Pentachromacy – By hesaidadverbsly
The average human eye has three types of cone cells, and so the average person can distinguish roughly 10 million colors. Some few people have four types of cone cells. They see somewhere near 100 million colors.
When I was a child my doctor determined my left eye has the normal three cone types. But my right eye had five cone types. Which meant I could see 10 billion colors with it. This was scientifically unprecedented.
It also explained so many things to me. Why I had a hard time distinguishing shades of colors that my classmates could easily name. And the constant headaches I got – as both my eyes were taking in radically different sensory data.
But the five cone types in my right eye did not explain the strange shapes I saw floating around everywhere. Often following people, animals, or anything moving. I told my doctor about these and he referred my parents to a professor at the local university.
My parents took me to Dr. Raymond Faizer, a neuroscientist who specialized in vision and the brain. He studied human perception when we look at weird optical illusions – like pictures of stationary spirals or circles that appear to be moving. He told me it was M.C. Escher’s work that first drew him to the field though – the playful way Escher combined two and three dimensions. The impossible shape of his worlds.
For months, I went twice a week to see Dr. Faizer after school. He had me look at his favorite optical illusions. He taught me to paint from the darkest shade of a color to the lightest while trying to have the smallest amount of difference transpire across the canvas. I’d also attempt to draw the weird blobby things I saw everywhere in my right eye. I couldn’t describe their color. Or better yet, their lack of it. Dr. Faizer could tell I was frustrated with all these tests and experiments but he tried to make them fun, and I appreciated that.
And I wish my story ended there. That a well-intentioned neuroscientist introduced me to the art of M.C. Escher, taught me how to paint and draw, but ultimately failed to answer a question for me.
But Dr. Faizer was a clever and tenacious man. I came in one day after school and he said, “I’d like to try something different today.”
“That sounds good,” I said.
“Wonderful,” he said. He grabbed an eye dropper from his desk. “Tilt your head back for me.” Without asking for further information, I complied.
Dr. Faizer held my right eye open with one hand. I could see one of the blobs hovering just over him like a halo.
Without warning, he put a few drops of the liquid into my eye. I screamed.
I screamed not at the shock of having a strange liquid put into my eye, but at what I could now see out of my right eye.
There was no longer a blob over Dr. Faizer, but jellyfish tendrils creeping out of a giant head. The head was almost human. But off. It was large. The eyes sunken into the skull. The skin transparent. There was no hair. No ears, though holes where they should be were present. The nose was the same way. Absent, but holes existed with smaller tendrils leaking out of them. Most of the tendrils fell all around it – seemingly coming from the back of the head. Though some oozed out the mouth as well.
As I screamed, I locked eyes with it. When I screamed, it screamed – or so I imagine it did. I could not hear it, but it had the unmistakable look of a face screaming. It’s tendrils latching on to Dr. Faizer.
He fell to the floor convulsing in pain. The thing held onto him, continuing to scream as I screamed. His limbs twisted in ways their sockets should not have allowed.
I closed my eyes but continued to scream. I could still hear his body folding like meat origami. I forced myself to stop making sound.
When I did, the room went quiet. I opened my left eye.
The shape Dr. Faizer was now in… it looked like someone had tried to recreate one of Escher’s drawings as a sculpture. I didn’t scream, but I breathed heavier. His body convulsed again. I did not look out my right eye, but I knew the thing still latched onto him.
From Dr. Faizer’s desk I grabbed a pen.
I gave myself no time to think about it. I opened my right eye only briefly as I plunged the pen into it. In that fraction of a second I saw that face one more time. It’s eyes inches from my own. Staring into mine.
Months later my family received a substantial out of court settlement from the university. The police investigation claimed that Dr. Faizer laced the chemical he put in my eye with LSD and it caused me to hallucinate.
The investigation made no mention of the contorted form of Dr. Faizer’s body. Only that he died in my presence of unrelated causes.
There was a time when I could see ten billion colors. Pigeons, butterflies, and a few other creatures in this world supposedly see that many. But I know what else they might see. And I’m glad I no longer do.
If I could, I’m sure I’d still also see that hideous face staring into mine.