The Eye of the Beholder
Copyright © 2019 by Olly Halton
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording,
scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the
publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or
distribute it by any other means without permission.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters
and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
Olly Halton asserts the moral right to be identified as the
author of this work.
This book was professionally typeset on Reedsy.
Find out more at reedsy.com
Chapter 1 1
Chapter 2 5
The room reeks of sex and cigarettes. The news hums quietly
on my phone, rested on my thigh, where a short stump of a man
reports on the fact that no one has been stabbed in weeks. Not
all that surprising when people fear their own eyes snitching
on them. But I am not watching it. I’m off my face, the ceiling
fan contorting above my head and the walls peeling at my glare.
Connor had come round last night, brandishing a smile and
a package of drugs. We smoked through the night, cuddled
together with a cigarette hanging from my lips, whilst my
eyepiece fizzled like static television. One day it’ll probably
explode and kill me - it wouldn’t surprise me. It was my
own creation forced upon me, my own dog collar. Or at least
it would have been, had I stayed in school. Stayed and not
descended to the depths of LSD pathways and tobacco toxicity.
Eventually, I force myself up from the floor that I’ve made
my bed and strut to the bathroom. I move past the dirty clothes
that litter the floor, the holes in the wallpaper that my landlord
can’t be arsed to fix, and the frayed carpets that will make me
fall out of a window any day now. In the mirror is a horrific
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
sight – my eyes are guarded by moats of black from where I
have not slept in days; my hair straggles about my head; and
oddly enough, I’m sweating like crazy. I need a drink.
Connor pokes his head into the bathroom. He remains in
silence for a second, and then asks if I want any more drug
packages since he still has four leftover boxes stuffed at the base
of his rucksack.
I sigh, glare at him and splash water into my face, caressing it
around my eyes like I’m nursing a wound. “No, Con, I don’t.” I
pause, my face paling.
“Your loss,” he says with a shrug. He picks up the remote
from the table and switches the TV on. It buzzes into life in the
lounge and the short, stumpy man’s voice carries through the
“The government have thanked the engineering students of
Oxbridge for their outstanding commitment to the creation of
the Eyepiece Network.”
The man’s voice continues to drone behind us, whispering
the names of the peers whom I knew so well, reminding me that
it was I that dropped out, not them. Perhaps they’d mention me
as an in memoriam, distinguishing me for my effort at quitting,
or that I won for loudest yell when I did so. Maybe it would
be for how I brandished their work too little too late the night
I discovered my mother in the alley by our house – a knife
reaching out of her belly.
Suddenly, I feel something in my throat, a bulging presence
like a cluster of hair in my windpipe. It rises and creeps up the
back of my tongue. In seconds, it floods my mouth. I try to
speak, to alert Connor, but it’s too late. My lips part and my
head dives for the sink. Among the putrid vomit that spews
over the sink and colours it a tinted yellow, is blood - lots and
lots of blood. The dregs of it shake from my tongue and I can
see Connor’s disturbed face in the corner of the mirror. The
purple glint of his eyepiece holds dull beneath a furrowed brow.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know, it’s probably something you gave me.” I hastily
wipe my ruby-stained lips on my pyjama sleeve and shoot him
“Did you bleed?” His tone is accusatory. There is no concern
or interest laced in his words, instead a hidden ferocity. I
almost protest, attempting to profess sarcasm instead of any
appropriate and contemplated response. But, as I open my
mouth, he cuts me off. “You’re just like the others,” he grumbles
through gritted teeth and turns on his heels.
He marches with haste out of the doorway and closes himself
into our bedroom.
A wave of shock placates me, my jaw loosening with an
inability to grasp what has just been said. Like the others. What’s
that supposed to mean? I watched him leave, cursing each step
with tongues of fire and an angry roar. Air rushes into my lungs,
my chest raises and I can see every profanity I know tattooing
itself across my brain.
At that moment, there is a rasp at the door.
“Open up. This is the police. Open up,” they bark through
I reach for the cold, hard knob, my fingers twisting around
it. The door continues to shake crazily as the policemen’s fists
crash into the wood. My heart is rising in my throat, blocking
off my air, as blood surges to my fingertips. It holds there and
they become heavy.
“Open up now!”
I open the door.
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
The two men before me now are stern-faced, tall and broad.
They take deep heaving breaths as our eyes meet, reminding
me of strong ox. They’re clad in full black and white uniforms,
caps beading forward in judgement.
One produces his credentials, a bound leather wallet that he
waves quickly across my eye-line and stuffs back into his pocket.
His companion remains picturesque with his arms forward and
his jaws snapped shut.
The first maintains eye contact with me for a little longer and
swallows a mouthful of air: “are you Abigail Ellen?” The words
are punishing, as if miniature darts are laced into his saliva.
My heart races at the thought of answering and my palms
quickly turn sticky. I begin to stutter incoherent nonsense that
simply sounds like I’m a savage attempting to learn to speak in
a seconds’ deadline.
