him.
He was kind to her, one of the few who didn’t seem repulsed by her. He wasn’t her friend, but he didn’t mock her. He didn’t seem to care that she was missing a vital piece of herself.
She was drawn to him, to his brightness, to his goodness, to the soul she saw in his eyes — the soul she didn’t have.
She can’t remember exactly how she got him alone. It was late. It was fall. It was after a football game — he was the star quarterback — and he’d been out with friends. Somehow, she’d caught him alone in the parking lot. It was luck, or perhaps fate.
He was surprised — she saw that in his eyes — and he smiled. He said her name. He would, of course, be the type to remember her name. He was good like that, kind like that.
She thought his clean, bright soul would balance out the nothingness inside her. So she took it.
He didn’t see the knife. But he felt it. She slid it in under his ribs quickly and cleanly. He made a little gurgling noise and fell to his knees. He reached for her weakly — begging or fighting, she wasn’t sure. Either way, it was too late. He toppled over on his back, and his eyes — once so beautiful — bulged. A flat, glassy look came into them, and the light went out.
His soul left.
She saw it leave. But, desperately, she took the knife and carved out his eyes, hoping to save whatever was left and hoping it would save her.
She let herself believe for a while that it worked — that she saw some spark of something in her eyes when she looked in the mirror, some stolen piece of a good boy’s soul. It was hers now, giving her something, something she’d been missing, and the eyes she kept in a jar under her bed reminded her of it.
Soon enough, though, she looked in the mirror and knew it hadn’t worked. She felt the nothingness return — a gnawing, nagging ache that wouldn’t subside.
She took her second set of eyes at 21.
It was a woman this time. She was little more than a girl, really, just into adulthood, venturing out on her own for the first time, living in her own apartment for the first time. She was pre-med, smart, driven. But there was more than intelligence in her eyes. There was a quality everyone recognized, especially the soulless: compassion, generosity, goodness. There were outward signs, of course. The woman volunteered at the homeless shelter every other weekend and tutored other students every Friday. She was kind to others, willing and eager to help. She was even nice to the soulless when they bumped into each other on campus.
She reminded the soulless of the boy — a beacon, a bright spot in the world that attracted others, that chased away the darkness.
The soulless planned better for the girl. She watched and waited and hoped this time the soul would stick.
She did the deed on a Sunday. The woman stayed late at a neighborhood clinic on Sundays, cleaning up and tidying the office for the week ahead. By the time she left, the streets were deserted, and no one was around.
The soulless took the girl from behind. She used a Taser this time and pushed the girl into the trunk of her car. She took her far outside the city into the abandoned wilderness — a fitting place, the soulless thought.
And this time — this time, the soulless took the eyes first.
The girl was screaming, terrified, begging, but she couldn’t escape the ropes binding her arms, her legs, holding her head still. The soulless ignored the girl’s pleas as she prepped her tools and blocked out the shrill sounds of the girl’s pain as she made the first incision.
By the time the soulless was done, the girl was unconscious. The soulless put her out of her misery — she knew what it was like to live without a soul, after all — packed up the girl’s eyes and left the body out for the scavengers.
These eyes were in much better shape than the boy’s. And, the soulless thought, perhaps the soul would stay with her this time.
But it didn’t.
Despite her preparation, her care, the emptiness in her remained, and her despair grew.
If these two souls wouldn’t heal her, what would?
She tried again and again, varying her methods, her targets, always taking the most beautiful souls she could find. By the time she was 38, she had more than 50 sets of eyes. Blue, green, brown — all different colors. All once held bright, shiny souls.
But they didn’t any more. They were as empty as she was — still.
She sat alone, her collection surrounding her, staring down at her, accusing her, knowing her heinous crimes.
She was about to take another one, add one more set to her collection. She still hoped one day she would find a soul that worked.
Her target was waiting for her. He was in a parking lot again, like the first one. He was sitting on his tailgate, and when he saw her approaching, he didn’t look surprised. He just cocked his head, and a slight smile quirked his lips.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
She jumped at that and hesitated, unsure. He just kept smiling and raised his hand to beckon her closer.
“Come, sit with me.”
She went closer, stopping just out of his reach. Her hand closed over the hilt of her knife.
“I know what you’ve come for. I know what you are,” he said.
Her hand trembled. “How?”
“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Shakespeare. Do you know him?”
She stared at him, and he shrugged. “The Bard’s not for everyone, I suppose. Did you ever wonder how you could exist? A creature with so much emptiness and darkness inside?”
She nodded — a quick, jerky movement.
“And did you ever wonder if something else could exist — something opposite, something so full of light and life that it couldn’t be contained?”
“That’s me. Your opposite.”
He shrugged again. “Not really.”
She kept staring at him. He sighed. “You can use that knife, if you like — plunge it into my heart like you did that poor young fellow the first time — and take my eyes and add them to that gruesome collection of yours. But it won’t work.”
“How do you know?”
He snorted. “You can’t steal a soul. It’s not something you can take. It’s not a radio or a car or even a life. It’s a force that only belongs to itself.”
She felt the sting of tears. “So I can’t be fixed?”
His eyes softened. “I didn’t say that. Even a creature as lost and broken as you can be redeemed. With time and work.” He paused and held out a hand. “It won’t be easy. You’ve got a good 50 lives of penance to pay. But it can be done. Is that what you want?”
She watched him warily, wondering if she dared to believe him. “Why would you help me? After all I’ve done?”
“Because you helped me,” he said. “We’ve done this dance before, you and I — since the beginning of time, I suspect. You were the light once, and I was the dark. And you redeemed me. Despite the dark and horrible things I’d done, you took my hand and pulled me up.”
Looking at him, she had trouble believing that. She could see the goodness and decency in him and couldn’t imagine seeing anything else.
“You do have one, you know,” he said suddenly. “A soul. I can see it in your eyes.”
The knife slipped from her grasp and clattered to the ground. He smiled gently.
“You can feel, yes? Hope, despair, pain — I can see it. You can’t feel without a soul.”
He hopped off his tailgate and closed the distance between them, holding out his hand still. “Let’s see if we can fix it up.”
Slowly, she reached out, her fingers closing around his. His hand was warm and hard, strong. She felt — something. Something new and strange.
“That’s a girl. You’re considerably less stubborn than I was. It took you a good five lifetimes to convince me to trust you last time.”
“I don’t remember.”
“You will,” he assured. “It’s the darkness — it hides things from you. But you’ll see it again in time.”
“So what now?”
“Now, we start making up for what you’ve done.”
“You can’t make up for what I’ve done,” she whispered, understanding with perfect clarity exactly how far she’d fallen.
“Not easily, and not without a lot of sweat and tears and possibly blood,” he said. He led her to the cab and opened the door for her. “Let’s go, dear heart. We’ve got to get started tracking down all those souls you tried to steal and put them back in their proper places.”
“We can do that?”
“Of course. I’ll explain it all on the way.”
He tucked her into the truck, taking as much care with her as a boy would with a first date, or a man would with a precious wife. He circled around the front of the truck. He was whistling when he got back in. She watched him as he started up the truck and put it in gear. She missed the feel of his hand and wondered if she had any right to ask anything of him — or anyone, really — yet.
“Can I — do you think, maybe ... ” she trailed off when he looked over at her and simply held out her hand.
He smiled again. “Of course.” He took her hand and held it firmly. “It’s easier, isn’t it, taking that first step when you’ve a hand to hold?”
For the first time in her memory, she smiled — a small, unsure smile, to be sure, but still a smile. “Yes, it is.”