Today continues our part-serialization of our book of the month Dreams and Shadows. We are thrilled to be able to share with you this introduction from C. Robert Cargill.
The people we become as adults are often the result of the silly or strange choices we make as children. Take me for example. When I was eight years old I developed a crippling crush on a young movie starlet named Drew Barrymore. E.T. was all the rage and I sought out every magazine I could get my hands on that had an interview with or photo of her. And I couldn’t wait to see her next movie: STEPHEN KING’S FIRESTARTER. But being all of eight years old when it came out, my parents weren’t going to allow me to see it. After all, what parent in their right mind takes an eight year old to see a Stephen King movie?
So my Aunt, five years my senior and understanding of the power that a crush can have over a person, intervened with a solution. She bought me a copy of the novel with Drew Barrymore’s picture on the cover. “No eight-year-old was going to read a book that thick,” she told my parents. “And if he does, what’s the worst that could happen?”
I read FIRESTARTER cover to cover. Then I read it again. By the time I was reading it for the third time, it dawned on me that this Stephen King fellow was paid to write this book and that this might be a pretty great way to make a living. I wanted to do that. I was going to become a writer.
The book you hold in your hands isn’t just a culmination of the twenty-some-odd years of choices that sprang from that childhood crush; it is about those choices as well. It is the story of two young boys who make decisions about things they don’t really understand and end up descending into a dark, fantastic world that isn’t exactly what they thought it would be. It is about how things that seem wondrous and innocent at first can turn out to be terrifying and how things that start out terrifying can end up being our salvation. It’s about taking a long hard road to becoming the people we set out to be. Only with fairies. And angels. And djinnis. And Texans.
Somewhere in there you’ll see the shadow of an eight year old boy reared on Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien novels, cast from the grown man looking back at him. It is a great honor and privilege to have you read this early, to know that it is in the hands of folks who share my passion for books and storytelling and no doubt have a story of their own about the very first novel they read as a child. And how that book affected who they became. So thank you for taking the time to help fulfill an eight-year-old’s wish.
At least one of them. I never did get that date with Drew Barrymore.
All the Best,
C. Robert Cargill
The Boy Colby’s Chance Encounter
Colby Stephens was nothing special. Neither unattractive nor unlikeable, he lived a life that had gone relatively unnoticed by even his closest relations. He lacked neither talent nor intelligence—simply opportunity—and it seemed, even at his young age, as if he were destined to live out a life of mediocrity amid the tract-home sprawl into which he was born.
But at the age of eight years and three months, Colby Stephens would make the single most important decision of his life, a choice that would not only forever change his life, but alter the destinies of countless others for years to come. He was the most dangerous sort of creature, a wily and precocious child, clever beyond his years, happened upon by the wrong sort of man. But on the eighth year, second month, and twenty-ninth day of that life, he was still a relatively unnoticed burden, seemingly destined for nothing—something which made him a particularly strong candidate for what this stranger had in mind.
Colby had no friends and no prospects to speak of. He was a carrot-topped little boy, a mess of shaggy tresses and freckles, who wanted nothing more than to venture out into the woods—an undeveloped plot of land no more than half a mile wide that, to an eight-year-old, gave off the distinct impression of being a forest. Clumps of tangled brush, fallen logs, and the occasional abandoned tire lingered around a copse of trees where Colby imagined all manner of fairy, dragon, and unnamed adventure—rather than the pale stone strip mall everyone else saw waiting in its future.
But today it was a magical forest and Colby couldn’t wait to explore its wonders yet again. So he tore down the stairs from his bed- room, his feet slamming the steps.
Thudthudthudthudthudthudthud. His hand caught the end of the banister and he swung around, sliding across the hardwood floor in his socks. For a moment he felt as if he were flying.
“What in the happy hell are you doing?!” his mother yelled from the couch. “Can’t you see Mommy has a headache?” Colby’s head sank low, his ears almost meeting his shoulders.
He whispered. “Sorry, Mommy.”
His mother glared at him as he shuffled warily into the living room. She was lying face down on the couch, her bathrobe tied loosely around her. Sylvia Stephens wasn’t an old woman, but she carried herself that way, always ill in the morning, groaning as she moved. At twenty-seven she felt as if she’d seen it all. Married early, kid soon after. She hated every minute of it, and it showed in the premature crow’s feet growing around her young eyes. She reached over for her glass and pulled it to her lips without looking. Dry as a bone. She sighed deeply, frustrated by this latest tragedy, reaching for the orange juice she had at the ready.
