Coda

Every day, every moment, we are faced with choices.  Many of these choices are easy to gloss over.  We’re often not even aware of making them.  My morning rituals, for example, are so built in, so automatic, I don’t even consciously consider them.  I just do them, as if I have a built-in program set to function in a specific, pre-defined manner each day upon waking.

routine

 

That’s not how it is with everything, though, of course.  Sometimes we are confronted with decisions that cause us to pause, even agonize, as we hem and haw, weighing the pros and cons.  Should we, or shouldn’t we?  These are the choices that define us.  And, sometimes, these are the choices that cause us the most regret . . .

choices

 

****************

The Wonder Years is easily one of my all-time favorite television shows.  And in a second-season episode called “Coda,” the main character and narrator of the show, Kevin Arnold, reflects on a decision he made, two decades ago, that he will never forget.

kevinatpiano

 

The story starts with Kevin riding his bike down a neighborhood street.  He comes to a stop in front of a particular house, and we peer in through the window along with him where we see a boy playing the piano, his instructor by his side, a collection of what we assume to be parents in the background.  The boy is playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D major.  We, and Kevin, can hear it perfectly.

The narrator, the adult Kevin discussing the scene from a perspective twenty years removed, begins this way:

“When you’re a little kid, you’re a little bit of everything–artist, scientist, athlete, scholar.  Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up, one by one.”   Here the narration pauses, and Kevin, the twelve-year-old Kevin, sitting on his bicycle in the fading light of dusk, continues to look in through the window, a wistful expression on his face.

“I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up,” the voice-over continues.  “One thing we really miss, that we gave up because we were too lazy, or we couldn’t stick it out.  Or because we were afraid.”

Here the scene shifts.  We see a football tossed high in the air, and we realize, immediately, that time, capricious as ever, has run backward.  We are viewing a moment prior to the opening scene.

Kevin and his friends are playing football in the street, pretending to be members of the New York Jets, complete with a play-by-play broadcast.

paul

 

doug

 

We hear the imagined cheers of a capacity crowd before Kevin’s mother steps outside to break it up.  It is time for his piano lesson. . .

norma

 

As Kevin arrives at his instructor’s house, the student scheduled ahead of him is finishing up his lesson.  But this is no ordinary student.  This is Ronald Hirschmuller.

The narrator tells us that Ronald is a “legend.”  He plays everything perfectly, and practices “4700 hours a week.  I hated Ronald Hirschmuller.”

After Ronald leaves, Kevin begins his practice session.  When he plays for a while, making several mistakes, the instructor, a straight-talking, likeable, chain-smoking woman named Mrs. Carpose, mocks that he must have practiced all of forty-two minutes this past week.  She tells him she’s going to start feeling guilty about taking his parents’ money if he doesn’t start putting more effort into his lessons.

mrscarpose

 

Then she asks him if he’s thought about what he’ll play for the recital this year.  The recital is the signature event of the year for Mrs. Carpose’s students–a chance for them to play in front of all the students and their parents.

But Kevin wants no part of it–he’s too busy to play at the recital.  He tells her he’s in junior high now, and has a lot of demands on his time.

When Mrs. Carpose presses, prodding him to reconsider, he says, “Look, I’m not like Ronald Hirschmuller.”  He has a diversity of interests, he explains.  He doesn’t want to devote all his spare time to practicing piano.  And he doesn’t want to play at the recital.

But when his father learns of this, he tells Kevin he has two choices.  He can either quit the piano (his father doesn’t want to continue paying for lessons if Kevin isn’t practicing), or he can start to practice more and take it seriously.

jackarnold

 

Kevin tries to practice that night, but makes the same old mistakes.  Frustrated, he decides to quit.

“Why?” Mrs. Carpose asks him at his next lesson when he informs her of his decision.

After avoiding the truth for a while, he comes out and tells her, “I’m not gonna be like Ronald Hirschmuller.  I’m never gonna be that good.  Even if I practiced all the time . . . he’s just more talented than me!”

“Oh, don’t give me that,” his teacher scolds.  “You have more talent in your little pinky than Ronald Hirschmuller has in his whole body.  Why that kid’s a machine!  You have a feel for music, and you know it.  But that’s not the point–who’s better, who’s worse.  Why, that’s not music!  That’s not what it’s about!”

She tells him to sit down and play Pachelbel’s Canon in D major.  “My final request,” she says.

pachelbel

 

After slipping up early, Kevin gets into a rhythm and plays beautifully.

