Author's Notes: This is my first SP fanfiction in a while, and was co-written with SnuffSnuff. I will not be writing an FAQ for this fanfic unless one is specifically requested. Be warned. If you don't like pithy philosophical musings, then you probably won't like this story.
"When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream. How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?"
Chapter 1 - Pursuit
Stan crashed shoulder first through the decrepit wooden door, legs flailing to keep his balance as he stumbled into the next hallway. Gasping with labored breath at the cold musty air, he pushed further into the inky blackness ahead. A trail of dark crimson steadily drizzled onto the moldy wooden floorboards in his wake.
He's going to kill me. If I look back, he's going to kill me-or worse.
Stan cinched up the grip of his left hand even more tightly around where he had it clenched on his right forearm. His brown jacket sleeve was drenched through with a viscous stain. Above the ragged edge of exposed muscle protruded bone sliced clean through. A crescent flash of steel, and everything from halfway down his forearm was gone, cruelly severed at a sharp angle.
The hallway seemed to have no end in sight, twisting and reeling underfoot like the bowels of a giant serpent as the disorientation set in. Stan could almost taste his pulse in the back of his throat, throbbing along with the pounding in his eardrums and his heavy reverberating footsteps. Some distance behind him, a splintering crash resounded through the hall, and a deep rattling moan heralded the rapid approach of his pursuer.
Stan had no choice. If he continued to strain his leaden limbs to carry his weakened frame along, he would burn himself out in little time, and his chances of escaping would still be slim. If however he gave in to the numbness that sought to drag him down like metal chains, he would stand no chance at all. He almost found himself crying out to the uncaring nothingness, but there wasn't a soul in sight to help him.
The rattling moan drew closer, and Stan could almost feel the remainder of the blood in his veins turn to ice. A large ebony pair of double doors loomed at the end of the hallway. With a desperate lunge, Stan tumbled through the doors and into the large circular room beyond.
As the doors creaked shut behind him, Stan found himself in a large ballroom, consisting of tall elegant windows that stretched the full three-story height of the far side of the room. A pair of curved staircases flanked the room on either side, leading from the opposite end of the room to landings above the doorway. Outside, a thunderstorm rumbled across the night skies, pelting the windows with raindrops like bullets, and briefly sending strobes of lightning throughout the room.
Stan ran for the nearest window and drove his left fist into the lowermost pane, leaving a bloody smudge in his futile attempt to break his way out. There was a high ringing clash of steel against wood, and then another in immediate succession, as his pursuer aggressively slashed the double doors into pieces. If Stan were to escape, his only way out now would be up one of the two flights of stairs.
No sooner had Stan come within a stride's distance of the right hand staircase than the entire flight of stairs suddenly rose up into the air, as if the first step had stretched itself out vertically to twice Stan's height. His eyes darted across the room, where he saw that the other flight of stairs had followed suit. As perplexing as this was, he soon came to the stark realization that he was trapped. The dark figure blocked the doorway, and Stan could see that the hallway behind it now tilted upwards at an impossible angle. He could not get back out that way even if he wanted to.
The figure was cloaked in long robes, which melded with shadows and floated on the air like tattered wisps of darkness. A hood covered its face, though the heavy bloodstained scythe it wielded was a dead giveaway to its identity. "It is futile to run. You must know that by now." Its voice sounded like a spoken whisper in the back of Stan's own mind, with no discernable tone or character.
Stan turned so that his throbbing injured arm faced away from the figure, out of instinctive reluctance to ever show any weakness. The words slipped out, "What gives you the right?" sounding more forceful and defiant than he had intended. A spark of anger had found its way into Stan's mental fog. "What if I don't want to go along with you?"
"Then I'll just have to take what I need," the voice resonated again, as the figure pointed the gleaming blade of its scythe at Stan. Lightning flashed throughout the room once more. "It doesn't have to be this way. Make it easy on yourself."
It was then that Stan caught on. The terror in his heart was being exploited, purposely exposed like pages of an open book. He wasn't going to give the Reaper what it wanted, either way. "Easier for me or for you?" Hoping his gambit would pay off, he tried to buy himself some time by addressing the figure on equal grounds. "What are you hiding anyway? Or is that your job, to never show your face?"
"We can do this informally if you want." The Reaper held the scythe out in front of itself, causing an unfelt wind to rush over it and sweep back its hood and robes. The figure stood revealed as a young, yet decrepit looking man, with a pale face, sunken blue eyes over rounded cheekbones, ebony hair under a blue and red winter cap, and red gloved hands clutching its scythe. Stan found himself standing face to face with a taller, older looking version of himself.
