Heehee, I broke the counter.
So yeah, I made it.
And look, I bring us a new chapter to celebrate!
This chapter actually gets some real emotion out there, some sadness, and is some of my favourite character stuff.
Chapter Eight - Watching and Waiting
Marcus had always been there. He was there from the moment whatever killed him had done its deed. He watched from the trees as Alyson and Darien discovered his body. He stood and did nothing while Darien received the worst beating of his life. He stared and watched his body taken away. He stayed lurking in the forest, alone save for the other animals.
There were times when he didn't think he was as alone as he thought, but he never saw anything. He could only feel presences, or hear voices. They were little more than whispers, and Marcus thought they may as well just have been the river and the wind.
His second day out there, he tried going home. For some reason, the thought never occurred to him over the night he had been there. The further he got from where he had been ended, the harder it got to walk.
It felt as if he was plodding through water at first, and then snow that came up to his hips. Each step became harder to take than the last. The sensations creeped further up his body, and the air became thicker. Soon it was like swimming through molasses, and his progress shrank to fractions of an inch.
About half a mile into his journey, Marcus could take no more. He felt like he couldn't breathe, the thickened air unable to be sucked down his throat and into his lungs. The thick sludge clogged up his airways, and he gasped for breath as he grasped to take another step.
His foot fell with a heavy thump onto the hard ground, and the rest of him soon followed suit.
When he awoke, if it had even been sleep or unconciousness, he was disoriented. As anyone waking up in the middle of the woods would be. Once Marcus had remembered what had happened, he looked around and got his bearings. He wasn't near where he had gone down. His memories of just where he had fallen were dim, as the world had begun to go dark as the going got harder. He knew he wasn't where he had been though. Marcus didn't think he could ever forget where he was now; the place where he had died. Whatever had happened had dragged him right back to where he began.
With little else to do, Marcus explored his surroundings for days on end. Once the going became too tough and he couldn't push through the thickening air, he would stop and either walk back, or wait to be brought back. He learned he didn't have to fall asleep, or whatever he did now. Instead, in just a blink of an eye he would be back where his new existence had begun.
Marcus found that the easiest travel was along the river. He didn't wade through it like normal people, but instead he walked atop the surface. In fact, it was less walking, and more like floating or guiding. It felt like skating atop an icy pond, and he discovered that he just had to think of moving along the river, and he would without even walking.
Each day he'd explore further and further along the river, and discovered that he wasn't running up against whatever barrier held him back. If he stopped for too long, he was still yanked back to where he started, but at least he had some semblence of freedom.
As an experiment, he'd try walking along the shore, as close as he could, but still ran into the same limitations. The only way for him to have any escape, however brief, was to travel the waterways. He even tried leaving the river on his journeys, and it seemed to work, but still he would soon hit the barrier, or be drawn all the way back. Marcus theorised that he was less bound to the spot of his death, although there was some force tying him there, as he was bound to the rivers.
One day he was returned from his travels, and heard voices. He ventured up from where his body had been laid, crossed the river, and saw three of his friends standing around the circle of stones.
He tried with all his might to hear them, straining his ears, but it was all muffled. Everyone sounded like they were speaking into pillows. If he tried hard enough, he could make out the gist of their discussions, but it was so hard to focus, that he stopped tryin and just watched.
Even watching them was strange. Their movements were slow, and they left trails behind them with each step or wave an arm. Alyson's hair flowed through the air and settled gently against her cheeks with each turn of her head.
When Marcus saw that they were moving slow, he listened again, and began to understand more of what they said, as their words weren't just muffled, but slowed down. It still took great effort to reach understanding, but he was learning.
Marcus called out to them, and even walked around them, but they seemed to be unaware of his presence.
After he decided that jumping around, waving his arms, and shouting was futile, Marcus stuck to the tree line, watching his friends. He was close enough to his resting place that he wasn't sucked back the 20 or 30 feet, so his vigil was uninterupted.
