This is a promo post from Michael Fedison’s new release, The Eye-Dancers. I connected with Michael via blog following – we’re following each other’s blogs – and have read a little bit of The Eye-Dancers. I have to say, I really like his writing style; he knows how to create suspense to keep the readers engaged.
Here I share with you the first chapter of The Eye-Dancers.
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.