"You're copying me," said Stan. It wasn't a question; it was a statement, and one with an accusatory tone. The fingers of his left hand trembled to remain gripped around his right forearm. Had he truly done this to himself? Had he been maimed by an outward manifestation of all the self-loathing built up inside?
"Don't act so surprised," the voice spoke, even though the doppelganger's lips did not move. "I am the last thing anyone sees before the end of their life, when it flashes before their eyes and the regrets of the past catch up. They always see themselves, and all the shame and failure within, even though it's far-too-late."
The Reaper swung immediately for Stan's neck, and would have connected had Stan not leapt back on seeing him lunge. Stan had neglected the fact that he'd been mired in debilitating pain and fear for his life. It was simply not in him to lie down and die. He leapt back again, and again, causing the Reaper to miss him each time, before Stan turned and broke into a run.
"There is no exit and no escape," sounded the voice. The Reaper raised its scythe over its right shoulder and brought it down at an angle, narrowly missing Stan's midriff. A thin slash mark was left in the surface of his jacket.
Stan glared and clenched his teeth. If he could somehow cause the Reaper pain, perhaps he could force it to back off. The scythe was an unwieldy weapon that would not work up close. He searched frantically for an opening among the wide, air-rending arcs of the scythe in missed attempts to separate his head from his shoulders. Swallowing hard, Stan pushed himself as close as possible, staring his doppelganger right in the eyes and feeling its icy breath brush over his face.
"Yes, embrace your fate," hissed the voice in the back of Stan's head, as the scythe was raised high overhead and brought down in a swiftly descending chop. Stan had no choice but to fall onto his back. The blade of the scythe had embedded itself in the floor through a layer of carpet, slicing clean through Stan's red poofball cap. The viciously sharp edge now rested tangent to Stan's scalp, as the Reaper struggled to liberate its scythe from the floor. "Give in to your true desire. You wish only to hurt yourself to make up for hurting others."
Stan felt a cold trickle run between his eyes as he lifted his head off the floor. "I'm bleeding," was the only thing that came to Stan's mind as he touched his forehead. He held up his wounded right arm to the light, and the sharp jagged edges of severed bone from which the raw flesh had begun to recede.
"I will not miss again," sounded the voice. With one final tug, the Reaper had managed to pull its scythe back out from the floor, staggering slightly.
"Neither will I," growled Stan, taking advantage of the second during which the cloaked figure was still off balance. He leapt at his attacker with the only weapon he had. The back of the Reaper's chest burst open from within, letting loose a torrent of blood. Stan stood with his left fist clenched, and with the bones of his right arm impaled right through the Reaper's heart to the other side.
The heavy scythe clattered to the floor, falling from the figure's grip. Its shoulders slumped and its knees buckled, while its chin and neck became soaked in vomited vermilion. Stan brought his foot up into the Reaper's chest and kicked himself off, driving the figure to its knees. Sputtering and gasping, it picked its head up one last time to sneer and gaze into Stan's eyes, only to fall without another word.
Lightning flashed throughout the room one last time. The heavy raindrops outside had abated. Stan breathed heavily, although he no longer felt on the verge of exhaustion. He looked down and kicked the dark cloaked figure with disdain. Turning his back to walk away, he wriggled his left arm out of its sleeve before slowly peeling his bloodstained jacket off towards his injured right arm, wrapping it around his forearm in a crude bandage.
His ordeal was over, for the moment. But where would he go from here? He was still trapped as far as he could tell. Stan tried to lift the Reaper's scythe with his left hand, thinking he might be able to use it to smash one of the windows and escape, but he could scarcely drag the massive weapon a short distance, let alone wield it properly. Attempting to reach the double doors or either of the staircases was out of the question.
"Nicely done," said a voice from somewhere in the shadows. This voice was different, jaded and deliberate, although sounding like it belonged to a small child around the same age as Stan. Stan turned in the direction the voice had come from and was a little surprised to see a blue-haired boy stepping into the moonlight. The boy had eyes almost the same color as Stan's and was dressed from head to toe in white footie pajamas. He gave a forced smile through a face as serious as his stiffly posed body, and stood with his hands held behind his back.
"What the?" were the first words that escaped from Stan's mouth. "Who are you? How did you get here?"
"I'm a friend," answered the boy. "Though I see you are still as lost as ever. I know how that can be."
"How do I know I can trust you?" Stan slowly took a few steps towards the boy until the two met at the halfway point. "What do you mean by lost?"
