Remer woke up in a world of darkness and agony. His head pounded like a bass drum. When he tried to swallow, he found that his mouth was so dry that his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. But he really wasn’t concerned about that at all. It was his eyes, or lack of eyes, that commanded his full attention. Remer’s eyes were covered by some kind of bandaging, but he could feel it; the empty space in his eye sockets. As he came to this realization, he felt a tidal wave of nausea that sent the contents of his stomach spewing onto whatever was covering his torso.
This alerted his unfortunate attendants that he was awake. Remer heard a flurry of motion and surprise around him. He felt the vomit being wiped off of him and had what he assumed was water fed to him before anyone spoke a word. Remer overheard someone say, “Get the Doctor first,” then the sound of a door opening and footsteps quickly disappearing down a hall. A moment later, a nasal tone said, “Good to have you back with us, Remer. My name is Dr. Phillips, I’ve been looking after you since your incident. Do you remember what happened?” Remer, for the first time since waking up, tried to remember. The last thing he remembered before the darkness was that he had been at the chemical plant he worked at. Then suddenly it came back to him all at once. He had been trying to determine the temperature at which sulfuric acid became volatile when mixed with a variety of test substances. He didn’t remember which substance caused the reaction. It had exploded through the testing container and had gone directly into his eyes. The last thing he remembered was the searing pain of his eyes being dissolved.
“Yeah I remember now.”
“I’m sure you’ve realized, but your eyes were completely destroyed in the incident.”
“I’m aware, thanks,” Remer replied dryly.
“I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but our window is closing so we need to have this conversation now,” came the obnoxious voice.
“It’s not like I’m going anywhere… What might be so pressing, Doc?”
“I can give you your vision back, or rather, enhance it by installing experimental robotic eyes. But we need to do it before your orbital nerves start to close back up.”
“Are you trying to make me a superhero or some shit?” Remer laughed.
“I’m glad you haven’t lost your sense of humor, but I’m just trying to give you your vision back. If I happen to win a Nobel Prize in the process, I won’t be upset.”
“Is it legal? Have you ever done it before?”
“Bionic installations are still in a bit of a scientific gray area. I can do it legally but only in specific circumstances, like these, and with special consent from the participant. And yes I’ve done it, just not on a human. As I said, specific circumstances are required,” Came the voice.
“Yeah all right, I’ll be a superhero. I’m a big STEM guy anyways. You need me to sign a bunch of shit?” Remer said casually. He was pretending to be calm, but he was on the verge of a panic attack. Remer didn’t care about science or being a superhero. One thought had consumed him since he woke up; his pregnant wife and their daughter that was due in two months. He needed to be able to see his daughter at least once.
Dr. Philips handed him a clipboard with a hefty stack of papers on it, then a pen. Remer felt a clammy hand lead his hand with the pen in it to the bottom corner of the page, once he signed and the top page was taken from him. This process was repeated until all the papers were gone and Remer sat gripping the wood of the clipboard; sweating. Remer tossed the board in the direction of Dr. Phillips’ voice and said “Let’s get to it then, Doc.”
“You won’t regret this, I’ll make sure you get to see your daughter.” Before Remer could say anything, he felt a prick in his arm. Just when he thought it wasn’t possible, it got darker.
When Remer woke up after what felt like two seconds, his eyes snapped open. He still couldn’t see. But it wasn’t dark anymore; it felt like he was staring into the sun. “What happened to the whole ‘you’re gonna see again’ thing?” He asked “It’s just bright instead of dark now, what the–—” Just as he was about to curse out the doctor, the light started to dim, and the room started to take shape. “It probably just has to adjust, relax.” He watched the Doctor’s outline say.
After a few minutes, Remer’s new eyes refocused and he saw the world again. He took in his surroundings with all his senses for the first time in a while. The room looked how it had smelled, dingy and somehow damp and dry at the same time. The walls were a pale yellow that was nauseating to look at. The dull buzzing sound he had heard belonged to the overhead fluorescent lights that definitely needed to be replaced. He was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to the usual vital monitors and everything looked fairly ordinary. What really caught his attention was the large one-way window that occupied the wall across from his bed. It was the only window in the room. Remer got a weird feeling when he looked at that window. It made him feel less like a patient and more like a criminal in an interrogation room. He almost wished he couldn’t see again; ignorance was bliss.
At last he turned his attention to Dr. Phillips; he was just as short as he expected, sporting a horrendous mustache. Interestingly enough though, the Doctor was well built and had the posture of a military man. His hair was short and uniform, much like the rest of him.“You’re as ugly as I expected,” Remer said after focusing on the Doctor.
