The mythical reality intrudes into the mundane world.
It was only after he made it through the damaged fence that Matthias realised how did he miss solitude. Here, in the ruins of the amusement park, he was free to do anything he wanted, and he revelled in the feeling.
Now, in the sunlight the ruins weren't as intimidating as they seemed to be the day before. Matthias started to play; he was a soldier fighting a war among the ruins of the destroyed city, and the birds were the enemy airplanes he was hiding from. And then he was a cowboy, one of the ponies from the merry-go-round being his stallion. He travelled through the deserts and the great outdoors, presumably in search of a buried Mayan treasure. And then he felt he wants to pee.
He could have done the thing anywhere in the ruins of the establishment, but, for some reason, decided to enter what was left of the old, dilapilated restrooms.
And as soon as he did, he regretted his decision.
Actually, he was afraid of restrooms. In many a nightmare he entered the bathroom only to find his toilet inhabited by a terrifying creature. In most dreams it didn't even have form, but manifested a menacing presence. He confessed his dreams to his parents, long before they separated.
"Well then", smiled his father, "If you can't fight the 'toilet monster', then make friends with him. Turn him from your enemy into your servant."
Dad knew those things well. He dealt with - no, not with madmen. With people who had problems. He was, as he said, a therapist. He helped the people combat their sadness and their fear. That's what he said. He must have been right about this one either.
Ever since Matthias began to nurture the other image of the 'toilet monster': no longer the terrible presence, but somewhat benign a creature and a potential ally against the school bullies.
That's why he chose restroom. That's why he visited them so often. To combat his fear.
He recalled one of the later dreams he had about the monster. The monster - actually a man - climbed out of the toilet. He was very funny, he made faces, they both laughed. But there was still an aura of menace about him.
Ever since that was how did he imagine the monster. A young, handsome man. In some of his dreams and his imaginations he turned into a real monster, with body and head of a man but the hands of a crab. So now, as he started to pee into the dilapilated toilet - or what was left of it - he began to whisper:
"Toilet monster, toilet monster ..."
He zipped his pants and was about to walk out, when he heard:
"Who called me, who desired anything of me? Why was my sleep disturbed?"
"Who called me, what is his name? What distant country from does he hail?"
The boy turned around. The sounds seemed to be coming from inside of the toilet.
But there was nothing there.
"... there", Lukas grinned as he pointed to the post-apocalyptic landscape that stretched behind the broken fence. The woman almost gasped at the sight.
Lukas took his time when they were on their way to the amusement park. All the while he stole glances at the woman to asses whether she'll make an easy prey. His conclusions were positive.
As he was surveying the lady he noticed something else. There was something about her - something she seemed to be sharing with the terrifying woman he had seen yesterday. Something otherwordly, though hidden beneath the thick layers of humanity. Not to mention that she was quite obscenely beautiful. Had he been older Lukas would have surely fallen in love with her. But he was young and there was no place for love in his world. The woman was an outsider, and outsiders were but a source of income.
"Two dollars", he said out of the blue, before even his female companion had chance to recover from shock.
The woman was about to reach into her purse, but then she regained her senses.
"I'm not paying you before I see my son.", she said.
"Very well then. It'll make it three dollars."
"How do you get in this - place? And why Matthias should be there at all?"
"That's my fault", admitted Adrian, "I shown him the place yesterday."
"Three dollars, lady", repeated Lukas.
"Ok, ok, three dollars", she agreed, "And now, where is my son?"
Matthias felt someone's hand on his shoulder.
"My God", he thought, "That's one of those people mom and dad warned me about. Those guys who prey on little boys and girls."
He froze in place, too afraid to even move a finger.
"Why did you summon me?", the man repeated.
"I didn't summon you", Matthias protested.
"Are you afraid of me?", the man said.
"That's good, for I'm the embodiment of your fear. I'm the part of yourself that you've let loose from your head. Do you want to know how do I look like?"
The man released his grip. Matthias turned around and saw - a tall man clad in green sweatshirt and jeans. It was not before he looked the man in his face that he understood.
The person had his face. Matthias was facing himself. He was facing the man he was going to be in twenty years.
"This", the man lifted his hand to his face, "Is the true face of your fear."
