"Watching Roma Die"
                    
                                                        
  by Scott Wydra


The soul of a murderer is blind.
                
Albert Canus The Plague

People always turn away from the eyes of the stranger.
        
"Eyes Of A Stranger", Queensryche,
        Operation: Mindcrime

                                          

He resembled one of those super-soldiers that make frequent visits in sci-fi movies and on some
episodes of The X-Files. And that wasn't too far off. Cyrus McBride was a former Navy SEAL that had
served in Desert Storm. His appearance was certainly intimidating, with the shaved head, Special Forces
tattoos, and eyes that seemed to see too damn much. But, deep inside, he was kind, generous, and
more importantly: an astounding listener. Which was a crucial talent in his line of work.

Nevertheless, Leland Fishbyne felt scared out of his wits. As he should be; he killed someone. Maybe
that's not quite right. He witnessed the slaying. Sort of.

Through a pair of eyeglasses while in his own home.

The two were in Cyrus's office, enjoying the frigidness of the air conditioning that battled the brutal
Pennsylvania humidity. The office was quaint; Cyrus being the third largest object in it besides his desk,
and the towering bookshelf to Leland's left. Slats of sunlight sparkled off the dust jackets of all types of
books: military tactics, true supernatural experiences, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, hauntings, ESP,
vampires, spooks.

Cyrus was a private investigator, specializing in paranormal cases. He's been in that field for almost
twelve years. After witnessing a bunch of strange things throughout his life (especially an extremely
bizarre incident in Iraq), there was no possible way Cyrus could disbelieve there are things in this world
he cannot explain.

Some of the local Garritston police officers laughed at him (never to his face; he'd clunk most of their
heads together like hammered cue balls). But he did have two friends on the force, former SEALs under
him at the BUDs training center in California. They helped him out at times: access to their rather bloated
databases, ballistic reports, forensics, mugshot books.

Plenty of people do wonder--his police buddies, also--how someone could possibly make a living dealing
with mainly paranormal, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night cases. Particularly in a mid-size town like
Garritston. Well, the entire valley seemed to have several wounds that bled some kind of otherworldly
ooze into the realm of normal and rational.

That was why Cyrus could drive a well-restored '69 Camaro and own the apartment above his office,
which he leased. Not a wealthy man by any means. But some means? Oh,
yes.                                                                

"Uh, Mr. McBride, sir," Leland said, his voice mousy. "Are you listening to me?" Cyrus had been leaning
back, staring at the ceiling while rubbing his temples, something he did when he was listening particularly
close. Leland had no way of knowing that, of course. He let his left hand continue wrestling with the right
one in his small lap. The glasses from the lost and found sat on the desk in front of him. He couldn't see
as well without spectacles, but he refused to put those glasses on after the...incident. His prescription
lenses were currently being cut at Vision Eyewear. He kept his gaze fixed on the gleaming crucifix Cyrus
always wore. It laid against his black Metallica shirt and glinted every time Cyrus shifted in his seat.

Cyrus was most certainly not a suit-and-tie guy. He felt informal was always the best way to deal with
people; they opened their mouths more. And information was like A1 steak sauce to Cyrus McBride--the
more, the better.
"Yes, Mr. Fishbyne, I'm listening." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desktop calendar; the
wood creaked. "Or may I call you Leland?"

"Sure, sure, Mr. McBride, whichever you like," he said, the words flowing like oil out of a bottle.
                                           

"Okay, Leland. I was just pondering the situation you're in." He went back to scribbling in his fat
notebook. A small tape recorder leaned against his coffee cup, but he never firmly trusted electronics
much. Except anything made by or for the military. Hence the pre-computer Camaro. Of course, he
owned a Compaq desktop PC; the Internet was ripe with research. It was also good for ordering the
next God of War game when it came out.

Cyrus cracked his knuckles. Bulges of muscle and rivers of veins strained out on his forearms. Leland
thought for a second that the private eye's biceps were going to explode through his short sleeves like
Bruce Banner.
"So, what do you think we should do about this, Mr. McBride?" His voice still had that ringy quality to it.
"I mean, I'm scared shitless here! I apologize for my language."

Cyrus waved a negligent hand. He really wasn't sure what to do. Not quite yet. He needed to hear the
story one more time, don't leave out any details, Leland, we're dealing with something screwy here.

