01 Feb The Shores of Pluto
Late last month, just before Christmas, a strange, prickly feeling crept up my spine and made a patch of my neck feel cold, as if someone had left a window open. I looked around at the familiar setting. Nothing seemed amiss. The windows were shut. The doors were closed. I realized my heart was pounding and I couldn’t figure out why I was so anxious. After a moment, the feeling passed.
I had lunch alone at my desk. My sandwich was good – ham and cheese and butter with a little dijon mustard. The rest of the office had gone out, taking advantage of a break in the snowy weather. I ate mindlessly, relishing the peace and quiet, until I felt the cold again. This time, it was physical and penetrating. A frigid wave of thick air wafted into my cubicle and chilled me to the bone. Goosebumps rose in a wave over my back, neck, and arms. The feeling of uneasiness returned. Something flickered in the periphery of my vision.
I whirled around, my swivel chair nearly toppling over.
I went about my day, noting, with some degree of concern, that there was always something lurking in the corner of my right or left eye. I worried I might be getting a migraine, but my head felt fine.
The bus ride home brought more flickers in the periphery; shadowy dots not unlike the floaters people get in their eyes, except different in how they moved. In my experience, eye floaters can get blinked away. These persisted. Even when I closed my eyes, they swarmed like masses of black gnats just outside my line of sight. I was struck by how dark they were. It was the first time I’d seen something darker than the inside of my eyelids.
At home, I popped two Advil, poured myself a drink, and sat on the couch. I sipped the whiskey with little enjoyment and watched television. I felt a growing pain in my right eye, as though someone had pressed an ice cube against it. The swarms of black dots coalesced and widened, and before I knew it, I’d lost sight in that eye.
I panicked. Realizing I needed to go to the hospital, I jumped off the couch and headed toward the kitchen where I’d left my keys and phone. The moment I stood, the same thing happened to my left eye. Everything went black. Black and cold.
I shrieked and stumbled, falling onto the living room carpet. Varying shades of dark pulsed behind my eyelids. The sensation of cold grew into something else. Beyond frigid – beyond glacial. It was an utter absence of warmth.
Unable to move and entirely blind, I screamed for help despite knowing no one would be able to hear. I remained on the floor, shivering, in the blackness.
I don’t know how much time had passed before I started to see things again. Perhaps my eyes had gotten used to the darkness that had swallowed them, or perhaps it was something else. I began to make out pinpricks of light in the shadows. They were almost impossible to see, but they were undoubtedly there. I was reminded of stars.
The perspective moved and whirled and a round mass grew in prominence in my field of vision. I couldn’t determine any features other than its roundness, and only that because it blocked the tiny sources of light in a rough circle.
It grew larger as I got closer. Through my shivering, I gasped as I started to make out details. It was a moon or a planet or some other faraway celestial body. Mountains and frost heaves jutted out of its rocky terrain. Vast rivers flowed in and out of seas. There were no trees. No plants.
I realized my acclimation to the dark had gotten better. I could make out fine details now, and when I craned my head over my shoulder, I could see a star that was bigger than the others – about the size of my pinky nail. Its illumination didn’t help much, but it was all I needed as I got closer and closer to the shore of one of the mighty, turbid rivers.
I did my best to gather my thoughts. I remembered back to my college days, as an astronomy minor. Millions of years ago, liquid nitrogen coursed through channels on Pluto and flowed into great lakes and seas. Despite my fear and pain, I laughed. It was right then I knew this was all in my head; that I was having some kind of episode. I had to have been hallucinating some memory from a college lecture I thought I’d forgotten.
Regardless, I was still in pain. I still couldn’t move. All I could do was watch as I touched down on the sharp rocks and saw the mighty river flowing silently before me.
Nothing happened for a while. I shivered and tried to curl into a ball. I couldn’t.
In the distance, a geyser erupted. I watched the torrent of fluid gush into the sky and simultaneously freeze and boil and coat the ground with a residue of rime.
Something caught my eye. Something at the river’s edge. A dark, clumpy mass was emerging from the liquid nitrogen. It was jellylike and wet – not frozen like one might expect. It glistened in the light of the distant sun.
More and more and more of its bulk flopped out of the river. It was streaked with veins and pitted with deep pores. Hard, bony portions that may have been legs or antennae straightened up all over its body. It began to inflate. Its color lightened to a dark yellow and the pores inverted into fleshy lumps and it rose into the sky.
I was rising with it. My feet left the ground and I floated alongside the creature until we were about a hundred feet up. The bony masses on its body split. Innumerable black lines exploded from within and streaked into the midnight sky. They flew in a torrent, still connected to the main body, into space.
For the first time in what seemed like days, I experienced a tingle of warmth.
Brightness detonated throughout my skull and I gasped and writhed and realized I could move again. I was on my back, staring at the ceiling of my living room. I was still freezing, but I could feel the heat from the nearby radiator warming me.
Scrambling to my feet, I finished my rush to the kitchen, grabbed my phone, and called 911.
I spent the night in the hospital undergoing many, many tests. Once they determined nothing was wrong with me, other than very mild hypothermia, the psychological tests began. At any other time in my life, I would have been upset – angry, even – at the thought of someone testing my competence. That night, though, I welcomed it.
When the paramedics rushed into my house, I noticed infinitesimally-fine lines emerging from their eyes and going straight up into the clouds. When I reached the hospital, everyone there had the same thing. The lines went straight up, through the ceiling, and didn’t seem affected by their blinking or movement.
Of course, I told the psychiatrists and psychologists and therapists this. They didn’t believe me. And who could blame them, to be honest? I was released in the morning with an appointment to visit in a month if I was still experiencing “visual hallucinations.”
I spent the next couple days trying to ignore the hairlike filaments protruding from the eyes of everyone I saw, everyone I passed, everyone I talked to, and everyone on television. Not me, though. Not mine. All I had were the same dark flickers in my peripheral vision that were present on the day of my incident.
On New Year’s day, once my hangover had dulled, I rummaged around in my closet for my old college telescope. It was the first sunny day since the incident and I wanted to check something. I pointed the telescope out the window and followed where all the lines led. Like I’d thought, they all coalesced on one point. The point was moving very slightly.
I clicked around on the computer, put in the coordinates of where my telescope was pointing, and determined the direction of the lines out into the sky. It didn’t take long before my suspicions were confirmed. All the eyelines were fixed on the position of Pluto. It’s been another week and while I can’t stop thinking about what happened, I know I need to get over it. If what I’m seeing is a hallucination, so be it. It’s now a part of my life and I’ll deal with it as best I can. This morning, though, I did make a phone call. Several, actually.
You see, the little, dark “gnats” I’ve had in my peripheral vision distract me. I want to get rid of them. I’ve been hoping they’re something unrelated to the incident and maybe happened to coincide with it. Fat chance, I know – but still. I called to get an appointment with an optometrist to get them checked out. The nearest one was all booked up.
Since then, I’ve called 28 optometrists. Every single one of them is booked for a solid month. I was told they’re all for the same complaint I’m having. What that means is anyone’s guess, but I haven’t been able to get warm since.