Chapter Thirty Two
Markus threw open the door, surprised to find it unlocked. He stepped inside, glancing at the interior of a house he once thought of as his own. Many afternoons, after school had closed for the day, were spent with Julia, hanging out in her bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Her parents had been kind to him, treating him just like he was one of the family.
Then it all came to a close when Julia fell for him, kissing him on the lips. A month after that monumental kiss, he was sucked into the dreamscape, leaving reality for four, long years.
His eyes swept over the oddly messy house. Dishes, covered in old food and scraps, piled up on the countertop and inside the sink. Articles of clothing, books, papers and garbage lay scattered on the floor. The kitchen, which was in such a state of disrepair that he momentarily wondered if he was in the right place, was fortunately far messier then the living room.
Well, except for the boy his age, curled up on the couch, staring up at him with a dark, confused expression. His long, curly blonde hair fell below his pointed ears. A set of deep, dazzling blue eyes momentarily caught him off guard. Grimacing, the boy sat up and spoke.
"Who are you?"
Markus, who was taking in the house with a heavy feeling of nostalgia, wondered how to answer that question. Truth be told, he wasn't sure he knew the answer to it. "I'm a friend of Julia's." He shuffled over to the stranger, trying to put an affable smile. "Markus. You?"
"Steven, I'm a friend of hers as well." His eyes clouded over, while he scratched the back of his neck. Staring up at him, Markus was surprised at the amount of pain in his gaze. "Are you looking for Mr. Ryte?"
"No. I'm looking for Julia. What are you doing here?"
"I don't know, actually." Steven got up, his hair matted and complexion pale and sickly.
"Where is she?"
Steven couldn't look in his eyes while his lower lip quivered. "Julia passed away, a few weeks ago. She was in a car crash, was hit by a drunk driver." He stopped, his voice cold and distant. "Wait? What did you say your name was?"
This caused Markus to hesitate, his eyes narrowing. "Yes. Did Julia tell you about me?"
"She did." He frowned, then his face began to light up. He tilted his head, staring at Markus with a faint, knowing grin. "And she told me everything. Dreams and all. And she said that you were taken into the dreams, but yet here you are," he gestured at him, eyes widening. "You escaped somehow. Julia was wrong," now he was talking to himself, his voice raised, "there is a way out!"
Markus swore under his breath, his mind beginning to connect the dots. "She kissed you too, didn't she?"
"Julia?" Steven asked, to which Markus nodded his head, his rage stirring deep within. That stupid, cheating whore had done the same to another. Clenching his fists, his face turning a bright crimson, he couldn't wait to kill her. Or wait, didn't he just say she died?
Suddenly, a wave of sorrow rose up inside him, churning his insides stronger then the rage had. Markus took a step back, alarmed by the grief that was wrapping around his heart like hot, painful coils.
"Yes, she did kiss me. We met at camp, but like you, I had no idea about the dreaming curse." He paused, looking intently at Markus. "What does that matter though?"
Markus closed his eyes, trying to keep a lid on the emotions trying to burst out of him. Opening his eyes, he gave his answer. "That's what sends you into her dreams-her kissing you."
"Crazier things have happened. A lot in this life is fantastical, it's hard to accept, but what was once impossible, now seems quite possible. I have no idea how it really works, the dreams, but I know that a shared kiss is what transfers it to someone else." Markus felt a growing, biting pain in the back of his head. "Can we take a seat, please?"
Steven nodded his head. They both sat on the couch, trying to relax on the soft cushions, but finding the situation didn't allow for that. Markus was just trying to realize what was happening-his desires for vengeance and anger were slipping away. Remorse, self-hate, regret and grief were storming in.
Steven cracked his knuckles, Markus stared at the stranger, feeling an eerie connection with him.
"So how did you get out?" Steven asked, breaking the heavy silence.
"Of the dreams?"
Markus thought about that, trying to recall the last moments leading up to his emergence from the hot, empty ocean. Was there a shift inside him? A change? Not that he could recall, it was just like every second before that, only that time it would be his last.
Then he thought back on how Julia had died and when she had.
"You said she got into a car crash? And died, when was that?" It still felt strange to say those words. Though all feelings of love had long departed, Julia had once meant a great deal to him. It was now his early memories of her, not his later, that provided the heaps of sorrow on his chest. No amount of rage and hatred could wash away the memories staining his heart and mind.
"September 6th. Mr. Ryte said she lived for about a day and a half after her accident."
"That was the same day I woke up." Markus now wondered why he hadn't connected the dots earlier. Of course that's why he'd woken up! Now that she could no longer trap him, he was completely free.
Steven nodded his head, yet his eyes were still dark. "But I'm still entering the dreams. Even after she died, the hallucinations are growing worse, I hear voices." His eyes drifted to the kitchen, widening for a fleeting moment. "I see them still, staring at me, talking to me." Shaking his head, he pleaded with Markus with his desperate expression. "How do I escape?"
Markus considered his question, pursing his lips together. "We're all slaves to what we give power to." That's what I was told by one of those hallucinations before I finally went under.
Steven's eyes snapped open, a flabbergasted expression on his face. "Me too."
