Discussion Questions for The Mystery of the Dancing Lights

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  1. Early in the novel we see that Jackie has grown, how is this paralleled by his growth regarding magic? Do either affect his confidence?
  2. Jack, in 1989, is taken out of his regular school in order to attend a special magic school. He didn’t want to go, do you think his parents made the right choice and why?
  3. The Aetherborn, who are first introduced in A Case of Synchronicity, play a larger role in this novel. How would you feel if you discovered that some of your classmates were mythical characters brought to life with magic?
  4. The time loop gives Elizabeth the opportunity to work through the traumatic events of the previous book. Does she use that opportunity? Why or why not?
  5. When Jack first meets Morgan, he seems to trust her completely. Why do you think that is?
  6. Elizabeth travels back in time, again, this novel. There are some major differences in how it plays out. How and why do you think that is?
  7. Each Elizabeth novel relies on imagery of abandoned undergrounds. How does that reflect the theme of a “hidden magical world”?
  8. We see Jack, in 1989, lose his temper and melt perfect footprints into the rock floor. Do you think you’d have the strength of will to control that sort of power? What would make you lose that control?
  9. Time loops can be fun. If you were stuck in a loop, what books would you want to read? And what instrument would you want to learn?
  10. In each novel, Elizabeth succeeds through planning, knowledge, her friends, and luck. Why do you think this combination is more successful than the power or strength of her opponents?
  11. Suppose this book became a movie or a TV show. Who would you pick to play the roles? What aspects of the book would you want to see more of? What would be the most difficult part of filming?

The Mystery of the Dancing Lights by Éric Desmarais is available now!
Physical from Canadian indie bookstores, physical from Indigo, electronic version

The Mystery of the Dancing Lights – Prologue

Hello Readers,

For the Elizabeth books I have always treated the prologue like the intro bit in a horror movie or genre TV show. It’s a story in itself with some hints as to what is coming up in the book.

Skip at your own peril!


Do you hear the dancer?
Do you see the lights?
They’re coming for you, camper,
Better beware tonight.

Their song is very lively,
Making you want to dance.
One step, two step, and you’re gone without a chance.
The dancing lights are coming. Tonight, you will see.

Beware little camper,
Of their haunted revelry.
Or you’ll become a dancer,
And fade from memory.

—Camper’s Rhyme, Authors Unknown

Prologue

July 25th, 2015

“This place is freaking creepy!” Eli shuddered as he talked. “I hate cleaning up after adult summer camps. They’re disgusting.”

Cait shook her head and fought the urge to scratch the itch behind her tight hair bun. She knew that he was just talking to avoid the odd silence of the place.

Camp Riding Thorpe was pretty nice compared to some of the places their family had been hired to clean. The main building, which housed the dining room, kitchen, and staff quarters, sat in the middle of a large open field with twenty smaller buildings surrounding it.

“At least they have electricity, and we can use the vacuums this time,” Cait said, trying to look on the positive side and ignore that insistent itch. The last place they’d cleaned was rustic and they’d had to use brooms until their mother came back with a generator. That may seem like not a big deal, but these camps could be pretty terrible without a wet vac as backup.

“I don’t like this place. It’s too quiet. Where are the birds? Where’s the wind? There’s a lake out there; I can see it, but I can’t hear any water sounds. How is that normal?” Eli stuck his head out of the small bathrooms he was cleaning to complain.

“We’re probably in for a storm and this is the calm before it. Relax and maybe you should cut down on the horror movies?” One of the things that made the family business more fun was that she could tease her little brother while they cleaned.

“It’s just creepy, okay?”

“Okay, let’s get back to work. If we can finish this soon, we might have a chance to roast some marshmallows before bed.”

“Do we have any wieners left?”

Cait opened her mouth to answer, but a loud scream cut through the silence of the evening.

They both dropped what they were doing and ran. The scream was still going as they ran up the creaky wooden stairs. As they reached the second and top floor, the scream changed into a series of disgusted noises.

