I stood motionless.
I hadn't seen Zero in months, and yet...it felt as though he was really standing right there in front of me, in the midst of my own vampire dream. How much had we absorbed of one another in the few short meetings that we spent together? Could he see the circles even then? So many questions, and yet this underlying disbelief that I could trust anything that he might have to tell me.
How am I supposed to know if this is really some sort of heightened awareness from the actual Vampire Zero talking to me...or if it was just some random firing off of old brain cells, throwing my subconscious down a rabbit hole that I wasn't prepared for?
"Still confused, I see..." He said with a sinister grin. And yet, I felt more comfortable with his evil smirk than I ever did with the potentially deceptive smiles from The Jeweler.
"I just...I can't really figure out how any of this is possible." I said. "I practically watched you die."
"And yet, my impact still lingers in the core of your troubled mind, young one." He replied. "Perhaps...a bit of my consciousness still lives within you....the way your's lingered within me before it was my time to expire. To be bound to another is truly a blessing." My silence caused him to turn around and look me in the eye. "Even after all of the doubt, the struggle, the pain...and the fear of what's to come...you are still searching. Aren't you?"
"I...I don't want..."
"The Vampire Dawn is not about 'want', Justin. It is an awakening. It cannot be avoided any more than you can avoid sleeping beyond your ability to rest. You will awake eventually...and everything else will fall into place after that."
Immediately, I asked him, "I want to know how to save Taryn. I want to know how I can avoid some stupid prophecy and prove the vampire scriptures wrong!"
"You're expecting me to give you a 'cheat'?" He asked.
"I'm expecting you to ive me a goddamn ANSWER for once!!!" I shouted, my voice echoing throughout the barren wasteland of the dream.
"Then...despite your best efforts...you have proven yourself to be lacking in your understanding, boy." He said. "Have you not seen the intricacies of the design yet? Have you not yet grasped the concept of the message that you were meant to bring to the worlds of daylight and darkness?"
"I don't WANT to be responsible for some fucked up message for anybody else! The world is fucked up, ok? People don't care! I have no way of EVER fucking making them CARE!!! And if they don't care, then neither do I!" I yelled, feeling my eyes tear up as I attempted to hold the waterworks back. "I finally...FINALLY have something good in my life! For once! I have someone that makes me feel whole again. Like I matter. Like I'm...beautiful. I spent half of my life thinking that I'd never be anything more than a piece of shit outlet for my father's anger and my mother's drunken neglect. I've suffered, and I've cried, and I've taken all the beatings and bruises that I can take. It's *MY* time now! Do you hear me??? I'm strong enough to never have to submit to somebody else's 'punishment' ever again!" A few tears dripped from my eyes, but they were more from anger than sadness. "If you want to help me...then tell me how to keep the people I love safe from all of this mess so that I can finally have a life of my own. Please, Zero...just...help me! Tell me how to keep Taryn from harm..." I sobbed.
"There is no combination more dangerous than power mixed with fear." He said.
"I'm not afraid of anything anymore..."
"You're afraid of you." He replied. "I am sure that it would bring you a great deal of comfort to believe for a few extended moments that your answers are somewhere 'out there', if only you could secure yourself a road map to find them. But you and I both that's not true. Don't we Justin?" I couldn't believe that he was doing this to me right now. I didn't want to hear it...but the dream wouldn't let me wake up. "Of all your struggles in darkness, you refuse to look for answers in the one place that you're scared to explore. The void inside of you where your darkest feelings lie. I have seen this before...and it does not end well."
"I don't...have any answers inside, ok? I'm fourteen, I barely know who I am..."
"No answers, and yet an infinite number of excuses. Zero stepped forward to look me in the eyes, and I felt my gaze being lowered as he approached me. "There is still much for you to learn, and the world will understand that. But you are slowing your progress and corrupting yourself with self contempt by avoiding that which you need to face in order for your true journey to begin. How can you claim to have any self control when you don't even know who your true 'self' is?"
"I just want to be free from this bullshit. I just...I feel like I lose, even when I win. Trouble just keeps chasing me everywhere I go. I just want to be left alone." I sniffled.
"The unfortunate realization of that statement is...until you heal on the inside...you are alone." He said, and put a hand on my shoulder. "Come. Walk with me." I followed without any protest, and I could see small flashes of lightning above in the cloudy sky, followed by the low rumble of thunder. "Look around you, Justin. What do you see?"
"Nothing. It's just a dream."
"No. Everything here is what you want to see. What you allow yourself to see. This is your mind, Justin. Not mine. You may not realize it, but you built this entire world, piece by vivid piece. It can be anything that you want it to be. Dreams are like that. Specifically vampire dreams, with all of the extra information that your senses are taking in during your waking hours in darkness. But as you look around you in all directions...what do you see? No sunshine. No rolling meadows. No glimmering rivers or mountains of gold. Instead, all you ever dream about is this empty wasteland...and the brewing of the coming storm." He said. "Not even I could breakthrough. Not until you felt ready. You haven't faced your demons, Justin. You merely suppressed them. Pushed them aside. Deny their existence. Always believing that...if you could just hold them back long enough, they'll magically disappear. But they won't. They linger. They lie dormant, just under the surface, waiting for any mild trigger to bring them right back to the surface again. Once that happens, and they bubble out of control...all of your determination, all of your extra abilities, not even your love for Taryn, will be able to save you from the madness that will eventually consume you."