“All of a sudden, as I started to play,” the Kevin of two decades later says in a voice-over, “it was like there was electricity flowing through my veins.  Suddenly I could do no wrong.”

kevinandcarpose

 

This encourages him to reconsider and play at the recital, after all.  “I would play Canon in D major like Mrs. Carpose had never heard it before,” he tells us in another voice-over.  “Like the world had never heard it before.  Like Ronald Hirschmuller had never heard it before.”

His optimism is shattered at the dress rehearsal, however.  With all the students gathered, Kevin learns that Ronald Hirschmuller also plans on playing Canon in D major at the recital.

He is shocked, and angry at his teacher.  How could she do that to him?  Why would she want him to play the same piece as the best student in the class?  Was she deliberately trying to humiliate him?

Ronald plays Canon in D major before the assembled students, and, of course, he is flawless, technically perfect, as always.  As Ronald plays, Kevin sits there listening, growing more nervous, more anxious by the second.  He wishes Ronald would make a mistake–just one slip-up.  But he doesn’t.

Mrs. Carpose asks Kevin to play next, which only heightens his anxiety.  How can he follow that performance?  Predictably, in a state of near-panic, Kevin butchers the piece.  It is a complete embarrassment, “the piano rehearsal from hell,” he tells us in a voice-over.  After the last note is played, Ronald Hirschmuller smirks and offers a sarcastic applause.

ronaldsarcasticclap

 

Mrs. Carpose tries to encourage him.  “So you choked,” she says as he leaves.  “You’ll do better tomorrow night”–at the recital.

“Yeah,” Kevin says, not even making eye contact.

But tomorrow night arrives and Kevin does not attend the recital.

The final scene of the episode returns us to where it started–Kevin outside of Mrs. Carpose’s house, listening to Ronald Hirschmuller playing Canon in D major at the recital for his fellow students and their parents.

Kevin sits there on his bike, looking in.  And the adult Kevin breaks in with the episode’s final voice-over . . .

“I never did forget that night.  I remember the light glowing from Mrs. Carpose’s window.  And I remember the darkness as I sat out there in the street looking in.  And now, more than twenty years later, I still remember every note of the music that wandered out into the still night air.”

Here, he begins to ride away, looking back one last time.

“The things is,” he says, “I can’t remember how to play it anymore.”

********************

The ever-present specter of peer pressure, which influences Kevin so profoundly in this episode, is something that also deeply affects the main characters in The Eye-Dancers.  Indeed, at its heart, the novel is about the characters being forced to confront that same pressure, those external expectations, and learning to overcome the burdens they create.

peerpressure

 

I suppose all of us have had to struggle with those burdens at one point or another.  I suppose many of us still do.  I know I do.

My outlet for as long as I can remember, my expression of these struggles, has always been to write them out and share them on the page.

 

writing

 

Thank you so much for reading them.

–Mike

The Conundrum of Creativity (Or, Sometimes They May See You Sweat)

One fall day in my junior year of college, I met with my academic advisor, a bearded, gray-haired man in his early sixties who also happened to teach two of my Writing courses that semester.  It was late in the afternoon, his office overlooking the campus’s back parking lot.  Mellow October sunshine filtered in through the open window, the breeze ruffling the ungraded papers on his desk.

ungradedessays

 

We were talking about career choices.  What did I want to do with my life when I graduated?  I loved writing, of course.  I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’d known that since the second grade.  Maybe I’d need to acquire a “day” job to pay the bills, but the nights, the weekends–they would belong to my flights of fancy.

flightsoffancy

 

My advisor smiled.  “If you love it,” he said.  “If you feel called to do it, then it’s right for you.  That’s the way I feel about teaching.”

I nodded, but perhaps sensing I thought he was just issuing a standard company line or that I wasn’t grasping the heart of his message, he went on: “You know, I’ve been teaching here for over thirty years.  I’ve probably forgotten more about writing and literature than most people will ever know.”  He laughed, shook his head, thumbed the thick glasses he wore up the bridge of his nose.  I sensed that, for a moment, his mind was peering back through the decades, wondering at the swiftness of it all, the transitory nature of life.

literature

 

“But I’ll tell you this,” he said.  “Before I walk into that classroom, I still feel butterflies.  I know there are students in there, my students, and maybe some of them even want to go on to become journalists or poets or novelists–just like you.  I have to be able to teach you something worthwhile.  Others? They’re probably taking my course because it’s required.  They don’t want to be there.  But maybe I can light a spark, you see.  Maybe I can inspire them to read something great long after they’ve forgotten all about me.”

butterflies

 

“You get nervous?” I asked.  Somehow the rest of his message had got lost.  After all, in class he never seemed nervous.  And why should he be?  He was one of my favorite professors–always engaging and interesting.  Teaching appeared to come so effortlessly, so naturally to him.

