Chapter Twenty Nine
A light breeze sent a pack of leaves flying down the sidewalk, bumping into Steven.
Light, puffy clouds raced across a blue sky, tinted pink and red by a rising sun.
Staring at a house, Steven kept his hands in his pocket, sweat gathering on his face. He felt clammy around his armpits, while his stomach tingled with nausea that usually accompanied excitement and nervousness.
He was going to see Julia.
Biting his lower lip, tearing off dry skin with his teeth, he wondered if he had the nerves to knock on that door. Undoubtedly, he would wake up Julia's parents, who would likely be sleeping in the early morning.
However, Steven had little choice on leaving the motel room at such a time. True to his word, he left at around five in the morning, taking his bags with him. His back ached from the uncomfortable, tough mattress.
Julia's words to him had haunted him all night, as he tossed and turned. Finally, after fruitless hours of lying on his bed, he went into the shower and rinsed off for nearly forty minutes. He leaned against the wall on his bare back, folded his arms over his shoulder and let the steaming water pour down his body.
He'd been lost in thought, while the hallucinations temporarily wore off.
When he stepped outside of the shower, facing yet another mirror that refused to show his reflection, he could see Julia sitting in the corner. She waved at him, her face stuck in an amiable grin. "You're finally going to see me, I can't wait." She'd stood up, coming towards him with an oddly seductive grin on her face.
Admiring his unclothed body, she reached for the straps on her own dress.
"Julia." His eyebrows lowered.
But before the name left his lips, she'd already disappeared just like the condensation on the mirror.
The rest of the morning, he could hear his name being called, while seeing Julia, the hooded man and the glowing ball every minute or so. His head was pounding, while his heart was jumping in his chest like a caged animal.
On his cell phone, he saw that he had several missed texts from Jasper, Leanne and Cerise. Glancing casually at them, the only one that caught his attention was a short one from Cerise. All it read was that she wanted to talk with him when he got back.
Of course, the dreams.
A sense of dread washed over him.
Steven had wanted to badly to go to Julia's house, but knew that he wouldn't be welcomed if he came so early in the morning. So he walked over to a nearby Tim Horton's, ordered a coffee, was about to order a bagel, but knew he hadn't the stomach for it.
He'd taken a seat in the lonely café, sipping his coffee and anticipating seeing Julia.
Even if she was on a hospital bed, stuck in a coma, it would mean the world to him. If he could but touch her arm, feel her soft, pale cheek-it would make the entire crazy trip worth it.
He remembered with a sorrowful smile how they'd discussed their plans for the following summer, when both of them were at camp, so naively planning the future.
Julia had been on one side of a picnic table, staring at him with a coy smile. In her hands, she held a leaf, which she slowly ripped into little pieces. She gathered them into a little pile on the red, peeling picnic table, stealing glances at Steven.
"Why are you doing that?" He asked with a bemused smile, studying the leaves in her hand.
"It helps me concentrate," she explained with a downcast look of her eyes. "I just need to do something, it makes me feel better." Her delicate, petite shoulders went up and down in a cute shrug. "Why don't you rip up leaves?"
"Maybe I will." He stooped behind him; picking up several leaves off the table. "There, some for you," he gave her two, grinning playfully, "the rest for me."
He began ripping the leaf with his fingers, finding that it actually was quite calming. Careful not to disturb the growing pile on the table, he placed the leaf fragments along with hers.
"So, what are your plans for the summer? When school comes to a close?"
"When we graduate?" She laughed, her tone relaxing and becoming more carefree. They'd only been friends for two days, and it was taking her a while to warm up to him. Though she'd been the one who'd come up to him first, it was him that would deepen their friendship into something more.
"Yes, when we graduate." He placed a torn up leaf on her pile, watching the little pieces stir in the light breeze.
"I want to be a councilor at camp, actually. I'd love to work with kids." Her brilliant, turquoise eyes met his. "You?"
"I was thinking that I would like to travel during the summer. Before school starts in the fall, maybe go somewhere exotic, but not some generic, tropical place that people vacation at. I'd like to go somewhere that no one's gone to before."
"You are a reader of minds." He shifted on the hard bench, stretching out his legs closer to hers. "No, actually, I was thinking of going to Taiwan. Or New Zealand. One of the islands in the Pacific. I don't know what I'd do there, or who I'd go with, but it would be so much fun."