“And where are you tearing off to this morning?” she asked, barely paying attention.
“Mommy, it’s two o’clock.”
“That may be,” she said, pouring half a glass of juice, “but where are you going?”
“Out to play in the woods.”
“All right. Do you have your watch?”
Colby smiled proudly, as if he’d just handed his mother a report card lined with straight A’s. He stuck his arm all the way out, showing her his watch—a gaudy piece of molded plastic crap made in Taiwan, painted to look like a cartoon character from a long-since-canceled television show. He’d gotten it by way of a fast-food kid’s meal and considered it his proudest possession. After all, Mommy always looked to see if he had it on. That meant it must be special. She smiled, nodded, and put down the orange juice.
“Okay, now I don’t want you home till after five, you hear me? Mommy needs her quiet time alone.” Sylvia picked up the bottle of vodka next to the juice, filling the other half of the glass with it. Colby nodded. “Now you be careful out there. I don’t want you coming home early bleeding from your head, okay? Be safe.”
“I know, Mommy. I’ll be good.”
“You run along now. Mommy needs her shower.”
Colby spun on his heel and took off running for the front door. “Bye, Mommy,” he yelled without looking back. The door opened, slammed behind him, and that was it; he was tearing off toward the woods, making his way fleetly down the street. He passed the large wooden road closed sign that kept cars from turning onto the dirt road, bisecting the woods into two distinctly different patches, and stopped.
Colby looked back at his house just in time to see a car pull- ing into the driveway. A well-dressed man in a finely tailored suit stepped out, slowly loosening his tie. There was a spring in his step—an urgency in the way that he walked—as if he couldn’t wait for what was behind that door. He knocked, looking both ways as he did. The door opened immediately. Sylvia leaned out, also looked both ways, then pulled him inside by his jacket, the door slamming behind them. Without so much as a thought, Colby turned back to the woods.
There is no place in the universe quite like the mind of an eight-year-old boy. Describing a boy at play to someone who has never been a little boy at play is nigh impossible. One can detail each motion and encounter, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense to anyone but the boy. It’s as if some bored ethereal being is fiddling with the remote control to his imagination, clicking channel after channel without finding anything to capture his interest for very long. One moment he’s aboard a pirate ship, firing cannons at a dragon off the starboard bow before being boarded by Darth Vader and his team of ninja-trained Jedi assassins. And only the boy, Spider-Man, and a trireme full of Vikings will be able to hold them off long enough for Billy the Kid to disarm the bomb that’s going to blow up his school. All while Darth Vader is holding the prettiest girl in class hostage. And just in case things get a bit out of hand, there are do-overs.
It’s kind of like that, only breathless and without spaces between each word. At one hundred miles per hour.
And that was exactly the sort of play Colby was engaged in as he made his way from tree to tree, a stick in hand, fighting off a pack of ravaging elves and wicked old men, led by a one-handed, shape-changing monster. Colby pointed to the sky, commanding a flight of hawkmen to descend upon the elves to buy them enough time for the cavalry to arrive. He swung his sword and cast spells, fighting off all manner of creatures.
Colby spun, a whirling dervish in jeans shorts and a polo shirt, and struck a deathblow to whatever creature was in his head at the time. Instead of whistling through empty air, the stick stopped midstroke, striking with a dull thud across the very real silk-sash- covered belly of a large, ominous figure—one who had not been standing there a moment before. Colby’s eyes shot wide. He was in trouble.
The stranger looked down, his hands resting on his hips, unsure of what to make of the unintentional strike.
He was tall. Not grown-up tall. Abnormally tall. Seven feet of solid muscle upon which rested a jaw carved from concrete, chiseled with scars. His hair, long, black, and as silken as the robes he wore, was pulled back into a ponytail high atop the back of his head. A brightly colored sash looped his waist, a number of ornamental baubles, bells, and buttons completing the garish, almost cartoonish, outfit. The man looked down at the stick still resting on his stomach—which Colby was too frightened to even consider removing—growling softly.
“Hmmmm,” he murmured.
Colby froze in place. “Um . . . uh . . . I’m sorry. I’m real sorry. I . . . uh.”
