Chapter Twenty Seven
The sun was just setting over the trees when Steven stepped out of the Greyhound bus. With one bag strapped on his shoulder and the other in his hand, he hobbled onto the pavement with shaky, weak legs.
After sitting on the bus for nearly three hours, he was quite ready to find a motel and crash for the night. Tomorrow, early in the morning, he would go and find Julia's house. Although she'd given her address, he wasn't exactly sure how close it was to the motel near the bus stop.
Down the road, near a sign that read: "Welcome to Camrose" was another sign boasting of a motel. He would've preferred a hotel, but after a long day of traveling, all he really wanted was a place with a shower and a bed.
The dingy, broken motel only had fifteen rooms, all adjacent to one another in a single, rectangular building. Chipped, drying paint covered the window sills and doorway, while ratty, rouge drapes clung to the windows. A handful of automobiles, most of them in the same state of disrepair as the motel, parked in front of the establishment. A middle aged woman, cigarette placed between her lips, strolled out of one of the rooms, an older man following close behind.
Steven walked over loose stones and dirt that made up the parking lot. Inside, he saw that the lobby was in a surprisingly better state. Paint covered the walls in warm hues of red, mahogany and brown. Two leather couches, unoccupied and black, sat inside the small room next to the checkout desk. Standing behind the desk, staring at his cell with blank eyes, was a kid nearly the same age as Steven.
Putting his phone away, the blonde haired teen smiled. "Evening. How can I help?" He wore a green, button up shirt, with a slightly wrinkled white undershirt beneath. Squinting at Steven while sunlight streamed through the windows and hit his face, he scratched a mole on his chin.
"I just need a room for the night." Steven strode up to the desk, fishing his wallet from his pocket. Opening it, he waited for a price.
"Can I have some ID?"
Raising an eyebrow, Steven only shook his head. "Why?"
Chuckling, the teen shrugged. "You need to be eighteen or over to book a room. You don't look eighteen though. Are you?"
"No. But cut me some slack, okay? I've traveled over a thousand kilometers to get here."
"Ah, shit, why are you here all alone?" He laughed, scratching that big, hair-riddled mole. "Most kids come here from the reserves with their girls, drive up in 'em trucks, completely trash the rooms too. Shit, I can't tell you how many times I had to clean 'em up." Leaning on the counter, he rested his elbows on the surface.
"Sorry to hear that, but I'm just traveling. Can you help me out?"
"No. Rules are rules, and my ass is gonna be kicked if my manager finds out I let you in." Drawing out a sigh, he turned his back behind him, staring up at a small, cheap camera mounted on the wall.
Steven thought about spending the night outside, but knew he wasn't up for it. "I'll make it worth it. Please, I have nowhere else to go. How much is a room?"
"Forty two, plus tax. But I aint giving you a room, kid."
"Here's sixty." Steven placed three twenty dollars bills on the counter, glancing nervously at the camera. "Please, I'm not going to trash the room. I'll be leaving early too. I just need some help, can you do that for me?"
Staring at the cash, his mouth twitched into a grin. Scraping it off the counter and into his hand, he looked up at Steven with round brown eyes. "Close, but I'll need two more of 'em bills."
"Then get out of here."
"Fine, give me back the money." Steven held out his hand, smiling as a conflicted look appeared on the boy's face. For a moment, he was about to give it back, but crumpled it in his grip instead. Grimacing, he stared at the camera, then back at Steven. "You son of a bitch," but he said it as if a respected rival had just played an unexpected, game-winning move in chess. "Room thirteen. Lucky, aint it?"
He took a key off the wall, placing it on the counter. Steven, who was smiling, took the key and winked at the boy. "Thanks a lot."
"Ah, fuck you." But he didn't look all that angry. Instead, he placed some of the money in his pocket, while the rest went into an old, dingy register. Leaning back on the counter, he shook his head and went back to texting on his phone.
Steven took one step out of the motel, swinging the key around his finger, and crashed into someone. The man, wearing a tight, ripped hoodie, shoved him out of the way.