Her chubby, small fingers began to play with the pile of leaf pieces, forming them into a shape. Her face, which was fixed into a smile, morphed into a frown. Nearby, two girls were staring at Steven and casting furtive, intrigued glances.
Steven didn't really notice.
"I'd go with you." Her toes bumped against his.
He bumped them back, tilting his head to the side. "Would you? I'd like that."
"Are you sure," she cast another glance at the girls nearby. "Why would you want to go with me?" The leaf fragments were slowly morphing into a shape that caused Steven's heart rate to pick up a little.
"Because," he swallowed nervously, his foot still resting against hers. "I like you."
He was sure now, that the pieces of leaves had formed a heart. Staring at it, they both broke out into nervous chuckles, he glanced into the dark, cloud-covered sky, while she stared right at him. Their eyes met, he tapped her leg lightly with his foot.
"I meant to say, 'I like you too'."
In that moment, Steven knew that coming to that camp had been a decision that would change his life. Sitting across from him, he knew, was a girl that he would gladly wait a year to see, even more if life demanded that patience of him.
Funny, how much could change in a month.
Now, he was standing in front of that girl's house, filled with coffee and trembling lightly. What was he so scared of? Of course, he was worried that her parents wouldn't let him see her, but more then that, he was worried about what he would see. He imagined a cut up, disfigured and bleeding girl. Would he love her, even if she was like that?
He hoped he would, yet doubt had him hesitating.
Only one way to find out. Taking in a deep breath, removing his hands from his pocket, he took several steps across their lawn, up towards the humble, brown-painted bungalow. Although he would never say it was a pretty home, it was from being like the dilapidated, shambling houses that shared the same street.
On the front door, a little sign read: "You're in the Ryte place", underneath the words was a cute little carving of a family of four, most likely the work of Julia's younger brother Caleb. He smiled, enjoying how they used their last name as a play on words.
It was a Wednesday, just a few minutes past seven in the morning; surely the household would be awake by now. Knocking on the plain, wooden door, he held his breath and waited for whoever it would be to welcome inside.
Or chase him away.
Markus, wearing his old, tight and ripped hoodie, took his first steps into Camrose in four years. His knife, cleaned of the good doctor's blood, was back in its sheath and attached to his belt.
Overhead, the sun was rising into a blue, cloud-filled sky. Stars could still be seen, faintly, while the sunlight chased them away, only to let them be released about fifteen hours later when it finished its journey over the Albertan sky.
He wished he could've driven into town, but he couldn't trust his mother not to call the police. By now, they might already be on his trail, preparing to arrest his murdering, horrible self. Before they did, he hoped he would get one moment alone so he could save them the trouble of putting him into a detention centre.
He would gladly choose death if they threatened to throw him into prison.
Four years had been a long enough sentence.
So now, the doctor's car was in a ditch, about a three hour's walk outside of Camrose.
The walk had done him good though, it'd been enough time for him figure out what he would do once he saw Julia. First, he would tell her how horrible his stay in the dreams was; then, he would take the knife and thrust it right into her heart.
Although she deserved a slow, agonizing death, he was no monster. Angry, hateful and purpose-driven, perhaps, but he was not that sadistic. The doctor deserved to die; he'd been the one who had kept him locked in that house, away from someone who might've been able to help him.
Markus kept walking down the highway, uncaring that one of the many passing cars could be the police. He would just kill himself then, a fate he would certainly enjoy more then spending life so aimlessly. Some might've enjoyed their freedom after being imprisoned for so long, but Markus only felt like a stranger in the world.
Unwanted, left behind.
He had only one goal now: to stop anyone else from entering those dreams; he would do this by killing Julia and getting his revenge. Any love he'd felt for her had long evaporated; there would be no regret or remorse when she was dead and gone.
Would there be? For a moment, he considered how it would feel to actually stick a knife into his first girlfriend's chest. A tremble overtook him, but not one of pleasure, but complete abhorrence and horror. Killing the doctor had been one thing-killing Julia would take a whole new level of crazy.
Perhaps, he shouldn't kill her. His resolve weakened, while his pace slowed.
Sweat beaded on his forehead.
He was reminded of the doctor's shocked, pained gasps for breath when he stabbed him.
"No," he shook the fear out of him, grinding his teeth together. "I have to do this." He willed himself to take a hurried step forward, then another, and another, until he began to jog down the road.
Julia would pay.
No matter what.