"Come", the man extended his hand, and Matthias accepted it.
The man led him out of the abandoned restroom and into the sunlight.
"Matthias!!!", the woman screamed as she saw that her son was leaving the restroom. But he wasn't alone. There was a man with him. A blonde-haired man in green sweatshirt.
"Jesus", the woman turned to Lukas, "Who is this man?"
"Now or never", thought Lukas as he reached out for the woman's purse.
"Luke!", yelled Adrian, as soon as he saw what his pal was doing, "Don't!"
The woman saw Lukas' hand reaching for her purse and understood.
And then Lukas grabbed the woman by her arm, pulled her to the ground, wrestled the purse from her and started to run away. The woman struck the ground with her head and became limp.
Adrian froze, undecided.
"Mom!", he heard the outsider cry.
Adrian looked at him. He was talking with the man in the green sweatshirt. They exchanged words and then Matthias pointed at Lukas, who was about to make it to the fence.
"Adrian!", his leader yelled, "Don't be a pussy! Run!!"
But Adrian couldn't move. He wasn't really there. Almost as if there was a glass wall between his eyes and the scene that was unfolding before him. Everything seemed strangely distant.
The man started to run. Adrian saw him run through the ruins of the amusement park with preternatural speed. What happened next was the confirmation of all the fantastic notions Adrian held about the reality.
Something was happening to the man's arms. They changed color. They became longer and seemingly stronger. Their fingers joined into what could only be - claws. The man ran past the woman and reached Lukas, who stood before the fence and yelled for Adrian to follow him. He seemed oblivious of the fact that the crab-armed man was going his way. And then the man reached Lukas, grabbed him and cut in half.
The guts spilled out of the boy's dead body as both its parts fell to the ground.
"Why is it so sunny?", thought Adrian. It was his last thought before he collapsed.
The place was filled with whiteness. White walls, white utensils, white sunlight light filtering through the white curtains.
Adrian blinked. It seemed to him that just a moment before he had been somewhere else, though he couldn't remember where it was.
And then he did.
He recalled the surpsised expression of his former leader when the - entity - cut him in half. The outsider wasn't lying. No, he was all too truthful.
For most of the time Adrian's feelings for Lukas were a mixed bag. He both admired him and detested him. But now, upon seeing his horrible death, all his anger was turned against one person - Matthias.
"I'll get you, you motherfucking sorcerer", he though, "I'll get you and your mom and your motherfucking dad if you have any. I'll get you both killed."
"... poor child", thought Officer Sergio upon looking at the innocuous and seemingly shocked twelve-year old boy.
"Is mom going to be okay?", the boy asked.
"Sure she will", replied Sergio, "It's just a slight concussion. We're taking her to the hospital."
"Matthias!?", someone screamed from behind the Officer's back.
The policeman turned around and saw an unshaven, bespectacled man. The guy didn't sleep much recently, the officer concluded.
"Matthias!", the man embraced the boy with genuine affection. That's his father, thought the policeman as he approached the newcomer.
"Excuse me!", he said, extending his hand, "My name is Donald Sergio, and I'm a police officer", Sergio knew that the guy could deduce the fact from his uniform, but he generally considered civilians to be not as sharp-minded as he was, "I assume you are the boy's father."
"Yes", the man was still in shock, "Yes, I am. What about my wife? And what happened here?"
"Your wife is okay, mister", Sergio chuckled, "As to your second question, we have a reason to believe that there was a criminal - most probably a pedophile - lurking in the now-abandoned amusement park."
"A pedophile?", the man raised his eyebrows.
"Most probably", Sergio nodded, "The children used to treat the closed establishment as their playground. A perfect place for a predator to lurk, don't you think", but then, thought Sergio, no pedophile would cut a twelve-year old boy in half with almost a surgical precision.
"Matthias", the man adressed the boy, "Tell me what happened here."
"The man had the arms of a crab", said Matthias, looking blankly at his father.
"That would be fitting", thought Sergio.
"The child sure has an overactive imagination", he said instead.
"I know. It's my fault", said the man, "Where there any other people present?"
"Another boy of his age", Sergio pointed to Matthias, "He fainted. We're taking him to the same hospital where your wife is staying."
