Chapter Three of The Eye-Dancers

Well, if you’ve come this far, that means you’ve enjoyed the first two chapters.  Thanks!  I hope you enjoy Chapter Three as well!

Copyright 2012 by Michael S. Fedison


Deep in the bowels of the previous night, as Mitchell Brant and Joe Marma dreamed of the girl with the blue, spinning eyes, Ryan Swinton felt two small hands shake him, rousing him from a sleep that had been anything but restful.

“Hey,” he said.  “What are you doing?  What’s goin’ on?”

He opened his eyes, blinked several times as he adjusted to the light in the room.  The lamp was on.  And staring at him, hair messed, cheeks red, was Tyler.

“What’s the matter with you?” Ryan said, brushing his bangs, wet with perspiration, from his forehead.  “Get off of me!”

His brother backed away.  “You oughtta thank me.  If I didn’t wake you up, Mom or Dad woulda come in here.  Like last night.  And they woulda got mad, I bet.”

“Mad?”  Ryan sat up.  Across the room, he saw Tyler’s bed, sheets all in a heap.  “Why would they get mad at me?  What’d I do?  I . . . I just . . .”

“I bet you were having a dumb nightmare again,” Tyler said.  “You were yelling, you know.  Screaming.”

“I was?”

“Yeah.  What’d you dream about?”

Ryan hadn’t told Tyler, or his parents, the details of his dream last night.  He still didn’t want to tell Mom and Dad.  But he needed to get this off his chest.  He’d tell Joe Marma about it later, for sure.  But Joe wasn’t with him now.  Tyler was.

“There was this girl.  She was just a kid like you,” Ryan began, and then paused.  How could he possibly explain any of this?

“Wow, that does sound like a real bad nightmare,” Tyler said.  “I can see why you screamed your head off.”

“Hey, you want me to tell you what happened or not?”  The little smart aleck.

Tyler pouted, his face scrunching up.

Ryan tried to corral his thoughts.  “You know, this didn’t just start last night, either.  It started the night before that.  But I didn’t yell or anything in my sleep a couple nights ago.  Did I?”

Tyler shrugged.  “If you did, it wasn’t loud enough to wake me up.”

He bit down on his thumbnail, then pulled his hand away from his mouth.  He’d bitten his nails ever since he could remember, and he was trying to stop—without much success.  “This girl.  She has these real crazy eyes.  It’s almost like they’re alive, you know?  And she wanted me to look right into ‘em, and it’s like they were trying to hypnotize me or something.  And I knew if I looked into ‘em long enough . . .”  He shuddered.   “I think she wanted to take me somewhere.  I don’t know where, but I didn’t wanna follow her.  She was kinda see-through.  Made me wonder if she was a ghost or something, but I don’t know.  And you wanna know the craziest part?  I fell down, in my dream.  She was tryin’ to grab me, I think, and I tripped or something tryin’ to get away from her, and I hurt my wrist.  I guess you musta woke me up right after that, but . . .”  But his wrist still throbbed, worsening by the second.

“Do you think it’s broke?” Tyler said.

Ryan clenched his fingers into a tight fist, rotated the wrist.  “No.  Probably just a sprain or something.  Hurts, though.  And, I mean, how did it happen?  I was in bed the whole time, wasn’t I?”

“I guess so.  But maybe it’s like Nightmare on Elm Street.  Maybe that girl was Freddie Krueger’s kid.”

“You’re just lucky you’re not the one havin’ these dreams,” he said.  “You’d probably be wetting the bed.”  Tyler scrunched his face up again, and Ryan chuckled.  But it didn’t make him feel any better.  Why did the same girl haunt his dreams, for three straight nights?  And how had he injured his wrist, if it had only been a nightmare?  This was completely whacked.  He felt like the punch line to one of his jokes.  Yeah, he thought.  I’ve got a million of ‘em, too.

He stood up, biting his nails again.

“Where are you going?” Tyler said.

“I don’t know.  I can’t sleep.  And I’m kinda hungry.”  Nothing like a recurring nightmare to stoke an appetite.

He headed for the kitchen, his brother in tow.

“If you’re gonna have a snack, then I wanna eat, too,” Tyler said.

Ryan ignored him, opened the fridge.  He was in the mood for something sweet, and, thanks to Dad, he had a few things to choose from.  Dad had come home from work the other day with a store-bought carrot cake, a German chocolate cake, and a lemon meringue pie.  “Thought I’d surprise everyone,” he’d announced.  Mom hadn’t been pleased.  “I think one dessert would’ve been enough, don’t you?” she’d said.  “And besides, don’t you know I’m on a diet?”  Dad responded that he was sorry, but he couldn’t decide which item sounded the best, so he decided to splurge on all three.

Now, looking at the partially eaten leftovers, Ryan could relate to his dad’s dilemma.  Which one should he choose?  And if Tyler wanted some, too . . .

“You just gonna stand there at the fridge all night, or what?” Tyler said.

“Keep your pants on, Tyler.  I’m still lookin’.”

The carrot cake had raisins in it, and he didn’t like raisins.  But Tyler did.  The German chocolate cake was moist and chewy—very good.  But so was the pie.  He’d had a piece of that after lunch, and it was tangy and creamy, with a great aftertaste.

With the back of his hand, he brushed more rogue bangs from his eyes.  Making decisions had never come easily for him.  Deciding on a firm course of action was a daunting task, one full of hidden pitfalls and land mines, just waiting for you to step on them and set them off.

Maybe I should shoot Joe a text, he thought.  But that was absurd.  It was the middle of the night!  And all he was trying to do was decide what to eat.

Joe would’ve been able to pick out what he wanted without any hesitation.  Maybe that was one reason Ryan had always gravitated toward Joe’s company.  He could count on him to take the lead, make the choices.  Of course, some of those choices didn’t always sit so well with Ryan.  But he knew what Joe would say to that.  “Too freakin’ bad, bud.  Tough.”  It was easier to just go along.

“Ryan, come on.”  Tyler again.

“Okay, okay.”  He knew if he didn’t make his move soon, Tyler would resort to full-scale whining.  “Um, what do you want?”  He should’ve thought of that before.  Put the onus on the kid.

