Friday, April 19, 2024

Blog Tour: The Cyclopes' Eye


YA Dystopian, Soft Sci-Fi

Date to be Published: 04-09-2024

Publisher: NineStar Press


First they came for his sister’s eye. Now they’re coming for his. And what’s even worse is he deserves it.

Henry has never had anything good happen to him, period. Full stop. That’s why, after school, he’s going to put on his big-boy pants and confess his love to his best friend—because the universe owes him one, dammit, and he needs a win.

But maybe doing it on Drill Day wasn't the best idea—the one day a month that healthcare conglomerate Axiom infiltrates schools across America to select a new candidate to give up one of their eyes, for... research? And if this Drill Day is anything like the last, Henry will never get a chance at a good life. Especially if his past keeps threatening to eat him alive, and especially if his old ways of keeping the darkness at bay refuse to work anymore.



This isn’t what I signed up for, but that seems to be a common thread in my life these days. So, sure, universe, you do you. Pile something else on top of the mess.

I can’t see straight, for starters. I’m on a bus from hell, and everything’s a blur, and I don’t know what’s worse—keeping my eyes open to watch the world zip by, or squeezing them shut and letting my stupid, stupid imagination do the work. When I close them, every bump in the road feels like I’m being launched into space, so maybe for now I’ll keep them open. But both options are awful. Both are making me sick.

I’ve been on the verge of puking all morning, and nothing seems to help. Especially not this driver. Some tragic car accident blocked the route we normally take, so we had to go on a long detour. And now that we’re running behind, the driver’s been speeding and turning corners like this is a rollercoaster and not a school bus.

Oh god, do not think about rollercoasters right now, Henry.

No, this is just a bus. A bus. Sure, we’re going well above the speed limit, but at least not, like, a thousand miles an hour.

Okay, calm down. What are the facts? Think of what’s around you. The bus is almost at full capacity today, with only one person missing: Judith, who’s been home from school. So, if she’s not here, that means there are eighty-eight people around you.

God, that’s so many.

No, that’s not so many. That’s a normal amount, Henry!

Okay, eighty-eight people, plus me, is eighty-nine. Double that, and we get—take your time, Hen; use your fingers if you have to—a hundred seventy-eight. There should be a hundred and seventy-eight eyeballs on this bus…except we know there are five patched kids on our route this year—six if we count…well, no, she’s not here. A hundred and seventy-eight, minus five stolen eyes, equals a hundred and seventy-three.

Wait, what about the driver? Is that why he’s driving so crazy, because he’s an eye short?

I glance up to the mirror above him to double check—only I can’t tell because he’s wearing sunglasses. Even at six-thirty a.m., the California sun is blinding. But that’s all right; I don’t need to know.

A hundred and seventy-three. That’s how many eyes are on this bus.




Slowly, the breaths come. My lungs expand, and the nausea begins to fade. It helps, knowing a simple statistic like that. But it’s weird, and if people knew I counted eyeballs in my head, I would die. Actually curl up and die.

Or maybe everyone does that in secret. Maybe everyone is a secret freak like me.

A loud screech. My head plows into the seat in front of me. Ow!

The driver slammed on his brakes! As soon as I realize what’s happened, anger builds in my chest. What in the actual fuck is this fucking driver doing? He’s trying to kill us! I want to scream my head off, scream until the windows shatter. Until this guy’s ears explode, because screw him!

But I won’t. I never scream when I want to. Not anymore. Instead, I sit on my hands and start to count eyes again, while Ilet the world shift back into place. 

All around me, people are moaning and groaning.

“Dude, what the hell?” someone shouts.

I look over, and the girl across the aisle is rubbing her neck, her eyes closed and mouth downturned in obvious pain. The girl next to her has her head between her legs. At first, I think she must be as sick as I was feeling, but she starts searching around for something on the floor and finally retrieves her phone. When the screen lights up, there’s a giant spiderweb of cracks across it.

Slowly, the bus lurches forward, and I no longer feel like screaming. The anger is abating, and I feel it morph into something closer to pity as I remember for the hundredth time what today is: Drill Day. If the driver doesn’t get us to school on time, he’ll be accused of trying to help us escape. He’ll get his eye taken out.