"The dreams… Steven," he paused, his mind buzzing furiously. It was all coming together. Piece by piece. Memory by memory. Words, hints, and feelings that had once confused him about the dreams were now beginning to take shape. Staring into Steven's eyes, he knew that the same thing was taking place in him.
"We're all slaves to what we give power to." He mumbled, his head nodding with excitement. Then he froze, realizing just what he had to do. "I'm placing myself in these dreams, and to get out… I have to let go."
"You have to let her go. So did I. Though when I was in the dreams, it was too late for me to give it up. I was already ensnared too strongly. Only by her dying, did all of the entangling power leave. Then I was free. Steven, it's not too late for you. You just have to let her go."
Helping out this stranger, who really wasn't, Markus was beginning to get his first taste of joy in literally years. He thought about letting go himself, letting go of his rage, letting go of his bitterness and desire for revenge. Though there was now no way to forgive Julia, he still felt the desire to as it wrapped around his heart.
However, he knew that doing so wouldn't change very much. He was still a murderer, perhaps even one wanted by the police. If he was caught, there'd likely be a massive sentence, unless he could get off with an insanity plea. There was an idea.
Grimacing, he realized that the moment he'd entered those dreams for good, a part of him had died. Not even waking up could revive the old, beautiful life that had been inside him once. There would be no resurrection for this battered, dying soul.
But he could still save Steven from a similar fate.
"Before I go," Markus said, noticing the troubled look on Steven's face, "will you show me where she is? I need to do one last thing."
Steven, who was biting his lip and staring at the floor with a darkening gaze, sighed. "Follow me."
The wind was still blowing quite strongly, rustling leaves and loose pieces of grass in the lonely cemetery. An older woman, hobbling on her cane, stood at another row of tombstones, resting flowers atop a freshly dug grave.
Steven stood with his arms crossed, staring down at the headstone with that same mixture of sorrow and disbelief. How could that beautiful, amazing girl he'd just been kissing in his dreams, be the same one rotting away in the worm-ridden dirt?
Markus was kneeling down, sobbing gently.
Steven saw a knife in a small sheath, attached to his belt.
Above them, the sun sent down warm, bright rays of light on the miserable pair. What was wrong with the sun? Didn't it know that this wasn't a happy time that it should hide behind dark clouds, while the rain poured heavily? Didn't it know that it was only a mocking insult to them both, shining so stubbornly when both of their worlds were darkening and crumbling.
"So she is gone." Markus muttered, getting to his knees slowly. "Never thought this would happen." He put his hand on the leather sheath, staring at it with piercing, deep brown eyes. His nose crinkled, his lip twitched.
Steven said nothing, he knew there was nothing he could.
Putting his hands in his pocket, he looked Steven right in the eye. "But I guess she isn't gone to you, is she? You still see her?"
"In our dreams, yes. I was thinking though, I really can't let her go, Markus. I just can't."
"You have to though, trust me, you don't want to go into those dreams forever. It's exactly like hell and if you ever do escape it, then you won't be the same. Not at all."
"I wish it were that easy." Steven stared at the tombstone, wishing he could blot out the name and put his own on it. If he couldn't live with Julia, he was quite sure he didn't want to live at all.
"Listen, I don't really know you Steven, but I know exactly how you feel. Those dreams are amazing, and Julia? Though she stole four years of my life, regardless, she's an amazing girl. I remember our dreams just as much as I remember our happiness, our love. But you have to trust me Steven, none of it is real.
"This, right now. Is real. This grave, that is real. What happens when you close your eyes and drift off to her dreams, that isn't real. None of it is. I know that it feels a hell of a lot better reality, but you can't make it yours. We weren't born to dream, Steven, we were born to live."
"But if the dreams are all we have, then I have to take it. I made her a promise, and that promise was to love her forever, no matter what. How can I just give her up?" Steven thought back to the beautiful, amazing girl in their dreams, waiting for him to return.
Even if he had to go into the dreams forever, it would be far better then giving her up.
"Because she's already gone, Steven. You're not giving her up-you're letting her go. I wish I had done the same thing earlier, before going into those dreams killed me, turning me into a monster. But, it's your call." He put his hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
"I know." Steven shrugged his hand off, wanting to leave this horrible graveyard and go back home. To see his father, to see his friends, to apologize to Cerise and to see Julia, hold her in his arms and love her until the last moment he could.
"What about you? What are you going to do?"
"Me?" Markus shrugged, staring up at the sky and then behind Steven to the outlying town of Camrose. "Atone for my sins. Go back home, try to piece my life back together. I've made a lot of mistakes in the short time I've been out. I want to make it right, though I'm sure that I'll never be whole again, not after what happened."
He nodded his head. "Good luck."
Markus dipped his head in return, smiling faintly. "I guess this is goodbye then," he extended his hand, which Steven took after a moment's hesitation. "I hope you make the right decision."
Steven squeezed his hand, looking into Markus' clouded, sorrowful eyes. "You too."
Markus let go, Steven turned away.
He sat on the dry, withering grass, taking out his knife and holding it tightly in his hands. He watched Steven go, tears building up in the corner of his eyes. He took the knife from his sheath, ran it lightly over his skin. Took a breath, stared up at the sky, then down at Julia's grave.
He muttered, "Good luck, indeed."
The knife dropped to the grass moments later, red and slick with blood.