He tried to be there whenever he knew they would be. His lonely existence at least filled with something to do besides exploring the waterways of southern Vermont.
Marcus learned their schedule of coming by a couple times during the week, and on Saturdays, so knew not to be off on a journey on those days and watch his friends.
He was surprised to watch them fighting, and even more surprised when he saw Alyson's frustration. Marcus was grateful for the first time that no one could see or hear him as he screamed like a girl.
Time flowed by with little meaning in whatever plane of existence Marcus existed on now. One day as he watched them, he saw that Alyson was looking very unAlyson-like. He focused to try and hear, but the words were more muddled than usual. Marcus thought about how much time had passed, and remembering his calendar, thought that maybe Halloween would fall on a Saturday.
Marcus let his thoughts wander as his friends practiced with wooden swords. He hated that he couldn't participate. He was starting to find that the only things worse than being alone, was being alone with his friends, being unable to do anything more than be a spectator. This was no sort of life, as Marcus was all too aware.
He was lost in thoughts of his own, that it was some time before Marcus realised that he could hear the trio. More than just hear them as muffled, garbled messes, he could hear actual words.
It still sounded distant and like they were now inside a house, and Marcus was watching from the outside through a window.
Their words were almost normal speed, and their motions had become more fluid and the trails were gone, as if the world was reaching normal speed once more.
He looked around and hid behind a tree, not knowing if he might be becoming more visible to them, as reality seemed to be coalescing around him.
Marcus waited nervously, the words becoming clearer with each passing moment. The light faded, and night overtook the forest. He heard them as clear as if he was there with him, and Marcus dared to watch as the men left Alyson alone in the clearing. Just like he had been left alone almost two months ago. He wanted to hide, but kept watching, fearing that there may be a repeat of that attack.
He remained in the deep shadows of the trees and watched as she reached out to touch the standing stone so central to the clearing. When her hand fell upon the stone, Marcus felt a shiver wash over his entire body, the first sign of any feeling he had felt since being seperated from his body. He hadn't even thought about heat, or cold, or wet, or anything of the sort until that shiver hit him.
Any discrepency between the vision and sound of the two sides of the world Marcus now watched was gone. He could hear Alyson with perfect clarity, and watch her move as she had always moved before his death.
If there was any day to do what he wanted to do, there was no better day than Halloween, Marcus figured.
He crept forward, but found he was still disconnected from this side of reality, and his feet made no sound upon the ground. He stopped trying to be stealthy and walked as he would anywhere else, not making a sound or a shift of air as he did so.
Alyson spun around in surprise, and a mixture of emotions flooded her face; fear, love, joy, confusion, and even back to fear again. All of those didn't matter though, as she leapt forward to try and hug her departed friend.
Instead of enveloping his solid flesh in her arms, she kept flying forward straight through what passed for his body. Alyson came close to tumbling to the ground, which would have been a first for the training session that day. She regained her balance however, and spun back around, expecting to see Marcus's back, but he had turned in an instant to watch her.
She stood staring at him, and he stared back. So much unsaid between them hung in the air as they both struggled to make sense of everything they were seeing. Marcus had been just as surprised to have someone fall through him, as Alyson was to be the one doing it. He wasn't so much surprised by it happening, as he was by the sensation. It outdid the shiver by several levels. He might have described it as someone walking over his grave, if that wasn't a little too literal.
Alyson at last was the one to break the silence. "You're dead!"
"So are you!" shot back Marcus.
"No, I'm undead. There's a subtle difference there. Like the whole I can touch stuff deal!"
"Sure, rub it in."
"What are you?"
Marcus only had one explanation that made any sense. He'd come to it pretty quick after waking up in the woods and unable to leave. "I'm pretty sure I'm a ghost. I don't know what else would describe it. So yeah, it looks like it's a world of look but don't touch with me now."
He reached out and stuck his hand in Alyson's face, more literally than anyone ever could before.