So Leland ran through it again, all the while twisting his fingers to the point of almost snapping them off
like celery stalks.
                                  

It happened two day's prior to Leland's visit with the ghostie gumshoe, P.I. McBride. He went to the
library to borrow a book on astrology; a stickler for horoscopes, was Leland. But, the uncontrollable
urge in his belly told him he better get to the restroom and fast!

He raced to the stall and did what he had to do. Afterwards, Leland removed his glasses and set them
on the sink. Now came his allergy eyedrops, plunk, plunk. One eye then the other. He put the small
bottle back into his left-rear pocket; then he realized his wallet was absent from his right one. He went
back into the stall to retrieve it. It laid on the tiled floor like a piece of rectangular beef jerky. He slid it
into his pants and went to get his glasses. They were gone. They had vanished. He couldn't think how
that was possible considering the restroom door had not opened once, and he was only in the stall for
no more than twenty seconds. He searched the sink area, floor, the hand drying machine. It was like
Scotty beamed them up into space.

                                                   
Leland didn't think much about how someone could have come in there as fast as that and taken them.
He figured someone--no, some kid--came in stealthily, and had stolen his glasses as a prank. He could
picture the little giggling bastard now, yucking it up with his buddies. He had seen them a few tables over
from where he had been sitting, surrounded by slutty teenage girls.

"I'm sure they're all having a good laugh at me now," Leland said quietly as he stumbled down the aisle
towards the front desk; he could see, but everything had a slight halo surrounding it. He knew they kept
a cardboard box under the counter with LOST + FOUND printed on it in bold, black letters.

Librarians didn't look like this when I was younger, he thought as he spotted Denise behind the counter,
dressed in a tight, shiny blouse; her twin bundles of thick, blond hair hung over her firm breasts. His
eyes weren't that bad.

"Can I help you, Mr. Fishbyne?" she asked prettily.

He had to get his mind off the filthy path it was headed down. "I went to the restroom and"--he was
about to say "took a crap", then caught himself. "You know. Then I put in my allergy eyedrops and left
my glasses on the sink. I dropped my wallet in the stall. After I got it, I went to put my glasses back on.
And they were gone!" He sounded irritated and comedic simultaneously. "I thought maybe some kid took
em as a prank and dropped them in the lost and found." He wrung his hands like he would be doing
nearly forty-six hours from now.

"You know kids," she said, smiling; her perfect teeth showing through her open, equally perfect lips.
"Let's just see, shall we?" She grunted as she hefted the box onto the counter. It came down with a
thump. The arm of a wine-colored sweater hung limply over the side like a blood-stained cloth.

"Have a look-see, Mr. Fishbyne. I have to take that phone." It rang twice before she answered it; she set
it between her shoulder and head so she could flip through some papers.

Leland rifled through the box, squinting so he could see better. He discovered a yo-yo, an
expensive-looking pen, two shirts (How'd they get lost, he wondered), a pair of dice, three CDs (one by
a band called Cannibal Corpse; the cover had a zombie gleefully tearing his own chest apart while
standing in a graveyard). The title of the album was Eaten Back To Life. Leland shuddered. Kids these
days...
                                           

He dug more deeply, and finally his fingernails tapped against glass lenses with a dull clack. His heart
lifted as he gripped the spectacles by one slim arm. Carefully, he brought them out...

...and his heart thudded back down to somewhere around his ankles. They weren't his. He set them
down and rummaged some more. Nada. That was the only pair.

Leland picked them up and studied them. The lenses were as thick as his own.

"You find em, Mr. Fishbyne?" Denise asked; she had returned the handset of the phone to its cradle.
She crossed her arms and tilted her head in that way she has.

"No, ma'am. Not in there." He heard disappointment in his voice. "But maybe these'll work." He saw her
frown. "Temporarily, of course. I'll bring them back when I get my new ones." He leaned over the desk
like one inmate conspiratorially conversing with another. "If it's okay with you?"

"Sure," she said. "But bring those back. They look a little familiar."

"No prob, Bob," Leland said. He put them on, saw perfectly, thanked Denise, and went home.
                                          
Four hours later, his life became embraced by the skeletal arms of the unknown.


Leland knew something wasn't quite right as he watched the Pennsylvania Noon News. The pretty,
dark-haired woman--in the middle of reporting a water main break across the Susquehanna River in
Wilkes-Barre--suddenly disappeared. Only for a flickering moment, but it happened. First, he saw the
woman; then, a brief scene that showed him the interior of what might have been a garage or a
workshed. He saw a few hammers hanging from pegs, a rusty railroad spike, a pair of gardening shears,
green from recent use.