“I want the chocolate cake.”

“German chocolate,” he corrected.

“Whatever.  That’s the one I want.”

That was good enough for Ryan.

When they went back to their room, Tyler flicked off the lamp, jumped into his bed, and turned over.

Well, there’s gratitude for you.  I give ‘im a piece of cake . . .

Ryan climbed into bed, reluctantly.  It hadn’t been the most peaceful place to be of late.  But why?  What was going on with him?  Was he delusional?  Seeing things that weren’t there?  No.  He couldn’t believe that.  The dreams he’d been having were all too real.  The girl had been there, urging him to come to her.

He sat back against the headboard, pulled his knees up to his chest.  “Yeah, and I don’t think it’s real smart going up to a ghost,” he whispered.  But then he stopped himself.  Had she been a ghost?  With her semi-transparent state, she certainly looked like one.  But maybe she was something else.

Like what?

He didn’t know.  The girl was creepy, there was no doubt about that.  But hadn’t there also been something vulnerable about her?  She’d even asked him to help her, and who had ever heard of a ghost needing help?

He rubbed his eyes.  Every time he asked a question, another question, another mystery, surfaced.  In his nightmares, the girl always appeared to be alone.  There was never anyone else he could see.  Isn’t she enough?  If he had to deal with multiple ghost girls, he doubted he’d ever be able to fall asleep again.  Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that others had been there, too.  Hadn’t he sensed another presence?  A friendly presence, a familiar one?  He remembered wanting to find it, join up with it, but he hadn’t been able to.

He sighed.  This wasn’t getting him anywhere.  Maybe he should follow his brother’s lead, try to get some sleep.

He got under the covers, but then just as quickly flung them off.  It was too hot for blankets.  So he just lay there, on his back, his hands locked together behind his head.  Not long after, he heard the first faint hints of Tyler’s snore coming from across the room.

“You’re lucky, Tyler.”

He tried turning over, onto his left side, hoping that would help.  It didn’t.  His mind wouldn’t stop whirling and searching, and remembering.  He tried thinking of new jokes, but he couldn’t come up with anything good.

Finally, not long before dawn, he slept, fitfully.  But at sunup, he stirred, the brightness of morning shooting through the window.  Normally, on a summer day like this, he would bury his head under the pillow, and not get up for hours.

But on this morning, he kicked away the sheets that had gathered around his feet during the night and slowly rolled out of bed.

When he went out into the hall, he realized he was the first one up.  He’d even beat Mom, which he couldn’t ever recall happening before.

“Do I win a medal?” he asked the silent, slumbering house.

There was no answer.

He sat on the front step, in the shade of the elm tree that grew, like a sentinel, in the middle of the lawn.  He’d always liked that tree.  Whenever life seemed fractured, it reminded him that some things remained stable, even in the midst of turmoil.

He was surfing the Web on his mobile phone, waiting for Joe and Mitchell to arrive.  Joe had texted him a short while ago, letting him know that he and Mitchell Brant were coming over.  They had something they wanted to talk about.

“Yeah, so do I,” he’d said when he read the text.

He pressed a key on his phone pad, then made a fist, rotated his hand counterclockwise.  His wrist felt better.  He was surprised about that—it had really stung after Tyler woke him up—but he wasn’t complaining.  If only his nightmares could fade away so easily.

A chirp from the elm tree caught his attention.  Four sparrows were perched on the bird feeder that hung from a low-hanging limb.  His mom enjoyed feeding the birds, and always made sure the feeder was well stocked with black-oil sunflower seeds.  Beneath the feeder, poking around for spilled seeds, was a chipmunk, his cheeks puffing out, his paws busily moving about so fast they were a blur.

“Stashing those away for winter, huh?” he said.  Ignoring him, the chipmunk continued to hunt for spilled treasure.

“Talk about your OCD.”

Every spring, as soon as he surfaced from his underground burrow, where he’d spent the winter tucked away from the snow and the cold, the chipmunk would look to gather food.  Not so much to eat as to store away.  Always worried about next year, thinking ahead to tomorrow.

But then, was Ryan really so different?  As soon as the bell rang on the last day of school, letting him out for the summer, his thoughts projected ahead to the fall.  Would he be ready by September?

It had become something of a tradition.  The other students expected it.  Every year, on the first day of school, he’d perform his own one-man comedy show.  It began almost by accident, three years ago.  He’d been telling jokes to a small group of students in the cafeteria when one of them said, “Man, this is great.  More people gotta hear this.”  And before Ryan knew what had happened, there were close to fifty students huddled around.  It felt wonderful that day, but as time pressed on, the pressure increased.  He couldn’t disappoint.  He couldn’t return to school in just over two months without at least two dozen new jokes.  From the moment summer vacation started, he searched the Internet, jotted down notes, continually on the lookout for humorous situations—anywhere he might find them.  It was his personal three-ton albatross, the nagging feeling that wouldn’t let go: You don’t have enough new jokes, Ryan.  You gotta get thinking.  You gotta come up with good, fresh stuff.

There was nothing worse than delivering a punch line and having no one laugh.  But the flip side was also true.  Few things could match the high he felt when he told a joke and people cracked up.  It was the greatest.  Winning their approval.  Winning their favor.  It sometimes felt scary, how important that was to him.

Beneath the elm, the chipmunk stood up on his hind legs, nervously looked at Ryan, and darted away, surely to stash the seeds he’d found in some secret subterranean storehouse.  Ryan watched him run off, then switched off his phone.  He needed to think.  How could he explain to Joe and Mitchell what was going on with him?

“Hey, bud, scoot over, willya?”

“Huh?”  He quickly glanced to his left.  Joe and Mitchell stood there.  He’d been so intent on watching the chipmunk flee in the opposite direction, so lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t even noticed them approach.

He moved to the side, allowing them room to sit beside him.

“Hey, you hear the one about the blonde and the tree?” Ryan said.  “It’s narley.”  Telling a joke to get a conversation started was as natural to him as breathing.  And he always made sure to have at least a few dumb blonde jokes at the ready—mostly because he had blond hair himself, and he’d learned a long time ago that if people thought you were poking fun at yourself, they tended to like your jokes all the more.