He smiled again.  “Just before class starts, my heart beats a little faster.  I do a quick mental checklist on the lesson.  Yeah.  I get nervous.  But that’s a good thing.”  He paused for effect. “It means I still care.  I still love what I do.  When the day comes that I don’t feel those butterflies before class, I’ll know it’s time to retire.”

retirement

 

********************

On July 3, 1950, New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio got word that he was slated to start the next game at first base.  Upon hearing the news, he wondered if it might be some sort of practical joke.  Him play first base?  He was the center fielder, he’d been the Yankees center fielder since his rookie season, fourteen years earlier.  He hadn’t played first base since his days in the minor leagues.

dimaggio

 

But manager Casey Stengel was serious.

stengel

 

The team was in a funk, and Stengel wanted to inject some youth into the outfield.  Inwardly, DiMaggio seethed.  Stengel had just joined the team as manager the previous season, whereas Joltin’ Joe, the Yankee Clipper, had been the star of the franchise for a decade and a half.  But he did not openly dispute his manager.  He readied himself to play first base.

Prior to the start of the game, DiMaggio fielded practice ball after practice ball, trying to acclimate himself to this new, foreign defensive position.  Before the first pitch was even thrown, his uniform was soaked with sweat.  Feeling like the proverbial fish out of water, DiMaggio had never been so nervous.

fishoutofwater

 

During the game, he made no errors, but clearly looked out of sorts.  It was the longest game of his life.

The next day, DiMaggio was back in center field.  He never played first base again.

Later, he was asked why he felt so much pressure.  He was Joe DiMaggio, after all.  What did he have left to prove?  He had already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats, a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Hadn’t he earned the right to relax?  Wasn’t his legacy assured?

dimaggioautographs

 

“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time,” the Yankee Clipper responded.  “I owe him my best.”

****************

It is one of the tenets of writing, of any form of creative expression–we must first and foremost do what we love, express what matters to us, write about the relationships, ideas, concepts, themes, passions that resonate within, in some deep, secret chamber of the heart.  Whether we are singing opera or crafting poetry or writing blogs–it is imperative that we do what we want to do, what we are called to do.  As soon as we begin creating solely based on what others are doing or expecting, as soon as we force ourselves into a certain genre or form we don’t love, the results will suffer.

writewhatyoulove

 

And yet, and yet . . .

When the time arrives, and we decide to take the plunge and share our work with someone else, be it one person, a hundred, or thousands upon thousands, we no longer are creating in a vacuum.

Our work is now “out there.”  It has become a part of a larger whole, a single grain of sand on an artistic shore that expands, shifts, and evolves every day, every moment.

beach

 

****************

Every time I publish a blog post, every time I share a story with someone, anyone, every time I see a new review of The Eye-Dancers posted on the Web, I feel those same butterflies my old English professor felt before the start of each class.

butterfly

 

Sometimes I berate myself.  Why should I care so much what others think of my work?  Don’t I write for myself, first and foremost?  Isn’t that enough?

And you know, the honest answer is–no.  It’s not enough.  If it were enough, I never would have released The Eye-Dancers, never would submit a short story to a literary magazine, never would publish a single blog post.  My words would simply sit there on the page, locked inside the hard drive of my computer or the folders inside my drawer.

harddrive

 

But that’s not why we create art.  We sing and dance and draw and write to share a piece of ourselves with others.  We write about a personal experience and then, when someone else, someone we don’t even know, reads it and says, “Yes!  I know what he’s saying, I’ve felt that way, too,” a special kind of magic takes place.

magic

 

It is that magic, that sharing, that bridging of the gap between us that makes writing and creating so worthwhile.

So yes.  As I hit that Publish button right now, I do feel a little bit nervous.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

publish

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Once again, I have been invited to participate in a blog hop, and once again, I thank you, the WordPress Community, for all of your ongoing support.  It’s a true pleasure being a part of the blogosphere, and having the chance to virtually meet so many great people from around the world has been a richly rewarding experience.

This blog hop–the Writing Process Blog Tour–is one I am particularly intrigued by.  Discussing the writing process is always fun for me, and I want to thank Ipuna Black for tagging me to join in on this tour!

Ipuna writes YA fantasy and is in the process of querying agents with her completed novel. You can follow her on Twitter @IpunaBlack, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ipuna.black, or on her website at ipunablack.com.

Thanks so much again, Ipuna!

And now, on to the questions . . .

*****************

What am I working on?

