Rob Seablue And The Eye Of Tantalus
Russell Hussan ©
I open my eyes like a newborn opening them for the first time. There is a crack in the ceiling above me. I try to sit up, but can’t. My hands are tied behind my back and my feet are tied to the leg of a table nearby. I’m slightly dizzy, my head hurts terribly and I can feel blood oozing from a cut in the back of my scalp. Leonard “Hugs” Huggins, my best friend since kindergarten all the way up to our present place as soon-to-be ninth graders at East Norwalk High School in East Norwalk, Connecticut, is sitting in a chair, staring down at me with a curious half-frown on his lips. On the desk behind him is a jar, and inside of the jar is… what is that thing?
“What happened, Hugs?” I ask. “Why am I tied up on the floor of your bedroom? We were making sandwiches, I opened that jar of pickles for you, and that’s the last thing I remember. What’s up?” I recall that there was a strange magic spell on the jar of pickles that held the lid shut and I cast a spell to remove it without bothering to think about why it was there. That may have been a mistake on my part. But who would put an enchanted seal on a jar of pickles?
“That was not a jar of pickles, Rob,” Hugs says. His voice sounds sad and forlorn and tense and also kind of bored, as if he has given up on life but finds his resignation to be healthy and normal.
“Well, then, what is it?” I ask, as memories float up through my mind like bubbles coming up from boiling water. Suddenly I remember that Hugs and I had a fight about a month ago; he had stopped talking to me for a few weeks, and today was the first time that we had hung out in a month. I never learned what he was mad at me for; I never asked and I didn’t care; my forgiveness for my friends is absolute. But I thought that it was just Hugs being Hugs; he gets a little bit scary sometimes, even though I love him dearly.
“And were you the one that hit me in the head and knocked me out?” I ask. “That was not funny, Hugs. That wasn’t funny at all.”
Hugs smiles, although it is a smile completely devoid of joy.
“Yes, I did feel a little bit squeamish about punching you in the head. I didn’t… I didn’t want you to die. But it was the only way. The Eye told me to do it.”
“The what?” I ask. The illusion magic spell that had caused me to see a jar full of pickles fades away, and now I can see the thing that is really in the jar: it’s an eyeball floating in a glass jar filled with embalming fluid. It is an albino’s eye, the iris is red. Even though the eye just floats there and doesn’t move, I get the feeling that the eye is watching me. And not only is it an eye, but I can see its aura—the ability to see auras is one of the magical powers that I have as a Sorcerer—and the disembodied eye’s aura is dark red and black and oozing, like a bleeding deep cut in somebody’s arm, except that underneath the red and black is another color, shimmering, shiny silver and… I can feel an intelligence in the silver, and it is looking at me.
“Hugs, what have you done? And what in the world is in that jar?”
“They call it the Eye of Tantalus,” Hugs says. “I read about it in a book in the secret room in the South Norwalk Public Library, the room where they keep the books for Sorcerers.”
“What room? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lie.
“How patronizing of you to maintain your charade! You were never a good actor, Rob, so confess to being a Sorcerer. I must admit that I was very surprised when I learned that magic is real, but then, somehow, it all made sense. And of course, it behooves the Sorcerers to keep the rest of the world from learning that magic exists—how convenient of you to keep all those powers for yourself and to let the rest of us be weak and vulnerable!”
“Magic isn’t real, Hugs. Everyone knows that. There is no such thing as magic.”
“Don’t lie to me!” Hugs says furiously. “The truth about sorcery has been revealed to me—so you might as well drop the normal American teenager act and admit to being a Sorcerer.”
“Fine,” I say. “You’ve got me, I admit it. I’m a Sorcerer. But I’m still the same person you’ve always known, Hugs. I’m still Rob Seablue, your best friend. And we have a very good reason for hiding the truth: we keep our secret to protect ourselves; we’ve been massacred by witch hunts in the past. We’re in danger from normal humans, not the other way around. But I have a question: who told you that magic is real? Who showed the secret room in the library to you? Who broke the Code of Secrecy?”