Alyson jerked her head away and jumped back a few steps.
"Don't do that!" she shouted. "That's just a little too weird for me right now."
"Says the vampire," scolded Marcus, but with a smile all the time.
Alyson looked down at the orange coloured forest floor. "Figured that one out, huh?"
"Only recently. You could have told me."
The girl didn't look up, but Marcus could hear her holding back sniffles. "I didn't have the time. Maybe I would have."
"It's ok, you didn't have a choice in it. But I've been watching you guys coming here, and I kinda figured it out."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Marcus sighed, remembering how much he wanted to, " I tried. But until now, I was some disembodied spirit, disconnected from everything but this place."
She looked up, and wiped at her cheeks. "Why...no how are you here?"
"It's Halloween!" he declared, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
It may well have been to him, but Alyson was less sure. "That's not an answer," she said, and crossed her arms.
"I think it is, actually." Marcus took a moment to think it through. "Ancient cultures believed that on Halloween, the spirits of the dead would come back and walk the Earth. And here I am."
Alyson seemed unconvinced. "But you're the only ghost I'm seeing."
"Do you know where many of the beliefs of Halloween came from?" Alyson shook her head. "From ancient Celtic and druid practices."
"And this is an ancient site of druidic power."
"Where they would perform human sacrifices."
Alyson was beginning to get it. "A man killed in a druid circle of power, bound to this spot, and along comes a pagan holiday of the dead rising. And maybe, just maybe because of the connection we share."
"I might not have returned if it was anyone other than you out here. It was like the final piece of the puzzle clicking into place. You were right about this place having power. I've been able to feel it building since I," Marcus fumbled for the words as they jammed in his throat. "Since I died."
"A ghost and a vampire. We make quite the pair, huh?"
Marcus grinned. "Seen any werewolves around?"
Alyson smiled back at the humour, but one unspoken question hung between the two of them. "What killed you?"
Marcus had wondered that very question for the past month, and he had no good answer. His memories of the event were hazy.
"I don't know," he sighed. "I'm sorry."
Alyson pleaded, praying for any sign he could give her. "Is there anything you remember? Any clue? We're in the dark here."
"I remember something following me, something invisible. It didn't make a sound. I saw it's hand, for a moment."
"What did it look like? Please, Marcus."
Alyson could see this was painful for him. Remembering one's own demise was always painful, and she should know. Her own death was still unclear in her own mind, and most of what she remembered came from Darien. Something about the shock in that moment, either because the person is too busy doing the actual dying, or the brain is trying to protect itself always seemed to cause anyone who lived after death to never remember those final moments. On top of all that, to be in a position to remember one's own death was traumatic in and of itself. Trying to remember details of a loved one being killed was bad enough, and hard enough for people to do; imagine trying to do the same for your own death.
The dead man walking struggled with words, forcing himself to go back to that night, a true lifetime ago. "I'm sorry, Alyson. It's just so hard."
The vampire reached out to take the ghost's hand, and it passed right through his form, as she knew it would. Her instincts had overridden her mind, and she had tried anyways.
"I know, Marcus," she comforted. "Just try, please."
"It was...it was pale. No, more than pale. It was white. I'm talking clownface makeup white. And there was a voice."
"What did it say? What did it sound like?" If Alyson was sitting on a chair, she would have been creeping forward inch by inch, until she was ready to fall off the edge.
Marcus bit his lip, trying to pull the memories out of the murky deep of his own thoughts.
"It was a whisper, hard to hear. It was like the rustling of dead leaves, and less like a voice. I almost didn't hear it at all."
"But what did it say?" Alyson inquired, trying to hide her frustration. She knew it wasn't his fault he couldn't remember, but she was so eager for any hint he might blurt out without knowing it.
