A game of two halves
When a blind man heard strange things, his deaf-mute wife saw them. By the time they had grasped the gravity of their situation, they were too late.
Estimated Reading Time: 30 minutes
When it all began two years ago, we didn’t tell each other much about it. It was our third year together as a young married couple and our first time living in a landed house together. Even if we’d bettered our means of communication—which is tactile sign language and lip-reading—it’s still hard to convey these kinds of things when I’m blind and my wife, Cheryl, is a deaf-mute. So, for the first few months living in our new home, when we experienced strange things, we simply chalked it up to our minds playing tricks on us.
One of my first experiences was hearing the whimpering voice of a lady in the kitchen. It didn’t sound like my wife, and even if it was, it didn’t click with logic because Cheryl is a mute. More than that, she was standing directly beside me on my right side, but the voice was coming from the upper-left corner of the kitchen. As soon as I turned my head in that direction, the soft whimpering faded. This was around the fifth time I’d heard something peculiar in the house, and one of the more intense of the first few times, but it was still too subtle to make such a big deal about it. My hearing is sharp, the natural compensation for my blindness, and it’d be hard for an average person to have picked up on it; it was that subtle.
On the other hand, Cheryl was a little bit more suspecting of our situation from the get-go, with her vision being as clear as a sniper’s, because in the very moment that I heard the voice, out of the corner of her eye, she’d seen the mangled body of a young lady in the upper-left corner of the kitchen ceiling. When my wife looked directly at her, there was nothing there, so she’d just rubbed her eyes and carried on with her day. Cheryl did, however, see me turn my head at the same time she did.
Still and all, we were caught in disbelief for the first few stages of the strange occurrences, and that is a stupid mistake on our part; we should’ve picked up on it and put the pieces together sooner rather than later, because later would be too late.
It was around the tenth encounter with something odd when Cheryl had taken my hand and signed the words “Did you hear anything?” and I nodded yes. Some of you may think it’s funny, but we were sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV, because this is the activity that peaks our communication and bonding. She tactile signs me what I can’t see, and I sign her the things she can’t hear. “What did you hear?” she signed on my hand.
“A man groaning.”
What she’d signed on my hand after that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. “There was a bloodied hand on the ground near your feet.” I’m blind, but I knew we were both looking at each other with our mouths hung open in horror. That event would signify the escalating intensity of our circumstances. Call us stupid, but we brushed it off as—yup, you called it—our minds playing tricks on us. After all, we were watching a horror film. Our imagination can get overactive.
The phenomenon would persist, whether only a sighting or only a sound. Sometimes an episode will be greater than another. I heard stomping on our ceiling. Cheryl saw our faces distort in one of our wedding pictures, into twisted grimaces of fear and pain. I heard scratching coming from our knife rack. Cheryl saw fading handprint stains on our storeroom door.
Creaking on one tread of our stairs that has a loose floorboard. A disfigured child’s head looking down from the second-floor stair railing. More loose floorboards creaking. Half a face peeking through a crack in the curtains. Laughing in the living room. Disembodied feet running across us. The thumping of the footsteps.
All of this—and more—in the span of a year and a half, and by then, it’s obviously too much to shrug off and ignore. We’d investigated the history of the house, looked up the contacts of previous tenants and phoned them. To our surprise, the house’s history is as clean as a whistle, and no other tenant had experienced any such cases. In fact, they’d add that it is a beautiful home and they miss staying in it. We were at a loss and were practically glued to each other in fear every moment of our time staying there.
The breaking point was in the middle of the night when we were sleeping, I woke up to our TV going off on full blast. I shot off from bed and practically yanked on Cheryl’s hand until she was awake, on her feet and standing beside me. Together, we tread down the stairs, all the way down to the living room, the TV white noise getting louder, louder in my ears. I turned back to Cheryl behind me, her hand in mine, and I mouthed the words, “What do you see?”