“That is… an interesting question, but no longer relevant,” Hugs says. “Suffice it to say that thanks to a conspiracy of fate, I now have in my possession the Eye of Tantalus. Only a Sorcerer with a loving heart could have opened the seal that held it prisoner, so thank you for doing that, Rob. The Eye is a very old, very dangerous magical object, and it can grant to non-magical humans the ability to cast spells, by giving us a power similar to your Sorcerer’s Gift. I can feel it inside of me already, twisting me, changing me. Soon I will no longer feel any pain at all. Soon the Eye will solve all my problems.”
“What problems do you even have?” I ask.
“You have no idea how angry I am!” Hugs screams, so loudly that I flinch as if struck. I can’t take this anymore. Even though I’m only fourteen years old, I am a very talented Sorcerer. It should be a simple matter for me to cast a magic spell to free myself and to destroy that creepy, disgusting eyeball, which is obviously full of evil magic. I can’t move my hands enough to reach the bag of spell ingredients I keep in my pocket; I struggle but the rope presses tight against my skin. All of my best magic spells require spell ingredients, so I try to think of a spell I can cast to break myself free without using my spell ingredients. A spell that turns light into knives occurs to me; I can use it to turn the sunlight coming from the window into a blade and then cut through the ropes that bind me. I whisper the words of an ancient language, move my fingertips in the most subtle, delicate, precise gesture, channel the heat of my life into a focus of intensity, and snap my fingers. The magic pours forth, and the light crystallizes into a golden sword—and then a bolt of liquid darkness spits out from the Eye and makes my spell fizzle out.
Damn, that thing is powerful! Do I remember something, reading about a legendary magical object once, an eye… what did it say? A curse? I can’t remember! That light-into-blades magic spell was the best magic spell that I can cast without using my spell ingredients, and it didn’t work! How in the world am I going to set myself free and defeat that scary Eye if it can cancel out my magic spells? So am I helpless? What should I do now? And what is Hugs going to do to me? Most evil magical objects can feed on the blood of murdered Sorcerers… but Hugs is my best friend, and he couldn’t possibly murder me. I am absolutely sure that Hugs couldn’t kill me. Could he? No! In fact, Hugs saved my life once: two years ago he and I were hiking in the woods and I tripped and fell down a hill. I hit my head when I landed and was knocked unconscious, and while I was falling I also cut my leg open on a rock, and my leg started to bleed. I came very close to bleeding to death, but Hugs took off his shirt and tied it around my leg to stop the bleeding, and then he picked me up and carried me out of the woods and got me to a hospital before it was too late. I don’t think Hugs could hurt me—but then, I didn’t think that he could hit me in the head and tie me up either. And even if Hugs won’t attack me, the evil magic in that disembodied eyeball might still try to kill me.
“Why are you so angry, Hugs?” I ask, both to stall him while I figure out a spell to defuse the Eye, and, far more importantly, because I genuinely want to know.
“It’s… it’s…” Hugs stutters, and then he forces it out: “Dixie.”
Dixie is the nickname of Emily Dickinson Smith, a really cute girl in our class. I asked her out about two months ago, and we’ve been dating ever since. She’s a nice girl, and it’s nice to have a girlfriend. But Hugs has never even met her, so I don’t understand his problem.
“What about Dixie?”
“I wanted her! Me! And you stole her away from me!”
“Is that what this is about?” I ask, shocked. “You’re jealous of me because of my girlfriend? Are you insane? You never even told me that you were interested in Dixie. How was I supposed to know that you liked her? Did you expect me to read your mind?”
“But… but you were my friend!” Hugs says, as if explaining something so obvious that only an idiot would not have known it. “You were supposed to know! You were supposed to let me have her, and she would have gone out with me, and it would have made me happy, blast it! And you took that away from me! Now, with the help of the Eye of Tantalus, I’m going to have my revenge. In the name of all that is unholy, I’m going to take back what was taken away from me! I’m going to rip the butterfly wings off of this world!”
“As far as I know, Hugs, you’ve never even said two words to Dixie,”
I say, as if explaining to a six-year-old the principle that people will get mad at you if you’re mean to them. “I don’t believe that you’ve ever met Dixie. You probably don’t even know her. And yet you’re going to get mad at me and resent me for an opportunity that you never even had?”
“Yes! Yes I am! It’s true that I’ve never met Dixie. But I’ve passed her in the hall and seen her in class, I’ve gazed at her from a distance, and from across the room I’ve looked into her eyes, her mesmerizing hazel eyes, eyes that laugh with joy. I like her, but I can’t have her because you got to her first. It’s your fault that Dixie isn’t my girlfriend; you should have given her to me! You should have let me have her!”
