The Ancestors of Demeter knew the ways of the earth. They farmed an abandoned mining town between a frac sand pit and an overgrown forest, harvesting wild onions and ramp and repairing the land worn by layers of human settlement. The community was largely solitary, although members would occasionally appear at small town festivals to trade incenses and seer services. Children were homeschooled, often succeeding well beyond their non-Ancestor peers academically, and a few had gone to nearby Christian or Jewish schools to study history, engineering, or pre-med, though they rarely completed the program of study.
I was an Ancestor of Demeter, and I have seen things no one has seen or should see.
Our people believe in the duality of sight. Growing up I learned many things about the earth. We were taught to observe things that we were told others could not see. The way the seed broke open to give life. The ways trees fell after a slow decay. The way mosquitos pierced the skin to draw out their life’s blood. And to really see.
On the sixth of the month Thargelion, we would see as our community gathered to sacrifice of our harvest. But some years on that date there was more to see, as the community celebrated our wisdom of sight. On years where Ancestors reached the master number – age 11 – our community held a special ceremony where the master would be paired with another to gain new sight. I partook in the ceremony three times as a child.
Our families would go to the woods under the tallest tree in what we knew of the forest. There we observed and learned what we could see through the dark. There was hot fire that had been burning since the Noumenia. It was the only time we ate of the flesh of our animals; the three largest male sheep were slaughtered and cooked for the community. We drank wine made from our vineyards, and feasted on herbs, morels, and other delicacies gathered from our lands and preserved for the night. We danced, sang, and those old enough would try to conceive a child, who in a duodenary cycle would also be paired. When the moon crested, the eldress would announce the name of the one who the master would be paired with.
Both masters would drink of the ram’s horn, a special drink I have neither seen nor heard of anywhere else, a mixture of wine, tea, nightshade, rapeseed oil, and plants from the steppe. The masters would shriek with joy upon receiving the substance, lying next to their pair as the substance would overtake their senses. Meanwhile, the community’s celebration had ceased, as there was work to be done. Carefully, the eldress would use the tools from the fire, passed down from our ancestors. A spoon-like knife, dipped in the drink of the ram’s horn, would extract one eye from each master. It was a beautiful sight as we children observed the red and clear liquids, blue eyes and brown eyes, and other pure colors of the process. Then using the air, ice, and eye buckle, the eyes would move from master to master. As the children lay there for the next few days, we took care of their bodies as their eyesight restored. Then they experienced the duality of sight.
As a ten-year-old Ancestor, I tended the vineyards, carefully cultivating the root system, pruning the vines, and watering them extensively. I had been selected for the role because of my knowledge of the process and my ability to control the weeds. Though my knowledge of history, religion, and mathematics was average, I had found my niche. Next year, I would find my pair. I hoped it was one of two girls who attended school with me. They could see things about religion, in particular, that I could not. Persephone had beautiful blue eyes that shined in the sun in summer days. When she smiled, her eyes crinkled in the corners as if the eye itself was smiling. Erinys had deep green eyes that looked almost pained beyond her nine years, the kind that could see the passing of time. When you talked to her, she looked as if she could see through to your soul to know you better than you knew yourself. Their beautiful colors would pair well with my deep brown, earthy eyes better than my younger brother, the only other child near my age.
The eldress prepared me well for my pairing. As I worked in the vineyard, she spoke of how sight is a spiritual experience, how all the great healers in the ages restored sight beyond seeing the world as it is. She instructed me on the intimacy of sight, to experience what others could not and to make memories from our sight. Though she was well advanced in years from me, I felt as though I had a glimpse of her sight in her life and beyond. I felt ready to be paired.
Despite my training, though, on the night of my pairing, I was nervous. I knew that my sight would soon become a responsibility for others, for them to see the vineyard and the land of the Ancestors through my eyes. I ate and drank the rare gifts we had produced. I made small talk with my brother, Erinys, and the eldress as we feasted. I tried to take in all the sights of the night, though even as it was a celebration of sight – my sight – my sight memories are shallow and few. But I remember one sight more vividly than any other to that point in my life. As the fire glowed around us, as the community looked at me and the eldress stood next to me, I watched the faces of each person as my pair was announced. It was as if time slowed down for me to catch a photograph of each person. And when the name had fully escaped the lips of the eldress, I saw the space between the lips and the nose begin to rise, the mouth corners rise more than they fell, a small white glimpse of teeth show, and the deep eyes flash with a viridescent flame as Erinys’s name was called and she gave an awkward smile before being consumed with congratulations by others. I suppose it was almost a first experience of love as we drank of the ram’s horn together and I felt the warmth of her soul as she lay down next to me.
