Travelling from modern day Europe and North American to ancient Greece, the stories in Marianne Micros's collection Eye (Guernica Editions) are steeped in myth and magic. Her characters deal with changelings and the evil eye even as they go about their regular lives, bringing the fantastical into the everyday in a chilling, fascinating balance. Micros's is a world where we ignore magic at our peril, and where the magic we try to bury won't stay covered long - sometimes literally.
Today we're excited to present an exclusive except from Eye. This passage tells the story of a boy named Panayotis who finds himself burdened with a fantastical ability, and the effect on his family and the people of his town.
Excerpt from Marianne Micros's Eye (Guernica Editions):
THE BOY, COMING in from swimming, found a man’s head in the water, caught in the sand near shore. His feet kicked into the head, and he pulled it out. The eyes, wide open and deep blue, stared at him solemnly and wisely. The boy stared back, as if hypnotized, then felt the goose pimples start crawling over his dripping body. He dug a hole in a corner of the beach, behind a rock, and buried the head, eyes downward, staring into the earth.
Frightened, the boy started to climb the steps leading up to a ruined fortress at the top. His body and shorts were drying already in the hot sun, as he walked across the cobblestones of the main street and headed upwards. He hurried past the shops and small houses, in fear that his mother would see him and call him to come do his chores.
“Yiasou, yiasou, Panayot’.” An old toothless man hailed the boy as he ran by, old Lefteris, who had lost his mind years ago but knew everyone’s name. Panayotis nodded to him abruptly. Strange images were jumping through his mind, but he couldn’t sort out the colours and shapes. Then he saw Lefteris dead, lying in the middle of the street, while a donkey cart hurried off into the distance. Panayotis was frightened that such a horrible scene would come into his mind, and ran until he reached the fortress at the top of the village.
Now he could look down at what was real, the village of Molivos that climbed uphill, houses jumbled like broken puzzle pieces, the blue sea and sky joined together as one, the distant brown of the land of Turkey. The people of this island, Mytilene, or Lesbos, still considered the Turks their enemies, and every day expected an invasion. After years of domination, they could not believe they would be free forever, even now in 1937. Sometimes someone would see movement down on the shore and yell, “The Turks are coming,” and everyone would go to their hideouts, hidden caves in the mountains. But these were always false alarms.
These ruins had once been a fortress against the Turks, then a fortress of the Turks, but now were mostly underground or broken apart. This was his favourite place in Molivos; he liked it better than the beach, or the fisherman’s cove, because he could see so much here. Here he could dream of his future, of being a ship’s captain, of owning a store, of living in Athens, or even of going to America, where the streets were paved with gold. Sometimes he came here to escape his mother’s orders, or his father’s bad temper, or his schoolteacher’s anger when his work was not done. They were always bothering him, when all he really wanted to do was swim or sit in the fortress. This was his castle, where he was the king.
His eyes moved downward, from tier to tier of houses, down to the shore. Panayotis often played this game — trying to make his eyes travel very slowly, to hold them back from dashing to the view of the sea — but the sea always won. This time his eyes stopped, however, at the street of the marketplace, where he thought he saw a body lying in the road. And, yes, there was a donkey cart rushing off. He covered his eyes with his hand and looked again. It was a body and people were running toward it.
Panayotis ran down the steps, down and down, until he reached the crowd. He pushed his way through and saw on the ground Lefteris’ mangled body. He heard his mother shouting, “Panayot’, ella tho, come away from there.” She put him to work bringing in buckets of water and feeding the animals, as she clucked at the perverse curiosity of small boys.
The small boy, his dark eyes troubled, brought in the buckets of water and poured them into the large barrel. The little house was filled with bustle as his mother cleaned and scrubbed with his two sisters helping. While Panayotis fed the animals, the women rolled and kneaded large lumps of dough which they would take to the village oven to bake. Panayotis’ father was in the mountains, milking the goats, and after that he would be working in his garden.
But the boy was hardly aware of what his family was doing. He was trying too hard to keep back the shadowy images that kept playing across his brain, to ignore the guilt and horror that had not quite come to the surface, the fear that his thoughts were murderers. Occasionally the blurred images almost came into focus, and Panayotis thought he saw this house, that his father had build with his own hands, in ruins like the castle.
