Chapter 4

Pain and Darkness

The entire world is on fire. Lex was running; that's all she knows. Is she running from something? To escape the fire? She doesn't care. She just knows to run.

Everything is swirling shades of red. The forest is falling apart. Fire-stricken trees crash to the ground to perish in the crackling tomb. Flames lick Lex's flesh, but she ignores it. She doesn't have the time to stop and think about the discomfort.

With no warning, her body is plummeting to the ground. Even before she lands, the fire engulfs her. Her skin bubbles and her hair lights like dry leaves. She can't even think about getting up; her mind is screaming one word over and over. Pain.

As her body roasts on the outside, the pain destroys her brain. She no longer remembers how to talk, walk, eat. All she knows is pain. She dares not open her mouth to scream; fire would rush down her throat. She dares not open her eyes; the white globes would cook like eggs in her sockets.

Abruptly, a cool blanket surrounds her, scouring the flames that had set to her flesh. She moans as the pain decreases, wishing to wrap the blanket closer to her body. She reaches out to the relief, but finds nothing to grab onto. Her mind returning to her, she realizes there is no reasonable explanation to her rescue. She opens her eyes to find the truth, but she sees she is no longer in the burning world.

Surrounding her is utter darkness.

Am I dead? She wonders, peering into the darkness, looking for any sense of light and finding none. Or have I gone blind? Is my body so badly burnt that I can no longer feel the flames?

The swirling clouds close in on her, threatening to drive the air from her lungs. It hits her too late. She's in the Monsters grasp.

"Lex..."

Darkness. But not the darkness of The Monster. Night time darkness. Lex's wide eyes scanned the dark corners of the room hungrily, searching the corners for The Monster of the room before sitting up. The light of the moon shone through the single window, illuminating a single, rectangular patch of light on the floor of the otherwise dark room. Groggily rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, Lex sat up, disturbing the tight blankets wrapped around her. She strained her eyes to read the blinking red letters on her alarm clock. 12:54, she had woken up just in time. In the dark, Lex fumbled with the intricate set of buttons on the clock, finding no success in shutting off the alarm. In the end she resorted to pulled out the plug entirely.

She pushed the thick covers off her and slid into the floor, her bare feet instantly freezing to the bone. She ignored this, sliding the key and napkin off the nightstand and clutching it tightly to her chest. She quietly walked over to the door, leaving her bed a mess. She pressed her ear against the door, listening for padding footsteps filling the empty hall. Finding none, Lex's hand moved to the doorknob. She wondered if this was when she was supposed to use the mysterious key, but she doubted Dallon was able to get the key for her room specifically. The handle turned effortlessly, rendering her queries moot. After again checking for people, Lex spun into the hallway. She stood in the middle of the corridor, feeling very small. Her ears strained for noises. Nothing alerted the soft sounds of sleeping patients, so she set off down the hall. Her feet seemed to make enough noise equal to an avalanche through the silence, despite her best efforts to be quiet. As she cautiously journeyed through the hall, she encountered no problems. This is too easy. She thought to herself, smiling with satisfaction. Thinking too soon, Lex heard voices and footsteps coming from far ahead. They were hushed, but they cut through the night like gun shots.

Lex pushed through the first set of doors she saw, entering a staircase. In her panicked state, she forgot to close the door carefully behind her. It slammed shut, alerting the people in the hallway. Even through the walls, Lex could hear hurried footsteps running towards her. Looking at the staircase doubtfully, Lex found herself pounding down it, travelling through the levels of the hospital. She heard people push through the doors as she had, and were soon following her down the stairs. Calculating quickly, Lex knew these people - presumably guards - would catch up with her long before she reached the bottom. She looked up at the footsteps, which were growing closer to her with every passing second. She looked down at the winding staircase, not being able to see the floor. Before she could re-think it, Lex climbed over the rails and threw herself off.

