The Eye of the Stone
Nothing in Jackson’s life seems to be going right-his friends think he’s a wimp and his father is perpetually angry since losing his job at the mill. Then Jackson finds himself mysteriously transported from his Oregon hometown to a shockingly different world, one untouched by modem technology. There, a beautiful girl named Tessa brings him to her home, where he meets the leaders of the Timmran people: her father, Radnor, and brother, Yed. Impressed by Jackson’s tales of watches, computers, and guns, they believe he has magical powers-and he says nothing to dissuade them.
When Jackson is initiated into their Steadfast Order, he feels brave and powerful for the first time. Soon he finds himself a crucial part of the Timmran plan to drive the Yakonan from their land. But as the battle progresses, Jackson is not sure if he’s on the side of justice-or if he has helped to unleash an evil only he has the power to stop.
“Provides plenty of excitement for adventure fans. The parallels between Jackson’s troubles at home and in the alternate world are well drawn in this fast-paced fantasy, which will probably appeal particularly to boys.” – Booklist
“Thrilling and imaginative . . . Moving in a sequence of fantastic adventures Tom Birdseye leads the reader through a journey where turning a page is like turning a corner into yet another world.” – Writers NW
“Hurrah! . . . Transports the reader.” – Oregon Writers Colony
“Open, awkward character of Jackson is appealing . . . Satisfying theme.” – School Library Journal
THE AUTHOR RECALLS:
Of all my books, this one took the longest to write. It began in 1988, when I learned of a man living near me in Idaho who had been emotionally scarred by bigotry in his youth. I’d seen way too much of that kind of thing growing up in the South, and was reminded of how powerful and ugly prejudice can be. I decided to try to write a story that dealt with the issue.
But, as often happens in the writing process, one thing lead to a surprising array of others. Before I knew it, my main character was also struggling with peer pressure, and self-esteem, and how what seems like the right thing to do can turn out to be a poor choice after all, and spiral completely out of control with huge consequences. If that weren’t complicated enough, I also found myself genre jumping — from historical fiction to contemporary, from young adult to adult and back again, only to wind up (and this was a real surprise) with a fantasy story on my hands, a genre in which I’d never written.
Still, it felt right, and my editor at the time said, “I think you’re ready,” so off I rode on the wild stallion of another reality. Only to find that in doing so I had forced my character (and myself) into the realm of the nature of good and evil, and then made it difficult to tell which was which. No wonder it took twelve years and fifty-two rewrites (yes, fifty-two!) to figure the story out.
But, come to think of it, that’s why I write in the first place — not because I have something to say, but because there is something I want to explore.
Chapter 1 – A Distant Rumble
“So,” Jackson Cooper muttered under his breath, “this is how I’m going to die.” He leaned forward on his bicycle seat and peered over the handlebars. “Ride off a cliff the day I turn thirteen.”
Jackson let out a grim laugh. No, not a cliff. He was exaggerating again. At least that’s what Seth and Chris would say. It was just a little hill, nothing compared to the towering cliffs of Cougar Butte or the steep forested ridges that surrounded the small town of Timber Grove, Oregon. Twenty feet or so from Alder Street down to the gravel parking lot behind Lumberman’s Hardware, that’s all. No big deal, even though the narrow rutted path had turned slick with mud since the winter rains had begun.
Seth and Chris had already proved it. Without a second of hesitation they had hurled themselves off the hill’s crest. Caps on backward, baggy sweatshirts billowing like sails in the cold damp air, they had plummeted straight down with no brakes, splashing with loud whoops through the big puddle at the bottom. Now they sat on their bikes looking up at Jackson, waiting.
“C’mon!” Seth called. “You said you’d do it this time!”
Jackson cringed at the all-too-familiar taunt in Seth’s voice, then caught himself and recovered, forcing a grin. “I’m coming!”
Chris motioned with his hand. “Just stay to the left. Watch out for that big rock halfway down.”
Jackson gave a little wave. “No problem. Almost ready!”
He closed his eyes and tried to imagine that there really was no problem, that he really was almost ready to launch himself over the edge. He wrestled the vision of it into his brain. Out of the gate — zoom! — barreling down the slope, fearless, laughing at the breakneck speed. A jump at the bottom, catching air like those mountain bikers on the TV ads. Muddy water flying as he slashed through the puddle. Then a quick skid sideways to a stop, throwing a clatter of gravel. Seth and Chris giving him high fives and yelling, “All right! Nice one!” The three of them riding off together, friends.
But that wistful picture vanished in a heartbeat as soon as Jackson opened his eyes and looked back down the hill again. Somehow it seemed even taller than before. And so incredibly steep, nearly vertical. An icy hollowness formed in the pit of his stomach as he imagined careening out of control, crashing into the blackberry bushes, flipping onto the jagged rocks, cut and broken. He shivered. A person really could die.
