18. The Gaze of Heaven

The rattling of the truck carried Holland away from what was left of the school. Images of what had happened whirled back and forth, along with scents and tastes – the way that the whole school had been there. The opening of a vast eye in the sky. The shuddering of the buildings. The way each and every part of Holland’s body had lifted up, as if leaping for joy, and streaked up towards the heavens. In one long, disorienting moment, Holland remembered seeing other students, friends, teachers, and yes, even some enemies whose sins had seen so petty and mundane, in hindsight drift up to the sky. Clad in their uniforms, the bright red school ties and socks seeming to flare and brightly splash against the sky.

Holland had watched with trembling fear, feeling only a small lift towards the sky. Holland had swallowed, had looked up into that dreadful gaze. It was not a human eye – not by any metric. The clouds had parted in a rusty roll, and shown at the edges, deep purple ridges of what could only be flesh. The milky surface of the eye ran through with lines of blue and black around the edges, visible from so far away that they had to be as long as lines of silver in mines. The centerpiece of the eye was golden and slitted, looking perhaps like Sauron’s must have, in the eye of many children who read of its colour but not of its substance. It was an eye – it was definitely an eye. Vast and brooding, and watching. It had focused, it had slid around under its glossy sclera, and it had looked. The huge black iris had tightened and cinched down.

Holland was no child. Holland had done some study of physics, of astronomy, and even to a young mind that had a bad habit of nodding off and hiding in the back of the classroom to avoid being called upon to make a creak-voiced, nervous answer, there was something very wrong about an eye emerging from the clouds. It couldn’t be that some vast dreadful thing had hovered over the earth and leant down – there was… gravity. Weather. It would affect… the clouds, maybe? Or perhaps it would ruin the whole… sun? Would it block out the sun, or something like that? Either way, to seem so vast from down on the earth, it would…

Holland gave up, for the twentieth time and just relaxed. The window made a reassuring, real, thock sound at the impact of a weary forehead, and the face beneath that forehead gave a weary, worried, smile.

Everyone had hung in the air. Some higher than others. They had been staring, staring up at the eye, but not screaming. There was no fear – it seemed like Holland’s was the only set of eyes that looked at it, and not into it. Only Holland saw what it had to be, what it might be, and everyone else… saw into it. For a moment, Holland had felt empty. What did everyone else experience, in that moment? What was it like?

And then, the eye had blinked.

And when it closed, everything it looked at was gone.

The people were gone, no longer hovering in the air. The school buildings were gone. The grass was gone. A vast circle of dirt, some six inches deep, eerily uniform, but not glossily so, had met Holland when the eye’s influence disappeared and gravity asserted itself. And out on the edge of the cow paddocks, shaken by the experience, a bleary Holland had started to walk.

State Emergency Services were there – minutes after Holland had left. They had had to report the disappearance of the buildings, the trees, reconstructing from photos and the school’s website. They started a search, spiralling out from the site, looking for signs of survivors. Then signs of the dead. Eventually they started searching for bricks and mortar, for signs that there had been a school at all.

Nothing.

And Holland sat in the cabin of the truck, eyes bleary, shaken, surprised, being driven towards home by a farmer who had not a mean word to say in the hot summer day, who had seen kids leaving school in the past, and figured dropping one in town wouldn’t hurt anything. After all, it wasn’t that small a town that truants were a big deal – and on such a hot day, maybe a few blank periods were worth a sneak into town to spend time at the pool? Either way – wasn’t his concern… and from his eyes, this kid needed some rest.

Holland’s eyes were closed, and Holland wore a smile. Still, it hid behind it a loop, running over and over in a confused, teenage mind: What was it? became What did it do? which then asked Why spare me? before, Is it because I’m… and there it stopped. A breath, a heartbeat, and it started again.

… over and over and over again.

Magic loves patterns.

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