Today, I got a call from Steven's phone. However, it was not Steven; it was some girl named Madelyn using his phone. I did not answer immediately, I saw the call and hour later and replied then. When she answered, I was struck by the panic in her voice.
"Hello!? Is this Owen?"
"Yeah, uh, who's this?"
"My name's Madelyn, I'm using Steven's phone because- okay, so you know about his... problem, right?"
"Yeah. The thing."
I sat down and stared at the floor.
"Yes. What's wrong?"
"It's acting up. He needs help. Please, come over and help... I'll send you the address. Just, please. Come."
"Okay. I'll find a way over."
"Thank you so much-"
She hung up and I realized that I didn't have any transportation. I panicked; what the hell could I do? I got up, and looked out the window down to Jeep Liberty in the driveway.
Ten minutes later I was speeding down the street with it. Mom was passed the fuck out on the couch, and her keys were easy to snatch. I looked down at the instructions I wrote down from Google. It was near my old Elementary school, John Tyler. I passed Maryview, John Tyler, and then went down a couple of streets. I found the house, struggled to park the car, parked it finally, got out and ran to the front stoop. I knocked, and Madelyn answered. I realized that she was the girl I saw around the time Grey almost took over completely.
"Hey, he's- he's in the living room, come in."
She led me into the house and into the foyer. She pointed me to the living room and I went inside and I saw Steven shaking in a corner.
"He's been like this for almost three hours- I don't know what to do, the pills they're... not working anymore and..."
I knelt down next to him.
"Is he acting up?"
Steven nodded his head. He held an empty pill bottle in his hand. He looked down at it and then angrily threw it aside.
"They weren't working anymore. I took the rest of them all at once. They're hurting me and it. I'm going to hurt it."
"That's dangerous, and there's no guarantee-"
"No, trust me; he's feeling something, alright."
He laughed, and underneath I swore I heard something else. I felt like I should have been panicking. But I wasn't. I was completely composed, and I had an idea.
"Okay buddy, what we're going to do is- we're going to end this. We're going to end this, today."
I offered my hand to him. He frowned.
"Dude... what happened to you? You seem different and I-"
I grabbed his hand forcefully and yanked him up from the corner. I held him up and carried him towards the back door.
"Madelyn, can you grab me a cup of water please?"
She nodded and ran off presumably to the kitchen. I went out back with Steven. I placed him on a lawn chair.
"So what we're going to try here is something I learned while I was away..."
He didn't reply, he stared down at the grass. I approached him and tapped him on the shoulder.
"This is important: do you know where this piece accessed you from?"
"...H-huh... what do you... what do you mean?"
"Do you associate the thing inside of you with any objects or places or people?"
"I don't... I don't know what you mean, what do you mean what do you mean I-"
He had a coughing fit. He didn't know what I meant, and he likely wouldn't ever know. I think what happened with me was a special case...
I took the biggest risk of my life and decided to carry out the ceremony regardless.
I looked around the backyard for something to use. There wasn't anything we could conceivably take. I then noticed the necklace Steven was wearing, with a little Jesus cross thing.
"That. We're using that. Take your necklace off."
"What's- what's happen-"
Steven coughed roughly as he took the necklace off. I took it from him gently. Madelyn rushed out with the cup of water. I took it from her and set it down.
"Candles. Do you have any?"
"Uhhh... shit uhhh-"
She ran into the house. I sat next to Steven and grabbed his hand. I held it.
"We're going to get through this. Don't worry. Don't be scared.'
"I'm not worried. I never worry. All things pass. All humans die. I will be here soon. Do not worry."
I let go of his hand and stood up away from him. He grinned and looked up at me.
"Do not worry. Do not be scared. I am not going to attack. I'll be honest; I do not have the energy to attack you. Besides, Owen Norris, I would like to discuss our future together."
I sat down on the grass at a manageable distance in front of the chair. We met eyes.
"What do you mean, future together?"
"Don't you see? You're not done yet. Foolish boy- you think you if you take one piece of the puzzle, it'll prevent the rest of it from pulling itself together..."
"Are you saying, just because I defeated Grey, that there's more?"
"You think you defeated Grey? That's cute! That's really, really cute. Humans- they're some cute sons a bitches, you know that?"
"They have there moments. But- what do you mean? You seem to be spouting off bullshit to me."
"I could be. Who the fuck knows! Steven doesn't. Steven doesn't know anything right now. I'll tell you what, human- I may not give a fight in stopping you from sealing me up, but I will torment Steven as long as I possibly can. You have my word on that."
