excerpt from "Chapter One" of "The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id"
For a moment, the front entrance of Doolittle Community Secondary School turns a bright shade of blue, and then quickly fades to a soft magenta. Fitz Faraday rubs his eyes so forcefully that he nearly bruises his eye sockets. When he opens them again, every street and every house in Winkler Park is discolored - now an oily rainbow broken by static.
He reaches out for the handrail and cautiously climbs down the school bus stairs, as if he were walking in slow motion. Once he hits pavement, he slides his headphones down so that they wrap around his neck, and he holds out his hand to see if he, too, is painted wrong. A wiggle of his fingers, and the oily colors ripple over his skin.
He squeezes his eyelids tightly - so tight that he sees pulses of white and dark. He can barely hear the music from his headphones. As he opens his eyes and the sparkles and floaters flicker away, a righted world is revealed - a world where trees are green, shirts are white, and front entrances are stone-gray.
A shove comes from behind and nearly knocks him over, as Eddie Thompson thunders free from the school bus. At first glance, Eddie Thompson could be mistaken for a naked opossum, his pale, pointy face having all the skeevy charm of a weasel. It was the trademark look of all the Winkler Park Thompsons.
"Watch it, Faraday...get out of the way, skag," Eddie snarls as he gives Fitz a second shove for good measure.
"Ay! What the flip?" Fitz barks back.
"Yer in the way, Freakenstein!" Alva Thompson, another ferrety Thompson boy and Eddie's number one crony, shouts at Fitz. He then follows his brother's lead giving Fitz a shove in the other shoulder.
Fitz nearly falls to the ground, feeling disoriented and bruised. He curses to himself, thinking that if he and the other tenth-graders didn't have to sit up front with the grade-schoolers, then he could have waited for Eddie Thompson and his thugs to get off first.
"What the heck are shmuckstache-seniors doing taking the bus anyways?" Fitz grumbles.
Eddie storms right up to Fitz, his godless fists balled up, and he grunts between gritted teeth, "You want me to thrack the..."
"Get to class, boys," the bus driver calls out before Eddie can finish his threat.
Eddie is joined by the youngest sniveling Thompsons as they brush pass Fitz, jostling his backpack loose from his shoulder.
"I said get!" the bus driver shouts, becoming more irritated.
"Watch yourself, Faraday..." Eddie sneers, and gives him a punch in the shoulder.
The bus door clamps shut and the smelly chug of the engine jerks it forward. Eddie and his gang of brothers make their way into Doolittle Secondary, and Fitz Faraday closes his eyes once more trying to adjust them.
As the bus drives off, Fitz's cousin, Wesleyan Graham, presses his face up against the grimy window. He watches as Fitz shuffles to the east side of the building instead of going into the front entrance. He watches as Fitz looks over his shoulder as the schoolyard clears and the tardy bell sounds. And he continues to watch his cousin disappear into the chrysanthemum bushes, as the bus crosses the street to Gardenier Elementary School.
Wes blurts, "Ha! He's ditching again! No way he's getting away with it this time!"
Wes smiles devilishly to himself as he exits the bus. He peaks around the corner and spies Fitz, far off in the distance, creep between trees and stone half-walls, heading back to the rows of grey-stones and bungalows.
"Wesleyan Graham, you get going! Bad enough I had to yell at your cousin, not you too! I will drive this bus to your grandma's bake shop, so help me!" the driver shouts.
Wes's wide grin crumples to a scowl, and he sulks as he heads to his own school.
As his cousin and the rest of Gardenier Elementary’s students make their way to their classrooms, Fitz Faraday slinks between the gangways of the Winkler Park neighborhood. As each sneaker hits pavement, his heartbeat runs faster. He gets to the end of the row on Irving Lane. And then he freezes in his tracks.
The oldest house in the neighborhood seems to stare at him from across the way. Its broken windows glare like a jack-o'-lantern's eyes, and its door hangs like a crooked witch's mouth full of jagged teeth. An eerie wind slips between the grey-stones, sending chills up Fitz's back.
The neighborhood rumors warn that the house at the end of Irving Lane is home to an insane old wizard, or worse, the poltergeist of Nikola Tesla. Many swear they have seen the ghost looming in the windows. Others warn their children that if they throw stones at the old manor or creep onto its rickety porch, they will be cursed by sprouting a tail of a pig.
But one person is gutsy enough to go to the haunted house at the end of the road. One daring fifteen-year-old will walk right up to the front door and will enter 1820 Irving - the old Crowley Manor. Fitz Faraday is not afraid of the wizard inside or Nikola Tesla's curses. His only fear is getting caught where he is not supposed to be.
With a double look over his shoulder Fitz darts for the haunted house's front door. As he runs, he looks to see if nosy Mrs. Van Tassel is peeping out her window, but she isn't. Only the glow of her evil cat's eyes peer between the blinds. To his left, he looks for Mr. Baltus, known to spend days in hunting gear waiting for the squirrels to attack his precious bird feeders. Thankfully, Mr. Baltus is nowhere to be seen, as the biting air must have the squirrels hiding in their hollows.