After that night, I also remember waking up to a new and wondrous sight. Nothing like what I saw before the ceremony, nor like the dreams, nor fantastical in any way… The wondrous sight was to see not only from my perspective, but to see what Erinys saw as she also awoke. I had entered a new world of consciousness, seeing my brother propping my head up as I also saw Persephone propping up Erinys’s head. I moved my head to face my brother but perceived not only his face as I looked straight onward, but also the bark of the tree that Erinys examined as she stood up. Erinys must have fallen to her knees as I then saw the leaves and detritus of the forest on the ground as I tilted my head upwards to see a morning sun. The light hurt my eyes, so I too quickly looked down to the ground. At once, I could see deeply into both the sky and the ground, experiencing the dual nature of the earth as I learned of my duality of sight.
From that day forth, Erinys and I had become a special pair, to be able to see and share in the experience of each other. I saw as she read the scrolls of our religion and began to understand the words for the first time. She saw as I tended the vineyards, strengthening the roots and uprooting the weeds. At night we even shared dreams, mythical and frightening, mundane dreams of our class at school, or of our work. The day after, we held an intimate understanding of each other’s experience, not even needing our other senses to describe what we saw. My world expanded by two as my brown and green eyes took in new sights, not only of my own experience, but of Erinys’s too.
At times, she might close my eye in moments of rest or of private matters, and I the same with her. On particularly sunny days, she might close my eye and I could see the sunshine through her eyelid, or see her phosphenes dance around as I closed my eye to have our splashes of colorful lights create an aurora of various shapes. As we grew, I longed to learn more of her life and to see what else I might experience, and to share my experiences with my eyes wide open. Maybe it was more than I should have.
Erinys continued advancing in her study, and I began to care for larger plots of land. We got to experience the pairing ceremonies of other children, as they entered into our world of sight duality. With each ceremony, we came to understand more and more the gift we had been given, to experience the world in ways the unpaired could not. Erinys and I cared for each other and worked to ensure that our sight experiences would be as beautiful as possible for the other. Though we never said it out loud or even dared to think it in a romantic way, I had never loved or known love before or since.
Erinys soon received exciting news. She had been accepted to university to continue her study of religion and philosophy and would be leaving our community for a trial semester in the fall. I was genuinely excited for her, and for me, as we would experience the vision of a world different from our own. I could tell she was nervous by the way her hand shook when she signed the paper to attend the school, and in the long talks I observed, reading the lips of her parents and the eldress as they reassured her that the education would benefit our community if she remembered where she came from.
The world of university was exciting. Casting away our agrarian way of life, Erinys was now in a world flooded by people and buildings, all new sights to take in. Everyone wore funny, non-utilitarian clothes. The living spaces were all cramped together, and the food was just laid out in a giant room. She read lots of policies about what she could and could not do at the school: no visitors past 8pm, any visitors of the opposite sex must sign in and out, feet on the floor at all times, no plagiarism, no alcohol, no tattoos, a faith statement with things I did not even understand… Still, with all the rules, this world still seemed so large with so many choices. Erinys had a roommate, a Christian looking girl named Dalia, whose eyes reminded me of my own: brown and simple. She decorated their room with pictures of people and dogs, a homemade-looking metal cross, and of trees, which reminded me too of my life back home. I went outside to look at the trees that looked incredibly similar, but Erinys closed my eye.
Erinys studied lots, reading thicker and denser books than I had seen before. She studied a chapter titled “Matthew,” and a line “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” I knew the phrase by heart after she memorized it and repeated it on an exam, a strange phrase for an Ancestor. There were also religious stories that bored me, enough that I went outside to work while Erinys read. Sometimes I would close her eye to help her focus in preparation for her exams. The wonderful images I imagined I would see were becoming more routine: sit in class and watch a man in a brown coat talk, eat food, and go back to her room to read books. I made sure each morning to try to catch a sunrise or the rainfall from back home to lessen the routine. In a way, I thought, this must be part of the beauty of the duality of sight – coping with the mundane relations of the world. I would tell Persephone about Erinys’s studies, her blue eye smiling at the thought of Erinys and I sharing a new world together.
Things changed one night, as Erinys went away from the usual college buildings. She walked down a dark street, and I could see parts of her roommate walking alongside her under the occasional streetlight. They approached a rundown house that had red cups laying out on the front lawn. As they went inside, there was a haze around a bunch of people drinking alcohol, dressed in weird varieties of clothes while others had no shirt. As Erinys talked to them, she began moving closer toward one of the men standing there. They started toward another room in the house, the bathroom, and it was there that I witnessed her having sex with the man, right in front of the full-length bathroom mirror. She could have closed my eye, but she left it open for me to see. I stood outside in the vineyard, unsure how to communicate anything to her. This was not part of our relationship. Eventually she closed her eyes and fell asleep on the floor of the bathroom. I scrawled a note for her to see as soon as she woke up: “don’t do that again.” I wanted to cut that godforsaken eye out, but I was too afraid to lose my connection to Erinys. And there was a strange part of me that liked what I saw.
Erinys continued spending more time away from her college campus, sometimes with the man from before, sometimes with other people, all the time leaving my eye open. She never communicated a note back to me and continued living her life as if I was not seeing and experiencing it too. I started sleeping more to block out the sights, but there were only so many hours of the day I could convince myself to sleep. She stayed awake for what felt like days on end, seeing and doing things no Ancestor should see and do, and dragging me along.
One evening I decided to go out for a long walk on a dark night. It was late – almost as late as when Erinys and I were paired – and I passed along the outskirts of the forest. Erinys was out too, as usual, in a dark part of town. For the first time since the initial excitement of university, it almost felt as if we were seeing eye to eye again, so to speak. That is, until I realized what Erinys was carrying. She had a hammer in her hand as her roommate carried the metal cross from her room. I was no university educated person, but somehow it seemed as if they were not out to build a religious altar.
My fears turned out to be true, as they went to the same rundown house as before, with the red cups still outside. My step pace increased as theirs decreased, as they came to the door and didn’t knock or wait to be let in. What I saw then was nothing like the beautiful red blood shed during a pairing ceremony. This was the blood of anger, as Erinys and her roommate went through the rooms of the house, catching various men off guard as they hammered and gouged their eyes, right before my very own. The men were left dead, with hammer holes where their eyes were and their genitals lying beside them.
I vomited in the woods. I left her eye open to see it.
The next day I told the eldress, who sent for Erinys at university. But Erinys was not there, I observed. I saw her walking the streets of the city, entering a store with thousands of little boxes on the shelf. She made a purchase and went to the bathroom with my eye closed. I saw her leave the pharmacy and pick up the hammer she had stashed in a dumpster and enter a nearby house. This one I had never seen before, but I immediately felt the terror as I saw an old couple sitting in their chairs and watch Erinys approach them with the hammer.
As she left the house, my eye saw a neighbor watching Erinys leave. I saw lights flashing. I saw the ground getting closer as Erinys fell. Then I watched the ground for hours, unsure of what happened. I thought about asking the eldress to remove Erinys’s eye from my head, but I knew the sin of the memories could not be removed.
Eventually, my sight was covered by a white sheet, and Erinys must have been moving as the lights flashed beyond the white sheet. In the days to come, I saw what I’ve now come to understand as an autopsy room, as medical examiners put scalpel to my eye to test if it was truly Erinys’s. The experience of the morgue ended as Erinys was pushed into a crematorium, and my eye and sight were soon no more.
In time, the police came for the Ancestors and our community became no more. The eldress was sentenced to prison, the children were placed in protective care, and the adults removed from our land. Despite these challenges, the rest of the community still tries to practice the duality of sight.
I try not to.
While the crematorium was the end of my physical eye, the duality of sight is a spiritual experience, as the eldress explained to me years ago. Erinys conceived a child with one of the men she murdered, and I now see her fate. When Erinys’s eye is open, I see her repeatedly giving birth in a forest much like ours, as a beast stands before the fire to consume the child. I cannot look at the beast directly, for it is a sight and color that, as I said before, is a scene no one has seen or should see. But I see the piercing stare of the beast reflected in the eyes of the child as it is consumed. I have tried to keep Erinys’s eye closed as much as possible, but I still have dreams that cause both eyes to awaken, along with the vision that haunts me to this day. With even the best mechanical tools or attempts to remove the eye, the spiritual roots of the eye remain. The flames burning behind the eyelid where the eye used to be are so bright as to keep me awake all night. The flame has only intensified, as have the episodes of the beast needing new Thargelion sacrifices.
Therefore, this is my last testimony of my life as an Ancestor. It is time that I join my pair, my beloved Erinys, and to sacrifice on behalf of the people who have given, and taken, so much from me.
Andre P. Audette is a little-known writer from a little-known town who writes about little-known subjects to explore the (little-understood) human experience.