"And you have my word that for every moment you hurt him, I'll hurt you just as much."
"Cocky! I like that. Let's see what you got."
Madelyn rushed out. She had the candles.
"What are these for an-"
She stopped dead in her tracks when she looked at Steven.
"That's... that's not. That's not Steven."
"Madelyn, focus, we can still save him."
She gave me the candles and I placed them down. I needed one final thing: a lighter.
"Need a light?"
He threw me the lighter and I caught it. That thing smiled using Steven's body.
"Just being helpful."
I almost began to light the candles, but I remembered you had to pour the water first. I poured it around Steven, then I lit each of the candles. I placed the necklace at Steven's feet.
I took a deep breath and I looked into Steven's eyes. All I saw was that damn demon inside of him. He smiled at me.
"Let's dance, boy-"
I placed my palm on his chest and we are pulled into the oblivion together.
I crashed onto the shores of the River. I rubbed my head as I got up and I prepared to shiver but realized that it felt completely comfortable. The frigid air was replaced by a nice, comfortable air, and the smell of flowers drifted through the air. It was a spring evening against the River inside of Steven.
I wandered down the shores of the River aimlessly. I had no idea what to do. I knew Peter did something inside of me when he performed the ritual. I was just so distracted by Grey that I never noticed. I figured Steven would be the same.
I looked to my right, and just on the other side of a bunch of trees I saw a house. As I walked to it, I noticed how pristine it looked. It didn't look like what you'd expect from a building in the River; it wasn't decaying, it actually looked quite nice and quite lovely.
The door was unlocked. I went inside, and Steven's memories slowly unraveled around me. I saw Steven as a child looking up at two older people. The old lady picked him up, and I realized they were his grandparents. She nuzzled him, and his grandfather teased him. I walked upstairs away from the foyer and entered a dusty bedroom. It smelled so sweet and lovely. Steven ran over to his grandparents in their bed, and he complained about a terrible dream. He said there was a man in his room watching him and that he had sharp teeth and a pale face. He said that the man was a vampire. His grandmother pulled him close and kissed him on the head and told him everything would be alright. He believed her. I backed out of the bedroom and walked across the hall and entered Steven's bedroom. Steven was kneeling down on the floor, praying against his bed. The moonlight fell upon him and tiny tears glistened on his cheek. Then, he was in the bed and he was tossing and turning in his sleep. His grandfather watched for a moment, then woke Steven up.
"It's okay, you're only having a bad dream."
"He won't stop whispering to me."
It was then day time. Steven was looking out the bedroom window down to a car below. The car opened up and Steven softly said, "Mom and dad." He got up and ran downstairs. I watched from the window as he ran out the front door and jumped into his father's arms. His dad swung him around in the air and kissed his cheek and held him close and I felt myself almost feel jealous of it.
The jealousy was pushed away when his father and him were sitting on the bed together and I heard his dad tell him, "I'm sorry buddy, but we just can't right now. Grandma and grandpop are going to take good care of you." He pulled Steven close and hugged him. "One day, we'll never leave you. I promise you that."
I left the bedroom. Steven was standing at the top of the stairwell. He was called downstairs by his grandfather, who was smiling, and was telling Steven something. I could not hear any longer; it wasn't as if I''d gone deaf, but it was more like the world had lost its ability to produce sound. I walked down the stairwell and follow them out the front door and then I'm in the car with them and they're all smiling and then a car crashed into the side and his grandmother is blasted away in a metallic blast and his grandfather screamed and the car tumbled down into a ditch.
Steven was unconscious. The world faded away as blood trickled down his face.
I saw his mother and father at a table talking with hushed voices. They looked past me at Steven. Steven looked so small and fragile in that moment. His mother tried to smile but she burst into tears and that carried over onto the day of the funeral. It was a nice spring day. It was a wonderful day. Too wonderful. Steven felt mad at the sky. It was all cheerful and birds fluttered about but his grandparents were gone and he felt alone.
There were more memories but they're interrupted by someone screaming. It was Steven, current Steven, somewhere within the house. Or rather, somewhere within his memories. I searched all about for him. I tried to follow from where the voice was, and I was led to his closet. I opened it up, and I saw, for the first time, the "vampire." His face was covered by a pale white, ghoulish, with a gaping mouth full of funky teeth. He wore a dark hoodie and torn, ripped jeans.
By just his eyes, I could tell that this imagined monster was now the form of the Dying Man.