Then the vision died, and Leland wondered if it had been there in the first place. "That was odd," he
murmured.
The new glasses made his temples throb and the center of his brain ache, so he removed them. He took
three Advil P.M.s and  went for a nap. He laid there shivering, hoping to God he wasn't losing his mind.

As Leland washed his dishes, it happened again.

At one moment, he had been looking down at white, sudsy bubbles and a plate with watery spaghetti
sauce on it, held in one blue-gloved hand. Then, he saw through the glasses, like he let up a pair of
window shades on a stranger's house.

The workshed from before was absent. Now he saw (through the eyes of someone else again; maybe
the real owner of the spectacles) a dingy hallway with a few dust-covered pictures scattered on the left
and right walls. The carpet was a faded aquamarine. He spotted a cobweb in the top corner near the
archway where the person he had apparently hijacked walked under. The sensation became odd and alien
(mostly because he saw his kitchen through his peripheral vision), like when he watched his nephew play
one of those...what did he call them? Oh, yeah: first-person shooter games. He felt fortunate he wasn't
drunk; he might have tossed his stir-fry that he had for dinner into the dishwater.

This person walked around the right corner, and Leland felt his right arm begin to weigh down, as if he
carried something heavy. He smelled the tangy aroma of gasoline; he heard the ringing of dishes clanking
together a room or so away. How he heard and smelled these things, he could only guess. He still felt
the shock, and was trying to come to grips of what had happened to him; he still thought he was going
batshit. He knew the dish-ringing wasn't the result of his own washing. He had been frozen up since the
whole psychotic event had began.

Leland felt his tongue and lips quivering as the stranger murmured, "Meddlin bitch. I told her not to
touch my tools, didn't I? Didn't I?" He heard the subject breathe heavily, and Leland's lungs responded
in kind. "I sure did, yep." His voice had a sharpness to it; quick here and there, then he would string out
certain syllables. "Don't she learn I clean there every Sat'day mornin?" The man continued to rant as
Leland's possessed mouth spoke the words. "Silly bitch. I'll learn her, all right."

The vision changed to that of the interior of the living room, almost Hobbit-like. Small, neat furniture laid
about, with an old television, a few lamps, and a bookshelf with perhaps a dozen paperbacks in it. They
looked lonely. Identical color carpeting as the hallway covered the floor. The TV passed him on his left
and the sofa on the other side. They left the living room behind as the subject made a left turn. Here,
the man quieted and slowed his
steps.

Leland felt a gravely chill tingle all over him; he thought that something was going to happen. Something
sinister. The aroma of gasoline, the subject's words. It didn't seem like the stranger was going to be
bringing the "bitch" chocolate-covered strawberries and a bottle of Dom.

Leland saw a woman with her back turned to him/them. Her hair, the shade of tree bark from a mythical
forest, had been done up haphazardly, but it seemed pretty in an unconventional way. She had a fit
body, wearing low-cut jean shorts, a purple t-shirt, and high heels. She hummed a cheery tune while
transferring her clean dishes from the soapy water (after rinsing them), to the strainer. The subject's
eyes bore down on the slender back of her neck.

The cabinets were all black with white trim. A set of charcoal-colored Venetian blinds covered the window
in front of her. All of a sudden Leland tasted bitter beer in his mouth, and he felt like spewing again; he
detested beer.
"The Gingerbread Man hath returned," the man slurred, with lips and arms quivering.

Oh please God let me not see this! Leland begged, but nothing changed. He could not stop the stranger
from committing any act, just like he couldn't will his ex-wife from taking almost half his paycheck every
week.

The lady turned, smiling the most adorable and innocent smile Leland had ever seen. She really was a
cutie, with eyes that could probably stop a serial rapist.

"They were of a mixed, odd, no-color," Leland informed McBride. "Sort of like if you stirred molten gold
with chips of sapphire. Exquisite." Leland looked down at this point; he watched his fingers twist and
squirm. He smelled his sweat permeating from under his arms, regardless of the AC (he had forgotten
his High Endurance antiperspirant in his rush to get here).

The frightened old man continued.
"Hi, hon. I was going to--why do you have that in here," she laughed. "Not gonna take apart my
cabinets, are ya?"