They rounded the corner and found their youngest sister, Sonia, dancing around the middle of the hall alternating between screams, gagging noises, and repeating, “Yuck, yuck, yuck!” Her short brown hair bobbed up and down as she jumped around.

“What’s going on?” demanded Cait.

“I found a condom!”

“So?”

“It’s used… and it’s not alone. There are a bunch of used condoms all over these rooms. What kind of animal doesn’t use a garbage?” She followed her rant with another scream.

“Well. Good talk, I have a washroom to clean.” Eli turned around; his wide shoulders almost touched both sides of the hall. He looked so much like their father.

“That kitchen won’t clean itself.” Cait turned to follow him.

“NO!” screamed Sonia. “You are not leaving me to clean all these… these… these… things on my own.”

“This is totally a job Dad would do.” Cait pushed back the sadness. Their father had died the year before from a heart attack.

“I wish he was here,” Eli sighed. “I wish Mom was too. This isn’t as much fun without them.” Their mom was taking a year off to spend it with their grandparents. The three of them had decided that it was worth taking some summer contracts to pay for college and university.

“Fine, we’ll help you take care of this love den if you help us after with the first floor.” Cait knew that Eli would agree before she suggested it.

The main building took them another few hours and it was late by the time they were done. They locked the door and both Eli and Sonia looked pleadingly at Cait with matching light brown eyes.

“It’s past eleven, we have two more full days of cleaning left…” she started saying, but both of her siblings stuck out their bottom lips. “You’re such children. Fine. Get the fire started and I’ll go get the marshmallows.” As she spoke, she took her long multi-coloured hair out of the tight bun and ruthlessly scratched her scalp.

“And wieners,” added Eli as Cait walked toward the RV they shared.

“You’re a wiener,” mocked Sonia.

“What does that even mean? Have you been sniffing the bleach again?”

The RV meant they didn’t have to use the camp’s cooking or sleeping facilities. It was also nice to have a place that was stable. They went from camp to hotel to houses all summer and it felt nice to have a place to call home; even if Eli never cleaned his dishes and Sonia insisted on putting up posters of her most recent crushes.

With marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate, and wieners in a bag, Cait headed back toward the large fire pit for the camp.

The sky was clear and the night was humid. Despite the July heat, Cait shivered. There was something off about this camp. She’d been to a lot of different places and even some that were said to be haunted, but this place felt wrong. Like it was artificial or fake.

She looked at the nearly full moon and its reflection on the mirror-like surface of the motionless lake. The moon looked huge and bright tonight. She was so distracted by it and the odd feeling of the camp that she tripped on a root.

Tumbling forward, she dropped the bag of food and fell. She tried to catch herself, but she landed flat on her stomach. The ground wasn’t hard, but it still knocked the air out of her.

Lying on the ground trying to catch her breath, she saw stars. At least, she thought she saw stars, but they danced and moved around like someone was shining a flashlight and swinging it around. The lights were pale, but they filled her with a feeling of warmth.

She has rainbow hair. Do you think she’ll play with us? The voice sounded like a child but softer. After a few moments of waiting, she wasn’t sure if she’d really heard it or if it was her imagination.

“Maybe I should lay off the horror movies,” she said into the night. She dusted herself off, picked up the bag of food, and went back to her siblings, who’d started a roaring fire.

The warmth of the fire combined with the outdoors heat made her start to sweat the moment she got close.

“Food!” exclaimed Sonia as she grabbed the bag.

“You know what would have made this better?” Eli asked but didn’t give them a chance to answer before saying, “Beer.”

“Right. That’s what I want to do, get drunk with my little siblings. You know Mom and Dad’s rules. No alcohol, it’s unprofessional. Plus, she’s not old enough.” Cait gestured at Sonia.

“I’m eighteen!”

“We’re in Ontario, not Quebec.” Cait deadpanned.

“Are we? This is, like, the sixth camp in the past month. I have no idea where we are.” Sonia shoved a double-sized s’more into her mouth.