Falling on the hard stones, Steven stared up at the man, seeing that it was one of the hallucinations. Only, instead of disappearing, he took out his gun, pointed it at him and spoke, "You can't stop the inevitable. You can't stop the tide, and you can't get off this ride." He pulled the trigger.
Steven blacked out.
Opening his eyes, Steven once again found himself in a place that could only be conjured up by a dream. He was lying on his back, staring up at pieces of stone, grass, trees, rock, dirt and sand floating high into the sky. It was as if the surface of the earth had heaved upwards, sending all of its contents into the air.
A large stone, covered in clumps of dirt, drifted beside him, brushing against his face. Steven pushed it away, but couldn't make it budge an inch. Instead, he could only make it wobble, but its path upwards was completely unaffected.
Clouds of dirt and grass floated nearby, coming towards him as he quickly got to his feet. After making sure he was in the clear, Steven jumped into the air, reaching out for a rock floating overhead. His fingers brushed up against the surface and he clamped onto it.
His body, weightless in the strange, zero-gravity dream, floated below the rock. There was no strain on his fingers, which he used to keep himself anchored to the flying rock.
"Julia!" Steven called his lover's name before climbing atop the rock, perching on its cold, hard surface. Staring around him, he noticed that any beautiful vistas that might be around were blocked by billowing clouds of dirt and sand. The choking plumes of soil were lifting higher and higher into the air, which was a clear, turquoise color.
He saw the trunk of a towering elm tree, leapt towards it and hooked his arms around the smooth, chipped bark. Trying to escape the ballooning columns of dirt, sand and pebbles, he climbed up the tree like a monkey. However, he soon found that he didn't need to climb, since there was no gravity pulling him down. Instead, using the branches poking out of the tree, he would grab one, then use it catapult his body upwards. The momentum would carry him great distances up the terrifyingly elevated tree.
However, he couldn't see Julia anywhere.
Until he did see her, far off in the distance, sitting on a branch of a small, leaf-filled oak tree. In her hand, she held an apple, which she brought to her mouth and took a bite of. "Julia! Julia! I'm over here! Hey!" He grabbed a branch, stopping his movement and called out to her.
Although he was sure his voice carried to her in the quiet, eerie dream, she didn't respond.
She did take another bite of her apple, her back turned to him.
Feeling a momentary pang of guilt over his kiss with Cerise, he wondered for an inane moment if she'd found out. It was impossible though, he dismissed those worries as ridiculous.
"Julia!" Between her and him, there were only a few floating rocks and branches. Staring down, he saw the rising clouds of dirt. There wouldn't be much time. Planting his feet against the trunk of the tree, he bent his knees, then extended them, letting go of the towering elm. He sprung forward, scraping against a branch. He opened his mouth for a breath, swallowed a clump of dirt and gagged.
Spitting out the soil, he wiped his mouth on his arm, trying to get the horrible taste out of his mouth. Clamping his lips shut, he willed himself to swallow the rest of the grains and kicked off a nearby stone to finish the short journey towards the oak tree.
One of the spindling roots stretched out of the base of the tree, which he grabbed. "Julia!" She was only a few meters above him, sitting on the branch, her legs swinging back and forth. Steven moved up the tree, wondering what could possibly be keeping her so quiet.
Was it the guilt of what she'd done to him?
He grabbed the branch she was on, pulling himself up beside her. Keeping a good distance between them, he stared to his side, trying to pick up her gaze. However, she stared straight ahead, her apple still in hand.
"Hey you." Grinning, he noticed her eyes drift towards him, then dart back to where they were staring before. Her lips parted a bit, releasing a quiet, long-drawn sigh. "I'm in Camrose, Julia. I made it. I'm so close to fixing us." He tried to hold her hand, but she pulled it away.
"Julia." His tone dropped from curious and happy, to a worried, deeper tone. Putting a hand on her bare shoulder, he was relieved that she made no attempt to remove it. Instead, turning her face to his, her lower lip began to tremble. "What's wrong?"