Leland felt a line of drool descend from his mouth. He figured the guy had a matching one.

The guy just stared at her  (Roma her name is Roma how beautiful) as Leland watched. His/their left arm
rose and grabbed Roma by the hair.

"Stop Burt, that hurts!" she screeched. "What did I do now?" Roma's smile instantly died. She now wore
a grimace of tear-stained misery.

"Always messin"--Leland heard a click, then the buzzing sound of some type of motor--"with m'tools."
"Please God oh Christ NOOOOO!" Leland let loose.

The man's right arm came up as Roma scratched and clawed at the left, bellowing for help.

Now Leland saw what the man/they held. It was an orange and black, gas-powered reciprocating saw;
the blade pistoned in and out at a murderous rate.

"Please, Burt...please," Roma pleaded. Glistening tears fell from her eyes, forming parallel lines of
moisture. Snot ran from her nostrils. "Please, I'll never, ever touch your stuff again!"

"The Gingerbread Man hath returned," he replied, and pointed the sputtering blade at the right side of
Roma's neck. Leland spotted a badly made black tattoo on the guy's forearm, portraying a three-eyed
skull with curving bull horns.

The six-inch blade sunk into her delicate neck, destroying the carotid artery; sheets of dark blood
spouted out and up. Roma choked as the saw (bought at the local Home Depot) carved through muscle,
tissue, and the cartilage of her esophagus. A watery, wheezing sound whistled out of her severed neck.

"Saw works good," Burt murmured, as the tool went on with its grisly task. Leland smelled the evil
potpourri of gas, burning blood, and a faint scent of whatever fragrant perfume Roma had sprinkled on
earlier. The saw finished its devilish work. The whites of Roma's eyes began filling with blood. The lids
dropped closed, thank God and Christ. Burt's right arm fell to his side, then he released her hair. And
Leland nearly fainted as he saw the worst event yet. Roma's head fell back like a Pez dispenser; her neck
emitted two more spurts of blood like a sperming penis. Burt let his wife's body fall to the floor.

The vision Leland had withheld suddenly cut off, as if the controller of the glasses hit stop on a remote
control. His body had been returned to him. He grabbed the glasses by an arm and flung them off; they
landed undamaged on the floor.

His stomach convulsed, and he finally erupted his meal into the sink. Afterwards, he took off his gloves
and washed his hands, like he was the one with blood on them.

The heavy aroma of brewing coffee brought Leland back to the present (it smashed the scent of blood
cooking and fuel quite nicely). He took up the cup and drank, looking into McBride's judging eyes, trying
to see what laid behind those windows.

But Cyrus remained silent at first. He just rested his chin on his steepled fingers, eyeing up his new
client. Was murder in him? Had he killed this Roma and wanted to blame someone else? Of course, after
Leland left, he would be trying those glasses on for himself. Would he see something kooky or scary? He
didn't know. But he was an astounding judge of people, having interrogated over sixty terrorists,
Republican Guards, and other scum.

He thought the weak, skittish man across from him was innocent. But, there was one question first.

"Do you have any tattoos, Leland?" he asked, leaning over his desk. He already knew the answer. Well,
he knew what Leland's answer would be; he just wanted to see the look on Fishbyne's face when the
guy's sleeves came up.

And afterward, there would be much investigating to do. He has heard of similar stories before, although
rare they were.

Leland's eyelids sprung wide at the question. His hands set the coffee mug down with a clunk. "Oh dear
Jesus, no!" he said. "It's against my religion, you see. Can't mark up the body, unh-uh, nope." He shook
his head back and forth, flailing his wild hair.

Without McBride having to ask, Leland lifted up his left arm and shoved the light blue fabric up. He
showed it off like he was a magician. And, look folks, nothing up my sleeves! Blank, except for thatches
of wiry black hair. Next, the right.

Ex Lt. Commander Cyrus McBride, USN, leaned forward further, hoping for something, wishing for
nothing.
"As you can see, Mr.McBride, I do not, do not have any tat-"

There it was, in the middle-center of Leland's forearm. A badly crafted triple-eye-socketed skull with long
horns.
McBride released a long-held breath; a sound of ease and acceptance.

Leland Fishbyne screamed, loud and child-like, until the former SEAL laid a large hand over the older,
frailer one.

But Leland just went on screaming.