A distant rumble shook Jackson from his morbid fantasy. Weird. The sound was sort of like thunder, but not quite. He scanned the sky. Thunder was pretty rare in November. And besides, the afternoon was only lightly overcast, a welcome break from all the days of heavy gray and relentless rain they’d been having.
The rumble came again. Deeper, more cavernous this time, it echoed off the cliffs of Cougar Butte. Or — weirder still — the sound actually seemed as if it were coming from the butte itself, as if the extinct volcano were trying to clear its throat.
“Hey, you guys,” Jackson said, “what do you think is making –“
“You going to ride the hill or not?” Seth cut in. He bounced his foot impatiently on his bike pedal.
Jackson stared at Seth, then Chris. “But . . . but didn’t you hear . . .”
Chris and Seth returned the stare, acting for all the world like they hadn’t heard a thing.
Jackson looked back at Cougar Butte. The cliffs stood silent. He shrugged sheepishly. “I, uh . . . thought I heard something. Guess not. Funny how your ears can play tricks on you, huh? You know, make you think you heard something when really –“
“When really you’re just stalling,” Seth said. He shook his head.
“Stalling is not a sporting event, Jackson. ESPN does not show the highlights on TV every night.” He gave a sharp-edged laugh. “No one wants to watch you standing at the top of a hill for twenty minutes with your knees knocking together like a little wimp.”
Jackson flinched. Wimp. He hated that word. Hated it. Deep in his belly it struck like a match, flared, then burst into a flame of anger that rose hot in his throat. And he wanted to scream at Seth, Shut up! Don’t say that! At Chris, too, for not coming to his defense. You used to be my friend! But, as usual, he only swallowed hard and forced the bitter words back down to sit like bile in his belly.
“Stop signs rust faster than you get guts,” Seth scoffed. “C’mon, Chris, he’s not gonna do it. Let’s get out of here.” He wheeled his bike around. Chris started to follow.
The flame of Jackson’s anger went out in an instant, replaced by a longing that welled up in him so strong he ached. “No, don’t go! I’m coming! Really!”
Chris looked back up the hill. Seth stopped, hesitated for a moment, then finally turned, too. “Well, just do it then,” Seth said. “On the count of three.” He nodded to Chris. Chris shrugged, then put two fingers to his mouth, ready to give the starting whistle. He had always been a great whistler.
“One!” Seth called out.
Jackson gripped the brakes of his bike so hard his knuckles turned to pale bony bumps under taut skin.
His heart pounded in his chest. He could hear his pulse throbbing at his temples.
“Three!” Seth shouted, and Chris let loose with a piercing whistle.
Jackson took a deep breath. Yes, just do it! he commanded himself. No fear!
But all the slick advertising slogans in the world couldn’t rid him of the dread coursing through his body. No matter how loudly his mind shouted directions, his arms and legs simply wouldn’t follow them. The hill was too high. He couldn’t do it. Tears welled up in his eyes, a lump in his throat. For a dark moment he was sure he was going to start crying right there in front of Chris and Seth, when a horn beeped twice behind him.
Jackson jerked around to see his father’s battered green pickup pulling to the side of the street. It splashed through a pothole and came to a stop beside him, the engine sputtering before it died.
A cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out into the afternoon air as the window rolled down. No, not cigarette smoke. His father was puffing on a cigar! Jackson blinked back his surprise. Since when did his father smoke cigars?
Jackson peered nervously through the blue-gray haze. Beneath the bill of a Timber Grove Lumber Company hat he could see the intense blue of his father’s eyes — so familiar, and yet there was something . . . different. And not just in the eyes, come to think of it. Jackson scanned his father’s face. Was it just the uncharacteristic cigar?
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” his father said, his voice oddly flat, unreadable. “Where’ve you been?”
Jackson tried to ignore the unsettled feeling invading his body. He cut a quick glance down the hill toward Chris and Seth, then back. “I ran into the guys and –“
“Well, I need you to take care of Becky.”
“Oh!” Startled, Jackson’s hand went to his mouth. “Oh yeah, Becky.” Mom had told him that they needed him to baby-sit after school. She was working a double shift at the cafe again, and his father had a lead on an odd job doing some remodeling for Annie Snyder. Jackson had grumbled. No one should have to baby-sit on his birthday, especially baby-sit Becky. Although only four, she could be a real pain. In the end, though, he had agreed, of course. He’d had no choice. But what time had they wanted him home? His mind raced. Three-thirty? Yes, three-thirty. Was it three-thirty already?
