Midnight Paradise: Part III
Little could be said about the wonders of childhood.
In many ways, the hardened young man hated it. He despised the nativity, the lack of self-support, and the need to rely on another. As he stumbled down a back alleyway in some unnamed city, the bitter loathing he felt for the human race grew. What was the point, when every story in existence was fated for the same ending? What was the point in any of it?
As he made his way around a bend, cold and shivering, the soft sound of singing drew his ear. He paused, head lifting, and listened. It was distant, but it was soft and enchanting. The young man turned directions, moving further from the shadows towards the light of well-lit windows. He found himself in a backyard, and there, on the balcony, was a young girl brushing her hair as she sang into the night. The young man froze, unable to believe his eyes. When she stopped, her gaze fell upon him, and the warmest, and gentlest, of smiles was given to him.
The following night, against all words of caution, he returned to her garden to hear her sing.
The elevator quaked and jerked.
Ansel pressed one hand against the hard wall, nails biting into metal. The contraption hissed and groaned as it descended, the panel on the right a sad state. Three levels this funhouse had, and the light kept dancing between the three: one, three, two, three, one, three, two—B1.
He swore when it came to an abrupt halt, the sides seemingly contorting under his touch. When the doors opened, Ansel did not hesitate. He shot forward, into the flickering corridor. There was no stopping him, not at this point.
For he knew what waited. Anders; the man was here, despite it being impossible. He could still see himself as a young teenager, fleeing a bloodbath with tear-stained cheeks. Anders, bloody and laughing and dying. A young, flame-haired child lying dead on the floor. Images flickered in the back of his mind, once after another.
He only knew one truth: Lysander, known by his children as Anders, was dead. Or he was supposed to be dead, at any rate. Did he die? Or did he lurk here, scared and eager to repay the one boy who had escaped. Ansel's insides churned, clenching tight, at the thought of what could, very possibly, be waiting for him.
Following a path he had once treed, Ansel made his way for the stairwell.
He took the steps three at a time, ignoring the distant sound of a pipe organ signing lowly in the distance. The metal stairs creaked as he raced down them, the rusted railing broken and missing in sections at his side. Somewhere below, he heard the soft cries, and the terrified, pained screams, of the children.
Sounds he knew too well; he could almost see himself running upwards, coming towards him, with feet stained red. He could nearly see the panicked, tear-streaked face of a young teen vanishing up at the top, vanishing around a bend and making his way through the twisting corridors of a house made entirely of mirrors.
Almost could he see himself. Almost. Instead he plowed downward, boots thunking heavily on the stairs old and misused. How easy it would be, for them to cave under him. It was almost as if they were trying, as they groaned and complained with each step he took.
They were as much a specter as the nameless, eyeless children watching him descend into the lair of a monster. In the distance, he could hear a young man's echoing, mirthful laughter amongst the dwindling cries of children. He picked up his pace as the silence began to lengthen, his breath coming in harsh, painful gasps.
Round and round he went; he hit landing after landing, body twisting painfully to reaching the next flight of stairs. He slammed into walls, and pushed off them just as quickly. Below, a dim light rose. He made his way for it, reaching for the half-cracked door.
As he slammed through the doorway, only one being waited for him with a wide grin.
"By Soranus..." There was a man, pale hair curling around a thin, transparent face. Ansel drew in a deep breath, hands on his knees as the man slowly turned, unnatural gaze settled upon the newcomer. Ansel felt a chill creep through his body as the man said, "At long last, my prayer has been answer, my sweet child..."
"Anders," Ansel drew himself to his full height, gaze searching for only one child among the ones lying broken and sightless on the ground. Lysander, he stood in the midst of the bloodshed, his name a blaring red beckon in the back on Ansel's mind. The monster stood above the children, arms spread wide. Ansel eyed the silvery form of a man he had once known, in a time lost long ago.
Lysander was smiling, transparent body coming closer until ethereal hands caressed his shoulders. "It is good to have you home."
Ansel held this man's gaze, trying not to quake under the relentless stare. His son was right there, tied and bound by coiling chains. He, Noah, he was just behind the man. Ansel hardly noticed how the transparent, shimmering form advanced upon him until shimmering fingers grazed his cheek.
It was almost as if Lysander knew the silent question dancing in his mind, for he smiled a slow, sharp smile. Something dangerous lurked underneath, a sort of coldness nothing living could touch. Ansel let his gaze focus upon this man as the spirit whispered, "Soranus brought you back to me, as promised. I only had to wait—"
Long, thin fingers combed through Ansel's hair, arms winding over his shoulders and behind his head. Lysander was smaller, thin and eyes aglow as the ghost pressed himself against Ansel's chilled, unresponsive form. Strong hands forced Ansel's head lower, bring their mouths close together, but not touching. Something dark grew in Lysander's gaze, dark and hungry.