"It said something about infinity." He paused, his face bunching up. He rubbed at his forehead, trying to force the memories out. Alyson was fascinated at his physicality with himself, knowing there was nothing truly there at all, except maybe a series of thoughts and impulses. She still needed to breathe, to eat, her heart still beat, and electricity shot through her nervous system, but his body was gone, all of that was gone for Marcus. He still acted like a person with a beating heart and working lungs, despite anything he did to try and force a non-existant brain to work was futile. Old habits died harder than humans did, it seemed.
Whatever fog he was fighting through parted for a moment, and his face cleared. "No, not infinity, eternity. A kiss to last an eternity. That was it, or close."
Alyson sighed, and Marcus looked concerned. "What? Is something wrong?"
She turned away from her friend, and looked back towards the stone that had brought them all here. "No, nothing's wrong. What you said makes perfect sense, but it doesn't help any. Not really."
"How does it make sense?" Alyson could tell he had moved closer, and she thought if he could still breathe, she would have felt his warm breath against the top of her head.
"We're pretty sure you were killed by a vampire," she said. "We often call biting people and feeding, a kiss. And considering how far the vampire took it, lasting an eternity would be a most apt description."
She could hear Marcus sigh behind her. "Yeah, that makes sense. The last thing I remember was a sharp sting in my neck, then darkness. After that, I woke up, or whatever, laying on a pile of leaves. Felt like I was resting on air, really."
Alyson gave a nod, and looked back at Marcus. She had been crying again. He wanted so bad to reach out and wipe her face clean. He felt his hand moving to do so, but stopped it before she saw, or hoped he did. Marcus wanted to rage about the unfairness of life, bringing this girl into his life, only to take it away from him. Now here they were again, together at last, but seperated by so much. He wanted to punch something, but he didn't even have the ability to do that anymore!
"I wish I could tell you more," Marcus said, seething with rage beneath the surface of his words.
"It's ok," Alyson replied, trying to console her friend, without touching him. How do you console someone over their death? she wondered. Alyson thought she'd have some level of expertise on the subject, but nothing came to her. "It's something, at least. Not much, nothing we didn't already suspect, but something. Yeah."
"Well, you know if you see any vampire clowns, you've got your man," quipped Marcus with a broad smile.
Alyson couldn't help herself, and her soft laugh filled the silent forest. She laughed harder than she should have, as all the tension was forced out of her. Soon her tears were brought on by the pain of trying not to laugh so hard, and the sadness had abated.
She leaned over and rested her hands against her fishnet-covered knees as she tried to catch her balance, and wait for the pain in her side to fade.
"Hate you," she said amidst her laughter.
Marcus harumphed. "Is that any way to speak of the dead."
Alyson stood back up and pushed her hair back into place. The disheveled look worked oddly well with her costume.
"Hey," she replied, "I'm dead too, so I can make fun."
She took care cleaning up her face as well as she could in the middle of the woods, to make herself look more presentable without ruining her makeup any further.
The two did nothing more than stand there in silence for a long while, as the situation creeped back in upon them, hanging in their minds, unable to be pushed away for long.
"I thought I heard you say you had a party to get to?" asked Marcus, forcing the words out into the empty air.
Alyson's words squeaked out, nothing more than a whisper. "I don't want to go."
"I don't either," sighed Marcus. "But I'm already gone."
"But if I go, you'll be gone. This can't last. Halloween's over soon."
"Sunrise is cruel to both of us, it seems." Marcus forced out a smile, but it looked like he was doing just that.
"Can't I stay until then? If you're going to be here, I don't want to leave you. I want to cram as much time together as we can. In my sort of existence, we don't get a lot of second chances."
"Says the vampire?"
"Ok, we do, but not too many after a true, final death. Nitpicker."
Marcus reached out, and placed his hand over Alyson's shoulder. He was unable to feel her, aside from an electrical shiver that shot through his arm when part of whatever he was entered into her. He knew he couldn't really touch her in any meaningful way, couldn't comfort her the way they both wanted him to comfort her. They both would have given anything for just a moment of corporeality.
