Volume 4 Number 2
Eddie slouched in his chair, picking at his butter beans, a sour expression on his thin, freckled face. His mother, Marie, stopped in the middle of relating her day's events and said sharply, "Eddie, sit up straight. What's the matter with you? You've hardly eaten."
"Fed-up Eddie, Feddy Eddie," chanted eleven-year-old Kathy.
"That's enough, Kathy," Ed Robinson admonished. "What's wrong, son?"
"Nothing. Can I go?"
Marie sighed. "I guess so. Have you got homework?"
"What is 'not really' supposed to mean?" Eddie's father said. "Have you got homework or not?"
"I did it at school."
"That's the same answer we got last night," Ed remarked, as his eight-year-old left the room.
"His grades are going down, Ed."
"Well, he's young and it's early in the school year. I wouldn't worry about it too much unless it keeps up."
"Another couple of weeks, though, and I just might schedule a talk with his teacher," Marie said.
Upstairs, Eddie opened his top dresser drawer and took out a plastic box. Lying on his bed, he opened the box and poured out forty or so marbles. Most were of average size; a half-dozen were jumbos. There were cat's eyes, aggies, and the wonderful clear ones with the bubbles inside -- blue, gold, white. These were Eddie's favorites. The jumbos were mottled or deeply translucent. Some of the cat's eyes were new; the rest came from the flea market or had been given to Eddie by his uncles. Eddie often worried that something might happen to his favorites, and he wouldn't be able to replace them.
He picked up a golden marble and held it close to his face. Pensively, he stared into the depths, trying to see what might be there. Sometimes, if he stared long enough, he imagined he could see beyond the bubbles, into a world of unknown wonders.
Thoroughly engrossed, he jumped, hearing a faint sound, then Kathy's voice reached him from the hall. She was on the phone again. For a moment, Eddie almost thought the sound had come from the marble, but he knew that was silly.
Kathy rode the school bus to the Upper Elementary/Junior High, while Marie dropped off Eddie at his school in the mornings. The distance from the car across the playground to the front doors seemed interminable to Eddie. Supposedly, he was safe, but, as far as he was concerned, his mother had no idea of the threats he would have to face. He kept his head down, dragging his lunch box. Hopefully, today, he would remain alone. Hopefully, he could avoid Tommy and Danny Jones, the twins who lived nearby. They were in Eddie's class, but were at least four inches taller and ten pounds heavier. The twins never hesitated to let Eddie know they were his betters. Frequently, they instigated a round of teasing, the more aggressive boys picking heartlessly on the timid Robinson kid.
I hate school, Eddie thought. I wish it could be summer all the time.
James Wheatley was okay, but the couple of times Eddie had invited him over, James quickly tired of Eddie's room and wanted to go outside and toss footballs. Eddie hated sports, too. He couldn't keep up with the other boys.
He hung his head even lower.
"Hey, Eddie, there ain't nothing on the ground."
It was Tommy Jones. He was followed by Danny who ran past Eddie shouting, "Hold your head up, squirt, you're not ever gonna grow!"
Eddie refused to look up. The twins went on ahead; Eddie gratefully entered the classroom and settled himself in his desk as unobtrusively as possible.
He spent most of the day dreaming: of the three o'clock bell, the short ride home, and then ... freedom. From Tommy and Danny, from the other children, from the teachers.
Eddie had tried to talk about his unhappiness to his father, but all that came of it was a lesson in catching baseballs. His father just didn't understand. Kathy was a toad, and Eddie's mother ... well, she was like a grown-up Kathy most of the time. The only thing that seemed friendly was his room.
That night, Eddie dreamed, too, but it was in his sleep and it wasn't pleasant. There were great, pulsating bubbles of gold, with something big nearby. Jaws opening, teeth dripping iridescent saliva--
Eddie woke up screaming. His mother rushed in to calm him.
He felt uneasy the next morning, but the discomfort quickly faded, returning momentarily when he took out his marbles that evening. He fingered the gold one absently, then shrugged. Dreams weren't real.
Kathy stuck her head in the door. "Baby!" she taunted. "Had to yell for Mama last night?"
"Get out, nutpig." Eddie threw a sneaker at her. He slammed his door and returned to his bed.