“Should we tell ghost stories?” Eli asked as he stuck some wieners on a stick.

“No!” Cait replied, failing at keeping the panic out of her voice. “I mean, I don’t want you having trouble sleeping. You keep saying this place is creepy.” The other two stared at her with dubious looks and after a few more moments, she asked, “Have either of you seen weird lights?”

“I thought we weren’t telling ghost stories?” Sonia’s voice cracked part way through her sentence.

“I’m serious…”

“I haven’t. This place is creepy, but I haven’t seen any lights…” Eli trailed off.

“I fell on the way here and I thought I saw something.” It sounded silly now that she said it out loud.

“That explains all the broken crackers,” said Sonia.

“My wieners are fine. I guess wieners are tougher than crackers.” Eli smirked. The three of them burst into giggles and the creepy atmosphere that had built up disappeared.

The night grew old, the sounds of the crackling fire softened, and the three siblings started to fall asleep. Eli dumped a bucket of sand on the last embers and they stumbled toward the trailer.

Falling into bed, Cait fell asleep immediately. Her dreams were filled with floating lights and voices of giggling children. There was a song in her dreams and violin music.

The morning came too quickly, and she was roused by the dawn sunlight streaming through her window.

The RV was empty, and she felt like that was wrong, but the more she thought about it the harder it was to concentrate. Finally, she decided to just pour herself a bowl of cereal and get to work. She had two days to clean twenty cabins. How had she agreed to clean this whole place by herself?

Looking at the dishes in the sink, she didn’t remember dirtying them. Why hadn’t she cleaned them?

Her shower was warm and she reminded herself that next time she went into town she needed to refill the RV’s reservoir. As she dressed, she looked at the posters of semi-naked female celebrities and wondered why she’d put them up.

She put on her shorts and a shirt. The shirt hung off her like a sheet, it was way too large. Why would she have a double-XL t-shirt?

Suddenly her head hurt as if someone had hit her with a baseball bat. The pain wasn’t important to her. Eli and Sonia weren’t in the RV, and she’d forgotten about them.

Running outside, still wearing the too large shirt, she screamed their names. Echoes and silence were her only response and her heart started to beat too fast.

Taking a few deep breaths, she fought the urge to hyperventilate. “They probably just went to the fire and decided to make eggs and bacon.” Their parents would always make a big breakfast for the last day on a job and she hoped they decided to do it early.

Cait ran to the fire pit and found nothing but the remnants of last night’s fire and graham cracker crumbs. She looked around wildly, her hair whipping into her face by a strong wind. The wind carried with it the sound of violins, or maybe fiddles; she never could figure out the difference. The music was haunting and beautiful.

Without her permission, her bare feet took her toward the music. Inside her, a voice that sounded a lot like her father, screamed for her to stop but she couldn’t. Mist blanketed the forest making it impossible to see where she was stepping, but her feet knew the way.

She didn’t feel the stones or weeds she stepped on. She didn’t feel the sting of her flailing hair which created a multi-coloured halo around her shoulders and head. She didn’t feel anything but the clashing emotions of joy and panic.

She walked into the forest and her mutinous feet started to dance. She danced her way into a clearing, the clearing was filled with beautiful lights. The lights dipped and weaved pulsing in every colour imaginable.

The dance took her to the centre of the clearing; her possessed feet and hair joined the dancing lights. The voice of her father faded to almost nothing as she gave herself to the music.

The mist on the ground swirled around with her and dissipated, revealing her two bare footed siblings lying down on the ground motionless.

The music became hectic and Cait regained control of her feet. Bending down, she tried to reach for Sonia and Eli, but the lights blocked her way.

They wanted to play with us. Why don’t you? Why don’t you want to play with us? The child’s voice was dissonant and sounded like an angry violin.

The dissonance, panic, and pain hit her all at once and she released a scream that echoed through the otherwise eerily quiet Camp Riding Thorpe.

The Mystery of the Dancing Lights by Éric Desmarais is available now!
Physical from Canadian indie bookstores, physical from Indigo, electronic version