Then, a lady’s voice, right up in my ear: “There is no escape.” At that same moment, another hand grabbed my other hand and pulled me away. Right there and then, I knew that this new person was the real Cheryl peeling me away from the company of something or someone else, so I let her drag me to wherever she was taking me.
She led me outside, the two of us running in our pajamas, without shoes, me losing my footing going down the entrance steps and almost falling. We ran until we were far away from the house. Judging by the gravel under my feet, I think we were standing in the roadside. Then, she immediately held me tight and began sobbing. It took me a long while to register what had happened because of the shock, but as soon as I caught onto the situation, I was crying along with her.
From what she told me a few days after, when we were sleeping that night, she woke up to get a glass of water. Although we agreed not to leave each other’s side while in that house, she thought it to be too much to drag me along for a short trip to the kitchen. While she was there, the TV backlight lit up the living room, so she went to check it out.
She tinkered around with the TV remote and power button, but it wouldn’t turn off, so she unplugged it. Still no response. The TV kept on going, lighting up the whole living room. At that point, she was freaking out. Then, she turned around to find me walking down the stairs hand-in-hand with someone else. Cheryl refused to describe what this other girl looked like and about what had happened after the girl leaned into my ear and whispered.
This was all conveyed to me in our stay with our friend from college, a man capable of speech, hearing and sight. Cheryl and I thought it best to stay with him for a week, given to a few factors such as his bachelorship, his living stability, and his nature to always lend a giving hand and an attentive ear. We wouldn’t bother a wife, wouldn’t leave a dent in his finances, and would have a helpful friend with us. The only downside: he was a sceptic and, with all that we told him about, he was seriously considering sending us to a therapist.
For five days, we stayed with Cameron. In four nights, we turned a sceptic into a believer. When I heard tapping on the wall, he heard it. When Cheryl saw a handprint on the window, he saw it. But what really freaked him out, was the fourth night. All of us came out of our rooms with the sound of loud banging on the wall in the living room.
When we all converged in the corridor, Cameron was cussing in whispers to no end. “What is that? What in the hell is that? I think there’s someone there, in the corner there. It’s too bloody dark.”
We all edged closer to the living room. Given Cheryl’s higher than average ability to see in the dark, she was very much reluctant to proceed any further because she could see exactly what it was, but she didn’t want to be left behind, so she followed along. Cameron flicked the light switch on, and all I hear from then on is chaos. There’s a man shouting in agony, banging on the wall, and Cameron’s crying out cusses, and Cheryl’s tugging on our arms, pulling us away.
One of the last things I heard as we backed away, back into the corridor, was a man shouting, “THEY’RE COMING! THEY’RE COMING!”
As soon as we’d all backed up all the way into the guest room we were staying at, the shouting man faded along with the banging, and Cameron’s cussing finally tapered away. We’d all ended up spending a sleepless night in the same room, talking until daylight broke and Cameron couldn’t hold his eyes open anymore.
For some things, Cheryl and I don’t even need to communicate. It’s an almost sixth sense connection about us. We can come to a mutual agreement without needing tactile sign language or lip reading. We’d been together for that long… since middle-school, two kids sitting alone on a lonely bench. Honestly, I never would’ve known she existed—how’s a blind boy supposed to know if a deaf-mute girl exists, right? She’d approached me and tried communicating with me using tactile sign language that we hadn’t even developed yet. She’d taken my hands and tapped them against her ears and mouth, then shook her head no. At first, I didn’t know at all what was going on, but we managed, and I understood, and we hit it off. The best days came from that day onwards.
On the fifth morning staying with Cameron, while he slept in our room, Cheryl silently packed up our belongings, and I sat against the bed’s headrest with my head in my hands. And then we left, leaving behind a note for Cameron.
“As much as you want to, do not help us. Thank you for being the best of friends and always being there for us, but we can’t drag you into this. This is something we must take on alone.”