Regretting her decision quickly, Lex tumbled between the rails of the staircase, biting her tongue as not to scream out as she smashed into the bars. She knew she had only seconds to make her decision. If she continued as she was, she would untimely hit the floor hard and probably break her ankle. With a broken ankle, her chances of getting to a hiding spot were slim. If she grabbed onto a rail before she hit the ground, the worst she could come away with was a dislocated shoulder, assuming she had the strength to hold on.

Choosing the lesser of two evils, Lex stuck out her arm in blind hope. Her arm smashed against the first steel pole, pain shooting up her arm. Forcing herself to recover quickly, she against reached out her arm, and managed to hold on. She grabbed out with her other arm, pulling herself up and securing her grip on the rails, smiling in wonder that she hadn't injured herself and had had the strength to hold on. Not allowing herself to get to cocky, she forced down her pride and looked down to the ground. It was an easy drop, but then again anything seemed better than throwing yourself off a staircase.

She hit the ground running, no time for a stop to catch her breath. Again aware of the guards on her tail, Lex shot towards the exit, only to collide with it roughly. She stepped back, looking at the door with confusion and defeat, before remembering the key. Smiling again, she pushed it into the lock, praying it would open. Her prayers were answered as she spun out the door, immediately sprinting into the open field. For a moment she was not sure where she was going; her only thoughts on getting away from the perusing guards. She ran through the empty yard, head swivelling madly to find a hiding spot. She suddenly remembered the shed. Finding it quickly, she turned a sharp left and sprinted towards it.

She didn't look back to see if the guards were behind her. She didn't dare break gaze with the shed, as if afraid it would move if she broke eye contact. Finally reaching it, Lex fell hard against the wall, breathing heavily from pain and fright. She thought she was safe until she heard movement from beside the shed. She froze, hurried breath caught in her throat. She had no where to hide now. What would they do when they caught her? Stick a needle into her neck like the little boy?

Imagining the thin steel tube pushing through the flesh of her neck, a person jumped from the shadows and grabbed her. She couldn't stifle a scream. She screamed and thrashed about wildly, falling to the ground. The attacker fell on top of her, but continued reaching for a steady grip on her throat, waiting to push a syringe through it. The person, being much stronger than her, pressed his hand tight around her mouth, cutting short her howls. Eyes closed but still thrashing, Lex barely heard the person hiss "Lex! It's me!"

Shaking, she opened her eyes to see Dallon sitting on top of her, hand no longer around her mouth. Anger giving her strength, she pushed herself up, tossing Dallon to the ground. She pounced on him, throwing blind fists, none connecting enough to do any real damage. She called him every name under the moon while he blocked her punches and laughed. His laughter only enraged her more. She grabbed his wrists, digging her nails into his flesh and causing him to yelp. She pressed her face close to his and snarled, "There are people following me, you idiot!"

His cheery expression quickly swept from his face. A mixture between mixture and anger filled his eyes as he swore and stood up, Lex standing with him. She followed him silently as he rushed into the shed and peered through a small, grey window. She pushed her face next to his, studying the building she had burst from only moments earlier. It was a tall, brick building with an array of windows, with a slanted roof that was painted rusty green. A pretty boring building; nothing spectacular about it. A few seconds of calm silence, nothing except the pounding of Lex's and Dallon's hearts as one, both fearing for only the other. The door to the building burst open, two guards running out, looking for the mysterious girl. They could have sworn they saw someone, heard someone. After studying the grounds for a few minutes, they gave up and returned inside, passing the girl off as a trick of the eye, brought on by late night delusions.

The door slammed shut, the silent noise deafeningly cutting through the night and sending air back into the pairs lungs. After a couple still seconds guarantied them of their safety, the two heads turned towards each other, grinning shakily. They soon broke out into nervous laughter, finding themselves in each others arms. But the moment passed quickly, separating them, and Lex's mind became her own once more.