Joe just rolled his eyes.  Mitchell looked at him, expectantly.

“Okay.  Why was the blonde in the maple tree?” he went on.

“Gee, Ryan, I don’t know.  Tell us,” Joe said.

“’Cause she was raking up the leaves.”

“Bro-ther,” Joe groaned, but Mitchell laughed, and that made him feel good.

They sat there in silence for a moment, and Ryan thought, as he often did, how odd it seemed seeing Joe and Mitchell hanging out together.  It had been more than a year since Mitchell and Joe had become friends, and he still was adjusting to the idea.  Not that he disliked Mitchell.  He seemed all right, though he never got together with him unless he was with Joe.  It was just, he’d always pegged Mitchell as the kid who told ridiculous lies, and the kid who couldn’t talk right.  He’d even mimicked his speech problems once behind his back at school.  At the time it seemed funny.  Now, looking back, Ryan just felt ashamed.

“Tell me something, bud,” Joe said then.  “Do I look crazy to you?”

“Huh?” Ryan said.  Was this a trick question?

Joe ran his fingers through his short black hair.  “Look.  This is gonna sound stupid, but hear me out.  It’s me an’ Mitchell.  We’ve been havin’ some dreams the last few nights.  Bad dreams.  Hey, no biggie, right?  Just a couple ‘a nightmares.  Guess that’s what I’d think, too.  But the thing is, we just found out we’ve been havin’ the same dream!  The same freakin’ nightmare, three nights in a row.  You got that, bud?  ‘Cause I ain’t sure I do.”

“Um, what was your dream about?” Ryan asked.  Surely it couldn’t have been about the girl with the blue, hypnotic eyes.

But it had been.  Impossible as it sounded, the details of Joe’s dream, and Mitchell’s dream, mirrored those of his own.  He tried not to look surprised, but he’d never learned the art of a good poker face.

“Freaks you out, don’t it?” Joe said.  “But c’mon, Ryan.  It’s not like this happened to you.”

“Well . . .”  Ryan suddenly felt unsure that this conversation was actually taking place.  Perhaps it was an extension of his own dream.  Could that be possible?  He remembered Tyler waking him up last night, remembered eating the cake.  But hadn’t he later fallen back asleep?  Maybe he’d never got out of bed after that, as he thought he had.  Maybe he was still in his room, sleeping, dreaming.

In the street, a gray Dodge with a dented passenger door and a loose, rattling fender drove past, shattering the fleeting illusion.

“You guys aren’t gonna believe this,” he said.

“He had the same dream!”  Ryan looked behind him.  Tyler was standing there, his grinning face pressed against the inside of the screen door.  “I hadda wake ‘im up last night.  He was yellin’ and stuff.”

“Hey, shut up!” Ryan said.

Tyler ran off, laughing.

“Little turd.”  Ryan looked at Mitchell and Joe.  Their mouths had dropped open.

“It’s all true,” Ryan said.  “I didn’t mean for my big-mouth brother to be the one to tell you.  But it’s like he said.  I’ve been havin’ the same dream you just told me about.  Three nights in a row.”

“You sure the girl in your dream had spinning eyes?” Joe said.  Ryan nodded.  “Were they blue?  Like, real freakin’ blue?”  He nodded again.

“And did she look like a ghost?” Mitchell said.  “Like, part of her wasn’t even there?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said.  “It was the same dream.”

Joe swore, swatted the step.

“I wonder how many people are havin’ this dream,” Ryan said.  “I mean, if the three of us . . .”

“Well, I know my sister didn’t have it,” Mitchell said.  “Or my mom.”

“And Tyler definitely didn’t have it,” Ryan said.  “Wish I coulda downloaded it into him, though.”

Mitchell stood up.  “I wonder if it was everyone in our class who had the dream, then.  Maybe it was everyone who’s gonna be going into seventh grade in the fall.”

“Aww, that’s retarded, Mitchell,” Joe said.

“But something like that happened to The Fantastic Four once, and The Thing had to go into—”

Joe held up a hand.  “Can it, Mitchell, willya?  This isn’t a comic book.  We gotta figure this out.”  In the elm, the sparrows chirped, pecking at the seeds and each other, until one of them flew away.  “I can’t believe this.  This is freakin’ psycho.  All three of us havin’ the night sweats with this rugrat?  I don’t know about you, but that’s way too screwed up for me, buds.”

“Yeah.  Me, too,” Ryan said.  “But what can we do?”

“Maybe we should call Marc Kuslanski,” Mitchell said.  “He might know what to do.”

Joe snorted, swore again, but Ryan had to admit, the idea didn’t sound half-bad.  Marc Kuslanski was the biggest geek in school, it was true, but he also knew more about science and the ways things worked than most of their teachers did.  Rumor had it that he’d already been approached by a couple of Ivy League schools, though Ryan doubted this.  Kuslanski may have been a scientific powerhouse, but he was quirky, too.  He had even failed English one semester because he wouldn’t turn his essays in on time.

“Anyone know his number?” Ryan said.  “I’ll send him a text.”

Mitchell shrugged.

“Don’t bother with that moron,” Joe said.  “All he’ll do is spout off some idiotic theory or something.  Remember, I hadda sit next to ‘im in Math last semester, so I know what I’m talkin’ about.”

“Maybe.  But for all we know, he’s been having the same dreams,” Mitchell said.

“Here, I can Google ‘Kuslanski,’” Ryan said.  “Maybe their landline’ll come up.”  Ah.  A hit.  Now he just needed to place the call.  “Not sure what to say, though.”

“Why not, ‘drop dead,’” Joe said.

Ryan dialed the number.  He figured Kuslanski’s mom or dad might answer, but it was Kuslanski himself who said, “Hello?”

He felt awkward.  He wasn’t Kuslanski’s friend, had probably said fewer than three sentences to him in his entire life.  So he just told him that he and Mitchell and Joe had experienced something very strange and were hoping he might be able to help them make sense of it.  Kuslanski pressed for details, but Ryan told him it would be better if they could talk about it in person.  At this point, he looked to Joe for direction.  Where should they meet?