I am in the midst of writing a sequel to The Eye-Dancers, which, honestly, was not planned.  When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I really thought it would be a stand-alone novel, but then a funny thing happened.  The germ of an idea struck.  At first, I brushed it off.  There was no need for a sequel!  There were other writing projects to tackle.  But the idea hung around, expanded, became more real.  Muscles and tendons, living cells and nerve endings attached themselves to the bare bones of the frame.  Again, I tried to shrug it off, but it latched on tight, like a poodle yanking on my pants leg, unwilling to let go.  And that’s when I realized–this was a story I had to write.

idea

And so I am, and really enjoying it.  The sequel takes place five years after the conclusion of The Eye-Dancers, and it’s been fun delving back in to the characters’ lives now that they are older, on the threshold of their senior year in high school.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s an interesting question, but, honestly, it’s not one I spend any time thinking about.  Just like with The Eye-Dancers, I have a story to tell.  It came to me, not the other way around.  Whatever differences or similarities it has with other stories of the genre are not by intrinsic design.  I am just writing the story the best way I know how.

One thing I will say, though.  The majority of YA sci-fi/fantasy novels do not include four boys as the protagonists.  In this sense, The Eye-Dancers, as well as the sequel, stand out a bit.  Whether in a good way or a not-so-good way I leave to the readers to determine!

fantasy

Why do I write what I do?

Ray Bradbury once said, “Love.  Fall in love and stay in love.  Write only what you love, and love what you write.  The key word is love.  You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

And, in a nutshell, that’s why I write the things I do.  With The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc were inspired by friends I grew up with.  The themes in the story are based on ideas, concepts, ways of looking at the universe that have always resonated for me.

I remember talking with my friends when we were boys, when the pathway to adulthood seemed long and winding, the destination so far away we couldn’t see it, didn’t even think about it.  Sometimes we’d go outside at night, look up at the stars, and openly wonder, “Are we alone?  What’s up there?  What is the true scope of the universe?”  And, to the best of my ability, The Eye-Dancers tackles these questions from my youth.

stars

Why do I write what I do?  I have things to say, I guess.  There are things that mean much to me–people, places, ideas, relationships.  And putting these things down on paper in story form (or on the screen, as the case may be) has always been my preferred way of expressing them.

How does your writing process work?

Generally an idea strikes, unasked for, unplanned.  If it’s a short story, I’ll jot a few notes down–essentials I want to make sure I don’t forget.  And then I’ll write the story.  For a standard-length short story (say, between 3,000 and 5,000 words), I usually finish the first draft in a day or two.  Then the hard part–the editing, revisions, rewriting.  This stage may take up to a week.

For a novel, I will also jot down some notes–perhaps two or three pages’ worth–on the characters and the overall arc of the story.  But nothing too detailed.  Without exception, writing a novel is a journey of discovery, and, for me, I have found that if I cling too tightly to preconceived notions about characters or plot, I restrict the story from being told in its own, natural manner.  What I think might happen five chapters down the road rarely does.

That is, simultaneously, the most exciting and most insecure aspect of the writing process.  When we being a long work, we can’t know for sure just how it will turn out or, in truth, that it will turn out at all.  All we can do is dive in, head first, and let the story take us where it will.

windingroad

**************

And now, the best part of the blog hop!  It is my pleasure to pass the baton on to three authors whose work I greatly admire.  Please check out their wonderful websites, delve in to their creativity, and enjoy your stay, as I’m sure you will . . .

“Catnip” at Life with Catnip

Barbara Monier

Abby Jones at A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Thanks so much to Catnip, Barbara, and Abby for participating in the blog hop!  And thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

Short Story — “The Gatherers”

Clearly one of the themes in The Eye-Dancers is learning to cope with mystery, with things beyond the scope of our understanding.  Marc Kuslanski, in particular, feels the need to explain every irregularity, every new experience that lies beyond the purview of his knowledge.  How he ultimately learns to deal with this is his great dilemma (and opportunity for growth) in the novel.

The protagonist in “The Gatherers,” a short story I wrote shortly before beginning The Eye-Dancers, is faced with just such a dilemma when he spots a small group of people linking hands, standing in a circle.  On the surface, this does not seem particularly odd or out of the ordinary.  But there is more to the story . . .

I hope you enjoy “The Gatherers.”

traffic

mall

ghost

intersection

“The Gatherers”

Copyright 2014 by Michael S. Fedison

**************

Christopher Burriss was frustrated.

He’d wanted to take a right-hand turn, head to the drug store, and buy the strongest over-the-counter pain medicine he could find. But he hadn’t. Instead, he had driven straight through the light, cursing and slamming his fist into the dashboard.

It wasn’t that the intersection had caught him by surprise, or came up more quickly than he anticipated. He just could not seem to make the turn. It was as if a force, an invisible presence, had locked the steering wheel in place.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said to the dust bunnies floating inside the car. He just wanted something to take. To dull the pain.