"But I don't know HOW! Don't you get it?" I said. "I never wanted to hurt anybody. I'm a good person, and that should have been enough. Even when I was still in daylight...I shouldn't have been made to suffer the way I suffered. I try to get it out of my head, but it's always there. The hurt is unbearable. But, when I'm with Taryn? He makes it stop. His love is the only thing that makes me whole again. You think a bunch of stupid old scriptures and vampire folk tales are going to take him away from me? I won't let them. I don't care what you say, Zero. I'm sorry...but I won't. I won't." I told him. "The whole world can burn for all I care. Let them solve their own problems for once."
Zero was silent at first. I thought he might be upset with me, but could see the hint of a smirk curl up on the side of his lips. "You are still trying to choose the right path, Justin. Still searching for that one immovable spot where you will always be safe, and accepted, and understood."
"Well, what else am I supposed to do?"
"You're supposed to be confident in your ability to deal with the hard times as they come your way. Because they will. There is no avoiding darkness by convincing yourself that you can hide in a world of eternal light. Life doesn't work that way. And when difficulties are presented to you in the future...you won't be able to handle them. Because you never took the time to teach yourself how." He said. Then, he stopped walking forward, and asked, "If I may?" I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that, but nodded anyway. Still reeling from the fact that I was even able to talk to him like this in my own mind. Zero waved his hand, and then lifted it with his palm facing up to bring, what looked like, a series of thin mirrors up out of the ground in front of us. Within each reflective surface, I saw different faces, different struggles, different abilities, different stories being experienced by different people. "Believe it or not, Justin...there have been many major events throughout the last six centuries of our vampire history. All of them conspiring in your favor. Leading to something bigger than themselves. Guiding vampire-kind towards the Dawn. Some are much smaller pieces of the puzzle...while others send shockwaves through the ether, and will ultimately help you succeed in becoming the vampire you need to be." Looking closer, I could see soldiers...samurai...cowboys...gangsters...writers and poets...assassins and protectors...even monsters.
Stepping closer to try to make sense of all of the rapidly changing images at once, I asked, "What is all this?"
"This is a vision of combined coexistence. All of these vampires, and the humans that accompany them, are fighting for something that they believe in. Much like you are. No matter what era they existed in or what struggles they've had to face, they are all willing to put their hearts and souls on the line to fight their way towards a single goal." He said, stepping up to look at me again. "They are fighting for purpose. For light. For truth. And if you can adopt that same passion for life, and your sire, and everything that has brought you to this very moment...one day, people both in daylight and in darkness will proudly proclaim that 'Justin is light. Justin is truth. Long live the Vampire Dawn.'"
Looking at the myriad of moving images, I began to feel more intimidated than inspired. Swords and guns and fangs and parties...I can't do any of that. I'm no warrior. No teacher. No trained killer. I'm just a kid. An abused kid who wanted to take a chance at experiencing what it was like to find joy in being alive. It wasn't too much to ask for, was it?
As the thoughts began to loop in the back of my mind...a young life destined to be forever haunted by the looming presence of pain and misery...I saw the mirrors before me begin to crack. I could hear the thunder overhead getting louder, and the tension began to rise as the sound of broken glass echoed all across my personal wasteland. Then...in an instant, they were shattered.
Feeling weak and alone, I fell to the ground and just hugged my knees with both arms as i felt tears roll down my cheeks. "I'll never be one of them, Zero. I can't be what everybody wants me to be all the time. All I can be is myself...and that's never been good enough. Not for anybody."
Zero slowly sat down beside me in the dirt and crossed his legs. Even on the ground, with his back straiht and head held high, he looked as if he was sitting on a throne of pure gold. "You are still trying to find your way out of your own nexus, child. And that is not something that I can help you with. It has to be generated from within. Nowhere else. And if you think that loving Taryn more than yourself will solve all of your problems...you would be mistaken. If anything, your dependence on him being perfect at all times will eventually create a darker shadow within him as well. As it will with all of your friends, and anyone you dare to care about." That only made me cry harder, but I strained to hold it back. Zero looked up at the turbulent sky above and said, "Your friend, Comicality, once felt much the way that you do now. Many things left unsaid, many issues without closure...he spent a great many years suppressing and avoiding his own shadows...until the shadows, eventually, overcame his attempts to keep them under his control. He has found purpose, yes...but those shadows are always just a few steps behind him. Chasing him. I would assume that assisting you in possibly finding the Dawn is his way of making amends for some of the terrible things he's done in the past. Perhaps his newest evasion tactic is your well being."
"Well, he's not very good at it. I haven't had him show up to help me once. I don't even know if he's still alive."
