Ch. 8: What can you see when you’re not looking for it?
Does it really help to squint?
Without hesitation, without a concern about what might be down in the darkness, without a concern about who this woman was, Dec descended into the square hole in the floor. So much for Stranger Danger.
“I can’t see anything,” Dec said. “Oh wait, I see something like a dome or, wait, an upside-down dome,” he looked back up to Lu and Margaret. “I’m going down.” He took each blind step of the steep staircase with care, but without fear. Lu, inspired by Dec’s determination, was right on top of him. Literally.
“Ow! You stepped on my finger!” Dec said.
“Sorry. Hey, can you see the bottom of the stairs?” Lu asked.
“I think so, I’m just going to go down until I can feel the ground,” he said.
Dec and Lu made their way down the stairs and Margaret squeezed her round self into the floor as she had done many times before. When they all made it to the bottom, their eyes adjusted to the darkness and they saw a dome of dull light in the center of the room. There were metal supports making the dome look like a glowing garlic flower with five panels of light. The music was pounding and the dull dome looked like it was alive, like tiny creatures were living in it.
“I need you boys to close your eyes,” she said. In a freak deviation of science, the boys did what they were told without hesitation and question, without whining and annoyance.
“We sure close our eyes a lot in this place,” Dec said with his eyes closed.
“I need your eyes to adjust to the darkness,” she said.
“Shouldn’t I keep my eyes open for that?” Lu asked.
“Give me a second here, boys, keep your eyes closed and I’m going to close the hatch we just came through. That will block all light from the hallway above,” she spoke as she moved and the boys heard her bustling about. They heard the secret door creak and close with a solid thump. “Keep your eyes closed for just a few more seconds, I’m also closing my eyes,” she said and there was only the sound of the music below.
“Just a bit more. The dome in this room is made of a mirrored and magnified glass where you can see through one side, but not from the other. If you look in certain parts, objects seem far away, but if you move slightly, it’s as if they’re up close,” she whispered and the boys took in every word.
“There are also colored glass sections of the dome so that when you move or when objects below move, they change colors.” The boys looked to her with interest, but not sure where she was going. “Our eyes need to adjust to the exact wavelength of the light and dark balance where the glass will seem to change. OK, you can open your eyes now, lads.”
“It doesn’t look different to me,” Lu said immediately.
“Keep watching,” she said. He did. Dec blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Keep watching,” she said again as if the boys had anything else to do.
“Whoa, wait a minute,” Lu said. “Dec, do you see it?”
“No, what do you see?” Dec asked, and he tried to look harder, which never really works. “Oh, I see it.” They looked at the dome and it turned into a screen like an outdoor theater. It moved with blobs of color and occasionally it was very clear and they could clearly see someone’s face or dress or even what was on a platter.
Lu stood in front of one of the panels and looked down. There was a large circle or oval shaded in the panel.
“Hey, those aren’t bugs, those are people!” Lu said excitedly. The dome turned into a 360-degree movie house.
“Is that the party?” Dec asked. Dec had a large stripe on his panel going from almost the top to almost the bottom.
“It is,” Margaret whispered, but her voice was near and the music was below so her whisper floated into their ears. For all of the noise below, they found they didn’t have to talk loud to be heard. The music below was deep and thunderous, but her voice was whispery and light. Somehow, they could hear both.
“It’s like a movie, but maybe an old-fashioned movie,” Lu noted, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of the light. “It’s like a magnifying glass, people get bigger and then smaller and I can see a close up of a face but then there’s a blur of someone else,” he stopped and looked at Margaret, but didn’t ask what he was thinking.
“Duh, that’s what she said a second ago, Lu,” Dec reminded Lu.
“Keep watching,” she said.
“Are we looking for something?” Dec asked.
“Just keep watching,” she said.
“You like us to figure stuff out on our own, don’t you?” Dec asked. She smiled and didn’t say anything.
“Why are people different colors?” Lu asked. “I mean, like blues and pinks, like they’re glowing.”
“What do you see that you aren’t looking at?” Margaret asked.
“Uh, that means no sense,” Lu answered.
“You know when you look in a window and sometimes you see what’s through the window, but sometimes you see the reflection on your side of the window. Then sometimes, you even see the window itself and can see the dust or streaks on it,” Margaret spoke like a teacher, but a teacher that you wanted to listen to because you knew she had some cool stuff to teach you.
Lu moved to the next panel away from Dec. Through it were bouncing lights and hazy bodies moving around below them. On the glass was another shape, this time a circle with a line going up the right side of it. It looked a bit like the letter ‘d.’
“Then there are groups of people and the whole group is one color, but maybe one person is a different color,” Dec said.
“Look at that guy, he’s really lit up like a light bulb is in his head,” Lu said.
“Hey, maybe that’s my dad,” Dec said. “Let me see where you are.” Dec moved over next to Lu and they watched as the silhouettes and glowing beings danced and walked below. Without warning, Dec’s dad’s face took up almost an entire section of the dome then went away as soon as it came. It was as if the glass had parts of it that were fuzzy binoculars and could see far away but then other parts of the glass were like microscopes and there were detailed close ups of even people’s faces or heads. “Whoa, it is my dad! Oh, and there’s Em, too. Hey Dad! Dad!” he yelled, but their voices went nowhere outside of the room. “Are they dancing?” The close ups went away.
“Your dad is a terrible dancer,” Lu said to Dec who was only inches from his head. Neither could take their eyes off of the dome of light. “But maybe he’s so bright because he’s sweaty and dancing really hard. Maybe it’s like a heat sensor.”