At first, I thought he was appearing to me, but he wasn't; he looked through me, and behind me, Steven stood. I turned around and looked at him. He did not see me. Neither of them did.
"Why won't you leave me alone?"
The vampire laughed.
"Why don't you just give in? Because you find that undesirable, just as I find giving up on you undesirable. Does that not make sense?"
Steven slammed his foot on the ground and grabbed the edges of the door frame in an effort to contain his anger.
"WHY ME THOUGH? WHAT THE HELL DID I EVER DO TO YOU!?"
"Child, I'll comfort you only once; you've done nothing to deserve this. Absolutely nothing."
Steven seemed surprised by the horned man's supposed honesty.
"Then... why me?"
The vampire shrugged.
"Bad things happen sometimes. You of all people should know that, right?"
He staggered towards Steven. I backed away as Steven backed away.
"This is fucking crazy... I...."
"You? Don't you mean we?"
"We're not the same! I'm me, and you're you, and I'm... I'm just me..."
Steven was losing. He sank to his knees. The house began to shake. The vampire approached Steven. He grabbed him by the hair and pulled him off of the ground. He grinned and his teeth suddenly sharpened and he was dangerously close to Steven's neck.
"You were right when you were younger, boy. I am a vampire. I am a vampire and I've been feasting on you for years. Ever since your grandparents died. Ever since your parents took you in. Ever since you were taken out of school and put in home schooling and you said goodbye to all those pitiful friends of yours. Ever since you started taking those pills. And I was there when you began taking those other pills. Now, I've been given life! I've been given life. And now it's time to leave you. I wish there was some other way. I wish your God could save you. I am being honest! I want you to be rescued! But it looks as if you aren't going to be."
He turned, and he grinned at me. I tried to move my legs, but I could not. I was frozen.
"You shouldn't have ever let me in-"
He said as he bit down into Steven's neck. He did not suck; he bit down and chewed upon Steven's neck. I watched blood pour down Steven's side. I watched the life go out of Steven's eyes. The house began to shake and crack and fall apart.
I forced my entire existence to move, in order to save my friend's life.
I tackled the monster off of Steven. I pushed him off and threw him to the ground. Steven's blood splashed against me and I felt queasy. I grabbed Steven and dragged him into the corner. I grabbed a random shirt on the ground and I held it against his neck.
"Just sit tight, everything will be oka-"
I let go just in time to have the vampire scratch me with his claws. I stepped back and then kicked him away. The house continued to destroy itself. The floor below us collapsed, and we fell into the darkness together.
We emerged inside of the still cold River. The monster grabbed at my legs and attempted to drag me down deep with it. I met his challenge and pushed him down together with me into the depths. I punched at his mask. He tried to bite my face off. I dodged his bite but he punched me in the stomach and the water dove into my mouth. I kicked away from the monster frantically.
The River fell away and we were floating in some dark space. I closed my eyes, and imagined a space, and it came true. We fell onto a hill with a single tree at its top.
I gasped for air and rolled up to my feet. I looked around in amazement. How the hell did I do that? I looked over at the Dying Man piece. He seemed pretty shocked as well.
"That shouldn't be possible...."
He laughed and laughed suddenly.
"What's so funny?"
He looked over at me and silenced his laughter, only to begin laughing again a second later.
"Human, you won't get this joke. But what you're doing right now? It's just funny on a level I can't describe to someone so low like you. This changes things up for us. I have to rethink some things. Recalculations must be made. Hmmm..."
He seemed to lose himself in thought. I stomped my foot against the ground as I lost my temper.
"You almost killed my friend; stop ignoring me."
"Ah! Amusing. Alright then. We may talk."
He walked over and sat down on the grass across from me.
"...Human, did you not want to talk? Please, sit down."
I uneasily, slowly sat down.
"You can trust me. Or okay, you can't really, but it would be against my rules to strike you at this moment. Besides, I can't."
"Why not? Weren't you trying to kill me a second ago?"
"No. I am not going to kill you today, Owen Norris."
I scratched my head.
"W...why? Why not kill me? This would be the perfect opportunity to attempt it."
"HA! Attempt. You have good style. I admire that."
"You are also very polite for a Dying Man piece."
"Am I? I do not recognize that. To answer your question, I do not want to kill you yet, because you still have use for me."
"I am polite, but I am not an open book."
"Okay. Then why are you putting on this show? What do you want?"
"All I want is to be united with myself."
"Bullshit answer number one, there we go..."