He moved his hand up to her face, trailing her cold, pale skin with the back of his fingers.
Blinking, she opened her mouth and spoke in a broken, weak voice. "Everything's falling apart, Steven. Everything. You're going to lose your life, and there's nothing you can do about it. I remember asking my father if there was a way to stop the dreams from overtaking someone. He told me, Steven, I remember his words: 'There once was a way, but it takes a death; no one's been able to figure out what it is, in centuries. So we drop in number every generation, until, I believe that we are the last.'"
Steven's hand fell back to his side. She had said, though it wasn't her intention, that there was a way. Smiling, he knew he would do everything possible to find that way. "So there is a way, Julia, do you understand what you just said? There is a way. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Because there actually isn't! Generations of us have fallen to the dreaming curse, because that way has been lost. However it worked, no one remembers. But it is for the best isn't it? The quicker we die off, the less will suffer the fate that you hold."
"Maybe it is best that the dreaming curse die off, but that doesn't mean that we have to!" Steven took her hand, which was limp and cooler then ever before. "This curse, Julia, isn't a part of you, nor is it part of me."
Julia only shook her head, leaving her hands floppy in his grip. "I saw her, Steven. During one of our shared memories, I saw Cerise." Her hand stiffened as she removed it from his hold, crossing her legs, she stared off into the distance. "This affects just more then us both, now."
Steven said nothing.
He only stared at Julia, his blue eyes blank and wide. "Cerise? How is that even possible?" His heartbeat quickened, while sweat gathered on his skin. He thought back on their kiss. "You mean she was actually inside?"
"I talked with her-I told her everything. Steven," she stared at her lover as his mouth hung open, his cheeks tinged red, "I don't want to make this into a big deal. I know you messed up, but really? I don't even know if I care anymore. We've both done each other so much wrong. Despite all the good times, we're both sitting here, our lives falling apart. You should've stayed in Winnipeg." No tears fell from her eyes, but plenty were building in his.
Steven had brought Cerise into the dreams? Was she cursed as well? Steven shut his eyes, clenching his fists. "What have I done? Julia, I'm so sorry."
"I know you are," she grabbed his hand, intertwining their fingers. "She told me that it was mostly her fault, that you tried to stop her. I know that's a horrible excuse, and putting it blankly, you screwed up. But I don't care anymore. You're going to slip away, Cerise will too, and I will stay here in this endless dream. If you find me, could you," she gulped nervously, staring deep into his eyes, "can you kill me? I don't want to stay here anymore."
"No!" He let go of her hand, his eyes widening in horror. "Never! Listen, Julia, things will get better. They always do. I know it all seems hopeless, but I can still fix this. I'll save myself and Cerise. Break things off with her for good and find a way to wake you up. I promise you that, Julia. I love you and though everything's messed up, I will make this better. When I met you at camp, I knew this relationship would be tough, but I'm not scared, and I don't give up either."
Julia only laughed mirthlessly, while pieces of dirt and sand rose up from beneath them, choking out the air. He took her hand, holding it tightly as they jumped off the branch and higher into the clear air. Behind them, the swirls of dust kept a steady pace.
"I love you, Julia. Even with all of this, I still love you." Before the dirt completely enveloped them, he took her in his arms, holding her tightly.
"I know you do." She paused, pressing her face into his chest.
Closing his eyes, he pretended like her not saying 'I love you too' didn't hurt him.
"It's just that I always imagined that this place would be a paradise for us, Steven. A place where we could escape the toils and horrors of the world, to be together, to fall more and more in love. I wanted to dream again, but only if you would be there with me. It's why I pretended like you wouldn't disappear, I just couldn't reconcile reality with my dreams."
"It can still be our paradise, Julia. And if not, then I don't mind spending our waking moments together, and my sleep just waiting to see you once more." He kissed her cheek, shut his eyes and was swallowed whole by the clouds of soil.
And though he didn't immediately awake, just being there in Julia's arms was good enough for him.
Even if he was surrounded by dirt.
But then, so it was in the world of dreams.