“It is time to read to your grandmother,” his mother called, and Panayotis washed up, dressed in his better clothes, and went next door. Old Yiayiá sat contentedly, her wrinkled hands in her lap. There were a million wrinkles on her face, and her blind eyes were tightly closed into thousands of crow’s feet. She smiled when she heard her grandson enter. “Is it you, Panayot’, my child?”
“Yes, Yiayiá, I am here.” Panayotis picked up the torn Bible and began to read. He read without understanding what he was saying. He felt guilty at his lack of interest in the Bible, and then another kind of guilt edged its way to the surface, making him feel twinges of fear. He stuttered over the words.
“What is the matter, my boy? Something is not right with you, I can tell. Tell your Yiayiá all about it, your Yiayiá who loves you so much.”
“I am afraid, Yiayiá, of losing you someday, you are so old.” It was true, he could see her in his mind, stretched out in her coffin, in her good black dress, and people throwing flowers on her.
“Ach, Panayot’. We must all die someday. And I will be ready to join my Yiannis, and the other Panayotis, your uncle, when the time comes. You must not miss me, but grow up to be a fine man, like your father and his brothers. Now help me to my bed, I am tired.”
Panayotis let her lean on him, then covered her and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled at him from her pillow. Panayotis was so quiet for the rest of the day that his mother kept feeling his head to see if he had a fever. Finally it was bedtime and Panayotis fell asleep in spite of his spinning thoughts, hoping that the next day would be better.
But when he awoke the next morning, his mother came in to tell him that his grandmother had died in the night.
Panayotis dashed from the room, crashing into his father as he tried to run outside. “Stop, boy,” his father yelled. “She was very old. We all must die sometime.” He ran past his sisters, who were quietly weeping in the courtyard, and into his grandmother’s house to see if it were true. She was lying peacefully on her bed, with lighted candles flickering around her, and three mourners sitting by the bed, weeping and mumbling. “I have done this,” he thought. “But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want her to die.”
He could not face his family. Although he still wore his pyjamas, he ran and ran, out of the village, out into the country, stumbling on the large rocks. He slowed down to a walk then, and walked for two hours, until he found a hiding place in a chasm which had been caused by an earthquake.
“Wake up, Yiayiá,” he cried loudly to the air. “Come back to life. Please.” He lay down and cried until he fell asleep.
When he woke up, it was already afternoon, and he felt pangs of hunger. As if in answer to a call, a goat’s bell tinkled not far away. Panayotis crawled silently to the place where he had heard the bell, hid, then pounced on a runaway goat, ready to be milked. He chased after the frightened animal, caught her, and squirted milk into his mouth. He was still hungry, but the milk helped, and he let the goat go. She jumped away, then stopped, and settled herself at a short distance from Panayotis, staring
at him cautiously, as if she were making sure that he would not run away from her.
Visions started to jump through the boy’s head again, and, in order to stop them, he walked around, picking up stones. After he had accumulated a pile of stones, he began making a circle out of them, building a ring of protection for himself. He pretended he was building a house, a castle maybe, or a fortress, but he couldn’t pile the stones very high without their falling down. He climbed out of the chasm to see if anyone was coming, but saw no one, and slipped back down into his hiding place.
He thought of his grandmother and how she had encouraged him to read and to go to school. He remembered the old stories she used to tell him — especially the one about the man who had put out the eye of a giant and had told the giant his name was “no man.” When the giant was asked who had done this to him, he had replied, “No man did it.” Panayotis thought that perhaps he should call himself “no man.” He would build his own castle, high on a mountaintop, and tell everyone that no man lived there. He could then be alone.
He thought of what his family would be doing now. They would be crying over his grandmother’s body, praying in the candlelight, and guarding her so that no evil spirits would hurt her. If a cat jumped over her body, she would not decay, and her dead body would arise and walk at night. That would not be so bad; he could talk to her then. Panayotis considered taking a cat into the room. Then he began to cry again, and cried himself to sleep.
It was dark when he awoke, and he heard shouting in the distance. He crouched down behind the rocks, hoping the searchers would not see him. They came closer and closer. “Panayot’. Panayot’.” His mother was there; he could hear her crying. He couldn’t stand the crying and shouted, “Mamá. Babá.” His father lifted him up in his arms, crying too, and the party joyfully headed home, followed by the lost goat.
When he was in his room, warm and fed, and the other children asleep, his mother asked him why he had run away. “We are all sorry that Yiayiá has died, but we do not run away.”