"Trust me, you can ill afford to turn down my help." The boy lowered his arms to his sides to reveal that he was carrying something in his right hand. "You have to be careful not to lose yourself in this place," said the boy, "Otherwise there's no telling what could happen to you." He held out the object and presented it to Stan. As Stan reached out to take it, he recognized it as the severed part of his right arm.
"Where did you find this?" asked Stan. The blue-haired boy simply nodded and gave an encouraging gesture. Somehow knowing what he had to do, Stan removed the bloody jacket from his right arm and lined up the severed wrist and hand with the ends of his bones. Right before his eyes, the bones clung and held fast, and the flesh surrounding the wound boiled like hot wax, swelling until it had molded itself in place. Mouth agape, Stan flexed the fingers on his right hand, and then pulled his jacket back on.
"I have been trapped in this realm for longer than I can remember," said the boy, recalling Stan's second question. His eyes drifted down to the right. "Perhaps a decade, perhaps a century, perhaps an eternity. I wish to help you because that is the only way I can define my own existence, to avoid fading like a long lost memory. If I can at least do that, then hopefully all the knowledge I've gained could be of some use to one who stands a chance of making it off of this world."
"This world. What is it exactly?"
"I can't answer that," said the boy. "Only you can discover that for yourself. I can tell you is that it's a place you've been many times before."
"A-am I dead?" asked Stan.
The boy shook his head. "Death is the end of thought, the end of the stream of consciousness. You have looked Death in the eyes without succumbing to it." He pointed to the dark cloaked figure, which now lay in a pool of blood, its crumpled body disintegrating into the shadows. "Most people gaze upon their own death and are afraid."
"I was," Stan admitted. "But I didn't..."
"You dealt with it on your own terms, rather than being a slave to fate," spoke the boy. "Most people waste their whole lives preparing for death. You however know better than that."
"How do you...?" Stan started. "You haven't told me. Who are you?"
The boy looked away again for a moment. "A fair question. I no longer remember my name. Names become meaningless after a while."
"Can you help me find a way out of here then?" asked Stan.
"There is always a door, if you know where to look," said the boy, passively gesturing towards one of the staircases.
It was then that Stan noticed a small solitary door in the far wall of the ballroom, hidden in the shadows beside the windows, at the foot of the left hand staircase. Why hadn't he seen this before? Had the door risen out of the ground along with the stairs? Half expecting it to be locked, he approached the new door regardless and tried the knob. The door swung open to an obsidian plateau that seemed to stretch out endlessly in every direction under the starry night skies. "This is all new to me," said Stan. "How do you know this place so well?"
The boy gazed off into the distance. "I once used to dream, like you do. I would visit fanciful worlds of magic and adventure, where my imagination was the limit. At first I was happy, being the Master of my own dreams." His brow fell and he stood with his side profile to Stan. "It was not meant to last. I have lived through my own demise, time and time again. That's how they all ended."
Stan was about to ask, 'What changed?' but decided not to press the matter.
"But I can't die here, because I have nowhere to return to," the boy continued, now facing Stan once more. "I don't want you to share the same fate. As much as I would selfishly like to have a companion again after all this time, I can't keep you to myself. You-do not belong here."
"Oh." Stan couldn't really think of much more to say at a time like this.
"For now, think of me as your guiding light in the darkness," said the boy. "Whenever you find yourself in this realm, rest assured I'll show up as needed."
"I still have no idea where we are," said Stan, slowly letting his eyes pass back and forth over the plateau.
"The places here cannot be found," said the Guide, "But they will find you when you most need them."
"What about the house I was trapped in? Are you saying I had something to do with what happened to me in there?" Stan turned and looked behind him. The large manor he had just escaped from stood in a magenta spotlight against the blackness, its image gently distorting and waving like seaweed in the tides.
"The house is always built from your state of mind," explained the Guide. "Large, complex, and labyrinthine, filled with doubt and uncertainty, sometimes holding you prisoner within your worst fears. Yet it can all be overcome."
"Maybe so," said Stan. "I'm still stuck here though. I just want to get home, more than anything else."
"I will show you the way," said the Guide. "That's what I'm here for." He took a step in a different direction. "Before you go though, would you care to join me for a bit? It's been so long since I've had a real person to talk to."
Stan gave the boy a confused look. "Join you? What do you mean?"
"I know this sushi bar that serves great fugu," said the Guide. "You won't find any other like it in this world."
