And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Mark 9:47
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Matthew 5:29
The cold October evening drizzle fell relentlessly upon the lone figure sitting cross-legged on the wet pavement in front of the liquor store. The proprietor of the establishment was a kindly man, conscientious of the troubles of others and as a result, had not been able to bring himself to ask the vagrant to leave. Nor would he call the police to do the unpleasant job for him.
The store owner assumed the disheveled man was such a sad and pathetically harmless creature, sitting and begging for the unwanted change of those more fortunate than he that the most considerate thing he could do for the man was to just leave him be.
The squatter was dressed in faded, torn jeans, a well-worn old black leather coat, under which he wore a soiled grey hooded sweatshirt, which drooped downward under the weight of its sodden condition, hiding his face in shadows. Despite the time of night, he also wore dark black wrap-around sunglasses further shielding his appearance from any curious onlookers; not that anyone paid attention to what seemed to be nothing more than a burned-out homeless beggar.
On the ground in front of his folded legs was a tin cup with a few dollars in change inside. It had been a slow night and by the obvious absence of the sounds of metal against metal, he suspected not too many people had been willing to part with their change that evening. That was, of course, unless they had dropped a few dollar bills into his cup, which he knew was highly unlikely.
John sat in the shadows, mumbling incoherently to himself as he always seemed to do more and more of late, while pedestrians hurried by anxious to get to their destinations. Whatever it was he was babbling was indistinguishable to anyone but himself. And most of the passersby either didn’t see him or simply ignored him. Still others might glance at him with angry looks of disgust before hurrying past, many forming a deliberate arc of avoidance around him. Occasionally, someone would drop a coin or two into his cup and John would mumble “Thank you” or “Bless you” or some other phrase of appreciation. He kept his replies to a minimum, not wanting to engage anyone in actual conversation.
His hands were tucked deep in the pockets of his coat, their purpose two-fold. First, the worn cloth liner of his pockets managed to still provide some warmth for his ungloved fingers; and secondly the deep pockets offered a hiding place for the switchblade he held tightly in his right hand. He knew he could never be too careful when living on the streets. There were plenty of evil souls out there in the world and no one understood that fact better than John Martin, himself.
He hadn’t always been the babbling street beggar he appeared to be, sitting in the shadowed darkness, avoiding contact with his fellow man. John had once excelled at everything he did, no matter how difficult and with ease. Yet he was also naturally lazy, unambitious and as such had no desire for higher education.
What he longed for more than anything else was simply to have the time necessary to sit quietly and let his mind contemplate the one subject which was of the most importance to him; that being the existence of the human soul. He didn’t consider himself a theologian or philosopher by any stretch of the imagination, but he had always believed that buried somewhere deep inside of him, he had the natural ability to not only someday prove the soul’s existence, but to actually see it; if he were just able to figure out how.
Once, as a young boy, while suffering with a flu and extremely high fever, John noticed something strange about his elderly grandfather who had been visiting for the day. It was a fleeting thing, only the briefest of glances, but he was certain he had seen it. A glow had momentarily surrounded the man and John wished he had been able to see it more clearly. It had appeared then disappeared so quickly, he had not been certain of what he had seen, especially in his feverish and weakened condition. But he was sure he had seen something. Then a week or so later, his grandfather died suddenly of a massive heart attack. John believed that had he been with his grandfather at the time of his passing, and in the same feverish state as he had been in the previous week, he might have actually seen the man’s soul leave his body.
Many years later one of his friends talked him into trying a hit of LSD. Although he had found the incident quite unpleasant and one he wouldn’t want to repeat, John had to admit he actually did learn something from the experience. The hallucinogenic effects of the drug seemed to temporarily open his eyes, giving him the ability to see things he had never imagined before. From that day on, John believed if he could find the right combinations of drugs, he would someday be able to open a door inside of his mind, which would lead to his developing a sight beyond sight, and likely the ability to actually see the human soul.
John worked a series of low-skill, minimum wage jobs; each of which he made sure he was guaranteed to eventually end up losing, finding himself collecting unemployment compensation. This bouncing on and off of the unemployment rolls suited John just fine. Whenever the long-awaited day arrived when John would find himself back collecting government checks he would do his best to ride it out for as long as he could and only work when he absolutely had to. During times of severe economic recession, he was able to enjoy numerous government-sanctioned extensions of unemployment benefits and had more free time than he could have ever hoped for.
Prior to his last layoff John had worked as a stockroom helper for a local pharmacy. Being a small, privately-owned business, it didn’t have the stringent inventory controls of the larger chain stores. Since the high school LSD incident John had experimenting with a variety of drugs, as he was certain the answer to his quest for the soul lie in the proper combination of pharmaceuticals. While working in the stockroom John had managed to accumulate a number of pills which he labeled and properly recorded. He broke up the pills and combined them into various concoctions for his experimentation. He kept a detailed log of his research; documenting the exaction weights and measurements of his mixtures as well as his successes and failures.
