But I didn't.
I splashed some more cool water on my face, and just tried to breathe deeply to make sure that I was stable enough to go back into that room. Even though I didn't want to.
What was I still doing here? What could I possibly be afraid of? I could see if they threatened to hurt me, or had cut me off from the rest of the world. But they took me back and forth into town. The lead me around people. I could have made a break for it. I could have just walked out of the store and caught a ride with someone else while they weren't looking. I could have screamed for help. I just....I wish I knew why the pull to stay here was so strong. And I wish I knew why it was suddenly so hard to think on my own all of the sudden. It's like...it's like my head is filling up with this murky liquid...and my inner voice is being drowned out by the needs of everyone else in the house. It was like I could feel 'them' growing inside of me, and even now, as I tried to struggle to think straight, something kept me undeniably attached to them. Almost as if I was chained to them. And I couldn't seem to rub their influence out of my head.
I stood up straight, and smoothed out my clothes and hair before walking back into the living room. I didn't seem to get much attention from the others as they were still involved with their music and their liquor. Scout had evidently 'finished Cyrus off' while I was in the kitchen, and was now cuddled up like a toddler in his lap. Sebastian had gone back to sit on his window sill, a book open, not really bothering to interact with anybody else. The atmosphere itself just seemed to call out to me, and there were moments when I almost gave in. Rationalizing that as long as I was here, I might as well drink some more, submit to the same frame of mind as the people around me, and make the best of it. At least I could have some fun. If nothing else, it would help to pass the time until I got to go back home. But...thoughts of my family, my brother Nick, my parents...they helped me to resist. They helped me to keep some of my sanity. And that only made the 'call' fight harder.
I needed some air.
I started to walk towards the front door, and Shank and Razor were sitting on either side of it. Shank noticed me first, and his eyes stared coldly at me as I approached. But he didn't say anything. He didn't even move. However, when I reached out for the door and opened it a little bit, that's when Razor took notice, and he quickly kicked the door shut. "Hold on! Where the fuck do you think YOU'RE going, junior?"
"I'm going outside for a walk. I need some air." I told him.
Both twins simultaneously lifted their heads, and inhaled deeply. And Razor said, "Seems like there's plenty of oxygen in here to me. What do you think, Shank?"
"Definitely." He answered.
"You want air, baby boy? Open a window."
I knew that this problem could be easily solved, and I simply looked back over my shoulder at Cyrus, who was naturally aware of my every move. Our eyes connected, and Cyrus smiled wickedly as he realized that I was depending on him to resolve this. He gave a gentle nod to the twins, and Razor moved his foot away from the door. Both of them stared at me as I opened the door, but I didn't care. I got to go outside, and that's all I wanted.
It had gotten so dark outside. It didn't even seem like I had been in there that long. Time was so...irrelevant out here when I was with them. What seemed like a couple of minutes had actually been days. What seemed like days, had only been a couple of minutes. If it weren't for the constant rising and setting of the sun, I probably would have lost my concept of time altogether. It was quiet out there, the air had cooled down considerably, and I could hear every pebble and grain of sand as it rolled underneath my feet. I walked far enough away from the house to have the loud music exist as only a muffled hum in the distance, and I looked down into a drop in the landscape. The woods covering the ground with a thick summer foliage. And the waning moon, already reaching half full, was still bright as ever. It was the first time since this morning that my thoughts felt like mine again. And I was thankful for the opportunity to escape the madness for a moment or two.
"It's awfully pretty, ain't it?" Came a voice from behind me, and I turned to see Kriegar standing there with a small bottle of whiskey in his hand. I didn't hear a single footstep, not a breath, not a kicked stone or broken twig...nothing. Their silent appearance always kept you guessing. Always kept you paranoid. Never knowing when or where they were going to show up. Never knowing whether or not they were listening.
"What is?" I asked as he walked closer.
"The moon. The sky. The night. Everything. It's like music for the eyes, man." He said, and took a swig from the bottle, reaching it out to offer me some.
"No. No thanks, I've had enough."
"Psh! Fuck you! Drink!" He grinned, and practically pressed the bottle into my hand. I touched the bottle to my lips, almost involuntarily, and guzzled down a bit of the drink myself. I coughed a bit, wiping some excess from my mouth on the back of my wrist. "Good boy." He said, and drank a bit more. "You know, I know almost every inch of these woods like the back of my hand. Been through it more times than I could count. Down at the bottom of this hill, if you charge down far enough, there's a small creek that runs from one end of the forest to the other, and it stops at this little muddy pond about a mile and a half from here." Kriegar handed me the bottle back, and again, I found myself taking a drink. I didn't understand why, as drinking was what got me stuck in this mess in the first place. But it simply became a natural motion, with Kriegar passing me the bottle, and me passing it back to him, as we talked. "The pond is blocked off from everybody else, but if you're careful, it's a great place to go and think."
