If you missed Part 1 of Hashtag Barry's story, catch up here.
And now, we are pleased to present Part 2...
Took, Hashtag Barry thought, took, took, took. The word rolled around inside his brain. Everything he saw slowly turned into Brad’s (apparently now missing) fiery, angry eyes. At breakfast, his bowl of cereal looked like milk soaked crispy eyeballs. The sunrise felt as though a giant eye were staring at him from afar. The clock on the wall of second period ticked ticked ticked, blinking at him incessantly. Kickball was a nightmare.
Then his combination lock on his locker briefly changed into a shiny eyeball, startling him so badly that he let out a quiet shout, dropped the lock, and practically fell over. His gaze darted around nervously, but no one seemed to notice. He couldn’t decide if he was relieved or irritated.
Reluctantly, he crept toward his locker, grabbed the disgusting lock, pinched its cornea and began to twist left and right, hoping that muscle memory would take over and successfully open the locker so he could put his books away and go to lunch and talk to Squeaky and get away from all of these horrific transformations.
It was not an ideal day to have spaghetti and meatballs for lunch.
He worked his plastic spork around the giant globs of nondescript meat and picked at his flimsy noodles.
Hashtag Barry leaned across the table and said carefully, “So, someone actually, like... took them?”
“Huh?” Squeaky jerked his head up quickly, pasta and marinara oozing down the side of his face, crumbs of meatball sticking to the corners of his lips.
Hashtag recoiled, leaned back too far and nearly flipped his chair backward onto the hard floor. He reached out a hand and grabbed the table just in time, pulling himself forward again. “Dude,” he exhaled deeply, “do you have to eat like that?”
“Oh, sorry.” Squeaky grabbed four crumpled napkins and began to vigorously wipe down both sides of his face simultaneously.
“It’s just so embarrassing,” Hashtag said, shaking his head and staring at his food.
“What,” replied Squeaky, “it’s how I eat. I can’t help it! And it’s not like anyone is looking over...”
“Dude!” exclaimed Hashtag, “I’m right here.”
“Sorry, sorry, not cool… my bad,” Squeaky took off his thick glasses and began to wipe them down with a clean napkin. “Why are you so curious about Brad’s eyes, anyway?” he asked.
“I’m not curious, curious,” Hashtag started. “It’s just such a weird thing to have happen, right? Like, who does that, tears out a kid’s eyes.” He grabbed his spork and made a scooping motion in front of Squeaky’s face. “And then they take them? Take them where? And for what? It’s downright strange.”
Squeaky carefully placed his glasses onto his face. “Well, yeah, it’s strange,” he began. “I’ve certainly never heard of anyone taking someone else's eyes before. I mean there was that one time that when my dad accidentally cut off his pinkie and that bird was really giving it a once over, I mean he was squawking and squawking and flying around but my dad was really quick and rushed in there right as the bird was trying to pick it up and then we had to put it in a jar of milk so that it wouldn’t rot and rush it and him to the hospital to get it reattached...” he inhaled sharply, “...I suppose that’s nothing like this, is it?”
Hashtag sighed, “No, no not really.”
“Hmph,” Squeaky grunted, “Well, I don’t know for certain that someone took his eyes. That’s just what people are saying!”
It was then that Hashtag really noticed that there were other people in the cafeteria, all cautiously picking at their lunches, speaking in hushed tones. He eyed them all anxiously and asked, “Does anyone know who did it?”
“Who did it? No, not that I’ve heard so far,” Squeaky answered. “Of course there are rumors: a jealous friend, a creepy uncle, a neighbor, a total stranger, you, some demon living in his closet…”
“Wait, what?” Hashtag stared at Squeaky, his large forehead wrinkled in consternation.
“I don’t get it either,” Squeaky replied nonchalantly. “There’s probably not actually a demon in his closet.”
“Not that!” Hashtag waved his arms in front of his face and then got gravely quiet, “Did you just say me?”
Squeaky seemed surprised, “Oh, you hadn’t noticed the glances and the murmurs”
“I thought they were about the, uhh… you know, normal stuff. Why the hell...” Hashtag nearly shouted, then looked around again, and practically whispered, “...Why the hell would I do it? That’s crazy.”
“Well, I don’t think that you did it,” Squeaky said smugly, “It’s just, some people saw the way he yelled at you, you know, on the kickball field, at your locker after school. People were saying that you sounded pretty upset. You were mad at him for making fun of you and you snapped. I mean, it’s not like the first time he’s messed with you: there was that combo swirly-wedgie, that time he put gum on your chair, that time he put tacks on your chair, that time he put gum and tacks on your chair, all the insults, I mean those could get really creative sometimes...”
“Ugh,” Hashtag interrupted, “I get it! But there’s no way I would do something like this.” He swung his hands, erratically gesturing at himself, “I mean, I’m not even capable of doing something like this. People are so dumb and annoying. Who is saying all of this crap, anyway?”
“Why do you want to know?” Squeaky asked coyly, “So you can take their eyeballs too?”
“Ha ha,” Hashtag spoke, “very funny.”
“Naw, man, just people, you know I don’t have any other friends, I just got these,” Squeaky slapped a stupid grin on his face and pointed his index fingers at his ears.
“You are so dumb and annoying.”
“Right back at ya.”
Hashtag glared at his plate. Why did it have to be meatballs?
Slowly all of the round shapes began to take back their form. The final bell rang and Hashtag Barry’s lock was just a lock, the clocks only told time, and the sun was just a star, shining brightly in the clear sky as he walked home.
Took, took, took, he still couldn’t get the word out of his head. Someone took his eyes. And people think I did it! He started giggling to himself meekly. It’s absurd! Me! Hashtag Barry, ripping out Brad’s eyes like some sort of maniac. And then taking them away. What would I do with anyone else’s eyes? What would anyone else do?
He shuddered and then risked a chance to raise his head, looking out, avoiding any potential eye contact, surveying the sidewalk and houses and passing cars to see if anyone were giving him strange looks, perhaps reading his mind. He knew people couldn’t read minds, but you just never could be sure, especially when thinking such thoughts.
Instead he noticed how peaceful everything felt, despite his inner workings. Branches and leaves waved in the whispering wind. Birds sang songs to one another and swooped to and fro. The aroma of lilacs and daffodils danced upon his nose. The sun’s hot breath rested gently upon his skin.
He pushed his uneven shoulders back and stretched his form upward as much as he could, imitating someone with decent posture. His pace quickened, but lightly, almost skipping from one foot to the other. His arms swung back and forth freely and his mouth turned up at the edges, ever so slightly. The world was more vibrant than he could ever remember.
In the distance Hashtag Barry noticed a squirrel in the middle of the sidewalk, frantically trying to retrieve an acorn it had dropped. “Hello, squirrel!” Hashtag exclaimed, greeting this newfound happy nature.
The squirrel stopped in its tracks, looked directly into Hashtag Barry’s eye, and then ran straight into the street and under the tire of an oncoming truck.
“Damnit,” Hashtag swore and then lowered his head, “not again.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)