Jackson’s father flicked cigar ashes out the truck window. They landed with an animal hiss on the wet ground. “Forgot again, didn’t you?”
Jackson grimaced and offered a meek apology. “Sorry.”
His father toyed with the cigar, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. “I had to drop Becky off at the Anderson’s house, which is not good. You know how she gets when she’s around Jeremy and Skeeter for too long. Those boys are wild.”
Jackson nodded. “Yes sir.” He knew. An afternoon with Jeremy and Skeeter could turn Becky into something less than human.
Jackson’s father made a noise that started as a sigh, but ended in a guttural growl from the back of his throat. He blinked and jerked his head, as if to shake something off, then stuck the cigar back into his mouth. “This is the third time in two weeks. What am I going to do with you?”
Jackson held out his hands, pleading. “I’m sorry, Dad. I promise it won’t happen again. Really!”
The look Jackson got was withering. “You’re darn right it won’t happen again,” his father snarled. He raised a beefy clenched fist. Panic rammed into Jackson’s chest. But before he could even take a breath to beg for mercy, his father broke into a toothy smile. “Not with this on your wrist, it won’t.” He opened his fist to reveal a brand new watch in the upturned palm of his hand.
Uncomprehending, Jackson looked back and forth between the watch and his father’s face. The grin there, he noticed, was strangely twisted. “Go ahead,” his father said. He offered the watch up further.
“It’s for you!”
Jackson stared blankly. “For me?”
His father threw back his head and laughed in what, for an instant, sounded more like someone else’s voice, a strange, disturbing voice. “Yes, for you!”
“Oh,” Jackson said, trying to make sense of what he was seeing and hearing. He blinked, then eyed the watch more carefully. He’d been wanting one for a long time, but no way had he actually expected to get one for his birthday. Especially from his father. Especially now. How many times had he been reminded lately about the tight family budget since the layoffs at the mill? And wasn’t his father’s unemployment about to run out, too? The watch looked expensive, and nice, really nice. Tentatively, he reached out and picked it from his father’s hand.
“Check it out!” his father said. “I already set it for the right time and date — November thirteenth, your birthday! And there are lots of features, like an illuminated dial — just press that button there — and an alarm function. Cool, huh? Put it on. Put it on!”
“Um . . . all right,” Jackson said. He fastened the band around his wrist, then turned it this way and that. Yes, it was cool, very cool.
“Oops!” Jackson’s father said. “I almost forgot. There’s this, too!” He rummaged around in his shirt pocket and pulled a necklace out. He dangled it like bait before Jackson’s eyes. “It’s the real thing — gold links — like those pro ballplayers wear. You know, man’s jewelry. Here, let’s see how it looks.” He reached out and quickly pulled the chain over Jackson’s head, then toussled Jackson’s hair like he hadn’t done in months. “Looks great! Happy birthday, Jackson-boy!”
Jackson didn’t know what to say. What had gotten into the man? He was acting so weird. “Uh . . . thanks,” he finally managed to mumble.
“You betcha!” his father said. “Now hurry up and go over to Jeremy and Skeeter’s house and get your sister. I’ll be home as soon as I can. We’ve got lots to celebrate!” He threw back his head again and laughed like a man possessed, then, to Jackson’s amazement, he howled like a wolf. “Ah-ooooo! I thought it was a dream, but it’s real! Lady Luck has finally come my way!”
Jackson stood dumbfounded. “Lady Luck?”
But his father just winked with a peculiar, almost demonic gleam in his eye, started the truck, revved the engine, then roared off.
It wasn’t until the pickup wheeled around the corner onto Cedar Street that Jackson remembered Seth and Chris, and a smile worked its way onto his face. In addition to a new watch and a gold chain, his father had given him something else, too, without even knowing it. Jeremy and Skeeter’s house was in the opposite direction from the hill. He couldn’t ride down it. He was saved at the last second, just like in the movies! Saved!
Jackson’s smile expanded into a full-blown grin. He covered it with his hand, though, pretending to wipe something from the corner of his mouth. He forced a look of disappointment into its place.
“I have to go,” he called out as he turned back to face the boys.
“Dad says I have to pick go up Becky. Gotta hurry. I’m already late.” He raised his new watch and pointed to it so that Seth and Chris would be sure to understand. “I really want to ride the hill. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Chris shook his head in obvious disappointment. Seth cleared his throat. “Sure you will,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Wimp.”
But Jackson acted like he hadn’t heard. He was already pedaling as hard as he could away from the top of the hill, away from the distant rumble that called like a voice from the direction of Cougar Butte.
“Sisters!” Jackson shouted back over his shoulder. “What a pain!”
And he was gone.