Adrian made sure nobody was around. After all, he was good at sneaking. And he decided nobody's going to hold him here against his will. He was sane and healthy. In fact, he felt better than ever.
He heard footsteps echoing in the narrow corridor. A nurse. Adrian was as good at hiding as he was at sneaking. He hid in the side corridor, behind the trashcan. The nurse - an elderly nurse with a wearing a tired expression - passed by without noticing him.
Adrian was really good at hiding.
But what would Lukas do right now? What would ...
As he thought of his dead leader and friend he felt the tears filling his eyes. His only friend. Harsh but loyal. He was okay. For all of his meanness Lukas was okay.
But what would he do?
First of all, he wouldn't be crying. He would be though. Stop crying. You crying baby, stop crying.
He felt the hatred taking place of regret. He must find the sorcerer and kill him. How old really was he? Perhaps he only looked twelve.
The door slammed somewhere in the corridor. The nurse had gone away.
Fuck them. They didn't fucking know a thing. He must get to his motley and tell them what transpired. But first - he must find the elevator.
He emerged from the side corridor and resumed his walk. One step at time. He instinctively looked for cover in case another adult emerged.
"Jesus, they have broken air conditioning in this damn hospital or what?", thought Adrian.
It was terribly cold - too cold, in fact, for a place such as this. But it wasn't the only thing that was wrong with it.
It took a while for Adrian to realize what it was.
He couldn't hear his footsteps.
Letting go of precaution he opened one of the doors. The room was empty. Completely empty. The beds were abandoned, and the remainders of food filled the trays. And instead of the sunlight-filled afternoon he only could see a reddish haze behind the windows.
It felt as though he was in another world.
Something moved by him, he felt it rather than saw or heard. Some threatening entity moved by, sucking energy and life from the environment.
In spite of the terror of the situation Adrian decided he has nothing to lose. The hatred already superceded any sense of fear or regret. And Adrian was tired of hiding.
He left the room.
As his dad and the police officer were talking, Matthias felt a familiar chill. A buzzing sound filled his head, and it appeared to him that the time started to flow terribly, terribly slowly. The voices of the adults seemed to be coming from a great distance.
And then he saw her.
The Snow Lady stood in her blinding beauty in the middle of the dirty street. She was smiling, but her eyes betrayed worry. Nobody else saw her walk through the broken old pavement towards Matthias. And nobody else heard her utter the fateful words.
"You did wrong", she said.
"What did I do? I did nothing.", Matthias protested.
The woman gave him a threatening smile.
"Each evil deed begets even more evil. You've started a chain of evil that will hurt those you love and those you don't yet know alike."
"Who are you? Why are you visiting me? Who was the man in the bathroom?"
"The man was you. I thought you knew it already. And it was you who is responsible of the death of Lukas Mason, even though you don't know it. Ignorance can't be an excuse for evil. "
The Lady fell silent for a moment.
"It won't be until you grow up that you will realize your legacy. But for now, I must go and save another heir of Elphame, a one whose life you've put in peril."
"Who is it?", Matthias asked.
Instead of replying, the Lady said:
"Don't be afraid of other people. Don't be afraid of monsters. Don't be afraid of worldly kings, and don't be afraid of demons."
The Lady turned to him.
"Be afraid of yourself."
Upon speaking these words she vanished, and the world resumed its course. The cop was talking to Matthias' dad, the police sirens were glowing, and a crowd of onlookers has gathered.
It was only then that it dawned upon Matthias who the Lady was talking about.
"I'm not afraid of you!!", the omnipresent, preternatural silence seemed to have swallowed his cry.
The corridor was empty. The bulbs still gave light, but even this light seemed dim, as if it shone through a semi-transparent veil.
In panic, Matthias reached into his pocket. It was there, all right. A trinket. Something he bought once from a street vendor. An Irish. O'Someone, or Mac Someone. Adrian didn't rememeber his name. All he recalled was that he confessed to him his fears, and that he had some pocket money to spare. And the man graciously gave him this.
A little knife, made all of iron. The man said that the people of the Second Sight - whatever it meant - used such weapons to combat supernatural entities in seventeenth-century Scotland. He also recited a poem. Adrian remembered but one line.
"Iron, the cold iron", he said under his breath, "Shall be the master of you all!"