"Uh, okay," said Stan, not wanting to be rude, even though he didn't care much for sushi. "I don't see how we're going to get there though."
"This way," the Guide beckoned him on, walking deeper into infinite void.
Stan strained his eyes to make out even the most remote details along the way, while trying to avoid losing sight of the boy. The next thing he knew, the plateau beneath his feet had given way to black asphalt. Stan took in his new surroundings, looking every which way to get his bearings. The glass and marble fa‡ade of a majestic Japanese restaurant stood before him amongst faintly visible surrounding buildings, which appeared as sketched white outlines against a grayscale background. It was still nighttime apparently, and the rest of the neighborhood resembled little more than a ghost town. "I-don't think I've ever been here before," said Stan.
"It's my favorite place," said the Guide. He pushed the metal-framed glass door open and ran eagerly inside, almost letting it swing shut in Stan's face, before hastening back to hold the door for him.
"Uh, thanks." Stan peered around the restaurant, which was likewise deserted, although the bar was still stocked fresh as though invisibly staffed. He and the blue-haired boy grabbed plates and began perusing the buffet. Stan picked up a few California rolls and took a seat at the end of an oblong table.
His Guide however had something more exotic in mind, as he set down the plates before taking a seat opposite from Stan. "Don't forget to try the fugu," he reminded Stan. "Oh yeah, I brought one back for you," he said, pushing the second plate towards his guest.
Stan picked up his own plate and moved to a closer seat to get a better look. The fugu, it turned out, were these strange inflated pink creatures with spherical bodies. They had stubby finlike arms, round nubs that resembled feet attached to their face, red dimples, black circular eyes, and large gaping mouths. "Uh..." He picked up his chopsticks, but could only stare at the fugu quizzically.
"Ah don't worry," said the Guide, "There's no risk of poisoning." He picked up a fork and stabbed the pink creature to deflate it, causing a 'thhppp-poyo' sound as the air rushed out, and then plucked out one of the eyeballs, using his butter knife to sever the springy connective nerve. "These are the best part."
"No thanks, I think I just lost my appetite," said Stan. He prodded at his rolls with his chopsticks before setting them down.
The boy shrugged. "Suit yourself," he said, jabbing his fork in and plucking out the other eyeball.
Just then, another voice called out from the darkness. "Stan? Stan, can you hear me?" It seemed to come from all around him. "Stan, wake up." Although he couldn't see who was calling him, he knew whom the voice belonged to right away.
"Listen, I'm sorry," Stan said to the boy as the light began to wash over his surroundings, "But I..."
The Guide nodded quietly. "I understand. You have to go now." Stan nodded back. "I'm sorry too, that we've had to cut our friendship so short," said the boy. "But I have a feeling we'll be seeing each other again." He rose out of his seat and waved goodbye, and then everything disappeared in an instant.
Stan's eyes slowly parted. He realized they were puffy and swollen. An oxygen tube rested under his nose, an IV needle stuck in his left arm, and his right arm felt heavy with a twinge of pain. The warm touch of a hand rested on his shoulder. He blinked and looked off to the right, as far as his neck brace would allow, into the familiar faces of his family.
"Stan, you're awake!" spoke Sharon, pulling him up into an embrace.
"How's my little trooper?" asked Randy.
Stan tried to speak, but his jaw ached and his mouth felt dry. "Where... When did you get here?"
"Try to take it easy, Stanley," said Dr. Gouache. "This is the intensive care unit. You've been in a car accident, and suffered a compound fracture to your right arm. I set the bones myself. Your arm should be fine, given enough time."
"My arm-" Stan noticed the plaster cast around his right forearm. "But they... Who were with me?" he mumbled half coherently.
"Your friends?" said the doctor. "They suffered some minor injuries and have just gotten out of surgery. Right now you need to worry about yourself and getting better, okay?"
Sharon stepped aside to let Shelley by. "Shelley, isn't there something you'd like to say to your brother before we go?" she asked insistently.
Shelley rolled her eyes. She reluctantly reached over and gave Stan a pat on the shoulder, but then leaned in and whispered in his ear through clenched teeth, "Listen turd, if you ever let anyone know I have a soft side, I'll put you right back in the hospital, understand?"
Stan swallowed hard, tilting his head in a slight nod, in hopes that would be enough for Shelley. He let out a sigh of relief when she finally backed off.
"Your son appears to be in stable condition," the doctor explained to Stan's parents. "We'll have to run a few more tests. But for now, we should let him get some rest."
"Should I stop by the house and bring back your things?" Randy asked Sharon.