All the countless phone calls we got from him, we rejected. Later, Cheryl would do some research on her phone and find a picture of the man she’d seen from last night, a murder victim. She told me that the guy was a stubby, balding, bearded man with down syndrome, but she wouldn’t tell me how he’d appeared to us last night. I’d imagine that it was a disfigured version of him, but that’s just a guess.
Our heads were brimmed with questions and we couldn’t put together the pieces of the jigsaw. If we’d done our investigation even a tad sooner, we would’ve been more prepared for what was to come. That night, in all our lack of sleep, we headed to bed, ready to begin looking further into the situation the next day…
But we were a day too late. In the middle of the night, I heard footsteps and voices, things going on downstairs and so I woke Cheryl up. In no less than two seconds, she gripped onto me tightly and began shivering.
Then, ever so quietly that it nearly slipped my hearing, a child’s scratchy, damaged voice on my left…
The footsteps in the ground floor belonged to more than one person, probably even more than three people. One of them, a gruff-voiced man, as if a preacher performing a well-rehearsed speech, begins shouting, “Wake up and come out here! For the greater good, we will proceed with this cleansing! The weak and disabled are a sickness to humanity! So, for the purification of mankind, offer yourselves to this slaughter and we promise a painless death! Otherwise, an excruciating demise awaits you!”
Then, a pause. Everybody downstairs stops walking and talking. They’re all waiting down there for us and my heart’s hammering as I think about what to do, and I struggle with how I should convey it all to Cheryl. Eventually, I bring her face close to mine, and then mouth the words, “People in the house. Phone police. Must get out.”
In an instant, she’d dialed the cops and put the phone to my ear, but the phone is jammed. We’d tried several more times to no avail. I’d drawn a guess that these intruders are using a phone jammer. They are that serious about their cause, ‘the purification of mankind’. I’m sitting there, frozen in shock, gathering my thoughts. In their eyes, Cheryl and I are contributing to a weaker future society. They’d done their research about who we are. I was born blind, and Cheryl deaf, and we risk passing down these disabilities genetically.
It took a bit of reaching into memory but I, too, knew who those thugs were. They are known notoriously and simply as the ‘Disablists’, and all their victims were, as their name suggests, disabled. Never had I thought we’d cross paths with them because their last crime was years ago and the five perpetrators had already been caught, or so we thought. Were the men who got caught innocent? Falsely accused? Victims of a broken judicial system? Most likely… because, right there, right then, the Disablists were in my house.
Shaking my head, I gestured to Cheryl that we couldn’t call the cops. As soon as I reached for my walking stick and unfolded it, the gruff-voiced preacher shouted, “Ten more seconds and the hunt begins! Ten seconds to come down now!”
He starts counting down. “Ten…! Nine…! Eight…!”
This will prompt me to take Cheryl and rush out of the bedroom as silently as we can.
“Seven…! Six…! Five…! If an escape is what you’re looking for! There is no escape! All doors are barred! Even if you do make it outside, I assure you, we will catch up!”
With the preacher’s words, my heart sinks so low into the pit of my stomach that I cannot find any light of hope in our situation at all. How did I even think we could make it out of here? This is it. We’re done.
In the corridor, I backed up against the wall and was overcome with utter despair. Looking at my wife, I took her hand and signed the words, “I love you,” and she signed the same back to me. With her hands in mine, I told her that the men are coming to kill us, and we have no chance of survival, and she gave no response, so I figured she felt the same hopelessness I did.
Together we shared a few seconds of complete despondency, but just as the preacher’s countdown stopped, another voice whispered in my ear, “In silence and darkness, and in your own home, you… are at an advantage.”
The same will be told to Cheryl in a form beyond language. Soon after, she signed to me, “We must fight,” and I nodded back to her. I have sharpened hearing, and she has sharpened sight; even if we are each lacking in the other, we make up two halves of a greater whole, and we are at an advantage.
