Hello! I have something for my blog today that’s a bit different from what I usually post. I recently wrote a short sci-fi/horror story. I like stories that create a vast world of their own, yet are short and to the point and can stand on their own. Some of my favorite short stories are The Veldt, The Landlady, and The Tell-Tale Heart, and they were some of the inspirations for this story.
In the following story, there are several gore/blood mentions, so if you would be grossed out by that, this may not be for you. If you’re alright with reading something a little creepy, then without further ado, I present…
• Caroline’s Curiosities •
a short story by Lillian Maggio
He didn’t ever think he would find himself taking advantage of Caroline’s services, but due to unforeseen circumstances, he came to desire a new eye. Since then, he had saved up all of his points for this occasion, even skipping meals to ensure that he had enough for her best. After all, he wasn’t too fond of the idea of making a second trip to her establishment if he were to become dissatisfied with his purchase.
With an intense feeling of hunger gnawing at him, he made his way to Caroline’s Curiosities, a little store in a strip mall. Once he stepped inside and the doorbells gave a welcoming jingle, his hunger was replaced with a thankfulness that he had not eaten earlier in the day. Smells of blood and isopropyl alcohol overwhelmed his senses, complementing the sight of several jars of various body parts preserved in a glowing, viscous liquid. Behind the counter, Caroline stood on a stool with her back to him, placing a jar on the top shelf of her display case. A hand, presumably fresh.
“I’ll be with you in just one moment, hon,” she said as she nudged the jar ever-so-slightly to the left. Caroline was proud of how neat and clean she kept her collection, and she wouldn’t have it any less than perfectly arranged. She carefully shut the glass cabinet door and hopped down off of her stool, turning to face him with a friendly smile.
“Ah, it’s you,” Caroline remarked in a friendly tone. “I wondered when you’d be back. If I remember correctly, you made quite the mess for me to clean when you first stopped in for a tour, what with your…” She struggled to find the right phrase, her fingers tapping rhythmically on the countertop as she thought. “Your ‘throwing up,’ I believe you call it. Not the strongest stomach you’ve got there. But all the same, I knew you’d be back.”
Every second she continued to speak, he grew more and more unsettled by her casual manner, and how she acted as if she knew so much about him when they had only met once before. And her remark about his stomach wasn’t exactly comforting, considering her line of work, and her… hobbies.
He shook off these thoughts as best he could and got to the point. “I’d like to purchase a mechanical eye, please. The best one you have. I should have enough,” he said, voice quivering slightly He was suddenly aware that he was trembling. He felt as if every part of his body was screaming in protest to what he was about to go through with.
Caroline noticed his behavior and chuckled. “Are you sure about that?” she teased. “You don’t exactly sound enthusiastic about all this.”
“I’ll take your word for it, then.” She turned her back to him once again and began rummaging through drawers to find what she was looking for. When she did, she held up to him a small gray sphere. A darker gray circle marked the “iris” of the mechanical eye and in the center of a yellow rectangle within it was what appeared to be a small camera aperture.
“This is my best and most recent work when it comes to eyes,” she informed him. “I’d wager that it’s better than the real deal. Resolution so high you couldn’t see the pixels if you tried, and certain signals make it switch to a night-vision mode. Isn’t too easily damaged, either. Waterproof, of course — it’d have to be. And if you like what you see, it’ll be three hundred points.” She pulled up his balance on a holographic screen and whistled. “You’re a lucky man. You’ve got three hundred and four! Just barely enough.”
Lucky. Was he really? “I’ll take it,” he said with feigned certainty.
Caroline motioned for him to follow, and led him into the back room where the operation table lay. He had almost gotten used to the smells in the front, but the odors were even more pungent in this room. He winced, and his eyes began to water, but he didn’t make a sound. He took some minimal amount of comfort in the silence, in the moments without Caroline’s sweet yet bitter voice, in the seconds without the audible crying, in the minutes before the pain. But the silence was all too quickly broken.
“Before we do this,” Caroline began, in a much more serious tone than she’d had previously, “I want you to really think about it. Giving up a part of yourself, however small, is irreversible. Irrevocable. You can’t take it back once it’s gone. And once you’ve given up a little bit, you may find it all too easy to let other parts of you slip away, slowly but surely, until one day, you have nothing left to give.” She paused, letting the words sink in. “Just know what may come of this if you allow me to proceed.”
Her words felt like a knife being twisted deep in his gut as their truth sank in ever further, and he felt the worst pain right then, before he even sat on the table, as he swore to himself that this would be it, that all he needed was an eye, that he would never come back for more, but deep down suspecting, no, knowing, that he would be back, that one day she would be right, that he wouldn’t have anything left to give and every little piece of what used to be him would be another jar in her collection, on display for all to see, a cautionary tale, a warning to never, ever say yes to Caroline and her bitter yet sweet voice and her all-too-tempting offers of perfect vision and perfect hands and a perfect mind and a perfect everything.
“I understand. I’m ready.”
• • •
It was an eye, but it was not his. It was foreign. It was cold. His body accepted it, but he did not.
“This one’s on me,” Caroline said, brushing her hands on her stained apron. “Don’t worry about payment.”
“But you said –”
“I know what I said. Three hundred points is nothing to me. I probably earn ten times that in average day,” she said with a sigh and a smile. “It’s alright. I do my best to provide good customer service. It’s what turns first-timers into repeat customers. Besides…” She held up his eye just inches in front of her own. “I think blue will look good on me.”