"I only had to wait, Ansel, and I did. I waited, patiently, for you to come back to me."
This man, he was insane. Not even death could cure the illness of this monster's mind. Ansel stared into the eyes, eyes he had once been forced to look upon. No longer did he have to crane his neck backwards to meet this man's gaze; no, their positions were reversed. Lysander was forced to tilted his chin up, brightly colored eyes wide and flushed with desire.
One hand lightly caressed the back of his neck, and then the harsh, flickering pain of nails cutting flesh followed. Ansel hissed between clenched teeth, eyes narrowing as the ghost's smile spread. Behind Lysander, his son's face twisted, brow furrowing and lips pursing. A sharp tug on his hair drew his gaze from the waking child.
As his and Lysander's gaze met, a soft whisper cut the tense air: "Daddy?"
Lysander scowled. Ansel's arm sprang up, catching the ghost around the middle as he want to move away; once bright eyes were dark, the air chilling. Ansel caught his son's gaze, and shook his head. Be silent, my son. Noah stilled, mouth closing as he huddled against the side of a young girl with a slashed, bloody throat.
Whether he realized the girl was dead or not, Ansel did not know. His son stayed silent, and Ansel drew away, drawing the ghost's attention. The spirit tsked, lips curving into another smile as he said, "My sweet child, trying to run away? Don't you want to show the children how adults dance?"
"I would rather not." Ansel replied, voice rough and deep compared to the light and airy notes of the spirit attempting to wrap itself around him. Lysander pouted; the look did not suit him, not in the slightest. The ghost pressed closer, voice a hushed whisper, "Not even for old time's sake?"
Lysander's hand stroked his side, and Ansel swatted the offending appendage away with a deep scowl. The spirit blinked, irises darkening once more. Ansel did not look away, holding the spirit's gaze as the inside of his lungs began to tighten. Clenching his teeth, heart pounding, Ansel did not look away, not even as Lysander murmured, "Must I punish you, Ansel? Have you grown boorish over the years, now that there is no one to properly discipline you?"
Ansel fought back the laugh bubbling in his chest. He kept still, skin crawling as the spirit's cool mist curled around him. In the background, his son watched, eyes wide and uncomprehending as cold fingers tilted Ansel's chin upwards. Equally chilled lips barely brushed his, Lysander's gaze sharp and warning when Ansel tried to pull back. His muscles locked together, afterward. Ansel's gaze locked with that of the spirit holding him, his body trembling as a hand glided across his chest. The pain that followed, it was both agonizingly hot as it was frigid and unbearable.
His son's scream broke the silence.
Noah struggled against the lines binding him, thick cables wound tight, as Ansel dropped to his knees. He grasped the front of his chest, fingers biting through cloth as deep, thick red seeped between worn, battered fingers. His body spasmed, his limbs locking as he toppled onto his side. Ansel gasped, vision darkening around the edges as he struggled to drag in a breath as Lysander knelt at his side.
Cold fingertips glided down his throat, fondly stroking his Adam's apple, before a cold hand cupped his cheek, turning his face over so he could meet cold, gleaming eyes of a monster smiling lovingly at him. A hand cupped the back of his head. His childhood, ghostly specter brushed his hair from his face, long fingers grazing the bridge of his nose to trace the chapped, bloody lines of his mouth. Lysander pulled him closer, lifting his torso and head from the cold, hard earth.
Ansel found his head tucked into the ghost's shoulder.
"Soranus knew how much I loved you." Lysander whispered into his ear. Ghostly hands brushed the back of his head, fingers weaving through his hair with each gently, loving stroke. It was harder to breathe, now. Ansel tasted iron on the back of his tongue, a metallic bile threatening to rise unwantedly into his throat. Lysander crooned, then. The ghost wrapped an arm around his quivering, bloody frame as he said, "That's why he showed me your son. Don't you see?"
Noah, his sweet son, was crying. Ansel could hear him, yelling his name over and over and over again. A chant, almost. Daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy—and then there were others, disembodied voices crying and begging to go home, to go outside, to not hurt. They curled around him, pressing tighter and tighter. He was drowning, then. Unable to breath properly, body struggling to draw in much-needed oxygen.
"Ansel," He blinked, hazed gaze staring upon the blurring face above him. Cold fingers glided under his left eye, and then Lysander whispered, "Do you remember how you got this scar, Ansel?"