"Yes," she nodded. "I want to stay right here." She turned to Stan. "Don't worry, I'm not going..."
The rest of Sharon's words faded out in a resonating diminuendo. Stan felt a thick metallic-tasting stream welling up in his throat and trickling from the corners of his mouth, as the world became saturated with black fog. He did not notice his mother shaking him, or even hear her voice calling to him.
"Doctor, what's happening?!" shouted Randy, over the urgent beeping of the monitoring equipment.
Dr. Gouache leaned in and motioned for Stan's family to give him some room. "Blood pressure is dropping. His vitals are crashing!"
"Stan?" Sharon tried calling out again. "Stan!!"
But the darkness had once again taken him into its clutches.
Favorite Episodes: Tsst, Tonsil Trouble, Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy
Known as kylesbigfan69 on kylefanclub.com
You know I heard there is an uneditted version of this story with some content based on true life events. Any chance we will get to see that part of the story?
Wraith10 wrote:Wow what a shocker: you're using characters to push your beliefs or false position,I am blown away. Oh man.I did NOT see that coming, LOL. People who find THIS scary don't know their horror too well. whatever XD
Apparently they don't know how to read disclaimers. If they don't like my writing, if they disagree with my views, and if they've got nothing constructive to say, well then nobody's forcing them to read it. Just pass it over and read something else.
On a different topic, I may not be able to post long chapters here anymore. The board engine doesn't like the character set used in Word, and it took several tries to get the text to go through, even after I'd converted it to MS-DOS text format. It won't even take the second chapter of my other fic.
aparsons wrote:I read alot of stephen king and dean koontz and from reading the start of this i think even they would be impressed. I like the dramatic effect and the mood expressed in the different situations.
Stephen King is a professional horror writer. Fanfiction is just practice for amateurs like myself. The only professional authors who pay attention to fanfiction are the ones who don't want people writing any fanfics based on their work, like Anne Rice. (Koontz I don't really care for, but that's just my taste.)
On the stephen king note, I think the main point asporsons was trying to make was that you're a professional quality writer, not that King would be interested in you're work. And you are a professional quality writer, at least, by King's standard if you could keep it up over a whole book.
I'd also like to advise you to see someone about your obvious "issues," though I know no-one can probably help; the detail in which you write about Stan's inner pain and dispair belies something about yourself, perhaps. It makes for a gripping story but, Science dude, this is sick
Check my Fanarts!
Death will take us so don't fight it. Become it and lean to win.
Taking the Banner of the Holy Marsh! Death to the Vile Lard!
Favorite Episodes: Tsst, Tonsil Trouble, Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy
Known as kylesbigfan69 on kylefanclub.com
Anyway that is way offtopic. I like Stephen King..Some of his stuff is a bit long, but that is more to develop characters so when the scary stuff starts happening you give a sh*t about it.Like you give a sh*t if a character dies horribly, because you have a sense of who they are. I haven't had a chance to read Cell yet, I have a copy but there have been too many distractions around here to sit and read a book.
But yeah, I know alot about horror.I read alot of Stephen King and Clive Barker..I never really got into Koontz though, but I love horror..And I do read horror fanfiction my friends on other boards write, and one of them and I have co written some stuff together. From personal experience, I would have to say the best fanfiction stays true to the characters is it based on..What really sucks is when I see fanfiction that is completely out of character.
"I feel a little more apprehensive about this one than I did. Down through the centuries, the notion that life is wrapped in a dream has been a pervasive theme of philosophers and poets. So doesn't it make sense that death, too, would be wrapped in dream. That, after death, your conscious life would continue in what might be called, "a dream body"? It would be the same dream body you experience in your everyday dream life. Except that in the post-mortal state, you could never again wake up, never again return to your physical body. As the pattern gets more intricate and subtle, being swept along is no longer enough."
Two other things:
1.) "The Stand" is King's finest work by far.
2.) There's another excerpt from the same film, but's so long the site's not letting me post it, even though it's not above the character limit. I'll try later.
"The world will know peace when humanity is extinguished."
-- False Awakenings
R.I.P Chef for realz this time
( chef joined the sith so why don't you?)
R.I.P Billy Bonka
M00n wrote:So you hate it when people judge other people on what they say or how they act?
Too true, I never get people who comment like this, because they're obviously making a judgment about people who judge others based on words and actions, based on the words and actions of those that judge others, and thus they're being ultral lame-ass hypocritical.
Now if we say, don't judge (balme/praise)anyone, that's fine (in a perfect world we wouldn't in my oppinion) but people do judge, and so they can;t make claims like this.
