In Fiction on June 17, 2014 at 11:03 pm



“He taught me how to read people’s eyes.” Michael turned from the window, made sure the detective registered his expression, and turned back. “He didn’t make mistakes and neither do I. I know what I saw.”

He busied himself and paced the room, hoping his doubt hadn’t shown. In truth, he was only partly sure what he’d read in the old man’s eyes. Not that it had been out of focus or clouded—the machines had perfectly rendered the final scene—it was just impossible to put into words.

The detective shifted in his seat.

“I don’t doubt your expertise, Dr. Royce, it’s just … I need you to help me understand. I’m trying to solve a murder. I need to know what Dr. Sattar saw before he died, and I need something more substantive than ‘an impossibility.’ Usually you forensics guys are a little more … scientific in your assessments.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Nothing. Just that you and the doctor were very close. The man was godfather to your children, Michael; no one can blame you for becoming emotional. But perhaps your judgment has been muddied on this one.”

“The residuals on the retina were unambiguous. The image was clear.” Michael slammed his clenched fist onto the table, setting it ringing like an aluminum bell. “I know what I saw!”

“Then tell me,” the detective said, his demeanor unaffected. “There’s no need to get upset. Just try again.”

Michael sighed and at last slid into the seat opposite the detective. He hunched over the table, exhausted.

“I didn’t say he saw an impossibility. I said it was impossibility itself. There’s no other way to put it. The doctor saw… the last thing he saw was an object, turned upon itself in such a way that the … the beginning was also the end. The front was the back. It was neither right side up nor upside-down, but both at the same time. I’m sorry, I can’t do any better than that.”

“A geometric curiosity then,” said the detective. “An artifact of hydraulic shock from the gunshot. Maybe he was looking in a mirror, or through something that distorted his perspective. A lens of some kind. Hell, he could’ve been flipping through a book of Escher drawings for all I know, but there must be some way to explain it.”

Michael shook his head slowly, retreating. It was impossible, all of it.

This man, his mentor, 83-years-old but as lively and strong as he’d been when they’d met 30 years before—now dead. His eyes, once kindly and understanding, now blank and clouded with spoiled fluid. His hands, once so deft, now hard and crooked as roots.

Successful, intelligent, respected and loved—and now nothing. His last visions a tortured confusion.

“He wasn’t murdered,” Michael rasped finally. “He did it to himself.”

The detective leaned back and viewed Michael askance.

“What do you mean?”

“Three weeks ago … his wife. She had suffered from dementia for some time.”

“And what about her?”

“She was rarely lucid anymore, but, when she was, she would become violent. Rage. Threaten to take her own life.”

The detective was silent.

“Three weeks ago she suddenly ‘came up from the darkness,’ as Farzan would say, while he was readying her for bed. She broke his hold and ran from him. To the balcony. Over the railing. Twelve stories to the street below, her nightgown trailing behind. He saw her do it.”

“And you’re saying that’s the last thing he saw? Three full weeks ago? How?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it destroyed him. They had been together more than fifty years. Raised children—lost one. She had been everything to him, and he had been everything to her. But what she became with the sickness, what she did … It was beyond his comprehension.”

The detective rubbed his temples, clearly losing patience.

“Alright. Let’s say I accept the premise that he killed himself. What does any of this have to do with what he saw before he pulled the trigger?”

Michael couldn’t bring himself to speak his answer aloud. It was absurd and, at the very least, thoroughly unscientific. And it terrified him.

Farzan Sattar had seen—literally seen—the vicious cruelty of a life that was at once filled with immense joy and crushing, hopeless sadness. Both pregnant with meaning and emptier than the vacuum of space.

And now, Michael saw its shadow on his eyelids whenever he blinked.

Coming in just under the 750-word limit, this is my story for this week’s Speakeasy challenge.

I’ve edited this thing just about to death trying to make it clearer, but I’m not sure I’ve succeeded entirely. Let me know how I did in the comments below, and then be sure to head on over to the Speakeasy to read the rest of this week’s entries!


* The image at the top of the page is a lithograph called “Drawing Hands” by M. C. Escher.