“Tell ‘im Roman Park, down by the canal,” Joe said.

He did.  Kuslanski said that sounded good, he’d be there in a half hour, and then hung up.

“I hope he can help us,” Mitchell said.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Joe said.  “He’ll probably just study some weed with his magnifying glass and say he’s tryin’ to figure out the secret of the universe or something.”

“Or maybe he’ll be checkin’ out the girls,” Ryan said.  There were lots of pretty girls, high school girls, who hung around the canal in summer.

“Yeah, well, we better get going,” Joe said, standing up.  “Wouldn’t want Einstein to beat us there and then hightail it back home if he doesn’t see us.”

Ryan smiled.  For all his bluster, Joe was going along with this.  And why shouldn’t he?

The ghost girl had nearly trapped them in their dreams.  Her eyes were getting harder and harder to resist, and Ryan wasn’t sure he’d be able to the next time.  She would freeze him in place, the blue in her eyes spinning, expanding.  He would scream then, but it would be too late, and she would grab him, pull him toward her, pull him in.

As they walked to the canal, he stuck his index finger into his mouth and started to nibble.

Chapter Two of The Eye-Dancers

Hopefully you enjoyed reading Chapter One of The Eye-Dancers.  Here now is Chapter Two . . .

Copyright 2012 by Michael S. Fedison


When Joe Marma got out of bed and switched on his cell phone a half hour later, he had four text messages waiting for him—one from a kid on the other side of town asking if he wanted to join in on a street hockey game later that afternoon, and three from Mitchell Brant.  The three from Mitchell had all come within the past few minutes, each one sounding more urgent than the last.

The latest message—Joe, where r u??  Come over, I need 2 talk.  You’ll never believe what happened 2 me last nite.  Aren’t u awake yet?  Come on!!—irritated him.  What was Mitchell’s problem?  What was so important?  He was tired.  He hadn’t slept well—not at all—and he wasn’t in the mood to be prodded.

“I won’t believe what happened to you last night,” he said.  “You got it backwards, bud.”

He pocketed the phone.  He’d text Mitchell back in a minute.  Right now, he needed to splash some cold water onto his face and get some food in him.

Still only half-awake, he nearly collided with the bathroom door.  Great.  And he really needed to go, too.  He had chugged down three cans of soda late last night.

He knocked.

“Yeah?”  It was Bob, his older brother.  He was probably camped on the toilet, browsing through the sports pages.

Joe groaned.  Bob would dawdle for as long as he liked, especially with their parents away for the weekend, visiting friends out of state.  Bob was the oldest, and with Mom and Dad gone, he made it clear he was the one in charge.

“Hey, can you get outta there already?  I have to go.”  Through the door, he heard the rustling of the newspaper.

“Just go in the backyard, you dweeb,” his brother said.  “That’s what you usually do.”

From his pocket, he heard his cell chirp.  Another text.  He took it out, checked the message.  Mitchell again.  Joe!  COME ON!  Where r u?????

“Man.  Some people.”

But before he wrote back, he just had to pee.  And he knew the bathroom wasn’t going to work out.  Bob would see to that.

“Lilac bush, here I come.”

Outside, the morning air was humid, sticky.  It made him think of last night, how muggy it was, how much he had wanted to run but couldn’t.  But it did no good to ponder last night.  Or the night before.  Or the night before that . . .

Glancing around, making sure no neighbors were nearby, he approached the lilac bush and relieved himself.

As soon as he finished, his cell beeped again.

“Geez.  If that’s Mitchell . . .”  It was.  “This better be good, bud.  This better be pretty freakin’ good.  Like, you-just-won-a-million-dollars-and-are-gonna-give-me-half good.”

He keyed in his response, telling Mitchell he’d be over in a half hour, and to stop hounding him, then sent the message to his persistent friend.

That made him chuckle.  Mitchell Brant.  His friend.  Who would have ever guessed, even a couple of years ago.  He’d always thought Mitchell was just a dork—well, he still thought that.  But after he got to know him better, he realized the dork was kind of fun to hang around with.  He could be very annoying sometimes, but how many guys did he know who said they had once climbed to the peak of Mt. Rainier and then got offended when you dared to question the truth of their claim?

When he went back inside, he poured himself a glass of milk and prepared his favorite breakfast—two fluffernutter sandwiches, light on the peanut butter, heavy on the fluff.  Bob was still lingering in the bathroom, and the kitchen was quiet.  But he didn’t mind.  It was a nice break.  His brother could be such a blowhard.

And Mitchell Brant.  What was he?  Other than a dork.  A liar.  An encyclopedia of all things related to The Fantastic Four.  A good guy.

“He’s a pest,” Joe said, taking a bite from one of his sandwiches.  Yes, he was.  But on that chilly April day, just over a year ago, he had been a pest in serious trouble.

Joe remembered it well.  He’d been wandering around behind the school, prior to the start of morning classes, when, suddenly, he heard the sounds of a scuffle—taunting, snickering, the thud of flesh striking flesh.

He raced to the spot of the struggle and saw Mitchell Brant on the receiving end of a solid punch.  Mitchell was being held in place by some kid Joe didn’t know, his arms pinned behind his back.  The other kid, who Joe recognized but couldn’t place the name, was hammering away, belting Mitchell with blow after blow.

Joe had never said more than two words to Mitchell Brant, but he hated an unfair fight.  He told the kids to quit it.  They didn’t.  So he made them quit.  He laid into them with everything he had, and when he was through, both of them were on the ground, writhing in pain.  One of them would sport a king-sized shiner for a week.

Afterwards, Mitchell thanked Joe for his help.

“Forget it,” Joe had said.  He’d have done it for anyone.  Well, almost anyone.  There were a few guys he would have paid to watch get the snot beat out of them.  But still, it was no big deal.

“Yes it was,” Mitchell Brant said.  “I owe you one.”

And from that experience, an unlikely alliance was born, slowly, haltingly, at first, but picking up momentum as time went on.  They got along.  They even shared a few interests.  Sports.  Action movies.  The Lake Ontario beach when they had a chance to get up there.  And, to a lesser extent, comic books.  Mitchell was much more into them than Joe was, but Joe did enjoy a good issue of Spider-Man every now and then.  He couldn’t believe Mitchell thought The Fantastic Four were better than Spidey.  Or that their movies were more action-packed.  No freaking way.