The Disablists’ hunt began, and the footsteps started up the stairs. Although we were hidden in the dark, we were standing in a vulnerable position because Cheryl signed to me, “They have flashlights.”
The upstairs corridor where we were, and where they were going, was too narrow an area for us to hold a fair fight. More than that, we were outnumbered and had to split them up somehow. At best, we can pick them out one by one. First thing first, we had to make our way downstairs, so I used my walking cane to reach into our bedroom and tap on the floor, made some noise in there, and then Cheryl quickly led us into an empty room.
Once inside, I silently pushed the door closed slightly, leaving it open only a tiny crack, and leaned my ear against the door. As Cheryl watched them entering our bedroom, I listened for whether there were any more of them coming. By hearing alone, I counted four of them, and Cheryl would confirm this. The four of them were checking every nook and cranny of our bedroom when we silently opened the door and started making our way downstairs.
In the middle of the stairs, I heard one of them shouting, “They’re going down!” and Cheryl would see one of the flashlights focusing on us. Never have I, a blind man, ran down the stairs so hurriedly and made it unscathed. While running down, I heard something whiz past my ear and land on either a wall or the floor. Immediately I knew that was a bullet from a suppressed handgun.
Needless to say, step one didn’t go too smoothly; we’d been spotted and shot at. But, by and large, we were downstairs, and Cheryl was leading us to a much better hiding spot in a much larger area where we’d have a greater fighting chance. That hiding spot would be behind the kitchen counter.
Quickly grabbing two kitchen knives from the knife rack, Cheryl ducks down beside me and then hands me one knife, to which I refused. For one, by reason of familiarity, I’m much more confident with a walking stick in my hand. And two, by reason of teamwork and communication, I needed my other hand to hold Cheryl’s the entire time.
All those times watching TV and developing our communication paid off well. We’re liaising with each other better than most able-bodied couples can.
I sign to Cheryl, “They have a gun.”
“Okay. Two machetes, one axe, and one gun,” she replies. “We must take the gun.”
“Who has the gun?”
“A tall, skinny man.”
This will mean that I must single out the footsteps of a man with long legs. It’s not as difficult for me as it is for most. By hearing alone, I’ve been making calculations like these since I was a kid.
Now the men are downstairs and searching for us. “Where the hell are they?” one of them hisses.
“Split up,” the preacher commands.
Yes. Despite my fear-filled thumping heart, I couldn’t help but smile. I sign to Cheryl: “They’re splitting up.”
“I’m going to look.”
“Wait.” I motioned to where I heard the footsteps. One of them were approaching. That smug smile on my face faded. “Average-height man. Not skinny, not fat. Coming in ten.”
“I know who it is,” she says. “Let me do this. I can do this quietly.”
As reluctant as I was of letting her do it, I had to decide quick, and she seemed confident enough, so…
“On five.” I countdown. “One… two… three… four…”
From here on out, it can get a tad too quick and confusing for anybody’s liking. Bear with me.
Within a second, Cheryl extracts her hand from mine and I immediately hear the muffled grunts of a dying man. I was confident that she had memorized the men’s statures and sizes, but that was immensely impressive, a strike as swift as a trapdoor spider’s. She knew exactly where his head and throat would be, and she’d thrusted her knife so swiftly in that direction. But she didn’t stop there. She continued plunging the knife down on him until his struggled, guttural breathing had ceased completely.
Feeling around the floor, I find the guy’s legs and start dragging him closer behind the kitchen counter until I was sure he couldn’t be seen from the other side of the counter. As for Cheryl, I found her rocking back and forth, seated with her head drooped low and her knees up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her knees. I touch her face and feel wetness on her cheeks and around her eyes. Most of it was blood, but the rest are… tears.
“Are you hurt?” I ask her.
In an afterthought, I realized how much of a traumatic experience it must’ve been for her, to kill a man under such stressful circumstances. I wished that I could take all the distress from her, take it all upon myself. But all I could do was hold her, and it hurt that it couldn’t be any longer than a mere few seconds because our lives were still in danger.