Alyson placed her hand on her own shoulder, passing through Marcus's own, and they both felt a shiver through them. It wasn't any actual touch, but it was something. A connection amidst everything so wrong.
"You really ought to go," Marcus said, as much as he didn't want to say anything. "It would be a shame to have gotten all dressed up and not show off and show everyone else how beautiful you really are."
"I don't care what they think."
"You should. They're still alive. Their opinions still matter. Win them over like you did me. You may not be truly alive anymore, but you still have a semblence of life. Live that life, for both of us."
"That can wait a few hours," Alyson stubbornly insisted.
"Of course it could. We could spend the night here babbling to each other. But either way, I'm pretty sure I'll be gone once All Hallow's Eve ends. Better to part on our own terms, than be taken away by whatever force will draw me back. You're still alive, Alyson. Live that life, dangit. Strut into Rachel's house like you own the place, and show her that she's not the hottest thing in school. You know you want to."
Alyson blushed, and made a shy smile. "Yeah, that was the point of this absurd getup."
"Which looks great."
"But I don't want to go."
"I know you don't! I don't want you to either! But at least we're parting on our own terms. No vampires killing us, no spirits whisking us away. We can choose to say our goodbyes and be done with it. How many people get to say that?"
Alyson sighed. "I hate it when other people are right."
"It's a terrible cross to bear," replied Marcus. "And just remember; just because you can't see me, I'm always here. Watching you. Maybe we'll see each other next year. And you can tell me all about finding my killer and staking it good."
Alyson was about to point out that stakes wouldn't do any good, and let it slide.
They stood there in silence and darkness again, only the moonlight that found its way to them making anything visible, even to Alyson's enhanced vision. Marcus could see just fine, no longer needing light to see.
"Goodbye, Marcus. I'm so sorry you got dragged into this."
"Don't blame yourself. As long as that thing gets dead, we'll call it even."
Marcus leaned over and kissed at Alyson's cheek, a gesture that neither of them would feel, and yet meant everything to both of them. "Goodbye, Alyson."
She was close to trying to give him one last hug before going, but before Alyson could flail her arms uselessly in the air trying to figure out how she could make that work, they were interupted by a voice that neither of them had heard before.
"You have said your goodbyes. Now it is time for you to go." It was a voice, but it came from nowhere they could pinpoint. It was booming, yet gentle and quiet. It was everywhere and nowhere at once. It was angry, sad, happy, and loving wrapped up in hope and despair.
They looked around for the source of the voice, and Marcus saw it first, or what might have been the source, standing by the monolith between them and the river. Marcus's eyes were sharper, but Alyson saw it almost as quick. They both stared in disbelief at what they saw.
It was a tall figure, taller than Darien by a good half foot at least. Any clues to gender were hidden by the black cloak it wore, covering every inch of it, including a hood pulled up over its head, and covering its face in blackness that was even blacker than the night or the cloak. Not even the eyes of a ghost or a vampire could pierce through the inky depths.
Not even hands could be seen, the sleeves of the cloak draping far enough down that they were obscured from view. All they could see was a pillar of darkness that was an almost exact twin of the standing stone beside it.
It moved, no glided, closer. Not a rustle of fabric, if that's what it was, could be seen as it came nearer the pair of dead things. Both of them could only assume this thing before them was one thing, and neither of them wanted to see it coming for them, even though both were just as likely to be claimed by it that night.
They could just stand there and stare at the thing in black, the thing OF black as it came closer. They didn't even want to run. They knew it wouldn't do any good, if that thing was indeed what they thought it was.
It stopped less than a foot from them, and if the sun had been out, its imposing form would have blocked it out. Instead, it just cast them into deeper darkness. They both stared up to where its face would be, if it indeed even had a face. They both looked for any sign of a feature, any sign of humanity buried within the darkness, any sort of answers.
None were forthcoming.
"Marcus," whispered Alyson, unaware that her hands were trying to grasp at his ethereal arm.
"Mmm?" was all he could force out.
"I think your ride is here."