Now, sitting at the kitchen table, the silence of the house surrounding him like a soundproof glove, he smiled at the memory of how he’d met Mitchell.  He’d pulverized the two jerks who had ganged up on him.  He hadn’t been in a good scrape in a while.  There was nothing quite like a fistfight, nothing that could compare to the sensation of a well-thrown punch delivered to the jaw.  He missed it.  Fewer guys would challenge him these days, his reputation being what it was.

“Yeah, I beat up a sixteen-year-old,” he said, and laughed through a mouthful of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff.  He wasn’t sure how that rumor got hatched, but, truth was, he figured he’d have a fair shot against most sixteen-year-olds.  He was stocky, but not fat—solid, built like a fireplug, his dad told him—and very strong for his age.  It was just unfortunate that he was so short—four-five-and-a-half, maybe four-six on his tiptoes.  A couple of months ago, he had asked a girl he liked if she wanted to go to a movie.  She looked down at him, tried to keep a straight face, but couldn’t, and said, “You’re cute, Joe.  So short and cute.”  Then she walked away, giggling the whole while.  He wished he’d sprout up a few inches over the summer, before seventh grade started.  Why did his mom and dad have to be so vertically challenged themselves?  They had passed their genes on to him.  But not to Bob.  He was over six feet tall, the lucky creep.  Joe wondered if perhaps the nurses had mixed up the babies at the hospital after Bob was born.  Maybe some tall couple out there had spent the last decade and a half wondering why their son had turned out to be such a shrimp.

From the bathroom, he heard the toilet flush.  “Great.  Thanks, bro.  Just what I needed while I’m trying to eat.”

The telephone rang.  He got up to answer it.  “Hello?”

It was some moonstruck girl, asking for Bob.

“Well . . .” He wanted to word this just right, for maximum effect.  “He’s taking a dump right now, on the toilet.  Probably smells like a sewer in there.  You don’t know what it’s like, goin’ in there after Bob—”

Suddenly, the phone was yanked from his hand.  Bob stood there like a giant, Joe’s head reached up only to the middle of his chest.

“When I hang up, you die,” he said; then, into the phone, his voice now tinged with saccharine, “Hi.  It’s Bob.”

Joe went back to his breakfast, hoping to finish it and get out of there before Bob hung up.  Not because he was scared of his brother—though he admitted, Bob was one sixteen-year-old he probably wouldn’t be able to take in a fight—but because he didn’t need it.  He didn’t need the hassle, the threats.  None of it.  Not after last night.  He wasn’t up to listening to whatever story Mitchell was about to tell him, let alone dealing with the abuse only his older brother could dish out.

He wolfed down the remainder of his food and emptied the glass of milk.  By the time he had brushed his teeth, looked at his reflection to see if he was sprouting any zits (he wasn’t), and changed into a fresh pair of shorts, he thought he was going to make it.

But just as he strode across the kitchen toward the door and freedom, he heard Bob’s voice: “Hey, short-stuff!  I’m not through with you.”

He hung up the phone.

Great.  Perfect timing.

“You try talking to one of my girls like that again, and I’ll rearrange your anatomy into something even funnier, you got it?”  He poked Joe in the chest with an index finger.

“What’d I do?” Joe asked.  “I told her the truth.  You think the bathroom smells like roses when you get out.  It doesn’t, bud.  It stinks.  So I figured your girlfriend should know, that’s all.  What a joke, anyway.  Your girlfriend.  Does she know how you are?  Whaddaya got now, like twenty of ‘em?”

Bob smiled.  “Well, twenty is probably on the conservative side.  It’s probably more like thirty-five, maybe forty.  But who’s counting, right?”

“Yeah, right.  Who’s counting.”

Bob puffed out his chest and tilted his chin just so, showing off the dimple that drove the girls wild.  “Thing is, if I wanted to up the number to fifty . . .”  He snapped his fingers.

“Yeah, you’re just a living doll, bud,” Joe said.  “But I gotta go.”

“Hey, you catch my drift, though, right?  No more talking crap to my girls.”

“Sure.  Talking crap.  That’s what I was doin’  Talking crap about your crap.”  He smiled, gave a mock salute.  “Yes, sir, General Marma!”

“Get lost, short-man.”

And he did.  He was tempted to argue some more, but better to play it safe.  The longer he hung around, the more likely he’d be to say something stupid and really set Bob off.  So often, he simply blurted things out without thinking, threw a punch without considering the consequences.

It wasn’t easy being Bob Marma’s kid brother.  Movie-star looks, celebrated jock, straight-A student, desired by seemingly every girl in school.  Bob had it all.  Worse, it seemed to come easy for him.  Joe rarely saw Bob study, yet he brought home perfect grades with regularity.  And here Joe tried his best, studied hard, and was lucky to maintain his C average.

It wasn’t fair, and so often he felt a river of anger flowing just beneath the surface.  No matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he always came in second place.  If he heard one more teacher say, “Joe Marma?  Bob Marma’s brother?” on the first day of classes during roll call, he thought he’d tell that teacher to go stuff it where the sun didn’t shine.  It was hard at Christmas, too, and on Bob’s birthday.  What were you supposed to get the brother who had everything?

“Hey, Dusty,” Joe said, patting their golden retriever on the head.  Dusty had spent the night in the garage.  He’d been infested with fleas for a week, and Mom and Dad didn’t want him back in the house yet.  Joe felt bad about that.  Dusty was the one he could always talk to, the one who would always listen.

He walked out of the garage, into the sunshine.  It was eighty degrees already, and the humidity would make him sweat even if he kept a slow pace.  He loathed mugginess.  Days like this made him wish he lived in Seattle, Vancouver, or Alaska—somewhere nice and cool, far from Bedford, New York, in late June.

Mitchell’s house was a half mile away.  By the time he got there, Joe was indeed sweating.  Across the street from Mitchell’s, he saw two little girls playing in a sprinkler.  He wished he could join them.  But Mitchell was already outside, pacing the driveway.