When I let go of her and peel my ears, I then hear unbuckling where Cheryl is. The next thing I know, she’s fitting a belt around my waist. When she’s done, she signs, “A holster, an axe,” so I feel at what she’d given me and touch cold steel. Perhaps an axe will be a better weapon than a walking stick, and there’s a holster for it.
Now two men are converging in the living room and asking each other, “Found anything?”
“Rooms, nothing. Where’s Red?”
A long pause. The man replies, “Was supposed to go… the kitchen.” Another long, agonizing pause. And then…
Footsteps approaching. On my side, the left side, comes the footsteps of a tall man with long legs. The other side, Cheryl’s side, a heavy-set man. This is a dilemma. Which one should I take on? By logic, I quickly figure that I should take on the bigger man. First, I tell Cheryl about it: “Take their flashlights, injure them if you can’t kill them, and run immediately after. Make it quick. Tall handgun man on left. Big man on right. I take right. You take left.” We switch positions, ducking as low to the floor as much as we can, and then I tell her, “On five.”
As I heard the heavy man’s footsteps approaching, I folded up my walking stick, tucked it down into my holster and withdrew my axe. I gather up all my courage, slow my breathing, listen to the footsteps, and when the time is ripe, I lunge out with one arm reached out for where the man’s head would be, and my axe-wielding hand swinging where his stomach would be.
The axe rips across his stomach and, with his head in my other hand, I then smash his head down on the edge of the kitchen counter. This is when I hear the tall man start cussing out in shock and the heavy man screaming in pain. Shortly after, the tall man starts shooting his handgun at me, which then prompts me the disturbing question, ‘What happened to Cheryl?’
One of the first few bullets fired would pierce my shoulder, a sharp pain spreading, but despite this, I hold up the heavy man as a human shield which would receive the rest of the bullets. The handgun clicks on an empty clip, and this is my time to ram into the tall man, full speed ahead. Tripping on one of the chair’s legs, I fall but manage to topple the tall guy and then grab onto his calf.
I use my axe to swing downward in the general direction of where he is, landing several hacks upon flesh and bones. The whole house is filled with these two men’s shouts, groans, roars and barks—two men who I, a blind man, have single-handedly taken down. When I hear the gun being loaded and cocked hurriedly, I aim my axe for the guy’s head and swing. Splat! In the heat of the moment, it didn’t register yet: I’d just killed a man in such an utterly violent way, and I’m now moving on to killing the other.
Withdrawing and unfolding my walking stick, I start searching for the other guy who I find exactly where I left him, wriggling around on the floor in pain. Without putting much though into it, I hack his brains in with my axe, three consecutive strikes. Then, all is silent and I’m still numb to the actions I’d committed. I had to act quick before the last man returns from the basement in response to all the faded commotion. So, using my walking stick, I feel around for the handgun. When I find it, I tuck my axe down into the holster and pick up the handgun.
All the while, the burning question on my mind is, ‘Where the hell is Cheryl?’ But I can’t find the answer to that question when there’s another thug running up to where I am, loud stomping footsteps running in my direction. Immediately, I aim my gun up in that direction until I hear him stop dead silent in his tracks, and all I hear is his heavy breathing. This last man should be the preacher. Judging by his voice and footsteps, I’d make a guess that he’s a little taller than average and physically well-built. The distance between us would make up something like twenty strides. I’m making all these calculations in my head and adjusting my aim accordingly.
Pointing my gun at him, I ask him, “Where’s my wife?”
For a long moment, he remains silent, and then the familiar preacher voice responds: “Who?”
“My wife, goddammit, where is she? Where’s Cheryl?”
“What the hell are you talking about? H-h-how should I know? There was nobody else here.”
“So, you scoped us out and you didn’t even know that she lives right here with me? Who’s the blind guy here? You or me?”