Yes. The pain. The flaring, mounting pain that had overtaken him without warning. He’d been driving . . . where? He couldn’t remember. Had he been shopping? Running an errand? Going to work? When, suddenly, his head began to throb, then to pound, as if someone had lobbed a grenade inside his skull and pulled the pin. And his side. His entire left side ached. A knifing, jabbing pain, spreading from his rib cage, up to his armpit and down to his hip.

He thought of turning around—the intersection, and the drug store, were still close behind. A driveway came up on the left, and he slowed down, signaled. Trailing him, a white Subaru, too close for comfort, waited for him to complete his turn.

But he couldn’t do it. The steering wheel wouldn’t budge. Was it stuck? Making sure that his foot was planted securely on the break pedal, he exerted more force, but still the wheel would not move. The car behind him honked its horn.

“Shut up!” he yelled back. “I’m trying! You think I’m doing this for fun?”

He pulled as hard as he could. Nothing. The driver behind him continued to beep, and now others joined in. A line of traffic was forming in his rearview mirror.

“Great. Just beautiful.” He pressed hard on the gas pedal, and sped forward. The Subaru followed, still closer than he liked.

The pressure in his head was unrelenting, and his side was a lit fuse. He didn’t think he could drive much longer. It was difficult just to stay in control of the vehicle, to keep it within the lines. He felt himself swerving into the wrong lane, toward oncoming traffic. The car behind him honked again, perhaps thinking he was drunk or falling asleep. He wished he were drunk. Anything to numb the pain.

He drove for miles. He wasn’t sure how he managed to, but he did, even as his condition became more serious. Houses, buildings, trees flew by him like mirages. He had no concept of time, of how long he’d been traveling. All he knew was that something else seemed to be in control. He had tried several times to pull over, onto the shoulder of the road, to let the traffic pass him. But he couldn’t. Maybe the wheel was stuck. Maybe it couldn’t be turned. But that was impossible. He had rounded a few curves, it had swiveled effortlessly then. It—

“Mom, Mom, why? . . .”

“Sssshh, honey. Be quiet. We just have to hope for the best. That’s all we can do.”

“But, Mom. Why? Why won’t . . . ?”

The voices weren’t clear. But he recognized them. How could he not? Sharon, and Mollie. Why was he hearing them? They weren’t here. Sharon was at work, wasn’t she? And Mollie. Mollie would be in school. She had just started the second grade. She was excited, eager to get back to her school friends, looking forward to new adventures, new vistas.

Another sheet of pain flared and exploded along his nerve endings. Had someone taken a razor blade and sliced open his left side? He actually looked down, checking for blood, sure that he would see the beige fabric of the seat stained with red. But there was nothing. No hint of a wound, no evidence of an attack.

He felt the car swerve again, and he righted his course just in the nick of time. An 18-wheeler whined past, in the other lane, honking an accusatory horn at him.

“What is this?” he said. “What’s happening to me?” He needed to get control of himself, right now. If he kept this up, he would be a candidate for a soft-cushioned room with calming pastorals hanging from the walls.

An intersection was coming up. He didn’t know which one, but it didn’t matter. He was determined to turn off of this road. He’d had enough of it.

But when he saw the street sign, he reconsidered. Blakely Avenue. Unless he had a good reason otherwise, he avoided Blakely. It was a nightmare—a congested mess, a snarl of traffic jams, of hot metal, bumper-to-bumper, broiling in the midday sun, matched by the hot tempers of the motorists. Every week, there was an accident. Better to wait until the next intersection, and turn off there.

For some reason, though, he merged into the left-hand turn lane, and flicked on his signaler.

“No!” he said. “I’m going straight.” He tried to turn the signaler off, but it was stuck. He fought with the wheel, trying to force it to the right. It wouldn’t budge. It didn’t matter anyway. The lane next to him had filled with cars. He was trapped. He had to take the left turn now.

“This is unreal.”

The left-hand turn arrow flashed green, and he turned onto Blakely, merging into the extreme outside lane, past a gas station with a sign by the road boasting of fresh sub sandwiches and soft drinks inside. He swore under his breath. This was unreal. Ahead of him, through the maze of cars, he could see a long line of fast-food restaurants, car dealerships, and chain stores. And, coming up on the right, the mall. The largest mall in the city. He hated it, and yet . . .

A hammer blow to his head sent him reeling. He desperately needed some painkillers. The mall would have a drug store inside.

He inched along, crawling with the traffic, before stopping at a red light. The mall’s entrance was just ahead now. He signaled for a right-hand turn, and, intuitively, knew that the steering wheel would oblige this time. A chill ran through him, as if someone had just poured five gallons of ice water into a gaping wound. Now the water rushed through him, mixing with his blood, freezing him to the core. There was something about this spot. Something familiar. Something . . .