What scar? Ansel tried to ask, but the words would not leave the pained vice grip lurking within his throat. The hold on his vocals tightened, and how is that possible, and Lysander let out a deep, rumbling chuckle. Within the depths of Ansel's mind, he heard the robotic laughter of a broken memory. What scar, Anders?
You're dancing on the ballroom floor of madness, some distant voice whispered in his ear. It took him a moment to draw in a shallow breath, his arms limp and twitching. Cold fingers interlaced with his, nails biting into the back of his hand. A chilled thumb brushed over his wrist, pressing into the faint pulse hidden beneath the skin. Madness, Ansel. You're spinning round and round, like a horse on a carousel. Quick, jump. Quick, run. Quick, before he comes back...
"It was the first time you took a life," Lysander murmured, and Ansel blinked. His son was still crying. He was right there, just outside of reach. The arm wrapped around his back pulled him closer, a hand stroking the length of his back through the thick fabric of his coat. "I remember it as if it was yesterday, Ansel.
"Never have you been more beautiful than you were at that moment, when you drove a blade through young Harley's heart." Honey-brown eyes and lashes of frozen blood. Pale skin, curly hair cushioning a girl's head like a pillow of the deepest crimson hue. Ansel tried to shake his head. He would never hurt a child, an innocent.
The soft pull of a smile stretched across his monster's face. Fond, gentle and loving; Lysander pressed cold lips to his forehead. "Don't be modest, Ansel. The joy you held, as you danced among the dead, it was the catalyst that led us to be joined. Such a fierce union. You, so eager to please me..."
There had been agony, after. In the shifting, grey layers of his mind, he was finally able to see. He remembered. He could feel the wet, drying blood under his hands and the painful grip on his hips. He recalled accusing eyes, all clouded by death but still staring at him. Blaming him; for had it not been him, a young teenager, who had tried to lead them away from the park under the darkness of night? His repayment was blood, blood of innocent lives slain and innocence of body stolen.
Cold hands stroked him: the sides of his neck, his face, his side. Ansel could no longer voice his revulsion for this monster and its touch, could do nothing but lay there, silently choking. His son was crying for him. Ansel could see him, barely, in the corner of his eye. A small form, tied and bruised and bloody.
Don't give in, Ansel. He swallowed, thickly. Who was that? He could hear a soft murmur of sound, the voices of the children drawn away as if by some unseen, holy sound. Lysander paused, hand brushing along his inner thigh. Ansel watched as that pale being lifted its head, gaze shifting from them to their surroundings. Be brave. Your son needs you...
Ansel would have snorted, if he was able. Don't give it, the voice says. Be brave, it says. He was tempted to laugh. What was it thinking? He would get some kind of divine intervention or some form of a 'deus ex machina?' The mere thought had him trembling with suppressed laughter. Lying in Lysander's arms, head draped over the crook of the man's elbow, the thought of some holy being of light coming to his rescue was more of a delusional fantasy than an actual plausible outcome.
There was no one to save him. He burned that bridge when he didn't call the police. When he didn't, at the very least, let them know where he was. They would have come after him, yelling at him to put his hands were they could see them. They would demand him to get on the ground, the invisible laser of their sights resting on his back and head.
Instead he threw away the bluetooth device and walked into this gods' forsaken park without a backwards glance.
Had that been a mistake?
Ansel struggled to grasp onto the light, even as a soft, gentle hand settled on his shoulder. Lysander wasn't by him, at this point. So who was touching him? He could see the man pacing, yelling, but Ansel heard nothing but the soothing whispers of a woman speaking in his ear. Dozens of smaller forms gathered, small and angry and making sharp gestures with their hands at the man who had, in one manner or another, killed them.
Get up. Ansel rolled onto his side, slowly. Blood leaked between parted lips, and he dragged himself onto his knees. The inside of his chest twisted, as if an invisible knife was being driven deeper. At his back, the voice kept pushing. It kept demanding, relentless. Up, Ansel. Get up. Get up, now!
As if spitting in the face of death, Ansel drew himself to his feet. As if knowing this, Lysander whirled around on him.
"Lie back down, my child." The ghost cooed. Anders -Lysander, Ansel reminded himself- was coming closer. The man had two hands held high, as if to show him he was unarmed. Ansel grinned at the gesture. He had been unarmed when the bastard rammed a hand through his chest, hadn't he? Lysander grit his teeth, voice hard as he said, "For your own sake, Ansel. Lie down. You need to rest, my child."
"I'll rest when I'm dead."
