Thursday, November 2, 2017


Above the Bright-Eyes
By Matthew Lee

“Pull the brim down over your eyes,” says mother as you step out into the airy afternoon. “Someone will see you and they’ll have the minister round.”

“But there’s no one about,” you say. “And it hurts.”

Mother stops and looks at you the same way she did that time she locked you in the back room. Since she stopped sleeping at nights, you are even more afraid of her. You do as she says. You might be only fourteen, but you know how to read people all right. You continue down the hill past the park, the wooden wheels of your chair clacking on the rocky path. The cicadas are loud.

Although you cannot see much with the hat brim pulled down, you know where mother is taking you. You feel uneasy. Going past your schoolhouse, you wonder if they will make you go back. You have decided - if they try to make you go back, or keep on mistreating you, you will run away. That is, run away in the only way a crippled boy can - to join the Bright-Eyes.

“Jaron is in no danger,” you say. You are worried about mother. As usual, she pretends she can´t hear you.

Jaron is your older brother. He’s sixteen. He’s big and strong and can run and climb, but he’s jealous of you. This afternoon he has sneaked off with Zilpha again. Mother has woken up earlier than usual from her afternoon nap and she’s carted you out to find him.

“Boy, is your brother going to get it,” she says, walking faster.

Mother pushes you down a bumpy, pebbly road overgrown with thistles and you reach the entrance to the mine. You are on the rocky ground above where the Bright-Eyes live. Mother peers in through the dark space between the loose boards. The space is just big enough for a brave boy and his girlfriend to slip through on late summer autumn afternoon. Mother calls his name.

After father’s accident, they boarded up the mine. Father would still be alive if they hadn’t dug down so far. You told him not to dig, you told him the Bright-Eyes didn’t want to be disturbed, but he didn’t listen and no one else listened. What happened to him wasn’t your fault.

“I know he’s in there,” mother says quietly. The smell of peaches drifts by.

You notice her hand is shaking even more than usual. You remember when mother stopped sleeping at night and her hands started shaking. She started screaming in the middle of the night and said that she was being pulled down through her bed and through the floor. So she started sleeping during the day instead. That’s when our neighbours stopped coming around and Jaron started sneaking off with Zilpha.

Often you have travelled here. Often you have travelled through that hole between the boards, along that tunnel, down the place you call The Throat, sliding down between those slippery rocks and to the lake under the ground where the Bright-Eyes live. Often you have swum with them, looking out from creamy light-bulb eyes and feeling the warm currents sliding along your carapace. You have glided along the bottom of the underground sea, feeling roughness on your ridged underbelly. You have breathed the water down there, grateful for the nourishment, your tendrils swaying behind you like long ribbons on a windy day. You were there watching as your father and the other miners broke through the cave ceiling and heard the screams as the Bright-Eyes went inside their heads and broke them like eggshells.

People are weak, say the Bright-Eyes. Slip into their minds, as we showed you, and you will understand why they are weak. They have no place here. We are the ancients and this place is ours. You steady your breathing and open your eyes wide and with practised ease, you rise up out of your rickety chair, glide through the spaces between and you are inside mother’s mind once again.

Mother is still very confused. She is terrified of the way you talk in your sleep and the way your eyes have gone cloudy. That’s why she locks you up. But now you see something new; you see that she has been talking to the minister. He has convinced her there is evil inside you. She believes him. She believes she is being punished and she will continue to be punished while you are alive.

You slip back. And you know - your childhood has ended. Father is lost, Jaron will soon be lost, and now mother is lost. It is time.

“Mother. Jaron’s not in the mine.” Her eyes are empty. “The Bright-“

She suddenly puts up her hands to her face. There are lots of tears that weren’t there before and her make-up is running. She looks at you and yells at you and starts hitting you and you cover your head with your hands and you start crying too. You’ve never heard her say words like that before.

Later, you are back in your room with the door shut. It’s almost dark. Mother has laid you down in bed. The crying noises stopped a while ago. Your eyes open wide, like the first time the Bright-Eyes found you and came to you in your sleep. Oh, happy day! Your breathing changes and your heart beats faster. You hear their soothing, echoing voices and you tell them that you have decided. They are euphoric. They feel your pain, they say. You don’t have to suffer any more. You will leave the futile world of men. You will gain an able body and you will gain a purpose. As you start to sink down through the bed, as if it was made of silken water, you hear the muffled sound of the front door clicking open.

Boy, is your brother is going to get it.

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Matthew Lee teaches English in Zaragoza, Spain, and sometimes feels like he spends more time correcting writing than producing it. One of his goals is to tip that balance. Occasionally he thinks about his native England.

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