"If you're careful?" I asked.
"Yeah. The pond isn't patrolled or looked after very well, so if you get sunken in, you're fucked." He passed the bottle back to me, and I took a sip, feeling my head spinning a little bit as the intoxication was reintroduced to my bloodstream.
"Sunken in? What does that mean?"
"Quicksand." He said.
I gave him a look. "Get outta here. Like in the movies?"
"JUST like in the movies, yep."
I paused for a second, a little grin on my face. "You're just kidding me, right?"
"I shit you not."
"That stuff doesn't really exist..."
"Tell that to the two kids that drowned down there a couple of years back" He said, finishing off the bottle. "That's why it's blocked off. Completely off limits." He took the empty bottle, and threw as far down into the woods as he could. "It's the running water going into the pond. Most of the time it happens so fast that you never see it coming. If you're walking long the riverbank, and you feel the ground start to go all funny beneath your feet, you've got about three seconds to move before it turns to liquid and pulls ya down. And around here, it's just deep enough to swallow you up. Chances are....they won't even find your fucking body until somebody else sinks into the same spot." I saw Kriegar smile to himself, and figured that he had to be joking. He didn't mean it. Did he? "You don't believe me, do you?" He asked, stepping closer to me in an attempt to spook me. "Ya usually sink in to your waist almost immediately. It's muddy, and it's cold, and your first reaction is, 'aww shit, I fell in some mud'. But it's not just mud. And by the time they realize that, they're usually up to their armpits or worse."
"Whatever. I'm not buying it, dude."
"You lift your right foot, and your left foot sinks three inches. You lift your left foot...and your right foot sinks three inches. No matter how much you try to walk away, it just keeps pulling you down. If you try to swim, it pulls you down. If you try to reach for solid ground, the ground you're reaching for turns to quicksand too...so the edge of the pit gets further and further away from you, and the quicksand gets bigger and bigger until you're too tired to move anymore." He raised his hand, and lightly drew a line across my chin. "That's when you realize...that you're up to your neck...and that every move you make only takes you deeper. You've only got a couple of inches left to work with before your nose and mouth are covered and you can't breathe. The panic sets in, and you begin to fight for your life, but the sand...it's like it's alive. And the last bit of muddy foundation that you had left to stand on..gives way beneath your feet...and you sink. Down....down...down into the muck...never to be seen again." He grinned. "BUT...other than that, it's a great fucking place to go and get your head straight!" He blurted out suddenly, and gave me a playful shove.
"Hehehe, jerk!" I said, pushing back a bit.
We shared a grin or two, and then Kriegar asked, "So when are you gonna quit fucking around and play ball with us, huh?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't be an idiot, you know what I'm talking about." He said.
"Kriegar...dude, I've got a family. I've got friends. I I've got a home to go to..."
I looked over at him with a smirk. "C'mon...enough is enough. You guys can't honestly expect me to 'stay' here." He looked back at me, but he wasn't laughing. "Come ON, seriously! Alright? I mean...this is great, this is fun and all, but...sooner or later, the summer's gonna end, and we're all gonna go back home and back to school and it'll be over. Right?"
"Is that what you think?" He smiled.
"Of COURSE it is! I mean, you guys had me going for a little bit, but we HAVE to go home. We HAVE to go to school..."
"Wesley, my boy...I can honestly tell you with all sincerity that I haven't been home OR to school in a very long time." Kriegar picked up small handful of rocks, and tossed them down into the darkness one at a time. What he was saying seemed ridiculous, but I never knew what to believe when it came to these kids.
"How long?" I asked.
"Well, let's put it this way...they've probably changed quite a number of school textbooks since the last time 'I' sat down for a lesson." He tossed another rock over the side, looked at me, and smiled again. "Come on, Wes...quit being a pussy and stand with us already. What the hell are you waiting for?"
"What do you want? I'm here, aren't I?"
"You're here, but you're not 'present'. Your mind is still making up stories about how 'wonderful' home is and how you and your family was one big Brady Bunch, full of good times and wacky misadventures. You're thinking about how popular you were in school, or how much you mattered to your friends. All that 'best of times' bullshit." He said. "But it's not real, you know? None of it. It's just some little fantasy you make up in order to feel useful. But, trust me, you go back to that shithole of an existence and you'll be complaining about how much it sucks again in the first week. Maybe even sooner."
"And the alternative is, of course, to stay here with you and Cyrus in a big old happy log cabin for the rest of our days. Am I right?"
"Can you think of a better plan?"
"A few, yeah." I giggled, hoping that Kriegar would lighten up a bit. Hell, it's the first time I've seen him be civil long enough to even be considered approachable. But despite a few halfhearted grins here and there..he seemed rather serious about it.
"I felt the same way once. You know that?" He said, tossing another rock, this one going out much further into the darkness than the other ones did. "We all did." He looked at me briefly, then looked away as he went back to collecting more rocks to throw. "We all kinda figured....wow, this will be a great break away from everything else. And when it's all over, I can go back to my old life. Refreshed. And rejuvenated. And I'll make things better this time around...because I understand so much more." He squinted his eyes a bit, and shook his head. "But it's all a big fucking lie, dude. The whole world...it's just a big joke."
"Well...I know that it sucks sometimes, but..."
"It sucks ALL the time, Wesley. Believe me. The only time you get to enjoy it is when you immerse yourself in the illusion. Hell, it's not even YOUR illusion, it's some fucked up fantasy that somebody else painted for you." He tossed out another rock, this one almost seemed to be thrown in anger.
"So you're just not gonna go back? Like....ever?" I asked.
His mood softened a bit, and he said, "There was nothing back there for me, kid. I wasn't gonna amount to much of anything. Do I look like a lawyer or a doctor to you? Some fancy supermodel actor or some tight assed corporate 'yes man'? I wasn't a straight 'A' student, or a whiz at playing the guitar. That's not me. That's not what I do. I drink. I party. I occasionally knock the books out of some geeks hands. THAT'S what I do. Too bad there's no big future in that."
"Did you..." I was almost afraid to ask, but I wanted to know. "...Did you run away from home, dude?"
He looked over at me, and he said, "I didn't 'run' anywhere. I walked away from them...and I found my own home. Here with people who cared more about loving me than trying to control me. People who didn't need to understand me to accept me. And I've never felt more alive." He turned to face me. "You know...when Cyrus says that he can make things better, that's not bullshit, Wesley. Cyrus doesn't just tell you the truth, he is truth. In its purest form, without any masks or sugarcoated kisses. The fact that you've been chosen to receive his gift should lift your spirits higher than they've ever been lifted before. It's a blessing, man! It's like...the ultimate connection to yourself. It's your chance to see what's really down there...in all of those places that you were too scared to look before." He pointed to my heart. "And once you've learned that there was nothing to be afraid of in here..." He then pointed out into the darkness, his finger moving to cover everything for as far as the eye could see. "...Then you learn that there's absolutely nothing to fear...out there."
"Stop thinking, Wesley. You're THINKING too much! Thinking is what 'they' taught you do. Thinking is what they use to place doubt, and fear, and hesitation, in all the places that they don't want you to express out loud What do you feel?" He told me. "What do you feel running through you right now? Let THAT guide your thoughts, and be 'real' for a change."
"I don't now how to be more real than I'm being right now..."
"Only because you haven't learned to embrace your true nature yet. But you will. And after that, the sky's the fucking limit." He tossed his last rock down the hill. "That's what Cyrus does. He changes you. Gives you purpose. He molds you inside and out...like art...but he never takes anything away from you. He doesn't have to. He introduces you to yourself in a way that you never thought possible. He helps you to be free."
I thought about it for a second, and asked, "Have you ever given any thought as to why?"
"There IS no 'why'." Came another voice from behind us, and we saw Cyrus approaching with a confident stride. "I found my freedom, and I helped Kriegar find his. It's as simple as that." He put a gentle hand on Kriegar's shoulder. "It appears that Dexter has tired himself out for the evening I'd like for you to put him to bed in the upstairs bedroom at the end of the hall. Lock the door."
"Yes, father." Kriegar replied, and Cyrus handed him another handheld bottle of alcohol, making him smile with gratitude as he headed back to the house.
Cyrus turned his attention to me, and I saw the beginnings of a grin as I turned to look back out into the darkness in front of me. "Are you feeling alright, Wesley? You seem troubled."
Every ounce of me wanted to block him out. He had a way of sneaking his will into the most private of thoughts. "I'm ok, I guess. Just thinking."
"Thinking. Always thinking." He said, walking closer. "It must be quite a burden, defending your curse the way you do."
"The curse of feeling inadequate. Unloved. Invisible. The more attention we shower onto your shoulders, the more you retreat. And I'm willing to bet that it's because you don't feel worthy of it." He reached out to touch me, his warm hand rubbing a small circle on my back. "You're constantly trying to fit into some other standard. A better 'mold'. Because you don't believe that who and what you are right now is good enough. You push, and you struggle, and you fight...hoping that you'll reach some level of accomplishment in the long run. A brick of pure gold at the end of the path. But you won't." He said, his hand moving up to the back of my neck, to sift through the soft blond locks there. "Because you are the gold, Wesley. You are everything that you need to be, inside and out. Whatever improvements or changes there are that you're looking to make...they're not out there in the hands of others. They're inside of you. They don't have to be fought for or achieved...they merely need to be discovered. The buried treasure is waiting for you. And I want to help you find it."
"I don't want to change, Cyrus. I was fine right where I was." I said, but the mental fog was already creeping its way into my thoughts, as his hand seemed to stroke my very emotions from the inside.
"Were you really all that happy where you were? Hmm?" He asked me. "You had a nice house, a loving family with no other dysfunction than the normal family unit. You had friends, you made good grades, you always had a roof over your head and food on your table. You're way above average in the looks department, in great shape, nice clothes, highly intelligent, well spoken, sense of humor. You grew up in a decent environment with no bullets whizzing by your head, or drugs being dealt on every corner. You had all of the elements of a happy childhood right there in the palm of your hand." He said, still stroking my back lightly with his hand. "But...with all that good fortune...it still didn't make you happy. Did it?" I stared out into the dark, feeling an emotional rush fighting its way to the surface, even though I was trying to silently keep it down where Cyrus wouldn't see it. "Go ahead, Wesley...you can answer me. There's no need to feel guilty about it, believe me. Being better off doesn't make you happy. There are millions of people who will tell you so. It's just another illusion...one you're trying hard to fit into. Even when it hurts." He kept touching me, and I felt myself suddenly getting choked up in the back of my throat. As though some hurtful emotion had just slammed into me from behind and unlocked some deep seeded pain inside of me. "Answer me, Wesley. Say it out loud. Were you happy?"
I tried to hold it back, but with a quivering bottom lip, I gasped...and much to my own surprise I said, "No....no I wasn't happy." I almost had to cover my mouth, wondering where the words had come from. Wondering if they were true. I was compelled to release that surge of 'feeling', and my vision began to blur as spontaneous tears came to my eyes.
Cyrus heard me sniffle, and he put his arms around me, resting his chin on my shoulder as he spoke softly into my ear. "I know how it feels, Wes. To feel suffocated. And alone. I know what it's like to be the outcast, to be different...and not understanding why it should even matter. I know. It's hard to believe sometimes..." I felt his lips kiss me lightly on the neck, and that is when the first tear slid down my cheek. "You are so beautiful, Wesley. Everything about you is beautiful. Inside and out." He whispered. "Has anybody ever told you that before? Anyone in your whole life? Do they truly appreciate the utter 'glory' of you?"
I sniffled some more, feeling weak in my very center, and Cyrus held me close, my back to his chest, with just the right amount of pressure. He was warm....so warm. "No...never..." I said.
"You are. To me...you are a diamond in every possible way." I closed my eyes, his words piercing such a painful emptiness inside of me. Bringing light to pieces of my soul that had remained in darkness for oh so long. As my eyes closed, more tears fell from my eyes, and I had to take short breaths as the emotion got even stronger. "There is soooo much you have to be proud of. So much that you have to offer. The people in your old life..they can't see it. They don't want to see it. The same way you didn't want to see...before I came to release you." He stroked my hair so lovingly, his arm around my chest. It felt good to have him touch me. Hold me. Rub me. It was so soothing to the senses. "No change can occur without loss. No rebirth with demise. But what exactly would you be destroying other than a life of lesser meaning? A life that could lead you no further than to the limitations they set up to imprison you?"
"Please....stop..." I sobbed, holding in the tears as much as I could. "Please...?"