  1. Twilight Zone chit, right there. Yup…right outta the Twilight Zone.

  2. Excellent use of the prompts. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale; the intrigue, drama, passion and awakening. Very powerful ending 🙂

  3. Very well written. Michael’s despair and confusion are very clear. That image is a heavy burden to carry.

  4. I think I get it, but I must say I’m still none the wiser as to what the image actually was. Perhaps that’s the point. Anyway, that aside, I enjoyed the suspense, the description and the story. I felt I knew the characters and the world you’d built, even in this short space of time. Glad to see you writing again.

    • That was what I was going for at least, haha, but I can understand if it’s not exactly satisfying not to have the question answered right out. I guess that’s why the detective was so frustrated. Thanks!

      (And I’m glad to be back writing again – it’s high time I catch up on your writing, too, I’d say)

  5. I am in Awe. You convey emotions with the skill of a craftsman. Didn’t quite catch the last 5ish lines though. That metaphore was too deep for me 😉 good job!

  6. I like the notion of the old retinal image retention being a legitimate forensic tool.

    • When I first though of taking that angle, I had envisioned it being sometime in the not-too-distant future where maybe this was possible – I just never quite got around to pointing that out in the story. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Amazing story…retinal image retention, what a great idea! Love it. 😀

  8. Wow. This is complex, thoughtful, imaginative, and well written. The whole conflict of a scientist not able to reconcile what he sees drives the story…and it never really is answered. Love it.

  9. I think your editing paid off. It’s a tight piece, makes sense in an abstract way and I like your explanation of the deeper message or image of life that Sattar came to understand before he died. This left me thinking philosophically. I really enjoyed it.

  10. Forensic examination of images on the retina – intriguing concept!

  11. Love the concept of retinal image retention as forensic tool – and how you made the prompt so literal. Very clever. You write well and kept me engaged throughout. However the ending didn’t quite work for me. Philosophically I get it. But artistically I wanted more. Nonetheless I really enjoyed your work!

    • Yeah, I worried the ending could either be too abstract and unclear or too heavy-handed, stepping in to tell the reader what they’re supposed to make of it, and either way that can be unsatisfying. I’m glad you liked the rest of it, though! Thanks for the good critique – it’s really helpful to get thoughtful feedback like that.

  12. This was amazing…full of suspense. Loved how you wove this story, the deductions, and the forensics. Loved the passion that vibrated through your words.

  13. This is great, Brian! I agree with Silverleaf – to me, this makes sense in an abstract way, which I think is the only way it can.

    I love how crisp your writing is – and you have several lines that are just amazing, like “Both pregnant with meaning and emptier than the vacuum of space” and “now blank and clouded with spoiled fluid.” Creative and intense use of the prompts.

    • Aww, you’re too kind – thanks Suzanne! I figured some people would really enjoy the abstraction and some wouldn’t be such big fans, but I’m glad you fall in the first camp 😉

  14. You sewed the two prompts together seamlessly. I got the sense from your writing that the suicide was due to depression and a meaninglessness (if that’s a word) of life. If that’s what you were going for than your editing payed off!

    • Much appreciated! Yeah, I think the Dr was just overwhelmed with the contradictions that his life had presented him with. Thanks for stopping by to read!

  15. You did a remarkable job with this story. And the ending was powerful. I also love your choice of illustration – an original? You have my vote!

  16. Really really liked this a lot. Interesting take on the prompt and just a good story, well told. Nice work!

  17. I think if H.P. Lovecraft ever decided to write detective stories, it would’ve come out something like this. I love “the impossiblility” of what the doctor saw and the way you described it. It links back beautifully to the Escher piece so that was a great way to work in the prompt. Most excellently done!

  18. […] in third with her story about survival in a Dystopian world. Rounding out the top row we have Brian‘s engaging account of a detective uncovering the secrets behind a mysterious […]

  19. […] Crowd favorites: #1 Suzanne at Apopleptic Apostrophes for A Prolonged Breath; #2 Janna at JannaTWrites for Eye Contact; #3 Silverleaf at The Silverleaf Journal for My Eyes Have Seen You; #4 Brian at Pinionpost for Impossibilities […]

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