I can’t be mad at him for saving his own ass, even if it means ushering me to what very well might be my own demise.

Oh god. I feel a gurgle deep in my stomach. And so it begins. Again.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel at least somewhat nauseated on most Drill Days. I definitely was last time. I could have puked when Judith’s name was called. I’m surprised I didn’t.

The memory of her walking up to that stage and standing up there, crying, is burned into my brain—only parts of it are fading. The most important parts, like what exactly her face used to look like with two eyes. I remember they were beautiful. I remember the color. But I can’t picture exactly what she looked like. It’s only been a week, and it’s like she’s been eyeless our entire lives. A better brother would remember. A better brother wouldn’t have let it get taken out in the first place.

At the very least, a better brother would have listened to her this morning when she said she had something important to tell me. I was too preoccupied with other thoughts, already fighting the nausea well before I got on the bus.

“Yeah, I know,” I yawned. “Drill Day.”

“Obviously, I don’t mean Drill Day,” she sighed. “I mean, yes, it’s Drill Day-adjacent, but—”

“Jude, I’m gonna be late. You can regale me later, okay? ”And like the asshole that I am, I opened the door and left.

My own twin sister, recovering from surgery, was trying to tell me something important. Yet I couldn’t give her the time of day.

Classic Henry. 

Ugh, I really do think I’m about to barf—and it’s my own fault. My own stupidity. It’s not Drill Day or the bad driving, really. Those are just exacerbating it. When it comes down to it, I’m the source of all my misery—and one of these days, I’ll learn that lesson.

But not today. After school—assuming I don’t get my eye taken out—I’ll be reading a poem, out loud, in Ink Stain, the creative writing club at school. But it’s not just the public speaking—which I do get nervous about. Mostly, it’s because the poem I have planned isn’t just any old poem. It’s the single piece of work that will determine the trajectory of the rest of my life.

Judith would call that turn of phrase a little…dramatic. But she’s not here right now, and I can confidently say that it will determine the rest of my life. That’s why I couldn’t listen to her this morning, I was too busy trying not to freak out—which is going really great for me currently.

It’s not just any old poem. It’s intended for one of my best friends, Sam, who’s also in Ink Stain. Over the last few months, something has changed, and I started getting feelings for him. Awful, huge feelings I’ve literally never experienced before, that make me imagine a wedding and kids? Disgusting.

Maybe a rational person would tell him in private or even just keep it to themselves. Wait until those feelings go away. But not me! Apparently, I have a death wish. Either that, or I’ve convinced myself big romantic gestures, like reading somebody a poem in front of all your friends, works in the movies, and so it has got to work for me.

I’ve never done anything so brave or grand in my life. I have always, always taken the easy way out of things, like any cowardly lion. It’s just more comfortable to sit quietly in the shadows.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a coward my entire life, and I think if I do something big and grandiose like this, then maybe the universe will throw me a bone and give me something good for once. And I want my first something good to be really, really good.

And Sam would be amazing.

Could it backfire, and I’d lose one of my best friends in the world? Obviously. Which is why I’m currently fighting with my entire being to not puke on this bus right now as we take yet another turn at the speed of light. It’s probably my imagination but we practically tip over and swipe into a car before we straighten out.

Someone nearby starts to laugh and shouts, “Sick, bro!”

The rest of us groan.

A few minutes later, we pull into the parking lot, and I realize I’ve managed not to spew this entire ride. I take a deep breath, proud of my small accomplishment. I could have puked, like, twenty times, but I haven’t!

But wait, we’re barely slowing down. Apparently, just because we’ve reached our destination doesn’t mean this ride from hell is over.

We hit something—a speed bump, I realize—and boom, liquid sloshes the back of my mouth, the strong taste of bile percolating across my tongue. It burns as I swallow it back down. And this is just the first of three bumps.

I get that it’s Drill Day, and I get that we need to be at school on time, but this is outrageous. Moronic, actually. There’s no need to risk our lives anymore; we’re literally on school property now. 