They stood in awkward silence, the sudden turn of events causing both to forget why they were here. It wasn't until Lex remembered the note, still held tightly in her hand. She cleared her throat, trying to get Dallons attention. He seemed to be staring at her, or something over her shoulder. Lex looked behind curiosity, but found nothing of interest to be staring at. She cleared her throat again, a blush reddening her features, before stuttering, "You.. um.. wanted to show me something?"

Dallons face lit up with excitement, smiling widely and saying "Follow me!"

He walked over to a corner of the small shed, which Lex only thought to study now. It was hard to see in the darkness, but it seemed as interesting as the building outside the window. There were lots of stacked cardboard boxes and a few gardening tools littering the walls. Dallon pushed aside a few of the boxes to reveal a decaying, wooden trap door. He knelt on one knee, gripping the handle and grinning up at her. "Up for an adventure?"

Her mind reminded her that she hadn't even known this boy for 24 hours, and that she probably shouldn't be following him behind a mysterious door. Her mind also pointed out that if she turned back now, she would look like a coward. Her pride winning over her common sense, she put on a brave face and nodded, as if it was no big deal. She watched as he opened the door and disappeared into the darkness beneath.

She walked forward, slowly, cautiously, her toes teetering over the edge where the darkness had engulfed the boy. Her nightmares were turning into reality. The dark, swallowing pit was a creature itself. She almost turned back and ran to the safety of the hospital, locked herself inside the brick building where The Monster couldn't catch her. The only thing stopped her was that Dallon had now stuck his head out of the hole, full darkness from the neck down.

Lex nearly screamed.

He starred at her in confusion, not sensing her fear. "Comin?" he asked innocently, before disappearing again into the darkness. Seconds later, a single hand popped up. The hand beckoned her, leading her to the gallows. Unable to stop herself, Lex took the hand and fell straight into her own, personal hell.

Her eyes were closed tight, anticipating the impact of pain. Despite behind blind, Lex knew the darkness was surrounding her, suffocating her, daring to tear her limb from limb. She stood, shaking, alone, waiting to wake from the nightmare, for The Monster to say her name so she could escape the fear.

Only one thing.

This time, it wasn't a nightmare.

Nevertheless, her name was whispered. She almost sighed in relief, opening her eyes to signify the end of the torment, and to welcome the comforting shade of her bedroom ceiling. She instead found a candle lit face peering close to her. She yelped in surprise, her howls echoing as if mocking her. Lex snarled at the noises before noticing Dallon standing in front of her.

"Here." He sad simply, handing her something. It was a small, wooden clock with a notch carved out of it. Forced inside the notch was a small lump of wax, a small flame erupting from the center. Dallon was holding a similar one.

Suddenly perplexed by her now visible surroundings, Lex shook off the remains of the nightmare. They were inside a long, cement tunnel. The floor was flat, but the walls were rounded along with the ceiling, creating a semi circle. Lex reached out to touch the rough, grey walls, frowning in curiosity.

She walked deeper into the tunnel, holding the candle like a weapon against the darkness. As she peered forward, coming to a stop, she saw that the tunnel seemed to go on forever. She was conscious to the fact that Dallon had stepped up beside her, so she raised the question that was eating away at her brain. "Where does it lead?"

He took a step so that he was standing ahead of her, the candle illuminating his face. His features were relaxed, eyes gazing off into the darkness. For a few seconds, he didn't reply, and Lex figured that he hadn't heard her. She opened her mouth to ask again, but stopped as she heard him speak. His voice was low, airy, almost wistful. "Out."

She understood what he meant immediately. Dallon was here for a reason, she knew that much. Any kid would want out, and go to all means to find an exit. "If you know a way out, then why haven't you escaped yet?" She asked innocently.

Dallon turned to look at her. His face was dark, only half visible from the flame of the candle. It looked eerie alone, but on Dallon's usual cheery features, it looked downright terrifying. He turned back to look down the tunnel, Lex being only about to see the casted shadows. In the silence of the night, he whispered under his breath.