It was impossible to know what was going on, after that. Lysander lunged forward, fingers like claws. At the same time, a tsunami of ghostly children and teens came crashing down with a roar of anger and pain. Ansel staggered as they crashed through his body, and it was like being caught in the shallows of an ocean. In the tides, his body being drawn back and forth by a force both beautiful and deadly.
He seized the moment. He struggled against the energy, fighting to get to Noah's side. The boy was screaming, eyes wide with terror and skin pale. Ansel caught hold of his son, hauling him close and wrapping his arms around the young boy's body. The bindings came apart, as if held by some kind of force no longer being applied.
Standing, Ansel turned his gaze on their surroundings. His body swayed, and then he spied her. A woman, ghostly and unclear, waiting at the far end of the room. She held up one hand, beckoning him to come. Not knowing why, he listened. He took the first step, legs nearly giving out under him.
"You can do it, daddy." Noah whispered into his ear. Ansel drew in a breath, and grit his teeth. "Keep going..."
It was as if he was in a dream. The funhouse was gone, as if it was nothing more than a dispelled mirage. Ansel held his son close, the young boy's head tucked against his neck. Thin arms wound around his neck, his son's quiet cries fuel to drive Ansel's battered, tired body out of a building into the howling winds of a rising blizzard. He stumbled, nearly falling with the precious cargo held within the cage of his arms. His knees locked, and his shoulder hit some unknown wall.
"Daddy," Noah whimpered into his ear. Ansel tightened his grip on his son, holding him close as he marched through the snow-laden amusement park. A trail of red followed, crimson splattered across pristine white. In his arms, his son murmured, "I'm tired, daddy..."
Ansel pulled his son closer, content to ignore the blood coating the two of them. Some of it was his, some the children's. He was in a daze, as he stumbled through the park. The cold air was a blessing; it brushed his heated skin, cooling the sweat dripping down his face as he stumbled, inch after inch, through the front gates of Midnight Paradise.
How he was walking still, he did not know. Adrenaline, maybe? Even as he slumped into the snow halfway across the park, the whispers of ghostly children following him, Ansel knew, if he stopped here, both he and his son would pay the price. So he stood, knees weak and legs burning. He held Noah with one arm, and fetched his cellphone with the other. He drew it forth, hauling it from the confines of his pockets.
As he hit his Ram 1500, shoulder first, his son groaning in his grasp, he pressed the 'SOS' alert-thing his wife had installed for him. 'Just in case,' she had whispered in his ear once upon a time. The phone slipped from his fingers, hitting the snow as the black screen lit up. He fumbled with the door, and then hauled his son into the backseat.
Blanket. Noah needed a blanket. He'd get cold, otherwise.
Ansel hunted through the various bags on the floorboard, and found a thick comforter in one. A present, he realized. For his brother. He grinned. Surely Nick wouldn't mind if his nephew used it while the police came whirling out of the city limits to get to them. Surely. As he made to pull away, a small hand caught his.
"Stay with me, daddy..." Noah murmured, tired eyes bloodshot. The thin, pale hand was red with dried blood. It flaked off the skin, like red dust from some distant, alien world. A place with lots of sand and no snow. Ansel grinned. He leaned over, stroking his son's hair out of his face.
He wouldn't leave. He wanted to tell him that, even as something thick and wet filled his throat a second time. He twisted, and spat a blood of thick, black-red something into the snow. He grimaced. That hadn't tasted all that good. Turning back, he blinked. His son was sleeping, his hand curled lightly in Ansel's own hand. Carefully, Ansel let his son go and shut the door. He climbed into the front seat.
The wail of the distant siren cut through the winter winds.
Ansel, slumped across the steering wheel, drew in an uneven breath. He glanced into the rearview mirror, his gaze lingering on the child slumbering in the back of the truck. Flashing lights of neon broke the dark haze of the night, the world coming alive as glowing ruby and sapphire storms whirled down a distant road.
It was difficult to keep his eyes open; then there was sound, and movement, and rough voices. A hand upon his neck, checking his pulse. Men dressed in white cradling his son, his son who was reaching for him with desperate pleas Ansel could no longer hear. Then there was music.
He saw Midnight Paradise come alive, ghostly lights swirling with the shadows as the rides flickered to life. Lysander was standing at the park's entrance, turnstiles clicking one-by-one behind him. The man, he was smiling. Holding out a hand, beckoning him to step away from the warmth beginning to cradle his body into the haunting, fragmented music within the black.
"Ansel," A voice was whispering his name as a stern hand pressed upon a wound slowly seeping crimson. It no longer gushed, as it had. Midnight Paradise beckoned, but so, too, did another soft whisper of loving laughter: a woman, calling his name. "Come here, my sweet little boy..."
