It was definitely getting wider, which had never happened before. It now covered or rather, negated a patch of sky as wide as Lheyand's thumb held at arm's length. At first it had seemed to move along with the motion of his eyes, as if it were a flaw in his vision; but now it remained stationary, yet somehow always visible. Nobody else was reacting to it as they shuffled past him in the hot, stifling air of the city centre at rush hour. Whether this was because he was imagining it, or because they were simply too blinkered in their own worlds to notice, it was impossible to tell.
He had never been like them, even before the sky started coming apart. He had never been able to shrink into his own world and shut out his surroundings. He had tried, of course at first as a means to fit in, but increasingly in order to dislodge the sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with the world. He would spend hours on his way home attempting to engross himself in some activity on his PDA, or crank up his music so that the sounds of the streets were muffled to a distant echo. However, every time he did he would get the familiar and insistent itch in the back of his mind that he needed to know what was going on; that if he missed a detail of his surroundings it could spell disaster.
It was then that the hole had started appearing in the sky. It started merely as a spot in front of his eyes, always haunting the very edge of his vision. When he tried to ignore it, the spot grew darker and more pronounced, as if it were trying to get his attention. Finally he had given up his attempts at shutting out the world and had tried to look directly at the spot; but each time he did so it faded and disappeared until today. Now it not only persisted as he gazed directly into the blackness at its centre, but also it was slowly and steadily expanding.
He had no wish to appear less than perfectly sane to his fellow commuters, and walked between the tall buildings for half an hour or more, trying to observe the hundreds of other people choking the streets for signs that anyone else had noticed the dark rent in the otherwise perfect blue of the sky. Try as he might, he saw nothing that suggested it was not simply a figment of his imagination. Nobody was even looking up from their news sheets or PDAs.
He accosted a young woman as she walked past, selecting her as one of the few people who were not plugged in to a personal music player and might therefore hear what he had to say. He asked as politely and sanely as he could manage whether she could see anything unusual in the sky above them. After eyeing him suspiciously at first, she quickly shot a glance upward as if wary that it was some kind of ruse to distract her while he picked her pocket. She looked at him in confusion and told him that she had seen nothing out of the ordinary before hurrying past him back into the mêlée. His heart sank as he faced the very real possibility that he was losing his mind.
He quickly made a less polite grab for another passer by, demanding from them whether they saw anything strange above them. Mistaking his inquiry for an assault a confusion he would later admit was not unfair the elderly man immediately shouted for the police, who pushed their way through the crowd from where they were stationed outside a nearby bank. Lheyand was swiftly subdued painlessly with a stun stick, and the ground swallowed him.
He came to in a cell, the light fading to a rich orange through the reinforced glass of the high window above the bunk. He slowly took in his surroundings, which were unremarkable in the extreme, except for the neatly dressed man sat in a nondescript wooden chair beyond the bars that comprised one wall of his cell. He was regarding Lheyand with an indecipherable expression, somewhere in the vast greyness between curiosity, sympathy, and amusement. Once he was sure his legs would obey his commands, Lheyand made his way to the bars.
"So are you a lawyer or a shrink?" he muttered conversationally. The man smiled a thin grey smile.
"A little of each" he responded in a quiet voice. "And I am here in both capacities today. You see, I can get you out with no problems, provided we first have a little chat. Will that be acceptable?"
Lheyand looked askance at the neat little man and slowly nodded. Another colourless smile.
"Good. You see, Mr Lheyand, you have been a participant in some very important research. It was a vital part of this research that you not be made aware of it at the outset, which is why this news will come as a bit of a surprise. The main thrust of this research is in the area of human perception; we have developed a drug which unlocks an interesting ability of the human mind. It seems to give the subject the ability to perceive that which others cannot, but which is nonetheless true. Sometimes this manifests itself as an auditory phenomenon, sometimes olfactory or in your case, it seems, visual." A long silence followed as Lheyand tried to process what he was hearing. Finally, he had carefully put aside his moral outrage at having been used in such a manner that could be dealt with at great length later and focused on the slightly more sinister ramification.
"Are you telling me that that thing is real?"
"In a manner of speaking," the man replied, with that smug, knowing smile that was beginning to chafe on Lheyand's nerves. "But not in the literal sense that you mean. It is real for you. The drug we are testing is called Veritas, because it allows people to experience truth. So far, from the results we have observed, this truth is rarely of a universal nature."
"That's truth?" Lheyand demanded, jabbing a finger at the sky outside the window, where a quick glance informed him the black gash was still lurking. "That's some shit scary truth!"
"Truth is not necessarily beautiful" the man replied. "Particularly hidden truth. But what is beautiful is the opportunity it presents when it is revealed." A blank stare from Lheyand induced him to continue. "You are seeing something threatening in the sky? Would it perhaps be a hole, gradually expanding and threatening to engulf everything in its utter blackness?" A confused, mute nod was apparently all the reply he needed to this. "Hardly an original image, but easy enough to interpret. What your mind is making manifest is your own growing sense of unease and despair. There is something wrong, or missing, in your life and you need to fix it."
"Like what?" Lheyand demanded, finally taking back control of his own larynx. This drew a patronising chuckle from the man in the chair.
"I'm afraid I have no idea," he said with only the barest hint of sympathy as he rose to leave. "You're going to have to work that one out for yourself." He walked from the room, pausing briefly at the door and turning back to face the man in the cell. "Oh and don't worry. We're going to be keeping a close eye on you to make sure nothing unfortunate happens." With one last smug smile, the man was gone.
Lheyand walked down the steps from the police station, his mind a confused mess of tangled thoughts that were going to take a good long while to unravel. He tried to resist the compulsion to glance skyward every few seconds, but the black gash kept drawing his gaze and he only narrowly avoided getting run over as he wandered distractedly out in front of a car. He threw himself backwards as soon as he realised the danger he was in, and the vehicle swerved in the opposite direction, miraculously avoiding any collisions before it came to a stop on the opposite pavement.
Lheyand quickly gathered his wits and ran across to check on the driver. She seemed to be none the worse for wear as she climbed out of the front of the car and began apologising profusely. He tried his best to make his own apologies heard until she said something that clicked horribly in his mind.
"I was just a little distracted, I thought I'd seen something hanging in the sky in front of me like a black hole or something." She caught his expression and laughed awkwardly. "Sorry, that must sound crazy."
"Not as crazy as you might think" he replied, raising his hand to point at the gash across the top of his vision. "Can you see that?" Her eyes followed his direction and she froze.
"You see it too?" she asked incredulously. "Then is it -"
"Real?" he finished. "Apparently not. But I have no idea why you would be seeing it as well, unless..." Unless they had slipped her the drug too, he realised, and she was having the same reaction to it as she was. They stood next to each other, staring in disbelief at the hole in the sky. Finally something changed, and the silence was broken.
"Is it my imagination..." he began.
"I don't know what it is" she responded quietly. "But if you're going to ask if it seems to be getting smaller and fading, then all I can say is that it's doing to same for me."
And so they stood, and watched together as the wound in the sky slowly but surely healed in front of their eyes.