“Something what?” he said. There were two cars ahead of him. As luck would have it, the car in front was going straight, blocking his chance for a right-on-red.

Anxious, fidgety, having a hard time just sitting there, not being able to make sense of anything, he glanced toward a strip of grass that lay just beyond the sidewalk, in front of the mall parking lot, and spotted a small gathering of people—about a dozen of them. (Where had they come from? Had they been there a minute ago?) They were all looking down, hands joined. Solemn. That was the word. They were solemn. And they were . . . He blinked. Again. And again. That confirmed it. They weren’t all there. It sounded crazy, but that was the only way he could describe it. He was sure he could see the sun rays hitting them, traveling through them, as if they were composed more of air than of flesh-and-blood organic matter.

He felt inexplicably drawn to them, almost as if they exerted a force, compelling him to join them. But he didn’t want to. The idea of it was intolerable. He wasn’t sure why, but he was determined to resist. He would just go into the mall, buy his pills, then get out.

The light finally turned, and he drove past the people who were there, yet not there, and pulled into the mall parking lot. His head was getting worse, if that were possible, and the pain in his side was unrelenting.

He struggled out of the car, the world losing its focus as he stood up. He grabbed his side, doubled over, coughed. He was in even worse shape than he’d thought. If he wasn’t careful, he’d pass out right here, on the asphalt. He had to pull himself together, buy those painkillers. He needed to focus only on that one goal.

But the people gathered near the lot entrance made that impossible. He glanced back in their direction, his view of them only slightly obstructed by a row of shrubs flanking the perimeter of the parking lot. He could see their bowed heads above the shrubbery, the specter-like quality of their skin. Again, he felt a powerful urge to go to them.

“No,” he said. “I can’t. I won’t.”

He closed his eyes, turned away from them, and then dared to open his eyes again.

“Don’t look back,” he said. “Just get those pills. You’re all right. You’re okay.”

But he wasn’t okay, and the mere act of walking was a struggle. He concentrated, willed his feet to move, one step, two, three. Left foot in front of the right, right in front of the left. He tried not to look too far ahead. He didn’t want to be discouraged by the distance he still had to cover. So he focused on the ground directly in front of him. A single step was an accomplishment, navigating a foot of pavement a victory.

Finally, he pushed his way through the doors of the mall. It was crowded in here, but at least the drug store was close—the second store on the left. He dodged a band of teenagers who seemed oblivious to anyone but themselves, and staggered into the drug store, heading straight to the nonprescription painkiller aisle. He wanted to find the most potent product on the shelf, but it was not possible to be discriminating. His head felt like it would blow up in a minute; his side was a minefield of live ammunition. He grabbed the first package he saw with the words “extra strength” written on it.

He leaned against the shelf, dizzy now, on top of everything else. The store was spinning, spinning. Another bomb burst exploded in his head, and a thousand nails poked and prodded his left side. He was aware of noises, sounds. Where were they coming from? Beeps. A soft, whirring hum, like a faint heartbeat. An antiseptic smell. And then voices . . .

“Christopher . . . can you hear me?” Sharon. Why was he hearing Sharon?

“Dad, Dad . . .”

“Mollie,” he said, closing his eyes. “Mollie, but you’re in school. Aren’t you?”

More voices, blurring, blending, like a musical score gone out of control.

“Faster! Hurry! Move!” A strange voice, this one. It sounded like a young man. “You gotta go faster! Hurry!”

“Good morning, Mr. Burriss.” A woman’s voice, one he had never heard before. Or maybe he had. He couldn’t tell. “Sunny today. About time, too. After all this rain.” And then he heard her footsteps, walking away, growing fainter, then coming closer, louder again. He felt her—how could he feel her? Fingers brushing against his forehead, slightly moist, the smell of soap . . .

“Dad!” Mollie again.

And then Sharon, “Christopher, honey . . .”

And the frantic screaming of the young guy. “Move it! Hurry, hurry!”

“Shut up!” he yelled. He rammed the palm of his hand against his head, once, twice, three times. “Just . . . shut . . . up.”

He tried to walk, the store still doing cartwheels in front of his eyes. He groped, like a blind man, using the shelves as support. Glancing at the checkout counter, he saw a ponytailed blonde in a blue smock ringing up a heavyset man. Two old women stood in line behind him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t. I don’t have the strength.”

He wasn’t a crook, but there was no way he could wait for the cashier to check out those customers. He’d collapse right there in the line. He needed the pills now. He needed relief now. Pocketing the bottle of painkillers, he left, as quickly as he could.