Judith is the opposite of me—much braver, much more direct—and while I stew in shock and indignation again, she would have gone up to the driver by now and had a word with him. Shut this down the first time he took a fast turn.

But she’s not here, 

and we’re about to hit the next bump. I jump to my feet so the impact on my stomach is lessened, holding my breath and bracing for impact. It helps, I think. I don’t feel as bad as I did the first time.

When we’re over it, I’m suddenly very aware of myself and how I must look, having jumped up like this. I’m in one of the middle rows, and I can feel everyone’s eyes on the back of my head. Since Judith isn’t here, I have the seat to myself, which is a small blessing. But now I almost wish I had her here making fun of me because this is worse, feeling like the entire bus is pointing at me.

I hate attention. I hate causing a scene. I hate being noticed. And I’m very, very aware that, right now, that is exactly what’s happening. I’m also noticing how sweaty I am. My face is either ghost white or bile green. Or beet red. All three?

A part of me knows they can’t be looking at me any worse than they usually do, though. Poor Henry with his one-eyed sister. Poor Henry with his drunk of a dad. Poor Henry with his convict of a mother.

I think about reaching down to my thigh to catapult me out of this moment, the tangle of cuts and scars I could squeeze and knead like dough so the jolt of hurt would replace this ache of embarrassment. But I can’t. Not here.

We take the third speed bump slower than the last two, but I still feel touch-and-go. At this point, the best option is to just get out of here as fast as I can. Since I’m already standing when we pull into the parking spot, I don’t wait for all the people in front of me to get off first. I march right on up to the front like I own this bus. And you know what? For right now, I do, fuckers.

“You in a hurry or something?” asks the driver. He removes his shades to reveal two very intact and very brown eyes. His fist is wrapped around the lever to open the door, but he’s not opening it.

I wasn’t expecting this, and with each second, my blood feels thicker and thicker, like sludge. I mumble something about a test I have to study for.

“One day you’ll realize life’s about more than school,” he says, believing, I’m sure, that he’s being very profound at six-thirty.

I just nod and smile, hoping my face doesn’t betray my anguish.

He smirks and finally pulls the lever, and the door squeaks and sighs as it opens. I jump down the stairs, and I must go a little too fast because there’s no way I can hold it in anymore. I’ve got to puke, and I’ve got to puke now.

I race around to the front of the bus, shielded on all sides by other buses that I really hope are empty, and let it go.

It’s so painful coming up, like someone is stabbing me. My eyes flutter open and closed as it comes pouring out, and it’s like I’m watching myself in stop motion. It forms puddles around my feet. Some of it gets on my shoes.

It’s hot and gross, and some of it sprays up into my nose, which might make me puke more. I try to be quiet so nobody will hear me, but the bus engine is so loud that it probably doesn’t matter. Or maybe that’s delirious thinking. Maybe the driver is watching from his window right now. But if anybody does come over to see, they don’t wait around long enough to say anything.

A minute later, when I’m sure it’s all out of me, I feel light, free. Empty. I think this might be the best I’ve ever felt in my life. Maybe I can read this poem today. Maybe Sam will respond the way I want. I should puke more often.

Everything in me goes still and quiet. It’s almost like I’m floating through fog as I wind my way through the maze of buses all parked in a cluster. I’m so light, it feels like a dream. Like I’m not real. Is this what it’s like to get high?

As soon as I round the last bus, I come down.

If getting sick was a dream, reality is not worth waking up for. The nightmare of my life is as bleak as it’s ever been.

Ah, yes, here we are. Drill Day.

Across the parking lot, a few hundred feet away, is the entire student body—two thousand of my peers. They’ve been rounded up like cattle in front of school, their incessant chatter like primal, god-fearing cries for help before being led to slaughter. And just like real cattle, they know there’s no escape.

But at least the cows get to die before their mutilation

About the Author

Jeffrey Haskey-Valerius works in healthcare by day and writes weird fiction and poetry by night. His shorter work has been featured in numerous literary journals and has been nominated for prizes, including Best of the Net. He currently lives in the Midwest with his unbelievably handsome and perfect dog, and also a human whom he loves. The Cyclopes’ Eye is his debut novel.


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Twitter: @jeffreyhvwrites

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