“Hugs, if you want a girl to go out with you, you have to at least be friendly to her and ask her out. You did nothing to help your cause. You have only yourself to blame.”
“Blame myself?” Hugs laughs bitterly, almost self-mockingly. “I would rather blame the world. And blame you too, Rob. I’m no longer satisfied with being human, and having fear, and anxiety, and weakness, and vulnerability, and the capacity to love and to be rejected and to be miserable. I want to be more than human. I want to be invincible. I’ve given up on wanting love as a hopeless cause; now I want power. And the Eye of Tantalus will give all of that to me. It’s a cursed item, you see: I’ve been cursed by it, and once the curse is complete I will no longer be a human being. I will become a Shadow.”
That sounds familiar; I did read about the Eye of Tantalus somewhere before. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember this: the Eye is one of the oldest, deadliest, most dangerous relics in the history of evil magic!
I recall reading something else, what was it… the Eye needs humans to be its agents and servants, it is helpless without them. Maybe if I can get Hugs to calm down and stop being angry then he will turn against the Eye and set me free, and then I’ll be able to cast a magic spell to obliterate that repugnant thing!
“Level with me, Hugs,” I say, on a direct appeal to the better side of the person who is my best friend in the whole world, although sometimes he scares me to shivers. “I’ve always tried to be a good friend to you. I’ve always tried to make you happy. Is this really about Dixie? Are you really going to be mad at me because of a girl? That would be so silly! Talk to me, Hugs. Open up. Cry. Tell me your darkest, worst, most horrific nightmare. Tell me your most sinful fear. Because I’m sure that no matter what, we can fight against it. And we can beat it. Together.” I am shaking with fear, but I somehow manage to sound confident and persuasive.
Hugs stares at me, as if dumbstruck by kindness. Then he grins at me, but it is a cold, damp smile.
“I’m not okay, Rob. I’m sad. I’m alone. And this thing is going to fix all my problems.”
“Is it that you’re depressed, is that it? Well, we can fix that. Let’s go walk to Calf Pasture Beach and have hamburgers and ice cream and maybe go for a swim, after we get rid of that Eye, and then we can forget about this whole thing.”
“My problems aren’t going to be solved so easily, you fool. This isn’t some spur of the moment pain. This is my life, Rob. My life is crap. I have a problem that you can’t help me with. I’m a pathetic loser and nobody likes me. No girl is ever going to go out with me. I’m hopeless. Dixie was just the last straw.”
“Don’t say that. I love you, Hugs. I like you more than anyone else in the whole world. So don’t feel like nobody loves you. Don’t feel lonely and unloved. I love you.”
“Don’t be gay, Rob.”
“I’m not being gay, and you can’t escape from this by making a stupid joke. I love you like a brother. You’re like the brother I don’t have. Lord knows that you’re better than the brother I do have.”
Hugs gets this squinty, squirmy look in his eyes, like what I said hurts him. Why is that? “You don’t have to let resentment take control of you,” I say. “You’re my best friend, and I can’t bear to see you like this. Let it go!”
“How dare you say that to me! This is all your fault!”
“How is this my fault?” I ask. I don’t understand what Hugs is getting at.
“You look so good that it makes me look bad, and I can’t stand looking bad,” Hugs says. “You’re so popular, Rob. You have so many friends. You know all the cool heavy metal rock music bands that everyone around here listens to. Everyone likes you. And lots of girls are interested in you, too. You’ve never known what’s it’s like to be alone. You’ve never known loneliness, or suffering, or depression. You have never experienced pain. You bask in the spotlight while I am condemned to the shadows. Sure, you’ve dragged me along behind you, invited me to your parties, introduced me to people, but I was always just a charity case to you. How dare you tell me what to do! How dare you tell me what to feel! Who are you to give advice to me, someone who experiences a life that you couldn’t possibly imagine? How dare you!”