Somewhere in the building, the entity stopped, as if hesitating. But then it resumed its course. And so did Adrian.
"You won't get away."
The presence seemed to slouch on. Adrian made his way to the end of the corridor and reached the elevator without encountering a soul. It didn't strike him as odd that he could sense where the creature was. It was as natural to him as breathing.
He pressed the button and the elevator started to descend. Adrian passed through one deserted floor after another, until he finally made it to the bottom.
He stepped out of the elevator. The first floor was as deserted as were all the others. He started to walk in the direction where he sensed the entity was.
And then, after making it through another corridor and entering another sick room, he saw her.
She was beautiful and terrifying in her beauty. Her golden hair fell in long braids down to her waist, and a golden tiara adorned her hair. And the woman that lay in the bed was as beautiful as the lady who guarded her sleep. It was as though the two women were each other's reflections - one of them otherworldly, the other mundane.
"I knew you will come, Adrian Fratinelli", she said, "And I know what you came here for. You want her dead, don't you?"
Only then Adrian realised who the woman in the bed was. It was Matthias' mother.
"I want you both dead", said Adrian.
"I know much about you", the woman started to approach, "I know you pass most of your life in fear. First you feared other boys of your age. And the you feared Lukas. And now you fear Matthias and me. "
Adrian grabbed the iron weapon and pointed it at the entity.
"Stay back!", he cried, "Stay back, or else..."
The woman smiled.
"You're going to kill us both either way, don't you? Fear is what twists humans into monsters. And that's why Bondage was imposed on them. You are the plague of the Universe. Little, narrow-minded creatures driven by desire and hatred. If you want me to be killed, then go on."
"But first, I want you to see your true face"
Before the woman had a chance to do it, Adrian threw the knife at her.
"Iron, the cold iron", he cried, "Shall be the master of you all!"
What happened when the iron collided with her form was difficult to describe. Her body started to melt with a whooshing sound, but her face remained indifferent - and sad. For the first time in his life, Adrian saw the death of beauty. The face of the woman was indifferent, but her eyes reflected every moment of her agony. All the suffering she felt while dying had accumulated there - in her eyes.
And then the whooshing sound faded, and other sounds appeared. Human voices. Footsteps. And then came the sunlight.
Adrian was back in his world.
The patients looked at him in surprise. Matthias' mother was still unconscious. And then Adrian remembered what he was here for.
"Iron, the cold iron ..."
"... stop right there!", yelled Matthias as he handed the cab driver the remainder of his pocket money.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing, kid?", asked the driver, but Matthias left the cab without answering.
That was the hospital all right. It wasn't difficult to sneak out unnoticed when his dad and the policeman were engaged in conversation. When listening to them he caught the name of the hospital, and finding the hospital itself was a piece of cake.
As he drove in the cab he realized other things. Like, for example, the implications of what the Snow Lady said. He knew - without a shadow of doubt - that he could project his thought and emotions into the external world. Perhaps it was a common but unrealized ability amongst men, or perhaps it was limited to him, a part of his - as the Lady said - heritage. It didn't matter at the moment.
He also knew - without a shadow of doubt - that Adrian is going to kill his mother. Unless he kills him first.
He stepped into the hospital.
"What are you doing, young man!?", the old woman cried from her sickbed.
"You don't understand!", yelled Adrian, "You don't understand a damn thing! She - it's not human! She's not human!"
Even while he said that he was aware of the footsteps thundering in the corridor. They were there, going to get him. Surgeons. Policemen. Security. Whoever. He had little time to spare.
He lunged for the iron blade. It felt preternaturally cold when he got a hold of it. The old Irishman wasn't lying, after all. The blade was effective against the supernatural entities.
"Somebody get a hold on this kid!"
One or two people got up from their beds, trying to seize Adrian, but he was too fast and too agile for them.
"Somebody call the security! This kid is mad! He's raving mad!"
"Are you ready?", Matthias asked.
The man who stood by his side - the man who was himself - nodded.
"Then let's go."
They burst through the door. Matthias could hear the sounds of running footsteps behind his back. The security was to reach the room in moments notice.
"Hold it!", he cried at Adrian.
"Matthias!", the boy cried, "Matthias, you fucker!"