BACK ON TOPIC... when's the next chapter coming up? Come on Kyle, bring us some more, i;m starving slowly to death here
Check my Fanarts!
Death will take us so don't fight it. Become it and lean to win.
Favorite Episodes: Tsst, Tonsil Trouble, Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy
Known as kylesbigfan69 on kylefanclub.com
Chapter 2 - Deep Cuts
Stan finally arrived at the school playground. He had missed the midnight bus once again and had to walk the whole way in the fog. It wasn't as convenient a schedule as he would have liked, but he didn't dwell on it too much.
His classmates were there as usual, gathered in a circle around him as they stood in the undisturbed snow with their hands held behind their backs. He hadn't seen them approach. His teacher must have sent them out to tell him that class was about to start. Stan had no reason to entertain the possibility that something seemed off about them, for he knew his friends would never hide anything from him.
The chill breath of winter brushed lightly against his cheek, causing Stan to shiver. Wasn't it time to go inside yet, and get out of this miserable cold? An uneasy prickling sensation crept up the back of his neck. His classmates remained stoically silent, glancing around as if trying to avoid making eye contact with him.
"Hypocrite!" a cry rang out behind him, right before Stan felt a shock of frigid pain shoot through his body, causing him to arch his back and flail instinctively. "You never showed me the proper respect!" shouted Craig, as Stan felt the knife carve through his soft flesh and scrape up against his ribs. The unwelcome mix of blood and freezing air began to rush into Stan's lungs through the wound.
Staggering, bleeding, and overcome by nauseous gagging, Stan turned to Wendy and reached out his red-gloved hand towards her. But Wendy took a step away, shifting her gaze and biting her lip. A second forceful impact wracked Stan with agony, like a boulder being hurled up against his skin, after Token had drawn his own knife and plunged it down into Stan from behind in a jealous rage. "You stole the love of my life!" Token snarled at him.
Stan tried to turn to face his attacker, but fell to one knee when his legs gave way. "No don't, I..." he tried to say to Token, but was interrupted when Wendy took out her own knife and stabbed it down through below Stan's left shoulder. Everything started to go numb, save for a dull torturous writhing sensation like a swarm of rats trying to gnaw their way out from inside his body. He fell to both knees, grasping the front of his chest with his right hand.
"Oh Stan," said Wendy nonchalantly, pretending nothing had happened. "It's nothing personal, but I've always agreed with Token."
Both of Stan's hands were now gripped over his heavy fluid saturated lungs, as tightly as the panic that he was on the verge of drowning had gripped his consciousness. Steaming blood gushed forth when he tried to cough, marring the snow with dark red spatter. Were these really his friends? Friends were supposed to be people who you could trust, who would share everything with you, and who certainly would never gang up on you over petty misunderstandings. How could his own friends do this to him?
Friends... The meaning of the word seemed as fleeting as the breath on his lips and the blood in his veins. The crowd gathered around him had faded into one large blur, while the dark ruddy stain slowly spread throughout the snow below.
"Stan, is something going on here?" a familiar voice called out.
Stan blinked hard and tried to focus. "Kyle? Kyle, where are you?"
"Stan, I don't know how to put this, but we need to talk," spoke Kyle in a firm tone, working his way through the crowd. He sounded shaken or upset over something, and did not seem to take notice of Stan's situation even when he was standing face to face with his longtime friend.
"Kyle," Stan wheezed. "It-it's you..."
"Look Stan, there's something I've been meaning to get off my chest," said Kyle. "I've been thinking about us, and how long we've been friends." He sighed. "It hurts me to come out with this, but sometimes I think you don't care about our friendship. You never stand up for me anymore, especially when the going gets tough!"
"But Kyle, I..."
Kyle shook his fists in frustration, his eyes wet with tears. "That's not something I'd expect my best friend to overlook so often!" With that, he drew back his right hand and slapped Stan right across the face.
Stan wiped his mouth on his sleeve and stared into Kyle's eyes, dazed, from his kneeling position in the snow. What was this all about? Was everyone now out to get him?
"Stan," Kyle started to say, "It's just that you and I have..." But before Kyle could finish, he was drowned out by the catcalls from the other kids gathered as they shoved him aside.
Clyde was the next to sneak up on Stan from behind, thrusting serrated cold steel into Stan's lower back. "You always looked down on me for being stupid!" he screamed. "I know you make fun of me when I'm not around!" He spat in feigned disgust. "You can be as subtle as you want, but I know what you really think about me!"