Stumbling out into the mall, he found a nearby drinking fountain, and swallowed half a dozen of the pills. There. Hopefully that would take the edge off. But what could he do about his throat? Why was it getting so hard to breathe? And his eyesight. Why was everything spinning? Why were his surroundings growing hazier? The passersby were now two-dimensional, black-and-white. The color itself was being drained from the world.

“Need to get out of here,” he said. “I just need to get home.”

“Dad . . .” Mollie again, but her voice fainter now, farther away. “Dad . . .”

He wanted to follow that voice, go to it, but how could he do that? It was a hallucination. Wasn’t it?

It seemed to take hours to reach his car. He could barely see now. Shapes were merging together, blurring—so much so that the spinning had stopped, or perhaps it hadn’t. He couldn’t tell. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. Except that his side and head continued to torment him. The painkillers hadn’t helped at all. If anything, the pain was getting worse.

He looked straight ahead, through the mounting haze. Beyond the shrubs. the small gathering of people still stood there, heads bowed. And again, the force—he didn’t know what else to call it—urging him, prodding him to join them.

He shook his head, put his hands over his eyes. No. It was the only word he could think of. No. No. No. He wouldn’t succumb to their mesmerizing hold on him.

But then he was looking at them again. (How did that happen? He hadn’t remembered taking his hands away from his eyes.) Only, he wasn’t just looking. He was staring, riveted. Something was different about them now. They no longer looked like wraiths. They had fleshed out, like sketched characters who had received a finishing touch of paint. As the rest of the world dissolved, the gatherers became more solid.

“Dad . . . dad . . .dad . . .”

“Chris . . .Chris?”

The voices, fading . . .

As if tugged by a magnet, he walked toward the group. He could no longer resist their pull, had no strength left to fight it. There was a sense of inevitability now, of things coming to an end. Or perhaps a beginning. Somewhere overhead, he thought he heard a gull sqwauk, but maybe it had been a crow or a jay, or nothing at all.

As he neared the patch of grass where the gatherers stood, hands still joined, the pain in his head and side escalated to an intolerable crescendo. It no longer felt like knives cutting into him. Now it felt like metal, jagged teeth, rusty but sharp, gripping, biting, eviscerating. And his head. Was it even still there, attached to his shoulders? Or had it burst into pieces like shrapnel?

He fell to his knees, gasping—so hard to breathe. And finally the people let go of their hands, broke the circle, and approached him. He was aware, yet not aware, of the traffic noise in the road. It sounded like the hum from some other world, some gap in a dimensional barrier. But then another sound emerged, near, close, and horribly loud.

Tires screeching. Get out of the way! Too late, too late . . .

Impact. The feeling of being torn, broken, trapped in a heap of wrecked metal. Pain, flaring, shooting through his body. His head on fire. His side a shattered mess. And his last thought before the blackness came . . . Mollie. Sharon. What will they do?

The people were upon him, the only figures left that were real. And he understood now why this spot felt so familiar. Why he had experienced a chill of recognition when he’d reached the parking lot entrance . . .

“Hello, Chris,” a bald man with a gray mustache and a long, beak-like nose, said.

“How do you know my name?” he asked. And he realized, as he stood up, that the pain was gone now. Not lessened, not dulled. Gone. And his breathing had returned to normal, an easy, gentle rhythm. He had never felt better.

“We just do,” the man said. Apparently he was the group’s leader.

“What’s happened to me?” he wanted to know. The sound of the traffic was now completely muted. He could still see the cars, the road, the mall behind him in the distance, but they were outlines now, light pencil marks blending in with the empty white space of the blank page.

A middle-aged woman with short black hair and a pleasant smile said, “You know now, don’t you, Chris?”

He again remembered the screeching tires, the never-ending second before impact. He had been pulling out of the mall—he’d come here to meet an old friend who wanted to meet for lunch at the Food Court, a long-lost buddy, out of the blue. The other car never even attempted to stop, never slowed down. . . . He had been preoccupied, thinking about the visit with his friend, the way life sometimes threw curveballs at you, reintroduced you to people you knew once, and then almost forgot. He hadn’t looked left or right, he just went when the light had turned green.

“But the voices. The . . .” Then he stopped himself. It all came clear. Sharon. How he wished he could kiss her again, hold her, just one more time. And Mollie. Sweet, pretty Mollie . . .

“You fought hard, Chris,” the old man said. “Very hard. You almost made it, against the odds.”

“Who are you people?” he said.

“As you are all too well aware, Blakely Avenue is a busy road,” the old man said. “It’s taken its share.”

“You mean . . .?”