“I liked you better without eyes,” The Doctor shot back. Remer cracked a smile for the first time since he had woken up blind. He had to give it to the Doctor, he had no idea how these eyes worked but Remer could see better than he ever had. Everything was crystal clear and he felt as if he could somehow “zoom in”.
“So am I all good to leave or what?” Remer asked, knowing the answer.
“Uh, no. I don’t want to get your hopes up so I’ll tell you right now. You need to stay here for at least a month for observation. Then you’ll need to come to the lab four times a week for a few years. After all, I just installed two million dollar eyes into your head. I’d like to make sure they work properly and that you don’t drop dead just yet.”
Remer did not like the sound of having to come to “the lab”, but if that meant he could see for the rest of his life, then that would be alright. He was starting to regret being so impulsive and asking so few questions before signing a contract he couldn’t read. He was never going to tell his wife that he signed that while he was blind. Also, where was his wife? Now that the surgery was over, he should be able to see her.
He looked back up at the Doctor to ask him when he saw something very strange; the Doctor did not look like he had just a second ago. His mustache was gone, and his hair was a little longer. The Doctor also slouched in his seat and appeared heavier than he initially had, but his face was still the same. Remer closed his eyes, only to find when he reopened them, the Doctor looked as he initially had; predatory mustache and all. That was probably just his brain adjusting to processing visual information again.
“Well, I’ll let you sleep for the night before we start testing those eyes of yours. Try not to rub them. Someone will bring you something to eat in a minute,” Dr. Phillips said before walking out of the room. Remer simply nodded, suddenly feeling very hungry. He had no idea when the last time he had eaten was.
Several minutes later, a woman in nursing scrubs holding a tray opened the door. She looked familiar at first glance, nearly like his wife, but she moved differently, wasn’t pregnant, and was too short. She smiled at Remer as she placed down the tray on the table next to him. She went to leave and for a split second, the woman’s face morphed into that of his wife’s.
“Wait a minute! What’s your name?” Remer asked.
“Gloria. Enjoy your dinner, Remer.” She said before slipping out of the door. Remer sat in the bed stunned. Gloria was his wife’s name. How did that woman know his name? Was the Doctor already running tests on him? Was it even night time? There weren’t any windows in the room. Was the door locked? Now that he looked at it, the door locked from the outside. Was he a patient or a prisoner? What were these eyes doing to him? Remer started to feel panic build inside of him. Suddenly he realized that he had no idea where he was, who Dr. Phillips was, or what he had allowed to be put in his head. And why had he signed those contracts so willingly? He had literally been blind. Did the Doctor drug him in order to make him cooperative? Remer’s panic fully set in as he really didn’t know anything and definitely wasn’t in control of his situation. The overwhelming feeling that he was being watched washed over him. The window. He focused hard on the one-way window, and with some effort he was able to see through it. Were these eyes that powerful? He saw at least ten people standing behind it, watching him.
He needed to get out of there; his fight or flight instincts had kicked in. Remer loosened his heart rate monitor so it couldn’t get a read and the flatline alarm went off. Gloria rushed through the door. Remer paid attention this time to how she came in; she had a key card in her back pocket that she had to scan before the door unlocked. When Gloria was occupied with turning off the heart rate monitor alarm, Remer carefully grabbed her key card, and jumped off the bed; ripping off his monitoring wires. His legs were unsteady at first, but his adrenaline fueled him and pushed him towards the door. He scanned the key card and slipped out of the room just as the woman started to yell something at him. As soon as he got into the hallway, an armed security guard was already barrelling towards him, intending to tackle him. Remer dodged to the side of the hallway and stuck his leg out just in time. The guard went first face into the floor and Remer grabbed the gun off his hip as he was on the ground. He pointed the gun at the guard and pulled him up to his feet, intending to use him as a hostage to get out of the lab.
As soon as Remer pressed the gun against the guard’s head, his eyes began to heat up. A second later, they exploded inside Remer’s head. Remer dropped to the floor dead.
Dr. Phillips stepped out of a room down the hall with a remote control in his hand and spoke to the stunned guard.
“Put him with the others.”
Hellem, Amy. “Bionic Eyes: Hope for the Blind.” All About Vision, All About Vision, 14 June 2022, https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/bionic-eyes.htm. This source provided the real world counterpart I based Remer’s eyes off of. They aren’t nearly as cool or as dangerous, but they are the beginnings of technology that could be developed into true bionic eyes.
Danielewski, Mark Z. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Second edition. New York, Pantheon Books, 2000.
This book provided the character source for Remer. In the book, the main character shares the same dry sense of humor, paranoia, and general instability as Remer.
The Basement of Stark Learning Center may very well have the potential to be the “lab” I described in the story. There is a general sense of uncleanliness, uncertainty, and the unknown that translated very well into the story.