“I am a murderer. My thoughts are murderers.” He told his parents of the visions, of what he had seen. “And I see them all the time,” he added. “Right now Mrs. Papagiani is ready to have her baby, and she will have a girl by tomorrow morning.”
His mother shrieked. “Yes! She is ready to have her baby. I saw her husband tonight, and he said any time now.”
“Perhaps he has the evil eye,” she whispered.
“Little boys do not have the evil eye,” his father yelled angrily, “but they do receive the evil eye. Someone has put the eye upon him, in jealousy of his good looks and intelligence.”
His mother brought a glass of water and put three drops of oil into it. The oil dispersed. “He does not have the eye,” she said. “But to be sure I will take him to Kyria Ourania tomorrow morning. Whatever is wrong, she will heal him. You go to sleep now, poulaki.” She pinched her son’s cheek. “And do not worry. I am sure you are no murderer. You loved your Yiayiá. You would not hurt a fly.”
She left, making the sign of the cross three times. His father patted him, then followed her.
In the morning, after his milk, Panayotis was cleaned and dressed and brushed, and he and his mother set off for Kyria Ourania’s hut, which was up high near the fortress. Her house was filled with chickens and the smell of herbs. Kyria Ourania was stirring an odd-smelling mixture in a pot over the fire.
“Kalimera. And what can I do for you? Is the boy sick?”
The old lady sat down with them. She wore bright colours, unlike other old women, and a white bandanna over her grey hair. While Panayotis’ mother told her the story, Kyria Ourania clucked and grunted and shook her head.
“Perhaps the boy has a gift,” she concluded. “Perhaps you will take my place, boy,” she said, a bit threateningly. “I cannot see as much as you have seen. And, by the way, Mrs. Papagiani had a fine baby girl at 3 o’clock this morning.” Kyria Ourania gurgled in her throat and smacked her lips.
“Do you hurt anyplace?” she asked.
Panayotis shook his head.
“Lie down. I will try a charm, but I cannot promise it will help.”
The old lady made the sign of the cross all over the boy’s head and body with a swab dipped in oil, herbs, and dung, and chanted a spell three times. Then she chanted two other spells three times each.
“When did you start seeing these things?”
“It started when I found the head.”
“The head, Panayoti, what do you mean the head?”
Both women were shouting at him.
“I found the head of a man in the water. It stared at me. Then I started seeing things.”
Kyria Ourania waved her arms in the air. “Where is it? Where is it now? This cannot be.”
“I buried it.”
“Quickly. Take us there.”
The three ran off so quickly that they attracted a crowd of people yelling, “Pou pate, pou pate.” But they were in too much of a hurry to explain. When they arrived at the beach, half the village was behind them. Panayotis led them to the place where he had buried the head and dug it up for them. There it was, eyes downward.
“Wait, no, wait,” Kyria Ourania yelled, but Panayotis had already turned the head around. The blue eyes stared out at the gathered crowd.
“Do not look at it,” she cried. “Please, do not look. It is the head of Orpheus. It will make you see the future. It will show you things you do not want to know.”
But her words came too late. Many people had seen the eyes. The road was full of babbling people, wandering in circles. Panayotis knew they must all be seeing the same visions he was having. He saw foreign soldiers, not the Turks this time, with guns, capturing and destroying his country, laying waste the land, bringing starvation, death by famine. The people went home to weep and to wonder, to try to prepare for the future. Panayotis quietly climbed up the hill. He left the head lying on the beach, staring upwards.
The fortress stood as it had for centuries, and as it would for centuries more, broken apart, parts missing, but still there on the hill, enduring everything.
Marianne Micros, in her story collection Eye and other writings, explores the mythology, folklore, Greek customs, and old-world cultures that have fascinated her all her life. Her previous publications include two poetry collections, Upstairs Over the Ice Cream (Ergo) and Seventeen Trees (Guernica); and poems and short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has also published scholarly articles on Renaissance and contemporary subjects and a bibliographical monograph on Al Purdy. Marianne’s suite of poems Demeter’s Daughters was shortlisted for the Gwendolyn MacEwen poetry competition in 2015 and published in Exile: The Literary Quarterly. Having retired as an English professor at the University of Guelph, Marianne is currently compiling new poems into a book and working on a second collection of stories.