The blood now visibly cascaded down the side of Stan's heavy sopping jacket, pooling up beneath him faster than the snow could absorb. They had surely gotten what they wanted from him by now, hadn't they? It would not have made any difference if they had simply left him at that moment, for there was nothing he could do regardless.
He didn't even have the strength left to lift his head up when a fifth dagger ripped its way through skin and muscle and bone. "It's nothing personal," said Bebe. "I know you haven't really done anything to me, but I have to go along with my friends." She forced a smile. "I think you'll understand."
Another knife had found its mark, penetrating unusually deep given the one behind it. "Uh, well look, I'm sorry it has to end this way Stan," he could hear Butters say. "It's awful unfortunate, but I can't take your side in this one."
"I thought we had something!" cried the tense voice following the next knife, which was gripped tightly Tweek's trembling hands as it sliced through thick arterial walls with ease. "But you left me! Abandoned me! Forgot I even existed!"
Stan could scarcely tell the difference between the knives already embedded in his back and the series of stabs that followed. All had caught him blindsided. Like the knives, the mocking voices of his classmates, each making disingenuous efforts to rationalize their actions, had overlapped and run one into the next.
"You ruined my career, you ruined my life!" screamed a blond haired girl. "I'm sick of seeing you around!"
"You never pay attention to me!" he heard a high-pitched British accented voice exclaim. "You won't even speak to me anymore!"
"You've always had it in for me, I know it!" a red-haired girl accused him. "Consider the favor returned."
"Oh, but I expect you to flat out deny it all," spoke a haughty voice, to the derisive chuckles of his two dim-witted companions.
Stan was now on his elbows and knees in the thick crimson slush, floundering in a sanguine sea among the snow. His lips parted in a futile attempt to cry for help, but gobs of blood were the only thing that escaped. At that moment, through the blur and pink haze that covered his eyes, Stan could almost make out someone with a distinct blue head of hair standing at the back of the gathered crowd.
"H-llp..." he choked out. His pleas were nothing but a vaguely audible drawl.
"Stan." The boy could not be heard over the shouting and taunts of Stan's classmates, but Stan could see him mouthing words. 'You can't be helped'? Was that what the Guide was trying to tell him? No. "Only your true friend can help you now," he seemed to be saying.
Stan thought to himself, confused and practically delirious. What true friend? All he knew was that he had no friends. The daggers his friends had driven into him had gashed open his very soul. He tried to crawl his way towards the blue-haired boy, but every movement caused the knives to dig in deeper and deeper. With a tearing of strained muscle, he was completely spent. The frozen ground met the side of his weary-eyed face.
There would be no fighting back and no escape this time. His mind pleaded with fate to let him perish with what little dignity he had left. The ruby studded snow upon which he lay had at least shown enough decency to strike him in the face.
That-and one other.
There was one who stood apart from the frenzied crowd, never one to join in. There was one who stayed true to himself, and to Stan, at all costs. He was the only one Stan had left. With the last of his strength, Stan reached out his quivering hand once more. A green-gloved hand reached out to touch his.
Stan's true friend lifted him back up to his feet, where Stan threw himself over Kyle's shoulder, bringing himself close enough to feel the radiant warmth of his friend's face. One by one the knives retreated from his flesh, like harbingers of death fleeing from life, and clattered to the ground as harmless shards of steel. The crippling pain had faded into a dull throbbing shadow of its former self.
Stan finally found the strength to stand once again. Kyle smiled and gave him one last pat on the back. The deep wounds had already closed themselves over.
"Don't worry Stan. I'm sure we'll be together again one day," said Kyle with a wave, and then he departed.
The blue-haired boy was still standing where Stan had last seen him, now that the crowd had dispersed. "You're lucky to have such a devoted friend," he said. "I had thought you lost sight of him."
"I almost did," admitted Stan, still looking in the direction Kyle had departed.
"And how did you know?" asked the Guide, in a rhetorical sounding tone.
"I just..." Stan started. "It's like I just knew. He was the only one who faced me, and didn't try to hide anything from me."
The Guide nodded. "You value honesty then."
"Yeah," said Stan. "It's better to say what needs to be said, than to keep living a lie. I-I think if you have to make friends by lying to them, by pretending you're something you're not, then it can never last long."
"A noble sentiment," said the Guide. "It's rare that one understands and appreciates the true meaning of honesty. It's even more rare to find a friend who shares this understanding with you. It takes a real friend to say things to your face rather than stab you in the back."