“Maybe he’s a light color because he’s really happy,” Dec said before he could think about what he said.
Before Lu could say something witty, his mouth opened and said, “That’s cool, Dec.” He looked over at Dec, but Dec was glued to the glow. “You have a really cool dad. He tackles us every time he comes to visit my dad. But like really tackles us hard and pounds us into the ground like a pile driver,” Lu thought he needed to clarify. “I mean, I don’t really know what a pile driver is, but that’s what your dad says he’s doing when he’s pounding us into the ground,” Lu said but Dec’s face was looking a little concerned.
“No, it’s really fun, he’s not really hurting us. It’s so fun.” Lost in his dreams of back home, he kept going. “Sometimes, I’ll go downstairs when your dad is visiting and wake him up so he can walk with us to school.” Dec looked at Lu, but didn’t need to say anything. They returned their attention to the glow show below.
“Hey, you have a letter ‘d’ on your screen,” Dec said.
“Well, if that’s a ‘d’ then maybe that other one is an ‘l,'” Lu noted.
“Look at that girl there, she’s dancing like a maniac,” Dec said. “Is that your mom?” he said and gave Lu a shove with his shoulder.
“What are they doing over there?” Lu asked no one. They watched in silence as the party below bounced and twinkled. People below came into view and faded out, colors changed and the intensity of the brightness went from dull to shiny. “There’s a train of people following each other. Look, they’re holding onto each other. Dude, we did that in kindergarten.” The boys both laughed and Lu put up his fist for a fist bump, but then when Dec didn’t react immediately, he asked, “Do you guys fist bump in China?”
“Of course,” Dec said, and gave Lu a light bump and a nod. They turned their attention back to the glowing dome that took up much of the room. They both moved to new panels.
“This one has another stripe,” Dec said.
“Mine has, I don’t know, it’s a line with like an arm or a tree branch coming out of it,” Lu said. “Look.”
“Oh, maybe it’s the letter ‘r,'” Dec guessed.
A dark purple glowing blob made its way through the crowd. It had a shiny silver orb in front of it. Dec pointed it out in case Lu hadn’t noticed it, “What’s that shiny thing and the big purple … ” he was interrupted by Lu.
“I see it, but I don’t know,” Lu jumped in. “Why is it so much darker than the others? Most of the other colors are lighter and that one is so dark. Maybe it’s just their clothes.”
“It’s like pulsating,” Dec said.
“Like it’s alive,” Lu said.
“Well, it is alive, right. I mean, it’s a person,” Dec added.
At that moment, the purple glow must have passed the part of the glass that was the magnifier. The boys could see that the silver shine was a serving tray, but what followed came in slow motion.
First came the purple. Royal and deep, but also electric like a thousand tiny snakes were crawling in and out of his black jacket. The magnifier exaggerating everything and the boys followed the movement of the man as the full panel of the dome was covered by just the sleeve of his jacket as his arm stretched out to carry the silver tray.
It moved up his arm and it was so clear they could see the creases in the elbow of his jacket. Then a large bicep, then the shoulder, a chest and skin. The screen went blurry for a second and the boys unconsciously moved their heads in closer and focused their vision to try to follow this scene. Then it came back into focus and a face as tall as the room was in front of them like King Kong looking into the Chrysler Building.
The first second was just shock to the boys as the face was so clear, so huge and so close. But within just another second, the shock took their breath out of their lungs like a vacuum as they had zero question about who it was.
As if they needed any confirmation, Dec whispered the name, “Killian.”
As the syllables came through his lips, the movement below stopped and the screen was mostly the top of his head. A black cap with wisps of gray hair coming out from all angles. The cap then moved in other direction from where he had previously been heading, but they could quickly tell that he was no longer walking, but just moving his head back.
They saw the full blackness of his cap in the screen, then the brim of the cap, then a forehead of skin so detailed they could pluck out eyebrow hairs and pick a mole with their fingers. Killian’s head rolled back as if he was falling backwards, but he wasn’t falling, his body was still straight up. No, he was just looking around or looking up.
As soon as the boys realized that this face was looking up, the largest eyeball the kids had ever seen filled the three panels of the dome in front of them. As if it was a show just for them, as if he was looking up. As if he was looking up into the dome. As if he was looking up and could see. As if he knew who was above the dome, maybe he even knew about the dome and the special glass and maybe he even knew who was up there. If you knew where to look, could you see people above?
The eyeball said so much. At first, it was searching, scouting around, trying to see. It squinted and focused. It was so clear, the boys could see the pupil dilate and the red blood vessels in the eye move and grow. Finally, it seemed to lock in place, it had found its focus and this 8-foot tall eyeball was looking right into the boys’ eyes, looking right into their heads.
The eye softened, the eyelid came over it slightly. Maybe he was smiling. Why was he smiling? Was this like a, ‘Hey boys! How’s it going up there?’ type of smile with a friendly eyeball squish? Or was it a ‘Hey boys, I hope you’re enjoying it up there in the dark. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night. That is, if you live that long.’ That kind of smile?
Dec swallowed. Lu’s mouth was open and he wasn’t yet breathing again. The giant eyeball then winked.
The dome went blurry, the eyeball rolled away, then the cap, then the purple, then back to the colorful moving Skittles all over the place.
Lu started breathing again. Dec tried to swallow but couldn’t. The boys turned simultaneously and looked at each other, but had no words. Only Dec had a word.
But she didn’t answer. They looked slowly around. The room wasn’t that large. They glanced over at the other side of the dome. They looked around and up and down.
She was gone.