He saw her, then. She was standing just outside the circle of people, one hand held out to him. She was smiling, mouth closed, but still her words came to him: "Come, my sweet child. Come, take my had. It is time for us to go home."
Ansel stepped away, climbing out of the truck. His mother's smile widened, eyes glittering with tears; she was crying, but she held her arms open wide. He slowed, blinking; there was a commotion behind him, people yelling for a doctor. Noah? Was Noah okay?
He went to turn around, but a hand lightly touched his chin. His mother was there, standing at his side. Her cheeks were wet, shimmering trails of clear glittering against tanned skin. The smile was there, and so were her words – "It's okay, Ansel. Noah is safe. The doctors will look after him, until Diana came take him home." – but there was a sort of distance. She did not try to stop him, when he turned this time. The police were crawling over the grounds.
And there, in Bianca, his faithful Ram 1500, was Ansel Darryl. It was as if the world slowed down, as he watched the paramedics drag his unresponsive body from his truck. He approached, feeling not cold but content, as they tried to resuscitate him. A hand fell upon his shoulder, and, when he looked up, he saw Lysander watching in the distance.
Behind him, his mother whispered, "You need to come with me, Ansel. What is done is done."
Lysander smiled. Even from this great distance, Ansel felt his eyes narrow. The man stood where he had, hands tucked into his pockets as shimmering, miniature forms hunkered in the shadows behind him. The grip on Ansel's shoulder tightened, and his gaze swung to his mother, teeth grit and eyes narrowed, as she said, "There's nothing you can do, Ansel. He is no longer your chore."
"But he is my demon." Ansel spat, as if to purge the words from his being. His gaze turned to the spirit observing them from a distance; both sides ignored the panicking, living souls caught between them. They could not see, not this. At his back, his mother whispered, "You saved your son. That is what you came here to do. It is time to move on."
"No." It was as if the snow froze, and the air stilled. His mother drew away, as if burned, and Ansel turned his gaze upon her as he continued, "Lysander is my demon to face. Even in death, he was able to draw my son to this place. Here he still resides, mother. I cannot leave, not if he is still free to do his bidding."
"Please, Ansel." Thin hands clasped his shoulders, and he met his mother's gaze as she said, "Do not stay, not in this world where the dead should not linger. I beg of you, my son, come with me."
He felt the other's gaze upon him, silently calling him towards the darkness. His mother stroked his cheeks, smooth palms gliding over a face hardened by death. She traced her thumb over his mouth, pain in her eyes as no more words left. She peered deep into his eyes, searching. Whatever she may have been looking for, she did not say.
She stepped back, her hands falling still at her sides.
Tears spilled down her face, her head bowing as he turned away.
Ansel turned, gaze on Midnight Paradise; Lysander waited, eyes brilliant in their color, as Ansel slowly made his way across the grounds. The spirit took a step back, a slow smile curling across his mouth as he whispered, "So you come back to me."
If the man was to say something else, he was rendered speechless as the earth rumbled, the ambulances' alarms sounding loud and shrill without warming. Ansel held the spirit's gaze, exhaling as the police staggered around him. One went right through his body as Lysander swore, the older ghost's head snapping to the side as the ticket booth began to smoke. No longer would another soul find entrance to this place.
Around them, men and women of the law caught themselves on wailing cars as the park truly came to life. Ansel stepped forward, slowly closing the gap between him and his childhood tormented. A slow, feral grin began to stretch across Ansel's face before he said, "No longer am I a helpless victim, Anders. This time, I will fight back."
For the first time in over a decade, the lights of Midnight Paradise flickered. Music began to fill the air, and the police, they were turning and twisting and yelling in various states of confusion. Ansel ignored them as he paused directly in front of the smaller ghost, dark eyes narrowing with sadistic amusement as he whispered, "And be assured, my dear monster, I intend to be here for a very long time. After all, I am home, am I not?"
The Ferris Wheel began to turn, and broken, robotic music filled the air.
AN: The story has reached a conclusion. At this moment in time (check the date), this is the longest I have written for this site. Anyway, this last chapter took a rather dark, and unexpected, turn for me. Especially after such a light beginning, of a young man listening to a young lady sing. Kind of Romeo and Juliet, isn't it?
Ansel is certainly an interesting man. Or, at least, I hope he's interesting.
Anyway, Lysander and Ansel have a history, that's for certain. It was not one I was anticipating, when I began, but it gives them so much more depth than what I had planned when I first set out. So, yes, I think this story is an accomplishment. For me, at least. I enjoyed writing it, which is what's important. Took way too long to write, though. Way too long.
I hope you all enjoyed.