“I was killed in sixty-six, the year after they put the first shopping plaza in,” the old man said. “Hit right near where you were. Drunk driver got me.”

“I was blindsided about a quarter mile down the road,” a young guy, who looked no more than twenty, said. “Never even saw it coming.”

“I was hit by a truck,” the middle-aged woman with short black hair said. “My car was wrecked beyond recognition.”

On and on they went, a dozen accounts in all. And now, he would join them. When the next time came, perhaps next week, or next year, or three years hence, he would relate his story, along with theirs.

“We’ve got to stick together, you know,” the old man said. “Wouldn’t be right otherwise.”

“But Sharon. And Mollie. Will I . . .?”

The man nodded, smiled. “Yes. Of course. In due season.” He extended a hand. Chris, reassured, took it. Then the black-haired woman reached for his other hand.

They formed into a line, all thirteen of them, and, with hands clasped, walked away into the distance.

****************

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Meet My Main Character Blog Tour

The Eye-Dancers blog will turn two years old later this summer (time does fly!), and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  And the number-one thing about blogging for me has, undoubtedly, been the many virtual friends I have made here in the WordPress Community.

One of those friends, Sherri Matthews, recently tagged me to take part in the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour.  Sherri, who is currently working on her memoir, is a wonderfully talented blogger and a great person.  For any of you who have not yet visited her blog, I strongly encourage you to do so.  I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do, and will want to pull up a chair and stay for a while.

Thanks so much, Sherri, for including me in this tour!  Please check out the other writers she has tagged for the tour as well!

For this blog tour, we have to answer a series of questions about the main character in a work-in-progress.  My WIP is the sequel to The Eye-Dancers, and, just as in the first novel, the sequel (still without a title!) has four main characters–Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski.  Not to mention the “ghost girl,” who is back as well!  And, in fact, it is the “ghost girl” I will feature here.  She is a major force in The Eye-Dancers, and even more so in the sequel . . .

 

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

The “ghost girl,” so called by Mitchell and his friends in The Eye-Dancers, is actually a girl by the name of Monica Tisdale.  In The Eye-Dancers, she is seven years old.  But when the sequel takes place, five years have now passed; she is older, on the cusp of being a teenager, much more aware of her strange, dimension-busting abilities, and facing a problem of, literally, infinite implications.

infinity

Monica Tisdale is strictly a fictional character.

2. When and where is the story set?

Five years after The Eye-Dancers–in contemporary western New York State.  (At least that’s where the story starts.  But, just as in the first book, the boys are transported through the void again, into the “ghost girl’s” world.)

void

3. What should we know about him/her?

Monica Tisdale is a very unusual girl.  She is able to tap in to phenomena many people aren’t even aware of.  But now, at the onset of the sequel, she is perhaps a bit too eager to take her uncanny and ever-evolving abilities to the next level.  Bored with the everyday routines around her, the “ghost girl” gets herself caught up in an endlessly layered problem of her own making . . .

endlessproblem

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Well, as mentioned above, she kind of messes up her life.  Since the conclusion of The Eye-Dancers, she has honed her paranormal abilities, understands them better, and feels she is ready for something huge.

She is fascinated with the concept of parallel worlds–especially so, considering Mitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc, all from a different plane of reality, journeyed to her world in The Eye-Dancers.  Now she wonders.  How many Monica Tisdales are really out there, across all of the known (not to mention, unknown) universes?  Are there a million versions of her?  A billion?  An infinite number?

multipleworlds

She is determined to find out . . .

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Once she steps over the edge, once she swirls the mixture of cosmic stardust and does indeed tap in to worlds upon worlds, she realizes (too late) that it is all far too much for one person, one brain, to absorb.  She must somehow undo what she has set into motion.  But she can’t do it alone.  She needs help.

stardust

And that’s where Mitchell and his friends come in.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

At this point, there is no working title.  Hopefully one of the characters will provide one soon!

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Hmm.  I am shooting for sometime in 2015!  It’s still fairly early in the game, but that’s the (rather vague!) goal.

*********************

And now, it’s my pleasure to pass the baton on to four authors.  I am a big fan of each of these talented wordsmiths–gifted writers all.  If you haven’t yet visited their websites, now is the time!  They represent a true treasure trove of creativity, and I thank each of them for wanting to participate in the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour!

I will look forward to seeing your Main Character posts a week from today!

Melissa Hazelwood at Today, You Will Write

Teagan Geneviene at Teagan’s Books

Jennifer K. Marsh

Joanne Blakie at Writeaway

Thank you again to Melissa, Teagan, Jennifer, and Joanne for participating!  And thanks so much to everyone for reading.

–Mike

%d bloggers like this: