Continued from: Earworm: Part 61 — The Trap
No, please, no.
A flash of images and a rush of dreams. He was in.
Hope stood in the castle. The dome ceiling and mural above her. Around her, a reaching cosmos of golden echoes.
“William?” she called, the reverberation of her shaky voice making her realize just how frightened she was. She looked down at the necklace hanging from her neck, the moon jewel nestled between the ridges of her breasts. She took the orb in her hand and examined the craters and plains of the lunar landscape until her eyes could no longer hold its light. Goosebumps erupted across her skin. She felt a presence, another being, another soul, not just in the castle, but somehow winding into her subconscious. But this time, it was a different sensation than in her other dreams. Hope turned to look behind her.
Joel stood, dressed in nylon warm-up pants and a Mystic Wolves T-shirt. He was regarding the mural above him. Running his fingers through his hair, walking tentative, random steps. His bare feet planting on the marble floor—like a drunk’s trying to coordinate a sobriety test. The swooshing of his nylon pants filling the room with whispers. Hope watched him for a few seconds that seemed like hours. Making sure he had no knives or hatchets or meat hooks, or any other stereotypical slasher movie tools.
Hope called in a hushed voice, “Joel?”
Joel twitched and looked at her.
Hope realized that the other presence in her head wasn’t just the stalking animal she had felt in her other dreams. That stalking animal was still there—there was no doubt about that—but it was dormant, waiting. What she now felt was the stalking animal’s additional prey, like a cat showing a mouse to its owner. This time, Joel wasn’t just an image William had conjured into existence. Instead, that was the real Joel Fitch, somehow dragged along the dream-plane into Hope’s mind. Or was she dragged into his? Or, most frightening of all, were they both dragged into someone else’s mind? Joel watched her for few seconds—that seemed like hours—in the same manner she had watched him. Then his eyes scanned the gold walls again, his attention lingering on the mural.
He said, “I… uh… I think I’m dreaming.”
“Joel, I think we’re both having the same dream,” Hope said.
A flash of caution—the remembrance of past horrors—betrayed Joel’s eyes. He stepped back. “How do I know it’s really you?” he said, his hands balling into fists.
“Joel, you’re just going to have to trust me.”
“Yeah, but how do I know it’s really you?” He took another step back.
“Joel, it’s me. I won’t hurt you. Somehow William has us in the same dream.”
Joel’s head lulled to one side, “But….” His eyes scanning the hall again. “How do I know you’re not a nightmare that’s gonna…”
“For Christ’s sake, Joel,” William said.
Hope and Joel reeled around as William walked toward them.
William saying, “Yes, Joel, it’s really Hope. Hope, it’s really Joel. Do we get it now? Jesus, Hope, this is really who you want?” William motioned toward Joel. “This… walking bubblegum card?”
Joel regarded William as if William was some inanimate object that had one day started to speak. Hope, however, knew what was happening. And why William was there.
“William,” she said, forcing her voice to have the calm reason of a hostage negotiator. Which, in a terrifying way, she had just become. “However you’re doing this, getting into our heads like this, you’ve got to stop.”
William inspected the intricately etched gold of the walls and the precarious perfection of the domed ceiling. “Hope, don’t you like this place?” he said, holding his arms out toward the surroundings.
“Yes, William, I do like it. But it’s not real.”
“Real? Hope, real is merely perception. Look,” he said, gesturing toward Joel, “now that we’re joined by the real Joel Fitch, why don’t you ask him to do something spectacular? Go ahead and ask him to do anything… other than say something stupid that is. Go ahead, ask him to show you your castle’s secrets. Ask him to bring back your father. Go ahead, Hope, ask Joel to show you what he has to offer you. It’s really him standing there, and it’s really me standing here. You want to know what’s real? I’m real. You’ve already shared more with me than you possibly could with him. More than you could with anyone else. And this is just the beginning, I haven’t even begun to show you what I’m capable of giving you.”
“William, you can’t use a person’s desires to manipulate them,” Hope said.
“Manipulate? I brought you to where you wanted to go.”
“No, William, you… kidnapped me.”
“How can you say that? You willingly came with me. You said you wanted to see what I had to show you. I don’t understand how you can just walk away from it all.”
“William, all of it was a dream.”
“No, Hope. I was giving you what you most wanted.”
“By attacking me?”
“I didn’t attack you. I’d never attack you. I was trying to show you who I am. And who he is.” William pointed at Joel.
Joel’s eyebrows raised, his head bobbing back as if saying, who, me?
William saying to Hope, “He doesn’t care about you. He’s after one thing, and you know that. And if he doesn’t get it from you, he’ll get it somewhere else. Like your friend, Tara. Remember?”
“That was a dream you caused.”
“Was it? Why don’t you ask Joel? You see, here’s where your concept of reality breaks down. Go ahead, ask him.”
Hope glanced at Joel.
Joel raised his eyebrows in his who me? gesture again.
“William,” Hope said. “My personal life has nothing to do with you.”
“But it does. Don’t you understand? We’re connected. You welcomed me into your world when I welcomed you into mine.”
“No, William,” Hope said, “You attacked me. You attacked both of us.” She gestured toward Joel. “You held us hostage for the ransom of your own wants.”
Joel wandered around the floor, viewing the surroundings with the evident struggle for comprehension. “So… wait,” Joel said, still sizing up the visions around him. “You mean it’s true?” He looked at William. “You can really like, mess with our heads?”
“Welcome to the conversation, Joel,” William said.
“William,” Hope said in her calm, negotiator voice, “you have to let us go.”
“Hope, let me bring you your greatest desires, let me return your father to you.” “My father’s dead, William.”
“He doesn’t have to be.”
“So, wait…” Joel said, “you’re, like, really messing with my head somehow?”
William looked at Hope. “How thick can he be?”
“But, wait,” Joel said. “Why?”
“To show Hope the truth.”
“The truth about what?” Joel said.
“About you,” William said. “You slam a volleyball in my face because you thought I couldn’t retaliate. Now you’ll see how wrong you were. I’m merely changing the playing field. Making it so I can play, too. I’m changing the rules from survival of the fittest, to survival of the strongest. And believe me, Joel, in here I am strongest.”
Joel shook his head and returned to inspecting the hall, wandering in random circles again. But Hope noticed definite bearing in his wandering. A shark circling prey.
Hope said, “William, you can’t make someone love you.”
“But I don’t understand why you won’t love me. I don’t understand why you won’t accept what I have to offer you. I mean, look at all this.” He held out his arms, gesturing to the gold walls and polished marble, “this is all…”
Joel sprang forward, wrapping his arm around William’s throat. Joel growling, “Now you listen here, freak, I don’t know how you’re getting into our dreams, and right now, I don’t care, but if we don’t wake up soon, I’m gonna dream about kicking the ever living shit out of you.”
“Joel, look out,” Hope screamed as the decaying corpse of her father materialized out of the marble floor. It was the same creature from Hope’s nightmare in the graveyard, and it tore Joel from William, tossing him through the air in a long, arching motion. Joel landing, sprawling and sliding, his skin squeaking across the marble floor.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 63 — Frenzy
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