“My eyes! They stabbed out my eyes!”
I shoot awake. Start to struggle up from my bed. An arm hits the side of my head. Knocks me down. A man screams, “My eyes! Who took my eyes?”
“Dervish!” I roar, rolling off the bed, landing beside the feet of my frantic uncle. “It’s only a dream! Wake up!”
“My eyes!” Dervish yells again. I can see his face now, illuminated by a three-quarters full moon. Eyes wide open, but seeing nothing. Fear scribbled into every line of his features. He lifts his right foot. Brings it down towards my head—hard. I make like a turtle and only just avoid having my nose smashed.
I swipe at his hand, yanking my neck away at the same time. Break free. Scrabble backwards. Halted by the bed. Dervish lunges after me. I kick at his head, both feet. No time to worry about hurting him. Connect firmly. Drive him back. He grunts, shakes his head, loses focus.
“Dervish!” I shout. “It’s me, Grubbs! Wake up! It’s only a nightmare! You have to stop before you—”
“The master,” Dervish cuts in, fear filling his face again. He’s staring at the ceiling—rather, that’s where his eyes are fixed. “Lord Loss.” He starts to cry. “Don’t… please… not again. My eyes. Leave them alone. Please…”
“Dervish,” I say, softly this time, rising, rubbing the side of my head where he hit me, approaching him cautiously. “Dervish. Derv the perv—where’s your nerve?” Knowing from past nights that rhymes draw his attention. “Derv on the floor—where’s the door? Derv without eyes— what’s the surprise?”
He blinks. His head lowers a fraction. Sight returns gradually. His pupils were black holes. Now they look quasi-normal.
“It’s OK,” I tell him, moving closer, wary in case the nightmare suddenly fires up again. “You’re home. With me. Lord Loss can’t get you here. Your eyes are fine. It was just a nightmare.”
“Grubbs?” Dervish wheezes.
“That’s really you? You’re not an illusion?
“Don’t be stupid. Not even Michelangelo could sculpt a face this perfect.”
Dervish smiles. The last of the nightmare passes. He sits on the floor and looks at me through watery globes. “How you doing, big guy?”
“Did I hurt you?” he asks quietly.
“You couldn’t if you tried,” I smirk, not telling him about the hit to the head, the hand on my throat, the foot at my face.
I sit beside him. Drape an arm around his shoulders. He hugs me tight. Murmurs, “It was so real. I thought I was back there. I…”
And then he weeps, sobbing like a child. And I hold him, talking softly as the moon descends, telling him it’s OK, he’s home, he’s safe—he’s no longer in the universe of demons.
Never trust fairy tales. Any story that ends with “They all lived happily ever after” is a crock. There are no happy endings. No endings, full stop. Life goes on. There’s always something new around the corner. You can overcome major obstacles, face great danger, look evil in the eye and live to tell the tale—but that’s not the end. Life sweeps you forward, swings you round, bruises and batters you, drops some new drama or tragedy in your lap, never lets go until you get to the one true end—death. As long as you’re breathing, your story’s still going.
If the rules of fairy-tales
I had to write a short autobiography for an English assignment recently. A snappy, zappy summing-up of my life. I had to discard my first effort—it was too close to the bone, and would have only led to trouble if I’d handed it in. I wrote an edited, watered-down version and submitted that instead. (I got a B minus.) But I kept the original. It’s hidden under a pile of clothes in my wardrobe. I dig it out now to read, to pass some time. I’ve read through it a lot these past few weeks, usually early in the morning, after an interrupted night, when I can’t sleep.
“What are you reading?”
It’s Dervish, standing in the doorway of my room, mug of coffee in one hand, eyes still wide and freaky from his nightmare.
“My autobiography,” I tell him.
He frowns. “What?”
“I’m going to publish my memoirs. I’m thinking of
Dervish stares at me uneasily. “You’re weird,” he mutters, then trudges away.
“Wonder where I get that from?” I retort, then shake my head and return to the autobiography.
“Are you coming down for breakfast?” Dervish yells from the bottom of the giant staircase which links the floors of the mansion where we live.
“In a minute!” I yell back. “I’ve just come to the bit when you zombied out on me.”
“Stop messing about!” he roars. “I’m scrambling eggs and if you’re not down in sixty seconds, too bad!”