With the coast clear, his feet hit the gray grass of Crowley Manor, and then he scooted up the cracked cobblestone path. Past the mangled front gate, each porch step creaks like old bones. And as he turns the brass doorknob, gears, pulleys and clockworks chug back to life. Chains yank on the massive oak door and Fitz slips in, entering the musty front room. The gears struggle to reclose the twelve-foot door, as bats in the attic skitter about, and as the spiders zip away from the light and back into their dusty corners.
Pressed up against the door, he breathes heavily and sighs. Without enough breath, he struggles to shout, "Hello?"
He shouts again, "Professor?"
Still no answer.
Then the hairs on the back of Fitz's neck shoot out, stiff like the needles of a cactus. He shudders as a shriek echoes through the clammy halls of the manor. It’s hard not to wonder what could have been so terrible about a school day compared to this horror.
Wide-eyed, Fitz slinks toward the kitchen, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. Each step is slow, avoiding the memorized creaks and cricks in the floorboards. The green glow from the kitchen's fluorescent light reaches toward Fitz as he slides his backpack off. He fumbles with the zipper and there is another shriek.
Fitz yelps at the sound but quickly covers his mouth. He cringes, waiting for a follow-up shriek, but there is only a rustling and then silence. He sighs and then digs into his bag gripping hold of his weapon.
He rounds the corner, entering the rusty kitchen covered top to bottom in mold-ridden household gadgets, widgets, and gizmos: an automated can opener powered by bean sprout photosynthesis; a toaster that makes French toast with a pair of mechanical hands that cracks eggs; an iced-tea maker that brews the tea cold; and so many more, each with its own thick, layer of dust and grime.
Another shriek. It knows Fitz is here.
Fitz aims his weapon at the fiend crouching on top the counter.
The critter looks up and eyes the intruder. It hisses like a cornered alley cat, and Fitz's trembling hand holds out the weapon - the only thing that can calm the fiend. Fitz closes his eyes and stretches his arm out as far as he can. The creature snatches the thing from Fitz's hand and leaves long scratches across his skin.
Dozens of similar marks run up and down Fitz's hands and arms. Some are old and have scarred over, while others are fresh and still burn. He winces and cradles his injury, running his fingers delicately over old wounds and gingerly prodding new ones. A shimmer of light gold, like fish scales, traces the scars. Thinking of every injury he has suffered, he returns a hiss at the creature.
The creature, a squirrel-monkey, sneers and then begins peeling Fitz's weapon - a ripe, yellow banana. The monkey devours the banana, not even bothering to chew, and then hurls the peel at Fitz, who ducks just in time.
"Darwin! You nasty mutt-bucket!" Fitz howls.
The monkey hisses, bearing its teeth. It swishes its tail back and forth like a cracking whip, and as it does, it swipes a piece of paper off of the refrigerator onto the floor. Fitz drops to the floor, snatching hold of the piece of paper.
The note reads:
"Fitz, while I am gone, be sure to feed Darwin and finish setting up the lab. - Professor Crowley."
Then a little further down, the Professor added:
"Oh! And better not go into the game room, there is a slight chance of..."
But before Fitz can finish reading, the monkey grabs hold of the note and leaps on top of the refrigerator. It hisses again and then slips into the shadows under the cabinets. A doggie door swings back and forth, as nails scrape against the metal tunnel.
"Give it back, Darwin!" Fitz shouts. But the monkey is long gone.
Fitz rubs his chin and says quietly, "The professor is gone?" Then he chuckles to himself, "Ha! The professor is gone!" He immediately forgets about the warning on the note and daydreams of the billiard room.
He quickly empties the other groceries and supplies from his backpack, and then stows the goods in the cupboards and cabinets. As he pulls out the jar of peanut butter, he pauses, gently shaking the jar up and down as he thinks. There is not a flavor nor scent as delectable as gooey, sticky peanut butter. It is Fitz Faraday's most favorite food, and it is forbidden because of his kooky Aunt Marilyn's peanut allergy. An allergy that Fitz suspects is contrived to simply torture him.
He tucks the peanut butter jar in his backpack and zips the flap. He dreams of peanut butter sandwiches - with no crust, cut diagonally, and with slivers of apple and dollops of honey.
Once his work is done, Fitz sneaks out of the kitchen and heads down the hall leading to the billiard room. Before he can make his way midway down the hall, just at the cellar doors, he feels a snag at the base of his coat. A little hand tugs and yanks at his oversized tweed jacket. Fitz rounds on the pestering monkey.
"What, Darwin? What?" Fitz snarls. His frustration comes mostly from being startled but also because of his uneasiness around the cellar.
The monkey shakes its head back and forth, and its usual nasty demeanor fades to worrisome.
Fitz is torn between the monkey's expression and his longing to escape to the billiard room. The monkey is not known to be friendly, especially to Fitz, and its warning is quite out of character.