"And what if I'm here for a reason?"

When Dallon turned back towards Lex, his face had resumed its usual grin, all remains of the dark thoughts gone. "Wanna see what I really brought you here for?" He smiled, not waiting for an answer and walking deeper into the tunnel. Lex followed him, unable to keep away due to her curiosity.

Dallon was kneeling on the ground, his open hand touching the stone wall. As Lex neared, she saw that these walls were not so ordinary. Upon the surface were millions of drawings, colours draping the surface. The wall had exploded, the detailed paintings amazing her. She felt her hand move up to touch the surface, and her fingers came away waxy. She looked down at the base of the wall to see dozens of broken crayons laying about.

"This.. is amazing." She said, her mind scouring for a better word but coming up blank. Dallon had lit three more candles positioned around them as she had been studying the art. She heard him chuckle. "Thanks. I wouldn't say amazing, but when your world is grey you gotta find a bit of colour."

Hearing the word grey sparked a series of questions through Lex's mind. As she opened her mouth to voice him, Dallon stopped her with his hand raising. "Later. I promise." He said, as if reading her mind. "For now." He smiled, holding up a stub of a crayon.

She pushed his hand away. "No, I don't want to ruin-"

"-You couldn't." He said sincerely, pushing the crayon into her hands. Smiling her thanks, she took it and started doodling lightly on the wall. Out of the corner of her eye, Lex watched Dallon, his hands an unnatural blur as he added different layers to his stone masterpiece. His whirling arms were so hypnotizing that she almost didn't hear him say, "So you got here this morning?"

She nodded, then found herself blurting out the whole story. How when she went to bed, she thought everyone was normal. How when she woke up in the morning, her parents were missing. How the men in suits were sitting at her kitchen table. How they took her to the police station. How the officers at pestered her with confusing questions she didn't know the answers to. How the doctor had come in and asked her new questions. How she woke up here, in the hospital.

"But it's some sort of mistake." She finished, taking a deep breath. "I don't belong here; I'm not crazy!"

As soon as the words left her mouth, Lex immediately wished she was dead. The boy sat in silence, his hand frozen against the wall, clutching the crayon stub tightly. "Sorry." She breathed, knowing her words couldn't comfort the boy.

"It's alright." He replied quietly, but his words had a sad undertone. For a long time, neither of them said anything, they just sat in uncomfortable silence, slowly colouring on the wall. Lex's shaking hands could barely hold a grip on the crayon. She wished he would speak up so that she knew they would be okay. She didn't want the boy, the boy she had just met, to hate her.

Breaking the silence, Dallon suddenly spoke. "But you are here for a reason."

Stunned, Lex's hand slipped from the wall. She falls to sit cross legged on the ground, her jaw trembling, her mind registering what he said. Her shock quickly turns to rage. "What?!" She bellows, her voice echoing off the sides of the tunnel.

"No!" He says quickly, turning to face her. "What I meant was there's something wrong with you." Anger continues to build and Lex raises a hand, not sure if she should strike him but its certainly what she wanted to do.

"No!" He says again, exasperated. He struggled over as he tried to find words. Lex's hand lowered into a balled fist on her lap, her hands shaking with anger and hurt. Dallon took a deep breath before spitting out "Doctor Hellner gave you pills!"

Lex froze, stomach twisting. "How-"

"I have ways of finding out things Ariel." He says, a small smile returning to his lips. "Well?" He shrugs, sitting cross legged to face her fully, his head resting on his hands.

Lex turned away from him slightly, her stomach in knots. No one had ever heard of her secret. Why should she suddenly trust this stranger with it? She argued that he would probably be understanding, especially in his position.

She bit her lip. "I'll spill if you do?" She says cautiously.

She saw his jaw lock. She wasn't sure he was going to agree to her offer, but surprisingly, he muttered a quiet, "Okay." Before a more confident, "You first."

