Scarlet eyes. That’s the first thing that struck me about Lask. It’s the first thing most people notice. They’re hard to miss; striking, piercing, simultaneously warm and deadly. Over the years, I haven’t been the only one who has seen them. Sometimes, it’s the eyes themselves. Other times, people register him as a flash of red on the edges of their vision.
When I was 12, I wanted to be baptized. As was customary, the preacher came to our house and talked to me about it. Asked me all kinds of questions– had I really thought about this? Am I doing it for my family or for myself? Do I believe in this? Am I prepared to accept this? What about this or that?– and seemed surprised when I gave him solid answers, as if this 12 year-old-girl had given her answers more thought than some of the adults he visited. (Which may well have been true.) At the end of our meeting, he told me it had been a pleasure, and he looked forward to baptizing me. He offered his hand, and I shook it. When I touched him, the strangest expression crossed his face, and he pulled back as if I had burned him. He hastened from the room, bidding me a good afternoon. It wasn’t until years later, my parents told me what had happened. When he went back out to where they were waiting, they could see he was visibly shaken. “I don’t often sense greatness,” he told them, “But when I touched her… I had a sudden vision, a physical shock. It was a flash of red.”
At 19, my college suitemates kept me awake all semester with their late night music and drunken shenanigans. I had politely complained off and on for weeks, since I had an 8 a.m. class every morning. At the end of the semester, the night before my final, I snapped. I rolled out of bed, tore into their room, and began lobbing anything I could grab (cans of spaghetti o’s, packets of ramen, boxes of clorox wipes) at their heads, shrieking, “Shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! You may not care about what happens after tonight, but some of us are taking this seriously and have exams in the morning! If I have to come back over here and ask for silence again, I will END each and every one of you!” After having pelted and screamed the gaggle into a terrified mass in the corner, I went back to my room and slept until morning. (I didn’t hear a peep from them the rest of the year.) The next day, one of them came over to apologize, and also to tell me how frightening I was. “I had no idea that was in you… You’re normally so nice and quiet. It was like witnessing the wrath of God and the eyes of Satan. It’s like everything in the room went red.”
At 22, Lask (via me) kissed our future wife with such enthusiasm, she swore as they parted, she saw a flash of red eyes “like a glimpse among sparks.”
There have been other instances, but those are the most entertaining. It seems if anyone is going to pick up on Lask’s presence, he shows up to others as some sudden crimson flash, or a glimpse of eyes.
“Why are they red?” I asked him once when I was 16.
“Why are yours green?” he countered.
He laughed at my quick (and correct) wit. “Touche,” he replied. We were in my bed for the conversation, lying awake in the early morning. It was my favorite time of day, before the world woke up and started demanding things, when we could just lie close, wake up together, and sleepily discuss whatever was on our mind. That morning, were hunkered in the blankets, a tangle of legs and snuggling arms, and I had been studying his face for some time. I never got tired of looking at his eyes (still don’t), but it had never occurred to me to ask about them.
“So?” I pressed. “Why is this you?” I reached out and brushed back his wild hair. “I know why Fictional Lask looks like this, but his origins aren’t yours. You don’t have genes like humans. Where do these come from?” I stroked my thumb along the sharp arch of his black brow.
“Do they frighten you?” he asked.
“Why not? They frighten most everyone else.”
“They’re not human-colored, but you aren’t you human, so why should they be human-colored? They don’t glow or glint creepily in the dark. They don’t shoot lasers. They’re just eyes, and they happen to be red. They’re warm. I like the way they look at me.”
The edges of those eyes crinkled as he smiled.
“I don’t know,” he confessed after a moment. “Why do any of us look the way we do? I have an acquaintance with green hair and green wings. I have another who is a tiger, and not human-shaped at all.”
I absorbed this, fascinated. At the time, he didn’t often talk about his life beyond me.
“Even so,” he continued, “Most of them still look more normal than I do, on the whole. Most look human enough.” He glanced down to toy with the ribbon on my nightshirt.
“You’re self-conscious!” I exclaimed. It had never occurred to me that he could be– proud, powerful, swaggering Lask could never be insecure about anything. (How wrong I was then.)
“I most certainly am not,” he said. He turned his head away, putting his nose in the air as he did whenever he was trying to take the high road out of a conversation.
I smiled, put my arm around his neck, and pulled him closer, making him look back at me. I cupped his face with my free hand. “It’s ok,” I told him. “I think you’re handsome.”
He looked at me with those eyes, and his lips flickered with a faint crooked smile. “I didn’t know what I looked like at first,” he told me. “When I arrived on the island, I woke up in the meadow. I was naked, and could see I was white, but at the time I didn’t have any reason to think it was unusual. I…” he paused, and at the time I didn’t understand his hesitation. (I later realized he must have been figuring out how to talk around his lost wings.) “When I found my way to my house, the island gave me clothes, food, and everything else I could need. There wasn’t a mirror in my house when I arrived. It didn’t occur to me to want one. Within my first week or two on the island, I wanted to get out and meet others like me. I’d briefly met a few other spirits, and got wind of a gathering happening one evening. I decided I would crash the party. I turned up, but some were offended I’d turned up unannounced. They allowed me to stay, but few people were interested in talking to me. Most cleared out of my path before I could get close enough to say hello. I didn’t understand why. When I got home, I asked the house why they wanted to get away from me.”
I could tell he was drifting into bittersweet memories, and started running my fingers through his hair, trying to encourage him to keep talking.
“That’s when a full length mirror appeared in my room,” he said. “I spent a long time looking at myself in it. I thought of the other spirits I had seen that day. Some had fanciful colors, wings, horns, or other interesting features, but I allowed as how there was something frightening about me. Tall, pale like death, long-limbed, muscled… just glancing at myself, I could see I was bigger and more intimidating than most of the spirits I’d tried to interact with. It wasn’t until I stepped in close to the mirror that I got a good look at my face.” He paused. “They startled me, the first time I saw them. By that point, I’d seen a number of spirits– green eyes, brown, blue, grey, even gold. Nothing prepared me for finding red in my own. Even now, I’ve not met another Light spirit with red eyes.”
I decided not to comment on the implication he had seen red-eyed Dark spirits.
“I spent a while looking at them,” he said, “And I determined my gaze must be what frightens people most. Many have quailed under it over the years. But never you.” He watched me. “Why? Surely there must be something in you that looks at me and feels fear.”
He studied me, searching my face as if he could detect even the faintest trace of falsehood. Finding none, he kissed me head and said only, “Thank you.”