Haunted Passages: “The Gold-Eyed Plague,” a short story by Sophie Panzer

Sophie Panzer

The Gold-Eyed Plague

The girls arrived on a bad wind like blight and ate up our lives like locusts. Some of us believed they were a divine punishment for gay marriage and transgenders in bathrooms. Others blamed climate change (this happened in a swing state).

Only a few of us realized they probably had something to do with what happened to Jenny McKinnon. Jenny was a freshman at the public high school who dyed her hair purple and liked sneaking into the woods to drink with her friends. Sometimes they would walk to the cliff that dropped over the ravine and dangle their legs over, pretending to push each other or jump. Standard 15-year-old behavior.

Jenny also had a secret 18-year-old boyfriend she had been hiding from her parents for several months. One day, a missed period and a pink plus sign made her realize she would have to hide something else from them.

The law had come down in July and made it impossible to find help within state lines. Jenny sent a whisper of desperation through her friends until Hannah Hopewell and her mother took pity on her. Georgia Hopewell agreed to drive Jenny and Hannah to a city one state over under the guise of taking the kids to a K-pop concert.

Jenny’s pleas had also reached the wrong ears. A friend told a classmate who told her parents who told Jack and Meredith McKinnon that their daughter had done something terrible and was about to do something even more terrible.

Jack showed up in the Hopewells’ driveway the morning the fugitives planned to leave, shouting and waving a handgun. Everyone got out of the car and Jack dragged Jenny home.

Our stories vary after that. Some of us heard Jenny was locked in her room for a week. Others heard her parents wrestled her into a shock collar, the kind made for dogs to keep them from running away. Others heard she was sent to a religious youth camp for a long weekend in an attempt to salvage her immortal soul.

Whatever happened to Jenny ended with her dead at the bottom of a staircase a few weeks later.

Half the town thought it was a tragic accident. Others suspected foul play by Jack and Meredith. A few of us knew she had thrown herself down to try to stop the cells dividing and dividing and dividing inside her.

All anyone could agree on was that the girls showed up the day after the funeral.

They trickled in slowly. A stray girl on a playground or walking through the town square with no parents or nannies in sight. Hair in pigtails and braids or loose and tangled. They seemed like any other little girls until we got close enough to see the eyes. No irises or whites, just slit black pupils swimming in gold.

Our own children approached them and tried to play, but they were ignored. The girls only played with each other, running and wrestling and rolling in the dirt.

We asked them where their mothers were and when they did not answer we took them to our own houses. We tucked them into bed in our spare rooms and planned to bring them down to the police station in the morning, maybe even adopt them if they were cute enough.

When we woke up in the morning we found the sheets in the twin beds shredded to ribbons and our floors covered in shattered glass.

We didn’t know what they ate but we saw them throw rocks at store windows and tear up inventory with their tiny perfect teeth. Business owners who tried to remove them from the premises got their fingers bitten and faces scratched.

We called the police, who grabbed at them and missed and seemed reluctant to do anything else to things that looked like six-year-olds. We called child protective services, who said a representative will be with you shortly, please hold. We wondered if we should call the national guard.

Pets started going missing.

Doug Mason encountered a girl alone while he was out walking his dog early in the morning. He let her pet the dog and then tried to put her hand on his crotch. Suddenly a pack of girls appeared and descended on him, shrieking and kicking and biting.

When the police arrived they found the pulpy remains of a human corpse and a dead dog with deep gouges on its sides.

A few of us who were men with NRA memberships decided enough was enough, it was time to take matters into our own hands, especially considering this was all probably a government conspiracy anyway. We stalked a swarm that had settled on a playground and opened fire, but it was like shooting into a cloud of butterflies. The more tiny bodies that fell from monkey bars and smeared trails of blood down twisty slides, the more seemed to appear from the bushes, from the trees, from thin air.

They multiplied faster and faster. We couldn’t walk to the coffee shop without little girls trying to bite at our ankles. We couldn’t pull out of our driveways without them swarming our cars. We couldn’t let our kids play outside because they would be punched and kicked. Many of us began to pray.

One night, a shadow darkened the moon and a few of us got our periods early. We were the ones who had tried the hardest, who had marched and protested and knocked on doors, pleading with the rest of the town to heed the warnings of the past few years. Some of us nodded sympathetically before we said I have to take a call now, goodbye. Some of us told our neighbors they were going to hell.

Georgia Hopewell went to the bathroom and saw red where it shouldn’t have been. In a daze, she removed her soiled underwear and went outside to smear the stain over her doorposts. Across town, a handful of others were doing the same. We hurried back inside as a dark cloud began its descent over the land.

The next day, those whose houses had not been passed over learned their fate. It wasn’t the death of the first born this time. It was the transformation of the last. Our youngest girls, our babies between the ages of three and twenty-one, woke up with eyes that had turned to gold.

We called their names and they did not know us. We begged them to speak and they were silent. We gave them breakfast and they smashed the bowls of cereal to the floor before emitting wordless shrieks and sprinting outside.

We ran after them, grasping at their hands and hair. The stampede of daughters grew. They were joined by the girls who had invaded our town and together they surged through the streets.

There is a cliff at the edge of our town, a steep drop overlooking a ravine. The place Jenny McKinnon liked to play with her friends when she was alive. By the time we realized where the girls were leading us it was too late. We could only watch as our daughters hurtled over the edge, gold eyes glinting in the sun as they plummeted to the rocks below.

Sophie Panzer is the author of the chapbooks Survive July (Red Bird Chapbooks 2019), Mothers of the Apocalypse (Ethel Press 2019), and Bone Church (dancing girl press 2020). Her work has appeared in Whale Road Review, Menacing Hedge, Lammergeier, Coffin Bell Journal, The Hellebore, and others. She writes and edits things from her home in Philadelphia. 

Image: istockphoto.com

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.