an excerpt from the book, "Grand Mal", in process.
I tell my brother it is because of the fireflies. The fireflies did it. This is why I have epilepsy.
I was bitten by a firefly, I tell him. Yup, was about your age, too... Richard rubs the goose-bumps that have formed on his bare, sun-tanned arms. He doesn’t want me to see them, but I do. I admit, I feel a little bad. But not so much.
We are sitting on the back porch watching the fireflies, me smoking a furtive cigarette. Our parents are out somewhere for the night probably eating “Surf n Turf” or some other thing like that they serve in "nice" restaurants that cater to grown-ups who want to get away from their kids.
We are staying in a small cottage right on the beach, near the boardwalk (we never stay on the boardwalk at those grand old palaces. Those hotels with the sea-foam green balconies and great white-paned windows. No. Only the cool parents and kids stay there. Our family is not cool. We stay in the cottages off the boardwalk, a half mile walk. Perhaps longer. Behind us, there is a small, slightly wooded area and high dunes.
“Do you think it’s catching?” he asks worriedly.
I take a long draw on my cigarette.
I am fifteen and I have decided or discovered that I am epileptic. I have what the doctor will call “fugue states.” In time, I will have the Big Bad, The Grand Mal, but not yet. For now, my seizures are brief absences. I look right through people. I do strange things and do not remember doing them. I repeat myself constantly – word for word, I say the same sentence, as if there is some urgency, some need to say, “Did you see the beachcomber that went by and cleared the sand of all the garbage. It left wonky lines in the sand. I love how smooth it makes it.”
“Yeah, probably.” I tell him. “I was bitten by a firefly, just like the ones over there.”
Richard looks worriedly to the woods and the dunes. To the bright sparks, the green pulses of light that send the S.O.S. to potential mates. He rubs the goose bumps from his arms. Pulls his hooded sweatshirt up over his head, the long sleeves past his wrists. He needs all the protection he can get.
“So how’d it happen?” he asks, taking a cigarette from the pack without asking.
He is twelve and already smoking, but because he is my little brother and because we are best friends, I do not try to stop him. That would be too parental. Too much like mom and dad. That would be just awful.
I watch him puff awkwardly on the cigarette, taking the smoke into his mouth, holding it there, but not inhaling. He holds it, then blows it out, a sort of fake smoking. I smile to myself, glad that he’s not really smoking. That he’s not inhaling.
“Well, one night, I was just sitting out here, you know, as I do… the way I do at home, which is where I was…on the back stoop, when whamo~! One of the suckers got me right here on the arm.”
He looks at me with a look a of curiosity and part terror, then back over at the fire flies.
“After that, it was all down hill. You know the thing that makes them light up like that? Well, it’s all electricity. So when the firefly bit me, the current ran straight from his body into mine, traveling fast up my arm and to my brain. Now it sparks and spews, great lightning storms that travel quick across the brain. How it sparks and seizes. I am a blue-volt electric prophet…”
For years, my brother will believe this story. For years, I think that perhaps I do too. That it seems as likely an explanation as any other.
this is part of a greater book, as yet unfinished and no part of it has been submitted anywhere yet. This is the first time i am submitting and this is Chapter One.
Thanks to anyone and all who read :)