It was my first sleepover. I had just turned ten years old. My big birthday present was a digital watch that played “Dixie” (a la the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard). My friend Dave turned ten a week after I did. He happened to share his birthday with President Lincoln so we all had the day off from school, perfect for a sleepover. There were five of us: me, Dave (of course), my next door neighbor Tim, my friend Greg and our friend Mike Cichy from school. We met at Dave’s house after dinner. We ate a lot of potato chips, drank a lot of pop and watched television until we got tired. Cichy bailed first. He was an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of kid; I think he petered out around 9:30 or so. He got dibs on Dave’s bed. Dave was next. He slipped into a sleeping bag on the floor by the window in his room.
Greg was camped out by the closed door to the hallway. There was a hole in the wall shaped like the doorknob. Light poured in through a similar doorknob shaped hole from Dave’s brother’s room next door. Dave had two brothers: one older, one younger. They weren’t invited to the sleepover, but made their presence known by injecting things via the hole, most of them landing on Greg’s face. At one point, disgusted, Greg piled up all of our suitcases to block the hole. Bad idea. They poked a broomstick through the hole and knocked them all down on top of him. Tim and I helped extricate Greg from the pile. Tim grabbed the broomstick and pulled it in with us. There were a few cries of “no fair”, at least one “you suck” and the light faded from the other room.
The three of us sat together in the dark. None of us were sleepy. We decided to tell ghost stories. And not plain old generic ghost stories. We told ones from our family histories. I told about my great grandmother who could predict the future with a Ouija board. I think Tim told two, one from each side of his family. Greg told us a tale from one of the times he went visiting his relatives on Cape Cod back east. All these stories were real. All these stories were unnerving, even terrifying. In a very short time, we were all huddled together in the corner of the room, fearful for our very lives.
About that time Mike Cichy decided to roll over in his sleep. Greg swallowed and pointed towards something directly behind Tim and me. I felt my stomach drop down into my lap. Every hair on my arms stood straight up. Tim and I looked at each other and slowly turned around to see what had so freaked Greg out. Cichy was asleep and laying on his back, but his eyes were wide open. Apparently he was dreaming about his own brain because his eyes were rolled all the way back in his head, leaving only the dead white areas visible via the thin strip of light from the space between the curtains and the edge of the window.
We contemplated it anyway.
“Okay…” I whispered, drawing them into a huddle. “One of us has got to go over there and close Cichy’s eyes -”
“I’m not touching him!” yelled Tim. Greg shushed him. Cichy didn’t move. We waited slightly less than nine hundred years before breathing again.
“He might be contagious,” said Greg. “I remember hearing about this kid who touched a dead bird’s eye -”
“I heard that too,” said Tim. “I don’t want to get no Cichy Eye Disease.”
“There’s no such thing as Cichy Eye Disease,” I said.
“Then you close his eyes!” Crud. Caught in the web of my own reason.
I stood up slowly and pivoted around. The floorboards under the carpet made a low creak. Greg and Tim shushed me as if the shoddy Levitt construction was somehow my fault. I took a step; another creak, another flurry of shushing. Cichy must have been tired; he never stirred. With glacial speed, I moved across the room in the dark. I had plenty of time to think of the old horror movies I had seen staying up way too late at night. Cichy looked an awful lot like one of the pod people from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He lay on his back, arms folded under the covers. I would not have been surprised if he suddenly loomed up straight like Nosferatu (I would have died, of course, but I wouldn’t have been surprised).
I swear each step I took sounded like a scream in my hyper attuned ears. The house was literally falling apart underneath us. I could hear my heart beating, pulsing behind my eardrums. I could hear the sharp intakes of breath from my companions across the room. Cichy was making this odd gurgling noise. It was either a sinus condition or a large parasitic worm was preparing to crawl up out of his throat and eat my face. I clenched and unclenched my hands again and again. I was almost to the bed, almost ready to lean over him and gently push his eyelids down, when I stepped on my watch. The electronic tones of “Dixie” filled the room. I jumped back about six feet. Tim and Greg leapt to their feet, screaming and we all crashed into one another and ended up in a heap. Amazingly we managed not to wake up the entire neighborhood. Cichy rolled over. We couldn’t see his eyes anymore, but it didn’t matter. We knew they were still open and somehow still watching us… and waiting. We sat guard on him until the gray light of dawn.