I look around Hugs’s room, desperate for anything close by that I can use as spell ingredients to cast a combat magic spell. Something small and yellow is poking out from the edge of the top of the table whose leg my feet are bound to. From here on the floor I can’t quite see what it is. I kick my legs as hard as I can; the rope binding my feet holds tight but my kick shakes the table and a yellow pencil rolls off and falls on the floor. That pencil is now within range of my spell casting! Hugs looks puzzled and doesn’t seem to understand what I’m doing. I speak magic words and twirl my fingers in circles, and the pencil jumps up and elongates into a long sharp-tipped wooden spear surrounded by glowing streaks of blue light. The spear hovers in the air for a moment and then shoots towards the Eye’s jar; I am sure that my knight’s lance magic spell will pierce the Eye and banish its evil magic. The pencil-spear rockets across the room and is about to impale the Eye… suddenly there is a shadow of darkness and a wet, slurping, sucking noise… and my spear is incinerated by silver light and crumbles into sawdust.
Damn it, the Eye’s curse defeated my magic spell! I choke and gag from the stink of burnt pencil wood that now fills the room. The Eye is completely unharmed and there is nothing else nearby that I can possibly use as spell ingredients. I sense the Eye gloating over its victory—but this duel is not over yet! Right now I can’t overpower the Eye with the strength of my magic, but maybe I can defeat it by persuading Hugs to untie me so that I can reach my bag of spell ingredients.
“You’re all wrong, Hugs,” I say, as if trying to explain the theory of gravity to someone who is absolutely convinced that he can fly by jumping out the window. “You know me better than anyone and yet it seems like you don’t know me at all. Don’t you remember all those times I’ve complained to you about the problems I have? Don’t you? You have a very strange idea in your head about what kind of life I live, but I have all the problems that everyone else has, same as you. The only difference is that unlike you, I don’t whine about them and think that I’m special because I suffer. And when I feel sad, I do something to cheer myself up. Listen to you, complaining like that. Stop feeling so envious and let go of all this negativity. Get a grip!”
Hugs’s eyes change, instead of looking hurt they look mean and cold, and I see little lines of silver in his aura, which is normally green, strands of silver emanating from the Eye and crawling around the green aura like silver maggots. “Insulting me isn’t going to make things go any easier for you, Rob. Not in this situation. And I think that I know you very well. You’re one of the specials, the normals, the goods. You only think that you have problems because you only see yourself from the inside. From a purely objective point of view you live in Heaven and I am condemned to Hell.”
“So you think you’ve got me all figured out, huh?” I’m trying to be sympathetic, but Hugs is beginning to annoy me. It annoys me, not only that he’s tied me up and tricked me into unsealing the Eye, but also that he can’t open his eyes and see that the things he’s saying about pain and suffering are all nonsense, and the happiness he wants is right in front of him, just waiting for him to reach out and grab it… while his open hands rest limply at his sides.
“I do, Rob. And it wasn’t difficult; you’re very, well… very easy to understand. The story of your life has already been written, and it is simple. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy has children and grandchildren and grows old and dies after a happy, honest, decent life, a normal life. My story is quite different. My story is: Boy doesn’t meet girl. Boy’s best friend stabs him in the back and meets girl instead. Boy plots revenge. I don’t expect to win, Rob, in the sense that I have accepted that I may never be happy. But at least I’ll be able to share my suffering with the world, and if there is one cliché that is always relevant to being human, it is that misery loves company.”
“Stop complaining about not getting what you want like a spoiled four-year-old who didn’t get the gift that he wanted for Christmas!” I say, a note of frustrated anger mixing with the fear in my voice. “Get up, go, and take what you want. Grow up, Hugs. Act like a human being!”
“This is how human beings act!” Hugs replies. “What could be more human than weakness, and want, and need, and pain, and unsatisfied desires, and unrequited love? What could be more human than my suffering and my envy and my longing for revenge, my resentment’s revenge? Haven’t you ever wondered why the world is so messed up and miserable, Rob? The answer to that mystery, and also to the question of why I have chosen the Eye over you, is the same. I’ll tell you the answer, the open secret that everyone knows and no one dares to whisper: we all hate our lives, and we hate our lives because you, the successful, have stolen the honey-filled chocolates of joy and satisfaction from me, the pathetic failure! I am the Have-Not, the common man, the starving impoverished masses, the avenger of the unpopular and the weak and the helpless and the poor whom you took advantage of! And you are the Have, the special, the privileged, the popular, the happy, the greedy rich, you are the one who ruthlessly and selfishly dated the beautiful girl instead of giving her to me… so don’t accuse me of being strange or abnormal! I am normal, and you, with your super-human ability to resist suffering and to smile in the face of life’s insurmountable challenges, you are the freak! Freak, freak, freak!!!”