Lex nodded, taking a deep breath before spilling out her story. "I have nightmares-"

"Who doesn't." Dallon snorted, interrupting.

She shot him a glare before continuing. "I have nightmares. They are always the same.. well the endings. I've had them for as long as I could remember. I've tried medication, sleep therapy, home remedies, nothing works." She sighed, bowing her head.

"Tell me about them." Dallon said, leaning forward, curiosity sparkling in his eyes.

She nodded. "The beginnings are different, but the most common thing is that I'm wandering through a forest. But really it could be anything. I'm always alone though." She said, blush rising to her cheeks. "And then...The Monster comes for me." She says quickly.

"'The monster?'" Dallon echoes.

"Yea." Lex mutters. "It's this big dark, shadowy thing. It engulfs me. Whispers my name. Then I wake up." She looked up to see him still staring at her, as if expecting more. She feels her cheeks redden as she looks away. "It's stupid." She shrugs.

"No no," Dallon says quickly, but says nothing else.

Still not facing him, Lex quickly says, "Your turn."

She senses him tense. "If you really don't want to-" She starts, feeling bad about pressuring him to talk about it. Dallon shushes her quickly, putting a finger to his own lips. Lex quickly stops, straining her ears to listen for noises. Above them, she could hear the dull sounds of footsteps, then the opening of the trap door.

Before Lex can say anything, Dallon had grabbed her by the collar and had yanked her up. As they ran past, Dallon stepped on the candles, extinguishing them. She stumbled, following him in the darkness. Suddenly, he pulls her to her knees. "Be quiet!" He hisses in her ear, pulling her into a small hole in the stone wall. It could barely fit the two of them, and Lex was sure the guards would see them.

Single lights flew down the tunnel, spinning around madly. Lex's breath caught in her throat as one of the men spun his flashlight their way. It lingered, and Lex knew that they were caught. She tensed, trying not to think about the syringe, the poison, the zombie she would become. Then, the lights left, leaving them in pure darkness.

Neither of them dared move, not all certain that they were safe. Lex realized she was sitting on Dallon's lap, her head pressed against his chest. She could hear his heart pounding against her ears. His arms were wrapped around her protectively. Lex's heart leaped, but soon she was pushed off him by the laughing boy. "That was close!"

"Yea." She said, trying to smile.

"We should probably go."

"Yea."

They travelled through the tunnel with no candle, stumbling here and there. Finally, they reached the trap door. Dallon motioned for her to be still before pushing his head up and scouting for guards. Giving her the all clear, he pulled himself up before extending a hand to her, and Lex was pulled out of the darkness.

She stood, brushing the dust off her clothes before exiting the shed. The walked quickly across the grass, knowing they were out in the open. The sun was peeking through the trees, signalling early morning. They sprinted up the stairs two at a time, reaching the floor they both were on. Dallon informed her that the girls dorms were on the right of this door, and the boys were on the left. Lex went to walk left, but Dallon followed her to the door, making sure she got there without any guards noticing.

"So.. Thanks." She said, leaning against her closed door.

Dallon furrowed his brow. "For what?"

"It's been a long time since I've had an adventure." She grinned, opening her door.

"Oh. Then no problem." He grinned. Lex stood in her doorway, waiting to watch him walk down the hall way. He didn't move.

She pursed her lips, stomach twisting again. "Well uh, goodnight. Or good morning rather." She laughed.

Dallon was leaning in the doorway, his face very close to hers. Lex went cross eyed, vision blurring, staring at his nose, which was almost touching hers. Her breath caught in her throat again, her pulse quickening.

He closed his eyes. Oh god, this is it. Lex though, closing her eyes too. She felt him inches away from her lips. Cool air brushed across her lips as Dallon laughed, "Good morning." When Lex opened her eyes, the hallway was empty.

Lex groaned, spinning into the room and closing the door. She stumbled to the bed, suddenly aware of how tired she was. Not even having time to think of the boy, Lex was asleep before her eyes closed.