“Hey,” Joe said.  “Think you texted me enough this morning?”

Mitchell blushed.  “Sorry.  But I gotta tell you something.”

“Yeah, sure.  Hey, can we get outta the sun, though?  Too hot.”

They went around back, and sat down, across from each other, at the Brants’ red wooden picnic table, which rested beneath a towering maple tree.  The leaves rustled softly in the faint, hot breeze.

“So what’s up?” Joe said.

Mitchell looked nervous, which was a surprise.  Usually, he would just start right in on one of his bizarre stories, boldly and confidently.  Why was he hesitating now?

“Hello?  Earth to Mitchell!  You still here, bud?”

Mitchell blushed again, took a deep breath.  And then he told Joe about some strange girl in his dreams, and how she had tried to pull him, through her eyes, into the land of the dead, or wherever it was she had come from.  He told him about falling, scraping his knee, and how, when he woke up, that scrape had somehow remained.  He told him that he was scared.  This girl had come to him three consecutive nights.  It was like she was haunting him.

Then he stopped.  He was sweating now, too.

Behind them, out of sight, Joe heard a boy’s voice yelling for somebody named Jimmy to shut up, take that back!  An unseen dog barked as if in response, and for a moment, Joe wondered if Jimmy actually would take whatever he had said back.  His head throbbed.  The heat was getting to him.  Reality felt too elusive, too fragmentary, as if it were crumbling away into jigsaw pieces that could not be put back together.  His struggles trying to escape his brother’s long shadow suddenly seemed trivial.

“Joe . . . Joe . . .  Joe . . .”

It was Mitchell’s voice, pulling him back to the moment at hand, to the daylight, the mugginess, the rustling leaves.

“Joe, you okay?”

He hit his forehead several times, trying to knock some sense in to himself.  “Yeah.  You know, I’m not so sure.”

“You believe me, don’t you?”  How many times had Mitchell asked him that same question?  How many times would he make something up, but then, with such sincerity ask, “But you believe me, right?”  Sometimes Joe would humor him.  Sometimes he would tell him to get a life, to quit lying all the time.  He was sure he would have told him that now, too.  Except for one thing . . .

He looked at Mitchell.  The unseen dog barked again.  Across the street, he thought he could hear the laughter of the two little girls running through the sprinkler.  The breeze wafted against his skin, drying his sweat, making him itch.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I believe you.”

“You do?” Mitchell said.

He nodded, and again he had the feeling that reality was splitting apart, atom by atom.

“You do,” Mitchell said.  This time, it sounded more like a statement, a recognition.  He seemed disappointed.  Perhaps he had expected, and welcomed, a period of disbelief.

“And you don’t wanna know why, bud,” Joe said.  “Trust me, you don’t wanna know.”

“Yes I do.  Tell me.”

Joe looked at him.  “You’re not the only one who’s been dreaming about that little rugrat.”

“But . . .”

“I’ve been havin’ the same dream!”  He brought his fist down against the tabletop.  “Three nights in a row . . . I had the same dream you did, Mitchell!”


Please click here to move on to Chapter Three!

Chapter One of The Eye-Dancers . . .

It’s always nice to dip your feet into the water before jumping in, or take a sip of the soda before gulping it all down.  So, please consider this a sampling, an appetizer, if you will, of The Eye-Dancers.  Below is Chapter One of the soon-to-be-released young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel.  I hope you enjoy . . .

Copyright 2012 by Michael S. Fedison


Peering out his bedroom window, his eyes flattened into squinting slits, Mitchell Brant saw her.

“No,” he said.  “It can’t be her.  It can’t be.”

But it was.  She had come again.

He looked away, at the night-shadows on the floor, at the sheets jumbled and strewn on his bed.  Maybe she wasn’t really out there.  Maybe it was just an illusion, some odd distortion of the light.

He looked out the window.

She was still there.

He felt the fine hairs at the nape of his neck stand up.  Gooseflesh, cold against the stifling humidity filtering in through the open window, speckled his forearms.

The girl was standing under the streetlamp, looking straight in at him—the same way she had last night and the night before.  She was just a child, probably no more than seven years old—his sister’s age.  What was she doing out in the street, alone, well past midnight?  Was she a runaway?  And why had she come three nights in a row?

He tried to look away again, but he couldn’t.  It was as though the girl had cast a spell over him.  “What’s with you?” he said to himself.  “Just go back to sleep.”  Instead, he stood up.  She had raised her right arm above her head, waving at him frantically.

“Help me.”  The voice filtered in through the window.  “Why don’t you . . .?”  The girl’s voice.  And yet, there was something different about it, something off.  It sounded hollow, as if it had originated from a dark place, a secret place, cold like the grave.

The grave.  Maybe that was the answer.  Maybe that’s where she had come from.

“No.”  Her voice rose, more insistent now.  “Don’t be so silly.”

He reached for the window.  He wasn’t going to let her fool him.  He’d just finished the sixth grade last week, and he wanted the chance to live long enough to begin seventh grade in the fall.  Communicating with ghosts was great when kept within the safe confines of horror stories or movies.  But not here.  Not on his quiet small-town street.  Not in real life.

He grabbed the window sash, pushed down.  Instantly, he was transported to his front lawn!  How had that happened?  The girl, still standing in the light, gestured even more vigorously now that Mitchell was outside with her.  He knew she had worked some sort of magician’s trick on him.

“Who are you?”  He looked down at his feet and saw they were moving—in the direction of the street, the light, the girl.  He tried to stop them, but it was as if they had a will of their own.

As he neared her, he was able to get a better look at the girl.  She had the bluest, deepest eyes he had ever seen.  They were mesmerizing.

She also had an airy quality to her.  The light from the streetlamp filtered through her, as though she were only partly there, only a small portion of her flesh and blood.

I was right, he thought.  She is a ghost.

“Stop it!” she said.  “Stop calling me that.”

He reached the sidewalk, nearly face-to-face with her.  He closed his eyes, but they stung, so he opened them and looked up, at the streetlamp.  A small gathering of luna moths aimlessly fluttered about, landing on the bulb, then jumping off, occasionally flying into each other, as if drunk from the light and the oppressive humidity.

