It was the eyes, staring at him...and getting larger...and larger. They couldn't get much bigger, could they? They'd been with him always, it was his earliest memory, the eyes popping out of their sockets and wandering from side to side, sometimes in sync and sometimes traveling singularly. He used to love them, now he knew he didn't. He thought he had escaped them, but here they were again, chasing him as he went as fast as he could go.
Was he awake or was this a nightmare he had just dropped into? He went to pinch himself, but stopped when he thought that either way, his mind would register pain. Maybe it was this latest mission that triggered it. He reached out his hand and explored the sheet and blanket covering him. His nose could smell the unique odor he knew so well...sickbay. He was afraid to open his eyes, afraid that his vision of wandering, bubble eyes would be waiting.
"Lee? Lee? Open your eyes. I know you're awake. Come on, Lee. Open them up."
"No," he whispered. "Go away and take them with you."
"Take what, Lee?"
"The floating eyes. Take them and leave. Start with the small black ones first. They'll be easy to catch with a net, but watch out for the water, they'll splash you. I suppose the brown ones would be simple also. They'll probably come and jump on your leg, but you can grab them or give them something to eat. The green ones are slippery and noisy, so be careful with them. But be extra careful with that big guy. He's gonna be hard to handle. Take them away, please," he pleaded with a whine.
"Lee, what are you talking about? There's no eyes here."
"Yes they are, Chip. They're all around," Lee murmured as he drifted back off to sleep.
With a puzzled look, Chip shrugged his shoulders as he gazed at Jamie.
"It's the concussion....he probably won't make much sense for a while." Dr. Jamieson, strolled over and examined Lee. All his instruments showed that Captain Lee Crane was coming along fine, even though he was causing great concern to his Executive Officer, Chip Morton. Patting Chip's shoulder, he put as much warmth as he could in the gesture. "How about some coffee, Chip? I've got a pot going now in my office."
"Sure, that'll be okay," Chip worried his lower lip as he watched his friend and boss sleep.
Nothing else was said on the matter and Lee recovered from the concussion. As they journeyed back to port, Chip would think of the eyes, but knowing Lee, he knew it would be a dead subject, not to be spoken of during the light of day.
Months later, during one of their rare vacations together in the mountain retreat they both loved, he saw his opportunity. They had been out skiing and Lee had experienced the misfortune of taking a tumble down the mountainside. The accident was just that, an accident brought on by a smartaleck teen who'd swerved too close into Lee's path. Chip skied down after his friend and was there to observe Lee picking himself up and brushing off the clinging, cold snow.
"Come on, Pal. Sit back down and let's wait for the medics to look you over."
"I'm fine, Chip, just cold and wet."
Looking off down the trail, Chip watched as the EMT's came chugging up on their snowmobile. Bystanders must have called them from the bottom of the slope. Secretly, he was glad for the interference. "Too late, Pal. Company's coming, so stay put." Lee gave him the evil eye and, in
contention, stayed standing. When the medics pulled to a stop, they convinced Lee to sit on the back of the snowmobile while they plied their trade. Chip stood close and, after the examination, ease dropped on the conversation.
The medic was firm in telling Lee to go home and get warmed up. A suggestion for a hot shower was accepted gratefully for widespread bruise relief, but Lee drew the line about going to bed. Chip mentally grinned as his mind went into overdrive thinking of how he would get Lee prone and snoring. Stepping up to his friend, he grabbed Lee's bicep and gently tugged him up. "Come on, Lee. I'll drive us back to the condo."
Lee was cold and Chip could tell by the shivers that randomly struck the man. With a hand in the small of the back, Chip guided his friend down past the lodge and into the rented Jeep. Their timeshare condo wasn't too far away, but was sheltered from the crowds. Coming into the front door, Chip shepherded Lee toward the bedroom. "Get that hot shower and into your pj's and robe. I'll get the fireplace going and make you a hot buttered rum." With a last shiver and a lopsided grin, Lee continued his journey to warmth as Chip bent over to shove wood into the fireplace.
In thirty minutes all was ready. Lee was stretched out on the sofa sipping the rum as Chip worked on a hot chocolate while draping his long form on the recliner nearby. Soft, soothing music was wavering in the background. The drapes were drawn and the flickering fire drew their eyes to it. He watched as Lee drained his stein and sighed with satisfaction.
"Would you like another one, Lee? I made enough for seconds." His answer was Lee's long arm stretched out in his direction dangling the stein. Chuckling, Chip stood and gathered their empty containers and headed to the kitchen. He soon returned with refills.
Once again, Lee nursed his drink and between sips, closed his eyes. As he became more relaxed and the stein steadily grew lighter in weight, Chip saw the opportunity to ask the question he had formed months before. Lee was dry, warm, sleepy, and rapidly becoming drunk. His eyes fluttered for the last time as Chip removed the drink from his hand. Chip tapped Lee on the shoulder and whispered his question. "Lee. What are the floating eyes?"
The silence stretched and Chip was afraid that he'd waited too long, but then a low sigh came from his friend followed by his answer. "Mom kept fish in an aquarium, only one type...black moor goldfish. Growing up, I thought they were cute. Then she got some lizards and frogs. She was a photographer and we had pictures of her pets all over the house. I began to think she was carrying her obsession too far, but I knew she had when she got the pugs. Those dogs couldn't keep their eyes straight. One eye was always wandering off while the other was staring at me. They kept following me wherever I went with their floating eyes. I started getting nightmares about their eyes and mother took down the pictures. The dreams lessened and I'd forgotten about them until we met that seaweed monster of the deep with his large protruding eyes." He pondered as his thoughts got fuzzy.
"Let it go, Chip. It was just the concussion talking, I'm not having nightmares now." He opened one eye and glared at Chip, then turned on his side, snuggled back down to get comfortable and drifted off to sleep.
Chip grinned. He knew the perfect gift to give to Lee the next time his ego got too big. He knew Patterson's camera had captured the image to the seaweed monster. Tomorrow, he'll order an 8 x 11 glossy and hide it until it was needed. Grabbing an afghan from the back of the sofa, he covered Lee and verified the man was asleep. Grinning and humming a small tune, he ambled off down the hallway until he reached his bed and his beauty sleep. Soon gentle snoring could be heard from the bedroom and also from the sofa.
LaJuan's dog, Ginger, inspiration for the story.