Sometimes the drugs just made him sleep. Sometimes they caused him to hallucinate. And sometime the results of his drug experiments were nearly catastrophic. But despite the risks, he was sure he would eventually find the precise combination to give him the outcome he was looking for. He didn’t have to wait long, as after a short time he was not only successful, but more successful than he ever would have imagined in his wildest dreams or most terrifying nightmares.
One day, about a half hour or so after taking his latest mixture of various over-the-counter sleep aids combined with alcohol John was sitting on the stoop outside of his apartment observing people walking by, hoping for some positive results. A pretty young woman, who lived in the apartment across the way named Nancy, came out of her front door and waved a greeting to John as she had done many times before. He always found her attractive and could tell by the way she acted around him; she was interested in him as well. John had thought about asking her out, but felt he truly didn’t have the time or energy for a girlfriend at this point in his life, so he had always tried to keep things somewhat distant between them.
He cordially returned the wave with as much enthusiasm as his latest drug-induced stupor would allow. That was when he noticed it. At first, he saw a glowing aura form around Nancy’s body and he knew he might have finally found what he had been hoping for.
Then suddenly, without warning, he felt a tremendous pain inside his skull and for a moment he worried that his brain was about to explode. His first fleeting thought was of a possible stroke or aneurism, but then just as quickly the excruciating pain subsided and he was elated to discover he was still both alive and hopefully still healthy.
“Are you alright John?” He heard Nancy say from a distance. She must have noticed his reaction to the crippling headache. Not looking up he signaled with a wave and replied, “Yeah… yeah… I’m fine… just had a headache or some…” But before he could finish his sentence he had looked over at Nancy and was suddenly stunned speechless. Nancy was gone. That is, the Nancy he knew was gone and, in her place, stood some sort of horribly disfigured animal-like creature.
It was one of the most hideous sights John had ever witnessed. The thing stood about as tall as Nancy but appeared to be hunched slightly. Its hair, though the same color as Nancy’s was wild and frizzled shooting outward in every direction in long greasy strands. Its flesh was grey and mottled and even appeared encrusted with scars and scabs in places. It and was completely naked from head to toe and had lots of long body hair. The creature’s drooping breasts hung long and pointed downward like two horrible pendulums swaying to and fro.
John chose not to look at the rest of the creature’s body fearing what he might find lurking down below the waist. Instead, he made what might have been a greater mistake and looked at the beast’s face. Its cheeks were sunken in appearance and its giant eyes bulged from its dark and hallow-out sockets. The thing’s nose that of an ape. Its mouth was an oversized cavern filled with large yellowed fangs. Drool spilled down over the creature’s huge lips as the mouth began to form a strange smile.
John had no idea what it was he was seeing. How could someone as lovely as Nancy be suddenly turned into such a revolting slobbering thing before his very eyes?
“John? Are you alright?” The hideous creature asked discordantly in Nancy’s sweet voice. “You look like you just saw something terrible.”
For a moment, John just sat and stared at the hideous sight before him. He could not comprehend what was happening. He could hear Nancy’s voice but it was coming from the horrid thing which scarcely resembled the woman he knew; or at least the woman he believed he knew.
“I… I…” John stammered. “I gotta go!” And with that he jumped to his feet and staggered on wobbly legs down the street, hurrying around the corner and away from the wretched thing. He kept his eyes cast downward deep in thought, trying to make sense of what he had just seen, while still fighting the mind-blowing effects of the drugs he had taken. After a moment he was startled by the angry honking of a car horn and realized he had inadvertently stepped off a curb and into traffic.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, you stupid asshole!” He heard a driver shout at him. John looked up to see who had shouted at him and was horrified by what he saw seated behind the steering wheel of a taxicab. Like Nancy, the creature behind the wheel was a horrifying twisted version of a human so dreadful as to no longer be considered a man. The thing was even uglier than the Nancy creature had been with a huge, hairy muscular, vein-riddled ape-like arm hanging out the driver’s side window. That same arm was now extending its fat middle finger in John’s direction and might have actually seemed comical had it not been for its incredibly ugly face. Large, pulsating veins similar to those in its arms traveled up the creature’s thick neck and continued up the sides of its mottled face, disappearing into its hairline. Its grinning mouth seemed impossibly large with what appeared to be hundreds of razor-sharp pointed teeth. Its eyes were huge and filled with an anger and hatred the likes of which John had never seen before. The creature looked like it epitomized the essence of evil.
“Get off the street you drunken bum.” The horrible man-beast said in the driver’s gruff human voice. In terror, John stumbled backward much too quickly and tripped over a curb, landing down hard on his backside on the pavement behind him.
“You ok?” Someone asked from behind John. He heard the sound of young children chuckling, as they sometime do in such situations. The voice he had heard sounded like a young woman, likely the mother of the laughing children. He looked up cautiously, fearful of what he might encounter and was relieved to not find some heinous creature, but was eye to eye with a normal pretty-looking little girl; at toddler, perhaps almost two years old.