“Help me!”  The girl’s voice, so near yet so ethereal, caused Mitchell to lose his balance.  He fell, landed on the pavement, scraping his knee.  A trickle of blood snaked down his shin.  “Come with me,” the girl said, and offered a hand.  But he knew better.  Once she grabbed him, she would never let him go.  She would lead him through the darkened streets, past the statue of the white, marble lion that marked the center of town, and on to the Bedford Cemetery, where she’d force him to serve her for all eternity in the form of some tortured, wandering spirit.

The girl’s hand brushed against his, a faint whisper against his skin, and then the sensation was gone.

“Come with me,” she said again.  “Please.”  He told himself not to look into her eyes, but he did.  He couldn’t resist.  It was like looking into two blue pools of sky-water.  Somehow, he was sure that if he looked into those eyes long enough, hard enough, he would see where the universe ended, and began.

He stood up, wanting desperately to turn around and flee back into the house.  But he wasn’t able to.  Her eyes wouldn’t let him.  The night air, muggy, close, felt like a dull weight intent on forcing him back down to his knees.

The girl said, “Yes, that’s the way.  Keep looking into my eyes!  That’s the way I can take you with me.”

He tried to look away, but couldn’t.  He just continued to stare at her blue, blue eyes.  He stared until her eyes seemed to expand, the shape of them lengthening, widening.  He stared until the blue in her irises dilated and spun, slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed, spinning round and round, faster, faster.

He screamed then—the loudest, longest scream of his life.  He would wake up his parents, his sister, the neighbors.  Maybe they could reach him in time to save him.  Maybe they could—

Suddenly, he was back in his bed, thrashing and kicking and yelling, “Let me go, let me go!”  It took a moment for him to gather his wits.

It had been a dream, a nightmare.  That was all.

He sat up.  Was that all?  What would he see if he dared to look out his window?  Would the ghost girl still be there?  Not wanting to, but needing to know the truth, Mitchell glanced outside.

No one.  Only the mosquitoes and the spiders and the night birds, creatures that he couldn’t see but knew were out there.  But at least they were a part of the natural world.  They belonged.  The ghost girl didn’t.

He hopped out of bed, too wired to lie still.  But as soon as his feet touched the floor, he grimaced.  There was a stinging pain in his left knee.  Groping his way through the dark room, he reached for the lamp atop his dresser and flicked it on.

His knee was bleeding.  A small strip of skin had been scraped off, and the blood, though drying, was still trickling down his shin.  How could he have scraped his knee in bed?

Then he remembered.  He had done it in his dream.  He’d fallen in the street when the ghost girl had reached for him.  But if it had only been a dream, why was his knee bleeding now?

He limped to the bathroom, where he washed the wound and then bandaged it.  He reminded himself not to wear shorts in the morning.  On top of everything else, he didn’t need Mom asking questions.

He had no answers, anyway.  He had no idea what happened.  Had he dreamed of the girl in the street—tonight, and last night, and the night before that?  Or had she really been there?  He tried to think it through.  It had seemed like a dream.  But since when did people scrape their knees in a dream?  Had he been sleepwalking?  He’d never known himself to sleepwalk, but how could he know, if he was sleeping while he did it?

“C’mon,” he said, staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.  It was a tired-looking reflection, with the last hints of fright still manifest in the eyes.  “Don’t be stupid.  It was just a nightmare, that’s all.”

But as he walked into the kitchen, turned on the tap, and slurped the water as it streamed out, he knew that the truth was very likely more complex, and more troubling.

He turned off the faucet, wondering why water always tasted so much better straight out of the tap.  He tried to think about that, ponder it, anything to get his mind off the ghost girl.  But it didn’t work.  How could he forget her?

“Cut it out, Mitchell,” he said.  “Just quit it.”

He needed to get back to sleep.  When he was little, if he’d had a bad day, his mom used to tell him that everything looked better, and happier, in the morning.  He hoped she was right.

But when he returned to his room, sleep still seemed a long way off.  His bed, with the disheveled sheets and sweat-drenched pillows, didn’t look very restful.  He needed something to calm him.  He opened the lower drawer of his dresser.  Piles of old comic books, bagged in protective Mylar sleeves, greeted him like devoted friends.  He picked up the top comic, a worn copy of Fantastic Four no. 99, and sniffed it through the sleeve.  He loved the smell of old comic books.  It was musty, but in a special way, like the smell of his grandfather’s attic littered with knickknacks and family mementoes.  A treasure-house smell.  He had asked his sister to sniff some of his comics once, but she thought they reeked.  Well, what did she know?  She was just a little kid.

He took the comic out of its sleeve and read it, even though he knew the issue by heart.  But it did the trick.  He got lost in the story, savoring the artwork, the dialogue, the sheer fantasy of the plot.  When he put the comic book away thirty minutes later, he felt ready for bed.

He climbed in, wondering if he should glance out the window again, to see if the girl was out there.

“She isn’t,” he said, but he didn’t look.

He lay there, his mind racing, and it seemed to him that he wouldn’t get to sleep.  He did, eventually, but it was a restless sleep, as he thrashed throughout the night.  When he woke up, a few short hours later, he was quite sure he had dreamed again, though about what he couldn’t remember.

“Didn’t expect to see you up so soon.  Thought I’d need to wake you up once breakfast was ready,” his mom said, eyeing him.

Mitchell knew that look well.  It was the one that made him feel like a Martian, or a Venusian, who had crash-landed onto Earth.  Come to think of it, a lot of things made him feel that way.

“I . . . didn’t sleep so great,” he said.  You could say that again.

“Hmm, bad dreams, honey?”  His mom was by the stove, cracking eggs open, and she had a mound of cubed potatoes all set to go into the frying pan.  Mitchell’s stomach did a quick somersault.  He usually loved potatoes and eggs.  But after last night, the thought of the grease made him feel like vomiting.

“Well . . .”  He considered letting it all out.  He wanted to tell her about the ghost girl, the way she’d tried to put him in a trance by making him gaze into her blue, spinning eyes, and that it had been the strangest dream he’d ever had.  He had the cut on his knee to prove it.

“Hey, what’s up, Mitchell?”