"But then," said Stan, noticing that the Guide was still standing more than an arm's length away, as if he were afraid to make eye contact. "What about you?"
"Me?" asked the Guide, shooting a passing glance in Stan's direction. He gave a slight chuckle, holding his hands palms facing out for Stan to see. "I'm just really shy."
The final bell of the school day rang in the distance. It was time to go home. "Will I see you again at school tomorrow?" he asked the boy.
"You can count on me," said the Guide. "Remember what you have learned here."
"How could I ever forget?" Stan commented. The fog rolled in and condensed into a whitewash that faded everything out of sight.
Stan woke up in a different part of the intensive care unit this time. His body ached all over and the fresh bandages wrapped around his midsection were making him itch. He sniffled. Traces of dry crusty blood still lined the inside of his nostrils. A red intravenous line, leading from a transfusion bag, had been placed in his left arm.
Out in the hallway, Stan could see Dr. Gouache conversing with a colleague. The other doctor, judging from his silhouette, appeared to be leaning on a cane. "It's never lupus," spoke the gruff-voiced doctor, before limping off.
Stan's doctor entered. "Stan? How are you feeling?"
"Wh-what happened?" asked Stan.
"You suffered massive internal bleeding due to your injuries from the accident," said his doctor. "We didn't catch it right away because it didn't start until you'd been moved to the ICU. You lost a lot of blood, so we're giving you a transfusion."
"Oh. Okay." He looked around. "Where're my parents?"
The doctor sighed. "Your father started acting loopy after donating a couple of pints. We insisted that he stay here and rest, but he insisted on going out for a drink, saying it would make him feel better."
Stan rolled his eyes. "Goddamn."
"Stan, I do have some good news," said the doctor, trying to change the subject. "Your friends are stopping by to visit you! They insisted, so..."
"Whoa-ho!" Cartman interrupted as he barged in, pointing at the bandages that covered most of Stan's body. "The mummy returns!" His own left arm was in a sling, which apparently was reason enough for him to gloat.
"Dude, shut up!" Kyle admonished him, following close behind. Kyle had a bandage wrapped around his head and was walking on crutches due to his broken ankle.
Kenny walked in on his own accord. He seemed only to have suffered a few minor bumps and scrapes, and had a small row of stitches on his forehead. He quietly patted Stan on the arm to reassure him.
"So you've been in here this whole time, the center of attention, you little pussy," Cartman mocked Stan. "I've heard you keep coming up with new problems for the doctors to fix, huh?"
"Cartman, I told you, shut the hell up!" said Kyle. "We came here to visit him, not for you to act like an ass, especially after all that's happened!"
"Geez Kyle, relax, I was just trying to cheer him up," said Cartman defensively. "So how many bones did you break?" he asked Stan with a smirk.
Stan wasn't really in the mood to deal with this right now. It was none of Cartman's business. "I'm fine, all right?" Maybe that would do it.
"Oh really? I overheard them saying the bones were sticking out of your right arm," laughed Cartman. "Now that must have been some sight." Kenny had begun to glare at Cartman.
"It's not funny, fatass," Kyle growled at him, trying to step in front of Cartman.
"Well excuse me for showing some concern!" said Cartman in a sardonic tone, before turning back to Stan. "So does it hurt when I do this?" He squeezed the cast on Stan's right arm. "How about this?" he asked, squeezing it again to elicit a response when Stan tried to ignore him.
"All right, that's enough," said Kyle. "How do you like it?" He lightly poked Cartman on the left arm.
"Ow!" Cartman yelped. "Ah-OW! OWWW! Weeeaahhhhhh!!" he began bawling at the top of his lungs, sobbing heavily for dramatic effect. "Meeehhm!" he cried, hobbling out of the room as fast as he could and grabbing his wounded arm as if he'd been shot.
Stan cracked a smile. "Thanks, I owe you for that."
Kyle laughed. "What are friends for?"
"Yeah," said Stan, recalling fragments of his dream. "Friends."
Dr. Gouache walked back in. "Okay boys, Stan still has a long road to recovery ahead of him. But you can visit later if you want."
Kyle grabbed his crutches. "Well, see you then Stan," he said.
"Hope you feel better soon," added Kenny, following Kyle out through the door.
The doctor unhooked Stan's empty transfusion bag. "That should do it for now. I'll be back to check on you in a little while." He pulled the curtain around Stan's bed and turned off the lights.
Stan breathed easily and listened to the hypnotic rhythm of his pulse monitor. He soon drifted back to sleep on his own. This time around, he hoped, things would be different.
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