"Why don't you give me the note back so I know what the Professor said," he snips at the monkey, frustrated by the delay.
The monkey stares up at him, only hearing grumbles and mumbles from the boy, not understanding "human tongues." The monkey starts flashing different patterns with its hands, using the American sign language taught to him by the professor.
"I don't know those signs, Darwin," Fitz snips.
Fitz slides his long sleeves to his elbow and responds with a sign. His hand opens and closes off to his side, which means, "Go away."
The monkey hisses at him and scampers through another doggie door near the brass vents in the wall.
Fitz tiptoes passed the cellar and mutters to himself, "It’s only my imagination...it’s only my imagination."
Even though he tries to calm himself, he imagines the cellar door opening and a whale-like bellow bursting from below. The monstrous boom sends him into a skipping sprint down the hall. He finds safety in the next room, protected from his dark imagination by the great chandelier casting its orange glow. Still half-running he trips into the billiard room, his feet snagging the Oriental rug.
He catches himself on a pool table, knocking over one of the pool cues. It knocks into the next one, and into the next one, and into the next one, until there are dozens of cues scattered across the floor. The ruckus startles the bats in the attic, and Fitz looks to the ceiling with a sense of panic.
The chandelier creaks back and forth, stirring up plumes of dust which dance in the faded light. The noise quiets, but Fitz stares intently at the entryway. He waits. There is only silence and darkness. Agonizing minutes pass, and finally Fitz lets loose a sigh of relief.
His devilish grin returns and he turns to the east wall. From floor to ceiling, he finds his inspiration for cutting school today — the world's largest pinball machine, covered in lights, spinners, bull's-eyes, switches, stoppers, ramps, and scoreboards. The Morbius Mindcrasher is the most difficult and complicated pinball machine ever built. It requires the super-keen reflexes of a cat, the ultra-vision of a hawk, the heat sensitivity of a viper, and the bat's supersonic hearing.
Before playing, he squats down. He empties out the alternating current boosters, the effluvial dampeners, the radio spanners, and other electronics from his backpack. He places them in a once damp and now dry cardboard box labeled “Cognitive Resonator parts.”
Eager to play, he skips over to the pinball machine and flips the toggle switch on, and the mechanisms whir. Static electricity ripples over Fitz’s skin and his hairs stand on end.
Lights flicker and run patterns up and down the playfield, while the kickers and whirlwinds click and crank. Five silver balls drop to the plunger. The scoreboard shuffles, the numbers cycle through, and then it freezes on the current high score, 20,000 points. The initials next to the high score are UNK - Unknown User. The second place score is 10,000 points and the initials FGF for FitzGerald Faraday. The third place score, 1,000 points and the initials POC for Professor Oliver Crowley. Fitz glares at the scoreboard, obsessed with beating the high score.
He runs his fingers over the buttons, flicking the flippers up and down. His eyes glaze over and stop blinking. He no longer feels thirst, or cold, or weight. His mind is a complete blank, and he is solely focused on the game. He forgets Eddie Thompson. He forgets the chemistry tests and the geometry homework. He forgets embarrassing locker-room fiascos and those awkward moments with buxom-beauty, Rhodelia Latimer-Clark. And he forgets his mother.
He is so in tune, the balance of the machine seems to align itself with his own equilibrium, and he can see where the ball will go before it moves. He yanks back on the plunger and flings the ball into play. It ricochets off bumpers, jetting to a bright blue kicker and then flinging off a blinking slingshot. The silver ball sinks into a saucer and three more balls drop into play bouncing off spinners and racing off ramps. The score rapidly doubles, triples, and quadruples. Then the scoreboard flashes "fireball" and an orange ball drops into game play. Every time it hits a target or switch, a "jackpot" flashes on screen.
The balls never fall between the flippers. He makes no mistakes. His fingers become part of the machine. And the score keeps rising: 6,000, then 7,000, then 8,000. Sirens, rotating lights, and strobes announce a score chasing the first place. But they do not distract Fitz. He is in the zone and cannot hear the buzzers. He can only feel the silver balls bounce about.
Hours pass, and he still is Zen, completely absorbed, lost in the mechanisms of the game, and without a sense of his self.
Nothing can break his concentration. Not even the screeches of the squirrel-monkey flipping and somersaulting in the doorway.
A mysterious voice says, "Enough!"
And the monkey scampers off, running through its tunnels, all the way back to its cage in the conservatory.
Fitz's bliss is interrupted. He becomes aware of his own fingers, and the light of the chandelier, and the bats in the attic. He startles "awake."
He is shaken by a thud followed by the rattling of the game's glass cover. A hand, half covered by a lacy sleeve, slams the glass. Just then, every one of the silver balls drops. The high score halts and gleams the word Tilt. Fitz looks up, his face pale and his eyes wide. He stares into the ghost's face - a face surrounded by wild, white hair and even wilder sideburns and eyebrows.
Fitz gulps, "Professor..."
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