"Get him!", Matthias told his companion.
The transformation of man's arms into the arms of the monster sparked surprise and terrified cries from all around the chamber. Only Matthias' mother lay unmoving, unconscious and unaware of the struggle that was going on around her.
And then the guards burst into the room. Matthias' adult doppelganger turned to face them; one by one they fell on the floor, cut in half, their blood spilling all over the floors, the walls, and the terrified patients.
This gave Adrian enough time to aim a throw.
Once the iron dagger cut into creatures body, it disappeared with a loud pop. Adrian fell to the floor. He felt physically and emotionally drained. Somewhere, in the distance, he could hear a low, continuous cry of a woman.
Footsteps thundered all around him. Now the panicked people were bursting out of the blood-splattered hospital chamber.
"I must kill her", Adrian thought. How did he change through these few hours. How much did he learn. For example, how the hatred can turn you from a weak, terrified boy into a killing machine. Hatred is power.
He was barely aware of Matthias' presence. He was somewhere there, but idle, perhaps dead, perhaps unconscious.
With a titanic effort Adrian lifted himself to his feet.
The woman lay unconscious in the bed. Adrian grabbed the iron dagger and started to walk in her direction.
The woman was coming to. She moved and blinked, and then turned towards the boy.
"Hello", she said with a smile.
"Hello", Adrian froze over her, ready to strike.
"Where am I?", she started to look around.
"You're in hospital, ma'am."
Somewhere in the distance, an alarm was ringing.
"Is my son all right?"
"Sure, ma'am, he is."
He looked around the blood-splattered room. Matthias lay on the floor, shaking. He appeared feverish.
The woman smiled graciously at Adrian, and he smiled back.
"That's for you, Lukas", he thought as he delivered a blow.
It's difficult to describe what did Matthias feel when his doppelganger was killed. All of a sudden a dark, cold emptiness appeared in the place of his soul. He felt his strength going away, and he collapsed to the floor. A part of him was dead. A part of his soul was gone.
He was barely aware of what was going on around him. He could barely hear the ringing alarm, and he could barely hear his mother screaming as Adrian was repeatedly stabbing her with his knife.
And he barely cared.
He rolled over. Adrian stood before his mother's bed, panting. His mother, now dead, lay bloody and limp. Matthias regarded the scene with a distance. What a long day, he thought. And it wasn't yet over.
And then Adrian dropped his head to his chest and started crying.
"Jesus Christ", Adrian realized, letting go of the iron knife, "I killed a man. "
It felt definitely different from killing a supernatural entity. The ghost-woman might have looked human, but, when killing her, he knew she was not. This one was different, however. He took a life of a human being. A smiling, warm, trusting human being.
"Oh, God! ...", as he sat there swallowing tears, the obvious truth dawned upon Adrian: it was him who was the real monster.
The bed creaked as Matthias sat by his side. He seemed terribly drained.
"What are you going to tell police?", he asked.
Adrian shook his head.
"Look", said Matthias, "I'll tell them it wasn't you. Okay ?"
Adrian shook his head again, swallowing tears. He couldn't say a word.
And then he felt someone's arm around his shoulder.
It belonged to Matthias.
This was how the police found them: two terrified boys, sitting in the middle of the blood-splattered room. When questioned the two said the same story: the man who killed their friend followed them up to the hospital, where he single-handedly dispatched security guards and killed Matthias's mother.
The search for the killer took two months. A nineteen-year-old Mike Broderick confessed to committing the crime, although his motives remained unknown. He could not account for the death of the security guards either. But the cops didn't care. The justice, just like every other monster, vies for a sacrifice.
A week has passed since the grisly proceedings when Matthias woke up - in their lonely apartment he shared with his father - and heard somebody knock on the door. Filled with suspicion, and still dressed in his pajamas, he got out of the bed.
Miraculosly, he started to sleep better. The entities that used to visit him in his room disappeared, and he was glad they did, although he missed the Snow Lady, for of them all she seemed most benign.
"Who is it?", he asked upon getting to the door.
"It's me, Adrian".
Matthias let him in.
"I just woke up", he explained.
"Get dressed, and we can go out and play"
"Where? To the amusement park?"
"No, they closed it after the murders. But I know of better place ..."