“Who are you talking abou—listen, you live here alone. If you have a wife, we wouldn’t have known, because as far as we know… You. Live. Here. Alone, and you’ve always been alone.”
Like a kick to the head, I feel dizzy, knees weak, and even when some deep part of me believes that he is telling the truth, I’m in denial and begin stammering and mumbling, “Wha-wh-what d-d-do you… what do you mean? My wife, Cheryl, she… she’s always been by my side. We… we go everywhere together. What are you saying?”
Dropping my arms to my side, my grip on the gun starts to loosen. The preacher doesn’t respond to any of my mumbles because he probably can’t hear me at all. My mind goes back to a wedding ceremony too foggy and disjointed from memory to be true. But how could she not have been real? Almost every other moment with her had been so vivid. How could it all have been in my head, just a fantasy?
My mind is detached from my body and I’m very much unaware of my surroundings. Even so, I’m aware that the preacher must’ve creeped his way up close to me by now, ready to strike me down, and I’m not doing anything to stop him because honestly… I’ve given up. What’s life without Cheryl? I know, at this moment, he’s raising his machete high up, ready to send it crashing down into my skull… and I’m not doing anything to stop him.
I’m not doing anything…
But Cheryl is. She quickly grabs my gun and shoots him dead in the face.
Standing there, frozen, with my head down, I’m not as confused as I should be anymore. Sad about the realization, yes, but not much confused. I kind of figured it out pretty quickly; everything that Cheryl did, either I did it, or it never happened. The gun is in my hand, not hers. The two men she killed, I killed them myself. The note we wrote to Cameron, I wrote it myself, in first person. When she’d gone to ‘get a glass of water’ in the middle of the night, it never happened. It’s like a glitch, like when I was faced with two of the Disablists at the same time, she is not of this physical realm, so she’d simply disappeared, and I had to take them both on myself.
She’s my pair of eyes, my extra pair of hands, my guardian angel, my light in the darkness… She’s the reason I’m quite the celebrity in Luminia city; the reason I’m titled ‘the blind superman’ and made so many headlines. Blind man single-handedly eliminates notorious group ‘Disablists’ in self-defense. She’s the reason I’m able to write my story right now, although I’d argue that she’s the one writing.
Unbelievable, the amount of work my subconscious had to do… to preserve the beautiful lie. But now I know the truth, and I’ve come to terms with it.
Is she real? She’s never been a real person before, no, so she’s not some dead girl’s spirit but… I believe she’s real in some way, somehow, even when she’s doubtful about it herself. How am I, otherwise, able to do so many things a blind man shouldn’t be able to do alone?
Either way, ever since she’d came to me at the lonely bench in middle-school, she’s real to me, so that counts as something.
As I heard police sirens and cars approaching, growing louder and louder outside my house, I unwrapped the axe holster from my waist and dropped it on the floor along with the gun. Cheryl then took my hand and signed the words, “Forever… I love you, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and not even death will do us part.”
Bathed in blood, I kick several times on the barred front door until it swings open, and then I walk out. I hear the braking cars, tires skidding on dirt, car doors opening, slamming, policemen barking, sirens blaring. Then I’d receive the biggest bear-hug from a crying Cameron saying, “H-how… how did you… I knew it, deep down in my gut, I knew they were coming for you. Man, the amount of research and convincing I did… and then telling the cops about it, I…”
I winced in pain and moved my injured shoulder away from him, so he backs away and starts shouting, “He got shot. In-in-in the shoulder.”
The crowd of cops then rush towards me and interrupt us with a barrage of questions. “Sir, are you okay?”
“Are you alright, sir?”
Yadda yadda yadda.
For a solid thirty minutes, I did not respond to anybody, and I’ve never told anybody about Cheryl… not until now. Until now, nobody knew, while the paramedics were checking me, while I overheard some policemen talking about me, while Cameron was babbling to me to no end, Cheryl was by my side the entire time, her hand in mine. So, tell me, how can she not be real?
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