He turned around.  Stephanie.

“Uh, well …”

“Really?  Sounds great!”

He hated the way he fumbled for words even with his own family.  Talking had never come easily for him.  He didn’t exactly stutter.  He just talked . . . funny.  His words were often garbled, and a quick-talker like his kid sister had a distinct advantage over him.

By the stove, Mitchell heard the sizzle of potatoes as Mom dumped them into the pan.  His stomach did another series of flips.

“So you were saying?”  It was Mom again, one eye on the frying pan, one eye on Mitchell.

“Saying what, Mom?”

“That you didn’t sleep so great,” she said.  “Why not?  You’re not coming down with something, are you?”

Here it was again.  His chance to tell her about the dreams he’d been having.  But, as much as he was itching to, he knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything.  It would just cause frustration—for his mom and himself.

“I’m okay, Mom,” he said.  “It was just one of those nights, y’know?  Um, where’s Dad?”

The air in the room suddenly felt fifty degrees cooler, despite the heat from the stovetop.  Mom frowned.

“Your father decided to go in to work this morning.  Overtime.  Never mind that it’s the weekend.”  She flipped the potatoes with a spatula.  “He’ll probably be gone all day.”  Mitchell heard the annoyance in her voice.  It was sharp, like a freshly honed blade.  And it made him sad that his father wasn’t home.  He didn’t see him as often as he liked.  Three months ago, he had been promoted to office manager at a payroll company in Rochester, and the long hours combined with the thirty-mile commute definitely restricted his availability.  But maybe it was for the best.  Lately, when Mom and Dad were together, the tension was palpable—thick, like toxic fog—and it filtered through the entire house.  It was impossible to escape.  Even when he retreated to his room, or the basement, he felt the tension permeating the walls, as if in search of him.  He hated it, but didn’t know what he could do to help.  He just knew that Mom smiled less these days.  And Dad, when not at work, often spent his time puttering outside or in the garage, fixing things that weren’t broken.

Mom flipped more potatoes, slamming them back into the pan harder than she needed to.  Stephanie, seated at the breakfast table, fiddled with an empty glass, pretending not to care.  But Mitchell saw right through her act.  She cared, as much as he did.  And probably felt just as helpless, too.

He knew he should change the subject.  He felt foolish for asking about Dad in the first place.  Besides, maybe he could check on something, without giving himself away.

“Hey, have either of you noticed anyone outside at night lately?”  Blunt, and about as graceful as a pulled muscle, but at least it served its purpose.

From the stove, his mother gave him the are-you-from-Venus-or-Mars look again.

“Have we seen anyone outside at night?  You mean, like the bogeyman?”  Stephanie smirked, put the glass back down on the tabletop, and hugged herself.  “Ooh, so scary, Mitchell!”

“Shut up, Stephanie.”

“Mitchell, don’t talk to your sister that way,” Mom said, glaring at him.  She muttered something to herself, then slowly exhaled, fiddling with the potatoes.  “Who have you seen outside?”

Mitchell swallowed.  Should he tell them?  He had just wanted to test the waters, not corner himself.  Obviously they hadn’t noticed anything.  Of course not, you idiot.  It was just a dream!  How could anyone else see your own dream?

“No one, Mom.  I was just wondering, that’s all.”

Mom tilted her head, still looking annoyed (at him?  at Dad?), but said nothing more about it.  He hoped she didn’t think he was just telling another lie. . . .

Lying had always come so easily, so naturally to him.  When he told a story—embellishing the details as he went—he felt so good.  The attention felt good.  It was the one way he could find an audience willing to listen.  Usually, the guys at school just ignored him or laughed at him, called him names like mush-mouth or trout-face because of the way his lips would sometimes pucker up like a fish when he stumbled over his words.

So he made things up.  Just last month, he had told a group of guys in gym class that he’d once run the mile in four and a half minutes.

“Get real, Brant,” one of them shot back.  “You couldn’t run a four-and-half-minute half mile.”

Mitchell had protested, the way he always did.  But it wasn’t just a lie he was defending.  He was sticking up for himself, for what he aspired to be.  Couldn’t anyone understand that?  The guys at school sure didn’t seem to, and forget about the girls.  He could barely string two words together when he was around girls, especially the ones he liked.

He had cheated on tests before, too, despite being a solid B student.  There were times when a B just wasn’t good enough.  Times when he wanted the highest score in the class.  Like during a spelling quiz last March, when he had stuck a 3” by 5” index card, containing all the words he suspected would be on the quiz, inside his left shirtsleeve.  It was child’s play taking a well-timed peek at his concealed word list whenever he needed to, and when he scored a perfect 100 on the quiz, no one suspected that he’d cheated.  His mom had even hung the quiz on the refrigerator for a week.

There were consequences, of course.  He didn’t always get away with cheating when he tried it—he’d been nailed in class four times over the past couple of years.  And he’d been caught in a lie hundreds of times.  Not even Mom or Dad believed his stories anymore.  And his sister had long since been wise to him.

But he had to tell somebody about the ghost girl.

Joe Marma.  His best friend.  His only good friend, really.  Joe probably wouldn’t believe what he had to say, either, but there was only one way to find out.

When breakfast was ready, he picked at it, then asked if he could be excused.  This caused his mother to ask him, again, if he was sure he was all right.

“Mm-hmm,” he said.  “I’m just not hungry this morning.”

“Can I have what he didn’t eat?” Stephanie wanted to know.

In his bedroom, Mitchell reached for his cell phone and crafted a text message, trying to describe, in one hundred and fifty characters, what he dreamed—or saw—the last three nights.  It was a hopeless task.

He deleted the message.  “Not like that.”

So he keyed in a new message, two sentences, quick and to the point:  Joe, can u come over?  Need 2 tell u something!

He sent the text, and as it zipped through cyberspace, he took a moment to close his eyes.  But instead of darkness, he saw the ghost girl, standing before him, beckoning with her index finger.  He opened his eyes, half-expecting her to be there, right in his room.  This was weird.  Creepy.

Like a nightmare sprouting wings and flying, taking hold of his mind.  Coming to life.


Please click here to move on to Chapter Two!

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