But upon closer examination, John noticed she was not quite as normal as he originally thought. Her eyes had something of a strange look to them as if they were in the midst of a gradual transition from human being to something else. Likewise, the luster of her young skin was not a pink as it should have been, looking slightly gray in color.
John began to crab walk backward away from the strange child when he noticed what must have been her two older siblings perhaps six and eight years old. He was shocked to notice as the ages of the children increased so did the hideousness of their appearances. It was as if they were gradually changing and evolving into something horrendous. That was when he observed the children’s mother and the crowd gathering behind her.
“Can I help you?” The woman said with a large fang-filled mouth that looked as though it might be capable of devouring John’s head in a single bite. As he looked with stunned immobility at the massive maw, he saw long thick streams of some type of reddish goo-like drool dripping down from the fangs. The creature’s tongue rolled out over its teeth and John could see some sort of vile insectile creatures attached like barnacles to the organ. These tiny bugs seemed to be eating the flesh of the tongue and burrowing under its skin.
As he quickly pulled his gaze away and unwillingly scanned the rest of the crowd John observed that every one of the gawking spectators was more repugnant than the last. He had no idea what in hell was going on with the world around him, he only knew he had to get home to his apartment so he could hide out from these despicable beasts and try to figure out what was happening.
John staggered to his feet and keeping his eyes cast downward while groping the sides of the buildings he made his way as quickly as possible back to his apartment, tears streaming down his face and babbling like a crazy man. He thanked the heavens that he didn’t meet up with any other of the horrid creatures and was pleased to find that Nancy or the horrifying thing she had become was no longer outside waiting for him.
He pushed his way through the front door and into his apartment, being sure to secure every one of his locks and deadbolts. John suddenly recalled the insects devouring the flesh of that woman’s tongue and felt his stomach heave. Fortunately, he made it into his bathroom just in time and fell to his knees at the toilet, vomiting and heaving like he had never done before. Sometime later when his gut was thoroughly emptied and after the retching and dry heaving subsided, John slowly tried to stand hanging onto the sink for support. He needed to brush his teeth and run a cold wash cloth over his sweating face.
John stood at the sink, his weak arms barely supporting him as he leaned on them, hovering over the wash basin as his eyes stared down into the bowl. What had happened out there to everyone? Why had they all changed and look so hideous? Then the realization hit him like a baseball bat to the face.
He had done it! He had actually seen the human soul. That would explain everything! But if he had in fact seen what he thought he saw, why had the souls looked so incredibly horrifying and evil. Then he came to an unpleasant realization. The toddler, barely two years old had a soul that had not yet been corrupted by the world around her. That was why she still looked relatively human. John could tell that she was just starting to change however, likely from being negatively influenced by her environment. And the older kids the six and eight-year olds looked progressively worse. He deduced that must be because their souls were becoming degraded more and more each day. Then the kids’ mother, and the taxi driver and the rest of the crowd; their souls had all obviously become corrupted to the point of no return.
And then there was Nancy. The lovely neighbor he thought so fondly of. She seemed like such a sweet and wonderful person on the outside, how could her soul be so horribly vile and revolting? Then he thought, “Perhaps the world we live in tarnishes all of our souls, and we in turn contribute to ruining the pure souls of others, including our own innocent little ones.”
John realized that perhaps the human soul, even the soul existing inside the best of humans was likely a horrifying slobbering beast struggling to get out and wreak havoc. Perhaps it was some genetically evolved force which formed back in the time of our origins before we became what we now think of as civilized human beings. This thing, this soul which was responsible for giving us the intellect and cunning to survive and rise to the top of the food chain, still lives inside each of us. But we all unconsciously do what we must to keep the beast at bay; force it to be locked down deep inside of us with the hopes it might never get out. He then knew this soul, this beast within was never meant to be seen by any man.
Then another thought struck him. There was a mirror on the vanity above the sink. John slowly raised his eyes upward to look at his own soul; he simply had to know. The last thing John could clearly recall was hearing his own bellowing screams of anguish.
The patron hurried out of the liquor store, trying to avoid getting too wet in the steady downpour. He didn’t see John squatting on the sidewalk as he ran buy and accidently bumped into him knocking his wrap-around sunglasses to the ground.
“Oh man. I’m terribly sorry.” The man said as he saw the beggar on the ground groping haphazardly for his fallen sunglasses. “I was in a hurry and wasn’t paying attention. Here, pal, let me get those for you.” The patron reached down and picked up the sunglasses then handed them back to John who turned his face up toward the man.
“Oh my God!” The man shouted, shocked by what he saw looking out from beneath the shade of the hood. The man on the ground stared up at him from two hollowed out sockets where his eyes should have been. At the tops and bottoms of the gaping holes were deep scarred furrows and the man instantly realized why. “Dear Jesus man… did you… Oh my God you did… you clawed out your own eyes!”
John put on his glasses, lowered his head and returned to incoherent mumbling as the shocked man stumbled away into the night. No one would have been able to make out what John was repeating but it they could understand him they might recall the phrase as part of a bible verse; perhaps one they had heard in church as a child. What John mumbled was “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”