"Smart and admirable, yet quite the impolite human. I can see how Grey took a liking to you."
"Grey? So you knew Grey."
"I know Grey, correct."
The piece looked down at a wrist as if a watch were there.
"Tick, tock, tick, tock. Why don't you stop dancing around with these questions and ask something actually useful?"
"What do you mean?"
"What is this domain you have created? Do you know?"
"To be honest, I have no fucking clue. I don't know what came over me when I started willing it to life. I thought I was going insane but instinct took over..."
"And you created this place... this place is exactly like the River. It's what many would call a domain. But, it's quite different from the River. The River is what many would consider a Fear's domain. This place... this place is your domain."
"So this place belongs to me?"
"Its appearance does, but it takes on many forms for different people. This place belongs to all of humanity."
"How is that possible?"
"How are we possible, Owen? How do monsters exist? And how do pitiful children who have no idea what the hell they're doing survive those monsters? Like I said earlier... you ask the wrong questions."
"...What are the right questions then?'
"What is this domain for?"
"What is this domain for, then."
"It's for salvation. This is a battleground. Here, this is where humans drag the Fears. Here, this is where men and their Fears meet face to face. And then, they initiate what has been coined by many of your kind as a 'William Tell."
"What exactly is that?"
"Simply put.. a battle for the soul."
"That sounds really stupid. A William Tell? What the hell does that even..."
"We're not the best at naming things. The point is, you almost, unknowingly, triggered a William Tell between us. You almost obliterated yourself with your hubris, boy. Just because Grey can't touch you for however long does not mean you're hot shit. If you want to survive, then I suggest you rethink your suicidal tendencies...."
The creature stood up. The sky cracked and the ground shook as the dimension faded away.
"Wait. What is your name? And are you leaving Steven alone now!? Wait!"
Pieces of the sky fell around us like porcelain.
"My title... ha, it's been years since I've dusted this one off... you may call me the Ghoul."
The Ghoul smiled, and the last of him I saw was his bloody teeth. The sky fell between us and I found myself back beside Steven in his bedroom. He was no longer bleeding from the throat. Instead, he was in the corner of the room, and he pointed to the other side of the room when I looked at him.
"Look... he's dead now... he's dead now.."
I turned around and I saw the Ghoul, collapsed against the opposite wall. Black liquid oozed from his mask. The mask began to fall apart. It crumbled away, and there wasn't any face behind it. There was nothing, and then his body fell against the floor, limp and motionless.
"Are you okay?"
I put my hand on Steven's shoulder and searched his body for wounds. Nothing too bad, just scratches and scuffles.
"No, I'm fine... we fought a bit and... he talked and... fuck..."
He hugged me all of a sudden and I felt incredibly awkward but then I said fuck it and I hugged him back. The world melted away and we were out in the backyard. I looked over at the porch where Madelyn watched us from.
"Is it over?"
"Yes. For now."
I pocketed the necklace.
Steven cried. I tried to comfort him. Madelyn did too.
It was weird to see this from the other side. It was weird to have all that responsibility. It was fucking strange to have to fight something that felt so impersonal to me. Did Peter fight with Grey like that? Knowing Grey, he wouldn't of given up like the Ghoul did. That must have been extremely difficult, I realized. I tried to push away the guilt.
"Thanks, man. Thank you for helping me. I can't ever pay you back for something like this."
"You won't have to. Just focus on getting past him. It'll be hard at first. But soon you'll stand up on your own two legs, and you'll be able to fight twice as hard as you did in there with that thing."
He let go of me, and looked at me curiously.
"Fight? No... I'm not... we don't have to, right? What is there to fight now?"
"He's not dead, Steven. He's only sealed away. Besides..."
I looked at Madelyn.
"We have one more to go before we're in the clear, don't we."
We're not sure when we're going to do Madelyn's ritual. I had to take the car home, and Steven's parents arrived so we couldn't jump right into another ritual. We were also very tired.
I am worried. Very worried. Something does not feel right at all about any of this. Maybe it's just me, but everything felt too easy. And I don't mean how the Ghoul let us win. No, that Sowing Season ritual felt too... I felt like I was in control the entire time. Like. I can't explain this?
My anxiety's telling me that just because it seems like I'm able to fight back against these monsters, it doesn't mean anything; maybe they want us to win against them. Maybe they're just letting us win. But if that's the case, why the fuck would they do that? And also, what can we do about it? We can't just sit here and let them destroy us from the inside.
Fuck, I just wish Peter was here.