Hugs snarls at me like a growling bear, and my heart almost leaps out of my chest with fear. I can feel my heart racing, my nerves are absolutely on edge, and yet I can neither run away nor stand up and fight. I am tied up, bound and helpless. All I can do is sit here and try to reason with someone who has abandoned his reason—but this is Hugs, my best friend, and he is an intelligent rational guy! It must be the Eye of Tantalus that is making his thinking so bizarre and insane! If only I could figure out a spell to free my hands….
Hugs walks over to me, his hands clenched tightly into fists. He leans over me, so that I can see the ice-blue of his eyes and smell the bologna sandwich on his breath.
“It is also no secret,” Hugs says, “what every Have-Not wants to do to every Have: plunge a knife into your chest, cut out your heart, and throw it into a burning fire while you stare helplessly at the flames. It is, of course, purely idle speculation that Dixie might like you less if your nose were broken and you were missing an eye or half an ear—to say nothing of the fact that Dixie won’t be able to date you once you’re dead. The Eye wants me to kill you so that it can drink your blood. I don’t want to hurt you, Rob—at least, I don’t think that I do—but the Eye is telling me to do it, and there is something inside of me that cannot resist the Eye’s temptations. And maybe I… maybe I really do hate you enough to… to kill you….” Hugs notices the fear in my eyes and laughs at me, but then he starts to shake (with remorse?) and he slowly, deliberately walks back to his desk and sits down. He immediately becomes more comfortable and stable once he is back next to the Eye of Tantalus, and he actually reaches out and rests a hand on the Eye’s jar, as if he is leaning against the railing of a dangerous staircase.
“Who do you want revenge against, me or the world?” I ask. “Because you should know that you’ve already hurt me. I care about you, Hugs, and it hurts me to see you so sad, even though you’re completely wrong in having such a hopeless, pessimistic attitude about your love life, and about life in general. It pains me to know that you’re so bitter inside, and that I accidentally made things worse for you. If I’d had any idea that you liked Dixie I would have let you have her. All it would have taken was one tiny whispered word from you and you could have had her. But don’t resent the world just because you’re unhappy. If you’re sad, do something about it! I can fix you up on a date if you want. There are plenty of nice single girls at school. All you have to do is ask.”
“So, what, am I going to be your charity case forever, and have to rely on you to get what I want for the rest of my life? It’s not that simple! I don’t just want to date a girl, I want her to want me, to want me more than you, and that will never happen. And I have no interest in whatever crumbs you might throw at me to placate me. I want a world in which I am king and all the muck of toads and leeches of the world will bow before me! I want to be the center of attention, I want to be the star of every show! I don’t want to have to feel fear and doubt and pain anymore, I don’t want to have to be human and to work in order to be loved! The fact that I am expected to do work and risk rejection in order to make friends and find a girlfriend is an insult to me, it is like a slap in the face, and if that is what it means to be human then I refuse to accept my humanity. I want a gift of everything on a silver platter. I want the world on a fork! I deserve it too, and the Eye is going to give it all to me, it will make my dreams come true. The Eye will make me become a Shadow and then I will be better than human.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I’ve got to get through to him somehow. But how can you make a person listen when they don’t want to hear?
“You’re being lazy, Hugs, lazy and sloppy,” I say. “I respect you, and I expected better of you.”
“Lazy? You think I’m lazy? How could you of all people say that? You have it so easy, Rob: you were born with charisma, you have a quality that people gravitate towards. A girl takes one look at you and thinks to herself: ‘oh he’s so cute, I wish he were my boyfriend!’ I wasn’t born so lucky. I’m cursed, in a sense, because I’m not handsome and I’m not witty and I don’t attract people like a magnet. And I don’t need self-confidence; what I need is the Eye of Tantalus. The Eye will make things easier than doing work, and I’ll enjoy it more, too.”
“The fact that people don’t like you is all in your head. There’s nothing wrong with you and you don’t have to be unpopular. Stop crying and feeling sorry for yourself and start doing something constructive to improve your life—and constructive does not mean seeking revenge against the people whom you erroneously blame for your hardship. Have courage and take responsibility for yourself!”