The man smiled, shifting to good humor in the blink of an eye. “No need to apologize,” he said, bowing. “There was no harm done. In truth, I should be the one apologizing to you. A thousand pardons to you, sir, for I should not have appeared so unexpect- edly.” He spoke boldly, with the lofty confidence of an actor on the stage, his voice large and resonant, almost echoing off the neigh- boring trees without seeming to carry very far at all. He possessed an eloquence to which Colby was unaccustomed, one where even the smallest, simplest words and gestures carried weight.
“I’m sorry,” said Colby, the man’s reply sounding more to him like his mother’s sarcasm than an honest apology.
“No,” boomed the man, shaking his head. “I am the one who is sorry. I am Yashar. What is your wish?”
Colby had no idea what to make of the strange man, but found him intriguing. At first he thought he might be some sort of pirate, but now that he’d said the word wish he was beginning to reevaluate him. “My mommy says I shouldn’t talk to strangers,” he said. “She says that bad men like little boys with red hair and blue eyes, but I told her that my hair wasn’t very red and she said it didn’t matter how red it was, just that it was red. Is that true?”
“There are men that like many things. I am not one of them.” “You don’t like small redheaded boys?”
The man bellowed a laugh, honestly amused. “No, I am not a man.”
“Well, you’re still a stranger and I can’t talk to you.”
“But I told you my name. I am Yashar.”
Colby crossed his arms. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“Well, how do I become anything but a stranger if you won’t talk to me?” asked Yashar.
“I guess Mommy or Daddy would have to introduce us.” “What if I told you I wasn’t a man, but a djinn?”
“Like the card game?” asked Colby.
Yashar leaned in close, as if to whisper a carefully guarded secret. “No, like a genie.” He smiled big and broad with all the reassuring boldness he could muster.
Colby eyed him skeptically, folding his arms. “If you’re a genie, where’s your lamp?”
Yashar cocked an eyebrow at Colby, displeased but not al- together surprised. He dropped every last bit of pretense. “Look, kid, if I had a nickel for every time I was asked that—”
“You’d be rich,” Colby said, interrupting. “My daddy says that. Well, if you’re really a genie, prove it. Don’t I get three wishes?”
Yashar turned his head, playing coy for the moment. “Not exactly.”
“I knew you weren’t really a genie.”
“You watch too much television,” said Yashar. “That three wishes and lamp garbage, well, it doesn’t work that way. It never worked that way.”
“Well, how does it work then?” asked Colby with wide, inquisi- tive eyes.
“Oh, I see: one minute I’m a stranger and you can’t talk to me, but when you find out that you might get something out of it you’re all ears. I don’t know if you’re the right child after all.” Yashar turned as if he was about to walk away. One, two, thr—
“Right child for what?” asked Colby. “For remembering me.”
“I’ll remember you! Promise!”
Yashar nodded. “Well, we’ll need a little test. Meet me back here at the same time tomorrow. If you remember, you just might be the right child.”
Colby lifted the plastic face on his watch, checking the time. It read 3:45. “What’ll I get?”
“Whatever you want, my boy,” Yashar said with a laugh. “Whatever you want.” He spun around, his robes a kaleidoscopic torrent becoming a colorful smear, before vanishing altogether, his sash fluttering alone on the wind, finally folding into nothing. Where he’d been, he was no longer, and left no trace behind to prove otherwise. But his voice whispered into Colby’s left ear, gently carried by a breeze over his shoulder. “Tell no one. Not a soul.”
Colby stared, dumbstruck, at the empty spot where Yashar once stood. He couldn’t believe it, he could have anything he wanted. Anything at all. Yashar had said so. This was all so exciting. He turned, forgetting about everything else, and sprinted back home. He ducked, dove and wove about trees, thinking about all the treasures he might ask for. Would he get only one wish? Is that what he meant? Or could he have anything and everything? Oh, he hoped he meant anything. Anything at all. Anything and everything. There was just so much to ask for.
Arriving at the road closed sign, Colby stopped dead in his tracks. The man’s car was still in the driveway. Colby’s watch read 3:47. Crap. He wished that the man would hurry up, finish helping Mommy with her headache and leave so he could go home. But he wouldn’t get his wish until tomorrow, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized that this would be a rather silly and wasted wish. He would wait, no matter how long an eternity that hour and thirteen minutes might be.
He would wait, because when Mommy said five o’clock, she meant it.