"I have a feeling that you'll be seeing him again in some capacity." Zero said. "The point is...those lost shadows of his are created the Beast. And I still see that foul creature clutching to your pain, Justin. What you have experienced with the Beast...it's growing. You are feeding a very dangerous alter ego and it is weaving itself into every part of your thought process. Into your every emotion. If you end up giving into it...you will be creating a very dark circle indeed. And you and I both know that circles can't be broken once they've been put in motion. They have to play themselves out to the very end...until they start back at the beginning. You don't want that."
"I'm not a monster. I'm learning to control that..."
"No." He said. "You are learning to live with it. Just like you taught yourself to live with anything else. The Beast's influence on you is not what you think it is. It's not you, Justin. It looks like you, thinks like you...but it clings to your pain like a parasite, and it uses you to gain strength and power every time you try to turn your back on it. It blinds you from the truth by giving you the illusion of choice. It is up to you to pierce through that illusion and start thinking for yourself."
"I DO have choice. I can tune it out. I can release it at will. I can hold it back when it gets out of control. I swear, Zero, I'm learning how to keep myself sane through all of this. It's just going to take some more time for me get it right."
"Again, Justin...that is an illusion. You're not thinking. You are merely reacting to your circumstances. Haven't you understood that yet?" He said. "The Vampire Dawn is not about following the path that you think is best and most beneficial for you. It is not about avoiding the paths of least resistance. It is about seeing all of your options, all of the possibilities, at once. You HAVE to find your way back to zero, boy."
"That doesn't make any SENSE!" I said angrily, hearing a booming thunder rattle the ground as a bright strike of lightning shot across the sky.
With a softer tone of voice, Zero told me, "That night...when you were going out to Navy Pier...with thoughts of suicide plaguing your trouble mind...why did you do it?"
"Give me an answer. Why did you do it?"
With a frustrated sigh, I said, "I was a different person back then, ok? I was...I was lost. I didn't have any other way out. Look, I tried to avoid it. The first few times I went out there...I didn't even do it. Maybe I was scared, I don't know. But that was all I had. I' not that scared little kid anymore."
"And why not?"
"Because..." I said. "...Taryn showed up, and he...he showed me a better way. I guess you could say that he gave me hope."
"So...you were on a single path that led you to suicide...and then you found a better option?" Zero asked.
"I know what you're doing..."
"Do you?" He said. "And what about the bullies at school? Or Trevor's manipulations? Or Soren's fighting arena's? Even your fighting techniques have become 'automatic', and lack any real control. Not like you think they do. What you are doing is reacting to a world that has dealt you a bad hand, and you keep choosing paths that you're expecting to be free of struggle and pain...but those paths don't exist. They all have consequences. Your every action will have an impact on the space you inhabit in this world and beyond. Your every denial merely postpones the eventual bursting of the emotional dam. And as you grow more powerful over time, it will be those same unpredictable reactions to those who have leverage over you that will ultimately lead to your downfall." He said with growing intensity. "Because of who you are...because of what you've been through...you must understand that your greatest strength will not come from chasing your own definitive answers...but in learning how to ask yourself the right questions. And if you believe in the love you share with your sire, he can help you with that."
"Taryn is my answer..." I said softly.
"Then cherish that, Justin. Hold on to it for as long as you can. Love has the ability to force us to see something outside of ourselves and our own selfish needs. It is a blessing." He told me. "But your true knowledge and power comes from within. It always has. Find your nexus. Return to zero. And find the infinite possibilities at your disposal by finally gazing upon all of the paths at once....even the ones that don't include Taryn being at your side for the rest of eternity."
It broke my heart to hear him say it. And I stubbornly took the shadows that created within me and brushed them off to deal with later. I am NOT losing Taryn. He can go to hell. "And what if I refuse? What if I just...forget this whole Vampire Dawn business and live with some joy and happiness for as many centuries as Taryn and I can last?"
"That, of course, is your choice." He said, surprisingly. "But what kind of world will you be living in if you simply let it slip into the kind of chaos that your perspective was given to us to prevent? What purpose would your crossover have had if you walk away now?"
"Would it matter?" I asked.
"Everything matters." He answered.
"Well, if there's no way to avoid pain and suffering, no matter which way I turn...what's the point?"
"The point is zero." He said. "Because, despite the multitude of obstacles and hard times that you are sure to face in the future...the sum of your life's experience are all there to answer one simple question..."
"And what's that?"
He looked me in the eye and said, "Was all the pain you suffered through on your journey worthwhile?"
Suddenly, everything went black. And I opened my eyes to wake up in bed next to Taryn. I still had tears on my face, and was quick to wipe them away before he was able to wake up too and see me in such distress. Was that real? Any of it? What just happened to me?
I could feel my heart beating in my chest, running my fingers through my blond hair as I turned to see Taryn's body still cold and awaiting a full sunset before returning to the world of the living. So I leaned over a kissed his cheek, and laid back in the bed...hoping to make some sense out of all of this. Because I still can't see anything through the fog of confusion that I'm feeling right now.