“That was a simply charming motivational speech, Rob, but I’ve got real problems, problems that words alone cannot solve. I did not create my agony, it was given to me by this world, and the Eye is the only thing that can make me feel better. If I had the power to make things better, don’t you think I would have?” he asks me, with a note of genuine suffering slipping past his mask of bitterness and cruelty.
“You do have that power, Hugs! Your problem is a way of looking at the world, and if your problem is in your head then you can think it away. You’re afraid that people won’t like you and that the best you can do to make people happy won’t be good enough, so you’re rejecting the world before it can reject you, you’re launching a preemptive strike against your own angst. And I think that you’re better than that and you’re smarter than that. I think that you don’t have to doubt yourself so much. I know that you don’t have to be so sad and angry. I like you, and I only like nice, cool people. I’m your friend, and I’m going to help you fix your life. Now untie me and let me destroy that abominable Eye, and then let’s go get some hot fudge ice cream sundaes. What do you say?”
I’ve made a gamble, betting on a light mood to remind Hugs that I really am his friend; this could go either really well or really badly. I see a look of unimaginable pain in Hugs’s eyes, I see that I’ve reached him… but then Hugs leans his head to one side, as if listening intently to the Eye, and in the next instant the look of agony is replaced by a calm, cold, dead gaze of unwavering malice, a look of a fire of hatred that no love can quench. The Eye whispered something to Hugs in that moment, but I couldn’t hear what it said to him.
“Never! Do you hear me, Rob? I’ll never abandon the Eye of Tantalus! The Eye is my best friend now. You are no longer my best friend; you are my sworn enemy! The end of all life on this Earth, and the reign of the resentment of the unwanted, begins now. Welcome to my era, welcome to the era of… Hater Gator!”
A flicker of green light tinges the room, and he looks up at me with a sly, knowing, venomous look. The corners of his lips arch up in a bitter smile, and I see the color of his aura change: Hugs’s aura is normally a soft pastel green, but now it looks dark-green and reptilian, and it is covered with flecks of silver, like scales. “You can call me Hater Gator from now on; that is the name the Eye has bestowed upon me. And know this, Rob: the war between us has begun. And it won’t end until I win and you… fail.”
“Stop it, Hugs. Don’t do this. The Eye is evil, and it will destroy you. Listen to reason,” I beg, thinking of any spell I know that could defeat the Eye so that I can seal that disgusting thing back in the jar and then have a nice, long, deep conversation with Hugs, possibly ending in a good cathartic cry. This person standing here is not the real Hugs, I’m sure of it; it’s the influence of the Eye that’s doing this to him.
“Maybe I can’t use the Eye to make myself happy, but I’ll give it an honest try,” Hugs says. He pauses, listening to the Eye. “I had a plan for how to use the Eye, but the Eye has plans of its own, and now I am bound to obey. The Eye wants to make some new friends. Yes, this will be interesting, very interesting indeed. Ha ha ha!”
I don’t like that smirk-sounding chuckle, that innuendo that the Eye is going to try to take over the world, and the strands of silver in his aura are growing, there are more of them, almost as though they’re multiplying before my eyes. What have I done? What in the world have I done?
Clearly the Eye has taken control of Hugs… although I still don’t understand how right under my nose the person whom I care about most in the world could have totally lost his self-confidence and spiraled down to this. I don’t understand why Hugs is letting the Eye do this to him, letting it play his anger like a flute… but in any case, Hugs isn’t the problem, it’s the Eye of Tantalus that’s the real threat. I’ve got to destroy it before it warps Hugs’s mind, I’ve got to keep the evil magic from asserting itself and trying to take over the world. Hugs is just a pawn, the Eye is the source of the evil, and like most evil magical objects the Eye wants world domination. It must be stopped. And if it comes down to a duel of magic between me and the Eye… I can win. I hope.
There is one other powerful magic spell that I can cast without my spell ingredients, but I hadn’t seriously considered it before because of how dangerous it is. I think about my best spell, the most dangerous spell I know, a glittering fireball of annihilation. The spell is an ancient secret that my mother taught to me for use only in desperate emergencies (on the condition that I never tell my father that I learned it from her). I can cast it without saying magic words or making magical gestures, and the only ingredients it needs are the air around me and the warmth of my skin. It would be an act of desperation; it could blow a hole in the wall and make the whole room catch fire. But I am a talented Sorcerer; I can cast the fireball spell at the Eye to destroy it, and then, once the Eye can’t block my spells anymore, I can grab Hugs and teleport away before the room burns down. It’s risky… but I can’t let the Eye get away, I must save the world. The Eye of Tantalus is an evil, icky thing, and the human race cannot be happy until it is destroyed.