Then he began slowly arranging the marbles on the spread, one to each square of the plaid pattern. He knew each piece of glass intimately -- the green jumbo, the orange cat's eye, the brown and yellow aggie with the chip on the side. The marbles were better companions than any of the people around him. He liked the wallpaper in his room, too. There were tiny white stars on a dark blue background, matching the blue and white of his bedspread and curtains. An oval hooked rug lay at his feet on the polished wood floor.
At lunchtime that week, Danny turned over Eddie's lunchbox when the teachers weren't looking. Then the twins made a show of Eddie's supposed clumsiness in front of everyone. He tried not to cry, but he hurt inside. Why is it always me? He wondered. It isn't fair.
A few nights afterward, Eddie dreamed of fire, of pallid smoke and flames surrounding open jaws without faces. He sat up in bed panting. "It's just a nightmare," he told himself. "I can go back to sleep. I'll turn on my lamp and count the stars on the wallpaper. I'll pretend I'm an astronaut."
Friday evening, his parents rented a movie. Kathy insisted on watching The Lion King again. Everybody encouraged Eddie to join them, but he refused and removed himself. The rest of the family was absorbed by the animated film and unaware of anything unusual, about either Eddie or the house.
Eddie retreated to the comforting isolation of his room. Reaching the top of the staircase, he noticed a strange color in the air, a sort of yellowish glow. It seemed to be coming from his partially open door. He pushed at it gently and gasped in amazement. His room was full of nebulous golden globes! They were everywhere -- on the floor, on the furniture. They floated and bounced lazily, then shrank and flowed toward his dresser drawer, where he kept the box of marbles.
Eddie hastily closed his door and took out the plastic box. He rummaged through his collection, finding the clear marbles with the bubbles, putting the others aside. Deciding to save the gold one until last, he peered into the blue and white interiors. A feeling of peace and happiness came over him. Finally he picked up the golden marble. It seemed welcoming.
I could go inside one of them, he thought, not knowing what had prompted the idea. There are worlds in there, just for me. But which is the best?
He looked at the white marble again. It was beautiful, but awfully cold and icy, like a frozen planet. The blue didn't interest him as much; there was a flaw in it.
He held the golden orb again. It felt warm to the touch. There were the beckoning bubbles, with hints of soft voices and pastel colors in between. Eddie didn't notice dark forms behind the bubbles, brooding and silent.
Then Eddie thought of his mother and father. A sob caught in his throat. Maybe he ought to put the marbles away. His parents might start thinking he was crazy and take him to a shrink. Am I crazy? he wondered.
Eddie went downstairs and stood at the entrance to the living room, feeling very lonely, even missing Kathy. She and their parents had their backs to him, the movie still running on the DVD player.
"Go away, Eddie."
"Kathy!" Ed sounded most displeased with his daughter's rudeness.
"Well, Daddy, he's such a nerd."
"Shhhh!" Eddie's mother hissed. "All of you be quiet. This is the best song."
No one saw Eddie's clenched jaw and angry expression, as he turned and left the living room. He climbed the stairs with resolve.
Kathy wiggled her shoulders in time to the music on the DVD player, knocking over her glass of juice. Jungle drums and the clatter of the glass rolling on the wood floor failed to mask another sound, one not coming from the living room.
"What was that, Marie?" Ed exclaimed, reaching instinctively for the juice glass.
Kathy looked at him with wide, frightened eyes. Leaning over, Marie muted the TV.
"I heard something," she said.
"Me, too," Kathy said in a shaky voice.
Again a low, wailing sound came from above. It heightened to an animal-like climax and receded.
Marie and Ed jumped up simultaneously and ran to the bottom of the staircase. "Eddie!" Marie yelled. "Eddie! Oh, Ed!"
Kathy followed a few steps behind as her parents scaled the stairs.
The upper floor seemed empty. Nobody was in Kathy's room, the master, or the bath. Eddie's door was wide open. A plastic box lay upside down on his bed, the lid leaning idly against the pillow. Marbles were scattered on the hooked rug.
Kathy wrinkled her nose. "What's that smell?"
"If that boy's been playing with matches again --" Ed broke off.
"But where is he? Eddie!" Marie gasped and put her hand over her mouth. "Ed, look over there -- the window!"
The window was tightly closed and locked, the curtains undisturbed. On the sill was a large golden marble smeared with red, what looked like a bit of fingernail, and a tuft of singed hair. A few crimson streaks marked the wall underneath.
Otherwise there was nothing out of place in Eddie's room.