“Are you Abigail Ellen?” He repeats himself, harsher now.
“Yes,” I finally manage to push forward.
“Miss Ellen, we are arresting you on suspicion of murder.”
He continues, entering into the Miranda rights of my right to
remain silent and my right to representation by a lawyer. But all
I hear is the pulse in my brain, thundering against my temples.
It’s all done in haste. The officers frogmarch me out of the
apartment and into their car. Connor demands to know what’s
happening, shaking a finger at the officers and flailing. He
backs off like a wounded puppy when one of the officers points
to their socket, where their eyepiece flares in its dull purple
glint. Connor gulps down any resistance and heads back to
the apartment, flashing me one last look of goodbye, before he
Next thing I know, I’m in a white box: white walls, white
floor, white door and a white ceiling with bright white lights
that burn my retinas. I’m sat on a white chair, a white table in
front of me.
An officer enters, takes a seat opposite me and whips out a
“Miss Ellen, I’m going to now ask you a few questions.”
They hand me a set of images, each gorier than the last. They
depict a man, clad in rags and covered in blood. His clothes
are torn, ripped and dampened by rain that never fully dried
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
away. His hair is grey and brown in a mix that one could relate
to looking as if the colours had been shoved through a blender,
and he wore a moustache and beard to match.
“Do you know who this is?” She asks, tapping the images in
turn. I shake my head. “This man is Toby Jones. He’s a homeless
man that was found near Charing Cross, beaten to death.”
She retrieves a laptop that had been sitting at the end of
the table, opens it up and hits play on a video that covers the
screen. The footage is a figure, standing over the man’s eyepiece,
slamming her foot into his face and throat. I glimpse the face,
my own staring back at me as the camera begins to fizzle and
blood droops over it, transforming the feed into a reddish tint.
We sit in silence for a second.
“What,” I whisper beneath the heaving breaths that I try to
release as quietly as possible. “I don’t… I don’t remember…
I wouldn’t do that.” Fear takes hold like chains around cattle.
Blood turns to slush and my fingers shiver from an invisible
“Where were you on the night of September the Sixth?”
Their words make me pause. I try to scan the thoughts in my
mind, selecting that day from the endless calendar of days that
make up my life. All I find is blankness, an empty canvas.
The truth was a drug-fuelled fantasy. ‘Gifts’ bestowed by
Connor that ate away at my memories like maggots in waste.
I couldn’t say this; it would get him in trouble. Instead, I feel
the words gulped with the air I don’t release from sealed lips,
as I close my eyes to stop the jittering of my teeth and attempt
to stop my feet from accidentally stomping upon the ground
The rest of the day passes through my blinking, snapshotting
eyes. Here, my eyepiece no doubt records the jolting bones in
my fingers and the salted sweat beads that wash into it, stinging
me. Yet, I don’t protest. I don’t protest when the court date is
read out; or when I’m carted to my cell; or even when the door
is bolted behind me.
I now just lurk in this cage, a small and thin concoction with
bones of steel. Pale white lights carve roads in the ceiling and I
peer through the bars to glance at my identical siblings, drug
addicts, killers and thieves. Some have trembling knees with
wide paling eyes, and others have a mark of smugness scarred
to their form as they clutch the bars with red knuckles.
As my thumbs twist together, I hear the footsteps of the guard
at the end of the hall. Each step they take rattles their keys, their
lose torch gently swiping its way across the bars with a rhythm
reminiscent of a hand swerving across a piano.
The guard passes my cell, stops for a second and looks at
me. Their hat conceals their features, a brooding shadow the
only thing that protrudes into sight. A rustle reaches my ears
from where they fiddle at their hip and a small object flops out,
clanks against the bars in front of my face and comes to a halt
by my feet.
I look up to mention it, but by now the guard has gone, too far
down the corridor to be within ear shot of my heroic attempts.
Instinctively, I reach for the object, plucking it from the floor
with my fingertips. I discover it’s smooth, thick and cold to the
touch as my fingers stroke its glossed frame. I flip it onto its
other side, tracing between the onslaught of buttons and my
hand gently fondles the screen.
Without another second, the phone vibrates in my hand and
the words ‘Unknown Caller’ scroll across the screen. Curiosity
bids me to press the little green button and a timer begins to
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
“Hello,” I breathe into the microphone.
After a few counts of silence, I hear a voice.
“Abigail, listen to me. The vent behind you is about to unlock.
When it does, the security feed to your cell block and your
eyepiece will short circuit. I will guide you through the vents
and out into the street. Across the street is a bar named O’Neils.
I’ll be waiting for you there. Go now, hurry.”
My mind begins to race and flutter. Questions perform
circuitry laps within my brain and there is a distinct familiarity
to the voice. It is the voice of Abigail Ellen, and yet it is distorted
and different – its own unique birdsong.
Before I can contemplate any further, the magnetic lock on
the vent behind my head clicks and its casing flips open. The
camera droops. I feel a tingle in my eye as my eyepiece goes
“Go, Abigail, go,” the voice commands ominously from the