“The Eye senses what you are planning,” Hugs says; the tone of his voice is now monotonous and emotionless. “You won’t be allowed to stop us. The Eye wants me to kill you. But perhaps, in the spirit of all the good times we had, all the video games and the hot dogs at the beach, and that time I threw you into the pool… one last moment of mercy before I plunge the dagger of darkness into your heart….”
Hugs lifts his arm and a silver light flows from the Eye into Hugs’s hand. He twists his fingers in the intricate twirls of a teleportation spell and then he opens his mouth and utters an ancient word. I can’t let him cast that magic spell! No! No!!!
“No, Hugs! Let me help you! Please! Together we can defeat the Eye, and you will be happy!”
“Goodbye, for now, Rob Seablue,” Hugs says. “Don’t be surprised if I am different and less merciful when I see you next. And by the way, my name is Hater Gator now, not Hugs.”
The teleportation spell lifts me up, and I fly at the speed of light and am dumped on the damp early autumn ground of my front yard. The front of my house is so white that it makes my eyes hurt; Hugs’s house, and the Eye of Tantalus, are on the other side of town. Now that I am no longer within range of the Eye’s anti-magic bolts I use a spell to cut the ropes binding me. I stand up, straighten my shirt collar, and stagger through the front door of my house.
“Where have you been?!” my father screams at me as soon as I’m inside the house. He is sitting in his armchair, smoking a pipe; my mother is sitting across from him on the sofa, knitting a scarf. The scarf is bright red; I hope she’s making it for me.
“Out,” I say.
“Were you anywhere near the old Clayscott mansion today?” he asks.
“No, Dad. Why?”
“Rob, are you telling us the truth?” Mom asks, with a tone of motherly concern in her voice.
“Yes, of course. Why? What happened?”
My father is silent; my mother turns towards us.
“Something very dangerous was stolen from—” “Stop!” Dad interrupts Mom.
“What is it?” I ask. “What was stolen?”
“Nothing,” Dad replies.
“Well, it can’t be nothing, Mom just said it was something. What is it?”
“This doesn’t concern you. Just stay away from the Clayscott mansion.”
“Whatever you want, Dad,” I say. The Clayscott mansion is haunted; I would never go near it. I go up to my room and think frantically about what to do about the Eye of Tantalus. What am I supposed to do? I don’t dare to tell my parents about it; if my father knew that I opened that jar he would explode like a volcano. I’m the most talented Sorcerer in my family, I’m one of the most powerful Sorcerers in our whole hidden community in Connecticut, and even I could not defeat the Eye; I was not strong enough. Is the world doomed? Will we all become the Eye’s slaves?
A thought pops into my head and I can’t resist it: I failed him. I did not save him. Despite what he did to me today, Hugs is my favorite person in the whole world. I like him more than anyone else, I would do anything for him. I must help Hugs somehow… but how can I save him? What did the Eye say to him? If I could just figure that out then I would know what to do, I would know what to say to Hugs… but I have no idea what it is about the Eye that has hypnotized him. Hugs is a good person, and I don’t understand why he is allowing the Eye to use him. I felt such hatred in him, such snowy, stormy, hopeless rage, in a person who up until recently had always been kind and warm. Where did his hate come from all of a sudden?
Up until now I’ve always felt competent and capable, as though this world could not throw any horror at me so gloomy that I could not overcome it, as though there could never be a problem so severe that it could not be defeated, as if every darkness will eventually yield to a new sunrise. But the Eye of Tantalus looms before me like a riddle that cannot be answered, like a mystery incapable of being understood—and I don’t believe that such a thing is possible. For the first time in my entire life, I am helpless and ignorant. I’ve faced evil magic before, but this time is different. I’ve never faced a malice like the Eye. Can I possibly handle this problem? Can I somehow figure out Hugs and save him before it’s too late?
Yes I can!
(At least, I hope I can….)
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