Damn. He knows all my weaknesses.
“Coming!” I shout, getting up and reaching for my clothes, tossing the bio aside for later.
Dervish does a mean scrambled egg. Best I’ve ever tasted. I finish off a plateful without stopping for breath, then eagerly go for seconds. I’m built on the big side—a mammoth compared to most of my schoolmates—with an appetite to match.
Dervish is wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt. No shoes or socks. His grey hair is frizzled, except on top, where he’s bald as a snooker ball. Hasn’t shaved (he used to have a beard, but got rid of it recently). Doesn’t smell good—sweaty and stale. He’s this way most days. Has been ever since he came back.
“You eating that or not?” I ask. He looks over blankly from where he’s standing, close to the hob. He’s been staring out the window at the grey autumn sky, not touching his food.
“Huh?” he says.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
He looks down at his plate. Smiles weakly. Sticks his fork into the eggs, stirs them, then gazes out of the window again. “I remember the nightmare,” he says. “They cut my eyes out. They were circling me, tormenting me, using my empty sockets as—”
“Hey,” I stop him, “I’m a kid. I shouldn’t be hearing this. You’ll scar me for life with stories like that.”
Dervish grins, warmth in it this time. “Take more than a scary story to scar you,” he grunts, then starts to eat. I help myself to thirds, then return to the autobiography, not needing the sheet of paper to finish, able to recall it perfectly.
Except, of course, it wasn’t. Life isn’t a fairy tale. Stories don’t end. Before she left, Meera took me aside and warned me to be careful. She said there was no way to predict Dervish’s state of mind. According to the recorded accounts of the few who’d gone through the same ordeal as him, it often took a person a long time to settle after a one-on-one encounter with Lord Loss. Sometimes they never properly recovered.
“We don’t know what’s going on inside his head,” she whispered. “He looks fine, but that could change. Watch him, Grubbs. Be prepared for mood-swings. Try and help. Do what you can. But don’t be afraid to call me for help.”
I did call when the nightmares started, when Dervish first attacked me in his sleep, mistook me for a demon and tried to cut my heart out. (Luckily, in his delirium, he picked up a spoon instead of a knife.) But there was nothing Meera could do, short of cast a few calming spells and recommend he visit a psychiatrist. Dervish rejected that idea, but she threatened to take me away from him if he didn’t. So he went to see one, a guy who knew about demons, who Dervish could be honest with. After the second session, the psychiatrist rang Meera and said he never wanted to see Dervish again—he found their sessions too upsetting.
Meera discussed the possibility of having Dervish committed, or hiring bodyguards to look after him, but I rejected both suggestions. So, against her wishes, we carried on living by ourselves in this spooky old mansion. It hasn’t been too bad. Dervish rarely gets the nightmares more than two or three times a week. I’ve grown used to them. Waking up in the middle of the night to screams is no worse than being disturbed by a baby’s cries. Really it isn’t.
And he’s not that much of a threat. We keep the knives locked away and have bolted the other weapons in the mansion—it’s dotted with axes, maces, spears, swords, all sorts of cool stuff—to the walls. I usually keep my door locked too, to be safe. The only reason it was open last night was that Dervish had thrown a fit both nights before and it’s rare for him to fall prey to the nightmares three times in a row. I thought I was safe. That’s why I didn’t bother with the lock. It was my fault, not Dervish’s.
“I will kill him for you, master,” Dervish says softly.
I lower my fork. “What?”
He turns, blank-faced, looking like he did when his soul was fighting Lord Loss. My heart rate quickens. Then he grins.
“Asshole!” I snap. Dervish has a sick sense of humour.
I get back to wolfing down my breakfast and Dervish tucks into his, not caring that the scrambled eggs are cold. We’re an odd couple, a big lump of a teenager like me playing nursemaid to a balding, mentally disturbed adult like Dervish. And yeah, there are nights when he really frightens me, when I feel like I can’t take it any more, when I cry. It’s not fair. Dervish fought the good fight and won. That should have been the end of it. Happily ever after.
But stories don’t end. They continue as long as you’re alive. You just have to get on with things. Turn the page, start a new chapter, find out what’s in store for you next, and keep your fingers crossed that it’s not