He held me tighter, comforting me, pushing for that release. That giant tidal wave of buried emotion that was currently crashing against the dams and barricades that I had built to keep it locked away. "I know that it felt as though life was going the way it was supposed to go. I know that they created the fantasy of freedom by expanding the walls of your prison. But even a cage a million miles wide is still a cage, Wesley. That's where your pain comes from. Because you can see beyond the walls of captivity and you KNOW that there is more than what they're allowing you to have. And it hurts. It hurts and it aches and you spend every day in misery trying to break free, but you're too tired to try anymore. It becomes a pain just to think about it anymore. And that's where MOST people submit. That's where they give up hope, settle for the prison they were given, and just try to make the best of it. Lives wasted. Surrendered to some faceless social order that dictates who they should be and what they should be working for." He kissed my neck again, his lips ever so gently touching the surface of my skin. "But not you, Wesley. You haven't been broken yet. And that alone...makes you one of us."
His voice was hypnotic, his touch was like magic. But more than anything, it was his 'truth'. It was warm, and it was unbiased, and it seeped into me so easily. I welcomed the invasion, to be honest. He was the only one who understood. He was the only one who thought I was ok. Who thought I was beautiful. He embraced me like no one else ever could, and while my mind was screaming for me to not fall into another trap or be led astray by another trick...my soul was his. My soul....was his.
"They don't love you, Wesley. None of them. They never did. The only love they show you is made for what they see of 'themselves' in you. They hold you hostage, locking you into some strange image that they created of who you really are. Any attempt to disrupt that predictable vision is a threat to them. And in retaliation, they make it your fault that you're different. They make it your fault that you don't fit their picture perfect image of you. You have to understand...most people prefer the deception. Most people...prefer a fake somebody else to the real you. And you've been brainwashed to make that possible. You've been taught to conform, and to submit, and to bow down to this way of thinking...just so you can march along and be seen as a good boy by the rest of the world. Am I the first person to come along and tell you that you don't HAVE to? That you're NOT an outcast just because you don't fit into the box they built for you? Everything you are is perfect and beautiful and just as it should be. To waste one moment of your existence in doubt of that fact is a betrayal of your true nature. Accept it. Receive it."
"I don't know how..." I cried.
"That's why you need me. I can help you learn. And through me, you will know what it's like to break those chains...and let loose in ways that would reduce your average automaton to a trembling animal in the corners of your world." He said, seeing me break down into sobs as I lost my ability to fight them anymore. "I know what you're going through. I know why you hold on so tightly to the curse. To the 'lie'. It's scary isn't it...looking inward? I remember what it's like to not have the courage to look at my own reflection, for fear that I won't find anything of substance or value looking back at me. And because of that, I made an emotional 'prostitute' out of myself...allowing other people to buy and sell my self esteem as they saw fit. And the only payback I got was the halfhearted acceptance of people who neither loved nor cared about anything that they didn't know or couldn't pretend to know about me. I suffered in silence for their benefit, a sacrifice for a gutless and unworthy society full of clones, bullies, and cowards. But no more. Not for me. Not for you. Not ever again." He said.
I felt the overwhelming flood of pain wash over me, but Cyrus' love for me seemed to cleanse me of all my sins at once. His lack of judgment made me feel so alive. So 'wanted'. How could I deny him my obedience? How could I deny him my devotion?
"Close your eyes, Wesley." He said, and tenderly brushed the hair out of my eyes. "What does your heart tell you? What is it that you feel...right here in your heart?"
It was then, that the tears flowed freely, and my face wrinkled up as I prepared to collapse into his arms. "I feel....'sniffle'....I feel...."
"Yes..." He whispered, awaiting my answer.
"I feel like...you can 'see' me, Cyrus."
"Indeed...I can." He smiled, and just one look into his eyes was enough to push me over the edge, and I became weak in the knees as I leaned forward to cry on his shoulder. "Yes, boy. Let it out. Give it to me. All the pain. All the secrets. All the guilt. Let me have it...and I'll make it go away. You won't need it anymore." I cried even harder, almost embarrassing myself at the sudden release...but I couldn't let him go. I couldn't keep my hands from clutching his strong back, or my arms from wrapping him tight. I clung to him like a tree in a violent storm, praying that his roots would hold. And that his promise could be fulfilled.
The last door had been opened. The final barrier had been breached. And I had given my soul to the devil himself. Willingly. And without regret. As the calling took a strong hold of my mindset, Cyrus chuckled to himself And invited me to come back to the house to join the others. I had been chosen. It was the first time anyone had really chosen me for much of anything. And he made me feel like the most precious gem on Earth. To the point where no one else's mock love would matter. Not even that of my parents. He had completely wiped my identity clean...and fitted me for a new one. One tailor made just for me and my needs.
I think I like this fit much much better.